Georgia Supreme Court to hear appeals of Falcons, Braves bond sales

The Georgia Supreme Court has set oral argument dates for the lawsuits against the stadium deals for the Atlanta Falcons (Monday) and Braves (next February). And … that’s about all I can tell you, because the Atlanta Journal Constitution story is behind a paywall, but if you’re an AJC subscriber, you can no doubt read more.

Okay, I can give you a little background: The two suits are actually appeals of the bond issuance for the stadiums, which means the bonds can’t be sold until they’ve been cleared.

None of this appears to have stopped construction from moving ahead — check out the Falcons’ construction photos, with all those, um, whatever they are already having been built — presumably because the teams have enough cash on hand to start things off with the bond money. But if either appeal is successful, then we’re entering uncharted waters, to say the least.

Western NY voters oppose subsidies for Bills stadium by more than 3-to-1 margin

After much asking of where a new Buffalo Bills stadium should be built, somebody finally asked local residents if they think their tax dollars should help pay for one. And the answer was resoundingly negative:

The poll found 71 percent of all respondents were opposed, 21 percent in favor and 5 percent undecided. That likely comes as little surprise, given the challenges facing western New York, and a national economy emerging from recession with a disgruntled electorate.

“When we’re having the problems that we’re having, that (a new football stadium) is kind of ridiculous,” said poll respondent Carol Saj, 74, of Penfield. “We just put a ton of money into the one that’s up there.”

This wasn’t the Buffalo News doing the poll, of course, because the Buffalo News doesn’t admit that whether to build a new stadium is even a question that should be asked in polite company. Rather, it was the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, which hired a polling firm to do a telephone poll of 500 Monroe County registered voters.

[EDIT: As should have been obvious to me when I wrote this, the D&C not only isn't in Buffalo, but didn't even poll Buffalo voters — Buffalo is in Erie County, not Monroe. (Rochester is in Monroe.) That makes this telephone poll even more feeble, though it's still marginally relevant in that it's all New York state taxpayers who are expected to foot at least part of the bill for a new stadium, just as they did with the renovations to the current one.]

The D&C blames the recent NFL domestic violence and brain injury scandals for the stadium’s poor showing, but really, it should come as no surprise, as New York taxpayers just paid a bundle for renovations to the Bills’ old stadium, and even that was pretty unpopular. You’d almost think that voters are generally opposed to public subsidies for private sports venues — but nah, nobody around the newsroom thinks like that, so that can’t be right.

Falcons owner to Beckham: Sharing digs with an NFL team can be fun and rewarding!

And finally, Atlanta Falcons and as-yet-unnamed Atlanta MLS expansion team owner Arthur Blank thinks that David Beckham’s MLS expansion team should share a stadium with the Miami Dolphins:

Here’s what Blank had to say when asked if Beckham’s team should stadium share with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and the University of Miami’s American Football team.

“Yes,” Blank told reporters. “It’s a challenge Beckham has to overcome. It’s important he finds a balance between the commercial side and the special, emotional atmosphere you want for a soccer stadium.”

Is Blank actually telling Beckham that he should throw in the towel on a new stadium and move into the Dolphins’ old place once it’s finished being renovated? Does he think maybe the Dolphins still want to build a new stadium, and could share with soccer? Has he completely forgotten that the Dolphins are doing renovations, and just assumes that every NFL owner is in the middle of building a new stadium, or will be soon? This is the guy who runs an organization that thinks London is in Spain, so anything is possible.

London wants the NFL, but there are good reasons why the feeling may not be mutual

Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer (Best. Title. Ever.) George Osborne has promised to do “anything the government can do” to get an NFL team for London, which means of course that everybody is talking about when the NFL will put a team in London now. So, mission accomplished, mister chancellor of the exchequer!

The answer to “When will the NFL put a team in London?” meanwhile, is “Don’t hold your breath,” as Travis Waldron points out over at ThinkProgress:

Given existing concerns around moving a team to Europe, it is also possible — and probably more likely — that London has become the NFL’s next Los Angeles, a city used as a threat to hang over the heads of cities that it and its teams think need new stadiums…

There are myriad logistical issues standing as hurdles to such a move, including how to work bye weeks and address travel and competitive concerns. Where the team would play is also an unanswered question: while Wembley Stadium has made an attractive host thus far, it’s unclear whether a full NFL slate would fit into its schedule or its size, and it’s also less than certain that Premier League soccer club West Ham United would want to share the Olympic Stadium, a more suitably-sized venue that has been floated as a possibility.

But London is really huge, right? Wouldn’t any team jump at the chance to move there, assuming they got a stadium to play in and a vacuum train to get them there?

Possibly not, because of the strange finances of the NFL. Having high ticket demand is all well and good, but given that you only need to sell maybe 70,000 tickets eight times a year, a city the size of London is really overkill when it comes to creating enough ticket demand. Besides, in the NFL the real moneymaker is national TV revenue, and you can get a slice of that just by suiting up to have your heads bashed in. London, England, London, Ontario, London, Ohio — after factoring in TV money and revenue sharing, the amount of money you’ll make by operating a team there isn’t nearly as dramatically different as it would be in any other pro sport.

But wait a minute — wouldn’t putting a team in the UK be a terrific marketing opportunity for the NFL, and possibly lead to a lucrative new TV contract in Britain? Maybe so, but that’s for the NFL, not an individual team owner. If the league agreed to give a team relocating to London the lion’s share of UK TV money, perhaps, or otherwise compensated them for being the league’s European loss leader, then this might be able to work. But that would require complicated negotiations among all the teams to decide what’s fair, and even then you have to find an owner who’d rather be a guinea pig in London than to sit back in whatever U.S. burg they’re in and collect Fox checks. It could happen eventually, but probably not tomorrow.London as a bogeyman for NFL move threats, though? That’s a no-brainer. Besides, as I told Waldron:

“The great thing about move threats like this is that they can work both ways,” said Neil deMause, who follows stadium development news at his site, FieldofSchemes.com (and has co-written a book by the same name). “If talking up London as a potential NFL site works to get interest from an existing owner or an expansion owner, then great. Suddenly you’ve got interest, and a few years down the road, if it works out, then you can move ahead with it.

“If it doesn’t, then it’s still great, because you’ve talked about London so much that other teams can use it as a threat. It’s exactly how it’s worked with Los Angeles.”

Oakland gives Raiders another 90 days to turn pockets inside-out hoping stadium money falls out

You’re going to have to hold your breath a little bit longer to see any start at a resolution of the Oakland Raiders and A’s bipartite stadium battle: After the Raiders brought in some new investors to their Coliseum City vaportecture project, the Oakland city council last night voted to give the team a 90-day extension in which to finalize plans for a new stadium on the Oakland Coliseum site.

And that should be no problem, because as Newballpark.org points out, here’s all that Raiders owner Mark Davis has to work out to make his vision a reality:

  • Sign at least one tenant, preferably the Raiders to start

  • Engage the A’s and Warriors (even though neither team is interested)

  • Provide deliverables and reports that haven’t been completed yet (deal terms, financing, 2nd phase market analysis)

  • Bring in a master developer

  • Line up needed capital for stadium phase and ancillary development phases

  • Figure out who pays for the remaining debt at the Coliseum and Arena (if necessary)

  • Gather support of the JPA and Alameda County

Piece of cake! Three months is way more than enough time to win $750 million at Powerball, right?

 

Dodger Stadium “in play” as temporary NFL venue, says [out of characters, remainder of message omitted]

We have officially reached Full Hype Machine with the NFL-to-Los Angeles rumor: Following on human full hype machine Mike Florio reporting on Sunday that the NFL “plans” to put a team or two in L.A. in the next year or two, the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer has now tweeted this:

That’s, okay, “interesting” is a decent word for it. Some items of interest that presumably didn’t fit in a tweet: Who told Farmer this? Why would a team (or two) want to play at Dodger Stadium instead of the L.A. Coliseum or Rose Bowl? Does “temporary” mean while a new stadium plan gets approved, or while it gets built after it’s approved? All ripe topics for further investigation by the sports media.

Or, you know, the sports media could just do this. And this. And this.

Someone in NFL office says league plans return to L.A. soon, maybe, ARE YOU LISTENING OAKLAND AND SAN DIEGO?

Today (okay, actually Sunday night) in completely unsourced rumors/trial balloons being leaked by league-friendly sportswriters:

Per a league source, the current plan is that the NFL will send one or two teams back to Los Angeles within the next 12 to 24 months.

The timeline would include a team announcing its intention to move in the 2015 or 2016 offseason, with arrangements to play at the Rose Bowl or the L.A. Coliseum pending the construction of a new stadium.  Possible sites for a venue in L.A. include the AEG project at L.A. Live in downtown, the land purchased recently by Rams owner Stan Kroenke at Hollywood Park, Chavez Ravine, and a couple of locations that have not yet been publicly disclosed. Ed Roski’s shovel-ready site at City of Industry is not regarded as a viable destination.

Is Mike Florio’s report true? Who the hell knows! This is someone with the league saying the “plan” is to go back to L.A. soon — does this mean that it will only happen if a stadium deal is approved first, or that this is an attempt to shake loose a stadium deal, or even that this is an attempt to shake loose stadium deals in other cities? Florio specifically mentions the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, and San Diego Chargers as relocation targets, though it’s unclear whether he got this from his anonymous NFL source or if he’s just spitballing himself.

There’s even less detail here than in the last unsourced NFL-to-L.A. report, so probably best just to move along and forget Florio ever said anything. Except as an indication that the NFL really wants you to think of L.A. as a relocation threat for your team, if you needed reminding.

AEG faces deadline for landing NFL team, asks for new deadline

And speaking of L.A., AEG wants another six months on its option to build an NFL stadium by the L.A. Convention Center, because it’s sure not going to do anything by the October 17 deadline. NFL VP Eric Grubman wrote to the Los Angeles Times in a statement yesterday that the league is “encouraged enough by recent progress that we share AEG’s view that continued conversations would be worthwhile,” which of course he’d say that, because what’s the downside for NFL teams in having another six months of a potential relocation target dangling out there?

Both mayor Eric Garcetti and city council president Herb Wesson say they’re happy to give AEG another six months of rope, so it looks like this will likely happen. At some point you’d think that L.A. officials would have to move on, but, you know, it isn’t always easy to spot the warning signs.

NFL’s tax-exempt status could be providing tax breaks to teams, not just league

Timothy Lavin of Bloomberg View had an op-ed up last week on the NFL’s tax-exempt status, which I set aside before reading at first because while the league’s tax exemption is annoying, it doesn’t really amount to all that much of a tax subsidy. (Because individual teams, which are what actually earn the revenue, are still taxed.)

Except that Lavin has found some potential loopholes that the NFL may be exploiting to use that tax exemption as a more significant tax dodge:

  • “First, the league’s primary business these days is no longer football, it’s financing.” The NFL’s stadium loan fund — which is really more of a grant fund, since the teams get to pay it back with revenue they wouldn’t keep otherwise — appears to allow the league to borrow money on lower terms than it would otherwise, and pass the savings on to the teams that are building stadiums.
  • NFL teams pay more than $300 million a year total in dues to the league. If that money is then used to help teams pay for stadium costs, the team owners get to treat it as a business expense rather than a capital expenditure, which allows them to write it off much more quickly.

Lavin cautions that without looking at NFL teams’ books (ha ha ha ha!), we don’t know how much they’re actually saving by these methods, so it still may not be a huge deal. But this does potentially explain why the NFL is holding onto its 501(c)(6) status, which MLB voluntarily ditched in 2007.

Either way, the benefits for teams almost certainly pale in comparison to those from the IRS’s continuing acceptance of the tax-exempt bond dodge, which saves sports teams around $150 million a year, at the expense of the federal treasury. Maybe someday Congress will get around to doing something about all this, beyond staging the occasional hearing.