The Milwaukee Bucks‘ new arena had a ribbon-cutting and open house this weekend, and there are lots and lots and lots of slideshows and quotes from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar online if you’re interested in that sort of thing, but I would like to focus on just one quote, from NBA commissioner Adam Silver:
The new Milwaukee Bucks arena got a naming-rights sponsor last week, which, yawn, if I reported on every deal like this I’d never have time to talk about anything else, and a whole lot of corporations would just get some free publicity. But as it turns out, this corporation, the extremely uncreatively named financial services company Fiserv, is dropping money on naming rights to a publicly subsidized arena right after getting $12.5 million in public subsidies of its own as part of the infamous Foxconn deal:
“It makes the Legislature look foolish,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), who voted against the deal. “It makes the governor look foolish.”
People don’t understand why a company would need taxpayer subsidies for its headquarters when it has funds available to buy naming rights, Erpenbach said.
“Maybe the state can sell naming rights on that new (Fiserv) headquarters and get some of the money back,” Erpenbach said.
As with Citicorp getting naming rights to the New York Mets‘ stadium right after getting bailed out by the federal government, there’s no direct relationship here between the naming rights deal and the venue subsidies — it’s just a terrible look for a company to demand $12.5 million in state funds and then turn around and use it to buy ad signage on a building that’s already getting $450 million in public money, especially when the Bucks owners get all the proceeds from the naming-rights sale on the publicly owned building. It’s an even worse look that Fiserv got its subsidy after turning a $1.2 billion profit last year — but then, nobody’s claiming that companies are getting these deals because they need the cash; it’s just extortion exacted by threatening to leave the state. Damn you, Leonard Yaseen.
Slow news week thanks to the holiday, but there were still a few items of note:
Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin thinks his new publicly funded arena will help fight segregation because it’ll have a public plaza. The Chicago Tribune notes that the Bucks owners once released a strongly worded statement of support for one of their players after he was tased by Milwaukee police, so … nope, I don’t get the connection either, unless this reporter was assigned to cover Feigin and couldn’t find much else to say about his bizarro statement, so just googled “Milwaukee and race and basketball” and dumped the results into a Word file.
Ybor City, where the Tampa Bay Rays want to build their new stadium (price and funding still TBD), has been tabbed as a federal “economic opportunity zone,” meaning developers can use it as a short-term tax shelter for profits that are reinvested into the area. The program is way too complicated for me to calculate at the moment just how much U.S. taxpayers would end up paying toward a Rays stadium, but suffice to say it’s one more piece of the funding puzzle that team owner Stuart Sternberg doesn’t have to worry about himself.
The Atlanta Falcons pedestrian bridge that will now cost Atlanta residents $23 million is going to glow! And who can put a price on that, really?
Since it was a slow stadium news week, here’s a bonus article on how Nevada giving $1.4 billion to Tesla to open a battery factory there is looking to be a disaster, with the state ending up losing its entire budget surplus while new workers attracted to the area have driven up rents and increased local government’s police, fire, and schools costs, leaving residents with a higher cost of living and fewer services. One unemployed local who was forced to move into a motel room listed for the Guardian things she now considered unaffordable luxuries: “Ice cream. Bacon. A movie ticket.” It’s a fun weekend beach read!
Two out of 12 stadiums built by the Brazil for the 2014 World Cup are no longer undergoing corruption probes! If you’ve calculated that that means ten of the 12 are still under investigation, you get an A+ in math.
Hey, lookit, somebody actually called Roger Noll after he was name-checked by the Austin city council, and asked him what he thinks of Anthony Precourt’s stadium proposal for that city. His answer: “It’s not accurate to say it’s going to be completely privately financed. It’s in fact going to have a significant subsidy built into it. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.” That’s fair! Adds Temple economist Michael Leeds: “If Austin feels that having a soccer team would give the city an identity, give the people of the city something they enjoy, that’s fine. … That’s different from saying this is going to boost the city’s economy.” Also fair! Short answer from economists: If you wanna help build a stadium because you think having a stadium would be cool, go for it, but don’t do it for the economic impact because bwahaha “economic impact.”
The Colorado Rockies owners have released renderings of the ugly building they want to build on a Coors Field parking lot they’re leasing from the state for $1.25 million a year. The renderings don’t even show any fireworks or searchlights. Sad!
The proposed $180 million (or so) in public subsidies for upgrades to the Seattle Mariners‘ stadium would go to pay for such things as “new artwork, more club-level seating and a 175-seat brewpub that’s open to the outside with special access to the park for ticket holders and Diamond Club patrons,” according to Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat. He focuses on the brewpub, but at that price tag, I’m more worried about what artwork they’re considering.
If you’ve been wanting to read an article that argues that a 76-year-old stadium is “old, a remnant from another era,” by comparing it unfavorably to a 106-year-old stadium, Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal has you covered. Then he throws in a threat that the Pawtucket Red Sox could move to Worcester without a stadium at the end, either because he knew his main argument that McCoy Stadium is too old, not like Fenway, which is the good kind of old was kind of weird, or because he hadn’t written all the way to the bottom of the page yet.
And if you’ve been wanting an article arguing that Calgary shouldn’t foot the bill for a new Flames arena, This magazine has you covered, which is kind of cool because I wrote an article for This about how the SkyDome was a money suck for Toronto way back in 1999, though I think the only surviving online version of it is this strangely formatted one on some vestigial backwater of my own website.
MLS commissioner Don Garber took time out during his announcement that F.C. Cincinnati would be the league’s 9,813th team (all numbers approximate) to throw shade at the proposed Detroit expansion team for proposing to play in a football stadium, ew, instead of a soccer-only stadium. “They can talk about what those ideas might be, but they were really front runners when they were looking at the jail site,” sighed the commissioner, gazing off wistfully into the distance (all narrative descriptions approximate).
As late as Wednesday, I thought this was turning out to be a slow news week. Then the news made up for it in a hurry:
The New York Islanders owners held a question-and-answer session for residents near their planned new arena on Tuesday, and when asked about how they plan to increase Long Island Railroad service to avoid tons of auto traffic, a state development official said, “We are in very active discussions with the LIRR — meeting with them once a week — and those talks are ramping up.” Hopefully they’re involving Dr. Strange in those discussions, because they badly need to find some new topological dimensions.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to talk to Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk about whether he actually plans to pursue the LeBreton Flats arena development he won rights to last year, after Melnyk called it “a huge project with tremendous risk” and said, “If it doesn’t look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I’m not suggesting that right now” and “Something’s got to break somewhere and I mean a positive break.” Melnyk has made threats like this before, but you’d think now that he has an agreed sale price for the land he’d be happy; it sure sounds like he’s angling for some additional public subsidies now that he has his mitts on the land, which you can’t really blame him for, since Watson opened the door to that already. Come on, mayor, haven’t you learned yet not to get the can opener out when the cat is around?
Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the group started by the Rays to push for business support for a new stadium, is signing up plenty of members, but DRaysBay notes that “the real test of commitment will come when businesses are asked to make clearer financial commitments to a stadium plan.” Yeah, no duh. (The subhead here, “Business leaders line up behind stadium plan, but financing questions linger,” is also a masterpiece of understatement.)
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says that the Toronto Blue Jays‘ Rogers Centre “needs an update to make it as economically viable as possible,” noting that other stadiums “have millennial areas, things like that that have been built and become popular more recently.” So, like, an Instagram parlor?
Here’s a story about how 25 years ago the NHL handed Norman Green the rights to move the Minnesota North Stars to any open market as consolation for putting an expansion team in Anaheim, where he’d wanted to move, and he ended up going to Dallas. Also it has Roger Staubach in the headline for some reason.
And here’s a story about how 50 years ago NHL expansion inadvertently kicked off the rise of arena rock, which is probably overstated but it has links to vintage Cream videos in it, if you like that sort of thing.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is in talks with the Football Association to buy London’s Wembley Stadium for £600 million, which is certain to raise eyebrows about the possibility of the Jags moving to London, but is probably for right now more about Fulham F.C., which Khan also owns, being about to get promoted to the Premier League and wanting a bigger place to play. Khan also said, “I think it needs investment and updating. Compared to American stadiums the video boards are something that need to be looked at. The lounges are a little bit dated.” The current Wembley Stadium was built in 2007.
Tampa Bay Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz, in response to concerns that a big-ass baseball stadium wouldn’t fit into the Ybor City historic district that it would be on the border of, said that “we expect to build a next-generation, neighborhood ballpark that fits within the fabric of the Ybor City community,” though she didn’t give any details. That’s vague enough to be reassuring without actually promising anything concrete, but it’s worth making a note of just in case the historic district ends up becoming a stumbling block in stadium talks, which, stranger things have happened.
A guy wants to start a football league where fans vote on what plays to run via Twitch, and build an arena in Las Vegas for people to watch … the players? The voting? The Las Vegas Review-Journal article about it was a bit unclear, though it did say that the organizers want to “create the experience of playing a football video game with real people,” which isn’t creepy at all. It also reports that the league plans to use blockchain technology, which is how you know it’s probably a sham.
Something called the Badger Herald, which I assume is a University of Wisconsin student paper but which I really hope is a newspaper targeted entirely at badgers, ran an article by a junior economics major arguing that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will be a boon to the city because during the first few years “many will come from across the state to watch the Bucks play in this impressive new facility” and after that it will “continue giving the people of Milwaukee a reason to be optimistic.” The author also says that the arena was built after “the NBA gave the Bucks an ultimatum — either obtain a new arena, or the NBA would buy the Bucks and sell the franchise to another city,” which, uh, no, that’s not what happened at all.
Here’s a really nice article for CBS Sports by my old Baseball Prospectus colleague Dayn Perry on the Chicago White Sox ballpark proposed by architect Philip Bess that never got built. Come for the cool pictures of spiders, stay for the extended explanation of why supporting columns that obstruct some views are a design feature that stadium architects never should have abandoned!
That Missouri governor who killed a proposed St. Louis MLS stadium subsidy, calling it “welfare for millionaires,” is now under pressure to resign after his former hairdresser claimed he groped her, slapped her, and coerced her into sex acts. Maybe we should just stop electing men to public office? Just a thought.
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.
“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.”
The CFL is considering expanding to Halifax, which means Halifax would need a CFL stadium, which means somebody would have to pay for a Halifax CFL stadium. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a stadium is “not a capital priority at this time” and would have to be built “without putting taxpayers at risk.” The Ottawa RedBlacks stadium model is being floated, which is slightly weird because that ended up costing taxpayers a bundle of money plus free land, but maybe “taxpayer risk” is defined differently in Halifax. Anyway, we’ve been this far before, so grains of salt apply.
The city of Worcester is still trying to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to town, and the state of Massachusetts may be getting involved, with one unnamed source telling the Worcester Telegram that stadium funding would need to be a “a three-legged stool” among the city, state, and team. You know this article is just going to be waved around in the Rhode Island legislature as it heads toward a vote on public funding for a PawSox stadium there, and what was everyone just saying about the role of enablers in abuse, again? (Not that stadium swindles are morally equivalent to sexual harassment, obviously, but you get my point. Also, why are all the articles about the role of enablers in sexual harassment a month old, are we not going to pay attention to that after all?)
Laney College students, faculty, and staff all hate the idea of an Oakland A’s stadium on their campus. “They want to disrupt our education by building a ballpark across the street with noisy construction, traffic gridlock, pollution, and alcohol consumption by fans,” Associated Students of Laney College President Keith Welch told KCBS-TV. “We will not sacrifice our education so that the A’s owners can make more money.” Pretty sure they won’t get a vote, though.
“Industry experts” say that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will charge more for concert tickets because … it’ll draw bigger-name acts that cost more, I think they’re saying? That doesn’t actually seem like a detriment, though they also note that the new arena has a higher percentage of seats in the lower bowl, which people will pay more for even if they’re way in the back of the lower bowl, and helps explains why arena and stadium designers are so obsessed with getting as many lower-deck seats as possible even if it makes for crappier upper-deck seats. Which we kind of knew already, but a reminder always helps.
And move over, Atlanta, there’s a new planned stadium obsolescence king in town: The state of New South Wales is planning to spend $2 billion Australian (about $1.5 billion U.S.) to tear down the Sydney stadium it built for the 2000 Olympics, along with another smaller stadium in Sydney built in 1988, in order to build newer ones that are more ideally shaped for rugby, I think? Because nobody thought of that in 2000? I need to wait for my Australian rugby correspondent to return from holiday break for a more authoritative analysis, but right now this is looking like one of the worst throw-good-money-after-bad deals in stadium history, and it’s not even in America, the land that has perfected the stadium swindle. Crikey!
Whole lot of news leftovers this week, so let’s get right to it:
It’s not certain yet how serious the environmental cleanup issues at the Oakland A’s proposed Peralta Community College stadium site are, but anytime you have the phrases “the amount of hazardous materials in the ground is unclear” and “two possible groundwater plumes impacted by carcinogens” in one article, that’s not a good sign. Meanwhile, local residents are concerned about gentrification and traffic and all the other things that local residents would be concerned about.
There’s another new poll in Calgary, and this time it’s Naheed Nenshi who’s leading Bill Smith by double digits, instead of the other way around. This poll’s methodology is even dodgier than the last one — it was of people who signed up for an online survey — so pretty much all we can say definitely at this point is no one knows. Though it does seem pretty clear from yet another poll that whoever Calgarians are voting for on Monday, it won’t be because of their position on a Flames arena.
Nevada is preparing to sell $200 million in bonds (to be repaid by a state gas tax) to fund highway improvements for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium, though Gov. Brian Sandoval says the state would have to make the improvements anyway. Eventually. But then he said, “I just don’t want us to do work that has to be undone,” so your guess is as good as mine here.
Somebody asked Tim Leiweke what he thinks of building a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays for some reason, and given that he’s a guy that is in the business of building new stadiums, it’s unsurprising that he thinks it’s a great idea. Though I am somewhat surprised that he employed the phrase “Every snowbird in Canada will want to watch the Toronto Blue Jays when they come and play,” given that having to depend on fans of road teams to fill the seats is already kind of a problem.
A Miami-Dade judge has dismissed a lawsuit charging that the sale of public land to David Beckham’s MLS franchise illegally evaded competitive bidding laws, then immediately suggested that the case will really be decided on appeal: “I found this to be an extremely challenging decision. Brighter minds than me will tell me whether I was right or wrong.” MLS maybe should be having backup plans for a different expansion franchise starting next season, just a thought.
The New York Times real estate section is doing what it does best, declaring the new Milwaukee Bucks arena to be “a pivotal point for a city that has struggled with a decline in industrial activity,” because cranes, dammit, okay? Maybe somebody should have called over to the Times sports section to fact-check this?
And last but not least, Chris Hansen is now saying that his SoDo arena plan missed a chance at reconsideration by the Seattle city council because the council’s emails requesting additional information got caught in his spam filter or something. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to knock off for the weekend, I don’t know what is.