Friday roundup: Senators owner stalling on arena commitment, Jaguars owner wants to buy Wembley, and gondolas, forever gondolas

As late as Wednesday, I thought this was turning out to be a slow news week. Then the news made up for it in a hurry:

  • The New York Islanders owners held a question-and-answer session for residents near their planned new arena on Tuesday, and when asked about how they plan to increase Long Island Railroad service to avoid tons of auto traffic, a state development official said, “We are in very active discussions with the LIRR — meeting with them once a week — and those talks are ramping up.” Hopefully they’re involving Dr. Strange in those discussions, because they badly need to find some new topological dimensions.
  • Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to talk to Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk about whether he actually plans to pursue the LeBreton Flats arena development he won rights to last year, after Melnyk called it “a huge project with tremendous risk” and said, “If it doesn’t look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I’m not suggesting that right now” and “Something’s got to break somewhere and I mean a positive break.” Melnyk has made threats like this before, but you’d think now that he has an agreed sale price for the land he’d be happy; it sure sounds like he’s angling for some additional public subsidies now that he has his mitts on the land, which you can’t really blame him for, since Watson opened the door to that already. Come on, mayor, haven’t you learned yet not to get the can opener out when the cat is around?
  • Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the group started by the Rays to push for business support for a new stadium, is signing up plenty of members, but DRaysBay notes that “the real test of commitment will come when businesses are asked to make clearer financial commitments to a stadium plan.” Yeah, no duh. (The subhead here, “Business leaders line up behind stadium plan, but financing questions linger,” is also a masterpiece of understatement.)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says that the Toronto Blue Jays‘ Rogers Centre “needs an update to make it as economically viable as possible,” noting that other stadiums “have millennial areas, things like that that have been built and become popular more recently.” So, like, an Instagram parlor?
  • Here’s a story about how 25 years ago the NHL handed Norman Green the rights to move the Minnesota North Stars to any open market as consolation for putting an expansion team in Anaheim, where he’d wanted to move, and he ended up going to Dallas. Also it has Roger Staubach in the headline for some reason.
  • And here’s a story about how 50 years ago NHL expansion inadvertently kicked off the rise of arena rock, which is probably overstated but it has links to vintage Cream videos in it, if you like that sort of thing.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is in talks with the Football Association to buy London’s Wembley Stadium for £600 million, which is certain to raise eyebrows about the possibility of the Jags moving to London, but is probably for right now more about Fulham F.C., which Khan also owns, being about to get promoted to the Premier League and wanting a bigger place to play. Khan also said, “I think it needs investment and updating. Compared to American stadiums the video boards are something that need to be looked at. The lounges are a little bit dated.” The current Wembley Stadium was built in 2007.
  • The son of former disgraced Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt wants to build a gondola to take fans from Union Station to Dodger Stadium to avoid traffic. “It’s not actually crazy,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti insisted on Thursday, which, given that this is a city considering allowing Elon Musk to build a network of tunnels to whisk residents about via some unknown technology, maybe we should take that with a grain of salt.
  • San Diego State says its stadium plans could eventually be expanded to fit an NFL team, for a mere additional $750-$850 million. Most San Diegans responding to an internet poll (which means some San Diegans, some non-San Diegans, and some dogs) don’t think they’re getting an NFL team anytime soon, anyway.
  • The Port of Oakland has approved giving the Oakland A’s owners exclusive negotiating rights to develop Howard Terminal, which now gives the A’s exclusive rights to two possible stadium sites. As DRaysBay would say, financing questions linger.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has toured the new Milwaukee Bucks arena and says it has “unique sight lines.” Hopefully he means that in a good way, though I’m still wondering about that “sky mezzanine level.”

Blue Jays get $60m in spring-training subsidies, mayor sobs “I could not be more proud”

The Toronto Blue Jays owners have been trying to get public subsidies for renovations to their spring-training facility in Dunedin for a couple of years now, and it looks like they’ve finally hit the jackpot, with Pinellas County agreeing to kick in $41.7 million in hotel taxes to go along with $5.6 million from the city and $13.6 million from the state:

The unanimous vote by the County Commission was enough to bring Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski to tears.

“I could not be more proud,” Bujalski said Tuesday. “We have a huge quality of life here and no one thing makes our quality of life. It’s a combination of things. Spring training is part of that.”

I mean, sure! I would never have heard of Dunedin if the Jays didn’t play there in the spring, so there’s clearly some benefit to having the team in town one month out of the year. It is almost certainly not $60.9 million worth — previous studies trying to show that it would be ended up double- and sextuple-counting spring training visitors in terms of their economic impact — but it’s definitely part of a combination of things. And the county also gives hotel-tax money to things like the Clearwater aquarium and public sports complexes and the Blue Jays are going to let high school teams use their stadium some and hey, get off their case, okay? If “the government throws tax money at all kinds of things, might as well throw it at one more that benefits one of the most profitable sports leagues on the planet” isn’t a reason to be brought to tears, I don’t know what is.

Friday roundup: Spending on training facilities is a bad idea, Portland seeks MLB team, Jays game postponed after roof hit by falling ice

I can’t believe none of you wrote in to ask why I hadn’t reported on a Toronto Blue Jays game getting postponed due to falling ice puncturing a hole in the stadium roof, but I guess you’re all acclimated to waiting for the Friday roundup now for that sort of thing. But wait no longer! (Well, wait a few bullet points for that one in particular.)

MLB commissioner: Diamondbacks stadium “needs work” to be “major league,” capisce?

The Arizona Diamondbacks owners ramped up their war of words this week over their lawsuit to get out of their Chase Field lease unless Maricopa County provides $187 million for renovations, with both team president Derrick Hall and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred saying they would not be shackled to a rusted girder. Hall first:

“Love Chase Field, hope to be there for a long time,” Hall said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Bickley and Marotta show Tuesday. “We just see we’re coming to the cliff that they brought to our attention about four or five years ago … We just need a partner that can truly be a partner and can be there a long time and address the capital needs of that stadium.”

And then Manfred took a break from declaring war on the fundamental rules of his sport to save 14 seconds a game because millennials, man to chime in:

Manfred, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, said that “to be a major league-quality stadium,” Chase Field “needs work.”…

“We take very seriously the obligation to have a major league-quality facility in each and every market,” the commissioner said.

“It’s absolutely clear from the material that’s been made available to me there are serious maintenance needs that need to be met with respect to the stadium.”

Okay, so a couple of things. First off, a lot of the Diamondbacks’ wish list is for things like upgrading scoreboards and refurbishing luxury suites — stuff that is nice, but isn’t exactly a measure of being “major-league quality” — and most of the rest is for annual maintenance costs that the team should be spending every year anyway. (Yes, it’s not major-league quality if there’s no toilet paper in the restrooms, but that’s hardly the building’s fault.) So Hall and Manfred are deliberately fudging the difference between “obsolete” and “needs somebody to buy new lightbulbs.”

But even if the stadium did need (whatever “need” means here) major upgrades, there’s the question of why should this be county taxpayers’ problem? One might think that if a stadium is getting older (every stadium is getting older, as are we all), that’s something for the team to address. Like, say, the owners of the Toronto Blue Jays are looking at:

The retractable roof must also be replaced in the coming years, along with other less exciting upkeep tasks for a stadium that first opened in 1989, which is why [team president and CEO Mark] Shapiro insists the entire project must be viewed holistically.

The Blue Jays have hired a design firm and at this point, “what we do have is themes that through focus groups and through research and through industry trends and analysis provided clear ideas of what we would be looking to achieve in a re-envisioning – and I call it a re-envisioning rather than a renovation – of the stadium.”

“No. 1,” Shapiro continued, “would be to turn the stadium into a ballpark. Very simply that would be a top priority for us, which means (providing) a modern ballpark experience for our fans.

Okay, so the Blue Jays own Rogers Centre, whereas Maricopa County owns Chase Field. But the latter is basically a fiction designed to let the D-Backs out of paying property tax; the team gets all revenues from the stadium, even if it doesn’t have its name on the deed. And besides, that’s what leases are for, to determine who’s on the hook for future maintenance and upgrades — and the lease (which prohibits the team from moving through 2028, by the way) certainly appears to say that it’s up to the Diamondbacks owners to cough up the money in this case.

Determining that for sure, of course, is up to a court to decide, which is what Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick is suing to make happen. Until then, though, there’s plenty of room for negotiating through the media, and that’s what commissioners are for, so hey, why not? If it keeps Manfred from spending his time ruining extra innings, it might even be a mitzvah in disguise.

Dunedin Blue Jays spring-training study fails to understand how hotel rooms work

The Pinellas County Commission is preparing to vote on a request from the Toronto Blue Jays for $81 million in upgrades to their spring training facility in Dunedin — I know, I don’t know where you find $81 million worth of upgrades to a spring-training park either, but anyway — and Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium has delved into the economic impact projections that the team is using to justify the public expense. A previous city report projected $80 million a year in annual economic impact from the Jays’ presence, a figure that’s tough to jibe with numerous studies showing the actual effect of spring training teams on spending to be near zero; Pransky previously revealed that that study had assumed that anyone visiting Dunedin in March was there for baseball, which, um, no.

So is the new report by the city of Dunedin (the Jays paid half the cost) any better? It claims to only count tourists who said they were there just to see baseball, which is an improvement. However, it still counts every ticket sold as one added hotel room sold — which is wrong both because visitors may attend more than one game per trip, and also because hotel rooms can hold more than one person each:

The new report projects $21.4 million in annual economic spending, which at current hotel and sales tax rates means only $1-2 million a year in actual tax receipts, and if you then have to divide by 6-8 … let’s just say nobody in Pinellas County should be planning on seeing that $81 million again.