Florida economic panel rules everybody should get tax money for stadiums they already agreed to build

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has issued its long-awaited (well, for a couple of months, anyway) ruling on which of the four finalists for state sales-tax subsidies are to get priority, and the answer is: all of them!

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity advised Jacksonville, Orlando, Daytona International Speedway and Sun Life Stadium that their applications met all “statutory criteria.” In a letter, the department also recommended that lawmakers could approve all four.

Daytona International Speedway and Sun Life Stadium are each seeking $3 million a year for 30 years for ongoing improvements to those facilities. Orlando has requested $2 million a year for three decades to help pay for a planned $110 million soccer stadium. Jacksonville, with its application supported by the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, has asked for $1 million a year for three decades.

This is jaw-droppingly dumb, since the whole point of this process of having teams seeking state subsidies to submit standardized forms to a state agency was to come up with a ranking for who’d get first dibs on the money; instead, the state legislature will now have to decide who gets what, which is exactly as it would have been anyway. It’s also dumb because, as an analysis of past state sports subsidies found, Florida has only received 30 cents of return on each dollar spent on stadium and arena projects. And finally, it’s dumb because all four of these projects — renovations to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins stadiums and to the Daytona Speedway, plus a new stadium for Orlando City S.C. — are already underway, meaning whatever economic benefit the state would get from them, it’ll happen regardless of whether the state decides to divert public money their way after the fact.
If there’s a bright side, it’s that the four sports entities have demanded $9 million a year in funding, and there’s only $7 million in the state’s available sales-tax fund, so the Joint Legislative Budget Commission will have to figure out somehow who’s going to see their subsidy demands trimmed. This is a bright side, however, only in the sense of “The bank just got robbed, but they ran out of money before the robbers’ bags were full.” Also, there’s nothing stopping the state from approving more money later, which means if these teams (and more) don’t get what they want this round, they can just come back for more. Congratulations, Florida — you appear to have just invented the first self-replenishing cat feeder of sports subsidies.

Boston chosen as 2024 U.S. Olympic bid city, people who’ve actually been to Boston laugh and laugh

San Francisco’s 2024 Olympic committee made a last-ditch addition to their bid on Wednesday, adding a plan to build a main stadium in Oakland that could later be used for the Raiders … and you know what, we don’t have to give another thought to that, because San Francisco is not getting the 2024 Olympics. Yesterday, in a bit of an upset, the U.S. Olympic Committee picked Boston as its candidate to host those Summer Games, knocking out San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

At least in theory, Boston got the nod in part because its plan would rely less on building tons of new white-elephant stadiums and velodromes and such, which it has gotten a wee bit of flack for in the past:

Boston’s compact Olympic bid leans heavily on existing venues, such as TD Garden and college facilities, including Harvard Stadium, Boston College’s Conte Forum, and Boston University’s Agganis Arena.

Current plans call for a temporary Olympic stadium at Widett Circle, along Interstate 93 near Frontage Road south of downtown, for opening and closing ceremonies and track and field events. An Olympic village to house the athletes is planned for the former Bayside Expo grounds, with units converted to workforce housing or student dorms for the University of Massachusetts Boston.

That’s certainly all well and good, as is the Boston committee’s promise not to use “public money beyond what is already planned to be spent on infrastructure.” (Albeit that’s a bit of a worrisome fudge.) Even temporary stadiums cost money, though, and while Boston 2024 says most of the $4.5 billion budget would be paid for with Olympic revenues, history isn’t real promising there, even for cities like London that claimed they’d be keeping costs down by repurposing existing venues. The citizen group No Boston Olympics has projected that an actual Boston price tag could be anywhere from $5 billion to $20 billion, which is an awful lot of billions that wouldn’t be accounted for by sponsorships and ticket sales and the like.

The Olympic stadium could end up doubling as a new facility for the New England Revolution (it’s the same site as the team has targeted for a soccer-only building), though as USA Today Nate Scott points out, this could end up just taking Revolution owner Robert Kraft off the hook for building a stadium himself, while simultaneously delaying completion of the place for nine years. (Assuming Boston gets the Olympics; otherwise Kraft could always jump back in once the IOC tells Boston to take a hike.) Scott also includes some much better reasons to be fearful of a Boston Olympics, though, with one item in particular that stands out for me:

Boston sold itself as a frugal option to host the Summer Games, and part of that was by saying Boston would host a “walkable” games. That is all well and good, but if you know Boston, you know that the sites these events would have to be hosted at — Fenway Park, whichever colleges host gymnastics and other indoor events, TD Garden possibly, the new stadium they’re proposing in South Boston — are nowhere near each other.

Which means: Driving.

Driving in Boston is a harrowing experience. The roads, which are more or less the old cow paths in the city that they just paved over however many hundreds of years ago, make no sense. Streets are one way for a little while and then go one way the other direction. I know it doesn’t seem possible, but it’s a real thing in Boston. This happens frequently. 

For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of driving in Boston, this is, if anything, an understatement. The first time I tried to drive to Fenway Park, I ended up on a road that headed toward the ballpark just long enough for me to glimpse it, then curved gently away, steering me in any direction but the one I wanted to go in. The last time I tried it, I had plans to get off the Mass Pike and find a T stop to park-and-ride from, only to find myself unable to exit (Boston seems to have gotten a bulk discount on “NO TURNS” signs), driving all the way through downtown, into Cambridge, and back out again, finally parking at the distant Alewife station over an hour later and taking the T from there.

All of which is to say: As much as I, as a sports fan, would normally cheer a Boston Olympics as one that I could potentially attend without actually having to deal with the nightmare of having it hosted in my home city, there is no way in hell I’m going near Boston with an Olympics going on there. Not that I think the IOC will ever choose Boston in a million years, but at least they’ll always have their boarding passes to remember this by.

Indy Eleven owner again asking for $87m for minor-league soccer stadium

All the MLS expansion talk of late has focused on Las Vegas and Minneapolis and Sacramento, but Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir isn’t giving up without a fight. Ten months after throwing in the towel on his plan to ask the state legislature for $87 million for a new stadium — partly because his ticket tax revenue projections were completely nuts, but likely more so because the head of the state senate told him he’d have a better chance in the 2015 session — Ozdemir is back, and raring to be having the state cut some checks with his name on them:

The Indy Eleven’s quest for funding for an $87 million downtown soccer stadium will resume Thursday, with Rep. Todd Huston, a Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, expected to submit a bill with a funding measure for the facility.

Team officials expect the bill to get a hearing by the House Ways and Means Committee sometime in mid- to late January. If the measure is passed by this year’s General Assembly, Indy Eleven officials believe they could be playing in the stadium as soon as 2017.

In case you’d forgotten the details of Ozdemir’s stadium plan since last year — and you’ve got to think Ozdemir is hoping you have — the state of Indiana would send him annual $5 million payments, which it would recoup by collecting a 10% ticket tax on seats sold at the stadium. Except that the average MLS team only sells about $8 million a year in tickets, which would only bring in $800,000 a year in tax revenue; the research arm of the state legislature says it would be more like $200,000-400,000 a year. If that’s the case, the state would be left paying off the team’s stadium costs by kicking back income and sales taxes that otherwise would go into state coffers like normal people’s income and sales taxes do.

Ozdemir is touting the team’s sellout of all 14 home games last year as a minor-league franchise as a selling point, which is all very nice, even if Advance Indiana points out that a lot of these tickets weren’t so much “sold” as “given away.” It doesn’t explain why Indiana should give him $5 million a year for his project, though — if the Eleven are doing so well at IUPUI’s 10,000-seat stadium, doesn’t that make the case that they don’t need taxpayers to build them a new one to draw fans? Or if he really thinks he can sell six times as many tickets as other teams in MLS (without an actual approved MLS franchise, mind you — this deal wouldn’t be contingent on getting a big-league team), maybe Ozdemir could take out a bank loan, raise ticket prices by 10% in lieu of a tax, and do the financing himself? I’m talking crazy talk again, aren’t I?

Could NYCFC build a stadium at Broadway Junction? Is this headline starting an unfounded rumor? Yes!

This was buried deep in an article in Saturday’s New York Daily News, so thanks to Dave Martinez of Empire of Soccer for spotting it: One of the board members of New York City F.C. says the team’s search for a stadium site is now focused on Queens or Brooklyn:

“We had focused on the Bronx, but that didn’t work out, and we weren’t able to find anything else in the Bronx that made sense,” [New York property attorney Martin] Edelman says. “So we’re looking in Queens and Brooklyn, and each potential [site] has to be analyzed for construction, for access to public transportation, for parking, it’s a very complicated process.

“There’s no rush, but there’s a rush. In other words we’re not going to just settle for something, we’re going to find a place where everybody is comfortable doing it, and it makes economic sense to do it. But we’re not just sitting and waiting for the place to come to us.”

That’s a really long-winded way of saying “we don’t know yet,” obviously. The only potentially interesting tidbit is the mention of Brooklyn, which hasn’t previously been discussed as a possible stadium site for NYC F.C., largely because there are no large available unused sites near public transit in Brooklyn where you could easily stick a soccer stadium. (I know because we went through this ten years ago with proposed alternative locations for the Brooklyn Nets arena, and there wasn’t much there.) The one possible wild card could be the Broadway Junction train hub, which Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has targeted for redevelopment as a college campus, mall, or other large anchor project. It’s not clear that there’s room on the city’s site map for a soccer stadium, and you’d hope de Blasio knows that a building that’s dark 340 days a year is a lousy anchor for redevelopment, and yes, I’m completely speculating wildly here. But you come up with a more reasonable site in Brooklyn — unless you think that Edelman is just saying “Brooklyn” to try to get some buzz about the team going in Sweden, which is entirely possible.

Sounders may seek new stadium, because the turf at their current one is three years old

Now that D.C. United is getting a new stadium thanks to the generosity of the D.C. council, the list of teams without soccer-only stadiums is down to the New England Revolution, the new NYC F.C, the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the Seattle Sounders. NYC F.C.’s owners are actively looking for a new home, and the Revolution’s are at least thinking about it, but the Sounders owners have been happy to have their MLS squad sharing digs with the Seahawks — and why wouldn’t they, since they’re drawing more than 40,000 fans per game, far and away tops in the league. Why, there’s no possible reason why the Sounders would need a new stadium

The Seattle Sounders are not happy with the state of the CenturyLink Field turf and are growing frustrated with what seems to be an increasing sense that they are secondary tenants at the facility they share with the Seattle Seahawks.

How frustrated? ESPN’s Taylor Twellman seems to think it’s to the point that a new home is something the Sounders are at least considering.

“Secretly I think Adrian Hanauer needs [Real Salt Lake GM] Garth Lagerwey because I think Adrian Hanauer is going to look for a stadium,” Twellman told ESPN700 when talking to the Salt Lake City radio station about the news he broke on Monday. “I know that’s a long shot and people may find that surprising but I think Adrian Hanauer wants Seattle to have their own stadium and I wouldn’t be shocked if that’s where his focus and energy then turns.”

I’d point out that it would be a lot cheaper to replace the turf every year than to build a whole new stadium, and that a soccer-only facility that seats 40,000 is going to be crazy expensive, and that the Sounders’ coach has worried that Seattle gets too much rain for grass to be a good option there, and that complaining about being second-class citizens to the Seahawks is nuts when they’re partly owned by the same people — but you know, let’s just stick with the fact that this is just some soccer reporter speculating wildly. For now, anyway.

Would-be Minneapolis MLS owner says he might ask for public money, “depending, who knows?”

And finally, Bill McGuire, the owner of the minor-league Minnesota United soccer franchise and hopeful MLS expansion team owner, was asked yesterday if he’d be looking for public subsidies for a new stadium — I can’t even imagine why that would cross anyone’s mind — and he had this to day:

“We’ll see when we confirm in our own minds the where’s and why’s of all of that. And depending, who knows? We haven’t asked. I mean, there’s no formal ‘ask’ out there.”

According to my ownerese-to-English dictionary, that means something like: “No, don’t bring that up now! First I have to convince MLS that I’d be a better soccer owner than the Vikings, then I have to convince them to give me an expansion franchise ahead of Las Vegas and wherever else, then I have to build excitement about a soccer-only stadium somewhere, and then I can start talking about what kind of public funding I need to make this beautiful vision a reality.”

Or as Minnesota Public Radio puts it: “That’s not a ‘no’, which usually means a ‘yes’ in the lingo of sports stadium efforts.”

D.C. council unanimously approves $183m for United, in largest MLS stadium subsidy ever

The Washington, D.C. city council made it official yesterday, voting 12-0 to approve spending $140 million in city money on a new D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, plus a 20-year property tax abatement worth $43 million. Of that, $33 million will come from money shifted from other, unspecified capital projects, while $106 million will come in the form of new city borrowing, to be repaid via … something. See, it’s all settled!

What is officially the “District of Columbia Soccer Stadium Development Emergency Act of 2014” — presumably called so because it had to be in order to get enacted on short notice, but it still betrays a certain irony deficiency among D.C. politicians — breaks the record for the largest MLS stadium subsidy ever. (The previous record holder depends on who’s counting, though it’s likely either the Colorado Rapids stadium in Commerce City, which got $120 million according to Judith Grant Long, or the Chicago Fire stadium in Bridgeview, which collected $98 million according to Robert Baade and Victor Matheson.) Though apparently irony isn’t the only thing the bill’s authors are deficient in: One clause extends the deadline for acquiring the stadium land to “September 31, 2015,” which is a pretty neat trick.

But forget all those “numbers” and that “money” — the important thing, as the Washington Post notes, is that the soccer stadium approval gives outgoing mayor Vincent Gray a “legacy” and a “signature economic development project, one that neither of the two preceding mayors were able to accomplish.” Or, looked at another way, Gray finally gave in to the demands for $183 million in subsidies for a private soccer team that earlier mayors had refused to cough up. Isn’t it great how in politics, everything has two equally valid sides?

NY Times real estate section says exactly what it always says about everything, everywhere

The New York Times real estate section has a long piece up today about plans for a new D.C. United stadium, because … actually, I’m not sure why. The New York Times real estate section usually focuses on, you know, New York, and even if the D.C. council is voting on the United stadium plan today, it seems a bit outside the usual bounds, but, you know, whatever.

The article itself interviews the owner of D.C. United, the owner of the development company that owns the stadium land, D.C.’s planning director, D.C.’s incoming mayor, and one woman who lives in the planned stadium neighborhood, presumably for local color. My Vice Sports colleague Aaron Gordon has put together a Storify detailing all the flaws in this piece, but seriously, people, it’s a New York Times real estate section article. This is not, and never has been, journalism; it’s a service provided to realtor advertisers that dutifully identifies which neighborhoods real estate professionals are trying to hype as up-and-coming, enabling them to sell more housing there at inflated prices, and thus plow more money back into ads in the Times real estate section. It’s a win-win! Unless you 1) rent in a neighborhood thus targeted or 2) prefer to have news in your newspaper, but those people will be crushed like grapes by the tide of history, right?

Anyway, if you insist on reading the article beyond the “Real Estate” slug at the top, Gordon’s Storify is a worthwhile corrective. But really, you have better uses for your time. How about this article on how economic inequality is helping to drive the Uber economy? Or one about how ground squirrels are accelerating global warming? I never did like the look of those guys.

D.C.’s old and new mayors agree to find $150m for United stadium by taking it from somewhere or another

Outgoing D.C. mayor Vincent Gray and incoming mayor Muriel Bowser have reached an agreement on how to raise cash to fund land and infrastructure for the new D.C. United stadium, and it’s … “take the money from somewhere else and figure it out later”:

The details remain vague, but Gray announced on Thursday that he will send to the council a supplemental budget and a series of so-called “reprogrammings” — funding shifts from one pot to another — to cover the District’s anticipated $139 million share of the $300 million project.

(The council actually approved $150 million in spending, which should cover any additional money that developer Akridge wants for its property, unless it doesn’t.)

Sure would be nice to know what’s getting deprogrammed to find money for the stadium, but that’s one of the details Gray hasn’t revealed yet. The council holds its final meeting of the year on Tuesday, so presumably he’ll announce it by then, but maybe not much before then.

Report: AEG interviewing PR firms for L.A. NFL team, Raiders may be out because their fans don’t own poodles

Okay! After a week of former NFL players and former movie executives and more former NFL players speculating wildly on whether the Oakland Raiders will or should move to Los Angeles, we finally have some actual sorta-kinda-almost news about a possible L.A. relocation. Jeanne Zelasko of KFWB-AM in Los Angeles says that AEG, which has been trying for years to pretend that it’s building an NFL stadium in L.A., is now looking to hire PR specialists to handle a team moving there next year, according to people who’ve interviewed for the job:

Over the last week to ten days, AEG has been interviewing people for a public relations gig to handle an NFL team coming to L.A. And these conversations they’re having with people, these interviews they’re having with people, they’re talking about a startup situation February 15th of 2015.

Okay, so this still isn’t much of news: Basically, a company that’s already stated its interest in bringing a team to L.A. may or may not be looking to hire someone to oversee media around getting a team next spring, if one materializes during the annual NFL relocation-announcement window. But it’s another small data point toward the argument that some teams, likely the Raiders and St. Louis Rams, may be considering at least ramping up a threat to move in February, whether or not they go through with it.Zelasko later added (wait past her long discussion of naps) that what’s going on behind the scenes is that the NFL is now at least actively looking to hear more from AEG on how their stadium plan would work, which is more than they’ve done in the past. She also said that one “stumbling block” could be that the L.A. Coliseum and Rose Bowl have balked at hosting the Raiders temporarily, because the image of a typical Raiders fan is “a thug – not a clean-cut mom and dad, two kids, and a poodle,” and so the league might want to force Mark Davis to sell the team before okaying a move to L.A. Leaving aside the racial subtext here: a poodle? There are NFL teams whose fans are poodles? Also, is there something about Mark Davis that means he doesn’t know how to market football to poodles? Is “poodles” going to be the new code word for white folk who aren’t threatening, at least to other white folk? Can it be, please?