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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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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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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76ers owner vows no “direct” use of tax money for new waterfront arena while lobbying for massive tax kickbacks

I admit, it’s sometimes tough even for me to keep track of which stadiums and arenas are considered “new” or “old” — or “state-of-the-art” and “outmoded,” as sports team owners like to say. The Philadelphia Flyers and 76ersWells Fargo Center still feels new to me, but it’s 24 years old this month, so naturally one of those teams is already plotting how to leave for an even newer home:

The 76ers are exploring the possibility of building a new basketball arena at Penn’s Landing, and the team is lobbying local officials to get behind a plan to help finance construction with taxpayer support, The Inquirer has learned.

The proposal, sure to spark intense debate, is the latest in a long history of disputes over how to revitalize the Delaware River waterfront and where to put sports complexes in Philadelphia. The team wants to move out of the Wells Fargo Center, which it shares with the Flyers and which is owned by Comcast Spectacor, by the 2031 season, according to a planning document viewed by The Inquirer. The document is a draft of talking points for the Sixers’ lobbying efforts.

The Sixers rent from the Flyers, and have engaged in a series of squabbles over the years with their landlord, most memorably printing the arena’s corporate name in teeny tiny type because they weren’t sharing in the naming-rights cash. This, though, is the first concrete proposal for a new arena that’s been submitted to Philadelphia officials, and presumably the start of a long lobbying war by the team’s billionaire owner, Josh Harris.

More details on that “planning document,” from Philadelphia Business Journal:

A team document prepared to garner support for the project and shared with the Philadelphia Business Journal by an industry source states the franchise believes a new Penn’s Landing arena will:

  • Provide “billions of dollars in net new revenue to the city and the school for a property that currently produces no tax revenues” for the city or the state of Pennsylvania;

  • Create “thousands of new jobs, and provide significant new tax revenue” for the city and school district;

  • Include the creation of schools, parks and an African-American Museum at Penn’s Landing; and

  • Directly invest “unprecedented funds” in minority-owned businesses.

CBS Philly further reports that “the Sixers say they do not envision seeking any direct appropriation of city or state taxpayer money to support the project,” but the original Philadelphia Inquirer reports makes clear that that’s not true, unless you put a lot of weight on that adjective “direct”: Harris intended to apply for money from Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone program, which siphons off future sales and income tax revenues from a large swath of land to pay off construction costs on a project — a STIF, in other words. The NIZ program was created in 2009 specifically so that Allentown could use future tax money to subsidize a new minor-league hockey arena, which ended up going massively over budget; the tax zone has been generating plenty of revenue to pay off the inflated costs, but that’s only if you count all the sales and income taxes collected anywhere near the arena to be new revenue, which it almost certainly is not.

In any case, Harris has clearly thrown down the gauntlet here, and it is one with “no new taxes!*” written on one side and “lots of new jobs!*” on the other. The opposing position has been staked out on Twitter by Philadelphia city councilmember Helen Gym:

To all those journalists who ask me periodically if I think the sports subsidy swindles are going to come to an end anytime soon: HELL NO. Why would billionaire sports owners stop demanding taxpayer subsidies now? It’s where the money is.

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Friday roundup: D-Backs, Angels hedge on new stadium plans, NJ demands 76ers repay 0.5% of tax breaks, and other foolishness

Another busy Friday where I need to squeeze in the news roundup when and where I can! (Also, yeah, New Yorkers already knew this about Mike Bloomberg, who also was responsible for this.)

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76ers owners interested in London NFL team, says somebody

Hey, there might actually be somebody crazy enough to want to own an NFL team in London! According to NBA columnist Mitch Lawrence writing on the Forbes website, “industry sources” say that Josh Harris and David Blitzer, owners of the Philadelphia 76ers, are “gunning to own the first NFL team in London.” In fact, their recent purchase of minority shares of the Premier League’s Crystal Palace, according to Lawrence, is an attempt to “get to know the market” in advance of a London NFL push.

Lawrence is a former New York Daily News basketball columnist now writing for Forbes as a “contributor” (i.e., freelance, possibly not paid); the number of named sources in his story is zero, which is always a bit of a red flag, and Lawrence’s previous record with unnamed sources includes plenty of misses. Presumably somebody chose to leak this through him, likely Harris and Blitzer themselves, which would make sense if they want to position themselves as the top candidates to get a London expansion franchise if one becomes available for the right price … but now we’re deep into multiple levels of speculation. File this one away, anyway, and if it comes up again, preferably from someone with an actual name, we can start to take it more seriously.

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76ers get back at arena sponsor by printing name on court in tiniest lettering possible

There’s been an escalation in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ ongoing war against their arena’s naming rights sponsor — you can read all about it here, but the short version is the Flyers get all the naming rights cash so the 76ers owners have sworn not to use the corporate name at all — and it is awesome for anyone who’s a fan of passive-aggressive typography:

76ers-2015-16-courtz.focus-none.width-800That is “Wells Fargo Center” written as small as possible, in white lettering against a light-wood floor, so that no one will ever be able to read it or even notice it without a big red oval drawn around it by the Philly Voice’s art department. Apparently the only reason it’s on the court at all is to meet the letter of some league rule — I bet there’s going to be some fun times debating font sizes at the next meeting of the NBA’s Court Branding Subcommittee.

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Sixers stop using arena’s corporate name, does this mean we can too?

I go back and forth on whether to use corporate names of sports venues on this site — on the one hand, it’s silly not to use the name that everyone uses for a building, on the other, with constantly changing names half the time regular humans just call it “the [name of team] stadium” anyway. But the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers just potentially blew up the whole naming-rights game, by declaring that they’re no longer going to refer to their arena by it’s corporate-designated name, because the corporation in question isn’t one of their sponsors:

The Sixers have decided to stop referring to the Wells Fargo Center by name in all news releases and on the team website because the financial institution chose not to become a business partner with the basketball franchise.

This season, the 76ers started referring to the 20,000-seat arena simply as The Center…

Chris Heck, chief revenue officer of the 76ers, said the team values its partners and tries to maximize its relationships.

“We also continue to enjoy our relationship with Comcast Spectacor as tenants at a world-class arena, but that particular bank is currently not a sponsor of the Philadelphia 76ers,” Heck said.

So a bit of background: Comcast Spectacor is not only a giant cable and arena management company, but also owner of the Flyers, who own Philadelphia’s arena. Wells Fargo is the bank that bought Wachovia, which in turn bought First Union Bank, which bought CoreStates Bank, which agreed to pay $2 million a year through the year 2024 to slap its name, or that of its successors, on the building. Since the 76ers aren’t getting any of that money, and are free to sign up their own “official bank of the 76ers” that may not be Wells Fargo, why should they agree to use the name?

It’s a reminder of the ephemeral nature of corporate naming rights, in which tens or even hundreds of millions change hands for something that depends on regular people agreeing to actually go along with the paid nomenclature. Ever since the Denver Post caved in on trying to call the Broncos‘ new stadium “Mile High Field” rather than whatever its naming-rights sponsor wanted, the supremacy of paid names has been mostly unquestioned. However, the 76ers’ move — which is unlikely to be widely replicated, since most teams are the ones getting the naming-rights fees, but anyway — is a reminder that while you can put a big sign on a building, you can’t force people to say the words.

Already, Deadspin has announced its intentions to follow suit — “the next time you read us writing about something occurring at Tropicana Field, feel free to (politely) drop into the comments and remind us that we aren’t getting free juice boxes, and that it’s actually the Florida Suncoast Dome” — and you have to wonder if other corporate-sponsorship-hungry media outlets will eventually follow suit. Though come to think of it, a world where every website uses its own name for things based on who paid them for it is even scarier than the one we already have. It all just makes me want to crawl back into Sleepy’s Mattress bed.

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