Friday roundup: San Diego gets arena developer (and vaportecture), horses play piano, and other stories

Happy Sebtembler! Things were a little quiet for much of the summer, what with the entire world shut down and it seeming like a bad time for rich dudes to ask for hundreds of millions of dollars for their new buildings, but as Josh Harris has shown, nothing lasts forever. Except rich dudes asking for hundreds of millions of dollars for their new buildings, that will go on until the world actually ends, which is at least a few more decades away.

Anyhoo, here are some other things that happened this week in the world of stadium-grubbing:

  • San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has chosen a team led by Brookfield Properties and ASM Global to build a new arena and associated development, with the arena to be paid for by building more housing units, somehow? Is housing that profitable that it can spin off hundreds of millions of dollars in extra revenue to pay for a new arena? If so, shouldn’t the city just be charging more for the right to build all this super-lucrative housing? This all sounds suspiciously reminiscent of the Los Angeles Angels land deal, except no one in San Diego politics or journalism seems interested in investigating how the money will actually work, so I’m clearly going to have to do some more digging and report back. In the meantime, jam everything but the kitchen sink into your sports venue deals, kids, it’s the best way to make sure sports reporters get bored by the financial details and wander off!
  • Let’s also not let the moment pass without commenting on San Diego’s new arena vaportecture, which mostly features … people shopping? People wearing, I guess those are San Diego Gulls t-shirts, some with the logo on the front and some on the back, depending on whether the shopper in question is walking toward or away from the camera. Do you think they coordinated that somehow? Also the Ostro Brasserie appears to be a branch of a restaurant in New Zealand, Ungar’s is a wholesaler of packaged pizza bagels, and Migdal is an Israeli insurance company. This is a really weird mall!
  • Sacramento is short on tax revenue to pay off bonds on its Kings arena and convention center, but honestly that’s just another way of saying that it spent a bunch of money that it didn’t need to and now the chickens are coming home to roost when “don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of tax money” isn’t working out so well. Would it be any better if the city had spent the same money on the arena and then received enough tax revenue to pay it off but couldn’t then use that money for other needed things? Please submit your persuasive essays in comments.
  • Big arenas are joining with smaller music venues in support of the RESTART Act, which would extend the Paycheck Protection Program to help companies pay their furloughed workers, and also provide Small Business Administration loans that would be forgivable for the amount of any losses that venues had in 2020. That doesn’t seem too terrible — music venues are indeed getting creamed by the shutdown, and will likely be among the last things to reopen — but at the same time, there are lots of funny things you can do with your books to show “losses,” so this is worth keeping at least one eye on, especially given that no one in power seems much interested in doing so.
  • I haven’t actually been able to get myself to finish reading this item about the Philadelphia 76ers arena subsidy plan, because I can’t get past its opening line: “Josh Harris is like a horse trying to play the piano… he hits every wrong note.” Is that really what a horse trying to play the piano would do, though? Wouldn’t it fall over from trying to stand on its two hind legs? Shatter the keys with its hooves? Now I can’t think of anything other than how horrifying for all concerned it would be to watch a horse trying to play the piano — pass the RESTART Act now, or we may never see such a sight again!
  • I wanna read this new book on the perils of sports fandom, and not just because I’m in it!

Have a good long weekend, everybody, if that’s still a concept that means anything, and see you back here on Tuesday refreshed and ready to go.

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Friday roundup: Sacramento faces cuts to pay arena debt, Henderson approves arena debt, music festival to be held in phantom Yankee Stadium parking lot

Sorry, getting a late start today, let’s get straight to the news without delay:

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Here’s a bunch of ways rich sports owners are looking to get pandemic bailouts

The owners of the Los Angeles Lakers have voluntarily returned $4.6 million in refundable government loans they received as part of the Payroll Protection Program—

Hold up, let’s try that again.

The owners of the Los Angeles Lakers, a sports franchise worth an estimated $4.4 billion that turns an annual $178 million profit, asked for and received $4.6 million in federal government loans as part of its Payroll Protection Program for small businesses. (The loans convert to grants if recipients keep their current employees on payroll through the end of June.) Like other prominent companies that took advantage of the PPP program — Shake Shack, Potbelly, Ruth’s Chris friggin’ Steakhouse — the Buss family that owns the Lakers chose to return the money “so that financial support would be directed to those most in need” once they realized they’d bum-rushed the subsidy line and edged out actual small businesses, and also probably realized that the PR hit from doing so would have been worth way more than a relatively piddling $4.6 million in government grants.

That a billionaire sports family got approved for small-business loans should be alarming, but not surprising: The federal government has already approved more than $2 trillion in spending to help Americans hit by the coronavirus-spawned economic crash, and it’s all but inevitable that some less-needy Americans would put in applications as well — the feds define “small businesses” based in part on how many employees they have, and sports teams don’t employ a ton of people on payroll. And it’s also inevitable that they’d also be among the first to be approved, since programs like PPP are first-come first-served and rich folks are more likely to have lawyers on staff who know how to file paperwork fast, as well as established bank connections that made them more likely to get approved.

In fact, sports team owners are working many angles to get a cut of the Covid stimulus bailout cash, just as less-deep-pocketed individuals are as they try to figure out whether to consider themselves unemployed gig workers or entrepreneurs in need of cash to keep themselves on payroll. Among the ways:

  • The Sacramento Kings owners are renting out their old empty arena in Natomas for $500,000 a month to the state of California for use as a field hospital, which is the same rent the state is paying for other temporary facilities, but maybe a tad disingenuous given that Gov. Gavin Newsom previously praised Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé as “an example of people all stepping in to meet this moment head-on” without mentioning that he’d be getting paid for his selflessness.
  • The owners of the D.C. United MLS team are part of DC2021, an advocacy group of Washington, D.C. business leaders lobbying the district for “a massive new tax relief program” to help the local restaurant, hotel, and — apparently — soccer industries survive the economic shutdown.
  • The stimulus measures approved by Congress weren’t all expanded unemployment benefits and checks with Donald Trump’s name on them; they also reestablished a tax loophole involving what are known as “pass-through entities” that will allow mostly wealthy people to save $82 billion on their tax bills this year. The biggest beneficiaries will be hedge-fund investors and owners of real estate businesses, a list that obviously includes lots of sports moguls: Just owners of hedge funds who also control sports teams include Milwaukee Bucks co-owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik, and a pile of others.

Now, not all of this should be considered a fiasco: In the case of the PPP in particular, Pat Garofalo notes in his Boondoggle newsletter that the money is intended to keep low- and moderate-income workers from being laid off — the reimbursements top out at $100,000 per employee — and people who work for sports teams or chain restaurants are just as deserving of keeping their jobs as those who work at genuine small businesses. The main problem with PPP is that Congress massively underfunded it, then made it first-come first-served, then left it up to banks to decide who to approve — okay, there’s actually a lot here to consider a fiasco, but sports team owners deciding to fill their wallets at the same firehose of cash as everyone else is far from the worst part of it.

As for some of the other bailout proposals, though, sports owners come off looking a lot less innocent. That DC2021 plan pushed by D.C. United owner Jason Levien, for example, includes such things as tax holidays for corporate income taxes and property taxes, which Garofalo notes won’t help most small businesses that don’t turn large profits or own land.  (Levien, you will not be surprised to learn, is not just a sports mogul but also a real estate investor.) And the pass-through tax break is almost entirely a sop to millionaires and the Congresspeople who love them, which though it doesn’t single out sports team owners, certainly helps many of them given that they’re far more likely to invest in pass-through companies than you or I.

I’ve said this before, but it really is worth harping on: The recovery from the pandemic is already involving a ton of government spending, and will unavoidably involve a ton more, since the feds are pretty much the only institution that has the power to keep food in people’s mouths during this crisis. (At least until the U.S. Mint is deemed a non-essential business.) This will invariably create winners and losers, both in terms of who gets what money and in terms of who ends up paying off the government debts that are being racked up now. There’s no way to avoid this involving subsidies — pretty much the whole idea of government spending to prevent an economic crash is about creative use of subsidies — so what you want to shoot for is fairness, where you have the most money going to companies and individuals who were most hurt by coronavirus shutdowns, and the least to companies and individuals that just were able to lawyer up the fastest.

Individuals who were most hurt except, of course, for Miami Heat and Carnival Cruises owner Micky Arison, who may have lost more than a billion dollars thanks to the collapse of the cruise industry, but who also lobbied the Trump White House to let them keep sailing even after it was clear that cruise ships were perfect Covid incubators. The cruise industry was notably left out of the stimulus bills, and while that’s more about the fact that they all registered as foreign businesses in order to duck U.S. taxes than their owners being money-grubbing jerks who prioritized profits over public health, I think we can all agree: Screw those guys.

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David Stern, who made sure Kings extorted Sacramento for cash instead of Anaheim or Seattle, has died

Former NBA commissioner David Stern died yesterday at age 77, three weeks after suffering a brain hemorrhage, and much of the coverage was along the lines of this:

Stern, wrote NBC Sports BayArea’s James Ham, rejected attempts by the Maloof family to move the team to either Anaheim or Seattle and “forced [them] to acquiesce and chose to re-enter negotiations with Sacramento on a potential new arena.” Ham quoted a Stern statement from 2016 that he’d told skeptics in the NBA office, “You know, guys, I used to do this when you were kicking the slats out of your crib. We’re going to keep this team in Sacramento. Between the mayor and the new owners, we’re getting that arena built. And stop, because now you’re pissing me off.”

That isn’t quite how it went down, though, or at least not the whole story. In the case of the Anaheim relocation in 2011, Stern gave the Maloofs plenty of rope to propose a relocation, but the owners got cold feet after they didn’t like the lease and TV rights deals being proposed. The Maloofs then proposed a new arena deal in Sacramento, which failed in a public vote after the owners themselves switched to opposing it. In 2013, attention switched to Chris Hansen’s bid to buy the team and move it to Seattle, but Stern carefully tempered his comments, noting that the NBA constitution requires taking into consideration “support for the team in the prior city” and any possible arena upgrades there before approving a move; the commissioner also repeatedly urged Sacramento buyers to up their bids for the team, and Sacramento city officials to guarantee public subsidies for a new arena, under pain of a potential move. Yes, eventually the NBA owners voted down the Seattle move, reportedly after Stern advocated for the team staying in Sacramento — but Stern was advocating for the team to stay after using the move threat to extract a higher purchase price and more arena subsidies, which is a different thing altogether. And even after the Kings’ future was supposedly secured in Sacramento, Stern wasn’t above rattling sabers about the team moving to Seattle after all if an arena wasn’t built posthaste.

And too, let’s not forget that Stern was in part behind Seattle losing its NBA team a few years earlier, blaming local officials over and over again for not “supporting” the Supersonics by building them a new arena, and threatening that “if the team moves, there’s not going to be another team there, not in any conceivable future plan that I could envision, and that would be too bad.” (Which could be another reason Stern was opposed to letting the Kings move there: It would have made it look like he wasn’t serious about his threats.)

Tramadol is a prescription-only drug at https://foamcast.org/tramadol-for-pain-relief/. It helps, even if Ketorolac is ineffective. Relief after the injection comes almost immediately. It helps diabetics cope with joint and bone pain.

The point here isn’t to badmouth Stern after his passing — after all, his job was to be NBA commissioner, and trying to leverage both new owners and cities for the most cash possible is exactly what the NBA owners were paying him to do. And he certainly seemed to have a more coherent strategy for it than some other sports leagues I could name. But it’s important not to let rose-colored mythologizing get in the way of actual history: David Stern was a guy who, faced with a bunch of owners looking for a quick cash grab from a move, replied, Calm down and let’s see if we can keep the team in town and get the money and also keep another potential expansion target in reserve, because that’s how you make the real money. Now stop, because you’re pissing me off. R.I.P.

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Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

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Friday roundup: Bucks say arena can fight racism, Rays in line for federal tax breaks, Falcons to get glowing bridge

Slow news week thanks to the holiday, but there were still a few items of note:

  • Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin thinks his new publicly funded arena will help fight segregation because it’ll have a public plaza. The Chicago Tribune notes that the Bucks owners once released a strongly worded statement of support for one of their players after he was tased by Milwaukee police, so … nope, I don’t get the connection either, unless this reporter was assigned to cover Feigin and couldn’t find much else to say about his bizarro statement, so just googled “Milwaukee and race and basketball” and dumped the results into a Word file.
  • The Sacramento Kings owners are going to use computers at their arena to mine cryptocurrency for charity, which mostly serves as an excuse for the team to issue a press release mentioning themselves in the same sentence as blockchain, because we know that’s a thing. Too bad the earth is going to burn as a result, but everything’s a tradeoff, right?
  • Ybor City, where the Tampa Bay Rays want to build their new stadium (price and funding still TBD), has been tabbed as a federal “economic opportunity zone,” meaning developers can use it as a short-term tax shelter for profits that are reinvested into the area. The program is way too complicated for me to calculate at the moment just how much U.S. taxpayers would end up paying toward a Rays stadium, but suffice to say it’s one more piece of the funding puzzle that team owner Stuart Sternberg doesn’t have to worry about himself.
  • Speaking of the Rays, they’ve announced they’ll release new renderings of their stadium plans next Tuesday, which I guess makes this announcement itself vaporvaportecture?
  • The Atlanta Falcons pedestrian bridge that will now cost Atlanta residents $23 million is going to glow! And who can put a price on that, really?
  • Since it was a slow stadium news week, here’s a bonus article on how Nevada giving $1.4 billion to Tesla to open a battery factory there is looking to be a disaster, with the state ending up losing its entire budget surplus while new workers attracted to the area have driven up rents and increased local government’s police, fire, and schools costs, leaving residents with a higher cost of living and fewer services. One unemployed local who was forced to move into a motel room listed for the Guardian things she now considered unaffordable luxuries: “Ice cream. Bacon. A movie ticket.” It’s a fun weekend beach read!
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Friday roundup: Beckham stadium opposition, Arizona bill to block “disparaging” team names, and oh, so many soccer stadiums

So. Much. News:

  • F.C. Cincinnati CEO Jeff Berding says the team still hasn’t decided among stadium sites in the Oakley and West End neighborhoods and one in Newport, Kentucky, while it awaits traffic studies and whatnot, though the team owners did purchase an option to buy land in the West End to build housing for some reason? Still nobody’s talking about the $25 million funding gap that Berding insists the public will have to fill, but I’m sure they’ll get back to that as soon as they decide which neighborhood hates the idea of being their new home the least.
  • Here’s really sped-up footage of the final beam being put in place for D.C. United‘s new stadium.
  • Indy Eleven is officially moving this season from Carroll Stadium to the Colts‘ NFL stadium, but hasn’t figured out yet whether or how to lay down grass over the artificial turf. Might want to get on that, guys.
  • San Diego is looking at doing a massive redevelopment of the land around its arena, and as part of this isn’t extending AEG’s lease on running the place beyond 2020. This is either the first step toward a reasonable assessment of whether the city could be getting more value (both monetary and in terms of use) for a large plot of city-owned land, or the first step toward building a new arena in some boondoggle that would enable a developer to reap the profits from public subsidies — Voice of San Diego doesn’t speculate, and neither will I.
  • Some Overtown residents are still really, really, really unhappy with David Beckham’s Miami MLS stadium plans for their neighborhood, and have been getting in the papers letting that be known.
  • “Can stadiums save downtowns—and be good deals for cities?” asks Curbed, the official media site of tearing things down and building other things to turn a profit. You can guess what I say, but you’ll have to wade through a whole lot of self-congratulation and correlation-as-causation from the people who built the Sacramento Kings arena to get there.
  • Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg is still seeking as much as $650 million in stadium subsidies, with local elected officials holding secret meetings with lobbyists to make a project happen. WTSP’s Noah Pransky reports that “commissioners told 10Investigates there remains little appetite to make up the nine-figure funding gap the Rays have suggested may be needed to get a stadium built,” though, so we’ll see where all this ends up.
  • Arizona state rep Eric Descheenie, who is Navajo, has introduced a bill that would prohibit publicly funded stadiums in the state from displaying any team names or logos that local Native American tribes consider “disparaging,” which could make it interesting when the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Black Hawks, or Washington RedHawks come to town.
  • The U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible racketeering and other charges around bidding on major sports events, including American consulting firms that may have helped Russia get the Sochi Olympics and this year’s soccer World Cup. If they can’t find enough evidence to prosecute, they’re not watching enough TV.
  • I didn’t even know there was a surviving Negro League baseball stadium in Hamtramck, Michigan, let alone that there was a cricket pitch on it. Who’s up for a road trip?
  • The town of Madison — no, not the one you’re thinking of, the one in Alabama — is looking to build a $46 million baseball stadium with public money because “economic development.” They’re hoping to get the Mobile BayBears to move there, at which point the Huntsville region will undoubtedly become the same kind of global economic engine that is now Mobile.
  • An East Bay developer wants land in Concord (way across the other side of the Oakland Hills, though developing like crazy because everything is in the Bay Area right now) that’s owned by the BART transit system, and says they’ll build a USL soccer stadium if they can get it. Have you noticed that like half of these items are about soccer these days? Of course, half of all sports teams in the U.S. will be pro soccer teams soon the way league expansion is going, so that’s about right.
  • Here’s a map of failed New York City Olympic projects and how they helped Mayor Michael Bloomberg ruin neighborhoods. Sorry, did I say “ruin”? I meant “improve,” of course. This is from Curbed, after all.
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NY Times business section cheers urban stadium trend, doesn’t seem to know why

The New York Times has a weird affinity for big sweeping articles about the stadium industry that don’t quite justify their declarative headlines, and the latest one ran in Friday’s business section under the headline “Welcome to the Neighborhood: America’s Sports Stadiums Are Moving Downtown“:

Across the country, in more than a dozen cities, downtowns are being remade as developers abandon the suburbs to combine new sports arenas with mixed-used residential, retail and office space back in the city. The new projects are altering the financial formula for building stadiums and arenas by surrounding them not with mostly idle parking lots in suburban expanses, but with revenue-producing stores, offices and residences capable of servicing the public debt used to help build these venues.

There is a germ of truth in this: Yes, more stadiums and arenas are being built near city downtowns instead of out in the suburbs, the Atlanta Braves‘ new ballpark notwithstanding. That’s true of everything, though, not just sports — we’re in the middle of what’s been dubbed the Great Inversion, a decades-long process where people are increasing moving back to cities instead of out of them. (For “people,” here, read “people with money and options” — plenty of people continued to live in and especially immigrate to big cities even in the 1960s and ’70s.) So yes, there are lots of mixed-use urban developments being built around sports venues, but there are plenty built even with no stadium, or even when a stadium was planned and not built. “America’s Sports Stadium Builders Jumping on Urban Land Rush Bandwagon” might have been a fairer headline.

On top of that, the Times article tries to counterpose the traditional business model where “owners threatened to move their teams if governments did not build them new stadiums along with the roads and public utilities needed to operate them” against the new downtown development trend. But plenty of urban ballpark districts have gotten public funding after team owners threatened to move — hell, the Sacramento Kings arena that is the article’s centerpiece is getting $226 million in public subsidies that were approved only after the team owners threatened to move the team to Seattle.

There are plenty of good things about building sports venues near urban centers: They’re easier to get to by public transit, they support more economic development in cities (such that they support much of any at all), and in general they promote the idea that cities are good places to live and work and go see high-priced entertainment. They also take up valuable land that could better be used on buildings that aren’t dark a couple hundred days a year, displace residents and businesses, and by promoting the idea that cities are good places to live and work and go see high-priced entertainment, spark gentrification and force out the city residents who are supposed to benefit from all this alleged economic development in the first place. The urban-stadiums trend is not a simple good, in other words — and it certainly has nothing to do with any shift away from public stadium subsidies, even if some urban stadium developers are using ancillary land grabs to help pay for their construction costs.

If you want one paragraph that neatly sums up the Times’s perspective, this quote from Kansas City city manager Troy Schulte on that city’s publicly funded downtown Sprint Center should do the trick:

M. Schulte acknowledges that although tax revenue from the district is steadily increasing, it is not clear that enough will be generated to cover the debt service. “But from the perspective of economic development and economic resurgence,” he said, “it’s the best $300 million we’ve ever spent.”

Urban sports venues: They don’t pay off for cities, but they’re still great! Your paper of record, people.

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Friday roundup: Atlanta Falcons’ non-retracting retractable roof now can’t even keep rain out

Crazed billionaires are shutting down our nation’s news media when employees try to assert their rights, so let’s enjoy journalism while we still have it with another week in news briefs:

  • The Saskatchewan Roughriders‘ old stadium got blowed up real good.
  • The developers who want to build a $15 million modular stadium for the NASL team San Diego 1904 F.C. haven’t actually filed a development plan yet with the city of Oceanside.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ non-retracting retractable roof has already sprung a leak.
  • Asked by the New York Post about the New York Islanders‘ bid to build a new arena on state land near Belmont Park, team owner Jonathan Ledecky replied, ““I think we’re circling the airport, just waiting to be given a landing clue,” which doesn’t actually mean anything at all that I can tell, but it sure is an evocative image. Then he pointed to the team’s new $7 million practice facility on Long Island, with a “world-class chef” for players, as “emblematic of what we can do if we were granted the right [to build] at Belmont.”
  • Sacramento city officials want to use the Kings‘ old arena, now vacant after Sacramento built the team a new arena, as a temporary convention center while the city conducts a $125 million renovation of its regular convention center. The arena is an arena, not a convention center, and it’s still owned by the Kings owners, not the city, and I’m sure this is all going to go just swimmingly, no need to be concerned at all.
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Sacramento Kings arena to offer “rich door” for nearby condo owners

Sports venues with separate entrances for luxury-seat holders are old news by now, but sports venues with separate entrances for condo owners across the street from the building, like the Sacramento Kings are about to have — that’s a new wrinkle:

“I don’t want to sound snobby—you could go and stand outside, but why would you when you have the opportunity to go through a VIP tunnel?” asked Christopher Miller, vice president of The Agency Development Group, the broker handling sales for the building. “You’re not going to wait in line, you’re going to walk right in. It’s a level of exclusivity that you and your family are going to enjoy.”

The tunnel, which runs from the residents’ parking garage to the stadium’s VIP lounge, will be accessible to all residents and their guests. Ownership of any condominium at The Residences at The Sawyer, Miller said, comes with access to the VIP lounges and seating for Kings home games. (Concerts, which are generally run by a promoter that rents the arena, are a different story.)

(Nice touch, developer guy, for prefacing your pitch to give condo buyers a special tunnel to go to sporting events without having to rub elbows with the masses with “I don’t want to sound snobby.”)

The Bloomberg article on this is awfully vague, so it’s not clear whether condo owners are actually getting free admission to Kings games, or just the ability to buy tickets for Kings games and go there through your own private passageway. (If the former, presumably the developer is paying the Kings for the tickets.) Either way, this doesn’t seem like the best sales pitch, honestly — how many people are really going to pay enough extra for this to make it worth more than you’d get from just selling those tickets to the general public — but hey, knock yourselves out, developers. Unless any city of Sacramento money went to provide this tunnel access, in which case, ew.

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