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?

Aerial photos show just how ginormous new Bucks arena will be

There are new aerial photos of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena alongside their two previous arenas — see if you can play “Which of these things is not like the other?”

That’s right: The new arena is the freaking ginormous building that looks like it could swallow the two old arenas and have room left over for a couple of playground halfcourts.

We’ve covered before here that one reason new sports venues are so damned expensive is that they’re typically just so much bigger than the ones that preceded them, but this is nice photographic evidence. As for why they keep getting bigger, the reasons are two-fold: First off, a bigger footprint means more room to cram in stuff like food courts and corporate orgy spaces or whatever season-ticket buyers are looking for these days, all of which means more potential revenue streams for the team owners. But also, while the size of the court hasn’t changed, seating bowls are tending to get bigger and bigger to fit in more luxury seating and “open concourses,” which requires a lot of acreage.

All of which to say that Steve Kerr is probably right to be worried about the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena:

“Everybody loved the old Chicago Stadium, and the United Center was so huge that it felt more like a concession to modern needs.

“I understand (that reality). They’ve got to pay the bills. But the old Chicago Stadium was like the old Madison Garden, one of the iconic places to play. And as a player, you kind of like that intimacy. So you know, we may face some of that in leaving Oracle. I think it’s inevitable, given that when stadiums were built in the ’70s, they were much more intimate because you didn’t have the huge footprint with all of the suites and the causeways, the concourses and everything, to fit in all the restaurants and clubs. So you have to make a concession for the need, for generating the revenue that’s going to pay for the team. But if you can do it and still figure out a way to make it a really intimate place, that’s the trick. I know that’s what they’re trying to do here.”

Friday stadium news: Warriors subway delays, MLS expansion scuttlebutt, ungrateful Hamilton

Oh hey, yeah, I forgot to mention that it’s the most important holiday of the year this week (and part of next), so posting may be a bit sporadic until Wednesday or so. But I could never ignore the weekly news roundup, so let’s get to it:

  • San Francisco’s new Central Subway likely won’t open until 2021, more than a year later than planned, which will mean a couple of seasons of Golden State Warriors fans walking or taking shuttle buses. Honestly, it’s not all that far, but I’m sure there will still be complaining.
  • David Beckham got some new minority partners for his MLS team that still doesn’t quite exist yet. Supposedly the league will issue an “update” on the Miami stadium situation soon, which maybe sounds ominous only to me because I think that way?
  • The city of Phoenix has now spent $200,000 on a Suns arena consultant, and still the city council doesn’t have any information yet even on what kinds of upgrades the arena might need, because the mayor says he has to keep negotiations with the team secret. From the city council. No, it sounds crazy to me, too.
  • The owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs junior hockey team offered to build a new arena and only ask taxpayers to foot half the bill, and he’s mad that the city hasn’t thanked him yet.
  • Cincinnati’s highway bridges are falling down, but the city is spending money on a new MLS stadium (maybe?) before addressing that, because hotel taxes and other money going to the stadium isn’t allowed to be used on highway infrastructure. You know, maybe cities and counties should start allowing things like hotel taxes to be used to improve other things that benefit tourists, like roads that don’t have overpasses fall on them when you drive under? Just a thought.
  • The Republican tax bill isn’t finalized yet, and we don’t know if the ban on tax-exempt stadium funding will survive, but the Detroit News speculates that if it does, it might help Detroit’s MLS expansion chances because it’s the only city that wouldn’t be building a new stadium. MLS already supposedly voted on the expansion cities yesterday, though, so you think the league owners called Congress for a sneak peek at the final bill? Does MLS have that kind of pull with Congress?

Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

Warriors break ground on privately funded SF arena, only travesty is the entertainment

The Golden State Warriors held their long, long-awaited groundbreaking on their new San Francisco arena this week, which presumably means they’re actually going to build this thing. The event was not without its awkward weirdness, though:

Oooookay. That’s got to be the worst of it, though, right?

Man.

Anyway, the Warriors arena is still being built with $1 billion in private funding, because ownership decided it could make more money by having an arena closer to its wealthier fan base (and to give San Francisco its first arena for hosting concerts and such), which while slightly icky if you consider the whole “San Francisco is for richies while less-richies have to go live in the East Bay” thing is at least the way that matters should work in a world without public subsidies to chase after. And at least East Bay residents can still get to games easily enough — which is good, because it meant at least the Warriors avoided the embarrassment of having a fan from their former city interrupt their welcome-to-their-new-city event, like some other relocating California teams I could name.

Warriors arena in SF clears legal challenge, may actually get built someday

The seemingly never-ending battle over the Golden State Warriors‘ proposed new arena in San Francisco got at least one resolution yesterday, as San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong ruled that the environmental impact statement that the San Francisco city council approved last winter was in fact conducted properly:

In a statement, team President Rick Welts said the ruling “brings us a huge step closer to building a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue, which will add needed vitality to the Mission Bay neighborhood and serve the entire Bay Area extremely well.”

“We look forward to breaking ground soon,” he said…

Osha Meserve, a land-use attorney representing the [Mission Bay Alliance], said she is “disappointed on behalf of our co-plaintiffs and the people of San Francisco.” She said that the judge was under “extreme time pressure to make a ruling.”

This whole business of challenging environmental impact statements in court has become pretty de rigueur these days, especially in California, since it’s just about the only legal hook that opponents have for challenging land use decisions: You can’t overrule the city council on the grounds that a project is dumb or against the will of the people, but you can if you can find that the traffic analysis didn’t take something into account. It doesn’t often work, and in this case it didn’t, but it’s worth a shot.

This still doesn’t completely clear the path for the construction of the new Warriors’ arena — which, as a reminder, will be built entirely with private money and even pay property taxes, because that’s just how much moolah is available from San Francisco big spenders — as opponents could still choose to appeal yesterday’s ruling, and there’s still a separate lawsuit charging that the UC-San Francisco chancellor didn’t have the authority to agree to set up a $10 million traffic mitigation fund to ease problems during Warriors games. At this point, it’s extremely likely that the arena will get built eventually and the Warriors will move across the bay, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if it didn’t happen by the September 2019 target date, because lawyers.

Warriors’ departure for SF wouldn’t doom Oakland arena, but it wouldn’t help, either

Good piece in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle by Rachel Swan looking at what the Golden State Warriors‘ (eventual) departure for a new arena in San Francisco would mean for Oakland. It’s especially welcome because it doesn’t waste time on any alleged costs to the overall Oakland economy — Oracle Arena may provide less spinoff spending than any other arena in the nation, given that virtually 100% of fans see nothing more of Oakland than the walk from the parking lot or the BART — and instead examines a new SF venue’s impact on possible arena glut:

“[Oracle Arena] will not only lose the team, it will also lose some events to the Warriors’ new [Chase Center] in San Francisco,” [Stanford economist Roger] Noll said. “It’s not going to be the Cow Palace, but it’s not going to be the venue of choice, either.”…

For the last few years the venue has turned a small profit for the authority, [Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority head Scott] McKibben said. … He’s optimistic that the arena will reap more money for Oakland and Alameda County once the Warriors leave. Without the team, the Coliseum Authority will collect all the proceeds from luxury suites, signage on the building, sponsorships and ticket sales. And it won’t have to block off 40 to 60 days a year for basketball, he added…

The big challenge, [Long Island University economist Geoffrey] Propheter said, will be steering those headliners away from the Warriors’ new home.

This is the arena management story in a nutshell: Sports teams generally aren’t big money-makers, and you can actually do better just booking concerts if a team leaves — Swan cites Seattle’s Key Arena as an example here. On the other hand, Key Arena is a cautionary tale as well, because if Chris Hansen’s SoDo arena ever opens, Key is going to have a hard time filling its calendar, and Oracle Arena could face a similar fate, which will cost Oakland taxpayers since they own the place.

The Bay Area is way bigger than Seattle, of course, and it can probably support two arenas. (The Cow Palace is probably doomed, but it’s been that way for a while.) There are only so many concerts, though, and once all those are booked, any additional arenas become surplus — and we’ve seen what happens then.

Warriors arena environmental report wins city approval, public less thrilled about it

The San Francisco board of supervisors unanimously approved the environmental impact report for the proposed Golden State Warriors arena last night, moving that $1 billion project a step closer to completion. A recently released poll by arena opponents found that less than half of city registered voters now support the plan, down from 61% support in a team-commissioned poll in July — though it’s always possible that wording differences in the two surveys are to blame, that is if you even think that polls still have any validity in a world where no one has landlines anymore and those who do seldom answer them.

The Warriors owners would be paying the full cost of arena construction plus land costs plus property taxes (no hidden tax kickbacks here), so opposition is mostly on the grounds that the plan would create traffic problems and allow too-tall development around the arena to help repay its costs. All of which are legitimate concerns, but don’t change the fact that this would be a very fair deal for San Francisco in terms of the funding, at least. The next step is probably a court battle over whether the EIR was properly conducted, which seldom ends up overturning these kinds of rulings, but this being California, one should never say never.

SF Chronicle cut and pasted Warriors arena press release, ran it as news story

I know I’ve often criticized the sports media for doing little more than reprinting teams’ press releases when it comes to stadium and arena coverage, but even I didn’t expect this: The San Francisco Chronicle’s Golden State Warriors reporter has been suspended for literally reprinting a team press release about the Warriors’ arena plans:

The headline for the original Chronicle story and the Warriors’ press release on NBA.com were the same: “Warriors formally purchase Mission Bay site.” The initial story was identical to the release, except that the team referred to itself as the “NBA Champion Golden State Warriors” in its lede, and the Chronicle story left out the “champion” superlative. The only other change was a semicolon in the press release that became two sentences in the Chronicle story.

That’s pretty terrible, but the story gets even worse, as Deadspin has uncovered six more examples of times Warriors beat reporter Rusty Simmons, or his editor Al Saracevic, flat-out copied-and-pasted Warriors press releases. (Most of these were on far more boring topics than arena dealings.) They also asked Simmons for comment, and got this reply:

“I would really like to tell you how that happens, but I’m not allowed. I’m so sorry. …My suspension should be lifted in a couple of days, and we’ll talk.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say: We can’t wait to hear this one.

Warriors’ arena to include $10m/year traffic fund, but read the fine print

The battle the last few months over the Golden State Warriors‘ proposed new arena on the San Francisco waterfront has been especially dull — basically, a bunch of rich donors to UC-Francisco opposed the plan because they were worried it would create too much traffic around the university’s hospital. This seemed like the sort of thing that was going to be easily compromised over when it first emerged in April, and sure enough, a settlement with UCSF (though not necessarily the donors) was announced yesterday. But it’s the details of the settlement that should be raising eyebrows:

At least $10 million in revenues from the 18,050-seat arena annually would be used to fund traffic mitigations for the life of the arena, pending approval from San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

Wait, $10 million a year? That is a huge amount of money, the equivalent of maybe $150 million in present value, which even on a billion-dollar project is a significant chunk of change. If Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber really agreed to pay that much to ease traffic concerns, that would be unprecedented.

It’s not entirely clear, though, whether this is actually Lacob and Guber’s money: Mayor Ed Lee’s press release just said the traffic funds would “come from new revenues generated by the Warriors sports and entertainment center,” which could easily mean city tax money, not team checks. Neither Lee’s website nor the city’s database of legislation has the text of the bill that Lee introduced on Tuesday, and it’s 6 am on the West Coast right now, so your guess is as good as mine what this actually means.

Not that it makes much of a difference in terms of the project’s financing overall, which is still extremely city-friendly: Lacob and Guber are paying for the full construction cost, plus the cost of acquiring the land, plus property taxes on the whole megillah. If anything, it’s set to be a model of how much team owners can afford to cough up for a new building when public funding is off the table — though admittedly, San Francisco is a bit of a special case since it’s a city full of rich people who currently have no full-sized arena to go and drop $300 a pop on Eagles tickets at. Still, it’ll be interesting if someday soon the bayfront features two sports facilities built with effectively no public money — it’ll be like visiting England, only with better seafood.