MLS is adding St. Louis and Sacramento franchises (maybe), demanding bigger stadiums (possibly)

Eleven months after announcing its expansion to 28 teams, Major League Soccer has decided to expand to 30 teams with new franchises in St. Louis and Sacramento … okay, has decided to invite prospective owners in St. Louis and Sacramento to apply for franchises … okay, let’s let the Associated Press try to explain it:

St. Louis and Sacramento, California, have been invited to submit formal bids for franchises as Major League Soccer’s Board of Governors formally unveiled plans Thursday to expand to 30 teams.

Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement at the board’s meeting in Los Angeles, pointing to expansion as one of the key drivers of the league’s growth in North America in recent years.

“We continue to believe that there are many, many cities across the country that could support an MLS team, with a great stadium and a great fanbase and great local ownership that will invest in the sport in their community,” he told reporters following the meeting.

So that’s really just “St. Louis and Sacramento are front-runners for the next two MLS franchises, which we’re planning to award sometime this year.” Which is exactly what Garber said last month. So this is not actually news at all, just confirmation that those two cities will get teams if all their t’s are crossed — which mostly means having stadium deals in place. Both cities have given preliminary approval for new stadiums, with St. Louis promising about $60 million in subsidies and Sacramento about $33 million; these would not be the worst deals in sports history or even MLS history, but still, you know what Everett Dirksen may or may not have said about money adding up

In completely unrelated news but not really, F.C. Arizona, a team that currently plays at a high school field in Mesa in the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League, has announced plans to build a 10,900-seat stadium at an unspecified location in the Phoenix area, saying they’ll pay for the unspecified costs with their own unspecified private money. That’s an awful lot of seats for a team in what’s essentially a semi-pro league — not all players are paid — so you have to figure this is an attempt to get on the radar of either MLS or the second-and-third-tier USL to get a franchise. U.S. soccer may not have promotion and relegation where teams can move up to higher leagues just by winning games, but it does have a clear path by which owners can buy their way into higher leagues, and it’s clearly leading to a land rush for owners hoping to find an angle by which to enter into the major-sports ownership club without shelling out a billion for a big-four league expansion team.

If you consider MLS a major sports league on par with the big four, that is, which remains an open question. Garber also took time out to say that Minnesota United‘s new stadium is too small, asserting, “I wish the stadium wasn’t 19,000 and that it was 27,000 because I think at some point we are going to be thinking of how do we make the stadium bigger. I think we are going to be dealing with that in a number of different markets.” This is the same week that the New York Red Bulls announced that they’d begin tarping over some seats in the upper deck because they couldn’t sell them; team GM Marc de Grandpre recently remarked, “If we were to build the stadium today…we’d have built the stadium with a flexible capacity system,” meaning a way to reduce capacity from its current 25,000 seats, not increase it. Clearly there are still some bugs to be worked out of the MLS business model — those $150 million expansion fees from St. Louis and Sacramento, or whoever steps in if St. Louis or Sacramento falter, should help buy some time to figure them out.

Sacramento council votes to approve (but really not approve) MLS stadium that won’t (but really will) cost taxpayer money

Good morning, and let’s all read an article that contradicts itself constantly!

The place: Sacramento, California. The outlet: KCRA, which used to be just a UHF television station but is now also a website because everything is also a website (even books!) and broadcasts on something called “virtual channel 3.” The author: “KCRA Staff,” which either means a whole lot of people worked on it or one person who really doesn’t want to be held responsible.

Here is the first paragraph of the article:

The Sacramento City Council approved a public-private partnership to build a Major League Soccer stadium in the downtown railyards and develop the surrounding area.

Whoa, that was fast! Just Friday we were looking at new stadium renderings, and now the council has already approved a funding plan! How did that happen so quickly?

Here is the second paragraph of the article:

Councilmembers unanimously voted Tuesday night to approve a term sheet, a non-binding document that lays out ways the city, the Sacramento Republic FC and Los Angeles-area developer Ron Burkle plan to work together to fund and build the stadium.

Okay, Mr. or Ms. KCRA Staff, that word “non-binding” you used? It means the entities signing it are not “bound” to it, by which is meant that either side can back out. So the partnership isn’t so much “approved” as “planned,” with the actual vote to approve it still to come.

Anyway, how will the city, Sacramento Republic FC, and Ron Burkle (who is actually majority owner of Republic FC, so it’s not entirely clear why he’s listed twice) work together to fund the stadium? On to paragraph three:

The $252 million stadium would be privately funded by the Republic FC and Burkle. No taxpayer dollars will be used to build the stadium.

Great news! Especially since as of Friday the project was set to receive $33 million in tax breaks and other subsidies. But now there’s nothing at all about that, according to paragraph three, and paragraph four, and what’s this now paragraph five:

The term sheet also includes $33 million in tax refunds, waived fees and administrative costs for the stadium.

Look. I understand the difficulties of doing comprehensive reporting in the modern world when media outlets are mostly staffed by overworked, underpaid interns and grad students and maybe sometimes augmented Roombas. But seriously, Mr. and/or Ms. KCRA Staff, is it so much trouble to read the very thing you just wrote to see if it still makes sense, given what you’re writing now? Even if you’re suffering short-term memory loss — perhaps the stress is getting to you, or your expanded RAM chip has come loose from its socket — the words are right there for you to look at as a reminder. It would definitely make for a better article if all the words worked together to convey a consistent series of facts, as opposed to looking like they were assembled from a series of separate articles about separate things happening in separate universes.

Anyway, MLS still hasn’t approved an expansion franchise for Sacramento, and won’t until later this year at the earliest, and the time when the league approves an infinite number of franchises at the latest (which could also be later this year). And the deal that is really a term sheet doesn’t kick in until Sacramento gets a team, at least — this isn’t Indianapolis, for god’s sakes.

Friday roundup: Sacramento soccer subsidies, Fire could return to Chicago, and a giant mirrored basketball

Did I actually write a couple of days ago that this was looking like a slow news week? The stadium news gods clearly heard me, and when they make it rain news, they make it pour:

The vaportecture watch never stops: Sacramento Republic and FC Cincinnati deliver latest stadium rendering knee-slappers

My vaportecture article at Deadspin appears to have unlocked some sort of floodgates, because now it seems like not a day goes by that some insane new stadium renderings aren’t unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace. Yesterday, for example, the owners of Sacramento Republic FC (currently a USL team, but in the running for an MLS expansion slot) released these:

There are some design oddities — why, for example, do all the fans in upper deck appear to be seated in love seats? — as well as some of our favorite vaportectural shtick: stadiums that mysteriously glow while all around them remains dark, athletes engaged in oddly unathletic endeavors (in this case a player taking a penalty kick by apparently engaging in a high jump), fans holding up scarves to obscure their fellow fans’ view during a key moment in the action. But a few eagle-eyed Twitter users went beyond that to look at the individual clipart people (“entourage,” we now know they’re called) and found, um:

I think it’s fair to say that, even if you by necessity have to populate your creation with stock images, it’s important to spread them around a little for at least minimal verisimilitude.

Then there’s this:

That was yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, we got yet another round of F.C. Cincinnati renderings, which have previously provided some of the more hilarious moments in this field of study. The latest twist is apparently that the stadium will no longer have an unearthly glow — no, seriously:

Other new renderings show off such innovations as translucent scarves:

The stadium surrounded by a postapocalyptic wasteland of cut-and-paste identical buildings, where fans emerge from a portal from another dimension to arrive at the front gates (and also the stadium still glows somewhat, though not as much as the trees):

And still more, but I’m having trouble navigating the Cincinnati Enquirer’s terrible gallery layout, so please visit there yourself post your favorite items in comments, or on Twitter, or really anywhere.

 

Friday roundup: Vikings get $6m in upgrades for two-year-old stadium, Sacramento finds rich guy to give soccer money to, CSL screws up yet another stadium study

No time to dawdle today, I got magnets to mail, so let’s get right down to it:

  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ two-years-and-change-old stadium is getting $6 million in renovations, including new turf, and taxpayers will foot half the bill, because of course they will.
  • Billionaire Ron Burkle is becoming the majority owner of the USL Sacramento Republic, so now Mayor Darrell Steinberg wants to give the team “tens of millions of dollars” in infrastructure and development rights and free ad signage so that he can build an MLS stadium. “The richer you are, the more money we give you” is the strangest sort of socialism, but here we are, apparently.
  • Concord, an East Bay suburb until now best known as “where the BART yellow line terminated until they extended it,” is considering building an 18,000-seat USL stadium. No word yet on how much it’ll cost or how much the city will chip in, but they probably first need to wait to see how rich the team’s owner is.
  • Not everyone in Allen, Texas wants to live across the street from a cricket stadium, go figure.
  • Everybody’s favorite dysfunctional economic consultants Convention, Sports & Leisure have done it again, determining that Montreal would be a mid-level MLB market without bothering to take into account the difference between Canadian and American dollars. (Once the exchange rate is factored in, Montreal’s median income falls to second-worst in MLB, ahead of only Cleveland.) CSL explained in a statement to La Presse that it wanted to show “the relative purchasing power” of Montrealers, and anyway they explained it in a footnote, so quit your yapping.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers are going to change the name of their stadium from one corporate sponsor to another, and boy, are fans mad. Guys, you know you are free to call it whatever you want, right? Even something that isn’t named for a corporation that paid money for the privilege!
  • Local officials in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. are still working on an interstate compact to agree not to spend public money on a stadium for Dan Snyder’s Washington NFL team, though passage still seems unlikely at best, and the history of these things working out effectively isn’t great. Maybe it’ll get a boost now that team execs have revealed that the stadium design won’t include a surfboard moat after all. Nobody respects the vaportecture anymore.
  • The libertarian Goldwater Institute is suing to force the release of a secret Phoenix Suns arena study paid for by the team and conducted by sports architects HOK, but currently kept under lock and key by the city. (Literally: The study reportedly is kept in locked offices and is only allowed to be accessed by a “very limited number” of people. Also, a citizen group is trying to force a public referendum on the recently approved Suns arena subsidy, though courts have generally not been too keen on allowing those to apply retroactively to deals that already went through. And also also, one of the two councilmembers who voted against the Suns subsidy thinks the city could have cut a better deal. Odds on any of this hindsight amounting to anything: really slim, but maybe it can help inform the next city to face one of these renovation shakedowns, if anyone on other city councils reading out-of-town news or this site and ultimately cares, which, yeah.
  • Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis and Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke signed agreements to cover the NFL’s legal costs in any lawsuit over those teams’ relocations, and they’re both being sued now (by Oakland and St. Louis respectively), and NFL lawyers are really pricey. Kroenke is reportedly considering suing the league over this, which I am all for as the most chaotically entertaining option here.
  • Wilmington, Delaware is being revitalized by the arrival of a new minor-league basketball team, so make your vacation plans now! Come for the basketball, stay for the trees and old cars! Synergy!

Sacramento council approves MLS stadium term sheet, owner swears he can pay for it himself

The Sacramento city council last night unanimously approved Republic F.C.‘s stadium term sheet, which proposes building a new $180 million MLS stadium almost entirely with private money, once MLS deigns to give Sacramento a franchise.

Republic owner Kevin Nagle says he and his investment partners can pay for two-thirds of the $180 million construction budget with “equity” (I assume he means cash, unless he’s really going to give the stadium contractors shares in the team) and borrow the rest. Add in an expected $100 million expansion fee, and that’s $280 million Nagle and his partners will need to earn back before turning any kind of profit — so figure close to $20 million a year in revenues needed in order to make this a reasonable investment. How does that compare to other MLS franchises?

Team

Value ($M) Revenue ($M) Operating Income ($M)1
Seattle Sounders 245 50 10
LA Galaxy 240 44 4
Houston Dynamo 200 26 5
Portland Timbers 185 35 4
Toronto FC 175 32 -7
Sporting Kansas City 165 29 4
Chicago Fire 160 21 -6
New England Revolution 158 25 7
FC Dallas 148 25 -3
San Jose Earthquakes 146 13 -1
Philadelphia Union 145 25 2
New York Red Bulls 144 22 -9
D.C. United 140 21 -1
Montreal Impact 128 22 -3
Vancouver Whitecaps 125 21 -6
Columbus Crew 112 18 -4
Real Salt Lake 108 17 1
Colorado Rapids 105 15 -3
FORBES estimates; revenue and operating income is for 2014 season
1
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization

Yeah, I have no idea how this is going to work out either, unless it’s a roll of the dice on MLS franchises making a whole lot more money in the future. Or rich people just think it’s fun to own soccer teams. Which, sure, so long as they’re spending their own money, it’s no skin off taxpayers’ noses.

Meanwhile, here are pretty pictures to look at. It sure does look fun, no? I don’t know about $280 million worth of fun, but then, I have no way of knowing what $280 million worth of fun looks like, so maybe I’m not the one to judge.

Sac stadium

Sacramento MLS stadium plan: Let us use city-improved rail yards land, we’ll pay for the rest

The Sacramento city council is set to vote today on a term sheet for a new Republic F.C. soccer stadium, which means that unlike all the past times Mayor “I Don’t Recall Being 100% Naked” talked about it, we have some actual numbers to evaluate. So let’s sit down with the term sheet, and begin.

First off, a term sheet is not a contract, or even a memorandum of understanding: It’s basically a sketch of how the financing and operations of a stadium will be worked out. So if the council approves it today, there will still be loads of details TBD.

That said, there’s a lot spelled out in the term sheet that rules out some of the more common hidden subsidies in these kinds of deals: The team owners would pay the entire $180 million construction cost, plus overruns, and would pay operating and maintenance costs. The team is even promising to pay property taxes, which as we’ve seen elsewhere isn’t always the case.

In exchange, Sacramento would turn over a chunk of land on the old railyards site that has received $46 million worth of infrastructure improvements to turn it into developable property. (This money has already been allocated, anyway; whether it’s all been spent is frustratingly vague in both the term sheet and the news articles about it, and Google Maps isn’t much help.) That’s not nothing — it’s land that could be used for something else otherwise — but since this is private land that’s gotten the public investment, the only taxpayer cost would be the money that the city has already committed to shelling out regardless of whether a stadium is built.

So, tentative thumbs-up for a plan that minimizes public costs! There are still many steps to go before this is set in stone, obviously, but if this goes ahead as written in the term sheet, it’d be a better deal for the public than pretty much any other MLS stadium deal outside of the one that the crazy rich guy is building in Orlando. Friends, they’ll call it a movement.

KJ commissions Sacramento soccer stadium report, shockingly gets answer he wants

Think Big Sacramento, the private nonprofit set up to push for new sports facilities by Mayor Kevin Johnson as part of his secret city government, has commissioned a report from consultants Capital Public Finance Group on the economic impact of a new Sacramento Republic FC soccer stadium, and come on, what do you think it said?

A new soccer stadium could generate $1.25 billion of economic impact over 30 years, according to the study commissioned by Think Big Sacramento.

We’ve been over the problems with using “economic impact” as a metric before (short answer: just because money is changing hands in your city limits doesn’t mean anyone in your city is benefiting), as well as the problems of hiring these consultants who just plug some numbers into a formula without trying to account for money that’s cannibalized from other local entertainment spending, or for economic losses from any public money that’s dedicated to the project instead of to other local needs. CPFG looks to be a local Sacramento group, so doesn’t have much of a track record, good or ill, in such matters, and it shows in the report, which is all of 19 pages long, 14 of which are taken up with overviews of Major League Soccer (attendance is up!) and the proposed downtown Sacramento site (“at the threshold of a new era”!). There’s no source given for any of CPFG’s numbers, and they don’t appear even to account for the fact that some people are already going to see Republic FC games, so counting the money those fans spend at a new stadium would be double-counting, and —

Sorry, this is way more attention than a quickly thrown-together PDF deserves, even if the Sacramento Bee thinks otherwise. Suffice to say that KJ bought himself some 19-page campaign brochures for his plan to get a new soccer stadium next to the Kings‘ new basketball arena. Wake me when somebody’s finalized how to pay for it. I know the Republic owners are saying “privately financed,” but we’ve heard that before.

Kevin Johnson set up secret government, asked Kings, Republic for donations during arena and stadium push

If you regularly read this site’s coverage of the Sacramento Kings arena saga, you may have the impression that Sacramento mayor (and former NBA great) Kevin Johnson will stop at nothing to get what he wants, whether it’s assembling his own prospective team ownership groups or coming up with bizarro-named astroturf organizations. But now, according to a long exposé in Deadspin, it appears his ruthlessness is way, way more extensive than anyone ever realized. Among the lowlights:

  • Johnson tried to take over the National Conference of Black Mayors to use it for his own ends, then when that failed, ran it into bankruptcy and set up his own competing black mayors’ group.
  • When the Sacramento News & Review issued a public records request over the black mayors’ group scandal, Johnson sued the newspaper and his own city to block the release of emails from his office. That case is still pending.
  • In the latest twist, KJ took advocates for charter schools (the crusade he shares with his wife, “Waiting for Superman” antihero Michelle Rhee) and gave them fake City Hall titles so they could work on his behalf during the black mayors putsch.
  • On the sports venue front, Johnson solicited campaign donations from the owners of both the Kings and Republic F.C. while seeking to build a new basketball arena and new soccer stadium for those teams.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the bit about Johnson being accused of sexually molesting multiple teenagers back in the ’90s, which is old news but worth remembering both because there shouldn’t be a statute of limitations on remembering stuff like this, and because it involved amazing secret recordings like this one:

Girl: “Well, I was naked and you were naked, and it wasn’t a hug.”

K.J.: “Well, I felt that it was, you know, a hug, and you know, I didn’t, to be honest, remember if we were both naked at that time. That is the night at the guesthouse?”

Girl: “Yeah. … Why would I be upset if it was just a hug?”

K.J.: “Well, I said the hug was more intimate than it should have been. But I don’t believe I touched your private parts in those areas. And you did feel bad the next day and that’s why we talked about it.”

Girl: “Well, if it was just a hug, why were either one of us naked?”

K.J.: “Again, I didn’t recall us being a hundred percent naked.”

Deadspin illustrated its latest piece with an image of KJ with devil horns drawn on. The site is known for being a bit over the top, obviously, but in this case, it seems like they’ve got it just about right.

Every city in the U.S. still thinks it can get an MLS franchise, and you know what that means

Sacramento Republic FC has chosen a designer for a new soccer stadium if it makes it to MLS (not that it doesn’t already have design renderings — hope you know how to design magical purple glowing radio towers, HNTB!), and the mayor of San Antonio is looking to help bring an MLS team to an expanded stadium in her city even as the local NASL owner is selling his franchise, and some developers in Las Vegas want to convert the 51’s minor-league baseball stadium for an MLS team, and…

…you know what? I’m going to go watch some baseball at the place with the free tickets. If there’s any important stadium news the rest of this week I’ll check in. If it’s just more MLS expansion teams, it can wait till next week.

Meanwhile, enjoy your vaportecture porn:

RepublicStadium2