Speaking of which, here’s this week’s news about elected officials doing unaccountable things, and the rich dudes who want to keep it that way:
New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky told Newsday he’s “looking forward to breaking ground [on a new arena] this summer, that’s the best way to put it,” which sounds an awful lot like “we have no idea when we might break ground, but this summer should would be nice!” The state Empire State Development quasi-public development corporation has admitted that it’s going to blow its self-imposed June 30 deadline for an environmental impact statement, but says releasing one in July will be no problem for starting construction this summer. That’s assuming that local elected officials can be brought on board, though, which could require building a train station that breaks the laws of time and space, so that could be why Ledecky is hedging slightly.
Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke has finalized a settlement to pay $24 million to fans who bought 30-year personal seat licenses to Rams games in St. Louis, only to have the team move to Los Angeles after only 21 years. If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s probably because the court ruling that Kroenke has to pay off PSL holders was way back in 2016 — at which point I estimated the cost would be “$15-25 million,” so yay me and my calculator — but the wheels of justice grind slow.
UPDATE: Just realized I forgot to link to my Deadspin article yesterday on Stuart Sternberg’s Tampontreal Ex-Rays threat, Richard Nixon, Kinder eggs, and bird evolution. And now I have done so, so go read it!
Since last week I went off-topic to discuss a review (kindly) poking fun at some of the ridiculousness of Marvel movies, I should note that there’s a TV series that manages to create a fun, exciting superhero universe while simultaneously poking fun at the entire genre in ways that expose not just its ridiculousness but also its fundamentally Manichean politics, and which has now been canceled by Amazon, a company that has been at the forefront of scheming to shake down cities for subsidies in exchange for building its own facilities. Coincidence?!?!?!? Well, okay, yes, almost certainly, but here’s hoping The Tick ends up picked up by a less ethically compromised corporate entertainment giant, if that’s even a thing.
Where was I? Oh right, stadiums, what’s up with those this week that we didn’t get to already?
The Nashville Predators have indeed agreed to a 30-year lease extension as first reported last week, and how good or bad a deal it is depends on your perspective: The team’s $8.4 million a year in tax kickbacks and operating subsidies will be reduced to just $4.9 million a year in tax kickbacks, which would be $75 million in taxpayer savings but on the other hand the tax kickbacks will be extended to 2049 now instead of 2028, so that’s $102.9 million in additional taxpayer costs. (Neither figure translated into present value.)
A South Carolina legislative conference committee has approved $115 million in tax breaks for a Carolina Panthers practice facility in Rock Hill. Yes, you read that right, a practice facility. State officials say that the 15-year tax kickbacks of all state income taxes will pay for themselves, a conclusion that state senator Dick Harpootlian determined was based on, in the words of the Associated Press, “every Panthers player and coach moving to South Carolina and spending their entire paychecks here and the team buying all the material for the new facility from companies in the state.”
I wrote a thing for Gothamist about how the New York Mets banned backpacks because they have too many pockets to easily search, but not other bags with lots of pockets, pretty much on the grounds of “the light’s better over here.” The best argument either of the security experts could come up with for the policy is that fewer bags means faster lines which means less time queued up outside stadiums as a stationary target for any theoretical terrorists, which is frankly mostly an argument for staying home and watching on TV.
Journalist Taylor C. Noakes notes in an op-ed for CBC News that bringing back the Expos might be nice for Montreal baseball fans, but probably won’t do much for the Montreal economy since “the economic impact of a professional baseball team on a given city [is] roughly equivalent to that of a mid-sized department store,” which, yup.
During a fan event last weekend, Revs team president Brian Bilello offered some reassurance that the hunt remains very much alive. Snippets from the event emerged on Twitter, including the mention of a new price tag. A spokesman confirmed that the Kraft Group is now willing to invest as much as $400 million in a roughly 20,000-seat soccer stadium. The location? Sorry, everyone. That remains a mystery.
I’m perfectly willing to believe that Bilello actually said “$400 million private investment supported by Krafts” as Foley says he did; what that means is another thing. Is Kraft really ready to build the most expensive MLS stadium in history on his own dime? How a new Revolution stadium would be paid for has been an official secret for even longer than where it might go — way back in 2015 he proposed paying for one with a ticket tax, which only would have worked with a ticket tax of around $40 — so you’d think Globe writer Jon Chesto would have asked the team for an official statement on this, but there’s no indication that he did beyond getting confirmation that Bilello used the $400 million figure. (Though he did get two sports economists, Victor Matheson and Andy Zimbalist, to say, in effect, “man, that sounds like a lot of money.”) As a Professional Editor of Journalism, I would have sent this back to the author with the note “needs comment from team on financial plan or indication that they refused to comment,” but I guess that’s not how the Globe rolls these days.
New York’s Empire State Development Corporation approved its draft environmental report on a new New York Islanders arena at Belmont Park, and it basically comes down to “yeah, traffic is already bad and it’s going to get worse, we’ll try to figure something out but don’t hold your breath.” The state will also provide a whole two Long Island Rail Road trains to take fans to and from games, which will require new switches to deal with the massive mess that is that train interchange, for which “it is also expected that [the arena developers] will contribute to LIRR and MTA funding,” which isn’t exactly the same as saying the developers will pay for it.
The National Parks Conservation Association was “shocked” to learn that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants to take 300 acres of federal parkland to use for a new Washington NFL team stadium. “I have talked to lower-level Park Service employees who are just as shocked as I am about this,” said the organization’s Chesapeake and Virginia programs director, Pam Goddard. “We are vehemently opposed.” Hogan has said that no public money would be used for the stadium plan, but public land and building out sewer and power lines into federal parkland, now that’s another story.
Two out of 12 stadiums built by the Brazil for the 2014 World Cup are no longer undergoing corruption probes! If you’ve calculated that that means ten of the 12 are still under investigation, you get an A+ in math.
Hey, lookit, somebody actually called Roger Noll after he was name-checked by the Austin city council, and asked him what he thinks of Anthony Precourt’s stadium proposal for that city. His answer: “It’s not accurate to say it’s going to be completely privately financed. It’s in fact going to have a significant subsidy built into it. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.” That’s fair! Adds Temple economist Michael Leeds: “If Austin feels that having a soccer team would give the city an identity, give the people of the city something they enjoy, that’s fine. … That’s different from saying this is going to boost the city’s economy.” Also fair! Short answer from economists: If you wanna help build a stadium because you think having a stadium would be cool, go for it, but don’t do it for the economic impact because bwahaha “economic impact.”
The Colorado Rockies owners have released renderings of the ugly building they want to build on a Coors Field parking lot they’re leasing from the state for $1.25 million a year. The renderings don’t even show any fireworks or searchlights. Sad!
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.)
Some Portland, Oregon businesspeople who want to bring major-league baseball to that city say they’ve put in bids for two potential stadium sites, which doesn’t actually promise anything — they can use the land for something else if an MLB bid doesn’t go anywhere — but is more than nothing, I suppose. There’s still legislation passed in 2003 authorizing $150 million in bonds for a new stadium, to be repaid by state income taxes on players — which wouldn’t have penciled out 15 years ago, but might now, though it still has the problem that much of that tax money would be diverted from income that would be earned by people working in other entertainment jobs in the absence of a team — but how the rest of the money would be raised, or what team exactly would play in Portland, remains a mystery.
People in Boise are really steamed about plans for a new $40 million minor-league baseball stadium that would be funded partly by public money. The word “carpetbagger” was used; parental discretion is advised.
MLS officials have met with prospective owners in Columbus who want to keep the Crew in town, while also conducting “a review of potential local stadium sites for the team.” The Crew’s current stadium is 19 years old. This is your dystopian future.
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 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?
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.
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.