Here’s a bunch of ways rich sports owners are looking to get pandemic bailouts

The owners of the Los Angeles Lakers have voluntarily returned $4.6 million in refundable government loans they received as part of the Payroll Protection Program—

Hold up, let’s try that again.

The owners of the Los Angeles Lakers, a sports franchise worth an estimated $4.4 billion that turns an annual $178 million profit, asked for and received $4.6 million in federal government loans as part of its Payroll Protection Program for small businesses. (The loans convert to grants if recipients keep their current employees on payroll through the end of June.) Like other prominent companies that took advantage of the PPP program — Shake Shack, Potbelly, Ruth’s Chris friggin’ Steakhouse — the Buss family that owns the Lakers chose to return the money “so that financial support would be directed to those most in need” once they realized they’d bum-rushed the subsidy line and edged out actual small businesses, and also probably realized that the PR hit from doing so would have been worth way more than a relatively piddling $4.6 million in government grants.

That a billionaire sports family got approved for small-business loans should be alarming, but not surprising: The federal government has already approved more than $2 trillion in spending to help Americans hit by the coronavirus-spawned economic crash, and it’s all but inevitable that some less-needy Americans would put in applications as well — the feds define “small businesses” based in part on how many employees they have, and sports teams don’t employ a ton of people on payroll. And it’s also inevitable that they’d also be among the first to be approved, since programs like PPP are first-come first-served and rich folks are more likely to have lawyers on staff who know how to file paperwork fast, as well as established bank connections that made them more likely to get approved.

In fact, sports team owners are working many angles to get a cut of the Covid stimulus bailout cash, just as less-deep-pocketed individuals are as they try to figure out whether to consider themselves unemployed gig workers or entrepreneurs in need of cash to keep themselves on payroll. Among the ways:

  • The Sacramento Kings owners are renting out their old empty arena in Natomas for $500,000 a month to the state of California for use as a field hospital, which is the same rent the state is paying for other temporary facilities, but maybe a tad disingenuous given that Gov. Gavin Newsom previously praised Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé as “an example of people all stepping in to meet this moment head-on” without mentioning that he’d be getting paid for his selflessness.
  • The owners of the D.C. United MLS team are part of DC2021, an advocacy group of Washington, D.C. business leaders lobbying the district for “a massive new tax relief program” to help the local restaurant, hotel, and — apparently — soccer industries survive the economic shutdown.
  • The stimulus measures approved by Congress weren’t all expanded unemployment benefits and checks with Donald Trump’s name on them; they also reestablished a tax loophole involving what are known as “pass-through entities” that will allow mostly wealthy people to save $82 billion on their tax bills this year. The biggest beneficiaries will be hedge-fund investors and owners of real estate businesses, a list that obviously includes lots of sports moguls: Just owners of hedge funds who also control sports teams include Milwaukee Bucks co-owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik, and a pile of others.

Now, not all of this should be considered a fiasco: In the case of the PPP in particular, Pat Garofalo notes in his Boondoggle newsletter that the money is intended to keep low- and moderate-income workers from being laid off — the reimbursements top out at $100,000 per employee — and people who work for sports teams or chain restaurants are just as deserving of keeping their jobs as those who work at genuine small businesses. The main problem with PPP is that Congress massively underfunded it, then made it first-come first-served, then left it up to banks to decide who to approve — okay, there’s actually a lot here to consider a fiasco, but sports team owners deciding to fill their wallets at the same firehose of cash as everyone else is far from the worst part of it.

As for some of the other bailout proposals, though, sports owners come off looking a lot less innocent. That DC2021 plan pushed by D.C. United owner Jason Levien, for example, includes such things as tax holidays for corporate income taxes and property taxes, which Garofalo notes won’t help most small businesses that don’t turn large profits or own land.  (Levien, you will not be surprised to learn, is not just a sports mogul but also a real estate investor.) And the pass-through tax break is almost entirely a sop to millionaires and the Congresspeople who love them, which though it doesn’t single out sports team owners, certainly helps many of them given that they’re far more likely to invest in pass-through companies than you or I.

I’ve said this before, but it really is worth harping on: The recovery from the pandemic is already involving a ton of government spending, and will unavoidably involve a ton more, since the feds are pretty much the only institution that has the power to keep food in people’s mouths during this crisis. (At least until the U.S. Mint is deemed a non-essential business.) This will invariably create winners and losers, both in terms of who gets what money and in terms of who ends up paying off the government debts that are being racked up now. There’s no way to avoid this involving subsidies — pretty much the whole idea of government spending to prevent an economic crash is about creative use of subsidies — so what you want to shoot for is fairness, where you have the most money going to companies and individuals who were most hurt by coronavirus shutdowns, and the least to companies and individuals that just were able to lawyer up the fastest.

Individuals who were most hurt except, of course, for Miami Heat and Carnival Cruises owner Micky Arison, who may have lost more than a billion dollars thanks to the collapse of the cruise industry, but who also lobbied the Trump White House to let them keep sailing even after it was clear that cruise ships were perfect Covid incubators. The cruise industry was notably left out of the stimulus bills, and while that’s more about the fact that they all registered as foreign businesses in order to duck U.S. taxes than their owners being money-grubbing jerks who prioritized profits over public health, I think we can all agree: Screw those guys.

D.C. councilmember facing pay-for-play charges, could be too in jail to help with Washington NFL stadium

Washington, D.C., has put close to a billion dollars in public money into sports stadiums and arenas in recent years — for the Nationals, D.C. United, and a Wizards practice facility that doubles as a Mystics home court — and at the center of pretty much all of the spending campaigns is city councilmember Jack Evans. And Evans, according to a Washington Post report, is now in super-hot water, which I will hand it over to Deadspin to explain because they do it so much pithier:

The paper alleged Evans received an estimated $100,000 in stock from a private company just before introducing “emergency” legislation that would have directly benefited the gift horse firm. The story said the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability began looking into Evans’s play-for-pay behaviors earlier this year. The ethics board suspended that investigation and released no findings, which according to the Post typically happens “in deference to law enforcement investigations.”

Uh oh.

Serious uh-oh. The private company in question is billboard company Digi Outdoor Media, and it gifted Evans with the $100,000 in stock in October 2016, one month before Evans introduced emergency legislation to legalize large digital advertising signs that the company wanted to install. Digi had earlier worked with Evans on legislation legalizing large fabric ads on the sides of buildings, and had given the councilmember $50,000 in checks earlier in 2016, in what Evans said was a retainer for future consulting work. (Evans says he ended up returning both the checks and the stock.)

If Evans goes down in flames, notes Deadspin’s Dave McKenna, it will be nothing but bad for Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder’s attempts to get a new stadium on the RFK site:

In keeping with his no-billionaire-left-behind reputation, Evans was viewed as the leader among D.C. politicians in putting together a package to beat whatever Maryland and Virginia lawmakers were going to give the bumbling but moneyed Skins owner. One source with ties to the D.C. council tells me Evans’s package calls for the city to turn over the choice real estate to Snyder for free, and to take care of new road and parking lot costs, and Snyder would dip into NFL coffers and maybe even his own bank accounts to finance the actual stadium construction. I was at an election night function last month and saw Evans holding court and boasting about how the plan to turn over the federally owned, city-controlled parcel of land to the most despised man in the Nation’s Capital (yes, even in the Trump era) was all but signed, sealed and delivered.

“It’s a done deal,” Evans said, according to one of the folks in the court. So done, in fact, that Evans also said the city was already planning that the stadium building project would be “announced in March” of 2019.

Maybe not, now.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t note McKenna’s excellent disclosure at the end of his article that “Jack Evans once called me to berate me for writing that Nationals Park was being built with public funds; the dumbass argument Evans made repeatedly during his phone tirade was that all the money used to build the stadium, a tab that eventually hit about $1 billion, would come from new taxes implemented specifically for that project, and therefore those tax revenues can’t be called ‘public money.’ Huh?” Hey, I’ve heard that argument before! If it turns out that Evans had a hand in killing my Washington Post op-ed way back in 2012, then full disclosure here that I had reason for animosity towards him, though honestly I think any D.C. resident or person concerned about not lavishing public dollars on wealthy sports team owners has plenty enough reason already to be excited to see him hoist on his own $100,000 petard.

D.C. United already holding one-day-old stadium together with duct tape

D.C. United opened their new $400 million stadium, which received $183 million in public subsidies, yesterday, and I know what your first question is: Was anyone injured when part of the brand-new facility fell off and hit them? Oh, were they ever:

The director of communications and sideline reporter for D.C. United was hit by a falling railing at Audi Field ahead of the brand new stadium’s inaugural match.

ABC7’s Kevin Lewis reported that the railing hit the team’s reporter Lindsay Simpson not long before D.C. United took on the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday at 8 p.m. in their first game in their new stadium.

That’s embarrassing, but you know, one fluke accident can happen anywhere, so—

Pablo Maurer of MLSSoccer.com says there were multiple incidents of railings falling during the game. Lewis says staffers were later seen around the stadium securing railings with duct tape.

Oh, man.

The railings will undoubtedly be fixed, and the duct tape will be retired, and soccer will go on as normal for the team. But next time there’s some mishap at an older stadium, before buying the claims that “it’s falling apart, we need a new one,” remember that new ones can fall apart sometimes too.

Friday roundup: Rays set stadium deadlinish thing, D.C. United can’t find the sun in the sky, Inglewood mayor flees lawsuit filing on Clippers arena

Farewell, Koko and Argentina:

Friday roundup: Beckham stadium opposition, Arizona bill to block “disparaging” team names, and oh, so many soccer stadiums

So. Much. News:

  • F.C. Cincinnati CEO Jeff Berding says the team still hasn’t decided among stadium sites in the Oakley and West End neighborhoods and one in Newport, Kentucky, while it awaits traffic studies and whatnot, though the team owners did purchase an option to buy land in the West End to build housing for some reason? Still nobody’s talking about the $25 million funding gap that Berding insists the public will have to fill, but I’m sure they’ll get back to that as soon as they decide which neighborhood hates the idea of being their new home the least.
  • Here’s really sped-up footage of the final beam being put in place for D.C. United‘s new stadium.
  • Indy Eleven is officially moving this season from Carroll Stadium to the Colts‘ NFL stadium, but hasn’t figured out yet whether or how to lay down grass over the artificial turf. Might want to get on that, guys.
  • San Diego is looking at doing a massive redevelopment of the land around its arena, and as part of this isn’t extending AEG’s lease on running the place beyond 2020. This is either the first step toward a reasonable assessment of whether the city could be getting more value (both monetary and in terms of use) for a large plot of city-owned land, or the first step toward building a new arena in some boondoggle that would enable a developer to reap the profits from public subsidies — Voice of San Diego doesn’t speculate, and neither will I.
  • Some Overtown residents are still really, really, really unhappy with David Beckham’s Miami MLS stadium plans for their neighborhood, and have been getting in the papers letting that be known.
  • “Can stadiums save downtowns—and be good deals for cities?” asks Curbed, the official media site of tearing things down and building other things to turn a profit. You can guess what I say, but you’ll have to wade through a whole lot of self-congratulation and correlation-as-causation from the people who built the Sacramento Kings arena to get there.
  • Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg is still seeking as much as $650 million in stadium subsidies, with local elected officials holding secret meetings with lobbyists to make a project happen. WTSP’s Noah Pransky reports that “commissioners told 10Investigates there remains little appetite to make up the nine-figure funding gap the Rays have suggested may be needed to get a stadium built,” though, so we’ll see where all this ends up.
  • Arizona state rep Eric Descheenie, who is Navajo, has introduced a bill that would prohibit publicly funded stadiums in the state from displaying any team names or logos that local Native American tribes consider “disparaging,” which could make it interesting when the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Black Hawks, or Washington RedHawks come to town.
  • The U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible racketeering and other charges around bidding on major sports events, including American consulting firms that may have helped Russia get the Sochi Olympics and this year’s soccer World Cup. If they can’t find enough evidence to prosecute, they’re not watching enough TV.
  • I didn’t even know there was a surviving Negro League baseball stadium in Hamtramck, Michigan, let alone that there was a cricket pitch on it. Who’s up for a road trip?
  • The town of Madison — no, not the one you’re thinking of, the one in Alabama — is looking to build a $46 million baseball stadium with public money because “economic development.” They’re hoping to get the Mobile BayBears to move there, at which point the Huntsville region will undoubtedly become the same kind of global economic engine that is now Mobile.
  • An East Bay developer wants land in Concord (way across the other side of the Oakland Hills, though developing like crazy because everything is in the Bay Area right now) that’s owned by the BART transit system, and says they’ll build a USL soccer stadium if they can get it. Have you noticed that like half of these items are about soccer these days? Of course, half of all sports teams in the U.S. will be pro soccer teams soon the way league expansion is going, so that’s about right.
  • Here’s a map of failed New York City Olympic projects and how they helped Mayor Michael Bloomberg ruin neighborhoods. Sorry, did I say “ruin”? I meant “improve,” of course. This is from Curbed, after all.

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.

A’s stadium plan wins friend, Vegas mulls Raiders transit, and other news of the (short) week

I’m going to be on a plane tomorrow to a faraway land, so let’s do the week’s news roundup a day early:

  • Peralta Community College District chancellor Jowel Laguerre now says he’s into the Oakland A’s tearing down his administrative offices in order to build a stadium, so long as they hire his students to work there: “The A’s are in the business of hiring people, and we’re in the business of developing people, so it makes sense to have these conversations.” I can see it now: Laney College, Your Gateway to a Career in Hot Dog Marketing and Sales! (Also the A’s still need to figure out how to squeeze a stadium onto a tiny site, but one battle at a time, I suppose.)
  • Clark County is smarter than Cobb County, it turns out: The Nevada county’s planning director, Nancy Amundsen, said this week regarding the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium: “If it’s determined that they need a pedestrian bridge at this location, or they need wider sidewalks on these streets, or they need streetlights here or there — any upgrade of the infrastructure based on the development on the site — we can request that in the development agreement.” The county commission still needs to do it, mind you, but at least thinking of it ahead of time puts them ahead of the folks who negotiated with the Atlanta Braves around their new stadium and its pedestrian bridges.
  • That El Paso court case over whether the city’s new arena can host sporting events or just concerts and such turns out to be due to the city’s project consultant, according to one neighborhood group opposed to the arena: “David Romo says sports consultant Rick Horrow is to blame for the city stripping the arena ordinance of the word ‘sports’ in favor of ‘multi-purpose performing arts facility.'” If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Horrow has been selling small cities on his “raise the sales tax and build an arena plus a whole of other stuff” model for decades now — he’s the man who talked Oklahoma City into building a new arena with public money (which worked out okay in that the Thunder eventually moved there) and tried to push the same model for such things as an NFL stadium in Birmingham, Alabama (which would not have worked out okay at all). Romo cites Horrow’s own book, which advises, “De-emphasize, even in triumphant cities, the sports model,” and “Each individual project, on its own, will have little chance of passage. together, bundled, is the most enticing way to present the idea to voters.” Except when you write yourself into a corner with bond paperwork that says your new building isn’t for sports; but then, Horrow will probably have collected his fee by then and moved on to the next town.
  • St. Louis’s MLS expansion bid, which pretty much disappeared after voters rejected spending $60 million on a soccer stadium this spring, may not be dead after all! According to alderman Joe Vaccaro, “I have been hearing rumblings and I have certainly no facts.” Or, you know, it might still be dead.
  • Pictures of D.C. United‘s new stadium set to open next year! Spoiler: They don’t look like much. Also spoiler: They don’t really look like the stadium will be ready by midseason 2018 as the plan is (United will start the year on a lengthy road trip to accommodate the construction schedule), but soccer stadiums are a bit simpler to build than those for other sports, so maybe?
  • “Colorful, glossy flyers urging residents to ‘Stop the Stadium!’ and ‘Take Action Now’ were left on doorsteps around the [proposed Miami MLS stadium] area late last week, paid for by a new group called the Overtown Spring Garden Community Collective.” David Beckham really can’t catch a break.

I’ll be back here … Monday? Later than that? It all depends on how well I can navigate whatever weird metric internet they have where I’m going. In the meantime, use the comments on this post as your open thread on any breaking news, and buy David Beckham a muffin or something, he’s probably needs some cheering up.

Zoning commission approves D.C. United stadium design on grounds it could suck worse

D.C. United‘s new $300 million stadium, which will get $183 million in land acquisition costs and tax breaks from district taxpayers, finally got final approval yesterday from the D.C. Zoning Commission, after design tweaks to make it look less like a prison. And just listen to how excited zoning commission members are about the project coming to fruition!

“The responses on environmental issues and traffic issues have been adequate to make it passable, but I’m still extremely disappointed,” member Peter May said. “It just kind of barely makes it. It’s been a disappointment all the way through, so I hope it turns out better than I fear it will.”

The stadium probably won’t be a disaster of terrible traffic and empty streets on non-game days, at least not any more than all stadiums are. At least the zoning commission pushed back on some things, and got some small concessions, which is more than cities where cities where projects get final approval without anyone even discussing what the transportation plan will be. Yeah, it’s a low bar, but that’s about where we’re at with democracy these days.

D.C. United tweaks stadium design again, adds more stores that may or may not exist

For those of you who can’t get enough of D.C. United stadium renderings that look pretty much just like the old stadium renderings: new D.C. United stadium renderings!

screen_shot_2016_11_16_at_11-50-48_am-582c915e32f00Tell us what’s new, Washington City Paper:

Among the changes are: a retail corridor on the east side of the stadium along First Street, which will become a two-lane road with parking on each side, 14,000 square feet of retail attached to the stadium itself, and unspecified ‘additional future retail’ toward the south on First Street, according to a memo D.C. United’s lawyers sent to the zoning commission. A building along the south side of the stadium has been “reimagined and reoriented” to include 3,000 square feet or retail space, but will maintain a “bike valet” at its corner.

A public plaza planned to the stadium’s northeast will now contain a sizable park, “landscaped and terraced to create an inviting experience.”

So basically the team responded to complaints that the stadium would be a big empty box on non-game days by adding some space for stores, and some more space for possible future stores, assuming there are stores that want to open up in what will be a big empty box on non-game days. Plus a street that turns into a pedestrian plaza during games, because those are all the rage:

screen_shot_2016_11_16_at_11-44-43_am-582c914a5ae4eWhich is all cool — attempts at more non-gameday activity is cool, even if it doesn’t always work out so well. But D.C. United planners do seem to be trying to respond to community gripes, at least, which is the least they can do for their $183 million in public subsidies.

D.C. council brags on Twitter about how much stadium money it threw at Nationals owners, um

Thanks to Deadspin (and a couple of Twitter followers) for pointing this one out:

Boom! Nice snappy comeback, D.C. city council social media person, noting how your local politicians gave MLB everything it asked for in stadium funding without even trying to negotiate a better deal, then kept ladling on more and more money as costs went up, eventually arriving at a figure of more than $700 million, then the largest MLB stadium subsidy in history (but since surpassed by the New York Yankees, depending on how you count federal tax breaks). Now that’s something to brag about.

Adds Deadspin:

This past weekend, the District handed over city land to D.C. United, as part of an agreement for a new soccer stadium that will see the city shell out $150 million.

The D.C. council hasn’t tweeted proudly about that one yet, either because D.C. United is in fifth place and may miss the playoffs, or because the councilfolk are just so darn humble.