Friday roundup: Red Wings owner touts his “passion” amid sea of parking lots, cities are terrible stadium negotiators, newspapers are terrible newspapers

The cryptocurrency-based journalism startup Civil couldn’t have gone much worse, but it did spawn a couple of successes, none more welcome than Hmm Daily, the news commentary site from former Gawker and Deadspin editor Tom Scocca. Or as I will always think of him, the co-founder of Funny Paper, the now virtually unfindable-on-the-internet weekly(ish) political analysis of daily comic strips that was the greatest such enterprise until the great Josh Fruhlinger elevated it to an even higher art form. I’ve been enjoying Scocca’s excellent columns on the militarization of language and how big a giant bee is for months now, but I didn’t feel compelled to bite the bullet and kick in any money until I spotted this photo caption in an article by Scocca’s Funny Paper co-conspirator Joe MacLeod: “I have no beef with the M&M’s homunculus infesting the menu.” If you know me at all from reading this website, you know that I immediately pulled out my wallet and became a paying Hmm Daily subscriber (at the $5 a month level, though the reward at the $50,000 level is truly amazing).

Anyways, on to the sports stadium and arena newses:

  • The District Detroit development around the new Red Wings arena still consists mostly of some state-subsidized parking lots, but Red Wings exec Christopher Ilitch says that’s okay because “Our timelines may change. Our passion, the energy, the way we feel about this community has not.” And truly, who can put a price on feels?
  • The Voice of OC cites “experts” as saying that Anaheim may not be driving a hard enough bargain with Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno on a price for stadium parking lot development rights, and oh hey look, it’s me. Also Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, who says, “Cities tend to be remarkably bad negotiators when it comes to professional sports,” which, yup.
  • Politifact Wisconsin did a fact-check on claims that the state of Wisconsin will get a “tremendous” payback on its Milwaukee Bucks arena subsidies and found that that’s only if you assume the Bucks would have moved without them, and assume that Bucks fans would have all stopped spending their money in Wisconsin without them, and assume that NBA salaries will quintuple by the 2040s, and further found that Villanova sports stadium researcher Rick Eckstein calls the revenue estimates “fantasy figures,” and concluded that this makes the claim Mostly True. It is just slightly possible that having staff members of the local newspaper that has a record of overarching credulity on the arena deal do fact-checking on it might not be the best idea.
  • The people trying to get an MLB franchise in Portland are running out of momentum as MLB waits for the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s to work out their stadium situations before considering expansion, but at least they got a meeting with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred — no wait, the news report has corrected itself, they didn’t even get that. Well, at least they have weirdly non-Euclidean renderings.
  • Speaking of MLB expansion hopefuls, Montreal’s would-be neo-Expos owner Stephen Bronfman has a deal in place on land for a new stadium … not on buying the land, mind you, but with a developer to help develop the non-stadium part of the land once they buy it. This could be a while.
  • And speaking of the Rays and of terrible newspapers, the Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano wants to know when St. Petersburg and Tampa officials will stop bickering and get to work on throwing money at Rays owner Stuart Sternberg already?
  • The New York Times is a significantly less terrible newspaper, but a profile on A’s president Dave Kaval with the headline “Can This Man Keep the A’s in Oakland?” is not only pretty sycophantic in its own right, but it assumes a lot about the team owners moving without a new stadium when they’ve already gone a couple of decades demanding a new stadium and not getting one and still not moving.
  • Henderson, Nevada, is giving $10 million to the owners of the Vegas Golden Knights to build a practice rink, which is dumb but less dumb than some other cities’ expenses on similar projects.
  • The Arizona Coyotes are getting a new majority owner and the Phoenix Suns are up for sale, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, who added, “as one NHL official told me yesterday, when I asked that very question, I said, ‘Does this new owner mean that there’s an arena closer to fruition?’ And the answer was, if you get a new owner, there’s a better chance of a new arena. So you can put two and two together, Steve.” Then the Suns owners and a report in The Athletic on the Coyotes completely refuted what Shannon said, so maybe you’re better off putting two and two together without his help.
  • I was about to write up this news story about a potential rezoning approval for Austin F.C.‘s new stadium, but then I saw that KXAN managed to write “Austin’s Planing Commission” and “this ammendment” in the first three paragraphs, and now I gotta go cry all day about the death of copy editing, sorry.

Suns owner rewards councilmember’s arena vote flip with $50,000 campaign donation

When I’m asked, as I often am, why city mayors and other elected officials continue to eagerly throw money at pro sports subsidies even as all evidence shows that it’s a massive waste of public funds, I generally point questioners to this article I wrote for The Nation eight years ago, helpfully titled “Why Do Mayors Love Sports Stadiums?” Among the myriad causes of pols’ decades-long crush on sports spending — bogus economic impact studies, the “edifice complex” that gives precedence to shiny new construction projects that mayors can install an “I built this” plaque on — is the spending on lobbyists and campaign donations that team owners can throw around to encourage local officials to vote their way. It’s usually not a direct quid pro quo, I wrote, but more a way for team owners to gain access to policymakers, allowing the sports barons to supply talking points that will provide cover for anyone who votes their way.

Usually, that is. And then we have cases of campaign spending that doesn’t even pretend to be anything but an outright cash payoff, like that from Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver:

Nine days after the Phoenix City Council approved a controversial deal to renovate the Phoenix Suns home arena, Suns owner Robert Sarver donated $50,000 to a campaign PAC supporting a councilwoman who cast a crucial vote.

That donation to Councilwoman Vania Guevara last month came after she flipped her “no” vote to a “yes,” with Sarver’s pledge to spend $2.6 million on Head Start programs in her district.

Sarver followed up his donation to Guevara with a $100,000 contribution to a firefighter PAC backing the mayoral campaign of Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, also a supporter of the arena deal.

Okay, you’re saying, “outright cash payoff” is a bit strong — maybe Sarver just really liked the cut of Guevara’s and Valenzuela’s respective jibs, and the timing of the donations was just coincidental? (You’re probably not saying that, but it’s possible someone out there might be.) But then check out Sarver’s press statement explaining the donations:

“I care deeply about the future of the city of Phoenix. I am proud to support candidates who have the best interests of the city at heart, particularly those who are committed to job creation and improving education. I gave openly, not behind a veil, and I look forward to the exciting days ahead for our community.”

That’s about as close to “They voted for my project, so I gave them a briefcase full of unmarked twenties” as you’re going to get in the American political process. (“Job creation” is a typical euphemism for “spending money on private development projects”; “improving education,” if that one puzzles you, is likely a reference to Guevara’s acquiescence on the arena project in exchange for $10 million for preschool programs and other goodies.)

There isn’t a whole that can be done about the influence of money in local politics — other than publicly shaming officials who take cash from deep-pocketed interests whose projects they just voted for, which, to its credit, the Arizona Republic did nicely here. And maybe repealing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that opened the door to massive corporate and dark-money election spending. Or, you know, a massive redistribution of wealth such that self-interested individuals can’t pour so much money into electoral races that they swamp the influence of public opinion and small-money citizen donations. Okay, so actually there’s a lot that can be done, but some expressions of concern about “corruption” notwithstanding, most of our elected officials don’t seem all that eager to do much of it — which surely has nothing to do with who’s funding their campaigns, and paying for the lobbyists they hobnob with. It all makes one long for the day when “Oooh, shiny!” is the only political impulse that campaigns to rein in sports subsidies have to overcome.

Friday roundup: Suns referendum campaign fails, Panthers owner floats roof, Inter Miami and Raiders both still need temporary homes

The stadium news does not care if I am having a busy week, it just keeps happening! And I am, as always, here to catch it in a bucket and dump it out for you:

Phoenix officials say they flipped on Suns arena subsidy thanks to added social service spending, owner being all friendly-like

I almost didn’t finish reading this Arizona Republic article about the Phoenix Suns‘ successful push for $168 million in arena renovation subsidies, since the headline and intro made it seem like it was just going to be another unsupported article about how area residents were convinced that it was a good deal because that’s what the city councilmembers who switched their votes to approve the deal insist, and why would they lie? But buried toward the end of the piece is some actual information about what seems to have prompted those swing votes to swing Suns owner Robert Sarver’s way:

  • Councilmember Michael Nowakowski, who’d been the key vote demanding public hearings before approving the Suns deal, said he was swayed by the city agreeing to spend more money on homelessness prevention and public safety, though none of that money will be provided by Sarver. (Some of it will be rent paid by Sarver, but only rent he was going to pay anyway under the original deal; for why this counts as public money, see the Casino Night Fallacy.) Also, Sarver let Nowakowski look at the Suns’ financial books: “Everybody says he’s really rude and tough to deal with but it hasn’t been that way.”
  • Councilmember Vania Guevara, who’d previously called the arena subsidy “bad policy” and said she’d vote against it, switched sides after Sarver agreed to make a $10 million contribution to local preschool programs and other nonprofits.

As far as wangling boodle in exchange for your vote goes, this is pretty penny-ante stuff compared to the more than $100 million that Miami-Dade county commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones got funneled to her district in exchange for approving the Miami Marlins stadium deal. Phoenix officials come cheap, I guess.

Republic reporter Jessica Boehm also raises the question of whether Sarver’s deep pockets could have influenced Nowakowski and Guevara, both of whom are currently raising campaign money for election battles later this year, but Nowakowski reassured her that no funny business like that had happened:

Nowakowski said Sarver never brought that up in any negotiations.

He said Sarver did bring up Suns Charities and asked Nowakowski if there were any non-profits in his council district deserving of the Suns’ support.

Nowakowski said he did not think it was appropriate to have that conversation during the arena negotiations but said he told Sarver that he would be happy to work with him after to see how the team could be more involved in the community.

That’s reassurance, right? Not a city councilmember admitting publicly that he was offered payola by a pro sports team owner and replied, “Shh, let’s talk later so it’s not so obvious”? I can’t tell anymore what’s a scandal and what’s just what passes for democracy these days.

Friday roundup: Vikings get $6m in upgrades for two-year-old stadium, Sacramento finds rich guy to give soccer money to, CSL screws up yet another stadium study

No time to dawdle today, I got magnets to mail, so let’s get right down to it:

  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ two-years-and-change-old stadium is getting $6 million in renovations, including new turf, and taxpayers will foot half the bill, because of course they will.
  • Billionaire Ron Burkle is becoming the majority owner of the USL Sacramento Republic, so now Mayor Darrell Steinberg wants to give the team “tens of millions of dollars” in infrastructure and development rights and free ad signage so that he can build an MLS stadium. “The richer you are, the more money we give you” is the strangest sort of socialism, but here we are, apparently.
  • Concord, an East Bay suburb until now best known as “where the BART yellow line terminated until they extended it,” is considering building an 18,000-seat USL stadium. No word yet on how much it’ll cost or how much the city will chip in, but they probably first need to wait to see how rich the team’s owner is.
  • Not everyone in Allen, Texas wants to live across the street from a cricket stadium, go figure.
  • Everybody’s favorite dysfunctional economic consultants Convention, Sports & Leisure have done it again, determining that Montreal would be a mid-level MLB market without bothering to take into account the difference between Canadian and American dollars. (One the exchange rate is factored in, Montreal’s median income falls to second-worst in MLB, ahead of only Cleveland.) CSL explained in a statement to La Presse that it wanted to show “the relative purchasing power” of Montrealers, and anyway they explained it in a footnote, so quit your yapping.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers are going to change the name of their stadium from one corporate sponsor to another, and boy, are fans mad. Guys, you know you are free to call it whatever you want, right? Even something that isn’t named for a corporation that paid money for the privilege!
  • Local officials in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. are still working on an interstate compact to agree not to spend public money on a stadium for Dan Snyder’s Washington NFL team, though passage still seems unlikely at best, and the history of these things working out effectively isn’t great. Maybe it’ll get a boost now that team execs have revealed that the stadium design won’t include a surfboard moat after all. Nobody respects the vaportecture anymore.
  • The libertarian Goldwater Institute is suing to force the release of a secret Phoenix Suns arena study paid for by the team and conducted by sports architects HOK, but currently kept under lock and key by the city. (Literally: The study reportedly is kept in locked offices and is only allowed to be accessed by a “very limited number” of people. Also, a citizen group is trying to force a public referendum on the recently approved Suns arena subsidy, though courts have generally not been too keen on allowing those to apply retroactively to deals that already went through. And also also, one of the two councilmembers who voted against the Suns subsidy thinks the city could have cut a better deal. Odds on any of this hindsight amounting to anything: really slim, but maybe it can help inform the next city to face one of these renovation shakedowns, if anyone on other city councils reading out-of-town news or this site and ultimately cares, which, yeah.
  • Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis and Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke signed agreements to cover the NFL’s legal costs in any lawsuit over those teams’ relocations, and they’re both being sued now (by Oakland and St. Louis respectively), and NFL lawyers are really pricey. Kroenke is reportedly considering suing the league over this, which I am all for as the most chaotically entertaining option here.
  • Wilmington, Delaware is being revitalized by the arrival of a new minor-league basketball team, so make your vacation plans now! Come for the basketball, stay for the trees and old cars! Synergy!

Phoenix council successfully lobbies self to give Suns owner $168m for new furniture, air conditioning

Really, we all knew how this was going to end: One month after the Phoenix city council postponed a vote on $168 million in public funding for a Suns arena renovation in the wake of terrible poll numbers, and then spent the ensuing month councilsplaining at everyone in sight about why really this was a good thing, a very good thing, the council voted 6-2 yesterday to approve the deal. There were a few minor tweaks — mostly Suns owner Robert Sarver agreeing to kick in $10 million to a “community benefits” fund, which councilmember Vania Guevara cited as swaying her vote — but mostly it was the same deal that was rejected last month, only this time with more votes.

There were many specious arguments made in favor of the Suns deal: that Sarver would move the team otherwise (not likely, even if Seattle is out there as a bogeyman); that if Phoenix didn’t agree to this deal it could be on the hook for more renovation costs if an “obsolescence” clause was triggered (the clause would only have let Sarver break his lease 10 years early in 2022, not force renovation payments); that the Suns are worth so much to the Phoenix economy that spending $168 million on them is a drop in the bucket (hahahahaha!). But really, this was about the councilmembers building themselves a cover story for voting the way they wanted to, thus enabling everyone to avoid any nastiness when a new mayor gets elected in March who might have scrapped the entire project.

Now that all the shouting is over, it’s probably best to look at this deal as a simple payment from Phoenix to Sarver for new a/c ducts and furniture and stuff in order to get him to extend his lease until 2037. Spending $168 million to get 15 extra guaranteed years of NBA basketball (or whatever it is that the Suns play) comes to $11.2 million a year; how does that compare with other sports lease extension deals?

So, not the worst lease extension deal ever, but close to it! And that’s only if you consider “fair” to be “what everyone else is paying,” as opposed to, you know, fair.

The biggest surprise at yesterday’s hearing — at least from what I gleaned from news reports and all that I could stand to watch before Phoenix officials started trotting out the “but the obsolescence clause!” canard — was probably that both the former county supervisor who was shot by an enraged citizen after she voted to subsidize the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium in 1997 and the enraged citizen who shot her showed up to testify. Mary Rose Wilcox was still in favor of sports subsidies, calling the renovations “needed,” while Larry Naman was still opposed, calling for a public referendum before any decision was made. Which I guess just goes to show that violence isn’t very good at changing anybody’s minds.

Phoenix residents have a long history of hating sports subsidies, not that democracy matters or anything

The Phoenix city council votes tomorrow on the city’s proposed $168 million Suns arena renovation plan, and the Arizona Republic’s Jessica Boehm took the opportunity for a deep dive into the history of people hating stadium and arena subsidies, and found that yep, people sure do have a history of hating stadium and arena subsidies:

Sports deals have never been wildly popular. In 1997, a disgruntled man shot former County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox in the back and claimed it was justified because of her support of a tax hike to build the Diamondbacks ballpark…

“Slowly, over time, we’ve seen more and more of these deals and more and more economic studies showing that they’re not productive for cities,” said Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit and a companion website that critiques professional sports deals…

With three of the four major sports teams searching for a new opportunity, it’s a lot for a community to handle, [University of Michigan sport management professor Mark] Rosentraub said.

“If they had come at different times it may have been easier to swallow, but it’s difficult to swallow everything at once,” he said.

Also, the Suns are terrible, and sports teams are even more fabulous money-makers than in the past, and you know the drill (and also I don’t to quote Boehm quoting me more). Plus, Boehm confirms that while the public money that would go into the arena project would come from the Phoenix Sports Facilities Fund, not the city’s general fund, the city absolutely could spend that money on other tourism needs, thus saving general fund money, if it told the Suns to go pound sand.

Of course, the one thing that Boehm’s story doesn’t address is that regardless of whether Phoenix residents still hate the deal or have been swayed by city leaders’ incessant repeating that no, no, really it’s a good thing, it doesn’t much matter, because the fate of the bill is going to depend on whether the holdout councilmembers who delayed the plan’s approval back in December now say okay, we talked about it and nobody yelled too loud at the public hearings so fine, go ahead or not. Public opinion isn’t what matters here, it’s public officials’ perception of public opinion, which is a far murkier thing.

Also, late last week Phoenix revealed the breakdown of the planned arena costs, and while the biggest share — $99.58 million for new mechanical, electrical, plumbing and communication systems — genuinely sounds like an upkeep issue, the next-biggest line item — $26.37 million for “furniture, fixtures, and equipment” plus upgrades to food service areas — uh, really does not. It would certainly make the arena nicer and potentially more profitable, which nobody is arguing, but then wouldn’t it make sense for the Suns (or concessionaires) to pay more to use the upgraded facilities? Is anybody on the Phoenix city council going to ask this question? I know the probable answer to this, don’t I?

 

Friday roundup: Fact-checking Suns arena impact claims, the hidden cost of hosting the NCAA Final Four, and everybody gets a soccer team!

Thanks to everyone who became a Field of Schemes supporter this week in order to get a pair of my goofy refrigerator magnets! If you want to hop on the magnet train, you can still do so now, or you can first stop and read the rest of the news of a wacky week in stadium and arena developments:

  • The Arizona Republic has been full of both articles and op-eds this week asserting that giving $168 million to the Phoenix Suns for arena renovations is a good thing (sample reasoning: “The arena is old and needs updated. The Suns are young and need direction.”), but then it also ran an excellent fact-check that concluded that claims of the arena having a significant impact on the city’s economy are “mostly false,” citing the umpteen economic studies showing exactly that (sample conclusion, from Temple economist Michael Leeds: “A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store”). On balance, good enough work that I hope the Republic can avoid being bought by an evil hedge fund that is trying to buy up newspapers and strip-mine them for any assets; what would really be nice would be if they can be bought by someone who can afford copy editors (“is old and needs updated”?), but I know it’s 2019 and we can’t have everything.
  • Where the Oakland Raiders are rumored to be playing the 2019 season this week: San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Oakland. These are all disappointingly old ideas — am I going to have to be the one to suggest Rio de Janeiro?
  • And speaking of me, I wrote a long essay for Deadspin this week on how changes in baseball economic structure are incentivizing owners to cut player salaries without illegally colluding to do so. This is at best tangential to the stadium business, except inasmuch as it’s about “how sports team owners make their money and what affects their profits,” so it’s good to know even if you don’t especially care about who signs Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.
  • The president of the USL wants to expand the soccer league’s two tiers to 80 teams total, which is getting awfully close to the ABA’s “bring a check and you can have a team” model.
  • The new Austin F.C. MLS team was approved to start play in 2021, and celebrated by proposing a chant to memorialize the city council vote that approved its stadium funding: “7-Fooour, 7-Fooour/It’s not the score, it was the vote/That got us all our brand new home.” I am not making this up. (If I were making this up, I would at least try to get it to rhyme.)
  • Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno signed a one-year lease extension on the team’s stadium through 2020, which is disappointing in that I really thought the city should have used this leverage to demand a longer-term lease extension (what’s Moreno going to do otherwise, go play in Rio de Janeiro?). But Craig Calcaterra’s summary of the situation (sample description: this will give time to resolve “a long-term solution for what, at least from the Angels’ perspective, is a stadium problem”) is so on point and such a good model for how to report stadium controversies fairly and accurately that I’m not in the mood to complain.
  • Hosting the NCAA Final Four will cost Minnesota $10 million, because there are lots of curtains to be hung and temporary seating to be put in place, and the NCAA sure as hell isn’t going to pay for it. But Minnesota will surely earn it back in new tax revenues, because economic studies show … oh wait.
  • Some billionaire in St. Louis thinks the city should have an NBA team, and some writer for something called the St. Louis American thinks the city should try to steal the New Orleans Pelicans. Now let us never speak of this again.

Friday roundup: Long Island residents yell at cloud over Isles arena, Calgary forgets to include arena in arena district plan, plus a reader puzzle!

It’s Friday (again, already) and you know what that means:

  • New York State’s Empire State Development agency held a series of three public hearings on the plan to build an Islanders arena on public land near Belmont Park racetrack (which the team would be getting at as much as a $300 million discount), and the response was decidedly unenthused: Speakers at the first hearing Tuesday “opposed to the project outnumbered those in favor of the plan by about 40 to one,” reports Long Island Business News, with State Sen. Todd Kaminsky joining residents in worrying that the arena will bring waves of new auto traffic to the town of Elmont, that there’s no real plan for train service to the arena, and that there’s no provision for community benefits to neighbors. Also a member of the Floral Park Police Department worried that the need for police staffing and more crowded roads would strain emergency services. Empire State Development, which is not a public agency but a quasi-public corporation run by the state, is expected to take all of this feedback and use it to draft an environmental impact statement for the project, which if history is any guide will just include some clauses saying “yeah, it’ll be bad for traffic” without suggesting any ways to fix it. I still want to see this plan from the Long Island Rail Road for how to extend full-time train service there, since it should involve exciting new ideas about the nature of physical reality.
  • Meanwhile in Phoenix, the final of five public hearings was held on that city’s $168 million Suns renovation plan, and “out of nine public comments, three involved questions, five voiced support and one was against the deal,” according to KJZZ, so clearly public ferment isn’t quite at such a high boil there. One thing I’d missed previously: The city claims that if it doesn’t do the renovations now with some contribution ($70 million) from Suns owner Robert Sarver, an arbitrator could interpret an “obsolescence clause” in the Suns’ lease to force the city to make the renovations on its own dime. I can’t find the Suns’ actual lease, but I think this just means that Sarver can get out of his lease early if an arbitrator determines the arena is obsolete [UPDATE: a helpful reader directed me to the appropriate lease document, and that is indeed exactly what it means], and he can already opt out of his lease in 2022, it’s pretty meaningless, albeit probably more of the “information” that helps convince people this is a good deal when they hear it. (Also important breaking news: A renovated Suns arena will save puppies! Quick, somebody take a new poll.)
  • Speaking of leases, the Los Angeles Angels are expected to sign a one-year extension on theirs with Anaheim, through 2020, while they negotiate a longer-term deal. It’s sort of tempting to wish that new Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu would have played hardball here — sign a long-term deal now or you can go play in the street when your lease runs out, like the Oakland Raiders — but I’m willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt in his negotiating plans. Though if this gives Angels owner Arte Moreno time to drum up some alternate city plans (or even vague threats a la Tustin) just in time to threaten Anaheim with them before the lease extension runs out, I reserve the right to say “I told you so.”
  • The Calgary Planning Commission issued a comprehensive plan for a new entertainment district around the site of the Flames‘ Saddledome, but forgot to include either the Saddledome or a new arena in it. No, really, they forgot, according to city councillor Evan Woolley: “It should’ve been identified in this document. It absolutely should have. Hopefully those amendments and edits will be made as they bring this forward to council.” The 244-page document (it’s not as impressive as it sounds, most of them are just full-page photos of people riding bicycles and the like) also neglects to include any financial details, beyond saying the district would be “substantially” funded by siphoning off new property taxes, “substantially” being one of those favored weasel words that can mean anything from “everything” to “some.” Hopefully that’ll be clarified as this is brought forward to council, too, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.
  • Here is a Raleigh News & Observer article reporting that the Carolina Hurricanes arena has had a $4 billion “economic impact” on the region over 20 years, citing entirely the arena authority that is seeking $200 million to $300 million in public money for upgrades to the place. No attempt to contact any other economists on whether “economic impact” is a bullshit term (it is) or even what they thought of the author of the report, UNC-Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton, who once said he “questions the sincerity” of any economist who doesn’t find a positive impact from sports venues. Actually, even that quote would have been good to include in the N&O article, so readers could have a sense of the bona fides of the guy who came up with this $4 billion figure. But why take time for journalism when you can get just as many clicks for stenography?
  • The San Francisco Giants‘ stadium has another new name, which just happens to be the same as the old new name of the basketball arena the Warriors are leaving across the bay, and I’m officially giving up on trying to keep track of any of this. Hey, Paul Lukas, when are you issuing “I’m Still Calling It Pac Bell” t-shirts?
  • Indy Eleven, the USL team that really really wants somebody to build it a new stadium so it can (maybe) join MLS, still really really wants somebody to build it a new stadium, and hotels, office and retail space, an underground parking structure, and apartments, all paid for via “[Capital Improvement Board president Melina] Kennedy wasn’t available to discuss the proposed financial structure of the project.” It would definitely involve kicking back future property taxes from the development (i.e., tax increment financing), though, so maybe Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir is hoping that by generating more property taxes that his development team then wouldn’t pay but instead use to pay off his own stadium costs, that would look better, somehow? I mean, he did promise to keep asking, so at least he’s a man of his word.
  • “At some point in time, there’s going to have to be a stadium solution,” declared the president of a pro sports team that plays in a stadium that just turned 23 years old. “If we don’t start thinking about it, we’ll wake up one day and have a stadium that’s not meeting the needs of the fans or the community.” Want to try to guess which team? “All of them” is not an acceptable answer! (Click here for this week’s puzzle solution.)

Poll: Phoenix residents think Suns arena subsidy is a good thing once you tell them it’s a good thing

As the Phoenix city council continues its month-long dog and pony show to convince constituents into changing their minds about spending $168 million in public money on Suns arena renovations being a terrible idea, they’re still stuck on the problem that Phoenix residents overwhelmingly think it truly is terrible. So the Greater Phoenix Chamber (of commerce) took matters into its own hands by conducting a new poll that claims to show that residents stop hating the deal so much once you explain to them that, no, really, it’s good:

The poll found that when respondents were given basic information about the deal and how the cost would be divided — $150 million paid by the city and $80 million paid by the Suns — 23 percent supported the deal and 52 percent opposed it, while a quarter had no opinion.

When they were given information about the city’s funding mechanism, arena events, the arena’s economic impact and the use of the arena by youth groups, respondents who supported the deal increased to 49 percent and those opposed shrank to a quarter, while 26 percent had no opinion — a 53-point shift.

That is indeed a large shift! What exactly was this “information about the city’s funding mechanism, arena events, the arena’s economic impact and the use of the arena by youth groups” that caused the scales to fall from their eyes?

So basically, once you tell Phoenix residents that this is existing tax money, not a new tax; that the city of Phoenix currently collects more revenue from the arena than it would spend on the renovation; and that arena renovations will create spinoff economic growth for local businesses, then suddenly it sounds like a great idea!

Except that that “information” ranges from mildly misleading to outright untrue. Yes, the money would come from existing hotel and car rental taxes, but if the city spends it on the Suns, it won’t have that money to spend on something else, so may have to raise other taxes if it wants to pay for that something else. Yes, the city gets revenues from the arena, but that would be true with or without renovations, and indeed even with or without the Suns, since the arena still hosts concerts and other things as well. And as for spinoff growth for local businesses, I have no clue where that claim came from, but it’s exceedingly dubious: Local businesses are already located near an arena, and would continue to be even if it’s renovated, so there’s no net benefit there; if anything, adding more amenities could encourage fans to spend more of their entertainment dollars inside the arena gates, which would be bad for neighboring businesses.

There is nothing wrong with criticizing looking solely at up-front expenses on a sports project and saying that’s insufficient, you need to look at revenues (and, for that matter, annual operations costs) as well — I’ve been harping on that for a long time now, in fact. But obviously, the chamber’s poll isn’t meant to take a more holistic look at arena costs and benefits and see how that influences public opinion. It’s better looked at as a campaign document: Which arguments in favor of a new Suns arena will convince people that this is a good idea? And given that city officials have already started rolling out some of these arguments — “it’s not really a tax!” was the first one last weekend — clearly they’re eager to make use of the new intelligence.

Anyway, I would be tempted to chalk all this up to the workings of democracy (in a world where democracy is controlled by whoever has the money to pay for publicity campaigns, anyway), except then I remember that this entire exercise is only taking place because Suns owner Robert Sarver needs to rush this whole thing through before the March election of a new mayor who is likely to think it’s a terrible idea. Maybe Sarver and the chamber and everybody should cut out the middleman, and instead spend their time and energy on lobbying the mayoral candidates to convince them that tax money isn’t really tax money? The chamber of commerce has a whole bunch of pie charts ready to go!