Happy Friday! Is Australia still on fire? (Checks.) Cool, I’m sure we’ll be ready to pay attention to that again as soon as there are some more images of adorable thirsty koalas.
In the meantime, news on some slightly less apocalyptic slow-moving catastrophes:
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the Calgary Stampeders deserve “a state-of-the-art, beautiful stadium” but he’ll “take my queues [sic, seriously, Montreal Gazette, you’re supposed to be an English-language paper]” from team execs for when “they think it’s time for me to be a guy who makes a little noise and tries to stimulate a positive discussion.” Yep, that’s a sports league commissioner’s job! Why a new stadium is Calgary’s job and not the Stampeders owners’ job is less clear, but given that the team owners did such a good job at extracting public money for an arena for the Flames (which they also own), you know they’re going to be jonesing for a sequel. (In fact, a Stampeders stadium was originally part of the Flames plan before Mayor Naheed Nenshi rejected it as too expensive and only would approve the Flames part, so maybe this is just a case of a team owner deciding it’s easier to get sports projects approved in serial rather than in parallel.)
It’s now been 100 days since Nashville Mayor John Cooper called a halt to Nashville S.C.‘s stadium construction, and Cooper is still not answering questions about when it may resume. Previous indications were that he’s refusing to issue demolition permits in order to renegotiate who’ll pay for cost overruns, but it would be kind of cool if he’s just realized that he can take advantage of MLS having approved a Nashville expansion franchise before everything was signed off on regarding public stadium subsidies by just declining to build the stadium and keeping the team. (Nashville S.C. will have to play in a 21-year-old NFL stadium until then, boo hoo.)
161st Street Business Improvement Director Cary Goodman has a plan for a new NYC F.C. stadium in the Bronx to benefit the local community by having it be owned by the local community, so that “when naming rights are sold, when broadcast fees are collected, when merchandising agreements are made, or when sponsorships and suites are sold, revenue would pour into the [community-owned] corporation and be distributed as dividends accordingly.” This sounds great, except that broadcast fees don’t go to a stadium, they go to the team that plays in a stadium, and also things like sponsorships and suites and naming rights are exactly the kind of revenues that the NYC F.C. owners would be building a stadium in order to collect, so it’s pretty unlikely they’d agree to hand it over to Bronx residents. We really gotta get over the misconception that stadiums make money, people; playing in stadiums that somebody else built for you is where the real profit is, and don’t anyone forget it.
Reporters in Kansas City are still asking Royals owner John Sherman if he’d like a downtown baseball stadium, and Sherman is still saying sure, man. (See what I did there? Huh? Huh?) This article also features a quote about how great a downtown ballpark would be from an executive vice president of Vantrust Real Estate, which owns lots of downtown properties; it must be nice to be rich and get to have your Christmas present wish lists printed on local journalism sites as if they’re news.
A new study of business tax incentives found that state and local governments spend $30 billion a year on them, with no measurable effect on job growth. Also, most of the benefits flow to a relatively small number of large firms (good luck getting a tax break for your pizzeria), and some states spend more on corporate tax breaks than they collect in corporate taxes, with five (Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming) spending an average of $44 per resident on tax breaks even though they have collect no state corporate income tax at all. (The biggest spenders on a per-capita basis: Michigan, West Virginia, New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.) Surely local elected officials will now take a hard look at the cost of these subsidies and ha ha, no, even when tax breaks are proven failures it takes decades before anyone might notice and do anything about them, so don’t hold your breath that anyone is going to see the light just because of one more study, at least not unless it’s accompanied by angry mobs with pitchforks.
Comcast and DISH Network are reportedly considering dropping some sports channels from their lineups as too expensive, which is notable because 1) until now cable and satellite providers have considered live sports the only sure way to stop viewers from cutting the cord, but apparently some would rather take their chances than keep on paying huge fees for sports, and 2) if the cable cash cow dries up (mixed metaphor, I know, but just imagine a liquid cow), the economics of the sports industry will change massively, with shifts in not only how much revenue comes in but how much is shared vs. retained by individual teams, changing the relative of value of being in a large cable market and generally making all our assumptions about how things work vanish into air. Plus already MLB is giving back local streaming rights to individual teams for resale, and the New York Yankees may be teaming up with Amazon, and … this really calls for a longer article of its own, stay tuned.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said Wednesday that the league’s plan to eliminate 42 minor-league affiliates was “by no means a fait accompli,” but also that by complaining publicly about the threat, minor-league owners had “done damage to the relationship with Major League Baseball.” (Replied one minor-league owner under condition of anonymity: “Rob is attempting to decimate the industry, destroy baseball in communities and eliminate thousands of jobs, and he’s upset that the owners of the teams have gone public with that information in an effort to save their teams. That’s rich.”) The irreplaceable Marc Normandin asked minor-league players what they thought of all this for Talk Poverty, and they pointed out that the Toronto Blue Jays already raised their minor-league salaries without cutting teams or going bankrupt, so why can’t the rest of the league?
Anyway, oodles of bonus news this week, plus more vaportecture, so let’s get to it:
The city of Oakland is starting talks with the A’s owners about selling the city’s half of the Oakland Coliseum property to the team for development — with the proceeds to be used to build a new stadium on the Oakland waterfront — but still hasn’t dropped its lawsuit against Alameda County for agreeing to sell its share to the A’s without consulting the city. Meanwhile, here’s an article by the mayor of Oakland about how baseball and port operations are both good things, let’s find a way to make them both work together!
The Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that the proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena in Inglewood poses no danger to aviation at nearby Los Angeles International Airport, and a judge has dismissed claims that the city was required to seek affordable housing uses for the site first. But the project still faces two more lawsuits over how Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was granted the land and whether the city illegally evaded open-meetings laws, so we could yet be here a while.
Paterson, New Jersey is asking the state Economic Development Authority for $50 million in tax credits to use on a $76 million project redevelopment of Hinchliffe Stadium, a crumbling (this term is way overused, but it’s actually crumbling) former Negro League stadium, into “a 7,800-seat athletic facility, with a 314-space parking garage, restaurant with museum exhibits dedicated to Negro League baseball, 75-unit apartment building for senior citizens and a 5,800-square-foot childcare facility.” The rest of the article doesn’t explain much about what the renovation will look like or how the money will be spent or who will collect revenues from the new facility or anything, but it does include Mayor André Sayegh opining that you could “have a big concert there. Boxing. Wrestling. It could all happen there,” and Councilmember Michael Jackson countering that “to spend money on this project is senseless” since it will only create maybe 50 jobs. Feel free to take sides!
Nashville S.C.‘s MLS stadium is now on hold, with Mayor John Cooper suspending demolition to clear the site, amid a lawsuit charging that the project and its $75 million in public cash were approved improperly and will interfere with the annual Tennessee state fair. The Tennessee Tribune writes that “it’s only a matter of time before the MLS soccer stadium contracts will be voided and put out to bid again”; I am not a lawyer, but then, neither are the Tribune’s journalists, so we’ll see.
Here’s a photo of how the new Los Angeles Rams (and Chargers) stadium looks in its current state of construction, and if you think that the “vertical design” will make it feel “intimate.” then you agree with one Rams fan! Another fan, who was sitting in the fourth row of seats behind the end zone, remarked, “I kind of expected the field (area) to be much larger, to take you away from the experience. But you’re going to be right in the game.” Two takeaways: There are reasons why teams never invite fans to sit in the cheap seats to see what the view will be like from there, and American sports fans really aren’t great with geometry.
The five-county sales tax surcharge that paid for the Milwaukee Brewers‘ Miller Park is finally set to phase out in January, after 23 years and $577 million. This is not so good news if you’re upset about Wisconsin taxpayers spending $577 million to pay for a private sports owner’s baseball stadium, but good news if you were worried that the Brewers or some other sports team might see the sales tax money sitting around and want to propose a new project to spend it on, which is always a worry.
The Montreal Canadiens have gotten a reduction in their property tax bill for the fourth time since 2013, even while property valuations elsewhere in the city are soaring. No reason was given, but “they’re major players in the local business community and whined about it a lot” seems like a reasonable theory.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist John Steigerwald asks about public funding for the Pirates‘ now 18-year-old stadium, “If the Pirates were faced with paying for their ballpark, do you think they might have had more incentive to insist on real revenue sharing and a salary cap before they built it?” Answer: No, rich people have incentive to demand money everywhere they can find it, regardless if they already have money, which Pirates owner Bob Nutting totally does. Next question!
Also, a clause in Nashville’s lease with Nashville S.C. requiring the soon-to-be MLS team to play at least one game in Nashville in any 24-month period has the team’s financiers balking at loaning money for the stadium — presumably because they’re afraid MLS will up and disappear for a couple of seasons, maybe as part of a labor stoppage, who knows — so the city may just delete that clause. Seriously, lord grant me the negotiating powers of a mediocre rich man.
The U.S. Supreme Court has given a final dismissal to a case charging that the car rental tax used by Arizona to fund sports facilities was unconstitutional because the money wasn’t being used for transportation projects.
The city of Santa Clara has voted again to remove the San Francisco 49ers as manager of their stadium, after the first vote might have been illegal because it took place in closed session. Glad we worked that out!
The Hamilton County Commission approved a plan that will involve spending $30 million to relocate a concrete plant so the county can build a music venue next to the Cincinnati Bengals stadium, with the Bengals helping out by forgoing $30 million in future payments from the county, though the team will also now get free parking space on the land. The music venue is reportedly needed because the waterfront is “an area starved for attention outside of Bengals and Reds games,” which maybe is something to keep in mind the next time you hear that a sports stadium will be enough to revitalize an underused area.
In completely unrelated news, here’s an article about a Columbus bar owner who is hoping that the new Crew soccer stadium being built nearby will be a windfall for her business.
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?”
Newballpark.org blogger Marine Layer has calculated that the cost of building a gondola to any new Oakland A’s ballpark at Howard Terminal will amount to $12.60 per each round-trip ride, which either means fans are going to have a huge extra cost or local government is going to end up subsidizing the rides, neither of which is a great solution.
The Columbus Blue Jackets owners, who have been criticized for being the main beneficiaries of a proposed 7% ticket tax in the city because their arena would get the lion’s share of the proceeds, surprised everybody this week by coming out against the tax, saying it “would materially harm our business.” Maybe this is reverse psychology to get residents to vote for the bill, since they’ll no longer think it’s a sop to the hockey team? Okay, probably not.
In non-electoral news, the University of Connecticut is building a $45 million hockey arena on campus even though its team will continue to play most of its games in Hartford’s XL Center, just because its new NCAA conference requires an on-campus arena. (It also requires that the arena have at least 4,000 seats, but UConn got a waiver to only build 2,500 seats.) Since UConn is a public university, this technically means that public money will go into the project (though the university says it can pay for it from its own reserves), but mostly it’s bizarre to see an entire arena being built just to meet a technicality — what do you think the carbon footprint will be for this?
Transit experts are worried that the 2020 Olympics will overwhelm Tokyo’s already-crowded subway system, though they may not be anticipating how much the Olympics tend to cause anyone not interested in the Olympics to stay the hell out of town. The government has been encouraging local businesses to stagger work hours and open satellite offices to accommodate Games traffic, since “everybody call in sick for three weeks” would be anathema to Japanese work culture.
Louisville is officially not bidding for an MLS franchise (yet), which unofficially makes it the only city in the whole U.S. of A. that isn’t. How is MLS ever going to meet its dream of a franchise for every individual person in North America if these keeps up?
That’s all for this week — go vote! And try to fight your way past the journalism extinction event to educate yourself about all those downballot races and initiatives and such, since as we cover here every week, they can have huge consequences.
A Las Vegas blogger has tweeted that the Rio hotel-casino could be demolished and replaced by a Major League Baseball stadium, so now everybody’s talking about Las Vegas getting an expansion team, along with Portland and Montreal and I forget who else. (San Antonio? Charlotte? Half of Mexico?) Just imagine how frenzied this would be if commissioner Rob Manfred were talking about expansion on a faster timetable than “in my lifetime,” or if he were older than 60 or suffering from a terminal illness or something.
Speaking of ticket taxes, a Nashville councilmember is proposing raising them at the new MLS stadium there and using the proceeds to help pay off the city’s share of construction costs. Nashville S.C. ownership is opposed, saying “this kind of after-the-fact tinkering would make the deal worse for soccer fans and set a bad precedent for the city,” neither of which is true (pssst sports teams already set prices as high as they can regardless of ticket taxes) but it’s totally what you’d expect them to say.
The projected cost of the Tokyo Olympics has now risen from $7.3 billion to $25 billion over the past five years .“It’s the most amazing thing that the Olympic games are the only type of megaproject to always exceed their budget,” Olympic finance expert Bent Flyvberg told the Associated Press. I would say that the fact that cities keep bidding for the Olympics despite this fact is even slightly more amazing, but they’re both pretty incredible.
The Oakland Raiders promised that their stadium project in Las Vegas would provide 18,700 construction jobs, but right now only about 650 workers are involved in construction at the site, and over its first year the project has employed the full-time equivalent of just 195 workers. Nevada really should have gotten that promise in writing.
The head of Mexico’s La Liga MX says that after the 2026 World Cup jointly hosted by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, maybe the three nations’ pro soccer leagues will merge to form one mammoth soccer league. This isn’t a terrible idea on the face of it — Mexico has the soccer talent, the U.S. has the fan spending money, and Canada has, I guess, donuts — but as it would require MLS owners to share their league with a bunch of other team owners who didn’t pay the $150 million expansion fee, and probably accept some kind of tiered promotion/relegation system as well to avoid having a 50-team league, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The simmering Nashville S.C. existential crisis — MLS had approved an expansion franchise after the city council approved a new stadium with $75 million in public subsidies (plus free land), but it turned out they hadn’t actually approved approved it yet — was taken off the burner last night, as the council voted 31-8 to demolish existing buildings at the city’s fairgrounds to clear the way for the stadium, while also approving bills to rezone the land, approve the team’s ground lease, and sell $50 million in bonds to help fund construction. The council also voted 25-12 to reject a proposal for a public referendum on the stadium bonds.
All this happened by the skin of the council’s teeth, as even earlier in the day, it wasn’t clear if the stadium plan would must the necessary 27 votes for passage. But when the team and the community group Stand Up Nashville announced a community benefits agreement earlier in the day, that was enough to shake loose the deciding swing votes.
So what did Nashville get in the CBA? A minimum wage of $15.50 for stadium workers, a requirement that at least 20% of the new residential units be “affordable” or “workforce” housing (no details available on what income band this would need to be affordable to), the inclusion of a day care center, some soccer equipment for Metro schools, and a few other things. It’s not nothing, but it’s also going to cost the team owners a drop in the bucket compared to the $75 million (plus free land!) that the city is gifting to the team owners. So, classify it under “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” which is where the vast majority of stadium deals end up.
Nashville S.C. is now all set to enter MLS in 2020 along with David Beckham’s Miami team, which will bring the number of teams in the league to an even 28. This is not large for a U.S. sports league, but is mammoth for a soccer league, which usually top out at 20; it remains to be seen whether the league’s policy of endless expansion will ever hit a wall, but for now, the owners can keep on cashing those $150 million expansion fee checks.
The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:
The Nashville S.C. stadium squabble continues, months after the city council supposedly approved a $75 million public subsidy (plus free land), and it’s way more than I can recap right now, so please go read the Tennessean’s summary instead while we wait for a final vote next Tuesday.