Friday roundup: Why Pistons fans can’t bear to watch, Broncos land grab move, Donald Trump could win Morocco the World Cup, and more!

All evidence to the contrary, spring (and the spring end-of-legislative-session season) must be getting nearer, because the stack of weekly roundup news items in my Instapaper is getting longer and longer each week. Better get down to it:

Friday roundup: Pistons disguise empty seats as other-colored empty seats, Olympics tourism is bad and likely to get worse, Suns have no clue about arena plans, and more!

Off we go! In my case, literally: I’ll be traveling all next week, so if you don’t hear much from me around here, hold tight and I’ll catch up with all the news on my return. In the meantime, keep yourself warm at night with this week’s worth of fresh items:

  • Pyeongchang’s surge in tourism for the Olympics is unlikely to be sustained in future years, according to a study that shows tourism levels quickly drop back to normal, when they even have an Olympic uptick in the first place. (Overseas visitors to London were actually down in the summer of 2012.) Given that you can still walk up and buy tickets to most of this year’s Olympic events, I wouldn’t count on it being an exception to the rule. Hope the locals enjoy all those new hotels!
  • Phoenix Rising F.C. is designing a new MLS-ready stadium on the site of its current temporary stadium on the Salt River Pima reservation, and claims it will pay the whole $250 million cost. That would sure be nice, but then that’s what we were told in Sacramento, too.
  • The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is sponsoring bills in state legislatures that establishing bans on spending public money on pro sports stadiums, which would kick in as soon as 25 states agreed to join the compact. Better they spend on that than on trying to buy Congress, certainly, but as sports economist John Vrooman noted to the Arizona Republic, this wouldn’t stop the other 25 states from continuing to spend to try to lure teams, at which point the whole system would break down. Vrooman said really any legislation needs to happen on the federal level, and “unfortunately for local taxpayers held hostage, that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.” You gotta believe, John!
  • The projected cost to restore Miami Marine Stadium — remember Miami Marine Stadium? — has risen from $45 million to $59.6 million, and Miami has only $50.4 million set aside to pay for it, and yeah, that’s not good.
  • If you were wanting a long, fawning profile of the Golden State Warriors COO in charge of building their new arena, the Associated Press is here to serve. I’m more interested in the accompanying photo of a giant model of the arena, which makes the upper deck seats look kinda crappy thanks to an intervening clot of suites and club seats, but other images that show the end seats make it look not so bad, so I’ll withhold judgment until somebody (maybe even me!) sees the new place with their own eyes.
  • Hey, Phoenix Suns president Jason Rowley, how are your arena plans going? “‘What’s the best solution?’ It hasn’t been figured out yet.” Are you thinking of going in on an arena with the Arizona Coyotes? “There really hasn’t been a whole lot of conversation between us and the Coyotes.” Any hints at all about what your plans might be? “There are so many pieces to an arena conversation that it’s very difficult to identify one thing that would either be a go-forward situation or one thing that would impact where you’re ultimately going to end up.” The Suns have an opt-out in their current arena lease in 2022, so expect more heated rhetoric once we get closer to that date.
  • The Detroit Pistons are putting black seat covers over the red seats at their new arena during their home games, to make it less obvious how many empty seats there are. The covers are removed for Red Wings games, because the Red Wings’ team color is red, so I guess for them it’s not embarrassing, it’s promotion of their brand? The Pistons are also letting fans move down from the upper deck to the lower at no cost to make the empty seats look less bad on television. Hope Detroit is enjoying all that economic development!
  • At least Detroit got lots of local construction jobs from the arena, and that’s one thing no one can take away! Unless you believe the claims of a local construction worker’s lawsuit against one arena contractor, which says he was only hired to meet the project’s 51% local hiring quota and then immediately fired, while at the same time suburban workers were brought in under fake addresses. And even then, city data shows that only 27% of total workers on the arena project lived in Detroit.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says he approves of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ preferred Ybor City site for a new stadium — it’s literally his job to say this, so no surprise there — and has told Tampa business leaders that they need to be “engaged in this effort” because “it’s good for community over the long haul.” He then added, “It’s crucial that we get a facility here that allows the Rays to get more toward the middle of the industry in terms of their revenues,” which pretty much sounds like, Hey, local corporate titans, one of your brethren isn’t making as much profit as he’d like, please give him a bunch of your money so his bank balance looks better, okay? More power to him if that sales pitch works, I guess, but I’m in no way confident it will take a significant bite out of that $400 million-plus funding hole, and remain concerned it’s mostly misdirection so that whenever the Rays eventually go to taxpayers hat in hand, they can say, Look, the business community is already chipping in, you gotta do your part too, capisce?

Friday roundup: Islanders close to Nassau deal, Olympic stadium to be razed after four uses, and it’s rethink your MLS stadium site week!

And in other stadium and arena news this week:

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!

Handicapping Deadspin’s “Worst Stadium Scam” Vote

Deadspin is holding its second annual Deadspin Awards, and among the categories, you will be excited to know, is Worst Stadium Scam. And it’s set to be a tight race, with these candidates, not all of which are technically from 2017, but let’s not nitpick:

  • The Raiders robbing Las Vegas
  • The Flames trying to rob Calgary
  • The Falcons robbing Atlanta
  • The Louisville Cardinals robbing Louisville
  • FC Cincinnati robbing Cincinnati
  • The Pistons and Red Wings robbing Detroit

Even though these seem mostly selected by which stories were covered by Deadspin in the last year (Nashville SC robbing Nashville didn’t make the cut, nor did the Cavaliers robbing Cleveland), that’s a pretty solid selection. The Raiders and Falcons stand out for the scale of the subsidies — the Raiders will get $750 million in state cash while paying zero rent, while the Falcons will end up getting almost that much over time — and the Falcons have the bonus scamminess of hiding $400 million of their payday in a “waterfall fund” that will keep paying out long after the stadium’s opening. The Flames and FC Cincinnati haven’t been successful in their shakedowns yet, but are notable for trying (and failing) to get a more team-friendly mayor elected in the former case, and for demanding subsidies on the grounds that their owner has never asked for them before so he’s due in the latter. The Red Wings and Pistons are getting about $350 million in public money from a bankrupt city (or from a state that is otherwise starving a bankrupt city, at least), while the Louisville basketball arena deal is just a nightmare without an end.

I’m not going to reveal how I voted, except to say that it was a tough decision, and I won’t be unhappy at all if one of my second choices takes home the prize. Go cast your ballot now, and give extortionate corporate behavior and terrible public policy the shiny trophy it so desperately deserves.

Detroit is now spending $70.5m on a furshlugginer practice facility for the Pistons

Here’s an article from yesterday’s Detroit News about how the state of Michigan approved giving $16 million in brownfield tax credits to Pistons owner Tom Gores for his team’s new downtown practice facility. Which, okay, brownfield incentives, you’re kind of just giving developers the cash to clean up pollution on a site and ready it for a new use, so that’s not so bad.

Except that not mentioned anywhere in the article is that Gores is already getting $20 million in regular old tax breaks, plus $34.5 million in city bonds to be repaid with future property tax revenues. So really this increases the amount of public cash being spent to $70.5 million — on a practice facility, mind you. Which is on top of roughly $300 million that the state and city spent on the new arena where the Pistons (and Red Wings) will actually play games.

For this price, Detroiters at least get to enjoy watching sports in a state-of-the-art arena. Or not watching sports, as the case may be:

The Pistons held their home opener at their new arena, and an L.A. Chargers game broke out

Everything I learned about great web headline writing I got from Deadspin, and this is one of their best:

The Pistons Couldn’t Give Tickets To Their First Game At Detroit’s Dumb New Arena Away

That’s right: Much like the Los Angeles Chargers, the Detroit Pistons dedicated their first game at their new home with tons of fans arriving disguised as empty seats. Here’s a lovely photo of the opening tip:

Okay, so this was a new arena, with all the new-arena bells and whistles — maybe everybody was still wandering around in the concessions concourses, looking for a bacon-wrapped hot dog. Those empty seats are pretty evenly dispersed around, not in entire empty sections, so that suggests people who bought seats but just aren’t sitting in them, right?

Except that Deadspin also reports that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who is partners with Pistons owner Tom Gores in an attempt to get Detroit city subsidies for a new soccer stadium — if all this owner fraternizing is starting to remind you of syndicate ball, you’re not alone — had his Quicken Loans staffers send out an email to employees offering 50 free tickets to the game for free to anyone who asked, “to celebrate our new Marketing partnership with the Detroit Pistons.” (Goofy capitalization in original.) In other words, Quicken Loans got a bunch of free tickets to the game as part of being a Pistons sponsor, but no corporate clients wanted to be wined and dined by being taken to a damn Pistons game, even at a new arena, so instead anybody who wanted got to go for free.

Most of this, clearly, is about the fact that the Pistons were terrible last year and will likely be terrible this year, and nobody wants to go see bad basketball. (Except for New York Knicks fans, apparently.) Still, it used to be that you could just throw open the gates of a new building and people would clamor to get in; now, there’s clearly some stadium fatigue going on, to the point where any new-arena honeymoon period for attendance may be measured in weeks, not years. Which is fine — we really shouldn’t have team owners trying to build stadium after stadium just to recapture the new-car smell — but still a significant change to the heyday of Camden Yards and the like.

About the most positive thing you can say about the new Detroit arena is maybe it’s got so many cool things to do that aren’t watching sports with your own eyes that fans are all off doing that during the game — that’s what seems to have happened during the Red Wings‘ home opener, which likewise saw seas of unoccupied seats. (Red Wings tickets are still holding their prices pretty well on the secondary market, a good sign of actual fan demand; Pistons tickets not so much.) I’m not sure “our arena is so great, you won’t want to stop to watch our team play!” is really the sales pitch I’d go for if I ran a sports franchise, but then, I’m one of those old-fashioned fans who goes to a basketball game to watch basketball.

Detroit Free Press credits Red Wings arena for fixing blight that Red Wings owner created

The Detroit Red Wings and Pistons are about to open their new Little Caesars Arena (named after the Red Wings’ owners’ pizza company, which is actually a longstanding sports tradition), and the Detroit Free Press could not be more excited! On Thursday, reporters Frank Witsil, JC Reindl, and John Gallagher teamed up for a report on how the publicly subsidized arena and surrounding development promises to “breathe life into a part of Detroit that has long been considered a dead zone”; today, Gallagher is back by his lonesome to call the arena an “exciting new venue” for hockey and an “exciting new venue” for concerts, as well as a “major new attraction to the rapidly revitalizing greater downtown” and “a monument to Detroit’s sports and entertainment history.” Total number of citations across the two articles of studies of how past sports-based city “revitalizations” have gone, or even what the impact was or wasn’t from Detroit’s construction of nearby stadiums for the Tigers and Lions: zero.

All of which is pretty much par for the sports-media course, except for that, as the Detroit Metro Times pointed out after Thursday’s piece, calling the arena district a “dead zone” conveniently ignores what made it dead in the first place:

Well, of course the area was blighted. The Ilitches spent 15 years quietly buying up properties in the area. What interest did they have in developing any of them when (a) they knew they intended to flatten them for a new arena and (b) any investment in them would only cause land values to rise? Chris Ilitch said as much to The Detroit News.

In other words, Olympia is the main cause of the area’s deterioration. You don’t need to be an expert on Detroit development to know that. Even the uninitiated could pick up on the unintended irony when Chris Ilitch reportedly said, “It’s no coincidence that these areas to the north of I-75 are some of the most blighted areas of our city core.”

Metro Times goes on to note that a lot of the unblight that the Ilitch family is getting credit for doesn’t actually have a timetable for construction yet — or in their words, “mostly exists in the fevered imagination of Olympia executives — another example of information not appearing in this article.

The Freep opinion page did demur on one thing, at least: The arena’s official opening will take place next Tuesday, with the first of a series of concerts by confederate-flag-waving, Colin Kaepernick–hating rap-rocker Kid Rock, which editorial page editor Stephen Henderson calls “a sturdy middle finger to Detroiters,” who are 83% African American — though the greater metro area is 70% white, so maybe it’s just a beckoning hand to suburbanites, huh? (Editor’s note: Not all white Michigan suburbanites are fans of racist symbols of slave states. I know a couple.)

The Ilitches have responded with a statement that “Kid Rock has been a consistent supporter of Detroit, and the marketplace has responded accordingly to his appearances. Performing artists’ viewpoints in no way represent an endorsement of those viewpoints by Olympia Entertainment.” So there.

Friday roundup: Everybody still has lots of dumb stadium ideas, sun keeps rising in east

And aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers arena subsidy returning from the dead, Mrs. Lincoln, here’s how some of the rest of the week in stadium and arena news went:

  • Chicago is looking at closing some streets to accommodate DePaul University’s new city-subsidized basketball arena, because of course they are.
  • The new arena for the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons will have a Kid Rock-themed restaurant, because of course it will.
  • San Diego mayor Kevin Falconer wants to build a professional lacrosse stadium, even though the owners of the city’s newly created lacrosse franchise say they don’t need one, because of course he does.
  • Rhode Island state senate president Dominick Ruggerio says he hopes the state legislature will vote on $38 million in public funding for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium in November, despite not believing the team has a viable threat to move to Worcester if it doesn’t get what it wants, because “You know what, we’ll get criticized for anything.” And you know, he’s got a point: No matter what elected officials do, there’s somebody somewhere who won’t like it, so might as well do whatever they want, right?
  • The Las Vegas Raiders’ stadium construction could be delayed because nobody realized until now that they needed Army Corps of Engineers approval to remove a flood culvert. (The Raiders have agreed to pay the $1 million cost, at least.)
  • Dave Zirin at The Nation has examined how Joel Osteen’s dithering over whether to let Hurricane Harvey evacuees into his megachurch has its roots in the Houston subsidy deal that turned the Rockets‘ old arena into the church in the first place, and I put in a cameo to note that while littering the landscape with redundant current and former sports venues is one way to create a lot of hurricane shelters, it’s probably not a very cost-effective one.
  • Wells Fargo released a report that “real stadium construction spending” on new sports facilities has “climbed 80 percent over the past five years” to $10 billion per … something. And are they counting money committed, or actual construction money spent, and does this count both private and public funds? I guess we should cut Wells Fargo some slack, they have a lot on their minds these days.

Detroit officials fight to block arena lawsuit withdrawal, say they want to be sued, dammit

The tale of the Detroit city clerk candidate and former school board member who sued the city over spending money on a new Red Wings and Pistons arena without a public vote and then asked for the case to be dismissed when threatened with financial sanctions has gotten even weirder, with the city of Detroit now demanding that the federal judge in the case allow them to continue to be sued:

Calling it a “cynical attempt” to put the project at risk, the defendants argue in a Wednesday filing in U.S. District Court that the plaintiffs haven’t met the standard for a voluntary dismissal and the request should not be granted.

[D. Etta Wilcoxon and Robert Davis] filed a motion Saturday to drop the suit without prejudice. Davis said the plaintiffs instead were focused on a separate case they filed against Detroit’s school district and its board that he said will ultimately decide whether voters should have a say in the bonds being used for modifications to the arena.

But any litigation, no matter how frivolous, threatens to interfere with the timely funding of the project and creates the “very real possibility” that the Pistons could cancel their planned move from Auburn Hills to Detroit, attorneys for the defendants argued in a court filing Wednesday.

The excuse here is an upcoming NBA owners meeting next Tuesday at which the Pistons‘ move to the new downtown arena is expected to be on the agenda; not having the lawsuits resolved by then would create “havoc,” say the city’s lawyers. Instead of having the suit withdrawn, they want it dismissed — which presumably wouldn’t stop Wilcoxon and Davis from proceeding with their separate suit against the school board, but maybe the NBA doesn’t care so much about that. Or maybe the city lawyers just want to retain the option of financial sanctions against the plaintiffs, to scare them out of suing at all? Let’s not worry about that right now, and just enjoy the spectacle of a city insisting on its right to be sued, because that doesn’t happen every week.

Lawsuit-loving former school board member drops one Red Wings arena suit, files another

The lawsuit against using city tax money to fund $300 million toward a new Detroit Red Wings and Pistons arena has been dropped, after a federal judge refused to issue an injunction against the spending. Also, hasn’t been dropped, because the plaintiffs are going ahead with another suit, this one against the school board?

[Activist Robert] Davis said another federal lawsuit he and [City Clerk candidate D. Etta] Wilcoxon filed Tuesday against the Detroit Public Schools Community District seeks to force a vote on the public funding.

“There is no decision on the merits,” Davis said of the lawsuit’s dismissal. “All of these issues are going to be determined in the DPS case.”

What seems to have happened is that the Detroit Development Authority filed a motion on Friday seeking sanctions against the plaintiffs for filing a frivolous lawsuit, so they decided to go after a different public agency instead. It’s not immediately clear how suing the school district would force a public vote, since they’re not the ones spending the money, but hey, I am not a lawyer, so it’s possible this is just a legal maneuver that allows the case to move forward. Though it’s also possible this is just grandstanding by a city clerk candidate and a guy who loves lawsuits so much he sued his union for back pay after they fired him when he was convicted of embezzlement. If I choose not to cover this story much going forward, you’ll understand why, right?