Friday roundup: Jaguars’ billionaire owner wants $232m in tax money, plus guess-the-Angels-rationalization contest!

We made it another week further into the future! Sure, it’s a future that looks too much like the recent past — bad pandemic planning and stadium deals with increasingly more well-disguised subsidies — and we’re all still here discussing the same scams that I really thought were going to be a momentary fad 25 years ago. But the zombie apocalypse hasn’t arrived yet, so that’s something! Also the Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale was really excellent. Gotta stop and smell the flowers before refocusing on the underlying horror of society!

And with that, back to laughing to keep from crying:

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Friday roundup: Utah may build stadium for rugby (and the children!), Suns build big-ass kitchen, plus more robots than you can shake a stick at

Happy October! We seem to have now reached the uncanny valley of the epidemic, where some things are returning to almost normal — or even hyper-normal, as in the case of the baseball postseason having expanded to include so many teams I keep expecting the Sugar Land Skeeters to show up — while other things remain sadly unchanged. I guess if there’s a silver lining it’s that the resumption of some normal things hasn’t caused the pandemic to worsen perceptibly (yet), but that’s what people were saying about the Netherlands back in June and that didn’t work out well at all. Just wear your masks, people, and don’t take them off to eat or talk on the phone or talk to the president, and let’s hope for the best.

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Suns owner denies bribing councilmembers to vote for arena deal after ex-GM gripes that one took money then voted no

Oh man, this story:

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver on Friday adamantly denied any bribe was paid to Councilman Sal DiCiccio following an allegation by the team’s former general manager that DiCiccio took “money to vote a certain way.”

Sarver told The Arizona Republic that he had no idea what ex-GM Ryan McDonough was referring to when he called out DiCiccio on Twitter for calling basketball players who refused to play in the playoff games to protest social justice issues “whiny bitches.”

Let’s unpack this, slowly. In December of 2018, the Phoenix city council agreed to rush through a vote on Sarver’s request for $168 million in Suns arena renovation subsidies in just five days, until it turned out that Phoenix residents hated the idea so much that the vote was delayed while the council ran a month-long series of dog-and-pony shows to explain why residents should support the deal, then voted to approve the deal. One councilmember said she voted for the deal because Sarver offered to give $10 million to local schools and nonprofits, and another because the city (not Sarver) agreed to spend more on homelessness prevention and police, and then Sarver expressed his gratitude by giving $150,000 in campaign donations to two of the councilmembers who voted yes, saying he was “proud to support candidates who have the best interests of the city at heart” and “I gave openly, not behind a veil.”

Maybe all that pride in making payoffs to elected officials who voted your way inspired Ryan McDonough, who was fired as Suns GM a couple of months before the arena votes, to call out Sal DiCiccio, one of the two council no votes on the deal, for taking the team’s money but not following through by doing its bidding:

https://twitter.com/McDNBA/status/1299412123563495425

The “racist” bit seems pretty justified, though it’s always possible DiCiccio just hates NBA players who staged a wildcat strike before last Wednesday’s playoff games because he doesn’t think any workers should speak up about systemic injustices, not just majority-African-American ones. “Crooked,” though, is a funny way of describing someone who can’t be swayed by bribes, especially when your (former) organization was the one doing the bribing.

McDonough later walked back his tweet by declaring that donations by “Suns-related parties” to councilmembers were entirely legal, notwithstanding that he had just declared that they were made to get them to “vote a certain way.” Sarver followed that up by declaring that “there was no bribe” but rather “there was a [campaign] donation made by me in October 2014, and others who worked for the Phoenix Suns,” and why would anybody assume that he was giving campaign cash to local politicians just because he was gearing up to ask them for public money?

DiCiccio is now calling for a city investigation into whether he took a bribe, which seems unlikely to shed much more light on this situation given that we already know that Sarver was throwing campaign cash around both before and after the arena vote — I suppose DiCiccio is hoping for a we find no evidence that Councilman DiCiccio outright promised a quid pro quo without winking and nodding or something. Stirring up mud can never be a bad thing, though, and if it happens because a fired GM staged a Twitter flamewar against a Black Lives Matter–hating elected official for not being easily enough bought with campaign donations, that would be some sweet, sweet schadenfreude.

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Phoenix Suns unveil frenzy of public health theater to pretend they can keep fans safe from viruses

Suns incorporating changes to arena renovations with COVID-19 in mind,” that sounds like a promising headline! Perhaps we will learn more about what our post-pandemic sports future could be like — personal plexiglass booths around each seat? — and how the Phoenix Suns owners are spending that $168 million in taxpayer money the city council gifted them last year. What’s the deets, Arizona Sports 98.7 FM?

“What we’re looking at is technology and how we can utilize technology to improve that sanitation level,” Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley said Tuesday. “Make people more comfortable with maybe going cashless … making sure your escalators have UV lighting that kills viruses and bacteria and all those things … hiring outside professionals who can come in and do audits of the building to make sure that any high touchpoints (can be safer).”

I don’t think Rowley actually means “going cashless,” since things like debit-card touchpads are stews of microbes. Presumably he means going contactless, which lots of people seem to be doing already for their purchases, but I guess if this encourages the Suns to install lots of Venmo routers or whatnot, that’s probably a smart move regardless.

As for UV lighting on escalators, that’s not a terrible idea either, though the Centers for Disease Control continue to note that you’re way more at risk from other people than from surfaces they touched, so riding an escalator alongside thousands of other fans is way more of a concern than touching the same escalator railing as them. But if UV lights make fans feel safer, then bring on the public health theater!

So, what else we got?

That even goes as far as putting down antimicrobial paint, which makes it more difficult for things to stick and bacteria to linger.

Apparently antimicrobial paint can be very effective against bacteria, which is somewhat less helpful in our current situation given that viruses aren’t bacteria. (Both are considered “microbes,” which literally just means “really small living things,” even though viruses aren’t really living things. Maybe.) Some companies are experimenting with antiviral paints, it looks like, but it looks to be too soon whether you can stop Covid with a paint sprayer. And, of course, there’s still that pesky problem of fans not wanting to have their mouths painted shut.

So, no, it looks like this was just an article about a bored sports reporter getting an interview with the local team exec, and the exec mumbled some stuff about miracle paint, and hey look, there’s something to file today to keep your editor happy! (Ha ha ha, like anyone still has editors.) It does seem like an indication that team execs are moving swiftly ahead into the public health theater phase of things, where they’re going to have to convince fans that they’re using high tech to keep them safe from germs just like they convinced fans they were using high tech to keep them safe from terrorists, either because they’re afraid of fans staying home otherwise or because they want to cover their butts in case of lawsuits should something bad happen. This really should be considered part of the team’s marketing budget rather than its construction budget, but it’s harder to charge marketing costs to the city council, so UV-lighted escalators it is!

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Friday roundup: If you’re watching TV sports in empty stadiums by summer, count yourself lucky

Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”

I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:

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Friday roundup: Zombie apocalypse in full effect, go and get a late pass

So as you all undoubtedly know by now, everything is shut down. The NBA is shut down for at least 30 days, the NHL is shut down indefinitely, MLB has canceled the first two weeks of the season, MLS is on hold for a month, this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament may be moved to 2021 so maybe the Champions League and Europa League can finish up in June and July, the XFL is shut down maybe for good, and even the Little League is on hold until April 6. And all those dates are just minimum wild-ass guesses: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a calming voice of reassurance as ever, said yesterday that this “could easily be a six-month crisis” — and even if you dismiss him as just a guy who gets his every stray thought printed in the newspaper because he’s an elected official, as I wrote yesterday for FAIR, it’s still very much true that nobody really knows how long this will last, or how to decide (or who will decide) that the curve has been effectively flattened and life can go back to normal(ish) now.

So instead of dwelling on that, let’s dwell instead on another aspect of plagueworld that overlaps somewhat with the mission of this site: the economic impacts of shutting stuff down. I’m sure somebody out there is thinking, “But Neil, you always say that economists say it doesn’t matter much to the economy whether one sporting event or another is played, because people will just spend their money on something else like going out to eat or to a bowling alley instead. So why won’t the substitution effect save us now?”

I am, as I have to take pains to remind journalist quoting me from time to time, not an economist, but I think I can explain this one well enough: There’s a huge difference between one sports team or league shutting down and everything shutting down. Once everyone has completed their panic-shopping therapy and stocked up on a lifetime supply of toilet paper, they’re mostly not going to be looking for other things to spend money on — they’re going to sit at home and watch the Netflix subscriptions that they already paid for. And meanwhile a bunch of them are going to be out of work, and still more will be out of work once restaurants and barber shops and the like have to close for lack of business, and that will mean even less business, and soon enough the entire economy has shut down in a cycle of fear.

I was lucky to get a first-hand example of this in high school, when my U.S. History teacher had each of her classes play a game where each student was one player in late-19th-century frontier society, either a farmer or a railroad company owner or a banker or I forget what else. This made for lots of fun experience with the consequences of unregulated capitalism — I remember one friend of mine contracted to make a loan to another friend, and set the interest rate but not the term of the loan, and our teacher refused to step in and rule on when it had to be paid back because a contract is a contract — but in another class some friends of mine were in, it got even more severe: There was only one banker, and he refused to loan anyone any money at less than usurious rates, and the entire class plunged into an economic depression.

Anyway, there are lots of reasons this is going to be really bad in many, many ways, even if all these closures aren’t too late to avoid the old people being left to die in ERs that has reportedly been taking place in Lombardy. (I do not make a very good voice of calm, either, sorry.) But eventually this crisis will be over, and it’s still worth thinking about what the world will look like when we come out the other side. After all, with no sports to watch we’ve got plenty of time on our hands.

Not that everything being shut down has brought sports subsidy demands to a halt, because some things are just too big to fail:

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Friday roundup: Developers pay locals $25 each to hold pro-arena signs, a smoking and farting winged horse team logo, and do you even need a third thing after those two?

It’s been another week of pretty bad news, topped off by a private equity firm somehow buying the entirety of .org domains, meaning every nonprofit website will now have to be licensed from an entity whose sole mission is to squeeze as much money from them as possible. The stadium and arena news, by contrast, isn’t all terrible, so maybe it qualifies as cheery? You be the judge:

  • The Richmond city council voted Tuesday to put off a decision on a $1.5 billion downtown development that would include a new arena (public cost: $350 million), after a contentious hearing where both supporters and opponents held signs espousing their opinions. Or espousing somebody’s opinions, anyway: Some locals holding “yes” signs later reported that the project’s developers paid them $25 a pop to do so. City council president Michelle Mosby replied that if anything people were just reimbursed gas money, which 1) only makes sense if everyone there drove their own car and had to travel like 250 miles round trip to get to the hearing and 2) isn’t really any less corrosive of democracy anyway.
  • If you’ve been wondering how Inter Miami plans to build a temporary 18,000-seat stadium in Fort Lauderdale (later to be turned into a practice field) between now and March and figured it would have to involve throwing up a bunch of cheap metal bleachers, now there’s video of construction workers doing exactly that. Also laying down the sod for the field, which I thought usually takes place after the stadium is more or less built, but I guess if they can build the stadium without treading on the field, no harm in doing so now. This all raises questions of whether the stadium will feel excessively crappy, and if not why more soccer teams can’t just build cheap quickie stadiums like this without the need for public money; I guess we’ll know the answer by springtime one way or another.
  • When the state of Minnesota agreed to pay for the Vikings‘ new stadium with cigarette revenue after electronic pulltab gambling money didn’t come in as expected, it still kept collecting the gambling cash; and now that e-pulltabs (which are just lottery tickets, only on a tablet) have taken off, there’s debate over what to do with the cash that the state is collecting, about $5 million this year but projected to rise to $51 million by 2023. The Vikings owners want the money used to pay off their stadium debt early, while some lawmakers would like to use the revenue to fund other projects or reduce taxes on charitable gambling institutions now that it’s no longer needed — all are valid options, but it’s important to remember that the state already paid for most of the stadium, this is just arguing over what to do with the zombie tax that was left over after the financing plan was changed. (It would also be nice to know if e-pulltab gambling has cannibalized revenues from other gambling options, thus making this less of a windfall, but modern journalists have no time for such trivialities.)
  • The city of Wichita is spending $77 million (plus free land) on a Triple-A baseball stadium to steal the Baby Cakes from New Orleans, and have been rewarded with the Wichita Wind Surge, a name that’s supposed to reference the city’s aviation history or something but actually means “storm surge,” which isn’t a thing that they have in landlocked Kansas? It also features a logo that looks like a horse and a fly got caught in a transporter accident, which the team’s designer explained with “The nice thing about Pegasus, however, to me, was the fact that it’s got a horse in there.” A local designer responded with a sketch of a winged horse smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer, and farting, which by all accounts is much more popular with Wichitans. (The sketch is, I mean, though I’d love to see a poll asking Wichitans, “Which do you prefer, the name Wichita Wind Surge or farting?”)
  • San Diego State University’s plan to buy the city’s old football stadium and its surrounding land for $87.7 million has hit some “speed bumps,” namely that city economists have determined that the price could be below the land’s market value and $10 million of the sale price would have to be set aside for infrastructure improvements for the university’s development. “There’s also the matter of the $1-per-month lease that, as proposed, may not adequately protect the city from expenses or legal risk,” notes the San Diego Union-Tribune. Given all these uncertainties, the city’s independent budget analyst called SDSU’s proposed March 27 deadline “very challenging,” not that that’s stopped city councils before.
  • Saskatoon has enough room under its debt limit to finance either a new central library or a new sports arena, and regardless of what you think of how badly Saskatooners need a new library, it’s still a pretty strong example of how opportunity costs work.
  • The Phoenix Suns‘ new practice facility being built with the help of public money will include a golf simulator for players, because of course it will.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Arizona Republic has revealed what the Diamondbacks owners want in a new stadium; the original article is paywalled, but for once Ballpark Digest‘s propensity for just straight-up paraphrasing other sites’ reporting comes in handy, revealing that team owners want a 36,000-  to 42,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof and surrounded by a 45- to 70-acre mixed-use development and a 5,000-seat concert venue and good public transit and full control of naming-rights revenue and public cost-sharing on ballpark repairs. And a pony.
  • Will Raiders football hike your home value?” asks the Nevada Current, apparently because “Is the moon made of green cheese?” had already been taken.
  • And last but certainly not least, your weekly vaportecture roundup: The New Orleans Saints‘ $450 million renovation of the Superdome (two-thirds paid for by taxpayers) will include field-level open-air end zone spaces where fans have ample room enjoy rendered people’s propensity for flinging their arms in the air! The new Halifax Schooners stadium designs lack the woman hailing a cab and players playing two different sports at once from previous renderings, but do seem to still allow fans to just wander onto the field if they want! It should come as no surprise to anyone that even Chuck D can do a better job of drawing than this.
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Friday roundup: Oakland opens A’s land sale talks, Clippers arena down to two lawsuits, plus video vaportecture!

I know it’s not Deadspin — nothing is, or ever will be again, though we can dream — or even sports, but I have an article up at City Limits this week about another big-money public construction project that seems to be proceeding despite no one quite knowing how it will work or how it will be paid for. It’s probably only a matter of time before sports team owners figure out a way to do promote new stadiums as worthy of climate resilience funding, especially since local governments are already showing themselves willing to spend climate money poorly to benefit rich people.

Anyway, oodles of bonus news this week, plus more vaportecture, so let’s get to it:

  • The city of Oakland is starting talks with the A’s owners about selling the city’s half of the Oakland Coliseum property to the team for development — with the proceeds to be used to build a new stadium on the Oakland waterfront — but still hasn’t dropped its lawsuit against Alameda County for agreeing to sell its share to the A’s without consulting the city. Meanwhile, here’s an article by the mayor of Oakland about how baseball and port operations are both good things, let’s find a way to make them both work together!
  • The Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that the proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena in Inglewood poses no danger to aviation at nearby Los Angeles International Airport, and a judge has dismissed claims that the city was required to seek affordable housing uses for the site first. But the project still faces two more lawsuits over how Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was granted the land and whether the city illegally evaded open-meetings laws, so we could yet be here a while.
  • Paterson, New Jersey is asking the state Economic Development Authority for $50 million in tax credits to use on a $76 million project redevelopment of Hinchliffe Stadium, a crumbling (this term is way overused, but it’s actually crumbling) former Negro League stadium, into “a 7,800-seat athletic facility, with a 314-space parking garage, restaurant with museum exhibits dedicated to Negro League baseball, 75-unit apartment building for senior citizens and a 5,800-square-foot childcare facility.” The rest of the article doesn’t explain much about what the renovation will look like or how the money will be spent or who will collect revenues from the new facility or anything, but it does include Mayor André Sayegh opining that you could “have a big concert there. Boxing. Wrestling. It could all happen there,” and Councilmember Michael Jackson countering that “to spend money on this project is senseless” since it will only create maybe 50 jobs. Feel free to take sides!
  • The Arena Football League has suspended operationsagain — after getting sued for nonpayment by its former insurance company, but “may become a traveling league, similar to the Premier Lacrosse League, whereby all players practice in a centralized location and fly to a different city each weekend to play games.”
  • Nashville S.C.‘s MLS stadium is now on hold, with Mayor John Cooper suspending demolition to clear the site, amid a lawsuit charging that the project and its $75 million in public cash were approved improperly and will interfere with the annual Tennessee state fair. The Tennessee Tribune writes that “it’s only a matter of time before the MLS soccer stadium contracts will be voided and put out to bid again”; I am not a lawyer, but then, neither are the Tribune’s journalists, so we’ll see.
  • If you want to rent office space in the Texas Rangers‘ old stadium for some reason, you now can! Just realize that it won’t be air-conditioned when you go outside.
  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ stadium is killing more than a hundred birds a year, but other buildings kill even more birds, which means the Vikings clearly need a more state-of-the-art bird-killing building, that’s how this works, right?
  • Here’s a photo of how the new Los Angeles Rams (and Chargers) stadium looks in its current state of construction, and if you think that the “vertical design” will make it feel “intimate.” then you agree with one Rams fan! Another fan, who was sitting in the fourth row of seats behind the end zone, remarked, “I kind of expected the field (area) to be much larger, to take you away from the experience. But you’re going to be right in the game.” Two takeaways: There are reasons why teams never invite fans to sit in the cheap seats to see what the view will be like from there, and American sports fans really aren’t great with geometry.
  • Calgary is looking at cutting wages for city employees to balance its budget, and one local economist thinks maybe not building the Flames a new arena would be a better idea.
  • The five-county sales tax surcharge that paid for the Milwaukee Brewers‘ Miller Park is finally set to phase out in January, after 23 years and $577 million. This is not so good news if you’re upset about Wisconsin taxpayers spending $577 million to pay for a private sports owner’s baseball stadium, but good news if you were worried that the Brewers or some other sports team might see the sales tax money sitting around and want to propose a new project to spend it on, which is always a worry.
  • The Montreal Canadiens have gotten a reduction in their property tax bill for the fourth time since 2013, even while property valuations elsewhere in the city are soaring. No reason was given, but “they’re major players in the local business community and whined about it a lot” seems like a reasonable theory.
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist John Steigerwald asks about public funding for the Pirates‘ now 18-year-old stadium, “If the Pirates were faced with paying for their ballpark, do you think they might have had more incentive to insist on real revenue sharing and a salary cap before they built it?” Answer: No, rich people have incentive to demand money everywhere they can find it, regardless if they already have money, which Pirates owner Bob Nutting totally does. Next question!
  • I promised you vaportecture, so here’s some vaportecture: a ten-second video of the entryway to the Phoenix Suns arena morphing into a somewhat snazzier entryway now that the city of Phoenix agreed to spend $168 million in renovations in exchange for a few tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. (Actual quid pro quo not included, but you can picture it easily enough.) Yes, it’s mostly just a bunch of new video boards and some new escalators being enjoyed by a handful of beefy white people, but isn’t that what pro basketball is all about?
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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.
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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.

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