Stop the presses! St. Louis business leaders have no real opinion on Rams stadium!

Not much new this weekend in the standoff between Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and state legislators over who’ll get to decide on a St. Louis Rams stadium deal, so I know what you’re thinking: Won’t anyone think of the local business leaders?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has your back, magnates of industry. Not that you really seem to care much:

Through press representatives, corporate executives either declined to discuss the stadium plan’s specifics or did not respond to requests from the Post-Dispatch to describe in detail their support, or absence of support, for the project.

The few who were willing to speak on the issue were on either side of the spectrum: enthusiastic supporter or sharp critic.

Let’s try to picture the editorial process by which this giant ball of nothingburger ended up in a major U.S. newspaper. Either the reporter in question pitched his editor on a story on how local business leaders feel about a new stadium, or the editor assigned it to the reporter, probably figuring, Hey, these are Important People, we can get a story out of this on a slow Sunday. Problem was, hardly anybody answered. But it was too late to fill the hole in the paper with some actual news, and the article was already written, so sure, “Business execs guarded on stadium proposal” is a news story if we say it is, right?

Where it becomes really problematic, of course, is when whoever it was made the designation of who gets to be Important People. There are any number of people in St. Louis that could have been contacted for equally ambiguous opinions — “Union leaders guarded on stadium proposal,” “Schoolteachers guarded on stadium proposal,” “Women with small children standing on line at local supermarket guarded on stadium proposal” — but business leaders are considered newsworthy just because they are, even though no one elected them, they don’t get any more votes than anyone else, and their opinion doesn’t matter any extra for economic reasons. (It’s not like the local Schnucks grocery chain is going to shutter all its stores and move to California if things don’t go its way, even if its execs had a way they wanted things to go.) It’s like a weird holdover of feudalism: When there are important decisions to be made, ask the local rich guy. We’ve ostensibly had representative democracy for the last couple hundred years, but it’s taking a little while for journalism to catch up.

Missouri senators say they’ll withhold Rams stadium cash; Gov. Nixon: I don’t need their stinking votes

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has been doing his best to assert that he’ll move ahead with his $400 million-ish St. Louis Rams stadium subsidy plan with or without anyone’s approval, suing to get out of any requirement for a public referendum, asserting that he can sell bonds without needing to ask the legislature first, and funneling as much money as possible through tax credits that he doesn’t need anyone’s permission for. He’s still going to need the state legislature to pay off any bonds, though, and key state lawmakers now say they’ll simply refuse to do so if he tries to go ahead without letting them vote:

House Budget Chairman Tom Flanigan sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Jay Nixon warning that he will block any effort to put money in the state budget for payments on a new stadium unless the Legislature or voters first approve the additional debt…

“Let me state that I am not opposed to a new stadium in the St. Louis region,” Flanigan wrote to Nixon. “However, I am opposed to using state resources, both tax credits and direct appropriations for debt service, for a new stadium before the existing stadium debt is paid for in full.”

Nixon promptly replied with some digits, and they were raised middle ones:

“The fact that — in the interim — four, five or six folks start talking about it out of a legislature with 200 people? They’re certainly entitled to say what they want,” Nixon said on Thursday. “But it is not going to dramatically affect continued progress we’re making in a taxpayer-sensitive way to move forward.”

When those “four, five or six folks” include the chairs of the budget committees that can block your legislation, I might not choose to be quite so flip about it, but hey, I’m not governor of anything.

Now, before anyone starts painting this as a major roadblock, note that the opposition senators (all of whom are Republicans, while Nixon is a Democrat, if you’re scoring at home) didn’t actually say they’d oppose the stadium funding, just that they’d do so unless they get to vote on it first. There’s clearly some opposition to spending public money on a new Rams stadium before the old one is paid off, but if the line in the sand is just “let us vote on it,” then there’s a clear path for Nixon to compromise. Or would be, if he weren’t dead set on belittling the legislators he needs in order to get this thing approved.

Meanwhile, the NFL relocation clock keeps on ticking, though no one has any clue how many minutes are left to go, or even what yard line any of the teams are on. At some point, presumably, the league is going to declare a two-minute warning (sorry, this metaphor just doesn’t want to die), and whether it’s a bluff or not, then we’re going to see things explode all over the place. I’d put the over-under around February 1, but feel free to set up a real betting line if you want to crowdsource this prediction.

Missouri actually identifies $280m in Rams funding, now only has $100m as “dunno yet”

The Missouri Development Finance Board has approved the first $15 million installment of those $50 million in tax credits Gov. Jay Nixon wants to give to the St. Louis Rams to help fund a new stadium. (The next two installments would come in 2016 and 2017.) That’s as to be expected, but the interesting part comes down in the fine print of the tax credit offering, which finally spells out how Nixon plans to cobble together $400 million or so in public stadium subsidies:

They have proposed to pay for construction with $450 million from the National Football League and the team that plays here, $201 million in bond proceeds from the state and the city of St. Louis, $160 million from the sale of seat licenses and $187 million in tax credits, according to the state application.

Let’s take those one at a time:

  • $201 million in bond proceeds is about what the state could get by refinancing the existing Jones Dome bonds: They have $18 million a year in hotel-motel tax money (approved for the last Rams stadium 20 years ago, which is now unconscionably old), and about $100 million in remaining debt on the dome, so if they can get an interest rate of around 4% they should be good to go there. It’s still doesn’t explain how the city will now pay off the convention center debt that it’s currently using some of the tax money to cover, but at least it exists.
  • While including $160 million from the sale of seat licenses as part of the public portion is a bold move, no doubt Rams owner Stan Kroenke is going to want PSL money to cover his share of the cost. So calling it public funding is going to be contentious, to say the least.
  • $187 million in tax credits: Whaaaa? The $50 million from the Missouri Development Finance Board is discussed above, and there’s been discussion of maybe $30 million in federal Brownfield credits. Other than that, if Nixon and friends have specified what other tax credits they’re thinking of, I’ve missed it (and so has Google).

In other words, we’re still looking at a funding gap of at least $100 million here, though presumably somebody has at least an idea of where to ask for it, even if it’s not completely public yet. And even then, we’re talking about only (“only”) $388 million in public cash, which, while more than the entire last stadium cost, is still less than Nixon had promised. Whether that’d be enough to make Stan Kroenke and the NFL happy enough not to move the team to L.A., assuming it all eventually gets approved, is the $388 million question — if nothing else, it should make for some interesting conversations in NFL board rooms along the lines of “Jeez, Stan, take the free money,” though you know no one’s going to say it out loud for fear of blowing the chance to shake Missouri down for even more.

(Or maybe Kroenke really will just require the people of St. Louis to build the stadium with their bare hands. Some things, after all, money can’t buy.)

Carson stadium design scraps lightning-bolt tower, what’s the point anymore?

The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders presented their Carson stadium plan to the NFL last week, and on Monday shared their trailer with the public. If you like swooping CG renderings and Kiefer Sutherland, it’s, well, got those:

It’s also missing something from earlier static renderings. Try to figure out what it is? (Er, without peeking at my headline.)

Previous plans called for a tower that extends 115 to 120 feet through and above the main concourse of the sleek, futuristic stadium. The tower’s cauldron would change depending on the team: simulated lightning bolts shooting out of a glass ball for the Chargers and a massive flame in honor of legendary owner Al Davis when the Raiders play…

Stadium backers confirmed that the design elements have been scrubbed from the plans. No reason was given, other than the previous renderings, released in April, were preliminary in nature.

Translation: Sure, we threw it in with the initial drawings, but it was too hard to do with our video software, let alone actually build. That would be crazy!

So farewell, giant Van De Graaff generator. We are sad to see you go, but not all that surprised, because that’s why they (okay, I) call i “vaportecture.”

CHARGERS - 02

New radio series explores WTF is up with all those new Atlanta stadiums

WABE radio in Atlanta kicked off a week-long series yesterday on the metro area’s multiple new stadium and arena deals for the Falcons, Braves, and possibly Hawks, and I had the honor of being one of the first guests, pointing out that while there are certainly cities that got worse deals (hello, Indianapolis!), that’s not really something to brag about. You can listen to the whole interview here.

More interesting to me (since I know what I was going to say already) is Thursday’s upcoming appearance by Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who will try to explain why it made sense to throw $300 million at the Braves to get them to move to a new stadium in the suburbs, plus maybe what’s up with that pedestrian bridge that won’t be ready in time to get fans from their cars to games, plus maybe the soaring ticket prices planned for the new place, plus even maybe why he secretly hired a lawyer with county funds to negotiate the Braves deal without even telling his fellow commission members, then lied about having done so. Come to think of it, I would have rather skipped my appearance yesterday and instead gotten to interview Lee. Now that would be some must-see radio.

Washington NFL team won’t change name for new stadium, still likely to have plenty of stadium offers

Bruce Allen, president of Washington’s NFL team, was asked yesterday whether the team would consider changing its ethnic-slur name if that proved a roadblock to getting a new stadium. Allen’s answer:

“No,” he said.

This is consistent with what Allen’s boss, owner Daniel Snyder, has said all along, so no huge surprise here. It’s likely to be a roadblock to getting a new stadium on the RFK Stadium site in D.C., however, notes ESPN, since the federal government owns that site, and would need to approve a lease extension in order for a new stadium to be built there, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is an avowed opponent of the team name.

This would hardly leave the team high and dry, since, as ESPN notes, “Governors in both Maryland and Virginia have said Washington’s nickname would not be an issue in trying to get a stadium built.” (The team can also always wait out Jewell and see if the next Interior Secretary in 2017 is more amenable.) Also, you know, the team already has a stadium in Maryland that’s just 18 years old. Apparently ESPN doesn’t think that’s remarkable enough to be worth mentioning, though, and given the way things are going in the NFL, maybe it isn’t.

Which NFL teams will go to LA? No one can predict, but here are some predictions anyway

I’ve been trying to think of what to say about yesterday’s NFL non-action around moving teams to L.A. or not — in short, the owners of the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers submitted presentations on the same L.A. stadium plans that we all already knew about, then no one decided anything — and while I was thinking, Barry Petchesky of Deadspin went and did it for me:

It’s a simple matter of math at this point. The NFL is going to move at least one team—Giants owner Steve Tisch says “it’s better than 50-50” that a decision will be made by the 2016 season—and Oakland is the only chopping-block city currently unwilling to offer its team’s ultrawealthy owners hundreds of millions of dollars to stay. Mark Davis has no attachment to the Bay; sentiment doesn’t factor into it.

Good for Oakland, honestly. It—like St. Louis, like San Diego, like every single American city—has much more important things to spend its limited funds on. But this remains sad news for Raiders fans, who seem likely to lose their team, possibly as soon as next year. It’s not fair, but the NFL has all the leverage, because if Oakland won’t make any concessions, there are other cities that will. The only way the stadium scam will ever be stopped cold is if politicians everywhere simultaneously decide sports leagues don’t deserve handouts. It’s hard to see that happening in the near future. It’ll be even harder when politicians look at football-less Oakland, and know the NFL will be more than happy to call their bluff.

Well, maybe. Undeniably, Oakland has the least close to anything resembling a viable football stadium plan: Whereas St. Louis is offering the Rams to go halfsies on a stadum and isn’t sure how it’ll come up with its half, and San Diego has a plan to pay for maybe a third of a stadium that the Chargers hated the minute it left the presses, Oakland has hopes that maybe one day there will be a plan that can actually debated, but not very strong hopes at that. So with three teams and five slots (counting L.A. as two), it’s hard to picture Oakland not ending up an empty chair when this is all over.

That said, it’s never as simple as all that. What happens next is the NFL owners all sit around and figure out how to decide on which teams should most logically move for next season — oh, sorry, they figure out how to exploit the current situation to make the most money. For the time being (the course of the 2015 season, certainly), that should mean speaking ever more loudly about how two teams will be moving to L.A. in 2016, in order to keep fans and elected officials in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland panicked that they not be one of the two.

What happens, though, if — okay, when — we get to January and the three non-L.A. cities are still all in their various states of incomplete deals? Sure, you can set ever-shorter deadlines, you can fly Roger Goodell into town to frighten the state legislature, but eventually you need to decide whether to have your bluff called or not. Which means deciding whether to take the offers on the table from existing cities, or selecting Door #2, whether that be Inglewood or Carson.

And here’s where we run into unknowns again, because we simply don’t have a clue how lucrative the L.A. market is compared to the certain cost of being on the hook for paying for virtually all of the cost of building stadiums in Inglewood or Carson. And for that matter, the NFL may not know either. It all remains a massive game of chicken with unreliable information all around, which is no doubt one reason why the league has been stalling as long as it can, in the hopes that somebody makes somebody an offer they can’t refuse.

If I had to guess, I’d see three options. In one, Rams owner Stan Kroenke gets approval to move to L.A., then either the Raiders or Chargers join them. Whichever team is left out immediately starts threatening to move to St. Louis in order to get a better deal out of it current home town. In the second, the Chargers and Raiders move to Carson as planned, and Kroenke probably takes whatever deal he can get in St. Louis, though he’d lose a ton of leverage at that point. (One reason why option one is more likely to be approved by the NFL.)

Option three is the status quo: The NFL owners can’t come to an agreement, and decide to let things drag on into 2016. I’m not sure I’d say it’s likely — there’s little to be gained from stalling much longer than they have already — but it is 100% possible. Just keep in mind that none of this has to do with what makes sense: It’s a bunch of people demanding ransom in a chaotic situation, and those can often end in unexpected ways.

SD issues new funding plan for Chargers stadium that’s slightly cheaper, Chargers hate on it even more

The city of San Diego has issued a new stadium proposal for the Chargers, a proposal that Chargers execs immediately dismissed as unworkable because it would require voter approval of a tax increase, and — wait, didn’t we just do this once before? We did? That’s what I thought.

Anyway, the latest funding plan from Mayor Kevin Faulconer, if anyone cares:

  • $200 million in cash from the city (raised via bonds)
  • $150 million in cash from the county (raised who knows how)
  • $362.5 million from the Chargers (from “net Stadium revenues,” i.e., out of their pockets)
  • $187.5 million from PSL sales
  • $200 million from the NFL’s G-4 program

That’s $1.1 billion, which is not actually as much as the $1.4 billion that was estimated in the previous plan, but all these construction cost numbers are fictional anyway, so why not? In the latest plan, the Chargers would be responsible for all cost overruns and all operations and maintenance costs — apparently Faulconer read that Voice of San Diego article too — and the city would not be on the hook to cover any shortfall in PSL sales, unlike the 49ers deal in Santa Clara, plans in Carson, and the disaster that hit Oakland with huge losses in the Coliseum renovation for the Raiders.

So we’d be looking at a semi-hard cap of $350 million in subsidies, as opposed to at least double that before, which is a step in the right direction. It’s not entirely clear from the mayor’s Powerpoint whether the team would still get $180 million worth of free land from the city, or whether there would still be a property tax exemption thanks to the public owning the stadium (but not any of the stadium revenues, which would all go to the Chargers), or who would get money from naming rights, or lots of other details. But still, at least the total public cost has come down a bit, thanks mostly to ditching the sale of another $225 million in land to a developer and pouring that into the pot as well.

Whether the reduced public cost would be worth it to San Diego is another story — but then, given that the Chargers owners have already rejected this plan, it’s probably a moot point. To me this still looks like a potential lose-lose for both sides — both San Diego taxpayers and the Chargers ownership could end up with red ink on their hands — which isn’t surprising, really, given that $1.1 billion is a hell of a lot of red ink to sop up with just the proceeds from selling snazzier luxury seating and the like.

Anyway, Faulconer’s report also included some new renderings of what the stadium vaportecture would look like, to distract you from all those numbers:

stadiumconcept007Um, yeah, that’s pretty distracting, all right. I guess once fans start falling to their deaths from those Jetsons space-bridges, no one will remember who paid what for the whole mess, right?

Old Chargers stadium costing San Diego a bundle in upkeep (but so would new Chargers stadium)

The city of San Diego released — okay, leaked — a report on Friday that maintenance to Qualcomm Stadium could cost between $259 million and $282 million. That’s money that won’t have to be spent on Qualcomm if it’s torn down after the Chargers move to a new stadium, so that’s a good reason to spend a few hundred million dollars on a new stadium, right?

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you can probably guess at the answer. First off, $282 million over 20 years isn’t the same as $282 million right now (San Diegans are actually being asked to pay between $650 million and $1 billion, but never mind that for the moment) — I’d guesstimate the present value is more like $170 million now, since some of the costs can be pushed off into Miley Cyrus’s first term in the White House.

More than that, though, there’s a huge omission in the city report. Did you spot it yet? The Voice of San Diego did:

When the mayor’s task force came out with its plan, the National University System Institute for Policy Research estimated we would lose $11 million or more per year in the same way.

Why? The task force had the Chargers paying big annual rents. But that money would go to paying off debt to build the stadium. That meant the city was on the hook for operations and maintenance.

The maintenance costs of new buildings are almost always overlooked in new stadium and arena deals, and all too often wind up coming back to bite cities in their municipal asses. There are other arguments that the city could help fund maintenance by holding more non-football events at a new stadium — because somehow tons of stadium acts would materialize if only the Chargers’ stadium were newer — but at this point, we’re way past any hope that a windfall of cash would result from swapping out an old stadium for a new one.

Except: There is one way that the city of San Diego could get out of maintaining any kind of football stadium at all. That’s to not have a football team. If the Chargers left for L.A. (or anywhere), then San Diego could knock down Qualcomm, sell the land to a developer or use it itself, and never have to worry about maintenance again.

Or the Chargers could just agree to a deal where they pay to maintain their own damn stadium. But if the NFL keeps insisting on operating the way it operates, it really shouldn’t be surprised if cities — or at least news sites — start replying with, “Sorry, not worth it at that price.”

49ers stadium sod is still a disaster, people are now blaming Taylor Swift

With another NFL season lurking menacingly on the horizon, it’s time to revisit the San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium with its perpetually awful field. Now that it’s had a full year to grow and put down roots, surely things are much improved now, no?

No:

Things eventually got so bad that the 49ers canceled Sunday’s open practice at the stadium, moving it to an adjacent practice field that has an actual, you know, field.

What is going on here isn’t exactly clear. The Bay Area Sports Guy blog notes that the 49ers are jamming in additional events to make money — both those open practices, which are free but a perk for the PSL holders that helped pay for stadium construction, and concerts, which are decidedly not free — but still, other stadiums manage to hold more than eight or ten events a year without having the grass fall out in clumps. Mike Florio of NBC Sports asks the question and then (predictably, because it’s Mike Florio) doesn’t attempt to answer it, and none of the Bay Area news outlets appear to have done a thorough investigation. So it’s possible that the 49ers have discovered a downside of financing billion-dollar-plus stadiums without major public subsidies — you have to squeeze every last dollar from other sources, which is tough on the sod — or it’s possible they just have a lousy grounds crew. Or, you know, that maybe the climate change that is soon going to kill us all is starting by ruining football.