Friday roundup: How to tell a dump of a stadium from a marvel, and why “stupid infrastructure” should become a term of art

I have nothing introductory to say this week other than that I’m wondering if you kind FoS supporters would give me $2 million in 24 hours if I made more robots out of lacrosse masks. So on to the news:

NYCFC exec: New stadium should be done sometime between 2026 and never

It’s time again to check in on the NYC F.C. stadium plans, which have been stuck in “talk optimistically without any actual details” mode for, oh jeez, almost three years now. Team CEO Brad Sims posted a Q&A with himself on his team’s own website last week, and one of the Qs by the not-at-all-straw-man-questioner was “We really need our own Stadium – what’s the latest?” Sims’ answer was a masterpiece of PR-speak (translations below):

As we have always said about our Stadium project, we must ensure support from our community boards, community leaders, and local elected officials – and working with them to ensure that the project aligns with their goals and expectations is priority one.

Translation: We need city government to do a bunch of things for us, including closing streets, tearing down a highway ramp, and evicting the parking garage owners who our partners the Yankees brought in to help get their own stadium built 12 years ago. And that could take a while.

COVID did slow down the work to secure land, but that process has picked up significantly. More steps to go, but it is moving again in the right direction.

Translation: We’ve made no progress over the past year, but will soon. We hope. Maybe.

Things like land assembly and public approval process are far more complicated in NYC than any other MLS Club has ever had to deal with.

Translation: Durn people!

From the time we enter the public approval process, we are plus or minus four years out from that point to Stadium opening, if everything goes as we hope.

Translation: The city land use approval process takes about a year, and then it’ll take maybe three years to tear down all the garages and highway ramps and build a soccer stadium. Also, “plus or minus,” because that’s the kind of thing that sounds professional, and it definitely means “about,” not that we’re hoping to start building by time-traveling into the past, because that always works out poorly.

Q: How do I get tickets for the home opener on April 24th at Yankee Stadium?

Translation: Moving on!

Let’s not be too hard on Sims: He has to say something about his team’s stadium plans, and if you can’t say something concrete, say something blandly optimistic. Still, there’s zero evidence that the team’s convoluted financing and land proposal is any closer to reaching fruition than it was when it was first leaked in 2018. Of course, it’s possible things are going on behind the scenes — there’s a long tradition of that in The Bronx — but for now, alarm and/or hope should probably be down somewhere around DEFCON 4. That’s bad news if you’re an NYC F.C. fan mostly concerned about not having to watch home games at your rival’s stadium, but potentially good news if you’re a New York City resident mostly concerned about not wanting to see your tax dollars and public land going toward building a new home for a team co-owned by two of the wealthiest sports businesses on the planet. If you’re both of those things at once, well, fight it out amongst yourself.

Friday roundup: NFL to shop for overseas host cities, plus the attack of the no-good, terrible stadium names

How’s everyone doing out there? Did you, like me, spend much of yesterday watching baseball games and wondering why MLB bothers to have mask rules if half the fans are keeping their masks off at any given time, and then wondering if this is really the right thing to be concerned about rather than all the people who are leaving the game and going to indoor sports bars, and then wondering if disregard for mask rules is a reasonable proxy for being careless about going to bars as well? I hope not, because that is very much my job, and the mission of this site remains Thinking Too Hard About Things So You Don’t Have To.

Which is one nice thing about Fridays: No thinking too hard, because all the leftover news gets boiled down to a single bite-size bullet point, ideally with a quip at the end. It’s like pre-wrapped meals of stadium facts, and here’s this week’s assortment:

  • The NFL is adding a 17th game to its season, mostly so it can charge TV networks more for the extra game but also to create more games that can be played outside the U.S. to help increase the league’s international visibility, and the operators of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Vancouver’s B.C. Place have both said they’ll throw their hats in the rings. You can read my thoughts about Olympic Stadium here; suffice to say that it’s simultaneously perfectly serviceable and not at all what sports owners consider state-of-the-art at selling people things other than a seat to sit in. It’ll be very interesting to see whether the NFL makes its international game hosting decisions based on which markets it most wants to break into or which cities offer the snazziest stadiums. (Or which cities offer straight-up cash, that’s always a popular NFL move.)
  • Indy Eleven USL team owner Ersal Ozdemir got his approval from the Indiana state legislature this week to take more time on how to spend his $112 million in state stadium cash, and team officials replied that they will now take their own sweet to to “finalize the site” “in the coming months.” Given that Ozdemir at first asked for the cash so he could get promoted to MLS and then later decided, know what, maybe he’ll stay put in the USL and avoid all those expansion fees but still get the snazzy new digs, there is a non-zero chance that he decides to ask to use the money to build condos or a space laser or something.
  • The Henderson Silver Knights have sold naming rights to their publicly funded and owned under-construction arena (I know it doesn’t make any sense, this is just how naming rights are allowed to work in most of the U.S. with few exceptions) to the payday loan company Dollar Loan Center, which means the arena will now be called … also the Dollar Loan Center? Shouldn’t it at least be the Dollar Loan Center Arena? This seems like very confusing branding, among other things, though I guess it’ll at least be amusing when people use Google Maps to try to find places to get high-interest advances on their paychecks and end up at the Silver Knights ticket window.
  • Also in the terrible names department, we have the Miami Marlins cutting a deal with a mortgage loan company that starts with a lower-case letter, which is going to wreak havoc among sports department copy editors across the land. (Just kidding: All the sports departments have already fired all their copy editors, pUNCtuATE and spel tHiNgZ however U want!!1!)
  • Here’s some video of the under-construction Phoenix Rising F.C. soccer stadium, which when it was announced last December would be ready for 2021 I predicted would be “off-the-rack bleachers that can be installed quickly,” and which indeed looks exactly like that. No robot dog showrooms or giant soccer balls are visible, sadly, but the USL season doesn’t start for another three weeks, so there’s still time to find some off-the-rack robot dogs.
  • And finally, across the pond, Everton F.C. finally had its stadium plan approved by the Liverpool City Council, meaning the £500 million project can move ahead. The city is loaning a little over half that money to Everton’s billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri, but Moshiri is then supposed to repay it in actual cash with interest, so the only real concerns are why Liverpool needs to act as banker for a rich guy, and whether it’s a good idea to build an oceanfront stadium when the oceans are already starting to rise. Those other countries have such quaint problems compared to America’s!

Friday roundup: Baseball ticket chaos, and the continuing endless rain of minor-league soccer stadium demands

New York state announced yesterday that baseball stadiums will be open at 20% capacity to start the season, which, as things go, is not one of the stupidest reopenings announced by Gov. Gropey this week. As a Mets fan who will be fully vaccinated-plus-two-weeks by shortly after Opening Day, it has me weighing whether sitting three hours masked and distanced outdoors at a ballgame is low-risk enough to be worth considering or still terrible for society as a whole, which in turn had me checking out the Mets’ ticket sale policies:

All ticket management actions for tickets for impacted games [in April], including Ticket Forwarding, will be canceled. These tickets will be removed from your account and are no longer valid for admission.

Glad I didn’t buy tickets when I first noticed they were on sale a couple of weeks ago, because those are apparently now worthless. (Worthless for entry, anyway; you can still get a credit on your account for the purchase price.) Season ticket holders will get first dibs at buying the new blocks of tickets, at least for April; it’s unclear when the mad scramble for seats begins.

Then I checked the Yankees‘ site, and found this:

To be eligible, fans must have purchased their tickets through Ticketmaster and not have transferred, posted or resold them. If the tickets were transferred, the transferee or recipient of the ticket will need to transfer the tickets back to the original purchaser in order for the original purchaser to request a credit or refund. The credit request option is not available for tickets purchased via resale or the secondary market.

If you bought through Stubhub or the like, in other words, you are SOL, unless you can find the person you bought from and have them ask for a refund, then refund you.

I get why the teams are doing this — rather than figure out how to reassign already-purchased seats in distanced pods, it’s way simpler to just refund everybody and start fresh with new ticket sales. But it’s hard not to foresee a whole lot of lawsuits, or at least angry tweets, from people who bought or sold what are now worthless barcodes, and questions about whether pro sports are becoming the latest realm where buying a thing doesn’t mean you’re actually buying it.

Anyway, enough about that. On to the stadium and arena news, which I know you’ve been waiting for and which includes lots of good juicy schadenfreude, plus more minor-league soccer than you can shake a stick at:

  • I’ve been mostly steering clear of the debate over where to build a new high-school sports stadium in Spokane, because, frankly, high-school sports stadium in Spokane, and also the money ($31 million) has already been allocated, so it’s now just a question of where to build it. But if you want an explainer, here’s a good one, which I will now summarize even more briefly: Spokane residents want the stadium to be built where the current stadium is, but the USL says it’ll put a soccer team in Spokane if they move it to a site downtown, so now city officials are trying to decide who it’s more important to listen to, their constituents or the guys dangling a minor-league soccer franchise. Also local business advocates say that if the city doesn’t build a stadium downtown, the USL may look to build there anyway, and they already have $2 million in cash plus a promise of $1 million from an unidentified investor, and that’s only $28 million short! More news as events warrant, which I seriously hope is never.
  • Elsewhere in everybody-gets-a-pro-soccer-team, Grand Rapids may get a USL team if it can be determined how to fund a $40 million stadium. Nobody’s talking public money just yet, but a guy from Convention, Sports & Leisure — yes, those guys — has been hired to talk up how a stadium “has the ability to anchor development, serve as a destination but also kind of speed up and accelerate reinvestment into areas of the city, whether that’s in downtown or on the purview of downtown,” so it’s gotta be only a matter of time.
  • And the Indy Eleven, currently of the USL but maybe one day to be in MLS if you dream real hard, are still seeking their own $150 million stadium, saying it would be “more than a stadium, it is the opportunity to create a vibrant community that will attract individuals and families from near and far to live, work and play — creating jobs and improving quality of place far beyond game day.” Team owner Ersal Ozdemir already got $112 million in state money approved for the stadium last year, but then decided maybe he’d build a smaller stadium and give up on the plans to join MLS that were the whole reason for him getting the $112 million. The state legislature is currently deciding whether to give Ozdemir more time to figure out exactly which scam he wants to pull or to take back the money; “give him more rope” just unanimously passed the state house ways and means committee, so that’s not a great sign.
  • A Nevada state senator is proposing to create a state esports commission to lure major video-game tournaments to Nevada, because “economic development.” I’m still not entirely clear how many people actually travel to attend esports rather than just watching online — attendance figures are brutally hard to come by online, though apparently 45,000 turned out for one event in Beijing in 2017 — but this is one to keep an eye on, especially if esports organizers start choosing site based less on who has the most regulatory oversight (?) and more on who offers cold, hard cash.
  • And finally, circling back to questionable sports reopenings, the Texas Rangers decided to advertise their 100% capacity opening day by showing a fan flagrantly violating their own mask rules. This is all going to go just great!



Friday roundup: Terrible economic impact studies, terrible renderings, but one smart mayor, at least

It’s been a long year of waiting, but the moment we’ve been looking ahead to is finally within sight, and only one thing seems to be on everyone’s minds: What songs are we going to request that Yo La Tengo perform for pledges tomorrow afternoon on the WFMU fundraising marathon? I already requested “Better Things” the year after Hurricane Sandy, but I’m hoping I can find something equally appropriate for 2021.

Here’s some stadium and arena news to tide you over while you wait:

  • Economic impact studies of sports venues are usually pretty terrible, given that they generally start out by measuring “impact” (i.e., all money spent in or around a stadium or arena whether it benefits anyone but the team owner) and ignore spending that’s just shifted from one part of town to another, and so on. But the projection that a new $228 million arena in Augusta will generate more than $600 million in economic impact by adding up “$436 million in new spending” plus “$208 million in new sales taxes” breaks new ground in bonkers: Doesn’t the Augusta Downtown Development Authority know that sales taxes are already part of “spending”? Plus, is the sales tax rate in Augusta really 48%? The full “market analysis” is here, but it doesn’t provide details on its methodology and the $208 million sales-tax figure doesn’t seem to appear anywhere in it, so we’ll just have to trust that the Augusta Chronicle’s fact-checking department was on the job and, oh dear. Maybe the “applause editor” does some fact-checking in her spare time?
  • Also in economic-impact-study news, various studies have projected anywhere from $200 million to $600 million in impact from a new arena in Palm Desert, but Mayor Kathleen Kelly says, “Sports arenas are pretty notorious for over-promising and under-delivering positive economic impacts for the surrounding community. So, I do have to look at the proposal with some skepticism.” She adds an arena could draw off spending from area restaurants to arena concessions, and take up hotel rooms that otherwise could be occupied by longer-term visitors — hey, somebody’s been reading this site, or maybe just the mountains of data showing that arenas haven’t had a large measurable impact in the past! Warms my heart, it does.
  • The Florida House Ways & Means Committee voted 16-1 yesterday to repeal the state’s program that allows sports team owners to request up to $2 million a year apiece in sales-tax money to repay their private stadium and arena construction or renovation costs, and, yes, this was just proposed a couple of years ago, but maybe one of these days it’ll actually pass. Especially given that it’s a program that has allowed team owners to demand public money for venues they’ve already built, making the economic impact of the subsidies an easy-to-calculate zero.
  • Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena is gone, but you can still park in its parking garage, which is about to become “much more than just a place to park in the morning” as it is converted to a “mobility hub” that is … a place to park in the morning and buy coffee.  It’s all privately funded, at least, so far.
  • If you want to read an article about sad Sacramento soccer boosters appealing for a billionaire to come and bring $500 million for an expansion fee and a new stadium after the old billionaire backed out, here you go! Features Sacramento mayor and former Kings water-carrier Darrell Steinberg saying of the plan that ended up leaving the city cutting services to pay down arena debt, “We didn’t give up on the Kings and we’re not giving up on Major League Soccer.” Adds Steinberg: “What we need is a plug-and-a-play from an investor to then help us finish the last piece of this.” In related news, I only need $6 billion as the last piece of the puzzle for building my space elevator, please apply within.
  • Not to be topped, News 4 Nashville has a “first look inside Nashville’s new soccer stadium,” which is actually someone clicking around on computer renderings of the place, complete with a visible cursor. We had that already back in November, and with creepy shambling Sims!
  • And if you want to read an article about Cleveland Cavaliers owner and Quicken Loans magnate Dan Gilbert and his gajillions of dollars in public subsidies that starts out describing how he “was raised by a pair of Century 21 real estate agents” and “went to Michigan State University—where he was arrested for running a sports gambling operation,” Defector has gotcha.

Friday roundup: A’s stadium goes lopsided, another Cali soccer stadium stalls, plus how to skip rent payments and use them to fix up your own home

I’m very busy this morning, busy enough that one entire news item will have to wait till Monday when I can give it its due, but that means an extra post on Monday, so what are you complaining about, really? Anyway, there’s still plenty of stadium and arena news from this week, let’s have at it:

Billionaire bails on Sacramento MLS team, league may need a new sucker to pay $200m expansion fee

Way back in 2017, University of Michigan economist and Soccernomics co-author Stefan Szymanski said to me of MLS’s ever-increasing expansion fees, “Why would you buy something for $150 million which is basically giving you a share of losing $100 million a year?” Since then, the fee per team has gone up to $200 million, which does not make the math any better, but still lots of rich people have been lining up to pay the price without balking at the cost.

Until now, that is:

Sacramento’s roller coaster journey to join Major League Soccer has taken a dramatic downward arc, with Mayor Darrell Steinberg announcing Friday that billionaire and lead investor Ron Burkle is no longer part of the bid…

Major League Soccer issued a statement after Steinberg’s confirming Burkle’s withdrawal, stating Burkle said issues with Covid-19 and the project prompted him to withdraw. Several media reports suggested costs involved with expansion, including the price tag for the stadium of $252 million and an expansion fee to MLS of $200 million, were factors in Burkle’s decision.

That always did sound like a terrible deal for Burkle, and apparently uncertainty about how he was going to earn back his money in a post-Covid world was enough to make him bail on the expansion plan, even if the team wasn’t set to take the pitch until 2022, by which time we should actually be back to full stadiums. (Or at least, as full as they get in MLS.) And apparently Burkle is free to do that despite Sacramento Republic F.C. having been formally awarded an expansion slot in November 2019, because Burkle never actually signed a final expansion agreement, whoopsie.

Anyway, with Burkle back to just co-owning the Pittsburgh Penguins and whatever else billionaire investors own, MLS is now going to have to figure out whether to find another moneybags eager to plunk down close to half a billion dollars for a Sacramento team and stadium, or to find a replacement expansion franchise. At last count, there were roughly 10,000 owners in other cities looking to get in on the totally-not-a-Ponzi-scheme, so MLS presumably has options, though you have to wonder if there’s something that spooked Burkle — maybe those 2022 league TV contract renewals weren’t going to be as lucrative as had been hoped? — that could give other owners pause as well.

For now, it’s officially still full speed ahead in Sacramento, but clearly this situation bears watching: Among other things, will the collapse of Burkle’s ownership group lead to fewer big-money stadiums being planned, or just to more demands that the money come from someone other than the new owners saddled with expansion fee expenses? (Three guesses.) If nothing else, it’s likely that whatever strange things the clip-art entourage were going to get up to at a new Sacramento stadium will have to put off for a while.

Friday roundup: Climate-doomed sports cities, a $500m video-game arena, and tax breaks to allay pirate fears

Happy Friday, everyone! If you’ve been thinking, Gee, what with vaccines rolling out and the end of the pandemic maybe finally imaginable, I could really use some other global catastrophe to experience existential panic about, Defector and I have you covered with an article about which U.S. sports cities are most likely the first to be made uninhabitable by climate change. No spoilers here, but suffice to say that if you’ve been holding out the last 64 years for the return of the Rochester Royals to the NBA, this might be your lucky century.

And in the newsier news:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux were among the slew of developers and landholders who successfully lobbied the Trump administration last year to redraw Census maps to expand Opportunity Zones, earning who the hell knows how much money in tax breaks as a result. This may sound like a blatant cash grab that isn’t available to normal people who don’t have lobbyists on payroll, but just wait until you hear about the St. Croix hemp farmer who says that without tax breaks he would have trouble finding investors in the U.S. Virgin Islands because “people have ideas of pirates and all this sort of thing,” and then think about how little he probably paid for his land there after telling the seller, “I dunno, man, it’s probably infested with pirates,” and then you’ll know for sure.
  • The owner of two separate Toronto esports teams (one an Overwatch team and one a Call of Duty team, if you think I’m going to dignify them with boldface team names you’re nuts) has announced plans for a 7,000-seat venue to host them, at a cost of $500 million. Wut? I mean, it will also be able to host concerts (its designer called it neither “a sports arena nor an opera house” but “a new typology that straddles the two,” which he got “new” right, anyway), but still, half a billion dollars for a 7,000-seat theater with lots of big screens? Also, the developers already announced this last July, just without the $500 million price tag, so good job, guys, if you leaked the large number now just to get attention, as it’s working. No word yet on whether they’d want public money or tax breaks or anything for this, but you have to think they’d be crazy to spend all their own money on this.
  • Add the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to the list of minor-league baseball teams trying to use the downsizing of the minors to shake down cities for stadium improvements. Sure, it’s only $2 million, but it’s also only to secure a ten-year lease extension, which means they can demand more money in 2031 … if Florida is still above sea level by then. (Oop, damn, the spoiler thing again, sorry.)
  • The Oakland A’s owners may have won their lawsuit to fast-track any environmental challenges to their proposed Howard Terminal stadium (which, by the way, is in an area likely to be among the first to be inundated by sea level rise — oops, I said no spoilers), but lawsuits can be appealed! There, I just saved you $52 a year on an Athletic subscription.
  • I’ve been only marginally following Everton F.C.‘s plans for a new £500 million stadium on the Liverpool waterfront — holding 52,000 people, eat that, Overwatch barons — but there are some mostly dull new renderings out. Also the team’s owners are claiming that moving from one part of town to another will add £1 billion to the local economy, which just goes to show that even when all they’re asking for is a city loan that they’ll repay with interest, sports team owners can’t stop going to the “money will rain like manna from heaven” page in the stadium playbook.
  • The Columbus Crew have fresh renderings out of their new stadium, and do they include people throwing their hands in the air and gesturing wildly to things they want to buy at a bar to show how excited they are to be at a soccer match and ignoring the game so they can sit indoors with a bunch of other uniformly young and attractive people? You bet they do!

Friday roundup: We have entered the Golden Age of minor-league stadium scams

Welp, that was another week. I know from comments that some of you think that the stadium and arena subsidy racket is about to come grinding to a halt, either because of the Covid economy or everybody already having a new enough stadium or something, but it sure looks like team owners didn’t get the memo — my RSS feeds are as hopping as they’ve ever been with tales of sports venue funding demands, and it’s still a rarity when local governments say no or even hmm, really? Check out this week’s roster, which, as yours truly predicted a couple of months ago, is especially jam-packed with minor-league baseball stadium plans:

Friday roundup: Inglewood to seize land for Clippers arena, half-assed Rays stadium renderings, plus maybe an MLS lockout!

I should probably have something to say about a week in which hedge-fund operators and day traders went to war over who could outgrift each other, but you know, I think let’s just leave that right there. On to the news!