Los Angeles has been selected as the host of next year’s inaugural World Urban Games, a thing that is like the Olympics only it involves sports no one cares about, like three-on-three basketball. (Though admittedly, the Olympics also involves plenty of sports no one cares about.) L.A. had to offer no actual money to be the host, just use of its sports venues, so if anyone actually travels to L.A. to see these things, there’s an actual chance this might work out to the city’s economic benefit! Crazy talk!
There’s a new pro-ticket tax group in Columbus calling itself Protect Art 4 Columbus that describes itself as “a group of art enthusiasts, sports fans and other community members,” and if this isn’t an Astroturf group, they really needed to come up with a name that made themselves sound less like one.
I do not have the energy to explain the beef between the wannabe Austin MLS team owner and the wannabe Austin USL team owner and how they’re both building stadiums and supporters of one stadium are accusing supporters of another stadium of lying about their ballot petitions by saying “we’re trying to build a soccer stadium” when it’s really to stop the other guys from building a soccer stadium, so just watch the video, it’s blurry and confusing and shot in portrait mode, just like the kids today all like!
And in yesterday’s stadium- and arena-related election results:
David Beckham’s Inter Miami stadium plan will move forward after 60% of Miami voters approved building a soccer venue atop city-owned Melreese golf course. Though as the Miami Herald notes, it will only move forward as far as the city commission, and “those votes were far from assured,” with a four-out-of-five-vote supermajority required for passage. There’s still time for Beckham to grab defeat from the jaws of victory here!
San Diego voters appear to have approved San Diego State University’s expansion plans to the site of the old Chargers stadium, with 55% in favor as votes continue to be counted. Only 29% are currently in favor of the competing plan to build a “Soccer City” MLS complex on the site.
Happy U.S. election day, when Americans will be waiting up to learn the fate of a bunch of stadium and arena proposals! And the direction of an entire nation, but this site doesn’t have time for that, so on with tonight’s sports venue scorecard:
Miami voters will decide on Referendum 1, which would allow the city of Miami to waive competitive bidding and give David Beckham the right to negotiate a 99-year lease on the city-owned Melreese golf course, for the purpose of building a stadium there for his Inter Miami MLS club. Polls close at 7 pm Eastern; this being Florida, however, there’s always a good chance no one will know the results until December.
In San Diego, voters will be faced with two competing ballot initiatives: Measure E, which would have the city lease 253 acres of land on the Chargers‘ former stadium and practice sites to developers of the proposed Soccer City, which would include a soccer stadium and other stuff; and Measure G, which would have the city sell the land to San Diego State University for a new campus, including a new college football stadium. Polls show Measure G winning and Measure E trailing; if both measures get a majority, whichever gets more votes will win; if neither measure wins, it’ll be left up to the mayor to determine what to do with the site. The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board has declared that neither measure is worth voting for, while letter writers to the paper — yes, there are still people who express their opinions by writing letters to newspapers, in 2018! — are all over the place in how to best game the system. San Diego polls close at 8 pm Pacific, so expect to wait up for this one.
Contrary to what I implied on Friday, Columbus voters will not be deciding on a 7% ticket tax that would apply to all large sports and entertainment venues — but maybe not Ohio State University football, nobody’s actually sure — and use the proceeds to fund arts programs and the Blue Jackets arena, because while a vote is indeed coming up, it’s a council vote, not a public referendum. A completely unscientific poll of Columbus Business Journal readers shows massive opposition to the measure, but even if that were a valid measure, the city council can still do whatever it wants, because representative democracy, yay!
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.
Welcome to the first-ever weekly stadium news roundup to kick off with a review of a terrible Ed Sheeran concert:
The Minnesota Vikings‘ $1 billion stadium still sounds like crap for concerts, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune in its review of an Ed Sheeran show last Saturday: “Anytime Sheeran slapped out a beatnik-funky drum beat on his guitar and put it on repeat, such as ‘New Man’ or the pre-encore finale ‘Sing,’ it sounded hopelessly mucky and un-funky, sort of like a kitchen-sink garbage disposal trying to clear out gallons of half-dried concrete.” Time for Zygi Wilf to demand a new one yet? Only 28 years to go on their lease!
Speaking of concerts, CBC News has a chart of top touring acts that have skipped Saskatoon while playing in other cities in recent years — ostensibly because Saskatoon’s arena is too old (30 years! even older than Ed Sheeran!) and too far out of the center of town and has too antiquated a rigging system — but mostly it’s a reminder of how many arena acts are on their last legs: Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand and Black Sabbath all played other Canadian cities but not Saskatoon? How will the city ever prepare for the future! (Also, Saskatoon’s bigger problem might just be that it’s Canada’s 19th-largest city — I bet Paul and Barbra didn’t play Lubbock, Texas, either, which is about the same population.)
Here’s a fun Guardian article on what makes a good soccer stadium. Not sure there’s one takeaway other than “Design them to be good places to watch the match with seats close to the action, and try to make them fit into their immediate surroundings,” but that’s more than most U.S. stadium designers do, anyway.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores still want an MLS expansion team in Detroit, and while they’ve determined that removing the Lions stadium’s fixed roof and building a retractable one like MLS asked would be prohibitively expensive, they have offered to spend $95 million on a training field and other soccer fields throughout the city, though Crain’s Detroit notes that it’s “unclear” if that spending “would use any public funding.” If it would, this will be an interesting test in how badly MLS wants its teams to play in soccer-friendly outdoor stadiums, and how much it just wants new owners who’ve shown they can extract cash from their local municipalities.
The deal for the new New York Yankees stadium included new parking lots that were mostly to be paid for by a nonprofit shell corporation that was to own them and collect parking revenues, but now that it turns out nobody wants to pay $45 to park for Yankees games when there are plenty of cheaper parking options plus multiple subway and commuter rail lines nearby, the company is $100 million in default on rent and taxes to the city, with no real hopes of ever paying it back. I should probably add this to the “city costs” section of my Yankee Stadium subsidy spreadsheet, but I don’t have time this morning, so just mentally note that city taxpayers have now put up almost $800 million toward a stadium that was sold as involving “no public subsidies,” with state and federal subsidies putting the total taxpayer bill at nearly $1.3 billion.
“Several dozen” Long Island residents marched in protest last week against the New York Islanders‘ proposed arena near Belmont Park, saying it would create too much traffic and construction noise. Those aren’t the best reasons to be concerned about it in my book — I’d be more upset about the crazy discount on land New York state is giving the team, if I were a New York taxpayer, which I am — but maybe the protestors are worried about that too but it didn’t fit easily on a sign.
Oklahoma City is looking for capital projects to spend the next iteration of its sales-tax hike on, and Mayor David Holt says if a maybe-MLS-caliber soccer stadium isn’t included, “the Energy won’t be here forever.” The Energy, if that name draws a blank for you, is the city’s beloved USL franchise that’s been there since … 2014? It’s only a matter of time before teams start threatening to move before they even exist, isn’t it?
“We are losing $11 million to $12 million per season,” [Impact president and CEO Joey] Saputo disclosed during a frank and transparent discussion with members of the media at Stade Saputo.
Saputo said one way the club is looking to stem the red ink is with help from city hall by reducing the club’s annual tax bill of $2 million.
“Frank and transparent,” eh, TSN analyst Noel Butler? So Saputo opened his books so that members of the media could verify those $11 million a year losses? No? Well, it’s the thought that counts.
Anyway, Saputo appears to be holding off on spending $50 million in upgrades on Stade Saputo because he says he doesn’t want the stadium to be worth more and his tax bill to go up — in perky Canada, sports team owners have to pay property taxes on their stadiums even when they sit on public land — which is about as good an argument as “I bought an MLS team for $23 million and they go for $150 million now but I’m losing money so bail me out here!” He’s got one Canadian sportswriter on his side, though: Butler warns that without subsidies the Impact could fall to be a second-tier team like fill out the bottom of European leagues, which doesn’t even make any sense since teams in European leagues pay their own player payrolls unlike in MLS, but anyway, can Joey Saputo have $2 million, please? He’s really sincere!
I posted the week-ending news roundup late on Friday, but still not apparently late enough for the stadium news cycle, which promptly exploded in the afternoon, starting with the news that Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was finalizing a deal to buy the Columbus Crew from owner Anthony Precourt so that it can stay in Columbus in a new stadium and Precourt can get an expansion team to move to Austin, Texas.
That takes us up to Friday, when it was revealed that Haslam — plus some local investors — had negotiated with Precourt and MLS to instead buy the Crew and have them stay put; Precourt will still get an expansion franchise in Austin, and everybody is happy. At least, maybe everybody is happy? There are still a bunch of unanswered questions here, like:
Who’s paying what to whom for what here? MLS is a “single-entity” structure, meaning that the league owns the actual teams, and the team “owners” only control operating rights. The Columbus Dispatch reports that the deal likely involves “the local investors purchasing the Columbus MLS rights from the league and current Crew operator Precourt Sports Ventures transferring its equity interest in the league to an Austin franchise, presumably an expansion team” — presumably this means Haslam and friends are paying something close to the $150 million expansion fee price that the league won’t be getting from Precourt. Unless maybe Precourt is paying the difference? This is all rich dudes shuffling money around themselves, so whatever, but it’d still be interesting to know.
What happens with the other cities looking for expansion teams? MLS already had a long list of cities angling to get the next two expansion franchises set to be announced, but it appears that Precourt and Austin have jumped the line. Media outlets in Sacramento, thought to be one of the expansion frontrunners, are already wringing their hands over the prospect of now only having one expansion slot to compete for. Assuming MLS doesn’t decide to keep both of next year’s expansion slots and make Austin its 29th team, or throw David Beckham back under the bus, or really anything, because MLS can decide whatever it wants here. (My bet would be on making the remaining cities compete for one slot, but if multiple cities come up with viable ownership groups and lucrative stadium subsidies, announce, “We changed our mind — everybody gets bees!”
Who’s going to pay for this new Columbus stadium, anyway? The Columbus Dispatch reports that there’s no deadline for a new Crew stadium to be in place, and that the team will continue to play in its old stadium until then, which would seem to reduce Haslam’s leverage if he wants to get public cash to help with his stadium plans. But it’s always possible Haslam has already been working things out along these lines with Columbus officials — news reporting on all this is fairly lousy so far, as to be expected when news drops on a Friday afternoon.
So what’s the upshot here? That MLS was more scared of moving the Crew to Austin than we’d been led to believe, either because of the Modell Law or because they didn’t want to be seen pissing off an established fan group or just because they saw the opportunity to get another NFL owner on board, and they just love those guys. Regardless, that Columbus will apparently get to keep its MLS team without having to pony up huge subsidies for a stadium for an expansion team has got to be seen as at least tentatively good news, and a sign that public mobilization can impact the battles of elephants. There are still many, many more shoes to drop, however, so glass-half-empty advocates, keep hope alive that this will still suck for someone! Anything is possible in the topsy-turvy world of MLS!
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.
For those who thought the city’s ambitions of becoming a Major League Soccer town died at the ballot box last year, there is hope — and its name is Taylor.
Taylor is the family behind Enterprise rental cars, which is based in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton. The Post-Dispatch goes on to pick up such press release soundbites as that this would be the first MLS team majority-owned by women, and that Enterprise has lots of ties with local nonprofits, and okay okay, we get it, what about the damn stadium that was the stumbling block the last time somebody tried to get a soccer expansion team for St. Louis?
A roughly $250 million stadium dedicated to the soccer franchise would be “overwhelmingly” privately financed, the Taylors say. Public help would likely come from dedicated sales taxes on concessions and other merchandise sold to patrons, a property tax break from a city agency owning the stadium site and leasing it to the group, state tax credits and a break on the city’s 5 percent ticket tax.
That “overwhelmingly” sounds good; that longish list of tax breaks sounds less good. Let’s take them one at a time:
Those “dedicated sales taxes on concessions and merchandise” would apparently mean an extra 3% sales tax surcharge within the stadium. That would mostly come out of the team’s pockets — the economics gets a bit complicated, but suffice to say that as with ticket taxes, sports teams tend to lower concessions prices to eat the surcharge themselves, since they are already trying to charge fans as much as the market will bear for hot dogs — so probably wouldn’t be a significant public subsidy.
The size of the proposed property tax break is unknown — here’s the site under consideration if somebody wants to dig through St. Louis tax records to estimate how much it would normally be expected to pay.
Actual MLS ticket sales and prices are famously hard to calculate thanks to teams’ policies of goosing the gate by giving away tickets for free or cheap, but if we guesstimate 300,000 tickets a year at an average of $30 a pop, then eliminating the 5% ticket tax would cost the city about $450,000 a year.
So all told, yeah, that all sounds preferable to the $60 million from sales tax hikes and kicked-back property taxes on adjacent land that would have gone into the previous soccer stadium plan. Though of course right now we’re just taking the word of the prospective team owners for it, so let’s see what the fully fleshed-out proposal looks like. Hopefully the Post-Dispatch will remove its rose-colored glasses long enough to report on that, once it’s available.