Friday roundup: Nobody wants the Olympics, nobody wants the Marlins home run sculpture, nobody wants the Chargers (but L.A. is stuck with them through 2040)

So what else happened this week? Glad you asked:

  • Stockholm’s new city government said it won’t provide any public funding for a possible 2026 Winter Olympics. That would leave only Milan and Calgary as bidders, and the former hasn’t committed to public spending either, while the latter is set to hold a public referendum next month on hosting in the midst of complaints that no one knows how much it would cost. It’s still a longshot, but there’s a real chance here we could see our long-awaited “What if they held an Olympic bidding war and nobody showed up?” moment, or at least that the IOC will have to consider bids that don’t include its usual requirement that local government promise to backstop any losses.
  • “Several dozen” Long Island residents marched in protest last week against the New York Islanders‘ proposed arena near Belmont Park, saying it would create too much traffic and construction noise. Those aren’t the best reasons to be concerned about it in my book — I’d be more upset about the crazy discount on land New York state is giving the team, if I were a New York taxpayer, which I am — but maybe the protestors are worried about that too but it didn’t fit easily on a sign.
  • The owners of the Miami Marlins (i.e., Derek Jeter and the money men behind him) are going to have to pay $2.5 million to Miami-Dade County for moving Red Grooms’ home run sculpture outside their stadium, since relocating it means that Grooms will disavow the work and make it worthless. They should’ve just traded it to Milwaukee for some lousy prospects.
  • Oklahoma City is looking for capital projects to spend the next iteration of its sales-tax hike on, and Mayor David Holt says if a maybe-MLS-caliber soccer stadium isn’t included, “the Energy won’t be here forever.” The Energy, if that name draws a blank for you, is the city’s beloved USL franchise that’s been there since … 2014? It’s only a matter of time before teams start threatening to move before they even exist, isn’t it?
  • Bwahahahaha, the Los Angeles Chargers are reportedly locked into their lease at a new Inglewood stadium through 2040, so there’s no way they’re moving back to San Diego or elsewhere no matter how terrible their ticket sales are. Dean Spanos is so screwed! Uh, until he sells the team for a multibillion-dollar profit, but he’ll be crying the whole way to the bank, I promise you!

Montreal Impact owner wants tax break from city because he’s unhappy with 500% appreciation of team value

And speaking of MLS’s wacky ownership structure, the owner of (the operating rights to) the Montreal Impact says he needs a tax break from the city of Montreal so that he can stop losing so much money:

“We are losing $11 million to $12 million per season,” [Impact president and CEO Joey] Saputo disclosed during a frank and transparent discussion with members of the media at Stade Saputo.

Saputo said one way the club is looking to stem the red ink is with help from city hall by reducing the club’s annual tax bill of $2 million.

“Frank and transparent,” eh, TSN analyst Noel Butler? So Saputo opened his books so that members of the media could verify those $11 million a year losses? No? Well, it’s the thought that counts.

Anyway, Saputo appears to be holding off on spending $50 million in upgrades on Stade Saputo because he says he doesn’t want the stadium to be worth more and his tax bill to go up — in perky Canada, sports team owners have to pay property taxes on their stadiums even when they sit on public land — which is about as good an argument as “I bought an MLS team for $23 million and they go for $150 million now but I’m losing money so bail me out here!” He’s got one Canadian sportswriter on his side, though: Butler warns that without subsidies the Impact could fall to be a second-tier team like fill out the bottom of European leagues, which doesn’t even make any sense since teams in European leagues pay their own player payrolls unlike in MLS, but anyway, can Joey Saputo have $2 million, please? He’s really sincere!

Columbus to keep Crew, send Anthony Precourt to Austin, this has gotta be a win-win

I posted the week-ending news roundup late on Friday, but still not apparently late enough for the stadium news cycle, which promptly exploded in the afternoon, starting with the news that Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was finalizing a deal to buy the Columbus Crew from owner Anthony Precourt so that it can stay in Columbus in a new stadium and Precourt can get an expansion team to move to Austin, Texas.

A bit of a recap for anyone new to this story: The Crew owners have been griping about wanting a new stadium to replace their current one (which was built all the way back in 1999) since they were the old Crew owners back in 2013; Precourt upped the ante last year by saying if Columbus wouldn’t build him a new stadium, he’d move the team to Austin. Precourt subsequently got Austin to approve a stadium deal there that included a $100 million tax break, but meanwhile Columbus sued under the “Art Modell Law” passed after the Browns moved to Baltimore to force Precourt to offer the team to local buyers first, and a fan group called Save the Crew issued proposals for a new downtown stadium in Columbus, to be paid for … somehow.

That takes us up to Friday, when it was revealed that Haslam — plus some local investors — had negotiated with Precourt and MLS to instead buy the Crew and have them stay put; Precourt will still get an expansion franchise in Austin, and everybody is happy. At least, maybe everybody is happy? There are still a bunch of unanswered questions here, like:

  • Who’s paying what to whom for what here? MLS is a “single-entity” structure, meaning that the league owns the actual teams, and the team “owners” only control operating rights. The Columbus Dispatch reports that the deal likely involves “the local investors purchasing the Columbus MLS rights from the league and current Crew operator Precourt Sports Ventures transferring its equity interest in the league to an Austin franchise, presumably an expansion team” — presumably this means Haslam and friends are paying something close to the $150 million expansion fee price that the league won’t be getting from Precourt. Unless maybe Precourt is paying the difference? This is all rich dudes shuffling money around themselves, so whatever, but it’d still be interesting to know.
  • What happens with the other cities looking for expansion teams? MLS already had a long list of cities angling to get the next two expansion franchises set to be announced, but it appears that Precourt and Austin have jumped the line. Media outlets in Sacramento, thought to be one of the expansion frontrunners, are already wringing their hands over the prospect of now only having one expansion slot to compete for. Assuming MLS doesn’t decide to keep both of next year’s expansion slots and make Austin its 29th team, or throw David Beckham back under the bus, or really anything, because MLS can decide whatever it wants here. (My bet would be on making the remaining cities compete for one slot, but if multiple cities come up with viable ownership groups and lucrative stadium subsidies, announce, “We changed our mind — everybody gets bees!”
  • Who’s going to pay for this new Columbus stadium, anyway? The Columbus Dispatch reports that there’s no deadline for a new Crew stadium to be in place, and that the team will continue to play in its old stadium until then, which would seem to reduce Haslam’s leverage if he wants to get public cash to help with his stadium plans. But it’s always possible Haslam has already been working things out along these lines with Columbus officials — news reporting on all this is fairly lousy so far, as to be expected when news drops on a Friday afternoon.

So what’s the upshot here? That MLS was more scared of moving the Crew to Austin than we’d been led to believe, either because of the Modell Law or because they didn’t want to be seen pissing off an established fan group or just because they saw the opportunity to get another NFL owner on board, and they just love those guys. Regardless, that Columbus will apparently get to keep its MLS team without having to pony up huge subsidies for a stadium for an expansion team has got to be seen as at least tentatively good news, and a sign that public mobilization can impact the battles of elephants. There are still many, many more shoes to drop, however, so glass-half-empty advocates, keep hope alive that this will still suck for someone! Anything is possible in the topsy-turvy world of MLS!

Friday roundup: Vegas MLB rumors, North American soccer superleague rumors, and everything just costs untold billions of dollars now, get used to it

I published two long articles yesterday — one on sports stadium and arena deals that haven’t sucked too badly, one on a particular non-sports subsidy deal that looks to be sucking pretty hard — so I wasn’t able to post anything here, despite a couple of news items that might have warranted their own FoS posts. But as the saying goes, Thursday omissions bring a shower of Friday news briefs (please don’t tell me that’s not a saying, because it is now), so let’s dig in:

Enterprise rental car family proposes new St. Louis MLS stadium plan that sucks less than the last one, probably

There are new owners hoping to bring an MLS expansion franchise (and MLS stadium) to St. Louis, and the Post-Dispatch is reporting on it with typically dispassionate hometown newspaper skepticism:

For those who thought the city’s ambitions of becoming a Major League Soccer town died at the ballot box last year, there is hope — and its name is Taylor.

Taylor is the family behind Enterprise rental cars, which is based in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton. The Post-Dispatch goes on to pick up such press release soundbites as that this would be the first MLS team majority-owned by women, and that Enterprise has lots of ties with local nonprofits, and okay okay, we get it, what about the damn stadium that was the stumbling block the last time somebody tried to get a soccer expansion team for St. Louis?

A roughly $250 million stadium dedicated to the soccer franchise would be “overwhelmingly” privately financed, the Taylors say. Public help would likely come from dedicated sales taxes on concessions and other merchandise sold to patrons, a property tax break from a city agency owning the stadium site and leasing it to the group, state tax credits and a break on the city’s 5 percent ticket tax.

That “overwhelmingly” sounds good; that longish list of tax breaks sounds less good. Let’s take them one at a time:

  • Those “dedicated sales taxes on concessions and merchandise” would apparently mean an extra 3% sales tax surcharge within the stadium. That would mostly come out of the team’s pockets — the economics gets a bit complicated, but suffice to say that as with ticket taxes, sports teams tend to lower concessions prices to eat the surcharge themselves, since they are already trying to charge fans as much as the market will bear for hot dogs — so probably wouldn’t be a significant public subsidy.
  • The size of the proposed property tax break is unknown — here’s the site under consideration if somebody wants to dig through St. Louis tax records to estimate how much it would normally be expected to pay.
  • Actual MLS ticket sales and prices are famously hard to calculate thanks to teams’ policies of goosing the gate by giving away tickets for free or cheap, but if we guesstimate 300,000 tickets a year at an average of $30 a pop, then eliminating the 5% ticket tax would cost the city about $450,000 a year.

So all told, yeah, that all sounds preferable to the $60 million from sales tax hikes and kicked-back property taxes on adjacent land that would have gone into the previous soccer stadium plan. Though of course right now we’re just taking the word of the prospective team owners for it, so let’s see what the fully fleshed-out proposal looks like. Hopefully the Post-Dispatch will remove its rose-colored glasses long enough to report on that, once it’s available.

Friday roundup: Bad MLB attendance, bad CFL loans, bad temporary Raiders relocation ideas

And in other news:

Missouri governor looks to reheat coagulating old plans for St. Louis soccer stadium

When last we visited plans for an MLS team in St. Louis, voters were rejecting spending $60 million in city tax money on a stadium for one, and the whole idea was falling by the wayside. But it’s been almost a year and a half since then, and the MLS commissioner mentioned their name on the telly recently, so sure, once more into the breach!

An official in Gov. Mike Parson’s office told the Post-Dispatch that officials with the state Department of Economic Development met with Major League Soccer representatives as recently as Tuesday, and that the Parson administration was interested in working on a stadium proposal.

Oh yeah, one other thing happened since April of last year: Missouri governor Eric Greitens, who had denounced the soccer stadium plan as “welfare for millionaires,” resigned in a scandal over using a nude photo of his former hairdresser as blackmail to threaten her into not revealing their affair, and was replaced by lieutenant governor Mike Parson. That Parson is open to working on an MLS stadium plan isn’t necessarily an ominous sign — maybe he just wants to smooth the path for a team owner to spend their own money on a stadium, it’s possible, kinda! — but that his office went as far as to leak it to the press probably means that he’s trying to get some attention for St. Louis in the wake of Don Garber’s latest expansion saber-rattling, which probably isn’t good.

Anyway, MLS may still be a Ponzi scheme, but Ponzi schemes can last a good long while if they’re run well and can come up with a continual supply of new marks. And with both prospective owners and prospective cities lining up to prove Apocryphal P.T. Barnum right, it looks like it’ll be a while yet before any chickens come home to roost.

Friday roundup: More MLS expansion drum beating, more wasteful non-sports subsidies, more bonkers Tottenham stadium delay stories

Getting a late start this morning after being out last night seeing Neko Case, so let’s get to this:

Friday roundup: A farewell to Baby Cakes, and other stadium news

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a week since a week ago — but then, looking at all the stadium news packed up like cordwood, it’s actually not:

Nashville approves stadium at last minute in exchange for affordable housing, soccer balls

The simmering Nashville S.C. existential crisis — MLS had approved an expansion franchise after the city council approved a new stadium with $75 million in public subsidies (plus free land), but it turned out they hadn’t actually approved approved it yet — was taken off the burner last night, as the council voted 31-8 to demolish existing buildings at the city’s fairgrounds to clear the way for the stadium, while also approving bills to rezone the land, approve the team’s ground lease, and sell $50 million in bonds to help fund construction. The council also voted 25-12 to reject a proposal for a public referendum on the stadium bonds.

All this happened by the skin of the council’s teeth, as even earlier in the day, it wasn’t clear if the stadium plan would must the necessary 27 votes for passage. But when the team and the community group Stand Up Nashville announced a community benefits agreement earlier in the day, that was enough to shake loose the deciding swing votes.

So what did Nashville get in the CBA? A minimum wage of $15.50 for stadium workers, a requirement that at least 20% of the new residential units be “affordable” or “workforce” housing (no details available on what income band this would need to be affordable to), the inclusion of a day care center, some soccer equipment for Metro schools, and a few other things. It’s not nothing, but it’s also going to cost the team owners a drop in the bucket compared to the $75 million (plus free land!) that the city is gifting to the team owners. So, classify it under “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” which is where the vast majority of stadium deals end up.

Nashville S.C. is now all set to enter MLS in 2020 along with David Beckham’s Miami team, which will bring the number of teams in the league to an even 28. This is not large for a U.S. sports league, but is mammoth for a soccer league, which usually top out at 20; it remains to be seen whether the league’s policy of endless expansion will ever hit a wall, but for now, the owners can keep on cashing those $150 million expansion fee checks.