Cleveland residents could vote in May on $160m in new tax subsidies to Indians, Cavs, Browns

One of the drawbacks of the Googlocene is that everything hangs on keywords; and so, because it didn’t come up in my various searches on “stadium” and “arena,” I completely missed Tuesday’s raucous Cuyahoga County council hearing about putting a measure on the May ballot to extend alcohol and cigarette taxes for 20 years and give the proceeds to local sports teams.

As a refresher: Back in the 1990s, Cuyahoga County built a passel of sports venues for the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers, funding them primarily with tax surcharges on cigarettes, beer, and wine. (Upside: Drinkers and smokers don’t have organized lobbying groups. Downside: “Sin taxes” hit the poor far harder than the rich, who can only drink so many snifters of cognac.) Those taxes are set to expire next year, and the local sports teams see this as a great opportunity to get even more public money for upgrades to their facilities — everything from new water heaters to “replace obsolete scoreboard system,” which I guess fails to meet modern standards of humongosity — without “raising taxes,” since extending taxes that were set to expire doesn’t get counted as raising taxes for some reason.

Under the new plan, the sin tax would be extended for 20 years, raising about $13 million a year that would be directed to the teams. The Cavs and Indians are looking to go roughly 50-50 with that money, though the Browns are expected to demand something as well, albeit a lesser amount given that the Browns are already getting $2 million a year in added city subsidies for their own stadium renovations. The total present value would be about $160 million if the sin tax keeps bringing in the same revenue as it does at present, possibly more like $200 million if inflation causes it to rise.

The original leases on the three venues require the county-owned Gateway Corp. to pay for maintenance on the buildings, and Gateway officials insist that if the sin tax extension isn’t passed, the county would need to either raise the funds some other way, or risk having the teams break their leases and potentiall move elsewhere. That seems a pretty minor risk — there aren’t any open baseball or basketball markets close to Cleveland’s size (#18 in the Nielsen rankings), and while NFL teams don’t care as much about media markets, the Browns just got their own boodle to keep them happy — but it’s apparently the main justification for throwing a couple hundred million dollars in new money at Cleveland’s sports team owners.

The council is set to vote on holding a public ballot measure by the first week in February; if it’s approved as expected, then we should have quite the fun next three months talking about all the economic and ethical ramifications of this. Or just about the power of yes.

Vikings stadium lawsuit dismissed, bond sale back on track

The Minnesota Supreme Court abruptly dismissed the lawsuit against the Vikings stadium deal yesterday, so abruptly, in fact, that you can still view the headline for the story that the Pioneer Press pulled down for the “Lawsuit dismissed” version in its URL. (Looks like the now-disappeared story was “Vikings Stadium Deal Could Collapse Without Quick Ruling.” So much for that.)

With the suit dismissed, the state of Minnesota can now move ahead with selling $468 million worth of bonds to finance the public’s share of the project (the part that isn’t city operating subsidies, free land, and property tax breaks, anyway). The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority will have to do some juggling to pay its bills the next couple of weeks until the bond sale goes through, but that shouldn’t be too big of a problem — especially not compared to the far bigger temporary shortfall the state will be facing in a couple of years.

Watch the Metrodome roof deflate on Saturday, you know you wanna

That whole thing about the lawsuit that’s keeping Minnesota from selling Vikings stadium bonds notwithstanding, the team’s old Metrodome home is still being dismantled, with the seats ripped out and the turf pulled up so far. Next up tomorrow morning is deflating the roof, and you can watch it via the Vikings website right here. Though right now it appears to be a still photo, so tough to say what you’ll see tomorrow, let alone when (they haven’t set a deflation time yet).

Either way, it’s never going to be as awesome as this, so let’s just watch that again.

49ers agree to share parking boodle with local lot owners, may avoid MNF ban

Remember how the San Francisco 49ers weren’t going to be able to play any weeknight home games because they didn’t have enough parking? Problem solved, says the San Jose Mercury News:

The Niners now are close to locking down 31,500 total parking spots within walking distance of 69,000-seat Levi’s Stadium by the time it opens in August. That’s a 50 percent jump from the plan voters approved years ago and a 66 percent increase over infamously jam-packed Candlestick Park.

That “close to” is a tad worrisome — it looks like the only source for this claim is the 49ers themselves — but if it can be believed, it sounds like the 49ers threw enough parking money around that local business owners (and a city-owned but privately operated golf course) decided it would be worth their while to set aside spots for football fans. So yay, capitalism works in this case, and the NFL schedule makers don’t have to jump through hoops. And 49ers fans only have to pay $40 for parking, which is I guess what football fans pay for parking these days? I’m starting to understand why they’d rather stay home and watch on TV.

Minnesota demands $50m bond from filers of Vikings lawsuit

A quick clarification of yesterday’s story about the lawsuit that has temporarily halted Minnesota Vikings bond sales: While plaintiffs Douglas Mann, Linda Mann, and David Tilsen originally argued that the state was illegally using city tax money without holding a public vote, that case was dismissed in November on the grounds that the state legislature explicitly overrode Minneapolis’s public vote law as part of the stadium legislation. The latest lawsuit, rather, charges that using city funds to pay off debts that are “not peculiarly for the benefit” of the city is illegal under the state constitution.

In any event, the state Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority fired back at the Manns and Tilsen yesterday, asking the state supreme court to dismiss the suit as “frivolous,” and asking that the plaintiffs be required to post a $49.7 million bond to cover losses the project may face from any delay. That’s a hefty chunk of change, and appeared to take Douglas Mann by surprise, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

When told of the nearly $50 million bond request, Mann, a registered nurse and former candidate for Minneapolis mayor, replied only after a long pause. “I haven’t been served with any papers, so I won’t have any comment until then,” he said.

Whatever you think of the merits of Mann’s case, it is a bit problematic if only people who have $50 million sitting around can file legal challenges against state actions. (Though I suppose it’s also problematic if citizens can cost the state millions of dollars by filing nuisance lawsuits.) The Star Trib doesn’t give any indication of where the state came up with that $49.7 million figure, but hopefully the court will ask that question, and questions about whether the state is just trying to bully its way out of a legal challenge, before deciding on the state’s request.

Vikings bond sales halted at last minute under lawsuit threat

Perennial Former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Douglas Mann’s lawsuit against the Minnesota Vikings stadium project, which charges that the state’s end run around a Minneapolis law requiring voter approval of stadium spending was illegal, has been burbling along for a while now without attracting too much attention. That all changed yesterday, however, as state officials announced that today’s planned sale of bonds for the stadium would be delayed until a court can rule on Mann’s request on Friday for a “petition for a writ of prohibition.”

This wouldn’t seem like a big deal, given that demolition of the Vikings’ old stadium is already underway, presumably using either money from the team or cash raised by the state’s cigarette tax windfall, neither of which requires bonds. But the state’s head of the stadium project was still in full panic mode yesterday:

“Major problems will result from any significant delay,” Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, said Sunday in a conference call that also included state Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter. The authority will own and operate the $1 billion stadium slated to open in July 2016 on the Metrodome site.

“We will be short $28 million if we are not able to pay our bills [without bond proceeds] … by the end of the month. Architects and Minnesota companies have done work in the past month and submitted bills due at the end of January,” said Kelm-Helgen. She said bond funds need to be available by Jan. 23 to avoid delays that could postpone the stadium opening for a year.

That sounds to me a bit like an attempt to arm-twist the courts into a quick decision — give us our money by January 23 or Vikings fans will have to spend another season watching football outdoors. If it’s legit, though, it’s just another indication of how Minnesota officials really haven’t thought through having enough money to pay off their bills at the time that they’re due. You’d think that a bill hastily cobbled together over a weekend after the NFL commissioner made vague threats about moving the team wouuld be better thought out than this.

Dolphins have new stadium reno plan — oh wait, no they actually don’t

Hey, so what’s going on with those Miami Dolphins stadium renovations that the Florida legislature declined to fund last spring, aside from team owner Stephen Ross trying to punish those who voted against him by running attack ads? Hello, Miami Herald headline!

Dolphins “working hard” on new approach for stadium redo

Ooh, there’s a new plan? What does it look like?

“We are having a lot of discussions about the best ways to get to that,” he told the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce during a panel discussion on the local sports industry. Afterward, Garfinkel told reporters: “We are working hard on trying to put together a timeline and a plan on how we can get this accomplished.”

He offered no specifics, and made his initial remarks in response to a question from the panel’s moderator, Jeff Bartel.

The Herald referred to this as “talk of a new stadium push.” I’d call it “licking your wounds and putting on a brave face when forced to answer a moderator’s question.” Potato, potahto, right?

Charlotte Observer now serving as Panthers’ p.r. department on city-funded stadium upgrades

The Carolina Panthers have announced what they plan to do with the $87.5 million the city of Charlotte gave them last year for stadium renovations, and in one of the most egregious cases of stenography journalism in a long while, the Charlotte Observer chose to cover this by running a Storify consisting entirely of tweets from the team like this one:

But seriously, the Observer has to have covered this with a real news story, right? Okay, here’s one, and it consists of … just a summation of what the Panthers said, with the only quotes coming from team president Danny Morrison. (Though at least it does mention that the renovations are being paid for mostly by the city.) Not that this calls for a major investigation — the story today is the details of the renovation plans, not the funding plan — but it would be nice to give at least a hint of analysis of what the public is getting for its cash. Though really, who can put a price on the public benefit of seamlessly integrated escalators?

Socializing sports could work, but wouldn’t necessarily end stadium subsidy demands

So Alex Pareene of Salon wrote an article on Friday in which he argued that the only solution to the problem of greedy, dumb sports team owners is to nationalize sports teams. It’s a legitimate argument — certainly no worse than nationalizing Facebook, especially since there you’d face a conundrum over which nation should do it — and there are plenty of examples of public- or community-owned teams that have operated successfully. But then Pareene pulls out the favorite object lesson of socialized sports everywhere, the Green Bay Packers:

We already have an example of what this would look like in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, a publicly-owned team operated as a non-profit corporation. It has been a stunning success, with the person in charge of all football decisions having that authority not because he made a lot of money in direct marketing or real estate, or because his father owned the team, but because of his experience and expertise in football. Nationalized teams would be free of unscrupulous, meddling owners. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t continue to be massive money-makers, though now that money would be going toward the communities that follow and love the teams, and not random lucky billionaires who usually don’t even live in the same state.

First off, the Packers aren’t “publicly owned” in the sense of being owned by the public; they’re a not-for-profit owned by more than 100,000 people, which is an odd model, but probably was marginally less odd back in the 1920s when the team was first set up. Fans buy shares in the Packers, and get nothing back except the right to elect a board of directors — not altogether unlike how some European soccer teams operate, albeit through a slightly different mechanism. The team plows profits back into operating costs and a reserve fund, which currently sits at around a quarter-billion dollars.

All of which is well and good, but when Pareene suggests that Packerizing all of pro sports would help eliminate “extortionate threats to move that encourage public funding,” he’s forgetting something:

On Sept. 12, 2000, Brown County voters by a 53-47 percent margin agreed to tax themselves for the $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field, a project that Green Bay Packers leaders said was crucial to the future of the franchise…

D. Richard Parins, president of the [Brown County Taxpayers Association], said the Packers and their supporters won the campaign by threatening that the franchise would leave town otherwise. That so frightened football fans, he said, that they agreed to embrace the tax increase.

Admittedly, this might be harder to pull off if all sports teams were owned by the public, since it would make it harder for team execs to argue that they need subsidies because all the other kids are getting them. But it is a reminder that greed and self-interest aren’t the sole property of rich owners, even if rich owners are really good at them.

To really address that, you’d need to take up Pareene’s other, less flashy suggestion: national “legislation banning public funding of arenas for teams in the big four leagues.” There’s even model legislation ready to go! Though I suspect that Pareene’s suggestion that a presidential candidate could become “an instant presidential front-runner” by pushing for such a law overlooks the connection between presidential front-runnership and corporate fundraising…

Bucs want a bigger new scoreboard, Tampa claims public won’t pay

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are planning to build an even more expensive scoreboard than the one included in a previously approved $18.7 million upgrade package, but according to the Tampa Tribune, Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his family say they’ll pay for the additional costs out of their own pockets:

“Rather than just do the improvements that were initially budgeted, they wanted to do something more grandiose on their dime,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, a member of the sports authority board.

Of course, Hagan is the guy who previously said that hosting a single college football championship game would create nearly 2,000 new permanent jobs (after “skimming” some studies on the subject), so we might want to double-check his claims. Unfortunately, the Glazers aren’t talking, so it’s too soon to say whether the “on their dime” claim is true, especially given the complicated funding scheme for Raymond James Stadium maintenance and improvements. Stay tuned.