Friday roundup: Naming-rights woes, Austin update, and the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers

It’s Friday already? Seems like we were just doing this, but the pile of stories in my Instapaper queue says otherwise, so away we go:

  • The Florida state house has again passed a bill that would ban building or renovating private sports facilities on public land, which would potentially affect the Tampa Bay Rays, among others. This is kind of a dumb idea, as we discussed back in October, since there’s nothing wrong per se with putting stadiums on public land so long as the public gets a good deal for it; a far better plan would be a Seattle-style bill to require that local governments get a return on their investment in any sports lease project. But then, this bill already passed the Florida house last year and died in the senate, so probably not worth getting worked up over too much just yet.
  • Sports Authority agreed in 2011 to pay $6 million a year for 25 years for the naming rights to the Denver Broncos stadium, and now Sports Authority is bankrupt, and Metropolitan State University of Denver marketing professor Darrin Duber-Smith is saying I told you so: “My big warning was, ‘I’m not sure Sports Authority is a big enough or healthy enough company to commit that much money from their marketing budget each year.’ And I was right.” The Broncos are now looking for another company to pay $10 million a year for naming rights, and haven’t found any takers yet, hmm, I wonder why?
  • Chelsea F.C. will get to move ahead with its new-stadium plans after the town council used a compulsory purchase order — like eminent domain, surely you’ll remember it from that Kinks song — to clear an injunction that a nearby family had gotten on the grounds that the new stadium would block their sunlight. The purchase order isn’t actually seizing their home, but the land next to it, which is enough to invalidate the injunction; not that this doesn’t raise all kinds of interesting questions about the use of state power for private interests, I’m sure, but man, don’t you wish this were the only kind of stadium controversy we had to put up with in North America? League monopoly power over who gets a franchise is a bad, bad thing.
  • High Point, North Carolina is spending $35 million on a stadium to bring an indie minor-league Atlantic League baseball team to town, and City Manager Greg Demko says this will help the city’s commercial tax base recover, because “the construction of a stadium is like an anchor for the revitalization and development of a downtown.” Demko is going to be so disappointed, but at least he got mention of his city in a Bloomberg article as “home to the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers,” and you can’t buy publicity like that.
  • New Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan says that while it’s “a longshot,” it wouldn’t be impossible for Chris Hansen to build his Sodo arena while OVG renovates KeyArena at the same time. I’m going to interpret the tea leaves here as “Hey, if you want to spend your money to try to compete with another arena across town, be my guest,” but stranger things have happened, maybe?
  • The city of Austin has issued a report on eight possible sites for a stadium for a relocated Columbus Crew, and are now waiting on Crew owner Anthony Precourt to tell them which, if any, he likes. A consultant for Precourt has since ruled out a site or two, but it looks like nothing might be ready for the city council to vote on February 15 as planned; Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle says the problem is “between the holidays, flu season and winter storms, it’s been slow going.” It’s not quite helping to spark women’s suffrage, but the flu still reminds us who’s boss from time to time.
  • Now that Amazon has announced its short list of cities that will get to bid on its new second headquarters, it’s time for another look at how to stop corporations from launching interstate bidding wars to be their homes, which once again leads us to David Minge’s 1999 bill for a federal excise tax on public subsidies. “Of all those offers [made to Amazon] there’s one obvious one that should have been made and it should have come from Congress,” University of Minnesota economist and former Minneapolis Federal Reserve research director Arthur Rolnick, who helped Minge concoct that bill, tells CityLab. “Now if that offer were on the table it would end it, it would end the bidding war. Then Amazon would simply base its decision on where location is best for business.” It’d work for sports leagues, too!

Friday roundup: Raiders talk lease extension, Rams attendance woes may set record, and more!

Here’s what you missed this week, or rather what I missed, or rather what I saw at the time but left till Friday because there are only so many hours in the week, man:

Rams to charge record PSL price, Cavs arena subsidy moves ahead, and other news of the week

It’s Friday again, so let’s go spanning the world:

  • The Los Angeles Rams are considering charging a top personal seat license price of as much as $225,000, just for the right to then buy season tickets for $350-400 per game. This seems like a bit of a reach when the payoff is just that you get to watch Rams games, but I guess Stan Kroenke needs to try to recoup his $2 billion in stadium costs somehow — and at least if it all goes south, he’ll be the one on the hook, not taxpayers.
  • Some Canadian bank bought the naming rights to the Toronto Maple Leafs arena away from some Canadian airline. Is this going to buy it valuable market exposure and name recognition that will justify the $40 million a year expense? Not on this blog!
  • The LED lights at the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium make football look all weird.
  • Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler says spending $30 million on an arena for a minor-league basketball team is a great idea that only “naysayers” don’t appreciate. “I think sometimes we don’t believe in ourselves and some of our urban areas we don’t believe that we are able to make things happen,” she says. If Mayor Tyler needs a reelection campaign theme song, I have a suggestion.
  • “The Federal Aviation Administration has determined that the Oakland Raiders‘ proposed stadium in Las Vegas would not be a hazard to aircraft.” Huzzah!
  • Would-be St. Louis MLS owner Paul Edgerley says he’s still ready to pay $150 million for a franchise, and $100 million toward a stadium, as soon as someone comes up with the other $60 million in construction costs. Noted.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has officially reinstated his plan to do $140 million of renovation work to the team’s arena, with Cuyahoga County paying for half the cost. ”This is corporate welfare at its worst,” said Steve Holecko of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, after his erstwhile coalition partners the Greater Cleveland Congregations withdrew petitions against the arena subsidy after getting a promise of two mental health crisis centers from the county. Holecko’s group doesn’t plan to mount another ballot challenge on their own, though, so construction work is set to begin later this month.
  • Mikhail Prokhorov is ready to sell the Brooklyn Nets, but will hold onto the Barclays Center, after renegotiating the team’s lease so that it will pay less rent to the arena. This … does not seem like the smartest way of going about things, but maybe Prokhorov is figuring he’ll give up future rent revenue in exchange for a higher sale price now on the team? Or maybe he’s just not very smart.

White Sox stadium actually getting even worse name than “U.S. Cellular Field”

Aw, jeez:

U.S. Cellular Field will change its name to Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox announced Wednesday afternoon.

The White Sox and Guaranteed Rate, a national mortgage lender, have signed 13-year naming rights deal, according to the Sox. But the name could last even longer — the Sox have an option of extending the deal past 2030.

There is nothing to say about this other than to make jokes. And the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal has already won that contest:

More seriously: You know, there’s nothing requiring any of us normal people (or even us abnormal people who are journalists) from using the corporate-assigned name for a stadium — we can still call it U.S. Cellular Field, or New Comiskey Park, or my preference, “the White Sox’ stadium” all we want. Which is no doubt why resold naming rights go for discount rates: Business owners know that there are plenty of other options for what to call the place, so they’re willing to pay less to slap their name on it. Which is also why you see so many smaller companies putting their name on used stadiums — American Airlines doesn’t need that kind of attention, but Monster Cables, sure.

Speaking of which, the White Sox and Guaranteed Rate didn’t reveal how much the new naming rights deal was for. I’m going with “not nearly enough to be worth the ridicule.”

Three sports venues get new corporate names that you’re going to forget immediately

Lots of old sports venues getting new names this week!

The price tags on the Buffalo deal was $40 million for seven years; no money changed hands in Charlotte, obviously, while the Dolphins declined to say how much they got for 18 years of their stadium name. I’m guessing not much, since nobody is going to remember this corporate name any better than the last five or six, but maybe since they just did a renovation, people will think of it as a new building with a new name?

Anyway, the fact that naming rights are worth more for a brand-new, nameless venue continues to be an incentive for teams to demand them. It’s probably not the best thing from an environmental sustainability standpoint that teams and cities are building stadiums partly just to act as giant billboards, but I can’t complain too much so long as it does allow them to fob off some costs on another sucker.

Bills owners sell naming rights to publicly owned stadium, pocket cash

The Buffalo Bills owners have sold the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium for an undisclosed sum to New Era Cap Company, and immediately took down the lettering with the old name:

This made many Bills fans unhappy that the stadium will no longer be named for the team’s founding owner:

We’ve seen this before in other cities, of course. What’s odd here is that Ralph Wilson Stadium isn’t the building’s original name: From 1973 to 1997 it was Rich Stadium, named for a local food company in one of the first naming-rights deals in pro sports. When that deal expired and Rich Products wouldn’t agree to an increased rights fee, Erie County instead named it after the Bills’ owner.

Wilson died in 2014, and somewhere along the way, so did the county’s ownership of the naming rights, as it appears new owners Terry and Kim Pegula will be pocketing whatever cash comes from this deal, even though Erie County still owns the building. It seems like that’d be more worth getting upset over, but there’s no accounting for football fans.


Broncos stadium name contract goes up for auction, no one bids even one dollar

Man, I hate when I get all excited about a news story and then it turns out to be a big ball of nothing. That appears to be the case with Friday’s news that the naming rights to the Denver Broncos stadium had gone up for sale, and nobody even bothered to bid:

The stadium in Denver is called Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, named after the eponymous sporting goods retailer in 2011. However, Sports Authority filed for bankruptcy in March and put the naming rights up for sale as part of a court-supervised auction.

No bidders for the rights came forward at an auction of the retailer’s assets held this week, Matt Sugar, the director of stadium affairs at the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which is the owner of the stadium, said on Friday. Discussions are underway about launching a new auction for the naming rights.

Wow, really, nobody? I’ve argued before that naming rights for existing stadiums aren’t worth much, in part because after a couple of name changes everybody just gives up and calls it whatever it was called in the first place — and with “Mile High” stuck there in the name, that gives fans a great option to ignore whatever new corporate moniker got slapped on ahead of it. But you’d think somebody — some publicity-desperate tech startup, Peeple, anybody — would throw a token $1 at the bankruptcy auction, no?

Except then there’s this:

The contract for the naming rights up for grabs extends until 2021, and comes with a $3.6 million payment obligation due Aug. 1.

And there’s the catch: Sports Authority isn’t really auctioning off the rights to the Broncos stadium name — it’s auctioning off its contract to put a name on the Broncos stadium. And since the stadium name is almost certainly worth less than the $6 million a year the company agreed to pay back in 2011, the rights to take on those payments probably have a negative value, which is why nobody bothered to bid.

The more likely scenario now is that no one bids for the rights, Sports Authority misses that August 1 payment, and the Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District gets to re-sell the rights to the highest bidder, of which there will no doubt be some, even if they won’t be offering $6 million a year. The Broncos and the district split the proceeds from naming rights, so Sports Authority’s bankruptcy could end up costing both the team owners and the public some money — though not as much as the naming-rights deal cost Sports Authority, since the move may have helped push the company into bankruptcy. You think maybe everyone might have thought this through better in the first place?

Vikings are suing Wells Fargo for photobombing their new stadium

The stadium news world has clearly decided this week to transition from tragedy to farce: First the mentally disturbed man who somehow claimed the lease to the San Diego Padres stadium, and now the Minnesota Vikings are suing Wells Fargo Bank for photobombing their new stadium:

“Wells Fargo has recently started installing mounted and illuminated roof top signs that do not conform to the parties agreement in an effort to permanently ‘photo bomb’ the image of the iconic U.S. Bank Stadium,” the lawsuit said. “The prohibited action must be stopped immediately.”

The Wells Fargo signs are atop a pair of new buildings the bank is building alongside the under-construction Vikings stadium — which, you’ll recall, got a naming-rights deal with a competing bank (U.S. Bank). Since they’re part of the same larger development, the Vikings got to set conditions for the types of signage that Wells Fargo would erect, and ultimately agreed to allow two non-illuminated signs that were painted on the roof, not raised. Since then, however, Wells Fargo tried to amend the agreement to allow for lit signs, saying if it was denied, it would respond by simply “lighting the entire roof of each tower, including the signs.”

There’s surely some wording deep within the agreement that will determine who prevails in court, but right now let’s just enjoy the hilarity of a football team suing a neighboring building for putting up giant roof logos that it’s afraid will distract from its own giant roof logos.

76ers get back at arena sponsor by printing name on court in tiniest lettering possible

There’s been an escalation in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ ongoing war against their arena’s naming rights sponsor — you can read all about it here, but the short version is the Flyers get all the naming rights cash so the 76ers owners have sworn not to use the corporate name at all — and it is awesome for anyone who’s a fan of passive-aggressive typography:

76ers-2015-16-courtz.focus-none.width-800That is “Wells Fargo Center” written as small as possible, in white lettering against a light-wood floor, so that no one will ever be able to read it or even notice it without a big red oval drawn around it by the Philly Voice’s art department. Apparently the only reason it’s on the court at all is to meet the letter of some league rule — I bet there’s going to be some fun times debating font sizes at the next meeting of the NBA’s Court Branding Subcommittee.

St. Louis Rams stadium gets naming-rights sponsor, needs only actual stadium

Move over, Farmers Field, there’s a new vaportecture stadium with its own naming rights deal. Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed $1 billion-ish St. Louis Rams stadium will be officially known as National Car Rental Field, if anything can be official about a stadium that isn’t built yet and doesn’t even have a complete funding plan, let alone a team owner willing to go along with it.

Under the agreement, the car rental company would pay an average of $7.9 million a year over 20 years to slap its name on the building. Since that’s just an average — payments could be heavily backloaded for all we know — there’s no way to determine a present value on those payments, but it’s a fair guess that it could pay off around $100 million in stadium costs. Nixon’s stadium task force didn’t actually say whose $100 million this would be: The naming-rights cash could go to the building’s public owners, which would make sense but go against common sports-stadium practice, or could go toward paying Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s share, which would maybe make him (and the NFL) more amenable to keeping the team in town and not moving it to Los Angeles.

And that’s what’s really going on here, with a corporate name for a stadium that doesn’t exist yet: Nixon is trying to show the NFL that he has momentum, or something, toward a new stadium and so they shouldn’t let the Rams move. As gambits go, there are dumber ones, especially since right now it looks like all St. Louis needs to do is to convince a handful of NFL owners to keep voting against Kroenke. It’s stupid, but the way things are going, I expect the L.A. move threat gamesmanship to get way more stupid before the winter is out.

Besides, in the meantime National Car Rental gets its name on some nice stadium renderings. And I can’t find anyone with anything bad to say about National other than that you have to haggle with them for the best rates just like other car rental companies, so here’s hoping they enjoy their moment in the computer-rendered sun!