Friday roundup: NFL to shop for overseas host cities, plus the attack of the no-good, terrible stadium names

How’s everyone doing out there? Did you, like me, spend much of yesterday watching baseball games and wondering why MLB bothers to have mask rules if half the fans are keeping their masks off at any given time, and then wondering if this is really the right thing to be concerned about rather than all the people who are leaving the game and going to indoor sports bars, and then wondering if disregard for mask rules is a reasonable proxy for being careless about going to bars as well? I hope not, because that is very much my job, and the mission of this site remains Thinking Too Hard About Things So You Don’t Have To.

Which is one nice thing about Fridays: No thinking too hard, because all the leftover news gets boiled down to a single bite-size bullet point, ideally with a quip at the end. It’s like pre-wrapped meals of stadium facts, and here’s this week’s assortment:

  • The NFL is adding a 17th game to its season, mostly so it can charge TV networks more for the extra game but also to create more games that can be played outside the U.S. to help increase the league’s international visibility, and the operators of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Vancouver’s B.C. Place have both said they’ll throw their hats in the rings. You can read my thoughts about Olympic Stadium here; suffice to say that it’s simultaneously perfectly serviceable and not at all what sports owners consider state-of-the-art at selling people things other than a seat to sit in. It’ll be very interesting to see whether the NFL makes its international game hosting decisions based on which markets it most wants to break into or which cities offer the snazziest stadiums. (Or which cities offer straight-up cash, that’s always a popular NFL move.)
  • Indy Eleven USL team owner Ersal Ozdemir got his approval from the Indiana state legislature this week to take more time on how to spend his $112 million in state stadium cash, and team officials replied that they will now take their own sweet to to “finalize the site” “in the coming months.” Given that Ozdemir at first asked for the cash so he could get promoted to MLS and then later decided, know what, maybe he’ll stay put in the USL and avoid all those expansion fees but still get the snazzy new digs, there is a non-zero chance that he decides to ask to use the money to build condos or a space laser or something.
  • The Henderson Silver Knights have sold naming rights to their publicly funded and owned under-construction arena (I know it doesn’t make any sense, this is just how naming rights are allowed to work in most of the U.S. with few exceptions) to the payday loan company Dollar Loan Center, which means the arena will now be called … also the Dollar Loan Center? Shouldn’t it at least be the Dollar Loan Center Arena? This seems like very confusing branding, among other things, though I guess it’ll at least be amusing when people use Google Maps to try to find places to get high-interest advances on their paychecks and end up at the Silver Knights ticket window.
  • Also in the terrible names department, we have the Miami Marlins cutting a deal with a mortgage loan company that starts with a lower-case letter, which is going to wreak havoc among sports department copy editors across the land. (Just kidding: All the sports departments have already fired all their copy editors, pUNCtuATE and spel tHiNgZ however U want!!1!)
  • Here’s some video of the under-construction Phoenix Rising F.C. soccer stadium, which when it was announced last December would be ready for 2021 I predicted would be “off-the-rack bleachers that can be installed quickly,” and which indeed looks exactly like that. No robot dog showrooms or giant soccer balls are visible, sadly, but the USL season doesn’t start for another three weeks, so there’s still time to find some off-the-rack robot dogs.
  • And finally, across the pond, Everton F.C. finally had its stadium plan approved by the Liverpool City Council, meaning the £500 million project can move ahead. The city is loaning a little over half that money to Everton’s billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri, but Moshiri is then supposed to repay it in actual cash with interest, so the only real concerns are why Liverpool needs to act as banker for a rich guy, and whether it’s a good idea to build an oceanfront stadium when the oceans are already starting to rise. Those other countries have such quaint problems compared to America’s!

Friday roundup: Baseball ticket chaos, and the continuing endless rain of minor-league soccer stadium demands

New York state announced yesterday that baseball stadiums will be open at 20% capacity to start the season, which, as things go, is not one of the stupidest reopenings announced by Gov. Gropey this week. As a Mets fan who will be fully vaccinated-plus-two-weeks by shortly after Opening Day, it has me weighing whether sitting three hours masked and distanced outdoors at a ballgame is low-risk enough to be worth considering or still terrible for society as a whole, which in turn had me checking out the Mets’ ticket sale policies:

All ticket management actions for tickets for impacted games [in April], including Ticket Forwarding, will be canceled. These tickets will be removed from your account and are no longer valid for admission.

Glad I didn’t buy tickets when I first noticed they were on sale a couple of weeks ago, because those are apparently now worthless. (Worthless for entry, anyway; you can still get a credit on your account for the purchase price.) Season ticket holders will get first dibs at buying the new blocks of tickets, at least for April; it’s unclear when the mad scramble for seats begins.

Then I checked the Yankees‘ site, and found this:

To be eligible, fans must have purchased their tickets through Ticketmaster and not have transferred, posted or resold them. If the tickets were transferred, the transferee or recipient of the ticket will need to transfer the tickets back to the original purchaser in order for the original purchaser to request a credit or refund. The credit request option is not available for tickets purchased via resale or the secondary market.

If you bought through Stubhub or the like, in other words, you are SOL, unless you can find the person you bought from and have them ask for a refund, then refund you.

I get why the teams are doing this — rather than figure out how to reassign already-purchased seats in distanced pods, it’s way simpler to just refund everybody and start fresh with new ticket sales. But it’s hard not to foresee a whole lot of lawsuits, or at least angry tweets, from people who bought or sold what are now worthless barcodes, and questions about whether pro sports are becoming the latest realm where buying a thing doesn’t mean you’re actually buying it.

Anyway, enough about that. On to the stadium and arena news, which I know you’ve been waiting for and which includes lots of good juicy schadenfreude, plus more minor-league soccer than you can shake a stick at:

  • I’ve been mostly steering clear of the debate over where to build a new high-school sports stadium in Spokane, because, frankly, high-school sports stadium in Spokane, and also the money ($31 million) has already been allocated, so it’s now just a question of where to build it. But if you want an explainer, here’s a good one, which I will now summarize even more briefly: Spokane residents want the stadium to be built where the current stadium is, but the USL says it’ll put a soccer team in Spokane if they move it to a site downtown, so now city officials are trying to decide who it’s more important to listen to, their constituents or the guys dangling a minor-league soccer franchise. Also local business advocates say that if the city doesn’t build a stadium downtown, the USL may look to build there anyway, and they already have $2 million in cash plus a promise of $1 million from an unidentified investor, and that’s only $28 million short! More news as events warrant, which I seriously hope is never.
  • Elsewhere in everybody-gets-a-pro-soccer-team, Grand Rapids may get a USL team if it can be determined how to fund a $40 million stadium. Nobody’s talking public money just yet, but a guy from Convention, Sports & Leisure — yes, those guys — has been hired to talk up how a stadium “has the ability to anchor development, serve as a destination but also kind of speed up and accelerate reinvestment into areas of the city, whether that’s in downtown or on the purview of downtown,” so it’s gotta be only a matter of time.
  • And the Indy Eleven, currently of the USL but maybe one day to be in MLS if you dream real hard, are still seeking their own $150 million stadium, saying it would be “more than a stadium, it is the opportunity to create a vibrant community that will attract individuals and families from near and far to live, work and play — creating jobs and improving quality of place far beyond game day.” Team owner Ersal Ozdemir already got $112 million in state money approved for the stadium last year, but then decided maybe he’d build a smaller stadium and give up on the plans to join MLS that were the whole reason for him getting the $112 million. The state legislature is currently deciding whether to give Ozdemir more time to figure out exactly which scam he wants to pull or to take back the money; “give him more rope” just unanimously passed the state house ways and means committee, so that’s not a great sign.
  • A Nevada state senator is proposing to create a state esports commission to lure major video-game tournaments to Nevada, because “economic development.” I’m still not entirely clear how many people actually travel to attend esports rather than just watching online — attendance figures are brutally hard to come by online, though apparently 45,000 turned out for one event in Beijing in 2017 — but this is one to keep an eye on, especially if esports organizers start choosing site based less on who has the most regulatory oversight (?) and more on who offers cold, hard cash.
  • And finally, circling back to questionable sports reopenings, the Texas Rangers decided to advertise their 100% capacity opening day by showing a fan flagrantly violating their own mask rules. This is all going to go just great!

 

 

Friday roundup: We have entered the Golden Age of minor-league stadium scams

Welp, that was another week. I know from comments that some of you think that the stadium and arena subsidy racket is about to come grinding to a halt, either because of the Covid economy or everybody already having a new enough stadium or something, but it sure looks like team owners didn’t get the memo — my RSS feeds are as hopping as they’ve ever been with tales of sports venue funding demands, and it’s still a rarity when local governments say no or even hmm, really? Check out this week’s roster, which, as yours truly predicted a couple of months ago, is especially jam-packed with minor-league baseball stadium plans:

Friday roundup: OKC Thunder want their subsidies sooner, Indy Eleven want theirs later, let me repeat back your orders to make sure I have it right

I’ve already thanked everyone individually, but I’d like to give a collective shoutout to all the readers who signed up as FoS Supporters this membership cycle. The money you send translates directly into time I can spend covering stadium and arena news for you, and I remain extremely heartened by your support. If you sent me your mailing address, your magnets should be en route; if you didn’t, send me your mailing address already, these magnets aren’t going to ship themselves!

And speaking of covering stadium and arena news, let’s cover some stadium and arena news, why don’t we:

Indy Eleven owner who got $112m so team could join MLS: Maybe I’ll just build minor-league stadium instead

A brief recap of the Indy Eleven stadium situation so far: Team owner Ersal Ozdemir asked for $87 million in public funds in 2014 for an 18,500-seat stadium so his then-preparing-to-join-the-NASL team could join MLS, then asked again the next year, then the state countered with a plan to instead provide $20 million to renovate Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis’s stadium but that died in committee, then team execs said they really only wanted a new stadium anyway, then state senate offered to give Ozdemir $112 million if he could promise an MLS team but he wouldn’t say if he was ready to put in $30 million himself, then the state house said never mind about that MLS guarantee, here’s $112 million.

You can totally see where this is going:

With its chances of joining Major League Soccer in question, Indy Eleven is considering significantly cutting the number of seats with which its new stadium would debut.

That’s right: Now that Indy Eleven‘s owner successfully got $112 million in stadium cash for a $150 million to $200 million stadium so his minor-league team can join MLS, he’s maybe going to just build a smaller (presumably cheaper) stadium because he’s not really going to join MLS yet.

The city of Indianapolis, to its credit, is holding off on final approval of a deal, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, “until the team answers a few major questions, including where the stadium would be located and when it would open, whether the franchise expects to be part of MLS by the time it opens, and how Indy Eleven would pay for its portion of the stadium.” No word yet on whether approval will still be forthcoming if the answers to the latter two questions are “no” and “with pocket change once we cut the price tag to $112 million or so.” But given how things typically go in Indiana, I’m guessing Ozdemir doesn’t have to worry too hard that the state or city is going to stop payment on its checks.

 

Indiana gov approves umpteen bajillion dollars in subsidies for Pacers, Indy Eleven

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed legislation on Monday approving a steady stream of checks for the Pacers and the Indy Eleven USL team, and here’s how the Associated Press reported it:

The dedication of nearly $400 million in public subsidies toward two Indianapolis sports stadium projects has been signed into law.

Close! As discussed here last week — citing coverage in the Indianapolis Star, so it’s not like it was exactly secret information — the total is actually $712 million: $600 million in arena renovation funds and operating subsidies for Pacers owner Herb Simon, and $112 million in stadium subsidies for Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir. In fact, the Pacers piece is actually $777 million over 25 years, but it’s fairer to call it $600 million because that’s how much it’s worth in 2019 present value since some of the payments are way in the future.

The AP seems to have left out the $12.5 million in annual operating subsidies for the Pacers (rising to $16 million by the year 2031) and $10 million a year in “technology upgrades” for ten years on the grounds that that’s not technically part of the bill Holcomb signed, but rather the lease Simon agreed to on condition of Holcomb signing the bill. (Only in the sports world does one get to say, “Okay, I’ll let you pay me more than $20 million a year to play in the arena you built for me — but only if you first give me a check for $295 million.”) Which is misleading to readers, especially readers who are stuck relying on a brief AP report, because nobody in the rest of the Indiana and national media appears to have assigned anyone to write about the bill signing.

At least one national outlet did cover the Pacers situation in depth on Monday: Deadspin, which assigned me to write about the spread of pay-to-play deals in pro sports and how local elected officials set them up by giving team owners lease opt-outs that let them demand new subsidies every few years. You can read the whole thing here, but for now I’ll just share the thoughts of two people with inside knowledge of sports negotiations — longtime sports administrator Jim Nagourney and former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait — on why mayors keep doing this to themselves:

After one meeting, [Nagourney] recalls, he spotted Steve Hill, the chair of the [Nevada] stadium authority, and “suddenly there’s a dozen reporters sticking microphones in his face, like he’s general manager of the team. It’s a very heady feeling, for someone who’s been in the concrete business. And the teams know it.”…

“Everyone’s at the party, and you don’t really want to be the guy not at the party,” says Tait. “It’s groupthink, and you gotta really be pretty comfortable with yourself to say ‘none of this makes sense.’”

It’s a sobering notion that the main reason mayors love sports stadiums has less to do with economic consulting reports or grubbing for campaign donations or what have you, and more to do with peer pressure, but that really does look to be how it works. The main value in being very rich is that you can hire people (okay, lobbyists, but they’re sort of like people) to hang out around City Hall and talk incessantly about how these subsidies have gotta happen, you’d be crazy not to do it, like used car dealers who somehow invited themselves over for dinner night after night until you forget that they’re not your friends. American democracy is truly a strange and broken thing.

Indiana legislature approves $712m in tax money for Pacers, Indy Eleven, but it’s “old” taxes so it’s okay

The Indiana state senate has approved Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon’s $600 million worth of stadium renovation and operating subsidies, as well as Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir’s $112 million in stadium construction subsidies, because Indiana. The bill now heads for the desk of Gov. Eric Holcomb.

And because every bad stadium deal deserves bad journalism to go along with it, we have this from the Indianapolis Business Journal:

The legislation does not create new taxes, but it does extend the life of some existing taxes that would have otherwise expired and it expands the area where the CIB collects some of its tax revenue…

The bill extends the admissions and auto-rental taxes—which otherwise would have expired in 2023—until 2040 and expands what’s known as the professional sports development area, or PSDA, to include an additional eight hotels.

This is where that whole George H.W. Bush “no new taxes” kerfuffle has left American politics: Anything is considered acceptable so long as the taxes involved aren’t “new.” So even if extending an old tax for 17 years is functionally exactly the same for taxpayers as adding a new one for 17 years, or if siphoning off tax revenues from eight more hotels to pay for sports projects means that local government will have to raise taxes (or cut services) elsewhere to make up the difference, that’s no new taxes, check that box. And media outlets like the IBJ are obligated to repeat that language, because criticizing those in power would be taking sides and therefore wrong.

Anyway, two rich guys are about to get a whole richer at the expense of Indiana residents, and probably Indianapolis is going to get an MLS team eventually. Not that Indianapolis wasn’t going to get an MLS team eventually anyway — everybody is eventually going to get an MLS team — but now it’ll be sooner, maybe? This would all go a whole lot faster if MLS and the USL would just merge, but then MLS owners wouldn’t be getting all these expansion fees and cities wouldn’t be throwing money at would-be expansion owners to get MLS teams, so never mind, artificial scarcity is clearly the backbone of capitalism and I’m sorry I said anything.

Indiana now looking at spending $112m on MLS stadium on spec

When we last checked in with Indy Eleven‘s stadium demands, the Indiana state senate had just voted to approve giving $112 million worth of tax money to team owner Ersal Ozdemir toward a new $150 million stadium. There was one string attached, though: Ozdemir had to obtain an invite to have his USL team join MLS before the money could change hands.

Now an Indiana state house committee has proposed cutting that single string:

The Indiana House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Monday to allow the soccer team to negotiate with Indianapolis to build a $150 million soccer stadium without first attracting a Major League Soccer franchise…

Todd Huston, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said the project may need to get started for MLS to take it seriously. Republicans and Democrats have increasingly emerged as united in the decision to create a way to make a deal happen.

“I think a lot of people see the excitement around the current team and see the momentum that soccer has in our society,” Huston said. “Our committee has felt like it’s an exciting new opportunity. There’s a general belief and excitement that professional soccer has got a lot of momentum and people want Indianapolis to be a part of it.”

Notwithstanding all that societal soccer momentum, this would be an awfully big gamble: MLS commissioner Don Garber hasn’t even mentioned Indianapolis on his short list for expansion, meaning Indiana could easily end up throwing $112 million at the promise of an MLS team and end up with the exact same USL team it has now. Unless the Indiana legislature figures that eventually MLS will just give expansion franchises to every city with a new stadium, which may well be true, but even then plenty of other cities have gotten MLS franchises on the “if you come, we will build it” plan, and the Indiana legislature doesn’t exactly have the best track record as a steward of the public purse, so I’m having a hard time giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The measure now goes to the full state house, and then to a house-senate conference committee, neither of which will have any obligation to pay attention to polls showing only 23% of central Indiana residents want their tax money spent on a soccer stadium at all.

Indiana senate offers to pay $112m toward MLS stadium, team owner won’t commit to putting in $30m

The Indiana state senate on Tuesday night passed its bill to provide Indy Eleven with $112 million worth of soccer stadium subsidies ($8 million a year for 25 years, if you’re counting at home — here’s a present value calculator to get you the rest of the way there), plus an unspecified amount of money for even more renovations to the Indiana Pacers‘ arena and Indianapolis Colts‘ stadium. So of course, the Indianapolis Star headlines are all about how the team owners will have to put in money, too! Won’t anyone think of the team owners?

Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir called it a “good bill” — you’d hope he would, since it gives him a series of $8 million checks — but he still found things to whine about, namely that he wouldn’t get the cash until he landed an MLS franchise (the Eleven are currently in the USL) and that he would have to put in any money himself:

Ozdemir sees a scenario in which his team has its first game in a new stadium in three years. But he thinks the stipulations in the current bill — a down payment on the stadium and a Major League Soccer franchise ahead of time — could delay any debut…

In Wednesday’s interview, Ozdemir declined to say whether the team was willing or could afford to pay 20 percent of the construction cost, which would be about $30 million.

The bill still needs to pass the state house, but last time soccer stadium subsidies were proposed back in 2015, it was the house that approved it and the senate that rejected it, if that means anything. Also, last time Ozdemir was only asking for $82 million in stadium funding, and $112 million is a lot more than $82 million, but either stadiums have gotten a lot more expensive in the last four years or Ozdemir is seeing an opening for state funding and getting greedy — you make the call.

Also also, remember that people in Indiana hate this whole sports subsidy idea, not that anyone is asking them.

Friday roundup: Calgary residents demand say on Flames arena, Indy Eleven asked to only accept public funding of 80% of stadium, Raiders could re-up in Oakland this week

Happy Friday! Here is your weekly fact dump of news that I didn’t get to earlier in the week, because I only got two hands, man:

  • Calgary residents who went to speak their minds at yesterday’s town hall on a new Flames arena say they want to be able to speak their minds on a new Flames arena. The city council is set to vote on an arena term sheet on Monday without public input — or even revealing to the public first what’s in the term sheet — though I suppose some councillors might read the press coverage of the town hall and learn how angry the public is. It’s worked before in Phoenix, for a few weeks at least!
  • The Indy Eleven stadium subsidy proposal has made it into a state senate bill, but “with some hefty strings attached,” reports the Indianapolis Star: the team’s owner would need to put up $30 million of his own money before getting to access $200 million in public tax money (more like $112 million in present value) for stadium costs. This does not actually sound like a big ask, but hey, Star sports columnist Gregg Doyel says it’s worth any price to keep the city’s sports teams (even if they’re not threatening to move) because, and I quote, “my job could depend on it,” so why quibble over a mere $112 million, right?
  • The city of Anaheim has hired a real estate consultant to conduct an appraisal of the value of the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium site, as it first authorized last month, which is slightly weird in that they just did an appraisal in 2014 that found that the stadium parking lots sought by team owner Arte Moreno for $1 were worth $245 million, but whatever. It’s at least good that the city is apparently committing to ask something based on actual market value for the land, especially coupled with talk of basing any land deal on the Anaheim Ducks deal, which was a decently fair price for development rights to city land. Maybe this will not be awful, despite the new mayor talking about how eager he is to cut a deal even though Angels owner Arte Moreno has no real leverage? I’m almost afraid to hope — we’ll just have to see what happens when the assessment comes in, presumably a couple of months from now.
  • Oakland officials could vote soon to approve a new lease for the Raiders for 2019, with an additional option for 2020, which would put an end to talk of the team playing everywhere else on the planet this fall. Apparently Raiders owner Mark Davis is willing to let bygones be bygones and overlook that antitrust lawsuit the city filed that led him to insist he wouldn’t play in Oakland this season. Good successful bluff-calling, Oakland officials!
  • The New York Mets will not be moving their spring training home out of Port St. Lucie, after threatening to in order to secure a revised deal for $57 million in renovations to their stadium, $55 million of which will come from taxpayers. Bad bluff-calling, Port St. Lucie officials!
  • A rival developer is seeking the same land in Montreal that would-be Expos revivers want for a baseball stadium, to use for a “new smart development of office towers, housing, hotels and public space.” Looks like a fight is in the offing, and these guys have “smart” right there in the name, so watch out!
  • Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is hoping to save some money when the New York Islanders move out for their own arena eventually — the arena is losing about $12 million on guaranteed revenue payments to the team, and without hockey will be able to book more concerts — but more interesting to me from this article is that the building lost $21 million on operations in the 2017-18 season, plus another $33 million in debt and other expenses. Maybe the Nets owners are soaking up any profits, or the arena’s builders are earning their money on all the high-priced housing that went up next door, but still the whole project seems a bit like a waste of everyone’s time and money and eminent domain takings.
  • Also, work on the Islanders’ new planned arena by Belmont Park won’t begin this spring as planned, because the environmental impact statement required for the project won’t be ready until June at the earliest, but “state officials insist the project remains on schedule.” Hmmm.
  • And finally, your regularly scheduled Tottenham Hotspur stadium updates: It won’t be open until April at the earliest, it won’t have a VIP cheese room, and team officials are catching wild foxes and shooting them in the head with pistols. Exactly one of those things was something I expected to type this week.