Are sports leagues trolling Arizona media by refusing to release full economic impact studies?

Emerging briefly from my travel-imposed radio silence to note that Arizona tourism officials are once again talking up how sports is a mammoth contributor to the state’s economy, to the tune of $1.3 billion over the last three years. That’s according to figures come up with by the Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, and since they go against pretty much every other study conducted of sports economics ever — which conclude that most sports spending just displaces other spending, whether it’s by locals or tourists — I heartily pooh-poohed the latest of those studies when it came out last month, noting that a previous enthusiastic study of spring-training impact in Florida turned out not even to have been conducted by an economist.

After I wrote that, I got a very friendly under the circumstances email from one of the Arizona State economists, who assured me that the people behind the report had degrees and everything. He also indicated that the study had tried to avoid crediting sports with economic activity from visitors who would have come to Arizona anyway by asking survey respondents, “How strong a factor was the 2018 Cactus League in your decision to visit Arizona?”

This was very interesting, I told my correspondent. Where could I find the complete study, so I can see the full methodology?

Sorry, I was told. These reports were commissioned by the sports leagues (MLB, the NFL, and NCAA), and they were only releasing summaries, not the full reports.

This, needless to say, is a problem: Without seeing the methodology, there’s no way to tell if these studies truly show something unprecedented is going on in Arizona, or if every other study is correct that one-time and seasonal sports events don’t have any measurable economic benefit. So instead we just have the sports leagues picking and choosing which numbers to put in their press releases, with no way to tell how those figures were generated.

And if the notion of sports leagues deliberately trolling the media with cherry-picked stats is bad enough, one has to ask: Why the hell are Arizona media letting themselves get trolled? Pretty much every news outlet in the state has been running these stories at face value, without ever noting that there’s no way to evaluate the claims. That’s a dereliction of duty way worse than anything the leagues (who only have obligation to profit, not to truth) or the economists (who are just doing what their clients ask of them, though I suppose they could always refuse to take on projects with secrecy clauses on the grounds of academic openness) are doing.

Anyway, sports leagues are devious and secretive and news outlets are lazy and eager to suck up to the sports industry that provides them with many of their dwindling number of readers. Glad to see nothing has changed in my absence, in other words.

Friday roundup: Untangling NYCFC’s stadium plan, fighting over the Crew’s future, and what to do with a luxury suite

Sorry for the radio silence the last couple of days — it was a combination of not much super-urgent breaking news and a busy work schedule on my end — but let’s remedy that with a heaping helping of Friday links:

  • Part of that busy schedule was wrapping up work on my Village Voice article trying to unravel NYCFC’s latest stadium plan, and while the upshot remains what it was a month ago — this is a Rube Goldberg–style proposal with so many moving parts that it’s hard to say yet if it would involve public subsidies — it also involves city parks land that isn’t really parkland but is really controlled by another city agency that isn’t really a city agency and denies having control over it … go read it, you’ll either be entertained or confused or both!
  • The state of Maryland has luxury suites at the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles stadiums, and Gov. Larry Hogan mostly uses them for family members and political cronies. This should come as a surprise to no one, but it’s a reminder that getting government use of a suite as part of a stadium deal is less a public benefit than a, what do you call those things?
  • Based on questions asked at a Monday hearing, The Stranger concludes that most King County council members aren’t opposed to the Seattle Mariners‘ demand for $180 million in future county upgrade spending on Safeco Field, in exchange for the team signing a new lease. That could still change, obviously, but only if all of you readers turn toward Seattle and shout this post in unison. Three, two, one, go!
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber says talks are “ongoing” with the city of Columbus about replacing the Crew if they move to Austin, and by “with the city of Columbus” he apparently means the local business council the Columbus Partnership. And even their CEO, Alex Fischer, doesn’t sound too in the mood to talk, noting that Garber has called for a new downtown stadium in Columbus while not requiring the same of Austin: “I find it extremely ironic that the commissioner wants a downtown stadium at the same time that the McKalla site is the equivalent of building a stadium in Buckeye Lake.” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott retorted that Fischer’s remarks are “certainly a strange way to demonstrate an interest in working with us.” The lines of communication are open!
  • The owners of Nashville S.C. would have to pay $200,000 a year in city rent on their new stadium, which is … something, at least. Except, reports the Tennessean, “Parking revenue collected from non-soccer events at the new MLS stadium, such as concerts or football games, would go toward the annual base rent and could potentially cover the entire amount.” So maybe not really something.
  • Glendale has extended its arena management deal with AEG through 2026, which will mean continuing to pay $5.6 million annual management fees, but also collecting about $1.6 million a year in shared arena revenues. That’s not good, but it is significantly better than the lease that had the city paying the owners of the Arizona Coyotes more than $7 million a year after revenue shares, so yay Glendale for tearing up that lease and bidding out the contract to at least cut their losses.
  • Here’s Austin’s lead negotiator with Crew owner Anthony Precourt over a new stadium, Chris Dunlavey of Brailsford and Dunlavey. on whether the deal is fair to taxpayers: “All around, I don’t know how it could get characterized as favorable to [Precourt Sports Ventures]. I think the city of Austin has negotiated this to as favorable for a city as PSV could stand to do.” Uh, Chris, you do know that “good for the public” and “as least awful for the public as we could get” aren’t the same thing, right?
  • Former U.S. senator Barbara Boxer has thrown her weight behind Inglewood residents opposing a new Los Angeles Clippers arena because it could cause gentrification and displacement. Which, not all arenas do, but in hot urban areas like L.A. it doesn’t take much to cause gentrification and displacement, so I can certainly see why there’s concern.
  • An otherwise unidentified group calling itself Protect Oakland’s Shoreline Economy has issued flyers opposing the A’s building a stadium at Howard Terminal because, among other things, it could displace homeless encampments to make way for parking lots. This is getting David Beckham–level silly, but also it’s getting harder and harder not to feel like the A’s owners should just give in and build a stadium at the Coliseum site, since at least nobody seems to mind if they do that. Yet.

Friday roundup: Bad spring training math, Beckham’s curse, and the opening of Megatron’s Butthole

No time for quips today, just the news:

  • A study by Arizona State University found that spring-training baseball was worth $373 million to the Arizona economy in 2018. I can’t find the actual report itself, but it looks like they came up with this number by interviewing a sample of out-of-town visitors at spring training games about how much they were spending on their trips — which would be a perfectly good methodology if not for the fact that lots of people travel to Arizona and then think “I’ll go see a baseball game while I’m there,” instead of traveling there just for baseball and thinking, “Sure, I’ll check out that big canyon, too.” Which is why when spring-training games have been canceled for labor conflicts, the observed impact on local economies has been pretty much zero. I wonder if the people who wrote this Arizona State report are actual economists, at least.
  • Nashville is getting an MLS franchise because it promised to build a soccer stadium, but it still might change its mind and not build a soccer stadium, and this is going to be great fun to watch if it does. (Not if you’re a Nashville MLS fan, I guess. But [insert requisite jibe about anything being more fun to watch than MLS soccer].)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that he hopes MLB expands by two more teams during his lifetime (or during his tenure as commissioner — he wasn’t exactly clear), specifically mentioning “Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada. We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.” That got people in those cities all excited, which is presumably the point in saying such things — of course, none of those cities have MLB-ready stadiums (unless you count Olympic Stadium in Montreal), so prepare for a stadium arms race sometime before Manfred dies.
  • Megatron’s Butthole is now fully operational.
  • The estimated cost of renovating Key Arena has risen from $600 million to $700 million, but the city won’t have to pay any of that because their deal with the developers says those guys have to pay any cost overruns. Kids, when signing your next arena deal, do that.
  • A Florida man was arrested for setting fire to golf carts at the golf course where David Beckham wants to build his soccer stadium, but police say it was just arson and has nothing to do with the stadium proposal. Except insomuch as David Beckham is cursed, okay? If construction on this place ever begins, I fully expect it to be interrupted by all its milk cows going dry.

Miami-Dade offers Dolphins extra $57.5m in subsidies, just because

Not only did Miami-Dade county commissioners approve subsidies for a new Miami Dolphins practice field last night, but they added an additional ten years of subsidies that could be worth as much as $57.5 million. In exchange, the Dolphins owners will do absolutely nothing:

As the discussion on that proposal began Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes Hard Rock, introduced last-minute legislation that dramatically changed the proposal by extending the existing deal for another 10 years. While the original proposal could have earned the Dolphins an extra $12 million or so, the extension tacked $57.5 million onto the potential payout through 2046…

There was no explanation from Jordan on why the richer stadium deal was revealed minutes before the commission vote.

The Dolphins owners haven’t yet accepted the deal, so presumably Jordan and her fellow commissioners (all but one of whom present, commission chair Esteban “Steve” Bovo, voted for the plan) figured they’d sweeten the pot to encourage the Dolphins to move their training facility from Broward County to Miami-Dade by offering up a bunch of subsidies at a future time when most of them will no longer be in office, if they’re even alive. (And if Miami-Dade is even above sea level by then.) Because who can put a price on this:

“They basically live at the training facility,” [Dolphins CEO Tom] Garfinkel said after the 10-1 vote. “Probably 10 months out of the year. They have most of their meals there. There’s a lounge there. There’s a barber there.”

A barber! Think of all the lucrative income taxes on barber tips that Miami-Dade would be missing out on if the Dolphins practiced in Broward! Or would, if local income taxes weren’t unconstitutional in Florida! But still!

Since the future subsidies are dependent on how many “major events” are held at the Dolphins’ main stadium, there’s almost no way whoever owns the Dolphins in the 2040s will actually get $57.5 million out of this deal, unless the NFL is playing ten Super Bowls a year by then. (Which they might have resorted to by then — there are stranger predictions.) Still, it’s a significant additional gift to a pro sports team owner in exchange for nothing more than the possibility that maybe it’ll entice him to have his team practice on your side of the county line. Marlins stadium debacle or no, Florida men are gonna keep Floridaing.

Miami-Dade to vote on $7.5m in tax breaks for Dolphins practice field, somewhere David Beckham is softly weeping

The Miami-Dade county commission is set to vote today on a pair of new subsidies to the Miami Dolphins — one for about $7.5 million in property-tax breaks for a new training facility, the other for bonus payments to the team’s owners for hosting major sporting events at their stadium that could be worth as much as $11 million, but probably won’t be.

The training facility subsidy first: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is talking about building a $50 million training camp in Miami Gardens to replace their old one in Davie, and since that’s a move across county lines, he’s asking to be paid $500,000 in property-tax breaks by their prospective new county for doing so. Paying to steal a handful of seasonal jobs from your neighbor is just nifty, says Miami-Dade’s county mayor:

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the Dolphins incentives won’t boost South Florida’s economy, but will give a lift to Miami-Dade.

“I think it’s a good plan,” he said. “It won’t be any new jobs in the area, but it will be new jobs in Miami.”

That’s honest! Disturbing, but honest!

As for the other subsidy being voted on today, it’s an expansion of the deal signed by Miami in 2014 in which the county pays Ross a bonus for every “major” sporting event held at the Dolphins’ stadium: a Super Bowl earns the team $4 million, for example, while international soccer friendlies earn $750,000. The total amount per year is currently capped at $5 million, and county commissioner Barbara Jordan wants to raise that by $750,000, which in present value over 30 years would be worth a little over $11 million.

Except that the Dolphins have been nowhere near reaching the cap yet, since major events in Miami have been few and far between:

So far, according to the county’s budget office, the Dolphins have requested $750,000 bonus payments for only two events: the 2016 Orange Bowl college football game and the 2017 El Clasico international soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

So the only time this new cap will come into play, really, is if there’s a year where Miami hosts a Super Bowl and a couple of major soccer games, and how often is that going to happen?

Still, if you want to take away from this that Miami elected officials are totally chill about handing over cash to an NFL team to build a training facility but keep giving the side-eye to anything David Beckham proposes for an MLS stadium, you wouldn’t be wrong. Reasonable people may disagree about which side of that equation needs fixing, but it’s a clear sign that where football remains an 800-pound gorilla, soccer is at best maybe 100, 150 pounds.

Lions owners, Dan Gilbert discuss adding retractable roof to make Ford Field somewhat less crappy for soccer

Dan Gilbert’s pitch for a Detroit MLS expansion team was declared dead as soon as he gave up on his $300 million–subsidy land swap plan and switched to wanting to have the soccer team play at the Lions‘ stadium instead, but he never exactly gave up on it. So it’s not surprising that he now has a Plan C to get back on the future expansion list — but as for what that plan is, well:

Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said on WJR-AM (760) Monday morning that he and other Lions executives are looking into a retractable roof to help bring a Major League Soccer team to Detroit.

This is not the first time the idea of a roof for soccer has been raised — Gilbert himself mentioned it to Sports Business Daily last month, saying, “If we get that worked out, I think we have a pretty good chance” of getting an MLS team. Wood provided some more details yesterday, though, kind of:

Wood also explained adding a retractable roof is something that would be easy, saying the cost could be “With a ‘M’ and an ‘S’ and maybe three digits in front of the ‘M.'”

“We’ll figure out who’s going to pay for it after we figure out the cost,” Wood said.

For those who aren’t fans of cryptic crosswords, that first sentence translates as “it’ll cost at least $100 million,” which given that the U.S. Open’s new retractable roof cost $150 million and the Tampa Bay Rays owners are talking about a fixed roof that would cost $245 million seems like an underestimate at best. (Of course Wood didn’t say what those three digits would be.) Whereas the second sentence is either one of the most hilariously inept things a sports executive has said, or else code for “we don’t know who’s gonna pay for it, but it sure won’t be us.”

The idea behind adding a retractable roof is that it would enable the Lions to add a grass field, which would make MLS happy. That’s not an outright requirement, though — Atlanta United, for example, was okayed as a new franchise despite an artificial turf field — and it wouldn’t really address other reasons why MLS prefers soccer-specific stadiums, which is that having maybe 10,000 fans rattling around inside a 65,000-seat soccer stadium feels kind of crappy and looks even worse on TV. (The Falcons modified their stadium for soccer by building in moving sections of seats and retractable curtains to cover the upper deck.)

And while I’m always happy to see sports team owners looking to adapt existing stadiums rather than build entire new ones, at anything other than the very low end of this price point, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense — other cities are building whole new soccer stadiums for only about $200 million, so if a roof would end up costing something similar, that seems like kind of a waste, though I suppose it does save on land acquisition costs, and let you get twice the bang for your buck on maintenance and operations on your building.

MLS hasn’t even set its next deadline for expansion bids, so there’s plenty of time for the Lions owners and Gilbert to work this out. But for the moment, I’m categorizing this plan of action as “screwy.”

Friday roundup: More renderings, more on the LeBron effect myth, and more bad Raiders PSL decisions

Wow, it’s Friday already? How did that happen? Anyway, let’s see what’s left in the ol’ news hopper:

  • Whoops, forgot to include the stadium renderings that David Beckham’s group released this week in my last post, probably because they’re really boring and have no fireworks or spotlights or lens flare or anything. Also not pictured: the fleet of trucks carrying off the toxic waste that sits under the site.
  • Somebody has finally studied the actual economic impact of LeBron James on the Cleveland area, and far from the urban legend, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that overall GDP growth in the metro area has actually slowed since James returned from Miami. Now, that doesn’t mean that James is bad for the Cleveland economy — there are way bigger factors at work that affect GDP — but it does mean that at best, he didn’t really move the needle much on local earning. Can somebody please tell Drake now?
  • The Las Vegas Raiders announced their PSL pricing, and it’s a whopping $20,000 to $75,000, more in line with what the San Francisco 49ers are charging than, say, the Atlanta Falcons or Minnesota Vikings. And there will be other seats with no PSLs attached, so if fans want to go to games, they can always opt for the no-down-payment option and just sit in the nosebleeds. I feel like I’ve seen this somewhere before and it didn’t go well — oh, right.
  • The Arizona Coyotes have a new CEO, Ahron Cohen, so what does he have to say when asked about the team’s arena plans? “Really, the most important thing for us right now and what we’re focusing on is achieving our core goals. Those are building hockey fandom in Arizona, building a competitive team on the ice, and positively impacting our community. Ultimately, we have to figure out our long-term arena solution. But that problem is solved by achieving those three goals I laid out.” Put that into Google translate, select Corporate Bureaucrat to English, and we get, let’s see: “Hell if I know.” Glad to see some things are consistent with the Coyotes!

Friday roundup: Bucks say arena can fight racism, Rays in line for federal tax breaks, Falcons to get glowing bridge

Slow news week thanks to the holiday, but there were still a few items of note:

  • Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin thinks his new publicly funded arena will help fight segregation because it’ll have a public plaza. The Chicago Tribune notes that the Bucks owners once released a strongly worded statement of support for one of their players after he was tased by Milwaukee police, so … nope, I don’t get the connection either, unless this reporter was assigned to cover Feigin and couldn’t find much else to say about his bizarro statement, so just googled “Milwaukee and race and basketball” and dumped the results into a Word file.
  • The Sacramento Kings owners are going to use computers at their arena to mine cryptocurrency for charity, which mostly serves as an excuse for the team to issue a press release mentioning themselves in the same sentence as blockchain, because we know that’s a thing. Too bad the earth is going to burn as a result, but everything’s a tradeoff, right?
  • Ybor City, where the Tampa Bay Rays want to build their new stadium (price and funding still TBD), has been tabbed as a federal “economic opportunity zone,” meaning developers can use it as a short-term tax shelter for profits that are reinvested into the area. The program is way too complicated for me to calculate at the moment just how much U.S. taxpayers would end up paying toward a Rays stadium, but suffice to say it’s one more piece of the funding puzzle that team owner Stuart Sternberg doesn’t have to worry about himself.
  • Speaking of the Rays, they’ve announced they’ll release new renderings of their stadium plans next Tuesday, which I guess makes this announcement itself vaporvaportecture?
  • The Atlanta Falcons pedestrian bridge that will now cost Atlanta residents $23 million is going to glow! And who can put a price on that, really?
  • Since it was a slow stadium news week, here’s a bonus article on how Nevada giving $1.4 billion to Tesla to open a battery factory there is looking to be a disaster, with the state ending up losing its entire budget surplus while new workers attracted to the area have driven up rents and increased local government’s police, fire, and schools costs, leaving residents with a higher cost of living and fewer services. One unemployed local who was forced to move into a motel room listed for the Guardian things she now considered unaffordable luxuries: “Ice cream. Bacon. A movie ticket.” It’s a fun weekend beach read!

Friday roundup: The Case of the Dead Beer-Tap Inventor, and Other Stories

This was the week that was:

  • The Denver Broncos are finding it slow going getting a new naming rights sponsor for their stadium because a used stadium name loses lots of its value, thanks to everyone still calling it by the old name. Yes, this is yet another reason why teams demand new stadiums when the old ones are barely out of the cellophane.
  • Here’s a Los Angeles Times article arguing that if rich sports team owners are granted permission to evade environmental review laws, small business owners should be too. I am not entirely sure this is the best lesson to take from this, guys.
  • Pennsylvania is preparing to legalize sports gambling, and the owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates think it would be great if the state imposed a gambling fee and gave some of the money to them, the only surprising part here being that they actually said this out loud.
  • F.C. Cincinnati‘s ownership group is preparing upgrades to Nippert Stadium as the team’s temporary home while a new stadium is built, and “isn’t concerned by the cost,” according to WCPO. Yes, these are the same owners who said they couldn’t possibly build a new stadium without $63.8 million in public money. Also who said Nippert Stadium couldn’t possibly be made acceptable as an MLS venue. I’m done now.
  • Fredericksburg, Virginia has scheduled a July 10 vote on whether to build a new $35 million stadium for the single-A Potomac Nationals, and paying off the city’s costs by siphoning off property, admissions, sales, meal, personal property, and business license taxes paid at the stadium and handing them over to the team. I guess that would make it a PASMPPBLTIF?
  • And finally, a man found dead in a walk-in beer cooler in the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium turns out to have been there to install a revolutionary new fast-pour beer tap he’d invented, and no one yet knows how he died. This is going to be the best season of True Detective yet! (No, seriously, this is a tragedy for the man and his family, and I hope that everyone involved soon finds closure, at least, by determining the true facts of what happened. But also, no, I’m not going to go back and delete the joke. If this makes me a monster, at least I’m an appropriately social-media-driven monster.)

Friday roundup: Rays set stadium deadlinish thing, D.C. United can’t find the sun in the sky, Inglewood mayor flees lawsuit filing on Clippers arena

Farewell, Koko and Argentina: