Washington Post reporters stick heads up NFL team president’s butt, call it journalism

Yeah, that about sums it up:

The Washington Post article in question is about the Washington NFL team‘s president, Bruce Allen, and can be summed up thusly:

  • People like sports!
  • Allen is a sports guy, his dad having been Hall of Fame coach George Allen! And a political guy, his brother being former Virginia governor George Allen!
  • His boss, team owner Daniel Snyder, is campaigning for a new stadium that he can point to and brag about — “not the hand-me-down venue he acquired from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke” — and needed a guy to spearhead it! You can see where this is going!
  • Fans hate Allen because he fired the team’s popular GM, but he doesn’t hold that against them!
  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is friends with both Allen and Snyder!
  • Virginia offers non-union labor!
  • Bruce Allen is shorter than his brother George!

If you’ve managed to keep reading to this point, you’ll have gotten the idea that this is a kid-gloves profile of the team president trying to shake down Virginia for a new stadium, so it should come as no surprise that it concludes with the paragraph quoted by Burneko in his tweet (and elaborated on in a longer Deadspin WTF reaction piece), which makes total journalistic sense if journalism consists of viewing the world entirely through the subject’s eyes. (And assuming Allen drinks his own Kool-Aid.) It’s slightly more surprising that this is co-bylined by the Post’s NFL reporter and its former business editor — it took two people to write this crap, and one of them maybe even knows how money works — but given my past experience with the Post, maybe somebody high up the editorial chain is still determined to buy local sports teams’ PR line about economic benefits of stadiums at all costs.

Nevada stadium authority chair: Raiders paying no rent in exchange for $750m sounds about right

Hey, remember how Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis proposed paying $1 a year rent to the state of Nevada in exchange for $750 million in stadium subsidies, and we all thought, “Okay, sure he’s going to ask for that, but there’s no reason the state stadium authority needs to take him seriously”? Well, the stadium authority board chair now says $1 a year rent sounds just fine to him:

“It’s based on the fact that the Raiders are going to be investing up to $1.15 billion and certainly taking the risk for any overruns,” board chairman Steve Hill said after the meeting. “So, in order to make that agreement make financial sense, the revenue from the stadium needed to flow to those investors.”

Yes, Davis and his private investors are putting up a lot of money. You know who else is putting up a lot of money? The people of Nevada. And where Davis’s side will have lots of revenue streams like all of the naming rights and ad sales from the stadium to help pay off their share, the state will only have whatever new tax money flows from tourists who weren’t going to go to Las Vegas just because it’s Las Vegas, but now will because it’s Las Vegas with the Raiders, about which sports economist Roger Noll has already said don’t hold your breath. But hey, the main concern of state officials is to cut deals to ensure the profitability of private corporations, right? I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.

It’s up to the stadium authority to determine and sign the lease, with no further input from the state legislature, so Nevada taxpayers are probably doomed. One hopes that at least they’ll manage to get an ironclad non-relocation clause without any “state of the art” loopholes, but with bright lights like Hill in charge, one shouldn’t hope too hard. Too bad Las Vegas doesn’t have anyone living there who has experience negotiating exactly these sorts of clauses and could be brought on to consult on this.

Falcons stadium delayed again, because newfangled roof doesn’t have all its fangles worked out

The much-delayed opening of the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium, originally set for this past March, has been delayed again, this time to a preseason game on August 26. The stated reason? Building a retractable roof that operates like no other roof before turns out to be hard!

[Falcons CEO Steve] Cannon said the latest delay disclosed Tuesday was driven by “steel work that is taking longer than we anticipated” in the roof and an analysis of the construction timeline from this point forward.

He said AMB Group’s expectation is that the roof will be fully operable when the stadium opens.

But Cannon acknowledged that the eight roof petals have required some extra work to make them fit.

“You install a shim that closes a gap or addresses a gap,” he said. “So yes, there was a shimming process that took place, normal seal work on a project of this size and complexity. We have completed all of that work. … It went very well. And now we’re moving on.”

The latest delay means that three Atlanta United games have had to be moved (one to Georgia Tech’s stadium, two to later dates) and demolition of the Georgia Dome has been delayed just in case the Falcons need to play some games there. Not that they’re going to have to do that, heaven forfend, the stadium will absolutely be open by August 26 — just like before it was absolutely going to be open by March 1, and then June 1, and then July 30. It’s also always possible the stadium might open without a fully functional roof at first — that’s happened before, after all, though the Falcons owners might not like reminding of that particular precedent.

No, USA Today, NFL teams aren’t moving because of revenue disparities, you got snookered

An exec for the Cincinnati Bengals said a thing! A USA Today reporter believed him! Let’s investigate whether any of it makes sense.

First, the thing:

The revenue disparity between teams is “the largest it’s ever been in NFL history,” [Bengals vice president Troy] Blackburn told USA TODAY Sports. Even though teams equally share the revenues of NFL television contracts and a portion of ticket sales, they don’t share other local stadium revenues with each other, leading to the rising gap…

“Right now, you’ve got many of the small markets paying over 60-plus percent of their revenues on players, and many of the large markets are paying 40 percent of revenue on players,” said Blackburn, who previously was the team’s director of stadium development and is the son-in-law of Bengals owner Mike Brown. “Something that could be done that narrowed that gap would be helpful, and it would make it easier for the small-market teams to stay where they are and not have to explore relocation.”

USA Today’s took that and spun it into an article claiming that the reason the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders have all moved in the last year is because of these rising disparities between small- and large-market NFL teams, and more (unspecified, but presumably including the Bengals) teams could relocate if nothing is done about it.

Now, this is an odd premise to begin with, seeing as that it’s well known why these three teams moved now: Rams owner Stan Kroenke finally pulled the trigger on calling dibs on the long-vacant Los Angeles market, then the Chargers and Raiders owners rushed to get in on it too lest their only leverage on their current cities disappear, then the Chargers agreed to move in with the Rams because they couldn’t get a big-ass new stadium subsidy in San Diego while the Raiders got a big-ass stadium subsidy from Las Vegas, the end. But let’s set aside everything that our eyes tell us and see if the notion that NFL revenues are unsustainably unequal is supported by the data.

Here’s the latest Forbes team value and revenue figureshttps://www.forbes.com/nfl-valuations/list/#tab:overall. If you take a look at the “Revenue” column (we want gross revenues, not profits, which is what the “Operating Income” column shows), you’ll see that the Dallas Cowboys are crazy outliers at $700 million a year, while the rest of the league sits between $523 million and $301 million a year, meaning the top non-Dallas team earned 74% more than the lowest-revenue team.

If we go back to, say, 2011, the Cowboys are still outliers at $406 million, and the spread for the rest of the NFL is $352 million to $217 million, for a 62% disparity. So the distance between the haves and have-nots is increasing, yes, but note hugely. (You’ll also notice that every team in the league currently turns at least a $26 million profit, so while small-market team owners may be sad that they don’t own the New England Patriots, they can still be happy that they own an NFL team and not pretty much anything else.)

Now, let’s take a look at other sports. For baseball, lopping off the New York Yankees as the Cowboys analogue, we get a $462 million to $205 million revenue spread — a whopping 125%. For the NBA, taking out the New York Knicks, it’s $333 million to $140 million, 137%. For the NHL, omitting the New York Rangers, it’s $202 million to $99 million, 104%.

So while you can quibble with the Forbes numbers (or my methodology), it’s pretty clear that NFL revenue disparities aren’t any worse than those of other leagues that aren’t seeing massive team defections. Which is as to be expected, since the NFL has the strongest revenue-sharing program of any major sports league in North America, in the form of the national TV contract system put together by Pete Rozelle way back in the 1960s. In the NFL, owners get whopping checks just by virtue of owning a team — the only way to get ahead of your competitors isn’t to be in a bigger city with the chance for big cable contracts (the reason why all those New York teams sit atop the revenue charts for other leagues), but to get a more lucrative stadium deal. Which predicts that you’ll see more city-hopping in search of those, which is precisely what’s been happening.

So now that we’ve established that USA Today doesn’t have any fact-checkers on staff, what’s Blackburn’s angle? Is he just feeling whiny that the Bengals play in Cincinnati in a stadium that was a gift from taxpayers 17 whole years ago? Or does he have a specific play in mind:

“If the league is serious about franchise stability, maybe it should consider a new G-3 styled program that would help keep teams in small markets,” Blackburn said. “If it did it once, it can certainly do it again, if it truly cares about the issue.”

Ah, now we’re talking — the Bengals owners are upset that big-market teams are getting league grant money (or were, since both the G-3 fund and its successor G-4 are now depleted), and they’re not. So this whole exercise turns out to have been one NFL owner using the pages of USA Today to convince his fellow NFL owners to give him some of their money, because c’mon guys, you have so much of it!

Of course, the original G-3 program was actually limited to teams in the six biggest markets, in order to provide a check against teams moving to smaller cities in search of those sweet stadium deals mentioned above — with #6 included specifically because Patriots owner Robert Kraft played in the 6th-biggest market, and was threatening to move to Hartford at the time, and was the chair of the committee that designed G-3. So, pretty much the exact opposite of what Blackburn says it was. Oh, fact-checking.

St. Louis city, county sue Rams and NFL for breach of anything they can think of

Back when St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke picked up his team and moved it to Los Angeles, I noted here that hey, I wondered if PSL holders could sue for breach of contract, since they now held the right to buy tickets that didn’t exist? As it turned out, they could, and did, and won, sorta. I did not suggest that the city of St. Louis could sue as well, and for 15 months I was right — until yesterday:

The city, the county and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority are suing the National Football League over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago.

The 52-page suit filed Wednesday in St. Louis Circuit Court lists the National Football League and all 32 NFL clubs as defendants and seeks damages and restitution of profits.

If you’re wondering, “Hey, isn’t the NFL one of those cartel thingies where franchises have the right to move wherever, so long as the other owners say it’s okay?”, why yes. it is. But St. Louis’s lawyers have thought of that, arguing that the Rams “failed to satisfy the obligations imposed by the League’s relocation rules,” and so therefore the public is entitled to damages for:

  • Breach of contract (against all defendants).
  • Unjust enrichment (against all defendants).
  • Fraudulent misrepresentation (against the Rams and team owner Stan Kroenke).
  • Fraudulent misrepresentation (against all defendants).
  • Tortious interference with business expectancy (against all defendants except the Rams). This last count basically alleges that the NFL and the other 31 teams “intentionally interfered” with the business relationship between the St. Louis plaintiffs and the Rams by approving the relocation.

The suit says that the city of St. Louis is losing an estimated $1.85 million to $3.5 million a year in amusement and ticket tax revenue (true as far as it goes, though if bereft Rams fans are spending some of their entertainment dollars on other amusements, the city is getting some of that tax money back) plus about $7.5 million in property tax (whuh?), $1.4 million in sales tax revenue (again, not so much if some fans spend that money on other St. Louis activities), and “millions in earning taxes,” whatever those are. The city and county aren’t saying how much they’re looking for in damages, but if the above is any guide, it would have to be in excess of $100 million.

In essence, the city and county are saying, “Hey, no fair, you said you weren’t gonna move the team unless you had to, and then you did anyway, you cheaters” — which doesn’t seem particularly like a legal argument, but then, I am extremely not a lawyer. Whatever happens in the end, though, the discovery phase of this suit promises to be oh, so tasty, as St. Louis tries to dredge up every last detail of how the relocation decision was made and whether it followed the league’s rules that the NFL totally doesn’t just make up whenever it feels like it. We may get to be a fly on that wall after all.

Raiders owe Oakland $800k in back parking fees, could be evicted in 2019 (or sooner)

Well, now, this is interesting:

The Oakland Raiders owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in parking revenue to the Coliseum stadium authority, which puts them in default on their lease and could jeopardize the team’s ability to keep playing at the Coliseum…

An audit by the authority discovered the Raiders have been making only minimum payments since at least 2013, and owe an estimated $25,000 more per game since then, which could total more than $800,000.

The team has exercised its option to play in Oakland for the 2017 season while their new stadium is being built in Las Vegas. But under the terms of their agreement, if they’re in default and do not make good on the money they owe, that option can be voided.

What’s significant isn’t the $800,000 in missed payments — that’s chump change in the sports industry — but the fact that it puts the Raiders in default of their lease. As we’ve covered here previously, the county-owned Coliseum Authority loses about $1 million a year hosting the Raiders, and county officials would love to see the team leave ASAP, but are hamstrung by two one-year lease extension options that it foolishly handed to Raiders owner Mark Davis last year in hopes it might entice him to stay put. (Note to elected officials everywhere: Giving rich people things for free does not induce them to do nice things back.) If the authority can void that lease on the grounds of missing parking payments, though, then suddenly it can drive a hard bargain with Davis if he wants to stay put until his new Las Vegas stadium is ready — say, by demanding that he help repay the $80 million in public debt that remains on bonds for the Coliseum’s renovation for the Raiders back in the ’90s.

Sadly, authority board members said that they’ll let the Raiders stay put through 2018 so long as Davis makes his back payments, which seems like a missed opportunity. (Though I should say I haven’t actually read the lease language, so I’m not sure how easy it would be to declare the Raiders in default if Davis came up with the $800,000.) It’s hard to see the Coliseum Authority agreeing to let the Raiders play in Oakland in 2019, though — unless, maybe, they came up with $80 million in rent? We can dream, anyway.

Oakland to Raiders: Can you move to Vegas sooner than later, please?

Punchline to that story about Oakland coming out ahead once the Raiders leave for Las Vegas because the Coliseum Authority loses money hosting football games: Oakland has figured it out, and would like the Raiders gone as soon as possible, please:

“I would say to you with the highest level of confidence, my opinion and recommendation and that of my board members — I don’t believe there is any appetite for a third season (in Oakland),” Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority executive director Scott McKibben told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday…

“It’s actually financially to our benefit if they didn’t exercise the options and play here even in the two years they’ve got (in 2017 and 2018),” McKibben added.

That third year is actually up to the Coliseum Authority: The Raiders have lease options in Oakland for 2017 and 2018, but for 2019 — the last year before their new Las Vegas dome is expected to be ready — they can only remain in Oakland if the authority okays it. This raises the possibility of the team actually being evicted and forced to play in UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium for a year. Though a lease extension that sees Raiders owner Mark Davis pay more in rent for 2019 is probably more likely — unless Raiders attendance the next two seasons plummets and makes Davis figure it’s best to get out ASAP, of course, which is entirely possible.

Either way, the prospect of a city evicting a pro sports team because it would do better financially to have its stadium stand empty is a pretty damning indictment of the supposed economic benefits of sports teams, or at least of the sweetheart leases that cities usually hand out. Really, this is something for local elected officials to take notice of when their teams are arriving, not when they’re on their way out — yes, Nevada, I’m talking to you.

Nashville considering extra $1m a year in subsidies so Titans can buy new doors, fences

The city of Nashville is considering giving the owners of the Tennessee Titans an additional $1 million a year because they want new doors. Repeat: The city of Nashville is considering giving the owners of the Tennessee Titans an additional $1 million a year because they want new doors:

“As the stadium ages then the capital needs grow, and they present more frequently,” [says Metro Sports Authority Director Monica] Fawknotson. “We’re just at the place where $1 million is no longer enough to fund the capital needs.” …

The Titans have more than a dozen anticipated projects, totaling $4.4 million, it says is needed to keep Nissan Stadium up to date.

These projects include new environmentally-friendly lighting and digital security systems, new security fencing; updated doors throughout the stadium; fiber-optic upgrades for broadcast TV trucks and transmissions; and roof replacements on concession stands and other buildings.

Those had better be some crazy futuristic doors, that’s all I’m saying.

Under teams of the lease that brought the Titans to Tennessee in 1997, the team owners get to spend money on stadium upgrades, and then the city has to reimburse them for the cost. That is, as previously noted, completely insane, but now that the lease is in place, there’s little the city of Nashville can do but to refill the capital-improvements bucket when it’s run empty, and that’s what it’s set to consider doing now.

I really should quit this whole blog-writing game and go into business as a stadium-lease consultant, shouldn’t I? I promise to save your city millions of dollars in the long run — if that’s what your elected officials care about, which I know it probably isn’t, because in the long run their political careers are all dead.

NFL votes 31-1 to move Raiders to Las Vegas in 2019, Oakland cries all the way to the bank

Well, the NFL went and did it: In a 31-1 vote (Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was the one objector), the league owners yesterday approved the relocation of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, to play in a proposed $1.9 billion stadium that will be funded with the help of $750 million in state subsidies.

This is the third NFL franchise relocation announced in the last year and change, all three involving teams that had relocation at least once before (following the Cleveland-to-Los Angeles-to-St. Louis-to-Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles-to-San Diego-to-Los Angeles Chargers). And reaction was fast and furious and in all directions at once:

  • The Raiders will remain in Oakland for at least the next two and possibly three seasons while their new Vegas stadium is being built, since UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium was deemed even more unacceptable for NFL purposes than a stadium in a city where fans will likely only show up to burn the owner in effigy. Or not show up at all: Famed Raider fan Dr. Death has already announced that he’s ditching both his Raiders gear and his Raiders season tickets, declaring, “That dysfunction, that ineptitude? That problem is no longer mine. Las Vegas, have fun with that.”
  • To have any hope of earning back that $750 million, Nevada will have to draw a stupendous number of new tourists who would come to Vegas just to see the Raiders and then stay for several days, which already looked awfully dubious. Stanford economist Roger Noll chimed in last week that there’s zero evidence for the Raiders’ economic projections, calling the stadium plan “a catenation of optimistic assumptions” for which “the probability that it could happen isn’t zero, but it is pretty close to zero. … Why would they believe a half a million who would never visit Vegas would suddenly show up because there is a football stadium?”
  • If fans don’t show up — and more to the point, if the hike in hotel taxes to pay for the stadium drives down the number of other visitors even slightly — “the money comes out of schools and buses,” notes Slate’s Henry Grabar, since part of the hotel tax currently goes to fund Nevada education and public transit programs.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross write that the Raiders’ stay in Oakland was doomed by the city’s desire to keep the A’s, though really, more to the point is that Oakland officials didn’t want to cough up the hundreds of millions of dollars in stadium funds that Raiders owner Mark Davis was demanding (and so far A’s owner Lew Wolff has not).
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Kimberly Veklerov noted in an article before the vote that Oakland could end up coming out ahead financially from the Raiders’ departure, since the Coliseum Authority currently spends about $1 million more on stadium staffing and conversion of the seating bowl from baseball to football than it receives from Raiders parking, concessions, and rent.

If there’s any sense in any of this — aside from the allure of that $750 million — it’s that the Raiders will now be closer to the Southern California fan base that Davis’s father Al abandoned when he moved the team back to Oakland in 1995. Why, Las Vegas is only a four-hour drive from Los Angeles, so surely half a million people a year will make that trip, then spend the whole weekend gambling, and it won’t take away from any other trips they would have made to Vegas anyway, and oh just never mind, there is no sense in any of this other than that sweet, sweet stadium-subsidy lucre. Enjoy your Raiders (starting in 2019 or so), Las Vegas — they’re your problem now.

NFL expected to vote today to approve Raiders move to Vegas, because $750m talks real loud

The NFL is finally set to cast its vote on allowing Mark Davis to move the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, and at least one prominent observer is predicting it will pass:

On the eve of the NFL’s annual spring meeting in Phoenix, commissioner Roger Goodell told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio that the voting outcome on the Oakland Raiders‘ proposed move to Las Vegas will be “positive.”

“I think we will have a vote, and I think we will have a positive vote. I think we are in pretty good shape,” Goodell said.

Goodell’s job is to do the bidding of the 32 NFL owners, so unless he’s reading the room very poorly, he probably knows of what he speaks. Which means the NFL will soon see its third franchise relocation in the two years since St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke first laid plans to move to Los Angeles and jump-started the whole relocation merry-go-round. And also that the NFL is more excited about a public body writing Davis a $750 million check than worried about how Davis will repay the $650 million he’ll have to borrow, which it probably should be, given that there’s no way anyone else was going to offer the Raiders that much stadium cash, and playing in a relatively small Las Vegas market doesn’t matter too much so long as those national TV checks keep rolling in.

There is still every sign that the Las Vegas Raiders could be a disaster, given not just that $650 million debt load but the, shall we say, uncertainty around whether a team will be able to sell season tickets when its main customer base is expected to be fans of visiting teams who’d like to combine a trip to a road game with some gambling and hearing old guys play music. But they’ve pretty much been a disaster in Oakland, too, so I can certainly see 24 NFL owners saying, “Fine, Mark stumbled into a $750 million check, let him go ahead and try to make it work.”

As for what this means for the league as a whole: L.A. is now full up as a market, and Oakland and San Diego are both close enough to existing NFL cities — Santa Clara and Los Angeles, respectively — and disinterested enough in throwing money at new stadiums that’s it’s unlikely anyone will use them as a move threat anytime soon. Which means the next time an NFL team owner wants to saber-rattle in order to shake loose public funds, he’s going to need to resort to … St. Louis? San Antonio? London? I guess if Las Vegas is an acceptable target, there’s no reason Austin or Birmingham or Portland (either one) isn’t, so this doesn’t really hurt team owners’ leverage much. And it adds to the viability of the threat that teams could move anywhere, anytime, so don’t push us, or we’ll go ahead and do it, believe you me!

Pro football really is the worst of all sports for many, many reasons, and needs to meet a quick and unceremonious demise. Youth football participation seems to have reversed its precipitous decline, but where there’s the fear of death, there’s hope.