Very bad article predicts where Sixers arena will go without discussing who would pay for it, this is just how journalism works now

Want to read a really bad article about Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris’s quest for a new arena? Sure, who wouldn’t! But, you may be asking yourself, how do I know that I am identifying every possible bit of badness, for maximum schadenfreude action? Fret no longer, for here is a step-by-step guide:

  • Start by looking at the URL to see if it’s from a legitimate news source, or whatever passes for one these days. “Play Pennsylvania” appears to be a site about gambling in Pennsylvania, but all of its domain registration contacts are in Malta. This, it turns out, is because it’s owned by a Maltese lead generation company, “lead generation” being corporate jargon for “getting people interested in things.” The author of the article is at least an award-winning freelance journalist and former standup comic, but we’re not off to a great start.
  • On to the article itself: “The Sixers have made it clear they do not intend to rent the Wells Fargo Center (owned by Comcast Spectacor) beyond the expiration of their lease in 2031.” Sure, and I don’t intend to still be driving a 2013 car in 2031, but you know what? Unless I find one that saves me so much on operating costs that it’s a better deal, or someone buys me one, I probably will be.
  • “When you own a venue, you own the development rights and collect rent from every concert promoter, trade show and college team to whom you lease the space.” You also own the debt from building the place, and the additional revenues from renting it out are seldom enough to pay that off, especially in a city that would then have two similar-sized arena competing for concerts and trade shows. (Remember concerts and trade shows? Those were good times.)
  • “They have options. Of course, matters like ‘who pays for it/tax incentives’ and infrastructure will ultimately drive the decision.” Yes, matters like that! Now let’s never speak of who’ll pay for it again, because this is not that kind of article!
  • “Building another arena next to the existing one doesn’t make economic sense. … A new arena will need to be somewhat removed geographically from the existing Sports Complex and have the opportunity to develop other uses with it.” This is a worthwhile nod to the above point about arena glut, but also completely misses the point about how arenas compete: Being across town from another arena isn’t sufficient to avoid conflicts. That’s why New Jersey’s Izod Center shut down in 2015 after competition from Newark’s Prudential Center ten miles away (and also Brooklyn’s Barclays Center across two rivers) when it was paid to shut down by, hey look, it’s Josh Harris!
  • “Here are three locations the Sixers should consider for their new home.” This is the real point of the article, and look, I get it, the Sixers are in the news, and you write for a somewhat sports-adjacent sort-of publication, and “Where else could the Sixers go?” is the kind of thing that might get you a few clicks, and you’re probably being paid based on your traffic numbers. But “Where will the local team owner build his inevitable arena?” is a tired bad-journalism cliche at this point, especially if you’re not looking at how it would be paid for or if he would even want one if somebody else weren’t helping to foot the bill. Especially if you’re just speculating wildly without any apparent sources for where Harris might actually be looking. (Top three wild speculations, if you’re wondering: Camden, on the Schuylkill River near 30th Street Station, and “I dunno, maybe the suburbs somewhere?”)

To be fair, this post actually isn’t much worse than the kind of thing one frequently reads in the actual daily news media — but that’s more an indictment of the actual news media than an endorsement of this. Coverage of sports stadium demands has been pretty bad for decades, and now that reporting is being left to overworked, underpaid writers working for shadowy offshore gambling-promotion companies, it’s only going in the wrong direction. Media literacy is the only real solution at this point, so as long as there’s still money for quality schooling instead of it being siphoned off to pay for private development projects … oh. I see what you’re doing, sports barons — well played!

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Sixers owner waits six whole days after arena plan collapse to start plotting new arena plan

Me, six days ago, after Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris’s plan for $700 million in public subsidies for a waterfront arena crashed and burned:

This is almost certainly not the end of Harris’s lobbying for a new arena, though: He still wants out of the building he rents from the Flyers once his lease expires in 2031, so there will almost certainly be a Plan B and C and all the way up to Floob. … The Penn’s Landing mini-saga is over for now, though, and 2031 is still a bit away, so expect a lull while Harris regroups and seeks his next opportunity.

So I might have been just slightly optimistic about that lull:

“They just want to control their arena. They don’t want to be a tenant at this point,” said Michael Barmash, a broker with commercial real estate firm Colliers International in Philadelphia, who is not helping in the search for a new site. “There are options out there.”…

What the Sixers may want most of all is to escape the Wells Fargo Center’s remote, parking-lot encircled corner of South Philadelphia in favor of a bustling enclave of restaurants, hotels and other amenities for fans to enjoy, said Thomas Hazinski, who advises teams and cities on stadium projects as a managing director with Chicago-based consultancy HVS.

Okay, so this isn’t Harris himself trying to jump-start new arena talks in the media, though he did issue a team statement that “we intend to explore all options in Philadelphia for when our lease expires in 2031,” which is well-established code for “let the bidding war commence!” And engaging in media campaigns by proxy is also a well-established tradition, so it’s reasonable to at least be suspicious that Harris has been talking to real estate firms and stadium advisors about how it’d be a shame if anything happened to the Sixers playing in Philly.

As for that “bustling enclave,” it’s tough to say if that’s what Harris really wants — all evidence is that arena-district spending by fans is pretty minimal, so maybe what Hazinski really means is that Harris wants to get to own a lot of stuff in addition to an arena, which would make more sense. Still, Harris has to know that the most lucrative part of sports venue development is the subsidies, and the best way to get those is to rattle sabers as early as possible about the possibility of your team moving across state lines, and oh look, there’s a mention of Camden in the Philadelphia Inquirer piece, right on schedule. Maybe we shoudn’t expect to wait too close to 2031 before the Sixers arena plans rear their head — after all, one person’s lull is another person’s campaign planning period.

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NYC Mayor de Blasio: Sure, wealthy sports owners should pay their taxes, I guess

As I mentioned in my Gothamist article last week, a group of New York city councilmembers have called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to start making the city’s sports teams pay property taxes on their stadiums and arenas, which none of them currently do. (The Yankees and Mets and Brooklyn Nets all pay “payments in lieu of taxes” that are really their own construction debt payments, funneled through the city as a tax dodge; the Knicks and Rangers don’t pay taxes on Madison Square Garden because somebody accidentally gave them an eternal tax break in 1982 and no one can be bothered to repeal it.) And the campaign got a boost yesterday when de Blasio sorta kinda endorsed its call for team owners to pay their fair tax share:

De Blasio, a Democrat, was asked at his daily press briefing to respond to a letter last month from nine lawmakers on the New York City Council who called for the Garden, Yankee Stadium, the Barclays Center and Citi Field to pay property taxes. The mayor said he hasn’t seen the letter and was unfamiliar with the legal specifics, but supported the concept of requiring New York’s local teams to increase their contributions.

“Let’s be clear – sports franchises have gained incredible value over the years,” de Blasio said. “They clearly have the resources. I think the history in this city and pretty much all over the country was stadium deals were not good deals for the public, by and large. Some of the more recent ones have been better, but mostly they haven’t been that good. Everything should be reevaluated especially at a point when the city is going to need resources for our recovery.”

That phrasing puts the “blah” in de Blasio, but “everything should be reevaluated” is fightin’ words compared to the usual approach to sports tax breaks, which is for elected officials to shrug their shoulders and say whatchagonnado? And the mayor also responded to a call by 161st Street Business Improvement Director Cary Goodman that the Yankees be forced to pay property taxes just as other businesses in the neighborhood do:

“We all hope and pray that next year baseball will resume in person at some point in the year and the fans will come back and the businesses will thrive, but of course the Yankees should help them through and I assure you they have the money.”

Okay, so none of this is exactly laying down the law, and de Blasio has previously called for Madison Square Garden to pay taxes before shrugging his shoulders and saying whatchagonnado? But it’s still more than we’ve seen before, and is certain to encourage both the councilmembers and Goodman and his South Bronx business owners. The latter has a rally outside Yankee Stadium coming up this Thursday at noon, plus a Change.org petition, and with that and a long enough lever you never know what can happen.

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Friday roundup: Everything old is new again

What a week! In addition to the new site design and new magnets and new sports subsidy demands rising and falling almost before you could even register them, this week featured the long-awaited debut of Defector, the independent sports (but not only sports) site launched by the former staff of Deadspin. Read it for free, subscribe if you want to post comments and, you know, help support journalism for our uncertain future. I am a charter subscriber, needless to say, and am currently trying to decide which color t-shirt to buy.

On the down side, the entire West Coast has been set aflame by the deadly mix of climate change and gender-reveal parties and looks like a post-apocalyptic movie. The year 2020 comes at you fast. Let’s get to some more news:

  • The owners of the New York Islanders are angling to downsize the Nassau Coliseum so that it doesn’t compete with their new Belmont Park arena for sports and the largest concerts, which is problematic in that they don’t actually hold the lease on the Coliseum, and already ironic in that the Coliseum was already just downsized once so as not to compete with the Islanders’ previous new arena in Brooklyn. Maybe this whole arena glut problem is something New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo might have considered before giving the Belmont project a whole bunch of land price breaks and a new train station? Meh, probably not necessary, we’re all friends here.
  • Hey look, we’re already calling the Los Angeles Angels stadium purchase a $320 million deal even though it’s really only $150 million plus a whole lot of “thanks for some building affordable housing and parks,” that was fast, Spectrum News 1.
  • Some rare actual good news from the pandemic: Somebody in Arlington was smart enough to include a clause in the Texas Rangers‘ lease on their new stadium that requires the team owners to triple their rent payments if parking and ticket tax revenue fell short of projections, which obviously they’re doing what with nobody buying tickets or parking this year. Sure, it’s still only another $4 million, which won’t go far toward paying off the city’s roughly half a billion dollars in stadium costs, but it’s better than a kick in the head. (Also, what on earth is going on in that photo of the Rangers’ stadium that D Magazine used as its illustration?)
  • The Inglewood city council approved the sale of 22 acres of public land to Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer for $66 million, which I don’t even know how to determine whether it’s a fair deal or not anymore, but given the city mayor’s idea of appropriate oversight, I’m not super-optimistic.
  • University of Texas-Austin will have about 18,000 fans in attendance for its season-opening college football game tomorrow, but rest assured that it will be keeping everyone safe by … requiring student season ticket holders to test negative for Covid before being allowed into the game, but not requiring the same of anyone else? (Also fun: They’re supposed to all go get tested today, and get their results back tomorrow, which is not how Covid testing works right now at all.) Clearly the desire to look where the light is better is strong.
  • The Las Vegas Sun has a loooooong article about the process by which the Raiders got their new stadium in Las Vegas that pretty much comes down to “Mark Davis was the sincerest pumpkin patch of all,” but by all means go ahead and read it if you like sentences like “The first major obstacle was how to get both projects done in what most in the resort corridor would feel was a reasonable [tax increase]. That took time to overcome.”
  • Marc Normandin took a great look back at that time the owner of the San Diego Padres tried to gift the team to the city of San Diego for free and MLB said no. It’s subscriber-only, so I’ll quote my favorite section: “There is a reason Mark Cuban will never own an MLB franchise, and that reason is that he’s the kind of owner who might shake things up in a way that forces other owners to have to spend money they don’t want to. On clubhouse comforts, on minor-league players Cuban might try to increase the pay and better the living conditions of in order to produce happier, healthier future MLB players: there is no guarantee Cuban would do those things, necessarily, but his actions and spending helped shape the way the current NBA locker rooms look, so the possibility exists, and that possibility is too big of a risk for MLB’s current 30 owners to take. So, instead, they aim for safe options, like a minority owner in Cleveland becoming the majority owner in Kansas City, as he’s already proven he understands the game and how to play it.”
  • First Dave Dombrowski and Dave Stewart, now Justin Timberlake — if building 1990s star power is the way to get an MLB franchise, Nashville is a shoo-in. Though as Normandin notes, they’d probably be better off finding a minority owner from Cleveland.

Okay, I have to go pick up my computer from its trip to the computer mechanic so I can go back to typing these updates on a keyboard I can actually see the letters on. (Yet another thing that happened this week.) Try to have a good weekend, and see you all on Monday.

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Sixers’ Penn’s Landing arena plan rejected, but this isn’t over, mark my words

Well, that was fast. Just two weeks after going public with his plans for a $4 billion development complex at Penn’s Landing that would include a new NBA arena and involve more than $700 million in tax kickbacks, Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris got a resounding no from the agency in charge of waterfront development:

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation announced Wednesday that it has selected another proposal from the New York-based Durst Organization, which plans a $2.2 billion investment in residential, retail and hotel developments on Market Street and a Marina Basin site. The Durst plan does not require any public subsidy.

Even without looking too hard at the Durst proposal — it would include a bunch of different characterless buildings, according to this rendering that the Philadelphia Inquirer helpfully credited to the “Durst Organizartion” — that “no public subsidy,” assuming it’s accurate, makes this a no-brainer for Philadelphia: It’s hard to imagine any project that would be so much better that it would be worth handing over an extra $700 million, the amount in future sales and payroll tax revenue that Harris’s project would have siphoned off, according to the Philly Voice.

This is almost certainly not the end of Harris’s lobbying for a new arena, though: He still wants out of the building he rents from the Flyers once his lease expires in 2031, so there will almost certainly be a Plan B and C and all the way up to Floob. (Don’t forget that the Phillies had numerous stadium plans rejected — there was one by 30th Street Station and one just north of Chinatown and I forget what else — before arriving at their current location right across the street from their old stadium site.) But don’t just take my word for it, read the statement that Harris put out after the decision:

We were proud to put forward a proposal for Penn’s Landing centered around equitable economic development and growth. Our project aimed to be part of the solution while delivering a world-class experience for our fans and the city at large. We are grateful to the DRWC for their dedication and commitment to this process, especially through an extraordinarily difficult time for the City of Philadelphia.

As we continue to pursue our future home, we remain committed to a vision that anchors a world-class venue with transformative community development, job creation and economic empowerment for low income and minority communities.

That’s a concession speech, but also one that lays the groundwork for next steps: The Sixers arena would have generated “equitable economic development” and jobs for “low income and minority communities” and don’t go away, African-American community group leaders, we still need you to support our future tax breaks!

The Penn’s Landing mini-saga is over for now, though, and 2031 is still a bit away, so expect a lull while Harris regroups and seeks his next opportunity. We can certainly hope that next time it won’t come with a $700 million public price tag, but we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.

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NY Rangers played a “home” game in Toronto without losing their MSG tax break, because reasons

Last week I was talking to a source for a story (mostly) unrelated to sports stadiums when they asked me a question: How come the New York Rangers‘ August “home” playoff game in Toronto as part of the NHL’s bubble didn’t count as a violation of the team’s tax exemption for Madison Square Garden, the one that reads:

If one or both of said teams [the New York Knicks or Rangers] shall cease to play their home games in said property at any time, the tax exemption provided herein shall cease immediately and such property shall immediately be restored to the tax rolls and thereupon become subject to taxation and shall be taxed pro rata for the unexpired portion of the taxable year.

Sure, it was just a single game, before the Rangers were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes. But still, that clause had been enough of a concern that Rangers owner James Dolan made sure that for outdoor games at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field in 2014 and 2018, the Rangers were designated as the road team. So should that one-game sojourn in Toronto have triggered the automatic return of the Garden to the tax rolls, after $555 million in skipped tax payments?

The answer at first appeared to be “no one knows,” but further research revealed that it was actually “everybody says they know, but nobody can agree on an explanation,” which is far more entertaining. As I reported for Gothamist on Sunday:

The explanation from New York state is that “cease to play their home games in said property at any time” doesn’t mean what you think it means. State tax department spokesperson James Gazzale tells Gothamist, “The law is clear that the exemption continues until either team ceases to play home games at MSG—meaning a permanent stoppage, not a temporary relocation due to a global pandemic.” Asked why the Rangers then chose to play Winter Classic games as the road team, Gazzale declined to comment further.

Madison Square Garden officials, meanwhile, had a different explanation for why the Toronto trip was okay: Ed Koch said it would be. Garden officials confirmed a brief note in this New York Post article from July that an “original agreement” between the city and MSG excluded relocations due to Acts of God from triggering the tax renewal clause, but did not provide further details.

The actual agency that would be in the position of deciding to return MSG to the tax rolls, meanwhile, is the city Finance Department, which didn’t get back to me on any of my questions.

As I wrote for Gothamist, this would be a pretty picayune basis on which to make a decision worth hundreds of millions of dollars — but then, that’s exactly how the Garden ended up with its tax break in the first place, when someone neglected to include an end date even though it was intended to expire after a decade. Thirty-eight years later, the tax break is still going strong, and many New York officials are calling for it to be repealed. Just not on a technicality — that wouldn’t be cricket.

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Friday roundup: San Diego gets arena developer (and vaportecture), horses play piano, and other stories

Happy Sebtembler! Things were a little quiet for much of the summer, what with the entire world shut down and it seeming like a bad time for rich dudes to ask for hundreds of millions of dollars for their new buildings, but as Josh Harris has shown, nothing lasts forever. Except rich dudes asking for hundreds of millions of dollars for their new buildings, that will go on until the world actually ends, which is at least a few more decades away.

Anyhoo, here are some other things that happened this week in the world of stadium-grubbing:

  • San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has chosen a team led by Brookfield Properties and ASM Global to build a new arena and associated development, with the arena to be paid for by building more housing units, somehow? Is housing that profitable that it can spin off hundreds of millions of dollars in extra revenue to pay for a new arena? If so, shouldn’t the city just be charging more for the right to build all this super-lucrative housing? This all sounds suspiciously reminiscent of the Los Angeles Angels land deal, except no one in San Diego politics or journalism seems interested in investigating how the money will actually work, so I’m clearly going to have to do some more digging and report back. In the meantime, jam everything but the kitchen sink into your sports venue deals, kids, it’s the best way to make sure sports reporters get bored by the financial details and wander off!
  • Let’s also not let the moment pass without commenting on San Diego’s new arena vaportecture, which mostly features … people shopping? People wearing, I guess those are San Diego Gulls t-shirts, some with the logo on the front and some on the back, depending on whether the shopper in question is walking toward or away from the camera. Do you think they coordinated that somehow? Also the Ostro Brasserie appears to be a branch of a restaurant in New Zealand, Ungar’s is a wholesaler of packaged pizza bagels, and Migdal is an Israeli insurance company. This is a really weird mall!
  • Sacramento is short on tax revenue to pay off bonds on its Kings arena and convention center, but honestly that’s just another way of saying that it spent a bunch of money that it didn’t need to and now the chickens are coming home to roost when “don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of tax money” isn’t working out so well. Would it be any better if the city had spent the same money on the arena and then received enough tax revenue to pay it off but couldn’t then use that money for other needed things? Please submit your persuasive essays in comments.
  • Big arenas are joining with smaller music venues in support of the RESTART Act, which would extend the Paycheck Protection Program to help companies pay their furloughed workers, and also provide Small Business Administration loans that would be forgivable for the amount of any losses that venues had in 2020. That doesn’t seem too terrible — music venues are indeed getting creamed by the shutdown, and will likely be among the last things to reopen — but at the same time, there are lots of funny things you can do with your books to show “losses,” so this is worth keeping at least one eye on, especially given that no one in power seems much interested in doing so.
  • I haven’t actually been able to get myself to finish reading this item about the Philadelphia 76ers arena subsidy plan, because I can’t get past its opening line: “Josh Harris is like a horse trying to play the piano… he hits every wrong note.” Is that really what a horse trying to play the piano would do, though? Wouldn’t it fall over from trying to stand on its two hind legs? Shatter the keys with its hooves? Now I can’t think of anything other than how horrifying for all concerned it would be to watch a horse trying to play the piano — pass the RESTART Act now, or we may never see such a sight again!
  • I wanna read this new book on the perils of sports fandom, and not just because I’m in it!

Have a good long weekend, everybody, if that’s still a concept that means anything, and see you back here on Tuesday refreshed and ready to go.

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African-American community groups back Sixers arena plan because jobs, this is all going according to plan, muahahaha

When Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris announced plans last week to build a $1 billion waterfront arena project at Penn’s Landing and pay for it with kicked-back sales, payroll, and other taxes from the surrounding neighborhood, and it was lauded as a way to create jobs, one of my first thoughts was If Harris is smart, he’ll do like Bruce Ratner did in Brooklyn and get community groups on board to say how desperately needed his development is, even if he needs to create his own community groups to do so.

Turns out, Harris didn’t need to create grassroots groups out of whole cloth:

A proposed new arena for the 76ers is earning the support of some important African American organizations in the region. The Urban League of Philadelphia, the Urban Affairs Coalition, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and the African-American Chamber of Commerce all support the idea.

They say a new arena to be built at Penn’s Landing would bring unprecedented economic opportunity for Black and brown communities.

WHYY didn’t include any quotes from any of these groups, so it’s hard to say why they’re backing the arena deal or how strong their support is or if any of them are concerned that maybe those hundreds of millions of dollars that would be siphoned off via tax kickbacks might be more useful to Philadelphia’s 13.8%-unemployed-even-before-Covid African-American residents than a promise of a few construction jobs that may or may not come through. WHYY does note that the only other time the “Neighborhood Improvement Zone” subsidy program was used, for a Lehigh Valley Phantoms minor-league hockey arena and other development in Allentown, it left “lingering questions”:

A Neighborhood Improvement Zone resembles tax-increment financing, an arrangement in which money lent for development or other improvements to a certain area is paid down through the later realization of increased property tax revenues linked to those projects. The Allentown NIZ instead utilized a battery of potential tax revenue increases – payroll, sales, alcohol, or others – to pay down both government bonds and developers’ private loans linked to the redevelopment of a 128-acre downtown zone. That area was adjacent to a working-class neighborhood that had been growing organically largely due to an influx of Latino immigrants and businesses…

Chris Woods, a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University who studied the Allentown NIZ, found that, after paying down financing costs, the zone often returned less revenue to governments than before the development took place. And, in 2018, more than half the tax revenue raised by the development went back to the developers, according to the Morning Call. 

There are still a lot of steps that need to happen before the Sixers arena can become reality: The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation has to pick Harris’s as the winning proposal for the site, then the NIZ — which is really a super-TIF — would have to be approved by the state, then there could be a city vote as well. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and Harris is certainly doing his darnedest to make this about JOBS!!!1! and not about taking a large slice of public tax revenue and giving it to a billionaire private equity baron. Well played, sir, well played.

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Miami-Dade County just maneuvered its way into paying the Heat an extra $2m toward arena debt

Miami-Dade County has budgeted an extra $2 million in payments to the Heat for the team’s arena construction debt in 2020, to make up for the fact that the arena is currently without a naming-rights sponsor after American Airlines opted out of its deal last year. If you’re wondering why this is the county’s problem, I direct you to my post from back in October 2018 where I recapped the situation thusly:

Back in 1996, when the arena measure was going to the polls for a public vote, there was a lot of opposition to the notion of putting tax money into a private sports arena. So the Heat owners pulled a last-minute switcheroo: Instead of Miami-Dade paying for the team’s arena, the team would pay for it — but the county would pay the team $8.5 million a year to play in it, amounting to the exact same amount of subsidy at the end of the day. But the team would at least pass along its $2 million a year in naming-rights fees to the county as part of the deal.

Flash forward to today, when $2 million a year is a relative pittance in naming-rights fees. Miami-Dade County leaders clearly realized this, and figured, “Hell, if there’s more money to be had from naming rights, we should be getting it to defray our annual subsidies to the team.” And thanks to that lease clause, they could do it.

Yeah, well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, the county’s naming-rights-sales consultant, the maybe-ironically named Superlative Group, failed to cut a deal in 2019, and 2020 has been godawful for the airlines and other industries that typically like to throw big money at sports naming-rights deals, so now Miami-Dade is looking at having to cover this year’s $2 million payment out of its general funds, and quite likely next year’s as well.

There’s still a chance that the county could make it all back if it signs a big-money naming-rights deal once the pandemic is over, but if everything has changed as we’re constantly being told, it’s not a certainty. I don’t especially blame county officials for rolling the dice on a naming-rights windfall to try to recoup some its arena subsidies — hell, I praised them for it less than two years ago — but digging that $6.5-million-a-year hole in the first place just looks worse and worse.

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Suns owner denies bribing councilmembers to vote for arena deal after ex-GM gripes that one took money then voted no

Oh man, this story:

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver on Friday adamantly denied any bribe was paid to Councilman Sal DiCiccio following an allegation by the team’s former general manager that DiCiccio took “money to vote a certain way.”

Sarver told The Arizona Republic that he had no idea what ex-GM Ryan McDonough was referring to when he called out DiCiccio on Twitter for calling basketball players who refused to play in the playoff games to protest social justice issues “whiny bitches.”

Let’s unpack this, slowly. In December of 2018, the Phoenix city council agreed to rush through a vote on Sarver’s request for $168 million in Suns arena renovation subsidies in just five days, until it turned out that Phoenix residents hated the idea so much that the vote was delayed while the council ran a month-long series of dog-and-pony shows to explain why residents should support the deal, then voted to approve the deal. One councilmember said she voted for the deal because Sarver offered to give $10 million to local schools and nonprofits, and another because the city (not Sarver) agreed to spend more on homelessness prevention and police, and then Sarver expressed his gratitude by giving $150,000 in campaign donations to two of the councilmembers who voted yes, saying he was “proud to support candidates who have the best interests of the city at heart” and “I gave openly, not behind a veil.”

Maybe all that pride in making payoffs to elected officials who voted your way inspired Ryan McDonough, who was fired as Suns GM a couple of months before the arena votes, to call out Sal DiCiccio, one of the two council no votes on the deal, for taking the team’s money but not following through by doing its bidding:

https://twitter.com/McDNBA/status/1299412123563495425

The “racist” bit seems pretty justified, though it’s always possible DiCiccio just hates NBA players who staged a wildcat strike before last Wednesday’s playoff games because he doesn’t think any workers should speak up about systemic injustices, not just majority-African-American ones. “Crooked,” though, is a funny way of describing someone who can’t be swayed by bribes, especially when your (former) organization was the one doing the bribing.

McDonough later walked back his tweet by declaring that donations by “Suns-related parties” to councilmembers were entirely legal, notwithstanding that he had just declared that they were made to get them to “vote a certain way.” Sarver followed that up by declaring that “there was no bribe” but rather “there was a [campaign] donation made by me in October 2014, and others who worked for the Phoenix Suns,” and why would anybody assume that he was giving campaign cash to local politicians just because he was gearing up to ask them for public money?

DiCiccio is now calling for a city investigation into whether he took a bribe, which seems unlikely to shed much more light on this situation given that we already know that Sarver was throwing campaign cash around both before and after the arena vote — I suppose DiCiccio is hoping for a we find no evidence that Councilman DiCiccio outright promised a quid pro quo without winking and nodding or something. Stirring up mud can never be a bad thing, though, and if it happens because a fired GM staged a Twitter flamewar against a Black Lives Matter–hating elected official for not being easily enough bought with campaign donations, that would be some sweet, sweet schadenfreude.

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