A’s stadium plan wins friend, Vegas mulls Raiders transit, and other news of the (short) week

I’m going to be on a plane tomorrow to a faraway land, so let’s do the week’s news roundup a day early:

  • Peralta Community College District chancellor Jowel Laguerre now says he’s into the Oakland A’s tearing down his administrative offices in order to build a stadium, so long as they hire his students to work there: “The A’s are in the business of hiring people, and we’re in the business of developing people, so it makes sense to have these conversations.” I can see it now: Laney College, Your Gateway to a Career in Hot Dog Marketing and Sales! (Also the A’s still need to figure out how to squeeze a stadium onto a tiny site, but one battle at a time, I suppose.)
  • Clark County is smarter than Cobb County, it turns out: The Nevada county’s planning director, Nancy Amundsen, said this week regarding the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium: “If it’s determined that they need a pedestrian bridge at this location, or they need wider sidewalks on these streets, or they need streetlights here or there — any upgrade of the infrastructure based on the development on the site — we can request that in the development agreement.” The county commission still needs to do it, mind you, but at least thinking of it ahead of time puts them ahead of the folks who negotiated with the Atlanta Braves around their new stadium and its pedestrian bridges.
  • That El Paso court case over whether the city’s new arena can host sporting events or just concerts and such turns out to be due to the city’s project consultant, according to one neighborhood group opposed to the arena: “David Romo says sports consultant Rick Horrow is to blame for the city stripping the arena ordinance of the word ‘sports’ in favor of ‘multi-purpose performing arts facility.'” If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Horrow has been selling small cities on his “raise the sales tax and build an arena plus a whole of other stuff” model for decades now — he’s the man who talked Oklahoma City into building a new arena with public money (which worked out okay in that the Thunder eventually moved there) and tried to push the same model for such things as an NFL stadium in Birmingham, Alabama (which would not have worked out okay at all). Romo cites Horrow’s own book, which advises, “De-emphasize, even in triumphant cities, the sports model,” and “Each individual project, on its own, will have little chance of passage. together, bundled, is the most enticing way to present the idea to voters.” Except when you write yourself into a corner with bond paperwork that says your new building isn’t for sports; but then, Horrow will probably have collected his fee by then and moved on to the next town.
  • St. Louis’s MLS expansion bid, which pretty much disappeared after voters rejected spending $60 million on a soccer stadium this spring, may not be dead after all! According to alderman Joe Vaccaro, “I have been hearing rumblings and I have certainly no facts.” Or, you know, it might still be dead.
  • Pictures of D.C. United‘s new stadium set to open next year! Spoiler: They don’t look like much. Also spoiler: They don’t really look like the stadium will be ready by midseason 2018 as the plan is (United will start the year on a lengthy road trip to accommodate the construction schedule), but soccer stadiums are a bit simpler to build than those for other sports, so maybe?
  • “Colorful, glossy flyers urging residents to ‘Stop the Stadium!’ and ‘Take Action Now’ were left on doorsteps around the [proposed Miami MLS stadium] area late last week, paid for by a new group called the Overtown Spring Garden Community Collective.” David Beckham really can’t catch a break.

I’ll be back here … Monday? Later than that? It all depends on how well I can navigate whatever weird metric internet they have where I’m going. In the meantime, use the comments on this post as your open thread on any breaking news, and buy David Beckham a muffin or something, he’s probably needs some cheering up.

MLS’s eternal expansion plan: Crazy like a fox, or just crazy?

Slow stadium news weekend, so I’ll take the opportunity to note my debut article for Deadspin that ran Friday, on Major League Soccer’s ongoing expand-o-rama and whether this is likely to end well for the league. (Consensus of myself and the sports economists I spoke with: Maybe there’s a chance if you squint, but don’t bet the farm on it.)

And since this became an issue in Deadspin’s comments section: Yes, I know about Soccer United Marketing, the MLS-owned marketing company that handles such North American events as the Gold Cup; no, just because MLS according to one report paid $450 million to buy back a 25% share of SUM to regain full ownership doesn’t necessarily mean the league is “worth” an extra $1.8 billion, any more than the fact that people are paying $150 million for expansion franchises means those are worth that much; and no, nobody really knows how much SUM is worth since it won’t release any revenue figures. It’s almost certainly worth something, but as University of Michigan economist and Soccernomics co-author Stefan Szymanski estimates, probably not enough to make a huge difference in the league’s profitability once it stops cashing $150 million expansion checks. I’m going to keep digging into this in the future, but for now that’s the best verdict available.

And if you’d like to hear me talk even more about MLS and its future, I was interviewed on 700 WLW in Cincinnati yesterday, which you can hear here starting at the 67:29 mark. And coming up tonight, I’ll be on 590 KFNS in St. Louis at 6:20 pm Central time, and then KXTG-102.9/750 The Game in Portland, Oregon at 5 pm Pacific time, which is right afterwards because I am apparently a time traveler. Or the earth is round, definitely one of those two.

Montreal stadium used for refugees from U.S., isn’t this a scene in “Handmaid’s Tale”?

Lightning round!

  • Boise is all in a tizzy over plans to build a minor-league soccer stadium, because it would get a property-tax exemption. This is the kind of subsidy that people don’t usually notice unless they’re the mayor of Minneapolis, so good on Boise.
  • We finally have a due date for proposals for developing land near Belmont Park that the New York Islanders owners have targeted for a possible new arena: September 30. Tune back in then, and maybe we’ll see what they have in mind, and how they hope to pay for it.
  • Louisville is moving ahead with plans to refinance its debt on its disastrous arena deal. This won’t help a ton — the arena deal will still be a disaster — but even stanching the flow of red ink slightly is something, I suppose.
  • El Paso is involved in a court case over whether they’re allowed to hold sporting events at their new arena, because the bonds it used can’t be used for “sports facilities” and — know what, just read about it yourself, it’s too insane to describe in detail here.
  • The mayor of St. Petersburg is “intrigued” by the idea of building a new soccer stadium on the site of Tropicana Field if the Rays move out, something he apparently neglected to discuss with the local would-be MLS team owner first.
  • Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula is still refusing to demand a new stadium, despite the NFL really wanting him to.
  • Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is now being used as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers fleeing Trump’s America. There are undoubtedly many, many jokes to be made here — that’s what the comment section is for, so have fun!

Charlotte won’t get county money for MLS stadium, expansion race now bigger mess than ever

The Mecklenburg County commission voted 5-3 on Wednesday to hand over the site of 83-year-old Memorial Stadium to the city of Charlotte for a new soccer stadium for a potential MLS team — but no money for building it, which is what the ownership group had been hoping for. Commissioners said they wanted to see a soccer stadium built, but, you know, by the city, not them:

“They manage stadiums and they have a division in the city that deals with pro sports teams,” [Commissioner Jim] Puckett said. “They have a dedicated tax revenue stream that’s for entertainment and can be used for pro sports. They have the expertise and funding stream to deal with that.”

The team’s original plan was for a $175 million stadium where $101.25 million of the costs would be paid off by the county, with the team repaying the public via $4.25 million a year in rent payments. (Note to readers who can do math: No, $4.25 million a year is not enough to repay $101.25 million in bonds unless you get a 1.5% interest rate, which I know they’re low but get serious.) Now they’ll instead have to try to hit up the city of Charlotte alone, which has already indicated that its maximum contribution is $30 million.

That would leave the team to shoulder $145 million of the cost, plus MLS’s nutso $150 million expansion fee, which is a hefty chunk of change. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t have to make those rent payments, so maybe it could just go to a bank and borrow the cash, and make mortgage payments instead? Or maybe the rich NASCAR track heir who wants to launch the MLS team would rather have somebody else on the hook for loan payments if his team, or MLS as a whole, went belly-up at some point as a result of its pyramid-scam spree of handing out expansion franchises like candy to anyone who wants to pay $150 million for candy? Yeah, probably that.

If you’re keeping score, the MLS expansion candidates are now:

That’s a whole mishmash of stuff indeed, and I don’t envy the job of the MLS officials tasked with having to pick two winners this fall (and two more next fall, because they can’t cash those $150 million expansion-fee checks fast enough). You have to wonder if commissioner Don Garber doesn’t think to himself sometimes, maybe it’d be easier just to stick the expansion franchises on eBay and take the highest bids. It would mean giving up on the pretense that they’re actually selecting the best soccer cities or something, but get real, nobody believes that anyway.

Raleigh MLS team wants $91m in state land, will pay for it by hey look over there!

We have a price tag on that 13 acres of state-owned land (with state-owned buildings on it) that would-be MLS owners in Raleigh want for a stadium, and it’s $91 million, at least. Which the MLS backers say they’ll pay for by, um, er, something about a “public-private partnership”:

State Property Office Director Tim Walton … told Department of Administration officials in an email last month that $7 million an acre would be the “minimum starting point” for the 13-acre parcel of state land the club hopes will become home to a new Major League Soccer franchise.

Rather than buy the land outright, NCFC wants to form a public-private partnership with the state to use the property, which is bounded by Peace, Salisbury and Lane streets just north of downtown.

“Public-private partnership,” for those not familiar with the term of art, can mean lots of things — anywhere from “we’ll get together with the government and share profits on a joint investment” to (more commonly) “we’ll be the partner that gets the money, and you be the partner who spends it.” While details haven’t been released yet, clearly this would be an easy way to stick to a “no public money” pledge while still collecting lots of public money — either by promising to repay the state for its land with revenues that aren’t a sure bet to turn up, or by charging the state a premium to rent space for new offices in a joint development, or really any of a million other ways that could be hidden deep within a development agreement.

Is this 100% absolutely surely a scam? No! Is it something that we should be raising an eyebrow at until enough details are released to tell if it’s a scam? Hell yeah! Billie Redmond, chief executive Trademark Properties, the company tasked with site selection for North Carolina F.C. (nice way to include the state name when you’re seeking state money, btw), said, “What we are proposing is complicated, but it’s an opportunity to do something extraordinary”; whether that’s extraordinary in terms of “a win-win for all concerned” or “I can’t believe they fell for that!” is yet to be determined.

Friday roundup: Beckham sued over MLS land purchase, Browns’ flammable stadium, and more!

It’s Friday roundup time! Let’s get started:

  • A local Miami landowner is suing Miami-Dade County over its plan to sell land to David Beckham’s would-be MLS ownership group for a new stadium, arguing that the no-bid deal violates state law requiring public land to be sold to the “highest and best bidder.” Bruce Matheson, who owns land nearby the planned stadium site in the Overtown neighborhood but “spends most of his time aboard his 72-foot Argosy yacht,” according to Miami New Times, has previously blocked the use of a public park for expansion of the Miami Open tennis tournament, so he might just know what he’s doing here. Also, David Beckham is clearly cursed, so that can only help Matheson’s case.
  • In case it wasn’t clear that Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center subsidy deal was a complete disaster from last October’s report that the city was losing almost $10 million a year and the arena was in danger of going bankrupt, Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center is a complete disaster. One big reason why: sales-tax projections were based on past sales-tax growth, which included a sales-tax rate hike in 1990, which wasn’t going to happen again. Whoops! The latest plan is to have the city bail out the arena by taking on an extra $100 million in debt, which tenants the University of Louisville could pay off with less than four years’ worth of the profits they’re making on running the place, but won’t because finders keepers, losers weepers.
  • Wichita is about to spend $60 million on a new stadium for the indy-minor-league Wichita Wingnuts — slogan: If You’re Gonna Go, Then Go Nuts! — and the manager of nearby Picasso’s Pizza is excited about it: “People from all over the Wichita area love some Picasso’s,” says Efrain Ramirez. “Because we’re Picasso’s, you gotta make it look cool, it’s gotta be artistic. You gotta put your flair on it.” Well, excited about something, anyway. Spare a thought for the poor small-city reporter who has to wring a quote about economic development out of a pizzeria manager, okay?
  • Speaking of sports venues and local businesses, some bar owners near the Detroit Red Wings‘ new downtown arena are excited about it, while others are worried they’ll get “trampled” by the “big guys.” No interviews were conducted by the Detroit News with bar owners near the Red Wings’ old downtown arena, which will now close. This has been your moment in 21st-century journalism.
  • The Cleveland Browns‘ stadium is covered in the same flammable cladding that caused the deadly Grenfell Tower fire, but Cleveland’s top building official promises this poses “zero risk to the fans.” Presumably because if you’re watching a Browns game, death will come as sweet release.
  • The turf at the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara continues to suck.
  • The Roma soccer club is owned by Americans, so they are naturally inclined to levy stadium threats. It also plays in Italy’s Serie A, which like all soccer leagues outside the U.S. works by promotion and relegation, so if the team threatened to move, Rome could just start a new team to replace it. So instead team president James Pallotta is threatening that if the ownership group doesn’t get approval to build a new stadium, they’ll sell the team to … someone who won’t demand a new stadium? You may not have thought this entirely through, James.
  • A Russian farmer has built a stadium out of straw to poke fun at the $700 million St. Petersburg is spending on a new World Cup soccer stadium. Cost of the straw stadium: $675. Be sure to click the link above for a truly bizarre Russian video for 2016 with a giant straw bear and a straw sphinx and … watermelons? Guys, I am slightly worried about whoever’s in charge of media links for ESPN.

Falcons’ retractable roof won’t work for opening game, will by December, maybe

Hey, remember back in April when it was revealed that the Atlanta Falconscrazy new iris-style stadium roof was taking longer to build than expected, and team execs promised it would be ready for opening day in September? Well, about that:

The retractable roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be in the closed position when the new Falcons stadium debuts next month and for an undetermined period of time beyond that, the CEO of Falcons parent company AMB Group said today.

Steve Cannon said construction delays have the project behind schedule on fully mechanizing the roof…

Cannon said he could not provide specifics on when the first event might be played with the roof open, although he said it would be at some point during the Falcons’ and Atlanta United’s 2017 seasons.

Well then! The Falcons season runs through December, so sounds like the roof will definitely be operational by then. Of course, Cannon said in April he expected the roof to be operational by the start of the season, not the end, so he has a bit of a record in the wishful-thinking department. I’m not going to mention that Montreal’s Olympic Stadium roof was supposed to retract at first, too, but never really managed it — oh whoops, looks like I just did.

Phoenix Rising co-owner vows MLS stadium will get no subsidies, other than “normal” ones

Since writing my post noting that Phoenix Rising hasn’t provided funding plans for its proposed MLS stadium yet, I’ve had an email back-and-forth with team co-owner David Rappaport. And he’s provided a bit more detail on his ownership group’s “no public subsidies” pledge:

Phoenix Rising FC is partnering with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Solanna Group, which is a real estate company owned by members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, to construct a new, soccer-specific MLS stadium. No tax breaks or funding from the state of Arizona or federal government will be provided that are not normally offered to real estate projects in Native American communities. Stadium construction costs will be repaid from revenues generated by ticket, merchandise, food and beverage and sponsorship sales.

That’s a lot more specific, and helps rule out such things as tax-increment financing or other public kickbacks, which is definitely reassuring.

The question then is what that “not normally offered to real estate projects in Native American communities” clause means. Salt River is the same site that was considered and rejected for an Arizona Coyotes arena last year, so we have at least a little background on what kind of tax advantages a venue on Native American land would receive. The Salt River reservation has the same sales tax rate as Scottsdale (7.95%, marginally lower than Phoenix), but it promises other unspecific tax benefits. One of these could be a property-tax exemption for land owned by the reservation (same as for land owned by other governmental entities); if Salt River continues to own the property (or even just “has control over” it, which is considered the same thing by Arizona law), this could save Phoenix Rising a few bucks.

There’s also this:

The income of a corporation owned by an Indian tribe or tribal member is not subject to Arizona’s corporate income tax if its income is derived from businesses located on the reservation. Income from a corporation not owned by a tribe or tribal member, regardless of whether it is located on a reservation, is subject to the state corporate income tax. Corporations owned by tribes or tribal members that derive their income from non-reservation sources are subject to the income tax in the same manner as all other corporations with income in Arizona.

Again, if the ownership is structured right between Phoenix Rising, Solanna, and the reservation, there could be some tax benefits here, though it’s tough to say how significant they’d be without knowing more details.

Anyway, this is all reassuring, though I’ll still be eagerly awaiting a fleshed-out stadium funding plan. A typical MLS team brings in maybe $30 million in annual revenue, out of which it has to pay player payrolls (generally less than $10 million), plus other expenses; adding on $10-15 million a year in debt payments (if we’re talking about a $200 million stadium) would take a hefty chunk out of their ledgers. It’d help if they can keep costs down, but given they’re talking about a “climate-controlled” venue … I’m interested to see how it all pencils out, let’s just put it that way.

Raleigh MLS bidders want state to raze government buildings to build them a stadium

Another day, another prospective MLS team looking for a “public-private partnership” to build a stadium. Today’s contender: Raleigh, where the owners of North Carolina Football Club (catchy name) want the state to raze a government office complex and give them the land for a soccer venue:

The 13-acre site, bounded by Peace, Salisbury and Lane streets, is part of the sprawling state government complex and houses several offices, including the Archdale Building and the State Capitol Police station.

NCFC wants to lease the land from the state, but it’s unclear whether government leaders are on board.

Yeah, it should be unclear, considering here’s what the site looks like now, per Google Maps:
That is a whole mess of stuff that is already built and would have to be replaced! Me, that probably wouldn’t have been my first ask, but maybe the team owners are thinking they can negotiate down to a public park or something.

Aside from this, there aren’t many details on how the funding for a stadium would work, other than that it would cost $150 million and, according to the News & Observer, “would generate $262 million a year in economic activity for North Carolina and create 1,960 jobs, according to Economic Leadership, an economic development consulting firm in Raleigh. It would generate $5.6 million in annual tax revenue for the state.”

A soccer team selling 20,000 seats a game for 19 home games at, let’s be generous and give them $30 a pop, plus $30 in concessions and parking, apply a 2x multiplier just for the hell of it, that’ll almost come to $5.6 million a year at Raleigh’s 7.25% sales tax rate. Assuming, of course, that all the North Carolina F.C. fans would otherwise be spending that money out of the state, which, um, yeah. This seems like almost as terrible an idea as that time El Paso tore down its City Hall to build a minor-league baseball stadium, so I really hope it happens, because I need new laughably tragic stories to tell during radio interviews.

Phoenix Rising plans MLS stadium, let’s not worry about cost or how it’ll be paid for

In the mood to read an entire article about a new stadium plan that never discusses how much it will cost or who will pay for it? Then Soccer Stadium Digest has you covered!

Phoenix Rising FC, once considered a dark horse in this race, is one of the only candidates facing none of the obstacles to stadium development that hampers other markets…

[blah blah blah]

Situated at the intersection of major Valley arterials Loop 101 and Loop 202, the complex is an easy drive from…

[blah blah blah]

In May, the club secured financing with Goldman Sachs, which recently structured both Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles and Audi Field in Washington, DC.

[etc]

Okay, yes, Phoenix Rising FC has partnered with Goldman Sachs as “structuring agent” for its stadium plan, but that just means they’ll be the bank that they borrow stadium funds from. How much will a 25,000-seat stadium cost? Dunno. Who’ll pay for it? Team execs have previously said it won’t require “public funds,” but as we all know, there are lots of means of getting taxpayer subsidies that can be counted as not public funds. (Tax kickbacks, for starters.)

It’s entirely possible that Phoenix Rising is set to build a new stadium on its own — as Orlando City SC (mostly) did — in which case it’d be worth applauding. (As much as one should applaud a private business for doing what private businesses should do without trying to fob costs off onto the public.) But it appears that the USL club’s owners aren’t being very forthcoming about their cost or funding plans beyond “don’t worry about it,” and the Phoenix-area and soccer media isn’t pressing them on it, which, c’mon guys. It’s fine to be excited about a possible new MLS team, but try to remember to do your jobs while you’re at it.