Friday roundup: Fresh subsidy plans for Titans and WFT, Flames arena “paused” amid overruns, Boston Globe can’t stop clowning on Pawtucket for not wanting to spend $150m on stadium

Happy Friday! I have a ton of week-ending stadium news to bring you today, or at least there’s a ton of news out there whether I’m bringing it to you or not. What is it about that that is confusing?


  • Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, according to DCist, wants to use “some of” the county’s $1.6 billion in state funding this year to build — wait for it — “infrastructure improvements” for the Washington Football Team‘s stadium that would include “restaurants and places to shop.” It sounds like Alsobrooks is only talking about $17.6 million, maybe, but still this earns a Stupid Infrastructure category tag until proven otherwise.
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wants to use $2 million a year in state sales tax money (figure roughly $30 million in present value) for upgrades to the Titans‘ stadium, though actually it could end up being more like $10 million a year (figure roughly $150 million in present value) if more development is built around the stadium, plus he wants to give $13.5 million to Knoxville for its Tennessee Smokies stadium. Did Lee call this an “infrastructure” plan? Not that I can find in the Tennessean’s news reporting, but everybody drink anyway.
  • The Calgary Flames‘ $550 million arena plan, which already includes about $250 million in public subsidies, has run into $70 million in unexpected cost overruns and is now “paused” until the team and city can figure out who’ll cover them. Actually, the report is that the Flames owners are demanding $70 million, and previously the city and team agreed to split overruns 50-50, so maybe it’s really $140 million over budget? Either way, there’s already a petition to scrap the whole deal, though “trim a little from the team’s design and both sides kick in a little more money” seems a far more likely outcome, especially with Mayor Naheed Nenshi declaring it “far better to have these issues sorted out at this stage than to have unexpected cost overruns after construction has begun.” (Are known cost overruns actually better than surprise ones? Discuss.)
  • The Boston Globe, not satisfied with its glowing report last month on Worcester’s new stadium for the Red Sox Triple-A team (top farm club of the Boston Red Sox, owner of the Boston Globe), ran two separate opinion pieces this week slagging Pawtucket officials for not offering up $150 million in subsidies like Worcester did and thus losing their team: Dan McGowan, the Globe’s Rhode Island politics reporter, wrote, “Imagine what we could have had if our leaders showed even a tiny sense of vision” and “It too often takes only one politician to spoil a really good idea” while condemning “extremists on both sides of the [stadium] debate” who think a thing can be either good or bad (while also calling the Worcester stadium “great”). The very next day, Mike Stanton, a UConn journalism professor who writes occasionally for the Globe, wrote that former Rhode Island House speaker Nicholas Mattiello “rightly deserves blame for his role in killing the PawSox,” though he also blamed WooSox owner Larry Lucchino for “demanding extravagant taxpayer support for a new ballpark” and harming negotiations for, I guess, less extravagant taxpayer support? Anyway, the Globe wants you to know that Worcester has a shiny new baseball stadium and Pawtucket doesn’t, and let’s not speak of what else Worcester could have done with $150 million.
  • Six Republican Congressfolk — Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Marsha Blackburn, and Rep. Jeff Duncan — have cosponsored legislation seeking to end MLB’s antitrust exemption in response to the league pulling the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new voting-restrictions law. This is part of a long line of proposals to yank the league’s 99-year-old exemption from antitrust laws, which never seem to go anywhere; the last time by my count was when more than 100 Congresspeoples wrote a letter in 2019 threatening to rescind “the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime” if MLB didn’t back down on its plan to eliminate more than 40 minor-league franchises, a letter that was signed by none of Lee, Cruz, Hawley, Rubio, or Blackburn, all of whom were in office at the time. (SPOILER: MLB didn’t back down, and Congress did.) Waving the antitrust-exemption stick has become the standard way for federal representatives to express their anger at baseball over one thing or another, in other words, but actually using it is apparently beyond the pale, either because of partisanship or lobbyists or both, pick your poison.
  • Another U.S. representative, Georgia’s Buddy Carter, has introduced legislation — or maybe just drafted legislation and sent it to Fox News, he doesn’t seem to have actually submitted it to Congress — to block MLB from relocating non-regular-season events except in cases of natural disaster or other emergencies, under penalty of allowing local businesses to sue for damages for lost revenue as a result of the move. Which, as Craig Calcaterra notes, would be hilarious because it would put MLB in the position of having to argue in court that its events have no economic impact, which is pretty much the truth: “The evidence — like, all the evidence from multiple studies — would actually be on MLB’s side in such a case! And it’d likely win! And all it would cost MLB is the ability to continue to lie about how big an impact All-Star Games and stadiums and things have on local economies when it suits its interest.”
  • The Cincinnati Reds are offering discounted tickets to fans who can show they’re fully vaccinated, and Buffalo officials say the Bills and Sabres will be required to limit attendance to the fully vaccinated in the fall, though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’ll be the judge of that. Whatever the eventual admittance policies end up being, having going to things like ballgames (or traveling internationally) be less of a hassle if you wave your vaccine card seems likely to be the best way to encourage more people to get their shots, which is the only way to get to herd immunity, which is the only way to prevent lots more deaths and more re-closings of things like ballgames, so this is good news regardless of whether sporting events turn out to be insanely risky or relatively safe.
  • Finally, I can’t let this week pass without noting that the Buffalo Bisons, who have been temporarily relocated to Trenton to make way for the Toronto Blue Jays, who will be spending the summer in Buffalo thanks to Covid travel restrictions, will be playing their home games as the Trenton Thunder while playing road games as the Bisons. No word yet on how this Frankenstein monster of a franchise will be listed in the (checks revamped minor-league nomenclature) Triple-A East standings, though I wholeheartedly hope the Thunder and Bisons get counted as two different teams, ideally with players forced to wear fake mustaches in New Jersey and go by assumed names. “Marc Rzepczynski? No, he plays for Buffalo, I am of course Shmarc Shmepczynski, would you like my autograph?”

Friday roundup: How to tell a dump of a stadium from a marvel, and why “stupid infrastructure” should become a term of art

I have nothing introductory to say this week other than that I’m wondering if you kind FoS supporters would give me $2 million in 24 hours if I made more robots out of lacrosse masks. So on to the news:

Friday roundup: NFL to shop for overseas host cities, plus the attack of the no-good, terrible stadium names

How’s everyone doing out there? Did you, like me, spend much of yesterday watching baseball games and wondering why MLB bothers to have mask rules if half the fans are keeping their masks off at any given time, and then wondering if this is really the right thing to be concerned about rather than all the people who are leaving the game and going to indoor sports bars, and then wondering if disregard for mask rules is a reasonable proxy for being careless about going to bars as well? I hope not, because that is very much my job, and the mission of this site remains Thinking Too Hard About Things So You Don’t Have To.

Which is one nice thing about Fridays: No thinking too hard, because all the leftover news gets boiled down to a single bite-size bullet point, ideally with a quip at the end. It’s like pre-wrapped meals of stadium facts, and here’s this week’s assortment:

  • The NFL is adding a 17th game to its season, mostly so it can charge TV networks more for the extra game but also to create more games that can be played outside the U.S. to help increase the league’s international visibility, and the operators of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Vancouver’s B.C. Place have both said they’ll throw their hats in the rings. You can read my thoughts about Olympic Stadium here; suffice to say that it’s simultaneously perfectly serviceable and not at all what sports owners consider state-of-the-art at selling people things other than a seat to sit in. It’ll be very interesting to see whether the NFL makes its international game hosting decisions based on which markets it most wants to break into or which cities offer the snazziest stadiums. (Or which cities offer straight-up cash, that’s always a popular NFL move.)
  • Indy Eleven USL team owner Ersal Ozdemir got his approval from the Indiana state legislature this week to take more time on how to spend his $112 million in state stadium cash, and team officials replied that they will now take their own sweet to to “finalize the site” “in the coming months.” Given that Ozdemir at first asked for the cash so he could get promoted to MLS and then later decided, know what, maybe he’ll stay put in the USL and avoid all those expansion fees but still get the snazzy new digs, there is a non-zero chance that he decides to ask to use the money to build condos or a space laser or something.
  • The Henderson Silver Knights have sold naming rights to their publicly funded and owned under-construction arena (I know it doesn’t make any sense, this is just how naming rights are allowed to work in most of the U.S. with few exceptions) to the payday loan company Dollar Loan Center, which means the arena will now be called … also the Dollar Loan Center? Shouldn’t it at least be the Dollar Loan Center Arena? This seems like very confusing branding, among other things, though I guess it’ll at least be amusing when people use Google Maps to try to find places to get high-interest advances on their paychecks and end up at the Silver Knights ticket window.
  • Also in the terrible names department, we have the Miami Marlins cutting a deal with a mortgage loan company that starts with a lower-case letter, which is going to wreak havoc among sports department copy editors across the land. (Just kidding: All the sports departments have already fired all their copy editors, pUNCtuATE and spel tHiNgZ however U want!!1!)
  • Here’s some video of the under-construction Phoenix Rising F.C. soccer stadium, which when it was announced last December would be ready for 2021 I predicted would be “off-the-rack bleachers that can be installed quickly,” and which indeed looks exactly like that. No robot dog showrooms or giant soccer balls are visible, sadly, but the USL season doesn’t start for another three weeks, so there’s still time to find some off-the-rack robot dogs.
  • And finally, across the pond, Everton F.C. finally had its stadium plan approved by the Liverpool City Council, meaning the £500 million project can move ahead. The city is loaning a little over half that money to Everton’s billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri, but Moshiri is then supposed to repay it in actual cash with interest, so the only real concerns are why Liverpool needs to act as banker for a rich guy, and whether it’s a good idea to build an oceanfront stadium when the oceans are already starting to rise. Those other countries have such quaint problems compared to America’s!

Bills owners finally ready to demand $1B stadium like NFL and Cuomo keep telling them to

And here we go:

With a revised stadium feasibility study in hand, the Buffalo Bills are preparing to open discussions with state and local governments to determine whether to renovate the current facility or build a new home either near the existing suburban site or downtown.

“We’re ready to have the conversation,” Pegula Sports and Entertainment executive vice president Ron Raccuia told The Associated Press by phone on Tuesday.

“We hope to start quickly. Obviously, this is Easter Week and New York state is finalizing its budget. So those are two factors,” he added. “If we have to go to Albany or if Albany’s coming to us, or we’re going to Zoom, we’ll figure it out.”

The Buffalo Bills stadium saga has been long and weird since Kim and Terry Pegula bought the team in 2014, with the owners repeatedly putting off talk about replacing their 1973-built (but 2014-renovated, for $130 million in mostly public money) stadium even as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell insisted a new one was necessary and Gov. Andrew “Wandering Hands” Cuomo kept raising the issue and even appointed a state commission to look into where to build one. As recently as last month, there was speculation in the press — not in the Buffalo News, mind you, which has yet to meet a stadium proposal it doesn’t like — that the pandemic could put off any stadium talk for a bit. But now apparently the time is ripe, with the Pegulas dusting off a study from January 2020 and updating it for post-Covid economics, and ready to submit it to the state and Erie County to see what kind of checks it can shake loose.

The size of the checks could be pretty huge. In 2018, Erie County Executive Mark Polancarz estimated that a new stadium could cost $1 billion; a stadium study from 2014, according to the Associated Press, projected $540 million for the next series of renovations, “including structural improvements and rebuilding the stadium’s third deck.” (The new study, according to AP, also includes a request for “much-needed upgrades” to the arena occupied by the Sabres, another Pegula property.) The Pegulas have been pretty clear that Buffalo isn’t the kind of market where they can earn back a half-billion-dollars or so by jacking up ticket prices or requiring personal seat licenses, so the only way this makes sense is if they get a bundle of cash from the state, the county, or both.

Makes sense for them, that is. From the perspective of New York state and Erie County, there’s no way that dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into a new stadium could possibly pencil out, especially since the Pegulas’ purchase agreement requires them to keep the team in Buffalo. The argument for public funding of a new or renovated stadium, then, comes down to: Hand over a huge pile of taxpayer cash for a new stadium or else your football team will keep playing right where it always has.

But then, that’s how stadium talks so often go: Somebody starts out talking about the “need” for a new building, and soon the question becomes How do we pay for this? instead of Does it actually make sense to spend all this money for the marginal revenues it would bring in? The weird part in Buffalo has always been that it’s been the governor and local news media taking the lead (and Goodell, always Goodell) while the team owners drag their feet. But that now looks ready to change, and all will be right with the world again. The only question is whether the Bills owners will really try to sneak something into the current state budget at the last second, as Raccuia implied; given that the budget is due tomorrow, that seems like a reach, but maybe he figures dusting off a year-old study can get dibs on some of that $2 billion in stimulus money New York is set to get from Washington, or maybe that $2 trillion infrastructure plan Joe Biden is about to propose, before anybody gets any crazy ideas to spend it on things that don’t benefit billionaires.

Friday roundup: A’s stadium goes lopsided, another Cali soccer stadium stalls, plus how to skip rent payments and use them to fix up your own home

I’m very busy this morning, busy enough that one entire news item will have to wait till Monday when I can give it its due, but that means an extra post on Monday, so what are you complaining about, really? Anyway, there’s still plenty of stadium and arena news from this week, let’s have at it:

Falcons solve seat-license conundrum by selling tickets with no guaranteed seats

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, like many NFL owners, decided to require fans to buy personal seat licenses to be eligible to buy tickets for his new stadium when it was opened back in 2017. (He also got about $700 million in public money to help pay his construction bills, but that still left him about $900 million short.) Blank then had trouble getting Falcons fans to keep up with their PSL payments, as also often happens in the NFL, after fans realized that paying twice for the same tickets just to get to see crappy Falcons games was not such a great deal. The obvious solution would be to start offering some tickets for sale without asking fans to buy ticket-purchasing rights first, but how, since team officials had previously gotten fans to cough up for PSLs by saying they were the only way to get seats?

The answer, as revealed yesterday, is to get rid of the seats:

The Falcons plan to convert about 750 seats in Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a “super fan” section that won’t require personal seat licenses.

The seats, located in a lower-level corner, will be the only ones in the stadium to be offered as season tickets without a PSL fee. The section will be sold as general admission, meaning buyers won’t be assigned a specific seat.

A spokesperson for the Falcons’ parent company, AMB Sports & Entertainment, said the area will be “geared toward super avid fans” and “is expected to add to the energy level inside the stadium.”

I have no idea how the team will select for “super avid fans,” but no matter. The idea here is clearly to back away from PSLs while pretending you’re not, by making the section general admission and the ticket price thus technically not for “seats” but for “admission.” In fact, there’s another bonus for the team, though definitely not for fans: Falcons execs plan to sell 900 season plans for the section at $1,000 a pop, though there are only 753 seats; if more than that many people show up, the overflow will have to watch from standing room at an in-stadium restaurant. What super avid fan wouldn’t jump at a deal like that?

On top of this, about 140 PSL holders in the affected section will have to be relocated to other parts of the stadium, which will surely go over well after those fans paid $3,500 each to purchase what was supposed to be the rights to buy tickets to those specific seats in perpetuity. (The PSL contracts allow for to team to do this, but also allow for fans to be hopping mad.) This seems destined to be just one more data point in the sad tale of how PSLs are a way of scamming people for their inability to accurately predict the future value of an asset, and … oh, hey, this post almost ended without me mentioning Megatron’s Butthole, that was a close one!

Chicago sportswriters suffer outbreak of wanting to build the Bears a $7.5b suburban stadium

So the first article I happened upon this morning had this headline:

Arlington Park, Bears Could Give Chicagoland the Stadium It Needs

The impetus for this is that yesterday the owner of the racetrack in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights announced it was putting the track up for sale, and the writer of the article — NBC Chicago’s Adam Hoge — decided this would be a good opportunity to complain about how the Bears‘ completely-rebuilt-in-2002-at-$660-million-in-public-cost Soldier Field is a dump and needs to be replaced:

For a venue so perfectly placed between downtown and Lake Michigan, Soldier Field offers nothing in terms of convenience. It’s hard to access, with limited public transportation options and a less than ideal tailgating experience depending on where you’re lucky enough to park. God bless the fans who huddle together in the dark North Garage with the sweet smell of urine lingering in the cold air.

The only way to get to Arlington Heights by public transit is a commuter rail line, and it’s hard to see how building a new stadium will stop Bears fans from peeing where they park, but okay, I’ve read enough, it’s just this one sportswriters’ hobby horse. Probably not enough to glorify with an FoS post.

Let’s see, scroll down to the next stadium article in my Google News search, and what the

O’Donnell: It’s time for George S. Halas Stadium at Arlington Park

It is urgently incumbent upon regional politicians and civic planners to begin a campaign to get a global-class Chicago Bears stadium built as a profitable symbol of the rebirth of the 326-acre site…

Probable price: $7.5 billion.

Reasonable target for opening: 2027.

And oh my god here’s another one!

Okay, one article on a pipe-dream Bears stadium in the suburbs is just a single sportswriter stuck for a column idea on a slow news day; three articles on the same day means something is afoot. Unless Hoge, Chicago Daily Herald writer Jim O’Donnell, and the Arlington Cardinal’s unbylined blogger had dinner last night and hatched a conspiracy, clearly this idea is out there somewhere in the zeitgeist, and Chicagoland sportswriters are either picking up on it or agreeing to carry water for someone who wants this to happen. (Given that two of the articles are in suburban papers, I’m guessing either an Arlington-area politician or developer, but that’s purely a guess.) According to the Arlington Cardinal piece, there was some talk of a Bears stadium in Arlington Heights in the 1980s, but surely all the people involved in that would be dead now, right? Or is this some kind of Green Goblin thing where someone is trying to carry on his father’s evil legacy?

Regardless of the reason, there is now enough printed documentation for all future articles about the Bears’ stadium situation — which, let me reiterate, is that the team owners just got more than $600 million in public cash to, by all accounts, ruin a landmarked building — to include a line about a “rumored stadium in Arlington Heights.” Which can only make Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey happy, since it increases her leverage to seek whatever she might want, though given that she’s now 98 years old it’s hard to picture her waging a battle to open a new stadium in the year she turns 104. Until more facts emerge, I’m definitely suspecting the Green Goblin; though he lives in New York, so maybe it’s actually the work of one of these guys?

Friday roundup: Miami ripped off again by Loria, Rays roof removal proposed, America’s journalists snookered

I’ll keep this short today, in deference to any Texas readers who may be trying to save battery life thanks to that state’s power outages. Once your bandwidth is back, here’s a good reminder from the New York Times that climate change is expected to cause unseasonable cold snaps and winter storms as well as insane summer heat, so you have lots more of both to look forward to. Or, if you prefer, here’s an article on a similar theme from the Village Voice a few years back that I wrote a much snappier headline for.

Stadiums, right, that’s what you came here to read about! Let’s see what we’ve got:

Friday roundup: More crazy stadium subsidy demands than can fit in one headline, you call this a lull?

Every couple of weeks, it seems, someone in the comments predicts that we are about to see the end of sports’ 30-year surge in stadium and arena subsidies, either because of Covid-depleted budgets or legislators smartening up or just everybody already having a new place. To which I say: If the stadium scam is slowing, why are my Friday mornings still so #$@&%*! busy?

Ahem. And now, the news:

  • A lawyer for the South Bend Cubs, saying the team owners were “shocked” to discover that a law allowing them to siphon off up to $650,000 a year in sales and income taxes for their own purposes had expired in 2018, has asked the state legislature to renew it. Oh, and also increase the cap to $2 million a year. You know, while they have the document open on their screens. “South Bend and every other city that has retained their relationship with Major League Baseball have to get to a certain level by 2025,” said attorney Richard Nussbaum. “If they don’t, they risk losing the team.” It’s an epidemic, I tells ya.
  • Speaking of which, Hudson Valley Renegades owner Jeff Goldklang got his $1.4 million in stadium renovation cash from Dutchess County, after emailing residents and fans warning them that the team could move if it was denied the subsidy.
  • Fort Wayne F.C., which I had to look up to be sure it actually exists and which turns out to be a “pre-professional” (much in the way that kids are “pre-adults”) USL League Two club, is seeking to move up to League One in 2023 and wants a $150 million soccer-stadium-plus-other-stuff project, to be paid for by mumble mumble hey look over there! It also features an instant classic in the field of fans-throwing-their-hands-skyward-while-fireworks-go-off-over-soccer-players-not-playing-anything-recognizable-as-soccer renderings, which is worth $150 million if it’s worth a dime:
  • The Oakland A’s owners (not the Oakland A’s, I still remember when I was an intern at The Nation Christopher Hitchens lecturing us on how one should always say “the U.S. government” and not “the U.S.” because just because the government approved something didn’t mean the populace did, but anyway) won their lawsuit to allow their Howard Terminal stadium project to have challenges to environmental impact reviews reviewed on a fast track, which is a big thing in California. “This is a critically important decision,” said A’s president Dave Kaval, who indicated he hopes the Oakland city council will be able to vote on a stadium bill this year, presumably after it’s figured out who the hell would pay for what.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin wants to talk about building a new hockey arena to keep the Carolina Hurricanes in town long-term — their “old” one opened just over 21 years ago — and Sougata Mukherjee, the editor-in-chief of the Triangle Business Journal, points out that maybe now is not the best time what with 7% of the state not having enough to eat, small businesses on the brink, and, oh yeah, a pandemic still going on. Cue Hurricanes execs or their political talking about how a new arena will mean “jobs” in three, two…
  • While we wait, here’s San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Bryce Miller saying that San Diego should build a new arena to lure a nonexistent NBA expansion franchise because it would be “catalytic.” In the sense of the Oxford dictionary’s sample sentence for meaning 1.1, maybe?
  • Twenty years ago this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ and Steelers‘ Three Rivers Stadium was blowed up real good, only a little over 30 years after it was first opened. I went to a couple of games at Three Rivers over the years, and I agree with former Pirate Richie Hebner’s review that “the graveyard I work in during the offseason has more life than this place,” and the Pirates’ new stadium is one of my favorites. Still, it and the Steelers’ new stadium deserve the blame for popularizing tax kickbacks in the stadium financing world, after Pittsburgh voters passed a referendum barring any new tax money from going to new stadiums, and the state legislature responded by “loaning” the teams stadium money that would be “repaid” by taxes the state would be collecting anyway — prompting Pittsburgh state rep Thomas Petrone’s timeless comment: “It’s not a grant. It’s not a loan. It’s a groan.”
  • Phoenix restaurants are hoping that having partial attendance at Suns games will provide more happy hour customers, something that seems not only ambitious given the proven not-so-robust spinoff effects of sports stadiums, but also slightly heedless of whether it’s such a great idea to encourage basketball fans to congregate indoors and take their masks off to drink and then go directly to congregating indoors to watch the Suns. In entirely unrelated news, restaurants around the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium in Inglewood are afraid of being driven out of business by new high-priced options gravitating to serve well-heeled football fans.
  • Finally a partial explanation of how funding for that new Des Moines Menace soccer stadium would work: In addition to city funds, it would be up for state hotel-tax funds designated for projects that “improve the quality of life for Iowa residents.” Other projects proposed to dip into the hotel-tax pool include a Des Moines Buccaneers junior hockey arena, a private indoor amateur sports facility, and a new mall; is it just me, or does “quality of life” seem to have been interpreted as “ways to put money in the pockets of Iowa business barons”?
  • Hey, remember the $200 million highway interchange that Las Vegas is building, totally coincidentally, near the Raiders‘ new stadium? It is now a $273 million highway interchange. But the city needed to build it anyway, because traffic was too bad at the old interchange and, shh, don’t tell them.
  • Okay, here’s one way in which maybe the pandemic has delayed some stadium spending: The Baltimore Orioles owners have signed a two-year lease extension on Camden Yards, while also working with the Maryland Stadium Authority “to establish a new long-term agreement that includes upgrades to the facility,” according to WJZ-TV. So it’s possible some 2021 and 2022 sports subsidies will end up getting pushed back to 2023 or so — yay?
  • If you wanted a live webcam of construction on the new Knoxville stadium for the Tennessee Smokies that hasn’t even been approved yet, let alone started construction, the team’s new stadium promotion website has got you covered.

What time was the Super Bowl superspreader event?

The NFL held another Super Bowl last night, and as was discussed in the run-up to kickoff, there were widespread concerns that doing so with fans in attendance in Tampa’s stadium — and fans gathering elsewhere for Super Bowl parties — might set off a spike in coronavirus infections just like that other recent big mass gathering event did. How did America do?

Let’s start with inside the stadium, where the NFL allowed in 22,000 fans while augmenting them with 30,000 cardboard cutouts. There are roughly a billion articles today saying that this made the game look more crowded than it was; so how crowded was it?

That’s pretty crowded, even if you account for the few cutouts visible. Not to mention pretty sporadically masked. And while one of those two things might be acceptable in an outdoor space, the one proven way to spread the virus even outdoors is to be unmasked, close together, and singing or shouting.

But 7,500 of those fans were vaccinated health care workers! They’re just like cardboard cutouts, right, because now that they’re vaccinated, they can’t catch or spread the virus? Well, no:

“Currently, we do not have enough data to be able to say with confidence that the vaccines can prevent transmission,” [Dr. Anthony] Fauci said in a tweet during an online Q&A session. “So even if vaccinated, you may still be able to spread the virus to vulnerable people.”

The important distinction here is that while the available vaccines have been shown to be extremely effective at preventing people from getting extremely sick, they don’t actually prevent people from getting infected. And people who are infected but not sick can still spread the virus — there’s some early evidence that at least one of the vaccines dramatically reduces the number of people with active virus in their noses, which is a great sign that they’ll spread it less, but that still makes those vaccinated health care workers at best 67% cardboard.

Outside the stadium, meanwhile, things were if anything much worse, especially once the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers won:

Now, all this is outdoors, and the vast majority of coronavirus spread has been indoors, so maybe things will be more or less okay despite the lack of masks and close quarters, much like they were after last spring’s Black Lives Matter protests, though the protestors then seemed to be on the whole more consistently masked. We’ll find out in a couple of weeks, once we see whether virus levels spike in Tampa. (And other cities where people gather to watch the Super Bowl, which I understand happens even in cities without teams in the game!) And if it does, it could have a major impact on whether other sporting events like the MLB season or the Tokyo Olympics are considered safe for fans — assuming that either the leaders of sports leagues or elected officials use epidemiology and not businesses’ profit concerns as their guide, which is probably not a safe assumption at all.

Plus, of course, how much the virus spread last night will determine whether a whole lot of people get infected and die: not just the people at the game and the street parties, but the people who then get infected by them, and the people who get infected by them, and so on. One of the problems of public health and infectious disease vectors is that “I’m willing to accept the risk” is seldom a reasonable justification for risky behavior — your behavior can end up bringing sickness or death to someone you never even meet, just like that one poor person who went to a biotech conference in Boston last February and ended up leading to the infection of at least 245,000 people. If we’re lucky, that didn’t happen last night in Tampa; if we’re unlucky, allowing fans to celebrate the Super Bowl up close and maskless could end up costing us a shot at an earlier end to this pandemic.