Friday roundup: Potential Raiders homes for 2019, ranked (okay, actually not ranked)

Man, who opened the stadium news floodgates this week? Here it is almost noon on Friday and I still haven’t gotten to the news roundup — okay, know what, less whining, let’s just get right to it:

  • The city of Oakland filed its antitrust suit against the Raiders as promised this week, which means it’s time for a list of places the Raiders could play next year if they are forced to leave Oakland in a huff. “Do a multi-week residency in London and play the rest of the season on the road” is one I hadn’t heard before, anyway.
  • New York’s Empire State Development Corporation approved its draft environmental report on a new New York Islanders arena at Belmont Park, and it basically comes down to “yeah, traffic is already bad and it’s going to get worse, we’ll try to figure something out but don’t hold your breath.” The state will also provide a whole two Long Island Rail Road trains to take fans to and from games, which will require new switches to deal with the massive mess that is that train interchange, for which “it is also expected that [the arena developers] will contribute to LIRR and MTA funding,” which isn’t exactly the same as saying the developers will pay for it.
  • Tottenham Hotspur‘s long-delayed stadium is still delayed, but at least now fans can enjoy drone footage of the place they’re not being allowed to set foot in.
  • The National Parks Conservation Association was “shocked” to learn that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants to take 300 acres of federal parkland to use for a new Washington NFL team stadium. “I have talked to lower-level Park Service employees who are just as shocked as I am about this,” said the organization’s Chesapeake and Virginia programs director, Pam Goddard. “We are vehemently opposed.” Hogan has said that no public money would be used for the stadium plan, but public land and building out sewer and power lines into federal parkland, now that’s another story.
  • Residents of South Boston want the New England Revolution to stay offa their lawns with any stadium plans.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants more NBA-ready arenas in Latin America so the NBA can play occasional regular season games there, but didn’t offer to help pay for any, that’d be crazy, and does he look crazy?


Nobody’s actually sure how much public would pay for new Columbus Crew stadium

A funding plan for a new $230 million downtown stadium for the Columbus Crew began to come into focus this week, though admittedly not very much focus. The plan as constituted involves cash from new team owner (and Cleveland Browns) owner Jimmy Haslam, money from the city, money from the county, and money from the state, which Columbus Business First helpfully lays out as follows:

  • $50 million from the city, for “land acquisition, infrastructure and public improvements,” plus turning the old stadium into a “community sports park” (which would also serve as a training ground for the Crew).
  • $45 million from the county, paid out over 30 years, for “infrastructure and public improvements” around the new stadium.
  • $15 million from the state, also for infrastructure and public improvements.

This is hazy enough, given that “infrastructure” traditionally can mean lots of things, from stuff that the government does for pretty much anyone (say, extending sewer lines) to things that more normally would be on the developer’s tab (say, building parking garages).

But it gets even more confusing from there, because Haslam and his partners would only put up $150 million of the $230 million cost, with the rest coming from a new state authority (in Ohio amusingly dubbed an NCA, for “New Community Authority”) that would collect the county and state money. Which doesn’t add up to $80 million, you will notice. Plus, the NCA would have to backfill any property taxes due from the surrounding private development, which is in a Community Revitalization Area and so eligible for 100% tax abatements.

That is an opaque fiscal soup, one that makes it nearly impossible to come up with a dollar figure for how much of a subsidy the Crew owners would be getting from taxpayers. Which is to the Crew owners’ benefit, no doubt, but it’s the kind of thing that hopefully we’ll get more clarity on before any governmental votes on — whoops, looks like the Columbus city council and Ohio state house already voted to approve their share of the money. Well, maybe we’ll learn more about where the money will be coming from and what it will be spent on before the Ohio state senate [UPDATE: too late!] and Franklin County board of commissioners vote, anyway. Or they can always vote first and ask questions later, that always works out great!

Friday roundup: Cincy stadiums still gobbling tax money, XFL to use old Rangers stadium, Crew stadium to require $50m+ in public cash

So very very much more stadium and arena news from this week:

St. Louis officials overwhelmingly approve MLS deal marginally less onerous than one voters hated last year

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted 26-2 on Friday to give preliminary approval to tax breaks and free land for a new MLS soccer stadium, with final approval to come when and if the city actually lands a team. Which means it’s a perfect time for me to help throw some cold water on the board’s enthusiasm, via column by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger (which he spoke to me for before the vote, but which ran this morning).

My only actual quote should be pretty uncontroversial:

“The latest plan is arguably less onerous for the public than lots of other stadium projects out there — and certainly better than the previous soccer proposal for St. Louis,” deMause says. “But that’s damning with faint praise, because the median in stadium deals is ‘pretty awful.’”

Most stadium deals are terrible, and this one is better than most! But it’s not the best, either, which Messenger notes by pointing to my recent Deadspin article on stadium deals that don’t suck, citing in particular the Orlando S.C. deal where the team owner paid for construction, land, and property taxes like a normal land developer. St. Louis mayoral chief of staff Stephen Conway retorts that Orlando’s situation is an “outlier,” which is true, but when you’re giving your own plan five stars out of five, by definition you’re saying it’s as good as any outliers. (What would an Orlando-style plan get, six out of five stars?)

Anyway, to recap and update what the prospective St. Louis MLS owners will get as part of the tax and land break package, with some numbers via city documents helpfully provided by Messenger:

  • A 3% sales tax surcharge on goods sold at the stadium. The present value of future taxes is estimated by the city at $21.3 million, but since the higher sales taxes which arguably would just force the team to charge lower face-value prices, it’s not fair to consider this entirely a city cost.
  • An exemption from half of city ticket taxes, with the other half funneled into a stadium upgrade fund. Project supporters say that all the other St. Louis sports teams get an exemption on this, so the soccer team should too; still, that makes it less “not a subsidy” than “a subsidy, but one that the city hands out like candy.” The city analysis estimates the value of this exemption at $11.6 million in present value.
  • An exemption of sales taxes on construction materials, which is estimated to cost the city $1 million in present value while saving the developers $4-5 million; no explanation is given in city documents how this bookkeeping magic occurs (the city sales tax rate is about equal to the state’s), so just roll with it.
  • Free state highway department land and an exemption on property taxes for it. This is the big unknown, since the city apparently threw up its hands and said, “Well, we’re not getting any money from the land now, so may as well give it away for free,” which is not how assets work. (Not that it’s stopped far bigger developers from trying the same argument.) Here’s a vacant lot in the same general vicinity selling for a little under $23 a square foot; if you figure at minimum about 500,000 square feet for a soccer stadium, then you’re looking at $10 million in forgone land value, plus whatever the city would be giving up in forgone future property taxes.
  • The state has already approved $30 million in tax credits, though since it doesn’t appear to be a rebate of any specific taxes, this is probably better thought of as “cash.” (Really, all tax rebates are better thought of as cash, since there’s no functional distinction between the two.)

Add it all up, and we’re looking at maybe $60 million in public subsidies, whereas the previous soccer stadium plan that was rejected by voters in 2017 would have provided … $60 million in city subsidies, plus $40 million from the state. So, yeah, this would be somewhat better, but not all that dramatically so. Probably the most honest way to present this to the public would be “We want a soccer team, and at least this way we’d get one at a mild discount over what some other cities are spending,” but maybe that’s just what “FIVE STARS!!!!!” translates into in the politician-to-English dictionary.

St. Louis development agency gives self “five stars” for soccer plan because it won’t lose as much money as last one

The St. Louis Development Corporation released a financial impact report on the city’s proposed new stadium for a proposed MLS expansion team yesterday, and because the city development agency apparently bases its economic methodology on Yelp, it gave the plan “five stars”:

“You’re not going to see a proposal this good anywhere, any place in the country,” said Steve Conway, chief of staff to Mayor Lyda Krewson.

The analysis, which Conway called conservative, predicts a new stadium would send the city $1.4 million in tax revenue every year.

It also shares a litany of new information with aldermen hungry for details: The present values of tax incentives for this proposal add up to $39.7 million, in comparison to $123 million offered to the effort that failed to land a team last year. The proposed stadium improvement fund, fed by a 2.5 percent ticket tax, would add up to $28.7 million over 30 years.

Wait, so the tax incentives and siphoning off half of the city’s ticket tax money would add up to $68.4 million over 30 years, and the new tax revenue would add up to $42 million over 30 years? I don’t know what kind of curve the St. Louis Development Corporation grades on, but that sounds like three stars at best, maybe two if the waiters didn’t promptly refill water glasses.

Normally at this point I would dive into the text of the report itself, but as the St. Louis Dispatch didn’t bother to include a link and the SLDC apparently hasn’t gotten around to posting it on its website, that’ll have to wait. (I’ve requested a copy from the SLDC, but it’s a little early in the morning yet for them to reply.) For now, it looks like the most we can say about the public cost of the soccer plan is it’s not as bad as the last one, and we already said that a couple of months ago, and besides that’s not saying much considering how awful the previous plan was. Further updates as they become available, I guess.

Friday roundup: Tampa won’t divert road money to Rays stadium (probably), Columbus may spend $100m on Crew stadium, Anaheim signs Ducks lease extension as new mayor vows to placate Angels

You know who the real turkeys are this week? Nah, my heart isn’t in making Thanksgiving puns, just read the news, folks:

  • Three of seven Hillsborough County commissioners have promised that a new sales tax for transportation projects won’t mean diverting money from the existing transportation project to, say, a Tampa Bay Rays stadium, which the mathematically inclined will notice isn’t actually a majority of the county board. It’s still not super likely that the county will try to raid transportation funds to pay for a stadium, unless maybe it’s for transportation costs related to one, and there’s still several hundred million dollars in construction costs unaccounted for, but anyway it’s worth keeping at least half an eye on as we head toward the team’s December 31 lease opt-out deadline.
  • A paid consultant working on a new downtown arena for Saskatoon says it could have a “catalytic effect,” because of course he does, really, Global News, you ran an entire article that’s just interviewing one guy employed on the project? For this you want me to disable my ad blocker?
  • Forbes’ Mike Ozanian reports that “a person with knowledge of the deal to keep Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew in that city” says the new owners will pay $150 million for the franchise and spend $150 million toward a new downtown stadium, while “the public would foot the other $100 million.” Nobody else seems to be reporting on this, so maybe we should wait to be sure that Ozanian didn’t get his plus and minus signs mixed up again.
  • The Atlantic’s Rick Paulas suggests that we end stadium extortion by forcing pro sports leagues to massively expand and then institute promotion and relegation, which would sort of work, if there were an easy way to accomplish this through antitrust legislation, which you’d think if Congress could manage that they could manage the much more straightforward measure of taxing sports subsidies out of existence, but who knows, maybe a “market-based” solution would go over better in these times, sure, what the hell. “Of course, cities could also elect leadership that will defend them against bad deals,” notes Paulas, which isn’t a bad idea either.
  • Anaheim has signed a lease extension to keep the Ducks in town through 2048, involving the city selling the team 16 acres of land for $10 million — which if the stymied Angels deal is any guide would probably be a small discount, though Anaheim officials claim it’s market value — but the city will get a cut of arena profits after the first $6 million a year instead of the first $12 million, a threshold that’s never been hit. There are a lot of (small) moving pieces here, but I’m willing to say this is probably not too bad a deal, especially compared to some of the much, much worse lease extensions that cities have agreed to. Next is to to see about getting Angels owner Arte Moreno to accept the same logic, now that newly elected mayor Harry Sidhu is vowing to change “the hostile political environment in Anaheim” and “keep the Angels in Anaheim where they belong,” okay, Anaheim residents are probably going to have to settle for just a good Ducks deal.
  • Atlanta Falcons COO Greg Beadles tells NPR it’s not team owner greed that causes stadium food prices to be so high, it’s just that after teams force concessions companies to bid as high as possible for stadium contracts, the only way they can make money is to charge through the nose for food! Anyway, NPR gets busy talking to fans at a Falcons game about whether they’re happy the team lowered its food prices, and they’re happy about it, so no time to fact-check whether team execs’ statements make any damn sense. Free refills on soda, woohoo!

St. Louis legislator says MLS stadium includes hidden future costs, is told to shut up because she has a rental-car dispute with team owners

Several members of the St. Louis city board of aldermen are raising objections to board chair Lewis Reed’s proposal for the city to help build a soccer stadium for a potential new MLS franchise (viewable in its entirety here), specifically on the grounds that it would put the city on the hook for future upgrades. From Reed’s plan:

An exemption from fifty percent of the City amusement tax and the deposit of the proceeds of the remaining amusement tax revenue that is collected from the activities at the stadium into an escrow fund (the “Soccer Stadium Improvement / Demolition Fund”) annually by the City to support major future improvements to the stadium, and, if warranted, the demolition of the stadium.

So that “50% amusement tax break” is actually a 100% amusement tax break — or at least, half off the ticket tax and letting the team use the other half for its own future improvements, which is functionally the same thing. I previously guesstimated that eliminating the 5% ticket tax for a soccer team would cost the city about $450,000 a year, which would be worth maybe $7 million in present value; it’s not a huge amount, and could end up being worth less than the full exemption on property taxes that Reed wants to extend to the team, but it’s still not nothing. And the proposed solution by Alderman Christine Ingrassia — making the soccer team the owners of the stadium — would presumably eliminate the property-tax break, too.

According to Ingrassia, six to eight members of the 29-member board of aldermen have expressed concerns about the future upgrade slush fund, but she withdrew her resolution to put the stadium and its future costs in the team owners’ hands because (deep breath) she says Reed accused her of trying to sabotage the stadium plan, while Reed accused Ingrassia of being biased against one of the team’s prospective owners, the Taylor family of Enterprise Rent-a-Car fame, because she’s fighting with Enterprise over $3,000 in damages to a car she rented for a conference that she says she didn’t cause.

Anyway, the whole mess now goes to an aldermanic committee, where no doubt we will hear lots more about Ingrassia’s car rental bills. And maybe even something about exactly how much the ticket tax break and property tax break would be worth to the team owners — we can dream, can’t we?

Beckham’s Inter Miami could use Marlins Park as its temporary home

Now that David Beckham and Jorge Mas’s Inter Miami MLS expansion team has a stadium — well, a stadium plan — okay, the ability to take a stadium plan to the city commission, which may or may not vote for it — it’s time for the owners to figure out where the hell the team will play while waiting for its new home to be built (or not). According to Mas:

“From the beginning I’ve said that our options are Marlins Park, Hard Rock Stadium, [Florida International University]. We’ve looked at potentially playing some games up at FAU [Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton], more maybe geared towards a broader fanbase in terms of South Florida. This is a beautiful facility here [at Marlins Park]; we’re in conversations with all of the groups involved. Personally, I like this facility, I wouldn’t mind being here. The big advantage here is we’re a Miami team and this is in the city of Miami.”

If these are such great options, it’s tempting to suggest that maybe Inter Miami could just, you know, play at one of them for good and forget about the team’s long, circuitous path toward building a soccer-only stadium. Though if Beckham and Mas are going to pay for it, then it’s their business if they want to throw money at a new stadium when there are old ones that are “beautiful.” (Hey, he said it about Marlins Park, not me.)

One big plus for Marlins Park as a soccer venue: The way the Marlins draw fans, even MLS crowds might make the 36,000-seat stadium feel full by comparison!

St. Louis MLS owners to pay all $250m in stadium costs (except for tens of millions in tax breaks and free land, shh, don’t mention that)

If you want a strong candidate for the most misleading newspaper headline since, well, pretty much ever, I would nominate yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch masterpiece “Downtown St. Louis soccer stadium would be paid for with cash by would-be team owners.” Here is how it begins:

The hopeful owners of a new Major League Soccer team in St. Louis are prepared to pay for a $250 million downtown stadium in cash, the leader of the ownership group said on Wednesday.

And here is its sixth paragraph:

The Kavanaugh-Taylor group is asking for tax-dollar help. The city of St. Louis has proposed giving the owners a 50 percent break on ticket taxes, a full tax exemption on stadium construction materials, a $30 million tax break from the state, a 3 percent sales tax on stadium goods, and the free use of land — just west of Union Station on Market Street — for the stadium.

That is not “paid for with cash by would-be team owners”! Unless all it means is they wouldn’t sell bonds or take out a bank loan, but would front the $250 million, getting repaid in part by all those tax breaks. Which would make the headline correct on a technicality, while still implying the exact opposite of the truth.

Anyway, the city-run Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority approved the $30 million state tax break and the sales tax break on construction materials yesterday, sending it to the Missouri Development Finance Board for final approval. (And yes, you are correct that neither of those bodies is made up of elected officials.) The city council could vote today on the ticket tax, the free land, and the stadium sales tax surcharge. Neither Post-Dispatch report attempted to determine a total value for all the tax breaks, because come on, man, journalism is hard enough in these troubled financial times without having to “provide numbers” and “write clear headlines” and all that.

Friday roundup: Skip right past the first four items and go directly to the hidden-camera video on the Austin soccer-vs.-soccer beef, you know you wanna

This was feeling like a long week even before Americans with guns decided to make a late rush to break last year’s record for most people killed in major mass shootings. Fortunately, we have news in the field of whether to devote scarce public resources to boosting the profits of professional sports team owners to amuse us! Ha ha! Are we amused yet?

  • Los Angeles has been selected as the host of next year’s inaugural World Urban Games, a thing that is like the Olympics only it involves sports no one cares about, like three-on-three basketball. (Though admittedly, the Olympics also involves plenty of sports no one cares about.) L.A. had to offer no actual money to be the host, just use of its sports venues, so if anyone actually travels to L.A. to see these things, there’s an actual chance this might work out to the city’s economic benefit! Crazy talk!
  • The group that wants to bring an MLB team to Portland has pulled its offer to buy the city’s school headquarters to build a stadium on the site, saying it would be better used for affordable housing. (Read: The community hated the stadium idea, and they didn’t want to fight about it.) The group will reportedly announce a new site by the end of the month, but it’s not worth holding your breath over because MLB isn’t giving Portland a team in the immediate future, if ever.
  • Saskatoon city officials are looking into building a new downtown arena for about $175 million because … they didn’t actually say why. The old one is old? Mark Rosentraub sold them on a new one? Not that a new downtown Saskatoon arena is necessarily a terrible idea, especially if the city can collect rent and other revenues from it, but an even less terrible idea would be focusing on “Do we need a new arena?” before jumping straight to “How can we build one?”
  • There’s a new pro-ticket tax group in Columbus calling itself Protect Art 4 Columbus that describes itself as “a group of art enthusiasts, sports fans and other community members,” and if this isn’t an Astroturf group, they really needed to come up with a name that made themselves sound less like one.
  • I do not have the energy to explain the beef between the wannabe Austin MLS team owner and the wannabe Austin USL team owner and how they’re both building stadiums and supporters of one stadium are accusing supporters of another stadium of lying about their ballot petitions by saying “we’re trying to build a soccer stadium” when it’s really to stop the other guys from building a soccer stadium, so just watch the video, it’s blurry and confusing and shot in portrait mode, just like the kids today all like!