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!

Phoenix officials kick off monthlong campaign to whine directly at local residents about how great a new arena would be

On Saturday, the Phoenix city council held the first of its public hearings on the Suns arena proposal, part of a series scheduled after officials were chastened by the massive public disdain for the $168 million subsidy plan. So then, of course, they mostly lectured residents about how dumb they were to pass up such an amazing deal:

Christine Mackay, director of Community and Economic Development for the City of Phoenix, presented the deal as an inevitable move necessary to foster continued downtown development and economic growth. She credited the arena with transforming the downtown area, generating an annual economic impact of $182 million and attracting other businesses to the area.

And:

Earlier in the week, Mackay told the Phoenix Business Journal she wanted to clear up misunderstandings about who owns the arena and how renovations would be funded.

“This is not a tax on our citizens,” Mackay said. “I’m looking forward to get these facts out.”

Ah, the old “but only tourists pay these taxes!” argument. This is, for one thing, untrue — car-rental taxes are in fact often paid by locals, who are renting a car for temporary use or whatever — but more to the point, beside the point: It’s money the city could be spending on something else if it weren’t giving it to Suns owner Robert Sarver.

Mackay’s other argument in favor of the subsidy is that the city owns the arena, and so is responsible for upgrades. Okay, but the city doesn’t manage the arena or earn any additional profits if it makes more from either NBA games or concerts — that’s all Sarver. So if you own a building that is rented out by a private business and you make a bunch of upgrades that will solely benefit your tenant, you should ask them to repay you via higher rent, right? But while the Suns’ rent is projected to increase from $1.5 million to $4 million in a renovated arena, some of that is just plain old price inflation having nothing to do with renovations, and regardless, an extra $2.5 million a year would take 67 years to repay the city’s expense. (In present value terms, the city would never ever be made whole, because rent payments 67 years in the future are worthless, if the NBA even exists then.)

Anyway, from what reporting there has been, it sounds like attendees at the session (all 150 of them) were split about whether they bought Mackay’s arguments or not, which is just yet another unscientific poll. I’m honestly not sure what the point is of this monthlong series of dog-and-pony shows, other than to persuade swing-vote councilmembers that look, it’s cool, when we present our Powerpoints to the masses, some of them agree with us. I mean, I am sure that’s the point, I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work, but then, I do not pretend to comprehend the uncanny ways of the Phoenix city council.

Friday roundup: Don’t subsidize bad people, XFL to pay St. Louis more in rent than Rams did, unscientific poll on Suns arena is unscientific

Happy first Friday roundup of 2019! I could add a whole lot of thoughts on lists I’ve read and haven’t made of the best of this and that of last year, but to save time let me just stick with saying that this song is pretty damn excellent and get right to the news of the short week:

  • Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote a column about how Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder is a bad person and a terrible owner and should never get a dime of public stadium money because that’d be “a bailout, welfare,” none of which I can disagree with, but at the same time I’m a bit uncomfortable with the implication that if Snyder were less unpleasant, he’d then be deserving of public largesse.
  • The XFL may still be considered a bit of a joke league, but at least it can pay the city of St. Louis a decent stadium rent, unlike the Rams ever did. (Of course, the “joke league” bit is exactly why they are being required to pay real rent whereas the Rams could refuse to; there’s not much advantage to being an 80-pound gorilla.)
  • This essay responding to Amazon’s tax breaks is pretty excellent, though it’s still a half-notch below this classic Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon.
  • An opposing team manager has demanded that Tottenham Hotspur be required to play the rest of their season at Wembley rather than moving into their much-delayed stadium, because … teams that got to play them while they were adjusting to their new grounds would have an advantage somehow? From what I’ve been able to tell, most of home-field advantage in soccer comes from home fans booing (or whistling) at refs to intimidate them into making calls that go their team’s way, but the last time I tried reading the literature on this it quickly went deep into the weeds, so I won’t belabor the point.
  • “Fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena” were “surprisingly” in favor of spending public money to renovate the Phoenix Suns arena, according to Fox10 Phoenix, compared to “the online response” which was more “mixed.” This is both an impressively off-label use of “surprisingly” and an impressively lazy attempt at polling Phoenix residents — two impressively lazy attempts, even — so fine job, Fox10 Phoenix!

Friday roundup: SF doesn’t want Raiders, Spurs hate Tottenham, Rays outfielder says team has “no fan base” and should maybe move

It was a bit of a slow holiday week, but the news that there was made up for it by being extra-entertaining:

  • The Oakland Raiders played maybe their last game in Oakland, at least until the next time they move back to Oakland. (Hey, it’s happened before.) Still nobody has a clue where the team will play next year, but San Francisco officials are already gearing up to block any Raiders games at the Giants‘ AT&T Park, saying they don’t want to be “scabs” in the city of Oakland’s lawsuit against the Raiders for skipping town that prompted this game of stadium chicken in the first place. This is looking like a better and better option.
  • The New Jersey state legislature is preparing to help out the horse racing industry by providing $100 million over the next five years to goose winnings, which seems like exactly the opposite of how gambling is supposed to work.
  • Tottenham Hotspur still can’t get its new stadium open — the earliest possible date is now in February — but that’s not stopping team officials from griping that the surrounding neighborhood is too dirty to go alongside its fancy new stadium thanks to “litter and fly-tipping.” According to one borough memo, “When the question of all the extra cleaning needed was raised and who would fund it it was made very clear that it would not be paid for by Spurs.” The estimated cost of added street cleaning would be £8,000 per match; the team’s most recent annual profit was £58 million.
  • I love interactive fiction and have even written some myself, so I’m inclined to like this Arizona Republic article presenting the Suns arena showdown as a Choose Your Own Adventure book. But sadly its plot relies on some misconceptions — allowing the Suns owners to break their lease in 2022 doesn’t necessarily mean the team will leave, and if they do leave the city’s estimates of $130-180 million in renovations to keep it “competitive” for concerts may be overblown — so I won’t be voting for it for a XYZZY Award.
  • Some details have been released about plans for a Portland baseball stadium, but none of them involve how the stadium would be paid for or how much rent it would pay to its public landlords or even where a team would be obtained, so feel free to skip reading the full documents unless you’re really interested.
  • Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Tommy Pham was asked what he thought about playing in his new home city after being traded last year from St. Louis, and replied, “It sucks going from playing in front of a great fan base to a team with really no fan base at all.” Pham added, “Do I think something has to happen, whether it be a new ballpark, maybe a new city? I think so.” I am going out on a limb to guess that attendance will probably not be great next year on Tommy Pham Bobblehead Night.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks arena has been open for “several months” now, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which apparently can’t count to four, and the most important takeaways are that: 1) kids like candy, 2) grownups like cheese-covered sausages, 3) everybody likes taking selfies, 4) Bucks president Peter Feigin also likes candy, and 5) nobody actually wants to sit in that ridiculous Panorama Club. No reports back yet on the status of the magic basketball.

Friday roundup: More Raiders temporary home rumors, more MLB expansion rumors, and pro cricket (?!?) in Texas

Was this week longer than usual, or did it just feel that way? The number of browser tabs I have open indicates the former — personally, I blame the moon.

  • Or maybe the Oakland Raiders will play in Arizona next year? When you have a lame-duck team whose new stadium in its new city isn’t ready yet, no idea is dumber than any other, really.
  • The University of Texas is reportedly building a new $300 million basketball arena at no cost to the state or the university, though if you read the fine print it’s actually getting Oak View Group (the same people behind Seattle’s arena rebuild) to build the arena in exchange for letting OVG keep a large chunk of future arena revenues. So really this is no different from UT building the arena themselves and using future revenues to pay off the construction costs, except I guess that OVG takes on the risk of cost overruns. Anyway, this is a good reminder that it’s not just about the costs, it’s about the revenues, stupid.
  • Las Vegas wants an MLB expansion team. It shouldn’t hold its breath.
  • There are lots of ideas for what to do with D.C.’s RFK Stadium site, and not all of them involve a stadium for Washington’s NFL team.
  • Queens community groups are protesting possible plans to build a soccer stadium for a would-be USL team called Queensboro F.C. on the Willets Point site cleared of businesses for redevelopment (including affordable housing) several years ago. This is a super-weird story that I’m still trying to get to the bottom of, so stay tuned for a more in-depth update soon.
  • Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk now says he’d consider letting someone else own his team’s proposed downtown arena if they’d pay to build it, contradicting what he said two years ago. Here’s a fun list of other times Melnyk contradicted himself!
  • Lots of public meetings coming up in Phoenix on the much-derided $230 million Suns arena renovation plan. The city has also posted the actual arena proposal, which among other things notes that the Suns’ rent is projected to go up from $1.5 million to $4 million a year in a renovated arena, which would help offset some of the public’s $168 million in costs, though it doesn’t say whether the rent (which is based on revenues) would go up in an unrenovated arena as well, so really this wouldn’t offset it all that much.
  • Speaking of the Suns, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said this week that “it’d be a failure on my part if a team ended up moving out of a market.” Now that’s how you play the army protection racket non-threat threat game! Rob Manfred, take notes. (Actually, please don’t.)
  • And speaking of Manfred, MLB is reportedly considering letting teams take control of their streaming broadcast rights instead of running them all centrally through MLB.tv, which would be a huge deal in that it would allow teams in large markets to monopolize streaming revenue like they currently do TV revenue, forestalling an NFL-like future where TV money is a more level playing field. They could offset this through increased revenue-sharing, sure, but … you know what, let’s table this discussion until there’s more than an unsourced New York Post item to go on.
  • Allen, Texas, is talking about building a pro cricket stadium via a “public-private partnership,” leaving me with two big questions: 1) how much is the public kicking in, and 2) maybe would it be a good idea to wait until a pro cricket league actually exists before building a stadium for it to play in?
  • The Athletic has a strangely formatted article about how finished MLS stadiums seldom look like their renderings that’s a fun read if you’re an Athletic subscriber, which you probably aren’t. (I got the $1-for-90-days trial deal, so I can keep tantalizing you with paywalled stuff for another few weeks yet.)

Suns owner says team “not leaving Phoenix,” pay no attention to all the times he said it might leave Phoenix

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has issued a video statement on Twitter in response to reports that he threatened to move the team to Seattle of Las Vegas:

If you hate to turn on audio on your computer like I do, here’s a transcript of the good bits:

“First and foremost, the Phoenix Suns are not leaving Phoenix. I am 100 percent committed, and have been for the last four years, to find a solution keep them in downtown Phoenix where they belong.”

That would seem to contradict reports that Sarver told city councilmembers that he’d considering moving the team out of town without publicly funded arena renovations, not to mention a news conference last year where he said, “First priority is downtown Phoenix, but if that is not something the city wants to do, then, you know, I’ve got to look somewhere else.” Unless you parse the Twitter statement carefully to mean “We’re not leaving Phoenix because Phoenix is going to give us $168 million for arena renovations so we’ll stay, won’t you, Phoenix?” In which case all this is just a classic non-threat threat, and neither the threats to leave nor the promises to stay should be taken as anything more than empty PR.

In the meantime, pushback has begun on how to eliminate the Suns arena subsidy, or at least make it marginally less onerous. Phoenix councilmember Sal DiCiccio says “at the very least it’s got to be a fifty-fifty deal,” while Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts suggests five ways to improve the arena plan:

  1. Cut the public’s share from two-thirds to one-third (better, yes, though as with DiCiccio’s halfsies plan, still arbitary)
  2. Make the Suns promise to stay put more than 15 more years in exchange (an excellent thought, since you don’t want Sarver or his successor coming back in a decade or so saying “Those 2019 renovations are looking a little out of date…)
  3. Don’t fall for idle threats when we don’t even know if the NBA would approve a move out of Phoenix (not really a specific way to improve the deal, but sure, always good advice)
  4. Don’t give Sarver money until the team starts winning games (tempting, but implies that a winning team suddenly is worthy of public subsidies, whereas if the Suns were winning games, arguably fans would be showing up and Sarver wouldn’t have to whine about his creaky old arena)
  5. Wait till a new mayor is elected in March before negotiating anything (democracy, what a concept!)

Finally, Suns president Jason Rowley complains that the arena money isn’t really going to benefit the Suns, since Phoenix owns the arena, and traditionally it’s the landlord who pays for upgrades, not the tenant. Sure, but also traditionally the tenant doesn’t get to keep all the money from putting a giant billboard on the outside of the building, and also traditionally when a landlord does upgrades, it gets to hike the tenant’s rent to help pay for them. Does Rowley’s analogy extend as far as offering to increase the Suns’ lease payments to the city? There’s another suggestion Roberts could add to her list.

 

Unnamed official says Suns owner threatened to move team to Seattle or Vegas, now that’s all we can talk about

The Phoenix city council indeed put off a vote on spending $168 million on arena renovations for the Suns yesterday, and it was indeed because they didn’t have the votes to pass it, after swing-vote councilmember Michael Nowakowski issued a statement that “I must hold true to the value I place on making sure people are informed and heard.”

Then an unnamed councilmember told Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts that Suns owner Robert Sarver had said a thing, and this was the thing he said:

“Sarver’s talking about moving,” the council member told me. “He basically told me the team will go (if they don’t get a renovated arena). Vegas and Seattle were the two he talked about.”

Sports team owners seldom make threats like this explicitly in public, because they are the nuclear option: Once you’ve set off a move threat, you may have encouraged fans to panic about the possibility of losing their team, but you have also encouraged them to want to run you out of town on a rail, so there’s no going back. So it’s not surprising that Sarver made this threat in private to a councilmember, and wouldn’t even be surprising to hear that the councilmember leaked it with Sarver’s approval (though given Roberts’ opposition to the arena deal, it’s also possible this was an arena subsidy opponent leaking her the news, in a can you believe this guy? way).

Regardless, the unspecific threat relayed by an unnamed source — which arguably runs afoul of the Society of Professional Journalists’ rule to always question anonymous sources’ motives, but anyway — had the expected reaction, especially since it went as far as to mention actual cities the Suns might depart for. News outlets in Seattle and Las Vegas immediately sprang into action to report on the potential arrival of an NBA team, and then the aggregators got involved, and soon it was all anybody could talk about: I was already interviewed for one article about it, and I’m going on Orlando’s 740AM The Game’s “The Beat of Sports” at 10:15 Eastern this morning to talk about the Suns’ potential move (among other things).

The two city names that Sarver allegedly dropped are understandable enough: Seattle is jonesing for an NBA team to replace the Sonics now that they have an arena renovation underway, and Las Vegas has recently acquired NHL and NFL teams and is only 300 miles away from Phoenix, which is close in Southwestern terms. Beyond that, though, they’re pretty different: Seattle is almost exactly the same size TV market as Phoenix, whereas Vegas is less than half as big, so Sarver would be crazy to leave Phoenix for Nevada. With Seattle, it all depends on whether he’d earn more in revenue at KeyArena than he does at Talking Stick Arena — which is unlikely given that he’d be the second pro sports tenant at a venue run by an arena operator that’s going to need to keep revenues to pay off its $850 million renovation cost, but not outright impossible.

Mostly, though, this is clearly a threat intended to throw a scare into city councilmembers that they better cough up the dough or else this could be the last they’ll ever see of their NBA team, see? It’s not clear yet how effective that threat will be, given the overwhelming public opposition to the deal and the fact that the Suns’ 4-24 record means fans might welcome sending the team as far away as possible. But it’s shifted the debate from “Why should the public spend $168 million to profit a rich sports owner?” to “Where could the team move if we don’t?”, and in that, it’s certainly done its job.

Phoenix residents’ hate is so strong that council delays Suns arena vote to let them express it

Okay, I didn’t see this coming:

The Phoenix City Council is expected to delay a vote on a $230 million Talking Stick Resort Arena renovation following backlash from the community.

The council was slated to vote on the deal, which could keep the Phoenix Suns in downtown until 2042, Wednesday afternoon. But the council will now likely vote to delay the final vote until Jan. 23, allowing Mayor Thelda Williams to host two additional community meetings to solicit feedback before the council decision, according to city sources.

I mean, why do you even plan to rush through a vote to avoid public scrutiny, if you’re then going to turn around and delay the vote so there can be more public scrutiny?

The Arizona Republic report doesn’t say, but it sure sounds like Mayor Williams was having a hard time getting the needed six votes on the nine-member council, especially after news broke that Phoenix residents hate the arena funding plan with a fiery, all-consuming passion. More on this in the coming days, I’m sure.