49ers owner spends $3m to unseat Santa Clara politicians who crossed him, says he’s promoting “diversity”

San Francisco 49ers owners the York family successfully won approval in 2012 to build a $1.2 billion stadium in Santa Clara with the city taking on much of the risk, but ever since then has butted heads continually with local government, clashing over insufficient team financial reports and how much taxes the team would pay and whether the Rolling Stones could set off fireworks and who gets to manage the stadium and whether the team could withhold rent when two exhibition games were canceled thanks to Covid. What’s a poor sports billionaire family to do? Buy a new local government, of course!

[Jed] York has contributed $3 million to Citizens for Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights, a PAC whose stated mission is to bring diversity to the city council​…

”It would be unusual for a sports franchise owner or let’s just say any corporation or business to spend this kind of money even in a mayor’s race,” John Pelissero, the senior scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, said​ Thursday​. “Instead this has all the appearance of attempting to buy four city council seats just to improve the private interests of the 49ers.”

While the PAC is organized to promote diversity, the candidates it’s supporting this year go extremely white guy, Indian-American guy, Indian-American woman, Korean-American guy; they’re looking to unseat a white woman and a woman so white she has a Celtic knot in her campaign page banner design, plus capture two open seats. So that’s either a plus or a minus depending on whether you’re looking at racial or gender diversity, and of course assuming by “diversity” you mean “access to just enough power for non-white-guys to not make white guys uncomfortable,” but that’s a battle that was lost decades ago.

Anyway, the issue here is less whether York is backing diverse (or good) candidates than whether he’s trying to unseat elected officials who are a pain in his butt by throwing money around. Three million dollars may not be a lot to an NFL owner, but it’s a fortune in small-city political circles: SFist notes that one of the incumbents (it links to a dead campaign finance page, so we can’t tell which one) has only raised a total of $6,234 this year. And whether or not York is successful — and whether or not the challengers he’s supporting would necessarily be beholden to his interests — he’s certainly making a public statement that anyone who clashes with him will be firmly in the crosshairs of his wealth come election time. If that’s enough to get current or future local pols antsy enough to get them looking to cut deals with him rather than taking a hard line, that should prove money well spent.

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Friday roundup: World still on fire, let’s remember 1989 when the greatest sports horror imaginable was Alan Thicke in a tuxedo

Very busy week here at FoS HQ, so let’s dispense with any introductory chitchat and get right to the news we didn’t already get to this week:

That’s all for now, see you all Monday!

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Saints lobbied to pack fans into Superdome less than six feet apart, say #1 priority is “safety”

Sometimes when I write a post here assuming the worst intentions of sports team owners, I feel slightly bad. Sure, sports barons may have a long history of using everything possible in the pursuit of personal profit, but does that mean it’s always the case? Maybe when the New Orleans Saints owners say they’re thinking of temporarily relocating to Baton Rouge so they can have fans in the seats, they’re genuinely trying to make the best of a bad situation and not just trying to pressure the city of New Orleans into opening up the Superdome to paid attendance?

Turns out: Naaaaaaaaah.

In August, before the season began, the Saints made a pitch to Gov. John Bel Edwards for a bolder idea: 35% capacity — a plan that would put almost 24,000 fans in the stadium for games…

The plan featured a detailed “seating manifest methodology” that showed how patrons would be spaced from several angles. In all, 23,875 people would have been allowed in the stadium under the proposal, to which Edwards did not agree.

That “seating manifest technology,” NOLA.com goes on to report, was mostly based on advanced fudging the numbers, as fans would have been seated less than six feet apart, the minimum distance recommended by the CDC, even though it’s also noted that the virus can spread across greater distances “under special circumstances.” Whether those special circumstances may include football fans taking off masks to eat and cheer in an indoor stadium is not specifically mentioned in any CDC reports, but it’s certainly a concern.

Also, luxury suites would have been filled to 100% capacity, because everyone in a luxury suite can clearly be trusted to stay six feet apart and masked within their extremely indoor space, which is then only a problem if you spend several hours together there uh-oh. (An official from Louisiana’s Ochsner hospital, who argued on behalf of the Saints’ plan, said that suite denizens would be assumed to be “cohorted group,” which given that Superdome suites hold up to 24 people would require some pretty huge households.)

The 35% plan was rejected by Gov. Edwards, who later approved attendance of up to 25% at Louisiana sporting events. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell later rejected any in-person attendance, though, saying her approval would depend on whether she got more state money to help deal with the pandemic, which doesn’t actually seem like great epidemiology either. And the Saints are keeping up the lobbying just in case:

The Saints met with Cantrell, medical professionals at Ochsner and Cantrell’s medical advisors on Monday about potentially phasing in fans for this weekend’s game and beyond, [Saints spokesperson Greg] Bensel said Monday evening.

“The city continues to see COVID positivity rates remain stable,” Bensel said in a statement. “The city currently has one of the lowest rates in the nation. We all agree that the priority is to make sure our city’s residents and our fans are safe and not to regress from the progress that has been made. We look forward to providing our fans more information shortly.”

Cantrell’s office declined to comment on the matter Monday.

Keeping people safe: When has the NFL ever made anything else its priority?

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Friday roundup: County might buy Richmond a minor-league ballpark, ticket prices soar at new Crew stadium, plus more athletes giving each other the ‘Rona

It was a big news week, what with the Anchorage mayor who resigned after being slandered as a pedophile by the anti-masking news anchor he’d been sexting with before she was arrested and fired for beating up her boss/fiance, and the new book about the libertarian town in New Hampshire that was ravaged by bears, and probably something about the election, I dunno, who can remember? So you are forgiven if you missed some of this week’s stadium and arena news, much of which focused on fans breathing all over each other inside them, but not all, not by a longshot:

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Saints threaten to play in Baton Rouge as leverage to get Superdome reopened to fans

The battle over letting fans back into sports stadiums has so far been a matter for state politicians and team officials, who have tried to strike a balance between concern for public health and desire for private profit. But no team has succeeded in pitting two different government against each other, in a “savvy negotiator creates leverage” way, to compete for a team’s presence — until now:

Fed up with COVID restrictions that have silenced the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Saints say they’re considering another venue that could bring back a little noise.

LSU and Baton Rouge say they are happy to lend out Tiger Stadium…

Officials with Visit Baton Rouge say even a few extra Saints fans could bring in big business for the city…

“Obviously it would be the biggest single event that would occur, or episode to occur in Baton Rouge during this pandemic,” said Paul Arrigo, President & CEO of Visit Baton Rouge.

Some background: New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell has issued much tougher measures on public events, mask-wearing, and other Covid prevention methods than the rest of the state, creating what one disease expert called an unintentional controlled experiment in the efficacy of anti-pandemic rules. (So far Orleans Parish is doing significantly better than the rest of the state, both in terms of total cases and recent cases.) And the Saints, of course, play in the Superdome, which is of course indoors, which is of course where the virus goes to spread. So Cantrell has steadfastly refused to open the dome to fans:

“While the Saints’ request for a special exception to the city’s COVID-19 guidelines remains under consideration, allowing 20K people in an indoor space presents significant public health concerns,” Cantrell said in a statement.

“At present, no NFL stadium in the country with a fixed-roof facility is allowing such an exception,” her statement read. “We will continue to monitor the public health data, but cannot set an artificial timeline for how and when conditions may allow for the kind of special exemption being requested.”

Playing outdoors at LSU’s Tiger Stadium actually seems like a good solution here, at least if masked (when not eating or drinking) and distanced fans attending games outdoors turns out to be safe, which we still don’t know for sure. But Saints execs seem to be using the option less as a stop-gap measure than as a saber to rattle, issuing a statement saying that their “overwhelming preference is to play our games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with partial fan attendance” even while they’re exploring the option of playing in Baton Rouge.

And why should New Orleans care if the Saints play in Baton Rouge temporarily? All together now: ECONOMIC ACTIVITY!!!1!

“Baton Rouge is going to get all of that money. They’re going to get all the restaurant money, all the hotel money,” said [New Orleans native and Saints fan Andruski] Austin. “They’re going to get all of that.”

Okay, so maybe asking a random Saints fan for an economic impact statement wasn’t the most expert source you could use, WWL-TV. The Saints have five home games left this season, so you’re talking maybe 100,000 fans total going to games in Baton Rouge; most of them are either going to be local or make the hour-plus drive from New Orleans, so there’s probably not a ton of hotel money at stake. Maybe you’ll get some more restaurant visits, but at most you’re talking about a couple million dollars in spending — Baton Rouge has a 5.5% local sales tax, so maybe could see $100,000 or something in new taxes as a result, which probably wouldn’t be enough to pay for extra hospital services if even a small outbreak resulted from Saints fans piling into Fat Boy’s Pizza for a postgame meal.

It’s entirely possible that none of this will sway Mayor Cantrell, and also possible that the Saints will play games temporarily at LSU and everything will be fine. But this is another worrisome data point in the trend of sports teams seeing taking on increased Covid risks as a competitive advantage — and cities now being encouraged (by the local news media and random football fans, anyway) to do the same. Letting fans back into sporting events as soon as it’s safe is a great idea; letting them back in as soon as someone is worried that they’ll be leaving money on the table if they don’t is extremely not.

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Friday roundup: Jaguars’ billionaire owner wants $232m in tax money, plus guess-the-Angels-rationalization contest!

We made it another week further into the future! Sure, it’s a future that looks too much like the recent past — bad pandemic planning and stadium deals with increasingly more well-disguised subsidies — and we’re all still here discussing the same scams that I really thought were going to be a momentary fad 25 years ago. But the zombie apocalypse hasn’t arrived yet, so that’s something! Also the Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale was really excellent. Gotta stop and smell the flowers before refocusing on the underlying horror of society!

And with that, back to laughing to keep from crying:

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The NFL’s plan is to keep poking at the virus until people start getting sick

So this happened:

Before anyone gets too excited and/or horrified, the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars have all said they’re going to continue to operate at 20-25% capacity for the time being. This was just Gov. Ron DeSantis making clear that he lifted all restrictions on outdoor sporting events two weeks ago, when he also prohibited local governments from enforcing tougher restrictions or even fining people for not wearing masks. (If you’re wondering how that’s working out, virus rates in Florida haven’t surged so far, staying fairly level — though still high — but then, it generally takes more than two weeks for a surge to take hold, and also when you’re dealing mostly with stochastic spread via superspreader events, there is a lot of randomness involved as to whether and when a surge kicks in.)

So, props to the NFL for not immediately opening the fan floodgates in Florida, sure. But that’s hardly an indicator of a league that is concerned with safety above else. As we’ve seen this week — and as Barry Petchesky adeptly recounted yesterday at Defector — the league is currently dealing with a cascade of outbreaks on teams that has now caused a couple of games to be postponed, and could end up with even more. And, writes Petchesky, it was all totally predictable:

We don’t know a lot about COVID-19, but we know a few things about sports. We know bubbles, deployed by the NBA and NHL, and by MLB for its postseason, can work. We know that not-bubbling, like MLB tried for its abbreviated regular season, doesn’t work, at least not if your goal is to avoid having to cancel or postpone games. We know the NFL, due to the sheer size of its rosters and the massive logistical undertaking that staging a football game requires, probably can’t enter a bubble. We also know that it can’t afford to postpone many more games before a backlog pushes the Super Bowl into June.

That caveat re: MLB’s non-bubble is important: If the goal of “let’s let baseball teams all play in the home stadiums while still seeing their families and going to the grocery store and whatnot” was to keep anyone from getting infected, yeah, it was a disaster. But if the goal was to find a way to limp through a season with lots of postponements and makeup doubleheaders because players weren’t willing to be separated from their families for three months — the NBA and NHL were already up to playoff season, so their bubbles didn’t have to last as long — then it worked exactly as planned.

The NFL, of course, can’t stage doubleheaders, and can’t easily reschedule too many games without adding additional weeks to the season. And with 64-player rosters (48 active, 16 on a practice squad), plus a sport that involved a lot more contact than baseball (though we’re still not clear whether that’s the main risk or it’s just gathering indoors in clubhouses that mostly spreads the coronavirus), that’s a lot more dice being rolled every week than for other sports, so it’s absolutely no surprise that we’re seeing outbreaks.

Unlike MLB, though, which after some initial stumbles realized that you need to quarantine entire teams for a week or more after each new case turns up, the NFL seems to be charging ahead on a policy of Well, hopefully nobody else caught it. After New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive on Friday, Sunday’s scheduled game between the Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs was delayed — all the way to Monday night. But it can take four or more days for an infected person to test positive, while they become infectious in as little as 48 hours. So even if Patriots players all tested negative before their Monday night game, someone on the team could easily have still been incubating the virus, and spreading it to their teammates. Which may in fact have happened.

The NFL has already been heavily invested in hygiene theater, touting its disinfecting drones and temperature checks for fans, even though neither does much at all to protect anyone from Covid. (All evidence is that the virus doesn’t spread much via surfaces, and while most people with Covid symptoms run a fever, nearly half of infected people don’t have any symptoms.) Hygiene theater is based on the idea that the easier something is to do, the more one should focus on it; the decision to hold the Pats-Chiefs game on Monday after just a 24-hour delay seems to have been the inverse: If it’s too hard to do, let’s decide it doesn’t matter.

Unfortunately, in a sport where doing much of anything to combat the spread of the coronavirus among players is really hard, that’s a recipe for, if not necessarily disaster, a whole lot of extremely risky behavior. And the NFL has another decision coming up that is going to be equally hard, if only for economic reasons: The Super Bowl is scheduled to be held on February 7 in Tampa, and DeSantis has now said that it’s okay by him if they sell out the place, and that would be worth tens of millions of dollars to the league. Even if the image of a packed Super Bowl that turns into another biological bomb may give league planners second thoughts, you know that somewhere in the league offices they’re wondering: Could we get away with 30% capacity? 40%? What if we have disinfecting drones hovering over every fan? How close can we get to the precipice of a superspreader event without going over?

And that appears to be the NFL’s policy, really: Keep inching up to the limits of what’s considered safe, see who gets sick, then inch up a little further if it’s not too embarrassing a number. As I’ve noted before, this makes for a very useful experiment about how many fans can be in one place outdoors before disaster strikes — if the NFL really wanted to do it right, it should dictate that some teams allow more fans and others allow fewer, to see what the threshold is for sparking outbreaks — but it’s an experiment with human lives, which when conducted without the humans involved knowing the risks and consenting to them is generally considered a crime against humanity. But then, playing with human lives is pretty much the NFL’s jam, so why quit now while you’re massively ahead?

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Friday roundup: Coyotes late with arena rent, Winnipeg move non-threats, and good old gondolas, nothing beats gondolas!

If you missed me — and a whole lot of other people you’ve likely read about here, including economist Victor Matheson and former Anaheim mayor Tom Tait — breaking down the Los Angeles Angels stadium deal in an enormous Zoom panel last night, you can still check it out on the Voice of OC’s Facebook page. I didn’t bother to carefully curate the books on the shelves behind me, as one does, so have fun checking out which novels I read 20 years ago!

And on to the news, which remains unrelentingly newsy:

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Raiders renting out parking spaces at new stadium so fans can watch games on TV for $80 per person

Good news, Oakland Los Angeles Oakland Las Vegas Raiders fans! Even though you can’t buy tickets to see games in person, because of that whole “deadly pandemic” thing, you can still sit in a parking lot and watch the game on TV, and it’ll only cost you $400 per carload!

The Las Vegas Raiders sent an email to season ticket holders late Tuesday advertising the Tailgate Zone at Allegiant Stadium, where fans in vehicles with five or fewer occupants can park in a stadium lot and watch the team’s game Sunday versus the New England Patriots.

Fans will watch the action on a large LED screen and a stage will be constructed where Raiders special appearances and performances are planned…

Options range from $400 for the Tailgate Ticket package to $500 for the VIP package, with both including food and beverage packages. Fans are also allowed to bring additional food and beverages from home, including alcohol, which isn’t served at the event.

Okay, so on the one hand this isn’t the most outrageous thing ever. Tailgating is super-popular among football fans for reasons I still can’t quite fathom — it mostly seems to involve being drunk in public and something about jumping on folding tables? — but if people really want to pay $80 per person to sit in a parking lot and watch a big screen instead of doing the same in their living room, more power to ’em, I guess? And the $80 does come with some free nachos or something, and there will be a system of alternating cars and tailgate spaces so that people can still socially distance (because surely drunk football fans would never dare wander out of their designated zones to socialize with each other), so clearly at least a little bit of thought has been put into this.

On the other hand: This is the most outrageous thing ever! A team owner who just got $750 million in taxpayer cash to help build a new stadium so he could move his team out of its previous home is now making up for not being able to sell high-priced tickets to watch the game in person by selling high-priced tickets to watch the game on TV in a parking lot! In a just world, Mark Davis would open up the damn parking lot for free as thanks to Nevada residents for helping buy his new bauble, and maybe offer to sell them some damn overpriced nachos if they want! What is this world even coming to?

Also, I’m pretty sure that photo accompanying the article depicts a Raiders fan dressed as Cthulhu. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with severely overpriced cosplay. It had a good run — roll the tape.

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UK just closed soccer stadiums to fans for virus rates that wouldn’t bat an eye in most US states

Bad news if you’re an English soccer fan who was hoping to, say, check out one of those crazy high-scoring Leeds United games in person: Plans to reopen British soccer stadiums at limited capacity on October 1 have been scuttled by the U.K.’s fast-rising Covid rates.

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, cabinet office minister Michael Gove said that the Oct. 1 plans will now be paused.

“We were looking at a staged programme of more people returning,” Gove said. “It wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans.

“We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.”

Britain is indeed seeing a surge in Covid cases, even if predictions of 50,000 cases a day by mid-October assume that current rates of exponential growth continue, which even the government scientist who made the prediction called “quite a big if.” Here, check out the rolling seven-day average chart of new cases per capita:

That’s very ungood, and looks a lot like the abrupt rise back in March that led the U.K. to shut down stadiums and pretty much everything else in the first place, so good public health policy there!

But it does make one wonder: How do those wild Covid case rates in Britain compare to those in U.S. states that are allowing sports stadiums to admit fans? The current U.K. rate (against, seven-day rolling average) is 59.1 new cases per day per million residents; looking at which U.S. states are above that rate, we get, let’s see:

Gah! That’s 29 states plus the District of Columbia, if you don’t want to have to count for yourself. And even if not all those states are currently seeing upswings in positive tests, many are: Missouri, for example, which was the site of the very first NFL game of the season to allow fans, and where some fans were subsequently ordered to quarantine because they sat near a fan who subsequently tested positive. Missouri currently has a new-case rate of 238.8 cases per day per million, which is more than quadruple what’s led Britain to close its stadiums.

None of which makes open-air stadium attendance any more (or less) dangerous than we’ve discussed here before. But the best way to have safe public events during a pandemic, it’s extremely clear, is to tamp down the pandemic as far as possible, since it’s tough to catch a virus from a fan neighbor who isn’t infected in the first place. This isn’t to say there shouldn’t be universal precautions — masks are still good — but things like allowing fans into stadiums (or reopening indoor dining, where people are taking their masks off to eat and breathing the same air and really, it skeeves me out just thinking about it) should really be reserved for places where the virus rates are very low, like, yeah, New Zealand still looks good. Maybe the entire NFL should relocate there for 2020, if New Zealand would let germy Americans in, which you know it won’t.

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