Charlotte won’t get county money for MLS stadium, expansion race now bigger mess than ever

The Mecklenburg County commission voted 5-3 on Wednesday to hand over the site of 83-year-old Memorial Stadium to the city of Charlotte for a new soccer stadium for a potential MLS team — but no money for building it, which is what the ownership group had been hoping for. Commissioners said they wanted to see a soccer stadium built, but, you know, by the city, not them:

“They manage stadiums and they have a division in the city that deals with pro sports teams,” [Commissioner Jim] Puckett said. “They have a dedicated tax revenue stream that’s for entertainment and can be used for pro sports. They have the expertise and funding stream to deal with that.”

The team’s original plan was for a $175 million stadium where $101.25 million of the costs would be paid off by the county, with the team repaying the public via $4.25 million a year in rent payments. (Note to readers who can do math: No, $4.25 million a year is not enough to repay $101.25 million in bonds unless you get a 1.5% interest rate, which I know they’re low but get serious.) Now they’ll instead have to try to hit up the city of Charlotte alone, which has already indicated that its maximum contribution is $30 million.

That would leave the team to shoulder $145 million of the cost, plus MLS’s nutso $150 million expansion fee, which is a hefty chunk of change. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t have to make those rent payments, so maybe it could just go to a bank and borrow the cash, and make mortgage payments instead? Or maybe the rich NASCAR track heir who wants to launch the MLS team would rather have somebody else on the hook for loan payments if his team, or MLS as a whole, went belly-up at some point as a result of its pyramid-scam spree of handing out expansion franchises like candy to anyone who wants to pay $150 million for candy? Yeah, probably that.

If you’re keeping score, the MLS expansion candidates are now:

That’s a whole mishmash of stuff indeed, and I don’t envy the job of the MLS officials tasked with having to pick two winners this fall (and two more next fall, because they can’t cash those $150 million expansion-fee checks fast enough). You have to wonder if commissioner Don Garber doesn’t think to himself sometimes, maybe it’d be easier just to stick the expansion franchises on eBay and take the highest bids. It would mean giving up on the pretense that they’re actually selecting the best soccer cities or something, but get real, nobody believes that anyway.

Only thing standing between Indianapolis and MLS is meeting league’s stadium extortion demands

It’s a hectic Monday morning, and time for a quick game of “What have been newspapers been spinning inappropriately this weekend?” First up, the Indianapolis Star:

Unless the General Assembly finds surprise funding for a new stadium in the coming days, Indy Eleven has no discernible path to join America’s premier professional soccer league.

VERDICT: Yes, but… There’s no reason MLS can’t approve Indy Eleven as an expansion franchise without a new stadium — as recently as two years ago there was talk about the team owners settling for upgrades on their current stadium — except that the league is dedicated to a business model based on “bring us a $150 million check and some new stadium blueprints, and you’re cool.” A more accurate report would have been something along the lines of “Indy Eleven is ready to make the leap, but MLS is holding out for stadium subsidies” — but that would have made the sports league the bad guys instead of the politicians, and this is a business column and team owner Ersal Ozdemir is a major local businessman, so.

Every concentration of humans on earth now bidding to build MLS stadiums

Nashville is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and Indianapolis is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and San Diego is looking to get a new MLS stadium, and Detroit is considering providing free land for an MLS stadium, and St. Louis is still looking to build an MLS stadium after rejecting it once, and a guy in Charlotte is still looking to have an MLS stadium built for him, and Tampa is looking to get an MLS franchise but already has a stadium.

These are mostly terrible ideas, notes the Guardian, at least where they involve public money. And if the newspaper slightly overstates the case that there’s growing pushback on MLS subsidies (truth is, they’ve never been an especially easy sell as sports subsidies go, mostly because MLS isn’t as popular yet as the Big Four sports), it does contain a classic defense of them from Peter Wilt, the Chicago Fire founder who now heads later headed the Indy Eleven NASL team and wannabe expansion franchise:

“It is about image and plays into making a city cool to live in, a good experience for young professionals, and reducing the brain drain on a community. Things like that are sometimes not taken into account. If Oakland loses the A’s and the Raiders, which is a possibility, then no one will hear about Oakland in any positive terms for the foreseeable future.”

Things like that actually are taken into account in economic studies of teams and stadiums, which overwhelmingly find that if sports teams make cities “cool,” it doesn’t show up in things like per-capita income or jobs or economic activity or tax receipts. Plus you’d then have to explain how a city like Portland, for example, which until recently had only basketball as a major-league sport and famously turned down a domed stadium in the 1960s that would have brought an NFL team, nonetheless became one of the hippest cities in America. (It has MLS now, but the hipness predated that.)

Anyway, with MLS set to announce four more expansion franchises in the next year or so, the league can probably count on some cities stepping up to throw money at new stadiums, so long as they’re not too picky about which ones. (Cincinnati, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, and San Antonio are also in the mix.) Bulk-mailing extortion notes is kind of a strange business model, but hey, whatever works.

Developer of Indianapolis sports-medicine complex says maybe he’ll get his own MLS team, yeah

The failed Dunkin Donuts franchisee who says he wants to build a $500 million sports-medicine complex on the site of Indianapolis’s old airport terminal and include a sports venue of some kind now says he wants to bring an MLS franchise to town:

Craig Sanders, co-founder of Athletes Business Network, said he has been in talks with MLS to get a team for the planned 20,000-seat stadium near Washington Street and High School Road. He said he already has identified a management team to run the club if the MLS approves.

“We believe we have as good a chance as any (city) to make that happen,” Sanders said…

Sanders said it would cost ABN about $125 million in franchise fees and other costs to join the MLS, and the league still would need to do a market study to make sure the city could support a pro team.

Before you say, “Hey, doesn’t Indianapolis already have a minor-league soccer team, Indy Eleven, whose owner says he’s going to apply to move to MLS once somebody gives him $82 million for a new stadium,” I’ll save you a mouthful: Yes, yes it does. Which means Sanders is almost certainly just trying to stir up headlines for his project by throwing around the MLS name — hey, all it takes is a press release and a call to the league offices so you can say you’ve had “talks.” Well done, bankrupt donut magnate.

Indianapolis sports-medicine developer says he’ll build 20,000-seat something for somebody

File this under “probably just trying to get publicity, but”: A developer who wants to build a $500 million (!) sports medical complex (!!) on the site of Indianapolis’s old airport terminal says he’s looking to build a 20,000-seat arena or stadium (!!!) as part of the plan. And Athletes Business Network Holdings co-founder Craig Sanders says he’s “having very active discussions with sports organizations outside of Indiana, professional and amateur,” though he wouldn’t say which ones.

Which ones is a huge question, since the Pacers and minor-league baseball Indians already have their own venues, and Sanders says he hasn’t had any talks with the owners of Indy Eleven, who want a new stadium but prefer it to be downtown. That leaves the NHL, maybe, but there’s been no talk of interest in Indianapolis by that league. The WNBA Fever are owned by the Pacers, so now we’re down to things like arena football and futsal, neither of which is going to be enough to anchor an arena. Nor are concerts, frankly, considering the venue would be competing with the Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse for events.

Still, as someone always on the lookout for outside-the-box ways to finance sports facilities that don’t involve massive public subsidies, “build it as a loss leader for a for-profit medical center” isn’t the craziest idea, quite. The airport board is expected to approve ABN tomorrow as the winning bidder to develop the site, so ball (or puck) is in their court now. They already have renderings!

Indy Eleven owner backtracks on renovations, still wants $82m stadium no one wants to build him

When last we visited with Indy Eleven owner president Peter Wilt back in May, he was cursing the Indiana state legislature for foiling his plan to build a new stadium with other people’s money, and vowing that he’ll be back, this isn’t over! Now, six months later … he’ll still be back, and this still isn’t over!

Wilt said the team remains hamstrung by its makeshift home at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium on the far-west side of downtown, which was built in 1982 for track and field events.

“It doesn’t give you long-term hope or opportunities for large success,” Wilt said. “We’re open to all thoughts, but renovation of Carroll Stadium doesn’t seem to be a workable solution for the team.”…

“It doesn’t even have concourses where people can take shelter in case of rain,” Wilt said. “We had to completely evacuate the stadium twice this year when we had storms roll through.”

Yeah, that doesn’t sound optimal. You know what you might want to do, then? Build a roof. Or, hell, take out a loan and build a new stadium yourself, instead of a ticket tax scheme that wouldn’t have come close to paying off the public’s costs.

Anyway, this mostly seems to be a preemptive attempt to walk back Wilt’s earlier comments that he’d consider renovating the existing stadium, because now that everything is back on the table, he wants a new stadium, dammit. But he’s open to all thoughts — except for those involving renovation or paying for a new stadium himself, because you don’t get “large success” that way.

Indy Eleven exec to fans: Sorry we couldn’t get your tax money, we’ll try again next year

And in the least surprising news of ever, Indy Eleven president Peter Wilt confirmed that just because the Indiana state legislature failed to give his team a big pile of money for a new or renovated stadium, he and his owner aren’t going to stop asking for a big pile of money in the future:

Indy Eleven will continue to pursue the first-division-quality stadium that you deserve and will showcase Indiana’s fastest growing sport.

Historically, the only way stadium subsidy demands ever go away is if the team owner gets tired of waiting and pays for things himself, or maybe once in a blue moon if the team is sold and the new guy decides it’s not worth fighting over. Otherwise, why the heck not keep asking? Especially when you’re just a couple of loopholes away from getting what you wanted in the first place?

Indy Eleven stadium reno bill dead, everyone to try again next year

You can stop wondering about who exactly is going to be asked to pay what in the revised bill to provide stadium renovations for Indy Eleven, because it ain’t happening, not this year anyway, reports the Indianapolis Star’s Mark Alesia:

A bill to renovate IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium for the North American Soccer League team didn’t make it through a conference committee on the last day of the legislative session.

“We just couldn’t get all the parties on the same page,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers. “Everybody was acting in good faith, willing to get something done. But it wasn’t going to work out this session.

“We were defining contributions and getting the right language with the state, IU, the team, the city. There were too many details from a financial standpoint for each of the parties. Honestly, we just ran out of time to nail everything down.”

That’s pretty definitely code for “nobody was happy with how much they were expected to pay,” but it’s also a clear signal that everyone involved is going to work on this some more and come back for next year’s session with an actual plan. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it means that the question of whether a minor-league soccer team really needs a $60 million stadium renovation, at least $20 million of it paid by taxpayers, gets a fair hearing in a public forum. If it just means everyone goes behind closed doors for a few months and hammers things out, less so. Mark Alesia, we’re counting on you to make sure it’s the former.

(And before anyone says anything: Yes, Indy Eleven has dreams of being an MLS franchise, and MLS commissioner Don Garber announced last week that the league would likely announce more expansion teams soon, bringing it to 28 franchises. That doesn’t mean that Indianapolis would necessarily get a team, but it’s another conversation piece to throw in the conversation hopper.)

IUPUI says Indy Eleven needs $50-60m in stadium upgrades, can they get advance on their allowance?

Aw, man, I should have known that Indiana state bill to limit Indy Eleven to $20 million in public money for renovations to their current stadium would be too good to be true. The latest snag: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, which owns the stadium, says it would actually cost $50 million to $60 million to make it soccer-ready:

[IUPUI VP Tom] Morrison told lawmakers that Carroll Stadium, built in 1982, is “in desperate need of repair” and that a new, midsize stadium would fill “a gap in our community in terms of (sports) venues that size.”

Before you say anything: Yes, Indy Eleven is already playing at Carroll Stadium, and drawing well for a minor-league soccer team, so presumably fans aren’t afraid the place is going to fall down. No, Morrison didn’t say where that $50-60 million price tag came from. No, he also didn’t offer to pay for it, saying the school could only help pay for upgrades “around the edges,” and that hosting concerts probably wouldn’t bring in much money, so “I wouldn’t build a financial model around it.”

What appears to be going on here is that IUPUI has noticed that they could get a new(ish) stadium out of this deal, and so are presenting the state legislature with a wish list to see how much exactly they can get. Right now the state bill still limits state funding to $20 million, but there’s still the city of Indianapolis to hit up for cash, so keep one hand on your wallets, Hoosiers.

Scaled-back Indy Eleven deal may include city funding, opt-out clause that could make it still suck

One small and slightly worrying loophole has emerged in the Indiana state senate’s plan to give the Indy Eleven minor-league soccer team $20 million for renovations to their current stadium at IUPUI instead of the $82 million new stadium that they wanted. Per the Indianapolis Star:

The details of the renovations haven’t been ironed out, Morrison said. But Indy Eleven would have to cover expenses beyond the $20 million and whatever the city of Indianapolis contributes, if anything.

Yes, well, whether the city of Indianapolis is going to be required to kick in more money would be an important detail, now wouldn’t it? The current bill also requires Indy Eleven to sign a 20-year lease, but could contain a buyout clause if the team wants to leave early, which depending on how it’s worded could be used by the team to demand more stadium subsidies down the road, as Hoosiers should be all too familiar with. So while cutting the immediate public subsidy from $82 million to $20 million is nice and all, let’s get a look at the actual lease language before we cheer too loudly for the Indiana senate for doing the right thing.