Friday roundup: Battles over Blues arena, Vegas bond subsidy, Belmont land for Islanders

Let’s get right to this week’s remainders:

County may refuse to cut check to Bengals for $2.67m in stadium operations costs

Among the many, many terrible provisions in the Cincinnati Bengals‘ stadium lease (holographic replay systems!) is one that, in the last nine years of the lease, requires Hamilton County to pay for $2.67 million a year of stadium operating costs. County officials have been trying to renegotiate that clause for the past year, and have gotten nowhere, so instead it looks like they’re going to straight-up refuse to make the payment and see what happens next:

Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune told WCPO he has no plans of writing that check to the NFL team.

When asked if the Bengals are aware the county intends to ignore the request for payments, Portune said: “I think they know it’s coming.”

The Hamilton County administrator also did not include the payments in his proposed budget for 2018.

On the face of it, this sounds like a great way to get sued for breach of contract. (Portune says he has an “old opinion from the prosecutor” that the payments are illegal but can’t divulge it because of attorney-client privilege, which, that’s not how attorney-client privilege works, you know that, right, Todd?) But that may not actually be such a bad thing, for several reasons:

  • The Bengals’ lease only has nine more years to run, because the terrible, terrible lease only required them to stick around for 26 years rather than the 30 that is more standard in these things. So even if the team sues, and then threatens to move, they’re probably going to do that soon anyway, so might as well save $2.67 million a year in the meantime.
  • The rest of the deal, including that infamous state-of-the-art clause that the county has to buy the Bengals anything that other NFL teams get, is only going to get more expensive in coming years, as more NFL teams get other things that the Bengals don’t have. So if you’re going to break the lease, this is as good a time as any.
  • There aren’t any cities with newer stadiums out there for the Bengals to threaten to move to, so it would be a multi-year process for them to try to find one and get a stadium deal there, at which point the lease will likely be about to expire anyway.
  • Who knows, maybe the county really does have some kind of legal opinion that the lease clause is illegal? Anything is possible.

I don’t actually know if Portune is trying a “break up with the Bengals before they break up with us” gambit, but if so, it’s not a bad one at all. He told WCPO-TV that he’s hoping to start renegotiating a longer-term lease immediately rather than wait until 2026 is nearer, and this will certainly start the ball rolling in the right direction; given other recent lease extension deals, the county is probably looking at some pricey demands from the team owners, but may as well find out now. This is almost certainly going to involve move threats (or at least saber-rattling) from the team, and a huge uproar over which would be worse, Cincinnati losing its NFL team or throwing even more good money after bad on its stadium lease — but as we’ve seen before, you can’t win in the stadium negotiation game without playing hardball, so if that’s what this is, it’s a noble start.

Pontiac Silverdome finally blown up, more or less

The Pontiac Silverdome is down. Repeat: The Pontiac Silverdome is down.

Demolition company president Richard Adamo said his company “couldn’t find the cords we believe were severed” that foiled the previous demolition attempt, so they decided to “reload the building the shoot it again.” Which presumably means workers had to go back inside a stadium that was teetering on the brink of collapse to load it up with more explosives — that’s the video that I want to see.

(Also, it looks to me like this explosion only knocked down the top half of the upper deck. Enh, good enough for government work.)

Nobody’s watching football anymore, this is definitely a thing

The plague of empty seats just keeps spreading and spreading across the NFL. Next up, the Baltimore Ravens:

Thousands of fans are trying to resell their tickets to the sold-out game Sunday against the Detroit Lions at 71,000-seat M&T Bank Stadium via Ticketmaster, the team’s official resale outlet, or StubHub. Seats were available this week in almost every section; an $80 ticket for an upper end zone seat could be had for as little as $29…

“The Ravens are finding themselves in the same situation as a lot of NFL teams this year,” said T.J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Bel Air and California. “There is a disengagement by fans across the country stemming from the daily and weekly stories the NFL league office confronts.”

Brightman, and the Baltimore Sun, blame a laundry list of those “daily and weekly stories,” including: national anthem protests, revelations of traumatic brain injuries as a standard consequence of playing the sport, injuries to key players, ticket resale sites, and hi-def TVs. And if some of that doesn’t particularly make sense (TV ratings are down because more people are staying home to watch TV?), everyone is just throwing guesses at the wall right now, cut them some slack.

The photos available on the Sun site don’t actually show the wide swathes of empty seats that other teams have seen, and fans reselling their seats for a crappy game at a discount is nothing new to sports. Still, it’s an indication that Ravens ticket demand is softening, and the next step after this would be people just buying fewer tickets in the first place. It’ll be another few years before we really have enough data points to tell where this is headed, but let’s just say if you had your money on “football will be the new boxing in our lifetimes,” you’ve got to be feeling pretty good about that bet right now.

Pontiac Silverdome does not get blowed up real good at all

You know, let’s just watch and enjoy this first:

Yes, they tried to blow up the Pontiac Silverdome yesterday and failed. According to the demolition contractor as recounted by the Detroit Free Press, “roughly 10% of the explosive charges did not detonate due to a wiring issue.” Now they’ll have to either figure out a way to detonate those charges at a later date — which presumably wold mean fixing wiring in a building that’s on the verge off collapse, which doesn’t sound like a great idea — or taking a more traditional wrecking-ball approach, which also doesn’t sound great but is at least preferable.

And if that’s not enough fun for one morning, here’s the owner of a drone video company telling the Free Press why he hates filming building demolitions:

“It sounds like lobsters being put in a boiling pot, the steel lets out a high-pitched scream,” he said. “It’s definitely sad.”

Stadiums marked for death scream like lobsters being boiled alive! Happy nightmares, everybody.

Friday roundup: Austin MLS vote, Rays demand $650m in subsidies, Islanders renderings, more!

I’m busy trying to figure out whether Congress is really going to rewrite the tax code to give a couple of trillion dollars to rich people or will melt down at the last second like it did with healthcare repeal, so this’ll be in superbrief mode this morning:

Indianapolis Colts’ roof gets stuck, clearly they need a new one

It’s no secret that I am not a football fan — I never was much of one, and League of Denial put the nail in that coffin — and so I’d forgotten until now that the Indianapolis Colts‘ Lucas Oil Stadium has a retractable roof. Or at least had one until yesterday, when half of it decided to get stuck:

They finally got it closed a few minutes ago (11:40 am, according to the Indianapolis Star), but you just know this is going to lead to the Colts demanding a new stadium, since it’s been nine whole years since the team built this one with $715 million in public money. I’m joking, I think, but given that this is Indianapolis, maybe not.

Georgia Dome torn down at age 25, because that’s how we 21st-century Americans roll

The Georgia Dome got blowed up real good this morning, and let’s take a moment to watch that now:

If you’re thinking, “Man, future generations are going to wonder why we expended an enormous carbon footprint to build giant buildings just to knock them down again,” you’ll be pleased to know that the Georgia Dome’s entire existence on Earth was just slightly over 25 years, meaning it didn’t even live as long as all those rock stars who died young.

Which brings up the question: Where does the Georgia Dome fall on the all-time list of sports venues that were demolished while their paint was still dry? My first thought was the Miami Arena, since the Heat moved out after just 11 years, but it hung around hosting arena football and minor-league hockey until 2008, when it was put down at age 20. Another building from the late ’80s NBA expansion class managed to beat it out for planned obsolescence: The Charlotte Coliseum opened in August 1988 and was torn down in June 2007 (here’s its snuff video), which makes it the only sports venue I can think of that didn’t even make it out of its teens.

The commonality among all these buildings is … not much. They were all erected in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the basketball teams griped that their arenas didn’t have enough in the way of luxury suites — but Georgia Dome had plenty of premium seating. If anything, the common thread is that team owners thought they could get away with demanding new buildings, and did. As sports economist Rod Fort told me shortly after Miami abandoned its old arena at age 11, “I don’t see anything wrong, from an owner’s perspective, with the idea of a new stadium every year.” He may yet live to see it happen.

Friday news: Phoenix funds Brewers but not Suns, brewers float crowdfunding Crew, and more!

So, so much news this week. Or news items, anyway. How much of this is “news” is a matter of opinion, but okay, okay, I’ll get right to it:

  • Four of Phoenix’s nine city council members are opposed to the Suns‘ request for $250 million in city money for arena renovations, which helps explain why the council cut off talks with the team earlier this week. Four other councilmembers haven’t stated their position, and the ninth is Mayor Greg Stanton, who strongly supports the deal, meaning any chance Suns owner Robert Sarver has of getting his taxpayer windfall really is going to come down to when exactly Stanton quits to run for Congress.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Milwaukee Brewers will remain there for spring training for another 25 years under a deal where the city will pay $2 million a year for the next five years for renovations plus $1.4 million a year in operating costs over 25 years, let’s see, that comes to something like $35 million in present value? “This is a great model of how a professional sports team can work together with the city to extend their stay potentially permanently, which is amazing, and we’re doing it in a way where taxpayers are being protected,” said Daniel Valenzuela, one of the councilmembers opposed to the Suns deal, who clearly has a flexible notion of “great” and “protected.”
  • And also speaking of Phoenix (sort of), the Arizona Coyotes are under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly having “spied on staff, engaged in union busting and fired two employees who raised concerns about pay.” None of which has anything directly to do with arenas, except that 1) this won’t make it any easier for the Coyotes owners to negotiate a place to play starting next season, when their Glendale lease runs out, and 2) #LOLCoyotes.
  • A U.S. representative from Texas is trying to get Congress to grandfather in the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium from any ban on use of tax-exempt bonds in the tax bill, saying it would otherwise cost the city of Arlington $200 million more in interest payments since the bonds haven’t been sold yet. (Reason #372 why cities really should provide fixed contributions to stadium projects, not “Hey, we’ll sell the bonds, and you pay for whatever share you feel like and we’ll cover the rest no matter how crappy the loan deal ends up being.”) Also, the NFL has come out against the whole ban on tax-exempt bonds because duh — okay, fine, they say because “You can look around the country and see the economic development that’s generated from some of these stadiums” — while other sports leagues aren’t saying anything in public, though I’m sure their lobbyists are saying a ton in private.
  • A Hamilton County commissioner said he’s being pressured to fund a stadium for F.C. Cincinnati because Cincinnati will need a sports team if the Bengals leave when their lease ends in 2026 and now newspapers are running articles about whether the Bengals are moving out of Cincinnati and saying they might do so because of “market size” even though market size really doesn’t matter to NFL franchise revenues because of national TV contracts and oh god, please make it stop.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says the proposed Oakland A’s stadium site has pros and cons. Noted!
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Calgary Flames‘ arena “needs to be replaced” and the team can’t be “viable for the long term” without a new one. Not true according to the numbers that the team is clearing about $20 million in profits a year, but noted anyway!
  • Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is set to announce his proposal for city subsidies for F.C. Cincinnati today, but won’t provide details. (Psst: He’s already said he’ll put up about $35 million via tax increment financing kickbacks.)
  • The Seattle Council’s Committee on Civic Arenas unanimously approved Oak View Group’s plan to renovate KeyArena yesterday, so it looks likely that this thing is going to happen soon. Though apparently the House tax bill would eliminate the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which the project was counting on for maybe $60 million of its costs, man, I really need to read through that entire tax bill to see what else is hidden in it, don’t I?
  • The owners of the Rochester Rhinos USL club say they need $1.3 million by the end of the month to keep from folding, and want some of that to come from county hotel tax money. Given that the state of New York already paid $20 million to build their stadium, and the city of Rochester has spent $1.6 million on operating expenses over the last two seasons to help out the team, that seems a bit on the overreaching side, though maybe they’re just trying to fill all their spaces in local-government bingo.
  • There’s a crowdfunding campaign to buy the Columbus Crew and keep them from moving to Austin. You can’t kick in just yet, but you can buy beer from the beer company that is proposing to buy the team and then sell half of it to fans, and no, this whole thing is in no way an attempt to get free publicity on the part of the beer company, why do you ask?

Handicapping Deadspin’s “Worst Stadium Scam” Vote

Deadspin is holding its second annual Deadspin Awards, and among the categories, you will be excited to know, is Worst Stadium Scam. And it’s set to be a tight race, with these candidates, not all of which are technically from 2017, but let’s not nitpick:

  • The Raiders robbing Las Vegas
  • The Flames trying to rob Calgary
  • The Falcons robbing Atlanta
  • The Louisville Cardinals robbing Louisville
  • FC Cincinnati robbing Cincinnati
  • The Pistons and Red Wings robbing Detroit

Even though these seem mostly selected by which stories were covered by Deadspin in the last year (Nashville SC robbing Nashville didn’t make the cut, nor did the Cavaliers robbing Cleveland), that’s a pretty solid selection. The Raiders and Falcons stand out for the scale of the subsidies — the Raiders will get $750 million in state cash while paying zero rent, while the Falcons will end up getting almost that much over time — and the Falcons have the bonus scamminess of hiding $400 million of their payday in a “waterfall fund” that will keep paying out long after the stadium’s opening. The Flames and FC Cincinnati haven’t been successful in their shakedowns yet, but are notable for trying (and failing) to get a more team-friendly mayor elected in the former case, and for demanding subsidies on the grounds that their owner has never asked for them before so he’s due in the latter. The Red Wings and Pistons are getting about $350 million in public money from a bankrupt city (or from a state that is otherwise starving a bankrupt city, at least), while the Louisville basketball arena deal is just a nightmare without an end.

I’m not going to reveal how I voted, except to say that it was a tough decision, and I won’t be unhappy at all if one of my second choices takes home the prize. Go cast your ballot now, and give extortionate corporate behavior and terrible public policy the shiny trophy it so desperately deserves.