Friday roundup: Kraft tries to use World Cup to get new stadium, Roger Noll says Austin MLS subsidies are indeed subsidies, NC mulls new tax breaks for Panthers

Posting this while watching the first World Cup match at the crazy stadium with the seats outside the stadium. (I haven’t honestly even noticed who the teams are yet, I’m just watching the architecture.) Anyhoo:

Friday roundup: Spending on training facilities is a bad idea, Portland seeks MLB team, Jays game postponed after roof hit by falling ice

I can’t believe none of you wrote in to ask why I hadn’t reported on a Toronto Blue Jays game getting postponed due to falling ice puncturing a hole in the stadium roof, but I guess you’re all acclimated to waiting for the Friday roundup now for that sort of thing. But wait no longer! (Well, wait a few bullet points for that one in particular.)

Revolution stadium plans being ruined by greedy teachers union, says pro-stadium columnist

Speaking of death notices for MLS stadium plans, New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft’s proposed Dorchester soccer facility is also being declared “all but dead,” at least by Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung. This, though, may be a slightly different story than in St. Louis:

The finger-pointing has begun, and if Kraft goes away, blame the Boston Teachers Union. At issue are the 2.7 acres the union owns on the site where Kraft would like to put his sports venue.

The union, I am told, is asking for a deal that Kraft, a billionaire who also owns the New England Patriots, thinks is too rich.

That’s the start of a long column that comes down to: Kraft wants the teachers union’s land, the union is driving a hard bargain, and Kraft may walk away from the site in response. The entire thing is completely unsourced, except for one reference to “according to people briefed on the matter,” and given that Leung writes that if the deal dies it would be “a shame,” that she goes out of her way to praise Kraft as “credited with saving football when he helped broker a deal with players that ended the NFL’s 136-day lockout in 2011,” and that she’s previously admitted in print that “some may say I have never met a stadium I didn’t like,” there’s a fairly high likelihood that this column was prompted by Kraft’s side griping to her about those damn union leaders refusing to come down on their land asking price. Leung writes that Kraft has “a reputation for being a tough negotiator” — if he can save a few million by getting a friendly journalist to paint his opponents as obstructionists, that’s a phone call well worth making.

Massachusetts governor on Dorchester stadium for Revolution: “Think of the children!”

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker says he’d consider a proposal by New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft to build a soccer stadium in Dorchester in southern Boston, which, you know, that’s what governors say, so it’s to be expected. But then Baker went and said this:

“A facility like that could be used by kids and by UMass Boston and by the community at large,” he said. “If the rest of it could get worked out, I think it could be a plus.”

Um, what? The stadium, if built, would be on land owned by UMass-Boston, so they could certainly try to work out a deal by which their soccer team could use the stadium when the Revolution isn’t home. But “kids” and “the community at large”? Has Baker ever seen a pro soccer stadium? Unless it’s going to be surrounded by practice pitches (it won’t), no local kids are going to get to play on its field except maybe as halftime entertainment. While a Dorchester stadium wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible idea — it all depends on how much Kraft would pay for the site and who’d pay for construction, something that at last report was still being left to the magic funding fairy — building it under the pretense that it will benefit youth soccer is just daft.

Not to be left out, Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung added: “Some may say I have never met a stadium I didn’t like. But I really like this one. What’s most exciting is the opportunity to build something different in a part of the city that could use an economic jolt. It’s not another strip mall, big-box retailer, or luxury condo tower — and that’s a good thing.” Except that at least strip malls are open 365 days a year, whereas soccer stadiums are big dark boxes 90% of the time. Maybe Dorchester should just build a strip mall with a youth soccer field in the parking lot?

Kraft considering Revolution stadium at demolished mall site, and, yeah, that’s about it

Now that Boston’s Olympic bid is mercifully dead, New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft (he also owns some team in that other kind of football) is shopping around for a new site for a soccer stadium, and is considering the site of an abandoned shopping-mall-turned-convention-center in Dorchester:

Robert Kraft’s hunt for a new home for the New England Revolution has led him to hold talks about building a soccer stadium in Dorchester at the site of the former Bayside Expo Center, now owned by the University of Massachusetts….

UMass bought the Bayside Expo for $18.7 million in 2010, after the center went into foreclosure. The university is currently tearing down the exposition hall as part of its plan to expand the UMass Boston campus to that site.

The Bayside Expo site was earlier floated as a possible place for an Olympic Village, which could have been converted to campus space afterwards; if UMass goes for Kraft’s plan, it would presumably be in exchange for lease payments, which the school could use to fund other expansion plans.

That brings us back to how Kraft plans to pay for all this, since he’d now have lease payments to UMass (or outright land purchase payments) on top of construction costs for what could be a $200 million stadium. The last idea the team owner floated was to have Boston pay for the building and get repaid via ticket taxes, which would only work if the taxes were something on the order of $40 a ticket, so that’s not going to work. Picking a site first and then hoping for the magic funding fairy to arrive is a time-honored sports owner tradition, if only because it’s easier to hit up public officials for construction dough once there’s a plan in place, but this seems like it has a long way to go before it even hits the vaportecture stage.

Using ticket tax to fund new Revolution stadium in Boston would cost fans $41 a pop

In case you’re wondering, yes, New England Revolution (and Patriots) owner Robert Kraft still wants a new soccer stadium in Boston, whether or not it’s a converted Olympic stadium. In fact, the Boston Globe reports that Kraft has been talking to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh about it, and even has an idea for how to pay for one:

One scenario Kraft has floated with City Hall is having Boston build and own a $200 million soccer stadium, according to a person close to the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing. The debt would be repaid by a tax charged on tickets.

The Globe then goes on to lots of speculation about where a stadium would be built and whether Walsh would go for public funding, but let’s stop for a minute to explore another question: Does building a $200 million soccer stadium and paying for it with a ticket tax make a damn bit of sense? Selling $200 million in construction bonds would cost something on the order of $14 million a year to pay off, depending on interest rates and financing charges. Let’s give the Revolution the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ll sell 20,000 tickets per game (they average maybe 15,000 now, but MLS attendance figures are famously squishy), or 340,000 per year. That means a simple ticket tax of a mere $41.18 per person would be enough to pay off the stadium debt. Easy-peasy!

Okay, add in a few soccer friendlies and other exhibition games and maybe you could get the tax down to $30 or so, and maybe selling naming rights could knock off a few more dollars, but you get the point. This, in a nutshell, is why it’s so damn hard to get the numbers on new stadiums to work out: They’re really expensive to build, and there’s only so much more you can charge fans above what they’re already paying. Which raises the question: Why build a new stadium in the first place, as nice as it would be for Revolution fans in Boston to take the T to games, if it would be a massive money-loser? That’s another question to be addressed in future Globe articles, I guess.

Converting Boston Olympic stadium for soccer would cost as much as building soccer-only stadium

Boston Magazine has published the complete bid book that Boston 2024 gave to the United States Olympic Committee in December, and it includes a bunch of details on the proposed Olympic stadium that were not in the previous public document. In particular, the cost for a temporary stadium that would be torn down after the 2024 Summer Games is estimated at about $521.3 million ($436.3 million for construction, $85 million for land); designing a stadium that could be converted for later soccer use by the New England Revolution would add another $134.5 million in construction costs, plus $59 million for the actual conversion.

That’s $193.5 million total, plus land costs, which could get you a pretty decent standalone soccer stadium to begin with. Why the Boston Olympic committee would want to roll that into its own budget — or even whether it really intends to, since this is still just an options document — is unclear, but the situation remains worth keeping an eye on.

 

Boston chosen as 2024 U.S. Olympic bid city, people who’ve actually been to Boston laugh and laugh

San Francisco’s 2024 Olympic committee made a last-ditch addition to their bid on Wednesday, adding a plan to build a main stadium in Oakland that could later be used for the Raiders … and you know what, we don’t have to give another thought to that, because San Francisco is not getting the 2024 Olympics. Yesterday, in a bit of an upset, the U.S. Olympic Committee picked Boston as its candidate to host those Summer Games, knocking out San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

At least in theory, Boston got the nod in part because its plan would rely less on building tons of new white-elephant stadiums and velodromes and such, which it has gotten a wee bit of flack for in the past:

Boston’s compact Olympic bid leans heavily on existing venues, such as TD Garden and college facilities, including Harvard Stadium, Boston College’s Conte Forum, and Boston University’s Agganis Arena.

Current plans call for a temporary Olympic stadium at Widett Circle, along Interstate 93 near Frontage Road south of downtown, for opening and closing ceremonies and track and field events. An Olympic village to house the athletes is planned for the former Bayside Expo grounds, with units converted to workforce housing or student dorms for the University of Massachusetts Boston.

That’s certainly all well and good, as is the Boston committee’s promise not to use “public money beyond what is already planned to be spent on infrastructure.” (Albeit that’s a bit of a worrisome fudge.) Even temporary stadiums cost money, though, and while Boston 2024 says most of the $4.5 billion budget would be paid for with Olympic revenues, history isn’t real promising there, even for cities like London that claimed they’d be keeping costs down by repurposing existing venues. The citizen group No Boston Olympics has projected that an actual Boston price tag could be anywhere from $5 billion to $20 billion, which is an awful lot of billions that wouldn’t be accounted for by sponsorships and ticket sales and the like.

The Olympic stadium could end up doubling as a new facility for the New England Revolution (it’s the same site as the team has targeted for a soccer-only building), though as USA Today Nate Scott points out, this could end up just taking Revolution owner Robert Kraft off the hook for building a stadium himself, while simultaneously delaying completion of the place for nine years. (Assuming Boston gets the Olympics; otherwise Kraft could always jump back in once the IOC tells Boston to take a hike.) Scott also includes some much better reasons to be fearful of a Boston Olympics, though, with one item in particular that stands out for me:

Boston sold itself as a frugal option to host the Summer Games, and part of that was by saying Boston would host a “walkable” games. That is all well and good, but if you know Boston, you know that the sites these events would have to be hosted at — Fenway Park, whichever colleges host gymnastics and other indoor events, TD Garden possibly, the new stadium they’re proposing in South Boston — are nowhere near each other.

Which means: Driving.

Driving in Boston is a harrowing experience. The roads, which are more or less the old cow paths in the city that they just paved over however many hundreds of years ago, make no sense. Streets are one way for a little while and then go one way the other direction. I know it doesn’t seem possible, but it’s a real thing in Boston. This happens frequently. 

For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of driving in Boston, this is, if anything, an understatement. The first time I tried to drive to Fenway Park, I ended up on a road that headed toward the ballpark just long enough for me to glimpse it, then curved gently away, steering me in any direction but the one I wanted to go in. The last time I tried it, I had plans to get off the Mass Pike and find a T stop to park-and-ride from, only to find myself unable to exit (Boston seems to have gotten a bulk discount on “NO TURNS” signs), driving all the way through downtown, into Cambridge, and back out again, finally parking at the distant Alewife station over an hour later and taking the T from there.

All of which is to say: As much as I, as a sports fan, would normally cheer a Boston Olympics as one that I could potentially attend without actually having to deal with the nightmare of having it hosted in my home city, there is no way in hell I’m going near Boston with an Olympics going on there. Not that I think the IOC will ever choose Boston in a million years, but at least they’ll always have their boarding passes to remember this by.

NE Revolution could seek South Boston soccer stadium, or not

The owners of the New England Revolution (and Patriots) are reportedly looking at a site in South Boston for a new soccer-only stadium, which would be paid for … nope, that’s not in the Boston Globe article. Okay, which would cost … nope, not that either:

At this stage, it is unclear how the stadium would be financed and whether any public funding would be needed to support the project or its infrastructure.

So we’re left with: The Kraft family may be looking at a city-owned site for a stadium, which would be paid for somehow, and somebody decided to leak that to the Globe, for reasons we do not know. That’s not much, but if vague rumors of the reports of rumors are you thing, now you have one. And if you’re wondering how the Globe art department would illustrate how a stadium there would look if built entirely out of red Legos, now you have that too:

Revolution such a success at old stadium, they clearly need a new one

The New England Revolution are in the MLS Cup and drawing well at Gillette Stadium, so naturally enough talk of a new soccer-only stadium has died down — no, wait, of course it hasn’t:

The Revolution soccer club is back in the MLS playoffs, has been drawing some of the biggest crowds in its 19-year history, and finally has a high-profile star in US national team member Jermaine Jones.

So how about that new stadium?

This is one of the weird … I guess “ironies” is the wrong word, but inconsistencies of the stadium game: When teams are doing poorly on the field and at the gate, the question is when they’ll get a new stadium to reverse their fortunes; when they’re doing well, the question is when they’ll get a new stadium to match their success. It’s a heads-I-win tails-you-lose argument that never seems to get noted by the news media, and certainly zooms right past Boston Globe reporter Callum Borchers.

Certainly, a new soccer-only stadium would be nice for the Revolution owners, and the Kraft family (which also owns the Patriots and Gillette Stadium) has been on record as wanting one for several years now. Yet as Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson told the Globe, the team’s success at their current stadium makes them less likely to want to kick in for a separate stadium of their own:

“The Krafts are already getting all the revenue streams, which is certainly why it’s been less urgent,” said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross and former MLS referee. “They need a substantially better location than they have now to make it worthwhile.”

After privately financing Gillette Stadium, the Krafts have not pledged to do the same for a soccer stadium that probably would cost more than $100 million.

So: The Revolution are doing well playing in a football stadium that they own, so the only thing that would make them move would be if somebody hands them land in a prime location and, probably, subsidies. That would seem to be the definition of not actually so much needing a new stadium, but far be it from me to question the logic of the Boston Globe — no, wait, of course it isn’t.