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:
The Arizona Diamondbacks signed a nondisclosure agreement with the city of Las Vegas in 2018, which the Las Vegas Review-Journal takes as enough evidence to run a headline saying that the D-Backs were talking with Vegas about relocation, so long as they add the word “apparently.” This is truly a new breakthrough in relocation threats, as team owners no longer even have to go through the trouble of hopping on a plane to get news outlets reporting that their team could move; now, you just have to sign some paperwork and wait until reporters notice. Why, this way, you don’t even have to answer any embarrassing questions like “Why would you want to move to a much smaller market?” or “Are you worried that D-Backs fans will burn you in effigy on Opening Day?” Truly a sign of disruptive efficiencies at work.
Sacramento is supposedly finalizing a deal to bring an MLS expansion franchise to town in 2022, and though there are no details yet, it’s only a matter of time before it happens, mostly because it’s only a matter of time before every census tract in America and maybe a few other countries gets its own MLS team.
The Voice of O.C. has calculated that the city of Anaheim has turned a $1.6 million profit on running the Los Angeles Angels‘ Angel Stadium over the past nine years, which isn’t much, but at least it’s not a sea of red ink. Though as sports economist Victor Matheson points out, “What are 155 acres of prime real estate worth in the LA metro area? That’s a gigantic opportunity” that’s being lost by using the land for a stadium instead. All food for thought in those upcoming public forums on the proposed stadium land deal that the city won’t tell the public basic facts about like how much the land is worth.
The Rolling Stones and San Francisco 49ers execs are mad that the city of Santa Clara told the Stones at the last minute not to set off fireworks on stage, and Mayor Lisa Gillmor has responded that it’s really the 49ers’ fault: “The 49ers should spend less time criticizing others and more time learning how to follow the laws like those governing workers wages and the curfew, which they agreed to when they opened the stadium in 2014.” Remember that hot minute when the Santa Clara stadium was supposed to be a beacon of how to successfully arrange a sports venue deal? Those were such simpler times.
Here are three options presented for Honolulu’s $350 million replacement of Aloha Stadium, none of which, weirdly, are “Keep the $350 million and spend it on something else, you do realize that you don’t have a pro football team and even the Aloha Pro Bowl moved to Orlando three years ago, right?”
If you noticed this site being inaccessible a lot the last two days, hey, so did I! The good news is that a bunch of that time was spent in discussions with the good folks at Pair.com about migrating the site to a more stable hosting platform, which is currently in the works, though it may take a week or so before everything is finalized. In the meantime, if you notice occasional glitches, rest assured it’s all part of the process for bringing you a Better, Brighter Tomorrow.
Meanwhile, in the week’s stray stadium news roundup, where the tomorrows never seem to get better or brighter:
South Carolina’s $160 million public price tag for a Carolina Panthers practice facility — I know, that dollar figure and that noun phrase make me boggle every time I type it — could go up by an undetermined amount, thanks to road improvements and other stuff the state could be on the hook for. A hundred million here, a hundred million there, and you start to run into some real money.
New Austin F.C. stadium renderings! Bonus points for portraying players on the pitch in positions that might actually be possible in a real soccer match; demerits for trying to make the game seem exciting by having a few fans randomly raising fists, and for devoting way too much space to pictures of dining tables instead of showing what the view would look like from other parts of the stadium. (Though there is one renderings of what the game would look like from behind a dining table, which is, you will be surprised to learn, not very good.)
Here’s an article by CBS San Francisco about the Oakland city council passing two bills in support of a new A’s stadium at Howard Terminal that is entirely sourced to a tweet by A’s president Dave Kaval. Oh, journalism.
And here’s an article (on some sports site I’ve never heard of) that declares it a “RUMOR” (in all caps) that MLB is exploring an expansion team in Las Vegas, cited entirely to a tweet by a Las Vegas “news and rumors” site I’ve never heard of, which really only predicts that there will be an announcement after the World Series of a “Major League Baseball plan.” You know who else has a Major League Baseball plan? Portland, Oregon. They don’t have an MLB expansion team either, and all signs are they won’t for a while, but nice to hear they’ll be getting some company in the vaporfranchise competition.
The cryptocurrency-based journalism startup Civil couldn’t have gone much worse, but it did spawn a couple of successes, none more welcome than Hmm Daily, the news commentary site from former Gawker and Deadspin editor Tom Scocca. Or as I will always think of him, the co-founder of Funny Paper, the now virtually unfindable-on-the-internet weekly(ish) political analysis of daily comic strips that was the greatest such enterprise until the great Josh Fruhlinger elevated it to an even higher art form. I’ve been enjoying Scocca’s excellent columns on the militarization of language and how big a giant bee is for months now, but I didn’t feel compelled to bite the bullet and kick in any money until I spotted this photo caption in an article by Scocca’s Funny Paper co-conspirator Joe MacLeod: “I have no beef with the M&M’s homunculus infesting the menu.” If you know me at all from reading this website, you know that I immediately pulled out my wallet and became a paying Hmm Daily subscriber (at the $5 a month level, though the reward at the $50,000 level is truly amazing).
Anyways, on to the sports stadium and arena newses:
The Voice of OC cites “experts” as saying that Anaheim may not be driving a hard enough bargain with Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno on a price for stadium parking lot development rights, and oh hey look, it’s me. Also Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, who says, “Cities tend to be remarkably bad negotiators when it comes to professional sports,” which, yup.
Politifact Wisconsin did a fact-check on claims that the state of Wisconsin will get a “tremendous” payback on its Milwaukee Bucks arena subsidies and found that that’s only if you assume the Bucks would have moved without them, and assume that Bucks fans would have all stopped spending their money in Wisconsin without them, and assume that NBA salaries will quintuple by the 2040s, and further found that Villanova sports stadium researcher Rick Eckstein calls the revenue estimates “fantasy figures,” and concluded that this makes the claim Mostly True. It is just slightly possible that having staff members of the local newspaper that has a record of overarching credulity on the arena deal do fact-checking on it might not be the best idea.
The New York Times is a significantly less terrible newspaper, but a profile on A’s president Dave Kaval with the headline “Can This Man Keep the A’s in Oakland?” is not only pretty sycophantic in its own right, but it assumes a lot about the team owners moving without a new stadium when they’ve already gone a couple of decades demanding a new stadium and not getting one and still not moving.
The Arizona Coyotes are getting a new majority owner and the Phoenix Suns are up for sale, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, who added, “as one NHL official told me yesterday, when I asked that very question, I said, ‘Does this new owner mean that there’s an arena closer to fruition?’ And the answer was, if you get a new owner, there’s a better chance of a new arena. So you can put two and two together, Steve.” Then the Suns owners and a report in The Athletic on the Coyotes completely refuted what Shannon said, so maybe you’re better off putting two and two together without his help.
I was about to write up this news story about a potential rezoning approval for Austin F.C.‘s new stadium, but then I saw that KXAN managed to write “Austin’s Planing Commission” and “this ammendment” in the first three paragraphs, and now I gotta go cry all day about the death of copy editing, sorry.
Happy Friday! Here is a fatberg of stadium and arena news to clog up your weekend:
San Jose Mercury News columnist Daniel Borenstein says the Oakland A’s owners could be getting a discount of between $15 million and $65 million on their purchase of half the Oakland Coliseum site from Alameda County, which is hard to tell without opening up the site to other bids, which Alameda County didn’t do. You could also look at comparable land sale prices and try to guess, which shows that the A’s owners’ offer is maybe closer to fair value; it’s not a tremendous subsidy either way, but still oh go ahead, just write us a check for whatever you think is fair is probably not the best way to sell off public assets, yeah.
Fred Lindecke, who helped get an ordinance passed in St. Louis in 2002 that requires a voter referendum before spending public sports venues, would like to remind you that the soccer stadium deal approved last December still has to clear that hurdle, not that anybody is talking about it. Since the soccer subsidies would all be tax kickbacks and discounted land, not straight-up cash, I suspect this could be headed for another lawsuit.
Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, for some reason, revealed that “Seattle is having a meeting to try to bring back the Sonics,” but turns out it’s just Chris Hansen meeting with a bunch of his partners and allies from his failed Sodo arena plan, not anyone from city government at all, so everybody please calm down.
The rival soccer team that lost out to David Beckham’s Inter Miami for the Lockhart Stadium site in Fort Lauderdale is now suing to block Beckham’s plans for a temporary stadium and permanent practice facility there, because this is David Beckham so of course they are.
Publicly owned Wayne State University is helping to build a $25 million arena for the Detroit Pistons‘ minor-league affiliate, and Henderson, Nevada could pay half the cost of a $22 million Las Vegas Golden Knights practice facility, and clearly cities will just hand out money if you put “SPORTZ” on the name of your project, even if it will draw pretty much zero new tourists or spending or anything. Which, yeah, I know is the entire premise of this site, but sometimes the craziness of it all just leaps up and smacks you in the face, you know?
The Philadelphia Union owners have hired architects to develop a “master plan” for development around their stadium in Chester, because they promised the city development and there hasn’t been any development and maybe drawing a picture of some development will make it appear, couldn’t hurt, right?
Wannabe Halifax CFL owner Anthony LeBlanc insisted that “we are moving things along, yeah” on getting federal land to build a stadium on, while showing no actual evidence that things are moving along. “The only direction that council has ever given on this is ‘dear staff, please analyze the business case when it comes,’” countered Halifax regional councillor Sam Austin. “Everything else is media swirl.”
Never mind that bill that could have repealed the Austin F.C. stadium’s property tax break, because its sponsor has grandfathered in the stadium and any other property tax breaks that were already approved.
Jacksonville Jaguars president Mark Lamping declared that the team’s stadium is “a candidate for major renovations,” which led Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to respond with this remarkable statement: “I am not the expert on entertainment and sports stadiums, so whatever the organization thinks is going to be best for that district — for fans and best for taxpayers.” That’s not exactly grammatical English, but it seems to imply I don’t know nothing ’bout no sports stadiums, these guys are the experts so I guess let’s give them what they want, which is incredible even on the very low bar set by American mayors.
Wondering how the Golden State Warriors owners are going to pay back the cost of their $1 billion San Francisco arena opening in the fall? How about luxury suites that rent for $2 million a year? That’s $50,000 to watch a single Warriors game with a bunch of your friends, plus a “video wall” so you can watch the game on TV if you don’t want to look at the actual court, and a butler to bring you wine from your personal wine cellar during the game. In case you were wondering: Yes, rich people in the U.S. are officially too rich now.
David Beckham and Jorge Mas’s Inter Miami has hired Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s son as a lobbyist for their Melreese Park stadium project, but says since his dad is the county mayor and he’ll only be lobbying the city, this isn’t a conflict of interest at all. (Write your own Florida Man headlines.)
New rugby stadium opening in Houston! I bet the roller derby and ultimate frisbee leagues are wondering when it’s going to be their turn to get buildings designed just for their sports. (Over/under at this rate: 2025, right after the opening of the first Minecraft stadium.)
Charles Allen, the D.C. councilmember whose district includes RFK Stadium, calls the site “a very wrong choice for an NFL stadium,” and instead would like to see housing and parks there. Mayor Muriel Bowser disagrees, so this is going to come down to a good old council fight. Too bad Marion Barry isn’t around anymore to make things interesting.
Hawaii is considering spending $350 million in public money on a new football stadium to replace Aloha Stadium because, according to state senator Glenn Wakai, “It’s kind of like driving a Datsun pickup truck that is just being run into the ground. At a certain point, time to get a new pickup truck.” Given that Aloha Stadium currently hosts nothing much at all other than University of Hawaii football, it’s more like spending $350 million to replace your pickup truck that just sits in the driveway with a new pickup truck, but far be it from me to interfere with Sen. Wakai’s attempts to bash Datsun for some reason.
Halifax is still considering whether to spend $120-140 million on a stadium for an expansion CFL team, maybe via the magic of tax increment financing; University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe points out that a TIF isn’t magic but just “makes the subsidy less transparent, less obvious that it indeed even is a subsidy” — but then, pulling the wool over the public’s eyes is a kind of magic, no?
The Oakland Raiders have a “very real” chance of playing 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum, according to … this Bleacher Report headline, but nothing in the actual story? What the hell, Bleacher Report?
Austin residents will get to vote in November on whether the city can give public land to a pro sports team owner without a public vote, but it’ll probably be too late to affect the deal to do that for Austin F.C. owner Anthony Precourt. It’ll come in handy next time Austin is in the market for a pro sports team, I guess, though then the owner will probably just figure out a different way to ask for subsidies. “Better late than never” doesn’t work that well when it comes to democracy.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’s “not sure that there’s much space for public consultation” on a redevelopment project to include a Flames arena, though he added that “it would be very interesting to hear from the public on what they think the right amount of public participation in this should be, and certainly there will be an opportunity for the public to have their voices heard but it might not happen until there’s something on the table.” It’s hard to tell whether that’s a justification or an apology — and keep in mind that Nenshi was deliberately shut out of the committee negotiating any deal — but there you are.
MLS commissioner Don Garber just got a five-year extension, and — quelle coincidence! — the league is now talking about expanding to 32 teams by 2026. Whether this is really a Ponzi-esque attempt to paper over weak financials with a constant influx of expansion fees won’t be entirely clear until the expansion finally stops and we see how the money looks then, but one thing is increasingly clear: It’s kind of crazy to throw stadium money around in hopes of landing an MLS franchise when it’s increasingly clear every reasonably large city in the U.S. is going to get one sooner or later.
The Arizona Republic has been full of both articles and op-eds this week asserting that giving $168 million to the Phoenix Suns for arena renovations is a good thing (sample reasoning: “The arena is old and needs updated. The Suns are young and need direction.”), but then it also ran an excellent fact-check that concluded that claims of the arena having a significant impact on the city’s economy are “mostly false,” citing the umpteen economic studies showing exactly that (sample conclusion, from Temple economist Michael Leeds: “A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store”). On balance, good enough work that I hope the Republic can avoid being bought by an evil hedge fund that is trying to buy up newspapers and strip-mine them for any assets; what would really be nice would be if they can be bought by someone who can afford copy editors (“is old and needs updated”?), but I know it’s 2019 and we can’t have everything.
Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno signed a one-year lease extension on the team’s stadium through 2020, which is disappointing in that I really thought the city should have used this leverage to demand a longer-term lease extension (what’s Moreno going to do otherwise, go play in Rio de Janeiro?). But Craig Calcaterra’s summary of the situation (sample description: this will give time to resolve “a long-term solution for what, at least from the Angels’ perspective, is a stadium problem”) is so on point and such a good model for how to report stadium controversies fairly and accurately that I’m not in the mood to complain.
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!
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!
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.
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!
People who want an NBA franchise in Louisville say they’d consider building a new arena for it, despite Louisville already having two perfectly good basketball arenas, which is arguably even more crazy than the idea of Louisville getting an NBA franchise at all.