Friday roundup: Bad spring training math, Beckham’s curse, and the opening of Megatron’s Butthole

No time for quips today, just the news:

  • A study by Arizona State University found that spring-training baseball was worth $373 million to the Arizona economy in 2018. I can’t find the actual report itself, but it looks like they came up with this number by interviewing a sample of out-of-town visitors at spring training games about how much they were spending on their trips — which would be a perfectly good methodology if not for the fact that lots of people travel to Arizona and then think “I’ll go see a baseball game while I’m there,” instead of traveling there just for baseball and thinking, “Sure, I’ll check out that big canyon, too.” Which is why when spring-training games have been canceled for labor conflicts, the observed impact on local economies has been pretty much zero. I wonder if the people who wrote this Arizona State report are actual economists, at least.
  • Nashville is getting an MLS franchise because it promised to build a soccer stadium, but it still might change its mind and not build a soccer stadium, and this is going to be great fun to watch if it does. (Not if you’re a Nashville MLS fan, I guess. But [insert requisite jibe about anything being more fun to watch than MLS soccer].)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that he hopes MLB expands by two more teams during his lifetime (or during his tenure as commissioner — he wasn’t exactly clear), specifically mentioning “Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada. We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.” That got people in those cities all excited, which is presumably the point in saying such things — of course, none of those cities have MLB-ready stadiums (unless you count Olympic Stadium in Montreal), so prepare for a stadium arms race sometime before Manfred dies.
  • Megatron’s Butthole is now fully operational.
  • The estimated cost of renovating Key Arena has risen from $600 million to $700 million, but the city won’t have to pay any of that because their deal with the developers says those guys have to pay any cost overruns. Kids, when signing your next arena deal, do that.
  • A Florida man was arrested for setting fire to golf carts at the golf course where David Beckham wants to build his soccer stadium, but police say it was just arson and has nothing to do with the stadium proposal. Except insomuch as David Beckham is cursed, okay? If construction on this place ever begins, I fully expect it to be interrupted by all its milk cows going dry.

Beckham wins vote to hold vote on holding talks on Miami soccer stadium

Well, lookie there, a David Beckham stadium project has actually taken a step forward:

On Wednesday, Miami commissioners voted to hold a November referendum to ask voters if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham’s ownership group to build a $1 billion commercial and soccer stadium complex on the city’s only municipal golf course, Melreese Country Club. Voters will decide if the city should make an exception to its competitive bidding law to allow the administration to negotiate the no-bid deal with the Beckham group, a for-profit private entity, to develop 131 acres of public land.

In other words, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell switched his vote to “yes,” after Beckham’s partner Jorge Mas agreed to phase in a minimum $15 an hour wage requirement for commercial tenants at the stadium complex. So score one for being the squeaky wheel.

The stadium plan will now be up to voters, which, you know, it’s tough to complain about — if Miami residents think giving up a golf course for a reasonable price is a fair swap for getting a soccer stadium, then more power to them. (One still has to hope that Mas and Beckham won’t sway them with campaign ads making phony economic claims as the Heat did 22 years ago, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross this fall.) Technically, the commission still has to negotiate an actual deal if the vote passes, but since Beckham and Mas already got three votes to hold the vote, it’s unlikely those votes will flip back against them if a referendum passes.

So congrats to Beckham for finally, after so many long years, taking an actual step forward toward the MLS expansion franchise he was promised in exchange for signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and — sorry, what’s that?

A lawsuit has been filed against the city of Miami claiming that it broke its charter when it entered into a no-bid deal to put a Major League Soccer stadium on city-owned property.

Well, it was an unreservedly good day for Becks for an hour or so, anyway.

Beckham kicks in sweeteners for proposed Miami MLS stadium, swing vote still holding out for more

David Beckham and Jorge Mas’s Miami MLS ownership group issued a revised set of proposed stadium terms last night in hopes of winning over balky city commissioners, in particular offering to pay any cleanup costs for the toxic waste that sits under the golf course he wants to use as a site. He’s tweaked his offer in other ways, too, though, as the Miami Herald reports:

  • The rent the team pays to the city would now be the greater of either what was determined by two independent appraisers or 5 percent of gross rent revenue collected from tenants at the site.
  • The team owners would provide an additional $5 million toward funding the city’s Baywalk and Riverwalk.
  • Team employees would be guaranteed a minimum wage of $15 an hour if they didn’t get health insurance, or $13.19 an hour if they did.
  • The city would get 1% of any sale price for the team or other team interests on the site.
  • Any lost parkland would be replaced by the team owners.
  • First Tee Miami, a golf youth empowerment program, which is apparently actually a thing, would be guaranteed access to a new driving range at the former golf course site.

The Beckham/Mas plan already looked pretty reasonable for the Miami public, and this sweetens the pot slightly more. And it appears to resolve questions 1 and 3 of the five questions the Miami New Times asked about the deal on Sunday; the biggest remaining one is “How much money is this thing going to make, really?“, but if the owners really are covering all the costs and kicking in for some extra parks and such on top of that, it shouldn’t really matter too much whether the tax benefits to the public aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

According to the Herald, swing vote Ken Russell was still undecided when he left a meeting with Mas after midnight last night, and still holding out to make sure the living-wage provision applied to all employees on the stadium site. Which is his right: This is the only chance the city commissionhas to leverage the no-bid land sale to get concessions from Beckham and Mas, so by all means, haggle over the fine print. And while you can quibble over the details — “Is a golf course or a soccer stadium or something else the best use of land?” is an inherently subjective question depending on what you mean by “best” — we can at least applaud the city of Miami for recognizing that they have Beckham over a barrel, and insisting that he provide something to local residents in exchange for their approval. If every set of local officials would do even just that, we’d have a lot saner world in terms of city development policy — hey, maybe we have something to thank Jeffrey Loria for after all!

Lions owners, Dan Gilbert discuss adding retractable roof to make Ford Field somewhat less crappy for soccer

Dan Gilbert’s pitch for a Detroit MLS expansion team was declared dead as soon as he gave up on his $300 million–subsidy land swap plan and switched to wanting to have the soccer team play at the Lions‘ stadium instead, but he never exactly gave up on it. So it’s not surprising that he now has a Plan C to get back on the future expansion list — but as for what that plan is, well:

Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said on WJR-AM (760) Monday morning that he and other Lions executives are looking into a retractable roof to help bring a Major League Soccer team to Detroit.

This is not the first time the idea of a roof for soccer has been raised — Gilbert himself mentioned it to Sports Business Daily last month, saying, “If we get that worked out, I think we have a pretty good chance” of getting an MLS team. Wood provided some more details yesterday, though, kind of:

Wood also explained adding a retractable roof is something that would be easy, saying the cost could be “With a ‘M’ and an ‘S’ and maybe three digits in front of the ‘M.'”

“We’ll figure out who’s going to pay for it after we figure out the cost,” Wood said.

For those who aren’t fans of cryptic crosswords, that first sentence translates as “it’ll cost at least $100 million,” which given that the U.S. Open’s new retractable roof cost $150 million and the Tampa Bay Rays owners are talking about a fixed roof that would cost $245 million seems like an underestimate at best. (Of course Wood didn’t say what those three digits would be.) Whereas the second sentence is either one of the most hilariously inept things a sports executive has said, or else code for “we don’t know who’s gonna pay for it, but it sure won’t be us.”

The idea behind adding a retractable roof is that it would enable the Lions to add a grass field, which would make MLS happy. That’s not an outright requirement, though — Atlanta United, for example, was okayed as a new franchise despite an artificial turf field — and it wouldn’t really address other reasons why MLS prefers soccer-specific stadiums, which is that having maybe 10,000 fans rattling around inside a 65,000-seat soccer stadium feels kind of crappy and looks even worse on TV. (The Falcons modified their stadium for soccer by building in moving sections of seats and retractable curtains to cover the upper deck.)

And while I’m always happy to see sports team owners looking to adapt existing stadiums rather than build entire new ones, at anything other than the very low end of this price point, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense — other cities are building whole new soccer stadiums for only about $200 million, so if a roof would end up costing something similar, that seems like kind of a waste, though I suppose it does save on land acquisition costs, and let you get twice the bang for your buck on maintenance and operations on your building.

MLS hasn’t even set its next deadline for expansion bids, so there’s plenty of time for the Lions owners and Gilbert to work this out. But for the moment, I’m categorizing this plan of action as “screwy.”

D.C. United already holding one-day-old stadium together with duct tape

D.C. United opened their new $400 million stadium, which received $183 million in public subsidies, yesterday, and I know what your first question is: Was anyone injured when part of the brand-new facility fell off and hit them? Oh, were they ever:

The director of communications and sideline reporter for D.C. United was hit by a falling railing at Audi Field ahead of the brand new stadium’s inaugural match.

ABC7’s Kevin Lewis reported that the railing hit the team’s reporter Lindsay Simpson not long before D.C. United took on the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday at 8 p.m. in their first game in their new stadium.

That’s embarrassing, but you know, one fluke accident can happen anywhere, so—

Pablo Maurer of MLSSoccer.com says there were multiple incidents of railings falling during the game. Lewis says staffers were later seen around the stadium securing railings with duct tape.

Oh, man.

The railings will undoubtedly be fixed, and the duct tape will be retired, and soccer will go on as normal for the team. But next time there’s some mishap at an older stadium, before buying the claims that “it’s falling apart, we need a new one,” remember that new ones can fall apart sometimes too.

Friday roundup: More renderings, more on the LeBron effect myth, and more bad Raiders PSL decisions

Wow, it’s Friday already? How did that happen? Anyway, let’s see what’s left in the ol’ news hopper:

  • Whoops, forgot to include the stadium renderings that David Beckham’s group released this week in my last post, probably because they’re really boring and have no fireworks or spotlights or lens flare or anything. Also not pictured: the fleet of trucks carrying off the toxic waste that sits under the site.
  • Somebody has finally studied the actual economic impact of LeBron James on the Cleveland area, and far from the urban legend, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that overall GDP growth in the metro area has actually slowed since James returned from Miami. Now, that doesn’t mean that James is bad for the Cleveland economy — there are way bigger factors at work that affect GDP — but it does mean that at best, he didn’t really move the needle much on local earning. Can somebody please tell Drake now?
  • The Las Vegas Raiders announced their PSL pricing, and it’s a whopping $20,000 to $75,000, more in line with what the San Francisco 49ers are charging than, say, the Atlanta Falcons or Minnesota Vikings. And there will be other seats with no PSLs attached, so if fans want to go to games, they can always opt for the no-down-payment option and just sit in the nosebleeds. I feel like I’ve seen this somewhere before and it didn’t go well — oh, right.
  • The Arizona Coyotes have a new CEO, Ahron Cohen, so what does he have to say when asked about the team’s arena plans? “Really, the most important thing for us right now and what we’re focusing on is achieving our core goals. Those are building hockey fandom in Arizona, building a competitive team on the ice, and positively impacting our community. Ultimately, we have to figure out our long-term arena solution. But that problem is solved by achieving those three goals I laid out.” Put that into Google translate, select Corporate Bureaucrat to English, and we get, let’s see: “Hell if I know.” Glad to see some things are consistent with the Coyotes!

Miami puts off David Beckham stadium vote after learning he wants to build it on a toxic waste dump

David Beckham’s latest Miami stadium plan is, shockingly, already not off to a good start: The five-member city of Miami commission voted yesterday to put off a vote on approving a land lease for Beckham’s stadium, with two members (Willy Gort and Manolo Reyes) outright opposed and a third, Ken Russell, worried about wages on the stadium project and cleanup costs, according to WPLG-TV. And even if the commission eventually approves it, that just allows a public vote in November, and after the Marlins stadium fiasco anything with “stadium” in it automatically gets half of south Florida reflexively hating it.

So what’s that about cleanup costs, anyway? What, did Beckham and his partners manage to find a plot of land that’s a toxic waste dump or something oh my god:

Virtually everyone seems to have missed a huge problem with the site: Melreese sits atop a giant pile of toxic waste.

A New Times review of more than a decade of tests at Melreese by the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management and interviews with DERM officials as well as environmentalists make it clear that any developer building on the golf course would have to undertake a massive cleanup that could add millions in costs and lengthy delays…

“The cost to clean this up is going to be astronomical,” says David Villano, a journalist and activist who has written extensively for New Times about the toxicincineratorashunder Miami parks. “Before they put this decision to voters, and before the city commission considers leasing that property, the conversation about incinerator ash needs to be front and center. This is a toxic landfill.”

Beckham, keep on Beckhaming.

NYCFC returns to old Bronx stadium site with new Rube Goldberg funding plan

NYC F.C. is back with another Bronx stadium plan, but this time it’s not the one alongside the Gentrification Death Star that was proposed and then pretty much shot down earlier this year. Instead, according to the New York Times’ Charles Bagli, the team’s owners (Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahayan of Abu Dhabi and the Steinbrenner royal family of New York) are working on a new stadium plan at another Bronx site just south of Yankee Stadium that was previously proposed and then dropped almost five years ago. And whereas that earlier plan would have involved a panoply of tax and land breaks — $60 million of foregone property taxes, $21.5 million in other city tax breaks, $25 million in free rent, and $100 million in foregone parking revenues — the new one involves so many moving parts that it would make Rube Goldberg’s head spin:

  • The Yankees owners, who got an agreement out of the city to provide 9,500 parking spaces for the baseball stadium they built in 2009, would reduce that requirement to 6,500 parking spaces, freeing up the old “triangle garage” and adjacent surface lots south of the old Yankee Stadium site.
  • Developers Jorge Madruga of Maddd Equities and Eli Weiss of Joy Construction would buy or lease the garage and the lots from the city, and buy the adjacent GAL Manufacturing factory from its private owners, all for undisclosed prices.
  • Madruga and Weiss would lease the GAL site to NYC F.C. for another undisclosed price, while building a hotel and conference center, retail and office space, a school, and “as many as 3,000” affordable apartments on the garage and parking lot parcels.
  • NYC F.C. would construct a stadium on the GAL site, reportedly for $400 million, which would be by far the most expensive MLS stadium yet built.

This, you will notice, cleverly manages to arrange that no subsidies go directly to NYC F.C. — the team’s owners would be leasing private land, which would continue to pay property taxes. This enables Bagli to note that the soccer stadium is “not asking for the avalanche of free land, tax breaks and public funding” that went into other New York–area sports venues.

However, until we know who would pay what for which land, and whether the developers would pay fair market rent and property taxes on the garage land, it’s still entirely possible that the developers would be getting significant subsidies, which they could then pass along to NYC F.C. via cheap stadium land rent in appreciation for the Yankees allowing the entire deal to be done in the first place. (Needing the Yankees to approve the reduction in parking spaces is the only way it makes sense for the developers to be involving NYC F.C. at all, since you’d think otherwise it would be easier just to buy the parking parcels and forget about the GAL land.) And there there’s still the estimated $100 million in parking garage payments that the city is still owed, which it would never get if it handed over the land for private development, but which it also might never get if it kept the parking garages because nobody wants to pay to park in them, so you tell me how to calculate the value of that.

That, needless to say, is a lot of ifs — and as Bagli is just going by what NYC F.C. told him (plus what the city told him, which appears to have been mostly “nothing is final yet”), there’s no way to put a number on how much if anything this would end costing taxpayers … yet. If nothing else, it appears that the Steinbrenners and Sheik Mansour are taking a page from the Brooklyn Nets playbook, and creating a financing plan that’s so complicated that even I can’t fully understand it.

It’s also worth noting that there have been a lot of NYC F.C. stadium sites floated over the years, and I mean a lot. By my count, we have had: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, Pier 40 in Manhattan, the GAL factory site, someplace in the city, someplace not in the city, Aqueduct race track in Queens, someplace in Brooklyn, the site of Columbia University’s football stadium in northern Manhattan, Belmont Park in Nassau County, that Harlem River site in the Bronx, and now back to the GAL site. So while it’s certainly worth taking this report seriously, it was also worth taking all of those other ones seriously and they never happened, so for now consider this yet another medium-percentage shot on goal that might go in if it sneaks into a corner of the net, but still has to make it past the wall and the keeper. Who would be, I guess, local elected officials and the city council? I think I may have gone and made this metaphor even more complicated than the financing plan, sorry about that.

Beckham’s latest stadium funding plan maybe not too awful, still might not be enough to win approval

The city of Miami has published the agenda for its July 12 commission meeting on David Beckham’s MLS stadium proposal, and it includes some details of the proposed funding plan. And, get this, they don’t appear to be that terrible for taxpayers:

Beckham and his partners, which include local business giants Jorge and Jose Mas, want to turn Melreese golf course into a 73-acre soccer, commercial and hotel complex and a 58-acre park. All would be privately funded under the terms of a 39-year lease, which could be extended to 99 years. The city would receive annual rent of about $4 million to $5 million, and the owners would pay taxes on the rezoned park land, which does not currently contribute to the tax rolls.

To clarify: Beckham and the Mases would pay for building the development, would pay fair market value for the land (as determined by an independent appraiser — that $4 to 5 million figure is just an estimate), and would pay property taxes (or payments in lieu of taxes) on the land. And the team would also pay an additional $20 million (spread out over 30 years) to turn a little under half of the golf course land into a public park, which isn’t really worth $20 million in present value because the payments are spaced out into the future, but if that’s what a public park will really cost, whatever.

Keeping in mind that this is just a commission agenda likely written up by pro-stadium forces, and so could yet have fine print we don’t know about — and also this would be a no-bid deal, so we’d be taking the appraisers’ word for whether the lease price was really fair market value — this looks like a pretty fair deal for Miami residents financially. The only issue will be whether locals want to sell a public golf course for private development at all, even if it means getting a (smaller) public park and a pro soccer team out of the deal. And given Miami’s past experience with sports stadiums (cough Marlins cough), that might not be an easy sell:

If commissioners approve, voters would decide on Nov. 6 whether to change the city’s charter and allow what would be a no-bid deal to lease 73 acres at the Melreese site to the group…

Petitions are circulating to save the course, where Tiger Woods has appeared for clinics in the past. Longtime LPGA star Cristie Kerr, a Miami native, has voiced opposition to the Melreese plan in recent months, as has fellow Miami native pro Erik Compton.

“Please help protect this beautiful green space, this public golf course and this home to amazing youth programs,” Compton wrote on Twitter.

It would be extremely ironic if Beckham finally came up with a stadium plan in which he actually agreed to pay his fair share, and still got turned down by voters because they just straight-out hate 1) stadium deals 2) losing a golf course, 3) soccer, or 4) him. Though come to think of it, given how the Beckham saga has gone so far, it would be the exact opposite of ironic.

Austin council votes to build soccer stadium, also to not build soccer stadium

After a marathon public hearing that saw nearly 100 people testify, the Austin city council voted at 3:50 a.m. last night on dueling proposals for whether to negotiate exclusively with Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt on using McKalla Place land for a soccer stadium, or open it up to competing bids. And the result was … “both“?!?

I think the best way to describe this is “unexpected,” if you didn’t already get that from the interrobang up above. It’s only been four hours since the vote, and apparently everyone in the news media and on Twitter was too sleep-deprived to write down who voted how, but that’s going to be key in analyzing what’s likely to happen in August.

For now, it seems like the council has dealt with Precourt’s June 30 deadline by honoring the letter of it while ignoring the actual commitment part, which would be a totally reasonable response. Can’t wait to see if Precourt issues one of his rare tweets to respond to the vote, and if so if he’s able to use up all 280 characters.