Friday roundup: Naming-rights woes, Austin update, and the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers

It’s Friday already? Seems like we were just doing this, but the pile of stories in my Instapaper queue says otherwise, so away we go:

  • The Florida state house has again passed a bill that would ban building or renovating private sports facilities on public land, which would potentially affect the Tampa Bay Rays, among others. This is kind of a dumb idea, as we discussed back in October, since there’s nothing wrong per se with putting stadiums on public land so long as the public gets a good deal for it; a far better plan would be a Seattle-style bill to require that local governments get a return on their investment in any sports lease project. But then, this bill already passed the Florida house last year and died in the senate, so probably not worth getting worked up over too much just yet.
  • Sports Authority agreed in 2011 to pay $6 million a year for 25 years for the naming rights to the Denver Broncos stadium, and now Sports Authority is bankrupt, and Metropolitan State University of Denver marketing professor Darrin Duber-Smith is saying I told you so: “My big warning was, ‘I’m not sure Sports Authority is a big enough or healthy enough company to commit that much money from their marketing budget each year.’ And I was right.” The Broncos are now looking for another company to pay $10 million a year for naming rights, and haven’t found any takers yet, hmm, I wonder why?
  • Chelsea F.C. will get to move ahead with its new-stadium plans after the town council used a compulsory purchase order — like eminent domain, surely you’ll remember it from that Kinks song — to clear an injunction that a nearby family had gotten on the grounds that the new stadium would block their sunlight. The purchase order isn’t actually seizing their home, but the land next to it, which is enough to invalidate the injunction; not that this doesn’t raise all kinds of interesting questions about the use of state power for private interests, I’m sure, but man, don’t you wish this were the only kind of stadium controversy we had to put up with in North America? League monopoly power over who gets a franchise is a bad, bad thing.
  • High Point, North Carolina is spending $35 million on a stadium to bring an indie minor-league Atlantic League baseball team to town, and City Manager Greg Demko says this will help the city’s commercial tax base recover, because “the construction of a stadium is like an anchor for the revitalization and development of a downtown.” Demko is going to be so disappointed, but at least he got mention of his city in a Bloomberg article as “home to the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers,” and you can’t buy publicity like that.
  • New Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan says that while it’s “a longshot,” it wouldn’t be impossible for Chris Hansen to build his Sodo arena while OVG renovates KeyArena at the same time. I’m going to interpret the tea leaves here as “Hey, if you want to spend your money to try to compete with another arena across town, be my guest,” but stranger things have happened, maybe?
  • The city of Austin has issued a report on eight possible sites for a stadium for a relocated Columbus Crew, and are now waiting on Crew owner Anthony Precourt to tell them which, if any, he likes. A consultant for Precourt has since ruled out a site or two, but it looks like nothing might be ready for the city council to vote on February 15 as planned; Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle says the problem is “between the holidays, flu season and winter storms, it’s been slow going.” It’s not quite helping to spark women’s suffrage, but the flu still reminds us who’s boss from time to time.
  • Now that Amazon has announced its short list of cities that will get to bid on its new second headquarters, it’s time for another look at how to stop corporations from launching interstate bidding wars to be their homes, which once again leads us to David Minge’s 1999 bill for a federal excise tax on public subsidies. “Of all those offers [made to Amazon] there’s one obvious one that should have been made and it should have come from Congress,” University of Minnesota economist and former Minneapolis Federal Reserve research director Arthur Rolnick, who helped Minge concoct that bill, tells CityLab. “Now if that offer were on the table it would end it, it would end the bidding war. Then Amazon would simply base its decision on where location is best for business.” It’d work for sports leagues, too!

Sacramento Bee says city must “hold line” on MLS subsidies by providing MLS subsidies

Back during the Kings arena debate, the Sacramento Bee had a pretty consistently terrible record of being a booster for spending public money on the project, and never mind what the actual numbers showed about whether it would be worth it. So it was encouraging to see this editorial yesterday about the city’s proposed MLS stadium:

Sacramento City Council must hold the line on public money for MLS stadium
One big draw about the proposed Sacramento soccer stadium is that it doesn’t call for a large, direct taxpayer subsidy.

That is a line that shouldn’t be crossed as city officials and Republic FC owners try to beef up their bid for a Major League Soccer franchise.

Now that’s more like it! The team owners promised to build a stadium themselves, and City Hall shouldn’t let them back down on that just because MLS is withholding a franchise in hopes that the ownership group can come up with more cash. (Their cash, new investors’ cash, the public’s cash, MLS seems pretty agnostic on which they prefer.) This is good stuff, what does the next paragraph say?

Mayor Darrell Steinberg is on the money: It could make sense for City Hall to reduce or defer some building fees, to donate land for a training facility, to give the team the revenue from new digital billboards, or to help with roads, sewers and other infrastructure near the stadium.

(DEEP SIGH)

Let’s say it all together: MONEY IS MONEY, SPORTS TEAM OWNERS DON’T CARE HOW THEY GET IT. If very rich dude Kevin Nagle can get a pile of tax or fee breaks or free land or a pile of billboard revenue that would otherwise go into city coffers, that’s going to be just as fine with him as getting city checks with “4 STADM BLDG” written in the memo field. To pretend there is any moral or fiscal difference is, well, the kind of thing you do when you’re a mayor and want to propose a sports team subsidy but don’t want it to look like one. Or if you’re a newspaper that wants to do the same, I suppose, but you’d think their copy editing department might have balked at using “hold the line” to describe it — if the Bee still has a copy editing department, that is.

Sacramento mulling public subsidies for MLS stadium so that rich owner can stay rich

If there’s been one given in the insane world of MLS expansion, it’s been that the Sacramento bidders were promising to come up with private money to pay for the entire cost of a $245 million stadium. Except that Sacramento didn’t win a expansion franchise last month as had been anticipated, reportedly because the league was worried that the prospective owners couldn’t afford a stadium on top of a $150 million expansion fee, and you know where this is headed, right?

Sacramento city leaders and the local ownership group seeking an expansion spot in Major League Soccer are discussing public contributions to a new $250 million soccer stadium planned for the downtown railyard – conversations that eventually may include a request for a direct public subsidy to the project’s construction.

(DEEP SIGH)

This was probably inevitable given the way MLS was running its expansion bidding: Setting expansion fees as high as possible, then picking winners based less on what’s the best soccer market than on which was offering the biggest guaranteed subsidies. (While two expansion teams were supposed to be announced last month, only Nashville got the nod, and it can’t be coincidence that Nashville was the only city among the finalists that had approved $75 million in public cash.) For a while it looked like Sacramento would sneak through on the basis of having a new stadium even if the owners were paying out of their own pockets, but MLS’s determination that “No, we want a team that can afford to pay us $150 million so we can keep funding our league by selling rights to more teams for big bucks, and yet still have lots of money left over for team profits, which isn’t going to happen if you’re on the hook for all stadium costs” put a fork in that, so now it’s back to the subsidy drawing board.

What that subsidy could look like is anyone’s guess: Mayor Darrell Steinberg mentioned reduced building fees and free land for a training facility as possibilities, which don’t sound too bad until you remember that Steinberg was formerly the California state senator who wrote a bill to fast-track the Kings arena by exempting it from environmental challenges, so he doesn’t exactly have a great track record in protecting the public interest. Steinberg also said, “I’m confident we can get Major League Soccer without a major public construction or operating subsidy,” and if you’re concerned by that qualifier “major,” you’re not the only one.

As for prospective team owner Kevin Nagle, who sold his prescription-drug-benefit company two years ago for $2 billion and estimated his net worth in the hundreds of millions, the Sacramento Bee reported this:

Asked if he would request a direct construction subsidy from the city, Republic FC CEO and Chairman Kevin Nagle said the team remains “incredibly appreciative to Mayor Steinberg and the City Council for their support and are committed to continuing to work with them to explore any and all paths that will help win this for Sacramento.”

No, you’re right, that’s not an answer at all. California’s tough laws allowing referendums to block sports stadium spending may be an obstacle to any team subsidy demands here, but it might be a good idea for Sacramento residents to put one hand on their wallets, just as a precaution.

DC United asks for more money and public parkland for second stadium before first one has even opened

What do you get for a team that is already about to get a new soccer-specific stadium at a cost of $183 million in public money, the largest taxpayer subsidy in MLS history? How about another stadium, because you can never have too many of those:

D.C. United has finalized a tentative deal with Loudoun County, Virginia, for a 5,000-seat stadium for the soccer club’s second-division team. The complex will include four soccer fields, a training facility, office space, and a youth development program. The stadium would be located in Leesburg, Virginia, at Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park.

Still, the deal needs to go before the county Board of Supervisors in January for approval. If approved, Loudoun County, Virginia, will provide $15 million in financing as well as the needed land for the project, as reported by Washington Business Journal.

Okay, yes, I get it, this is actually for D.C. United‘s minor-league team (or B team, as they say in soccer [or football, as they say in soccer]), so it’s not entirely unlike the New York Mets and Yankees, say, having separate stadiums for their minor-league affiliates across town from their major-league facilities. Except, seriously, come on: The MLS stadium is only going to be in use 17 days a year, so they couldn’t let the B team use it on the A team’s days off? That’s what Orlando City SC does. It’s less common in European soccer leagues (the English Premier League doesn’t allow B teams), but there you’re talking about putting a second-division game in a 100,000-seat (well, 50,000-seat, anyway; see comments) stadium; if you’re worried that 5,000 fans will look bad in a 20,000-seat stadium, you probably shouldn’t be running an MLS team in the first place.

But then, the D.C. United owners asking for a second stadium to go with their first one is ultimately understandable — it’s Christmastime, after all. What’s more insane is that Loudoun County would consider giving up $15 million plus land just to host a minor-league soccer stadium and training complex. And if you’re thinking, oh, but at least they’re getting some soccer fields out of the bargain that local teams can use, check out the public park that the new stadium would be built in:

This award-winning, 405-acre regional park has something for everyone – from the outdoor enthusiast to the seasoned athlete. The expansive property features baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, and soccer complexes, as well as trails, natural woodlands, picnic areas and a visitors’ center.

Yep, that’s right: A Virginia county is set to consider whether to spend $15 million to tear down public soccer fields and replace them with private soccer fields. (Or maybe tear down lacrosse fields or natural woodlands — I haven’t found a map of where precisely the new stadium would go.) Some days, I don’t think this whole “explaining to people why sports stadium subsidies are a scam” gig is going very well at all.

Friday roundup: Trump rescued stadium tax break, Sacramento MLS group needs more cash, more!

Happy interval between Hanukkah and Christmas! If anyone is out there reading this and not getting on a plane from somewhere to somewhere else — or is reading this while waiting for a plane from somewhere to somewhere else — enjoy your lightning-round news of the week:

  • San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Kevin Acee, who never met a stadium or arena deal he didn’t love to bits, says that several people are interested in building a new arena in San Diego, including the owners of the Padres and new Brooklyn Nets minority owner Joe Tsai. Acee adds, “Several people insisted in recent weeks the Nets will remain in Brooklyn long-term and there are no plans to ever move the team to San Diego,” which, given the relative size of the markets, is possibly the least surprising sentence ever written in the English language. Also, Acee includes zero attributed quotes in his story, and says nothing about how such an arena would be paid for, so take it with a large grain of salt for the moment.
  • Donald Trump made retaining the tax-exempt bond subsidy for sports stadiums in the tax bill “a priority,” according to one GOP aide. So when he tweeted in October, “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”, either he didn’t mean anyone to take him seriously just because he was the president of the United States speaking out on a matter of public policy, or more likely he just forgot to check with his funders before clicking Tweet.
  • “The Miami Open tennis tournament won permission to move to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, with the kickoff planned in 2019,” reports the Associated Press, which seems to be slightly confused about how a tennis match starts.
  • After the NBA used the promise of an All-Star Game for Cleveland in 2020 or 2021 if it approved publicly funded arena renovations for the Cavaliers, and the city approved $70 million worth, the league gave those games to Chicago and Indianapolis. Not that there’s really that much value in hosting an NBA All-Star Game, but still, HA ha, suckers.
  • Apparently the reason why Sacramento didn’t get an MLS expansion team along with Nashville this week is the league is worried the city’s ownership group doesn’t have enough cash for a $150 million expansion fee and a $250 million stadium. All they need is to find someone with deep pockets who thinks the best thing to do with their money is to invest it in a U.S. soccer franchise that will start off $400 million in the hole, and, well, good thing that P.T. Barnum movie is opening this week, that’s all I can say.
  • There’s a “Plan B” stadium proposal for the Pawtucket Red Sox, where instead of helping to fund the stadium directly, the state would instead give the city all income and sales taxes collected at the stadium and let the city use the money on construction costs. Rhode Island state senate president Dominick Ruggerio says he doesn’t “see that as being a viable alternative,” and plans to submit his own stadium-financing bill, which probably won’t pass the state house. This could go on for a while, until somebody remembers where they stored the money generating machine.
  • The Arena Football League is now down to four teams, in part because the Cleveland Gladiators had to suspend operations for the next two seasons thanks to renovations to the Cavaliers’ arena. This was reported in the Albany Times-Union, which has to care because Albany is supposed to be getting an AFL expansion team this year, and man, do I feel sorry for whoever got stuck with being the Times-Union beat reporter on this team, because this is looking like a sad year ahead for them.
  • Deadspin’s Drew Magary weighed in this week on arena and stadium subsidies and concluded that “Arenas Are Important And Football Stadiums Are Not,” according to his headline, but really he meant “if you’re going to waste money on something, at least arenas can be used more days of the year,” which, fair enough. Or as Magary puts it as only he can: “We are entering an age of horrific corruption, and so I have accepted the fact that living in a fraud-free America is a hilarious pipe dream. All I can do is hope for the least of all corruptions, and pray that a bare scrap of public good accidentally comes out of it. If you are some ambitious dickbag city councilman looking to make his name for himself, an arena should be your priority when it comes to getting worked over.”
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke out again about the Calgary Flames arena situation, calling it “very frustrating” and saying that “they’ll hang out and hang on as long as they can and we’ll just have to deal with those things as they come up,” but insisting that “yes, Quebec City has a building, but nobody’s moving right now, we’re not expanding East.” Which either means the Flames owners really don’t want to threaten to move right now (or ever), since making overt move threats is usually Bettman’s job, or it means even Bettman is sick of trying to pretend that the Flames have a viable threat to go anywhere.

MLS announces expansion teams in Nashville and TBD

The long-awaited MLS expansion teams announcement is in, and the winners are Nashville and … nobody?

Nashville is the first of 12 cities that submitted formal bids in January to be awarded one of four available MLS expansion teams…

As a result of a private-public partnership between the club’s owners and the community, the team will play in a new, 27,500-seat soccer stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville in the capital city’s artistic Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood.

That’s all well and good and expected, given that Nashville was waving $75 million plus free land at the league as an inducement for getting a team. (That’s what sports league press releases call a “private-public partnership.”) But what about expansion team #2? Why didn’t Sacramento, Cincinnati, or Detroit get a nod as well?

Nashville and Sacramento had been viewed as the favorites for the league’s newest teams, with Cincinnati and Detroit the other finalists. A decision on the second area picked is expected within a few weeks.

So you gotta ask at this point: What is MLS waiting for? Holding out hope that someone will fill the Cincinnati ownership group’s $25 million stadium funding gap? Waiting to see if David Beckham’s Miami team will really be ready to go anytime soon, or if the league should pick two more winners now, and push Miami back till the next round of expansion? It could be anything, really — but until we learn more, it’s just congratulations, Nashville taxpayers, your $75 million check has won you an MLS team, enjoy.

 

Friday stadium news: Warriors subway delays, MLS expansion scuttlebutt, ungrateful Hamilton

Oh hey, yeah, I forgot to mention that it’s the most important holiday of the year this week (and part of next), so posting may be a bit sporadic until Wednesday or so. But I could never ignore the weekly news roundup, so let’s get to it:

  • San Francisco’s new Central Subway likely won’t open until 2021, more than a year later than planned, which will mean a couple of seasons of Golden State Warriors fans walking or taking shuttle buses. Honestly, it’s not all that far, but I’m sure there will still be complaining.
  • David Beckham got some new minority partners for his MLS team that still doesn’t quite exist yet. Supposedly the league will issue an “update” on the Miami stadium situation soon, which maybe sounds ominous only to me because I think that way?
  • The city of Phoenix has now spent $200,000 on a Suns arena consultant, and still the city council doesn’t have any information yet even on what kinds of upgrades the arena might need, because the mayor says he has to keep negotiations with the team secret. From the city council. No, it sounds crazy to me, too.
  • The owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs junior hockey team offered to build a new arena and only ask taxpayers to foot half the bill, and he’s mad that the city hasn’t thanked him yet.
  • Cincinnati’s highway bridges are falling down, but the city is spending money on a new MLS stadium (maybe?) before addressing that, because hotel taxes and other money going to the stadium isn’t allowed to be used on highway infrastructure. You know, maybe cities and counties should start allowing things like hotel taxes to be used to improve other things that benefit tourists, like roads that don’t have overpasses fall on them when you drive under? Just a thought.
  • The Republican tax bill isn’t finalized yet, and we don’t know if the ban on tax-exempt stadium funding will survive, but the Detroit News speculates that if it does, it might help Detroit’s MLS expansion chances because it’s the only city that wouldn’t be building a new stadium. MLS already supposedly voted on the expansion cities yesterday, though, so you think the league owners called Congress for a sneak peek at the final bill? Does MLS have that kind of pull with Congress?

Islanders and NYCFC shed no light whatever on their Belmont bids

There was a public “listening session” yesterday on plans for redeveloping land alongside Belmont Park, and both the New York Islanders and NYC F.C. made presentations, and “details” were “revealed,” according to the New York Post headline, and oh boy oh boy let’s see what we’ve got:

Reps for the NYCFC soccer organization, which currently plays at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, say the team’s plans for a 26,000-seat stadium at the Elmont, LI, site would also include 400,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space, 15.3 acres of open space, a 5-acre park and 2-acre soccer facility…

The Islanders’ plan calling for an 18,000-seat arena was revealed to include an entertainment hub, hotel and retail village.

Wait, that’s it? We already knew pretty much all that — not down to the tenth of an acre, sure, but “sports facility accompanied by other development” was both teams’ plan all along. No details about how this would be funded? No renderings? Come on, we gotta at least get some renderings!

That’s not a rendering! There aren’t even any fireworks or lens flare! This Monday sucks.

(Here’s a video of the Islanders’ developer talking about how he used to build snowmen with Mets co-owner Jeff Wilpon when they were kids, which is something, I guess.)

Columbus could try to use “Art Modell Law” to force Crew to stay put

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine thinks he has a way to save the Columbus Crew from moving to Austin, and it involves a 21-year-old piece of legislation known as the Art Modell Law, officially Ohio Revised Code 9.67:

9.67 Restrictions on owner of professional sports team that uses a tax-supported facility.

No owner of a professional sports team that uses a tax-supported facility for most of its home games and receives financial assistance from the state or a political subdivision thereof shall cease playing most of its home games at the facility and begin playing most of its home games elsewhere unless the owner either:

(A) Enters into an agreement with the political subdivision permitting the team to play most of its home games elsewhere;

(B) Gives the political subdivision in which the facility is located not less than six months’ advance notice of the owner’s intention to cease playing most of its home games at the facility and, during the six months after such notice, gives the political subdivision or any individual or group of individuals who reside in the area the opportunity to purchase the team.

This was passed in 1996 in the wake of Art Modell moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and the city coughing up big money for a new stadium to get a new Browns franchise, though it’s the first I’m hearing about it. (Joanna Cagan researched and wrote the Cleveland section of the opening chapter of Field of Schemes, so my knowledge of that deal isn’t quite as encyclopedic as it might be.) DeWine says his office has reviewed the law and believes it applies to the Crew, and is “prepared to take the necessary legal action under this law” to enforce the provision that team owner Anthony Precourt give Columbus six months to either find a local buyer or buy the team itself.

The law applies, according to state representative Mike Duffey, who asked DeWine to look into it, because, as the Columbus Dispatch puts it, “it is paying a below-market rate to lease state land for parking, the stadium sits on land that is tax exempt, and the state in 2009 provided $5 million for parking upgrades at the Ohio Expo Center, where lots just south of the stadium and are used by Crew SC fans.” Which all sounds reasonable enough to me, though I am not a lawyer, and in any case “reasonable” isn’t going to stop Precourt from going to court to fight it.

Of course, if the state or city were to sue and win, they’d then have to find an owner willing to buy the Crew. That actually may not be so difficult — if all else fails, Franklin County already owns the Clippers, so it has some experience hiring a professional manager to run a publicly owned sports franchise — and might actually be cheaper than ponying up for a new stadium would be, especially since then they’d get whatever profits the Crew are currently earning. Except, uh, there’s nothing in that law that I can see that says a team owner has to agree to sell the team to local owners at any particular price, is there? So what’s to stop Precourt from saying, “Fine, you win, but despite expansion franchises going for $150 million and my only spending $63 million to get my team four years ago, it’s such a glorious franchise that I won’t take a penny less than $400 million”?

And also, the law doesn’t seem to specify penalties, so what happens if Precourt just picked up and leaves? Does Ohio just have to sue to get back its past subsidies? Can it seize the team by eminent domain? I still have not gotten my law degree since two paragraphs back, so maybe these aren’t really such big worries, but it sure seems like there are a lot of lawsuits ahead for this project. Might be easier if Austin voters just tell Precourt to take his MLS-stadium-in-a-public-park plans and go back to Ohio.

Friday roundup: Battles over Blues arena, Vegas bond subsidy, Belmont land for Islanders

Let’s get right to this week’s remainders: