Friday roundup: How Kansas City evicted a team for rent non-payment and ended up costing itself $1m, and other stories

This week’s recommended reading: Girl to City, Amy Rigby’s just-published memoir of the two decades that took her from newly arrived art student in 1970s New York to divorced single mom and creator of the acclaimed debut album Diary of a Mod Housewife. (Disclosure, I guess: I edited an early version of one chapter for the Village Voice last year.) I picked up my copy last week at the launch of Rigby’s fall book tour, and whether you love her music or her long-running blog (guilty as charged on both counts) or enjoy tales of CBGB-era proto-gentrifying New York or coming-of-age-stories about women balancing self-doubt and determination or just a perfectly turned punchline, I highly recommend it: Like her best songs, it made me laugh and cry and think, often at the same time, and that’s all I can ask for in great art.

But first, read this news roundup post, because man, is there a lot of news to be rounded up:

Sacramento to get MLS team now that city tax kickbacks will help pay for rising MLS expansion fee

The Sacramento Bee is reporting that Sacramento Republic F.C. will finally be officially named the latest MLS expansion team on Monday, after five years of haggling. And the Bee also makes clear what it took to shake loose an expansion approval:

The City Council this year agreed to offer the soccer investment group a $33 million incentive package to help it seal the deal with MLS. That included setting up an infrastructure financing district that would use future increased property tax to reimburse the soccer development group for building an estimated $27 million worth of streets, sewers and other new infrastructure on land near the stadium. The deal also includes $2.4 million worth of building permit fee waivers and other tax rebates, and up to $3 million worth of traffic control and policing on city streets adjacent to the stadium during soccer matches.

The city also will rewrite its signage ordinance to give the team rights to install five digital billboards around town.

As discussed here last month, this is a better deal than many cities are getting for their new MLS stadiums; as also discussed, $33 million plus some free billboards isn’t nothing, and it does seem like the league held out on an announcement in order to get these concessions from the city. (And Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg says he will ask the city council for additional concessions to “give the development group more financial flexibility,” as the Bee puts it, like loaning the money to team owner Ron Burkle and letting him “repay” it later with property tax payments on his other developments nearby.)

The most telling sentence in the whole article, though, may be this one:

The mayor said the proposed loan makes it easier for the Burkle group to finance its $200 million league expansion fee, as well as pay for increased construction costs. The league has bumped that fee up in recent years from $70 million to $150 million to the $200 million level this year.

So if we’re taking the mayor at his word, the city of Sacramento is having to chip in $33 million–plus from future tax receipts plus other goodies, because otherwise the local sports team’s billionaire owner wouldn’t be able to afford the $200 million expansion fee that the league set based on the notion that cities will help subsidize any new expansion teams. Maybe it’s time to consider switching MLS’s designation from “Ponzi scheme” to “extortion racket”?


Friday roundup: Team owners rework tax bills and leases, Twins CEO claims team is winning (?) thanks to new stadium, and other privileges of the very rich

Tons more stadium and arena news to get to this week, so let’s dive right in without preamble:

Columbus hid $48m in Crew stadium subsidies in “Other Projects” budget

For some somewhat better journalism, let’s head over to Columbus, Ohio, where the Columbus Dispatch reports that the $50 million the city had promised toward a new Crew soccer stadium will actually amount to nearly twice that, thanks to a secret second budget:

Starting early this year, as city department heads planned for the stadium, documents show they didn’t have one budget, but two: costs included in the $50 million and those outside of it, spread across various departmental budgets and funding sources…

In one spreadsheet circulated among city officials in March titled “Updated Project Budget and Timeline,” City Auditor Megan Kilgore tallied up what at the time were the project costs — almost $98 million, split between two “buckets”: ”$50 million” and “Other Projects.”

“This is our best effort at keeping track of projects,” Kilgore said in the March email to which she attached the spreadsheet. “The above will dictate how we continue to push expenditures that EXCEED the above amounts into the ‘Other Projects — outside of $50 million bucket’ pot.”

The “Other Projects” budget includes such items as building a 600-car parking garage for the stadium and moving electrical lines underground, items that a city spokesperson insisted would be happening with or without the stadium. (Burying the electrical lines, for example, has been assigned to the costs of a Chipotle Mexican Grill headquarters a half-mile away.)

This is all some great reporting that required digging through piles of public records requests, and could have been improved only by including the total public cost of the project to city and county taxpayers: The Dispatch itself previously reported this as $140 million plus land costs, and while I got $130 million with my adding machine, this would still mean the total public cost of the project is now more like $178 million. Or, if you prefer, $130 million, plus $48 million for a really vital Chipotle headquarters.

Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)

Meanwhile, news!

Charlotte council considers $100-200m subsidy for stadium upgrades for MLS, or whole new MLS stadium, they won’t tell anyone exactly

Speaking of cities that don’t actually have MLS franchises yet but are hoping to, the Charlotte city council met in closed session on Monday night, according to WSOC-TV, to discuss spending $100 million to $200 million on upgrades to the Carolina Panthers‘ stadium to make it more attractive to soccer:

Sources said a dome is not under consideration at this point, but changes to Bank of America Stadium could include a middle entrance to the field for the soccer players and adding two locker rooms.

Okay, sure, those are things that a soccer team might like, but $100-200 million?!? The entire stadium only cost $248 million to build, which, sure, was in 1996 dollars, but still that seems a bit on the pricey side to add two locker rooms and a walkway.

Over at WBTV, meanwhile, the news is somewhat different, with Panthers owner (and wannabe MLB owner) David Tepper asking for $100-200 million for an entirely new stadium:

During the meeting, those presenting the pitch outlined a request for between roughly $100 million and $200 million in city funds for the facility, which would host a future soccer team and not also share a space with the Carolina Panthers.

Or maybe not!

Unlike the first two sources that WBTV spoke with, the third source clarified the city funds would be used to upfit Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers currently play, to convert it to a soccer stadium.

Try to get your story straight before hitting Publish, guys!

Let’s see what the Charlotte Observer has to say:

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper may ask the City of Charlotte for up to $215 million toward Bank of America Stadium renovations and other costs associated with acquiring a new Major League Soccer franchise.

Not actually helping to clarify things! Also, $215 million is not in the $100-200 million range!

Assuming this is actually stadium upgrades and not a new stadium, WSOC-TV reporter Joe Bruno added this on Twitter:

The entire Charlotte city council and the city’s mayor are all up for election in November, so we’re looking here at a $100-million-plus subsidy proposal being discussed by the council in secret, then voted on just weeks before the lame duck officials leave office. I for one applaud Charlotte city officials for knowing how to get things done, without all this mucking about with messy democracy.

The Sacramento Republic stadium explainer, explained

In case you missed it, old-school print publication (which, like everything else, is just as much an online enterprise these days) New York magazine was just bought by Vox Media, a collection of sites best known for its “explainers.” And explaining things is good! We turn to the media to explain things, not just report them, because the world needs explaining, and we count on journalists to have the expertise needed to do it, at least in their particular subject areas.

Which brings us to KCRA’s explainer on the proposed new Sacramento Republic F.C. soccer stadium that just had a public financing authority created for it yesterday, an article that is framed as “3 things to know.” And those three things are:

1) When can I get my MLS tickets?

2) How much will the stadium cost?

3) What are soccer fans saying about the development?

Maybe not exactly the three questions I would have wanted answered, but it’s a start. Skipping over 1 (not yet!) and 3 (they like soccer!), let’s turn to 2 to see if it can shed any light on the stadium’s price tag and funding:

The soccer stadium is expected to cost $252 million and will be financed privately by Ron Burkle and his investment group. No taxpayer dollars will be used to build the stadium.

However, the city of Sacramento has committed $33 million in fee waivers for improvements that will lead to new housing and retail developments. Those new developments are expected to generate taxes that will help pay for the infrastructure.

This again. Almost two years ago, the Sacramento Bee suggested that while having city taxpayers pay for an MLS stadium was a bad idea, a good idea might be 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.” Because while all those things cost money, they go into the team owners’ pockets before coming back out to be used on stadium construction, and that’s, um, better, I guess, somehow?

This kind of Rube Goldberg funding mechanism is increasingly common, and might actually be worth a new entry in the stadium playbook if we ever do another update of Field of Schemes the book, or at least an extended footnote. But as I wrote when the Bee first proposed it in January 2018:

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.

Now, $33 million isn’t a super-exorbitant public cost on a $252 million stadium, so this is still better than most other recent MLS stadium deals. And the money is going toward things that are more legitimately public infrastructure, including new roads and a new light rail station — though a rail station that just serves the soccer stadium is arguably less a general public benefit than a benefit to the team. Also, the term sheet for the stadium (not mentioned by the KCRA explainer) grants the team five digital billboards, so that’s an additional means of the city defraying the team’s costs; and the term sheet is just preliminary, not an official lease or contract, so we can’t be sure just yet if $33 million is the final public cost. (The team does promise to pay property taxes on its stadium, at least, which is refreshing, even if paying property taxes on your property isn’t normally something that should be worthy of singling out for praise.)

All of which, you might say, is too detailed for a basic explainer to get into. But that’s one big drawback of explainer journalism: By choosing what information is deemed necessary to readers and what isn’t, it can effectively frame a story to direct readers’ attention away from elements that aren’t deemed important, all while telling them they have all the basics to understand what’s going on. Which, I suppose, is one big drawback of bad journalism in general — but somehow it feels more egregious when you’re being steered away from important information under the guise of an explanation.

Friday roundup: Lotsa soccer news, and oh yeah, saving the world

Happy global climate strike day! As kids (and their adults) take to the streets today, it’s important to keep in mind two not-contradictory-though-they-may-seem-so things: We are seriously screwed even if we act now, but there’s still a lot we can do to keep ourselves from being even more seriously screwed. (And by “we” here I mostly mean governments, because it’s almost impossible for individuals alone to significantly impact carbon emissions just by shutting off lights and avoiding air travel, not that those aren’t important things to do, too.)

Anyway, enough about the fate of humanity, let’s talk about sports venues (and not even about the carbon footprints of building new ones and flying teams from city to city, which would be a whole other article):

Friday roundup: New sports venues, new sports venue threats, and our dwindling journalistic resources

Deadspin’s Albert Burneko is a national treasure whether he’s writing about sports or movies or punctuation, and his takedown this week of a Fivethirtyeight article that asserts there are too many minor-league baseball teams is very much no exception. Drop whatever you’re doing — which is reading this post, so okay, drop whatever you were going to do after that — and read it now, whether you care about the purpose of sports as entertainment or the role of the media in management-labor relations or the increasing propensity to reduce human beings to measures of technocratic efficiency. With the demise of the alt-weeklies, there are fewer and fewer outlets eager to combine tenacious reporting and big-picture analysis and engaging writing toward the end of helping us understand the world we live in beyond “here are some potentially viral things that happened today,” so we need to cherish those that remain while we can.

And with that, here are some potentially viral (in the not especially infectious sense) things that happened this week:

Friday roundup: Will Royals sale spark new stadium, is Miami asbestos report a Beckham ploy, could developers influence Bills’ future?

Happy last Friday of summer! You’re probably busy getting ready to go somewhere for the long weekend, but if you’re instead staying put (and enjoying the space left by all the people going somewhere for the long weekend), consider spending some time if you haven’t yet reading my Deadspin article on “What’s The Matter With Baseball?“, which interrogates the various theories for MLB’s attendance decline and determines which ones may not be total crap. Do I conclude that it’s all the fault of team owners who’d rather charge rich people through the nose for a lesser number of tickets than try to sell more seats to less deep-pocketed fans? No spoilers!

And now to the news, and lots of it:

  • A new rich guy is buying the Kansas City Royals, and already there’s speculation about whether John Sherman will demand a new stadium when (or before) the team’s Kauffman Stadium lease is up in 2031. The Kansas City Star editorializes that “Kansas Citians should reject any plan that significantly increases public spending for the Royals, either for a new downtown stadium or a ballpark somewhere else,” and further notes that there’s no guarantee a new stadium would even help the Royals’ bottom line (“Winning, it turns out, is more important than a new stadium”), which is all a nice first step; let’s see what happens when and if Sherman actually opens his mouth about his plans.
  • Miami has closed Melreese golf course after determining it had high levels of arsenic and reopened Melreese golf course after environmental officials determined there was nothing “earth shattering” about the pollution levels. And now there’s concern by at least one city commissioner (Manolo Reyes, if you’re scoring at home) that the release of the arsenic findings is part of a ploy by David Beckham’s Inter Miami to get a discount on the lease price of the land, which is still being hashed out. The Miami Herald reports that the team and city are at loggerheads over whether to take environmental remediation costs into account when determining the land value; this epic Beckham stadium saga may have a couple more chapters to go yet.
  • Buffalo developers Carl and William Paladino are really excited about the possibility of a new Bills stadium near land their own, because they could either sell it to the team at an inflated price or develop it themselves once people are excited to live or shop near a new football stadium. (No, I don’t know why anyone would be excited to live or shop near a football stadium only open ten days a year, just go with it.) Carl Paladino once ran for governor of New York, so it’s worth watching to see if he uses his political ties (or skeezy lobbyist friends) to try to influence the Bills’ stadium future.
  • A group trying to get an MLB team for Nashville may not have a stadium or a site or a team, but they do have a name for their vaporteam: the Nashville Stars. Guy-who-wants-to-be-an-MLB-owner John Loar tells the Tennessean he decided on the name “after reading a book on Nashville’s baseball history by author Skip Nipper,” which is presumably this one; the Seraphs, Blues, Tigers, Americans, Volunteers, and Elite Giants honestly all seem like better names than the Stars, which was last used by a franchise in the World Basketball League (the basketball league where tall players weren’t allowed, which, yes, was actually a thing), but it’s really not worth arguing over the name a team that may never exist in our lifetimes.
  • The Richmond city council’s plan to approve spending $350 million on a new downtown arena without consulting the public has hit an apparent snag, which is that four or five members of the nine-member council reportedly oppose the plan, and seven votes are needed to pass it.
  • The editor of the San Francisco Examiner has penned an opinion piece saying the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is overly opulent and expensive — premium lounges feature wine butlers and private dining rooms, so yeah — but is resigned to this as a necessity (or at least the headline writer is) that it’s “the price we pay for a privately-funded arena.” Which, does anyone really think the Warriors owners would have passed up the chance to charge through the nose for wine butler service if they’d gotten public money? This is the price we pay for rampant income inequality, and don’t you forget it.