Friday roundup: Potential Raiders homes for 2019, ranked (okay, actually not ranked)

Man, who opened the stadium news floodgates this week? Here it is almost noon on Friday and I still haven’t gotten to the news roundup — okay, know what, less whining, let’s just get right to it:

  • The city of Oakland filed its antitrust suit against the Raiders as promised this week, which means it’s time for a list of places the Raiders could play next year if they are forced to leave Oakland in a huff. “Do a multi-week residency in London and play the rest of the season on the road” is one I hadn’t heard before, anyway.
  • New York’s Empire State Development Corporation approved its draft environmental report on a new New York Islanders arena at Belmont Park, and it basically comes down to “yeah, traffic is already bad and it’s going to get worse, we’ll try to figure something out but don’t hold your breath.” The state will also provide a whole two Long Island Rail Road trains to take fans to and from games, which will require new switches to deal with the massive mess that is that train interchange, for which “it is also expected that [the arena developers] will contribute to LIRR and MTA funding,” which isn’t exactly the same as saying the developers will pay for it.
  • Tottenham Hotspur‘s long-delayed stadium is still delayed, but at least now fans can enjoy drone footage of the place they’re not being allowed to set foot in.
  • The National Parks Conservation Association was “shocked” to learn that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants to take 300 acres of federal parkland to use for a new Washington NFL team stadium. “I have talked to lower-level Park Service employees who are just as shocked as I am about this,” said the organization’s Chesapeake and Virginia programs director, Pam Goddard. “We are vehemently opposed.” Hogan has said that no public money would be used for the stadium plan, but public land and building out sewer and power lines into federal parkland, now that’s another story.
  • Residents of South Boston want the New England Revolution to stay offa their lawns with any stadium plans.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants more NBA-ready arenas in Latin America so the NBA can play occasional regular season games there, but didn’t offer to help pay for any, that’d be crazy, and does he look crazy?

 

Suns owner says team “not leaving Phoenix,” pay no attention to all the times he said it might leave Phoenix

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has issued a video statement on Twitter in response to reports that he threatened to move the team to Seattle of Las Vegas:

If you hate to turn on audio on your computer like I do, here’s a transcript of the good bits:

“First and foremost, the Phoenix Suns are not leaving Phoenix. I am 100 percent committed, and have been for the last four years, to find a solution keep them in downtown Phoenix where they belong.”

That would seem to contradict reports that Sarver told city councilmembers that he’d considering moving the team out of town without publicly funded arena renovations, not to mention a news conference last year where he said, “First priority is downtown Phoenix, but if that is not something the city wants to do, then, you know, I’ve got to look somewhere else.” Unless you parse the Twitter statement carefully to mean “We’re not leaving Phoenix because Phoenix is going to give us $168 million for arena renovations so we’ll stay, won’t you, Phoenix?” In which case all this is just a classic non-threat threat, and neither the threats to leave nor the promises to stay should be taken as anything more than empty PR.

In the meantime, pushback has begun on how to eliminate the Suns arena subsidy, or at least make it marginally less onerous. Phoenix councilmember Sal DiCiccio says “at the very least it’s got to be a fifty-fifty deal,” while Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts suggests five ways to improve the arena plan:

  1. Cut the public’s share from two-thirds to one-third (better, yes, though as with DiCiccio’s halfsies plan, still arbitary)
  2. Make the Suns promise to stay put more than 15 more years in exchange (an excellent thought, since you don’t want Sarver or his successor coming back in a decade or so saying “Those 2019 renovations are looking a little out of date…)
  3. Don’t fall for idle threats when we don’t even know if the NBA would approve a move out of Phoenix (not really a specific way to improve the deal, but sure, always good advice)
  4. Don’t give Sarver money until the team starts winning games (tempting, but implies that a winning team suddenly is worthy of public subsidies, whereas if the Suns were winning games, arguably fans would be showing up and Sarver wouldn’t have to whine about his creaky old arena)
  5. Wait till a new mayor is elected in March before negotiating anything (democracy, what a concept!)

Finally, Suns president Jason Rowley complains that the arena money isn’t really going to benefit the Suns, since Phoenix owns the arena, and traditionally it’s the landlord who pays for upgrades, not the tenant. Sure, but also traditionally the tenant doesn’t get to keep all the money from putting a giant billboard on the outside of the building, and also traditionally when a landlord does upgrades, it gets to hike the tenant’s rent to help pay for them. Does Rowley’s analogy extend as far as offering to increase the Suns’ lease payments to the city? There’s another suggestion Roberts could add to her list.

 

Unnamed official says Suns owner threatened to move team to Seattle or Vegas, now that’s all we can talk about

The Phoenix city council indeed put off a vote on spending $168 million on arena renovations for the Suns yesterday, and it was indeed because they didn’t have the votes to pass it, after swing-vote councilmember Michael Nowakowski issued a statement that “I must hold true to the value I place on making sure people are informed and heard.”

Then an unnamed councilmember told Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts that Suns owner Robert Sarver had said a thing, and this was the thing he said:

“Sarver’s talking about moving,” the council member told me. “He basically told me the team will go (if they don’t get a renovated arena). Vegas and Seattle were the two he talked about.”

Sports team owners seldom make threats like this explicitly in public, because they are the nuclear option: Once you’ve set off a move threat, you may have encouraged fans to panic about the possibility of losing their team, but you have also encouraged them to want to run you out of town on a rail, so there’s no going back. So it’s not surprising that Sarver made this threat in private to a councilmember, and wouldn’t even be surprising to hear that the councilmember leaked it with Sarver’s approval (though given Roberts’ opposition to the arena deal, it’s also possible this was an arena subsidy opponent leaking her the news, in a can you believe this guy? way).

Regardless, the unspecific threat relayed by an unnamed source — which arguably runs afoul of the Society of Professional Journalists’ rule to always question anonymous sources’ motives, but anyway — had the expected reaction, especially since it went as far as to mention actual cities the Suns might depart for. News outlets in Seattle and Las Vegas immediately sprang into action to report on the potential arrival of an NBA team, and then the aggregators got involved, and soon it was all anybody could talk about: I was already interviewed for one article about it, and I’m going on Orlando’s 740AM The Game’s “The Beat of Sports” at 10:15 Eastern this morning to talk about the Suns’ potential move (among other things).

The two city names that Sarver allegedly dropped are understandable enough: Seattle is jonesing for an NBA team to replace the Sonics now that they have an arena renovation underway, and Las Vegas has recently acquired NHL and NFL teams and is only 300 miles away from Phoenix, which is close in Southwestern terms. Beyond that, though, they’re pretty different: Seattle is almost exactly the same size TV market as Phoenix, whereas Vegas is less than half as big, so Sarver would be crazy to leave Phoenix for Nevada. With Seattle, it all depends on whether he’d earn more in revenue at KeyArena than he does at Talking Stick Arena — which is unlikely given that he’d be the second pro sports tenant at a venue run by an arena operator that’s going to need to keep revenues to pay off its $850 million renovation cost, but not outright impossible.

Mostly, though, this is clearly a threat intended to throw a scare into city councilmembers that they better cough up the dough or else this could be the last they’ll ever see of their NBA team, see? It’s not clear yet how effective that threat will be, given the overwhelming public opposition to the deal and the fact that the Suns’ 4-24 record means fans might welcome sending the team as far away as possible. But it’s shifted the debate from “Why should the public spend $168 million to profit a rich sports owner?” to “Where could the team move if we don’t?”, and in that, it’s certainly done its job.

Phoenix residents’ hate is so strong that council delays Suns arena vote to let them express it

Okay, I didn’t see this coming:

The Phoenix City Council is expected to delay a vote on a $230 million Talking Stick Resort Arena renovation following backlash from the community.

The council was slated to vote on the deal, which could keep the Phoenix Suns in downtown until 2042, Wednesday afternoon. But the council will now likely vote to delay the final vote until Jan. 23, allowing Mayor Thelda Williams to host two additional community meetings to solicit feedback before the council decision, according to city sources.

I mean, why do you even plan to rush through a vote to avoid public scrutiny, if you’re then going to turn around and delay the vote so there can be more public scrutiny?

The Arizona Republic report doesn’t say, but it sure sounds like Mayor Williams was having a hard time getting the needed six votes on the nine-member council, especially after news broke that Phoenix residents hate the arena funding plan with a fiery, all-consuming passion. More on this in the coming days, I’m sure.

Poll shows Phoenix residents hate Suns arena deal even more than having to watch Suns try to play basketball

The first poll is in on the proposed Phoenix Suns arena deal, and, well, let’s let the pollster sum it up, because he has a way with words:

“The only thing that’s worse than the Suns’ record is the support for spending $185 million in public money to improve the arena,” Barrett Marson, whose company commissioned the poll, said Monday on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

Ouch! But no, seriously, what do people in Phoenix think of the plan?

“It’s abysmal,” Marson, a political consultant, said. “It’s losing with old people, young people, men, women. People in Phoenix don’t like this idea.”

The actual numbers are 66% opposed and only 20% in favor, which is indeed a pretty wide margin:

One could argue that the phrasing of the poll is slightly skewed against the arena deal — I have $168 million as the present value of the public contribution, and the question doesn’t mention that the Suns will be extending their lease for 15 years in exchange for the cash. Still, it’s pretty much inconceivable that changing the wording would close a 35 percentage point gap, so it’s pretty fair to say that Phoenix residents hate this deal with a fiery passion.

Of course, none of this directly matters, as the Phoenix city council plans to vote on the arena renovation deal tomorrow, before waiting for the results of the upcoming mayoral runoff. Still, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts reports that there are already three “no” votes on the council and it only takes four to block the deal, so maybe councilmembers are actually paying attention to the polls? Or maybe they’re just afraid that someone will shoot them.

Phoenix rushes through $168m in Suns arena subsidies in five days before new mayor can take office

After several months of behind-closed-doors negotiations, the Phoenix city council and Suns owner Robert Sarver have agreed to a plan for a publicly funded renovation of Talking Stick Resort Arena — to be voted on by the council next Wednesday, because five days is totally enough time for public debate on such things.

The terms of the deal:

  • The city of Phoenix will spend $150 million on arena renovations from existing car rental and hotel taxes, while Sarver will pay $80 million.
  • The city will also “pay $2 million annually for 12½ years into a new renewal and replacement fund, which will be used for future renovation needs”; Sarver will put in $1 million a year.
  • The Suns will extend their lease on the arena, which they can currently opt out of in 2022, through 2037. (They’ll have an option to extend it to 2042, but as we’re seeing with the current lease that technically runs through 2032, option years don’t mean squat in terms of holding teams to arena leases.)

That $25 million over 12.5 years is worth about $18 million in present value, so let’s call the total subsidy $168 million. (The team would pay the same rent on the arena as it does now, so there’s no new money coming back to the city to help pay off its costs.)

Several thoughts on this:

  • Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams said that she was endorsing the subsidy because “This is our building. It’s our responsibility.” Which, yes, Phoenix does own the arena, but the upgrades are being demanded by (and will benefit the revenues of) its main tenant Sarver, so really the city’s “responsibility” ends with making sure the roof doesn’t cave in; anything beyond that is a gift to the Suns.
  • Spending $168 million for a 15-year lease extension is a public cost of $11.2 million per year, which would be among the worst deals yet for a city, though the Carolina Panthers and San Jose Sharks deals were still worse on a per-year basis.
  • The tight timetable for approval is, as discussed a couple of weeks ago, a transparent attempt to rush through an arena deal before the likely election of an anti-subsidy candidate for mayor in March’s runoff election. At the same time, the plan would get around laws requiring a public vote on new arena spending by terming this old arena spending, so it’s an evasion-of-democracy two-fer.

If you want more outrage, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts has plenty of it for you, in an article that features the priceless subhead, “Public Input, Schmublic Input”:

In fact, the deal’s already been cut and the votes rounded up. Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has been meeting one-on-one this week with City Council members to get them on board.

All that’s left to do now is inform the public.

And:

“This is the best opportunity we have to keep that building viable for 15 or 20 years,” Zuercher said.

Meaning, in 15 or 20 years, it’ll be deemed a dump again?

Swell.

None of this will make the arena viable for hockey, so the Phoenix area can expect to go through this all over again with a new venue for the Coyotes. On the bright side, Arizona will be unlivable by 2050 thanks to climate change, so maybe these can be the last arenas the region ever builds before abandoning them to history like the Anasazi did.

Phoenix council reportedly to vote on $180m in Suns arena subsidies next month, with no public input

“Is Phoenix really going to plunk down $150 million on the Suns arena?” asks the headline on yesterday’s Laurie Roberts column in the Arizona Republic. Betteridge’s Law says no, but Roberts says yeah, maybe:

Several city sources tell me there’s a push on to get the deal done by the end of the year.

Talk of an arena deal has ramped up inside city hall this month — ever since Kate Gallego, the leading candidate for Phoenix mayor, announced she would not support putting city money into a new or improved arena for the Suns

The arena vote is expected to take place in early December — ramming it down the city’s throat before a new mayor is elected.

That would seem like a super-aggressive timetable, especially since only four votes on the council are needed to kill any deal. But though Roberts notes that a public approval process is necessary to build a new arena, city leaders think they can get away without one if they’re just “refurbishing” an old one:

Councilman Sal DiCiccio said he thinks the city can go forward because the voter-approved ordinance says only that public approval is needed before building a new sports facility.

“I believe legally that we can do this,” he said. “The real question is whether or not the intent of the voters was to do that and I don’t know that. I really don’t know.”

Roberts reports that the proposed deal would involve $150 million in city cash up front, plus another $2 million a year for maintenance costs, which would come to a total of about $180 million in present value. The Suns owners would pay $80 million, or less than a third of the cost — though obviously that ratio could change once we learn about any rent payments or tax rebates or naming-rights fees. At least we can hope that all those details will come out during a measured public oversight process … oh wait.

Friday roundup: Possible Suns arena renovation funding plan, A’s and Rays still promising stadium news by year’s end (but don’t hold your breath)

When it rains, it pours, and this week provided a deluge of stadium news:

Phoenix still talking to Suns about new arena, but not all that enthusiastically

The Phoenix city council is meeting today to discuss a possible new arena for the Suns, but as it’s a closed session we won’t know exactly what was discussed. What we do know is that the political landscape in Phoenix is crazily uncertain right now, thanks to last week’s election results:

  • Four candidates for mayor split the vote such that none got a majority, meaning the top two vote-getters, Kate Gallego (43.9%) and Daniel Valenzuela (26.1%), will head for a March runoff. Gallego has declared that “it is not in Phoenix’s best interest to invest in an arena”; Valenzuela has been more open to the idea, though even he said during the campaign, “For too long, taxpayers have been expected to foot the bill for sports venues. This practice must stop now.”
  • Since both Gallego and Valenzuela were formerly on the city council, both their old seats will be up for grabs in March as well, making for a significant swing on the nine-member city council (which includes the mayor).

The last time anyone in city government spoke out publicly about the Suns arena demands, it was to suspend negotiations after team owner Robert Sarver asked for $250 million in city money to fund renovations. Negotiations eventually resumed, but clearly nobody is super-eager to deliver bags of cash to Sarver’s door.

This stalemate can go on for a while yet: Sarver has until July 2022 to opt out of his lease in Phoenix, though obviously he’ll be working to heat up arena talks as that date approaches. What he would do if he did opt out is another story: While he’s previously said he’d “explore other options,” no other cities in the Phoenix area have been rushing to build him an arena either. I suppose Sarver could consider relocating to Seattle’s renovated KeyArena, which wouldn’t be much of a step down in terms of market size, but as an Arizona native he’d have to face being burned in effigy at all of his college reunions.

Really, the best bet for Sarver might be to come to an arena agreement fast, while interim mayor Thelda Williams, who is at least lukewarm to sports subsidies, is still in office. Though is past sports team owner behavior is any precedent, he’ll throw all his support behind Valenzuela, who will then lose, leaving team officials to tweet angrily about how life isn’t fair.

(Obligatory closing joke about how this mess is way more entertaining than watching the Suns play basketball.)

David Beckham actually won something, world to end on Friday

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.
  • Inglewood Mayor James Butts was reelected in a landslide, so the Los Angeles Clippers‘ arena plans will continue to move forward, though it still faces a legal challenge.

Next up: Next Wednesday’s big Calgary vote on whether to support the city’s 2026 Olympic bid. Remember to double all results and add 30!