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.
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Nobody’s watching football anymore, this is definitely a thing

The plague of empty seats just keeps spreading and spreading across the NFL. Next up, the Baltimore Ravens:

Thousands of fans are trying to resell their tickets to the sold-out game Sunday against the Detroit Lions at 71,000-seat M&T Bank Stadium via Ticketmaster, the team’s official resale outlet, or StubHub. Seats were available this week in almost every section; an $80 ticket for an upper end zone seat could be had for as little as $29…

“The Ravens are finding themselves in the same situation as a lot of NFL teams this year,” said T.J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Bel Air and California. “There is a disengagement by fans across the country stemming from the daily and weekly stories the NFL league office confronts.”

Brightman, and the Baltimore Sun, blame a laundry list of those “daily and weekly stories,” including: national anthem protests, revelations of traumatic brain injuries as a standard consequence of playing the sport, injuries to key players, ticket resale sites, and hi-def TVs. And if some of that doesn’t particularly make sense (TV ratings are down because more people are staying home to watch TV?), everyone is just throwing guesses at the wall right now, cut them some slack.

The photos available on the Sun site don’t actually show the wide swathes of empty seats that other teams have seen, and fans reselling their seats for a crappy game at a discount is nothing new to sports. Still, it’s an indication that Ravens ticket demand is softening, and the next step after this would be people just buying fewer tickets in the first place. It’ll be another few years before we really have enough data points to tell where this is headed, but let’s just say if you had your money on “football will be the new boxing in our lifetimes,” you’ve got to be feeling pretty good about that bet right now.

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Report: Camden Yards hasn’t done squat for surrounding neighborhoods

Bloomberg has a long article today counting the ways in which the Baltimore Orioles‘ Camden Yards has been a lousy investment for the city, costing taxpayers $282 million and bringing little tangible return. (Disclosure: I was interviewed by one of the reporters, but I’m not quoted.) Much of it ends up being he-said-she-said, but the hes (or the shes?) include a nice list of stadium experts, from economists Arthur Rolnick and Victor Matheson to Baltimore community activists William Marker and Julian Lapides, who were two of the first people I interviewed when I started research for the bookField of Schemes a billion years ago.

The most interesting point, given Camden Yards’ reputation as a neighborhood revitalizer, is that not only has there not been an explosion of development around Camden Yards, but the area has arguably declined since the Orioles ballpark and accompanying Ravens football stadium opened in the ’90s. The number of employers in adjacent neighborhoods has declined since 1998 — though as the Baltimore Business Journal rightly notes, comparing the peak of the ’90s economic boom with post–Great Recession figures is a bit unfair — with city having previously paid several employers to leave the area to make way for stadium construction. And unemployment and crime numbers are up as well. (Since we were playing with crime heat maps last week for central Atlanta, it’s interesting to compare with those for supposedly “revitalized” Baltimore.)

Florida State University urban planner Tim Chapin, whose speciality is studying which sports projects are better or worse catalysts for development (or maybe worse and less worse is a better way of putting it), tells Bloomberg:

“While it expanded the tourist bubble to the west, it didn’t wholesale save the downtown economy or prop up very poor neighborhoods not too far from downtown,” Chapin said.

The Baltimore Business Journal’s James Briggs complains that Camden Yards is unfairly being made the “poster child” for bad stadium deals when there are so many worse ones, but that really misses the point here, which is: The Orioles’ stadium has been widely portrayed as the poster child for successful stadium deals, but in fact its return for Baltimore has been somewhere between meh and craptastic. At best, you can say that the Camden Yards stadiums haven’t done much of anything for the surrounding neighborhoods, except bring a bunch of people to drive past them 81 times a year en route to the Orioles-controlled shops along Eutaw Street inside the stadium gates.

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The Waverly neighborhood around the Orioles’ old home of Memorial Stadium, meanwhile, appears none the worse for wear since the team’s departure. On second thought, maybe this should go on some kind of poster, because the occasional Bloomberg article sure doesn’t seem to be getting the message across.

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Ravens to actually pay for own stadium upgrades (mostly)

It’s official: Absolutely everybody with a ’90s-era football stadium wants to make upgrades to it. Latest are the Baltimore Ravens, who just announced $35 million in improvements to their stadium over the next two offseasons, including four new video boards (of course) and expanded concessions.

The Ravens presumably hope these additions will boost their revenue, so they’re investing their own money in paying for them. Sort of:

[Ravens president Dick] Cass said that the organization will assume most of the project’s $35 million price tag. However, the Ravens have asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to assume a “small portion” of the cost, stemming from the installation of new directional signage throughout the stadium.

I have no idea 1) why the state stadium authority is responsible for directional signage, 2) why new signs are needed to direct fans to new video boards, or 3) how much a few signs could possibly cost, but that’s what the man said. At least it appears that the Ravens are paying for most of the renovation costs themselves, which is more than you can say for some other NFL teams with stadiums of similar vintage — though we’ll see what happens when and if the Ravens management decides that 71,000 seats is too many for the modern football era.

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Ohio pols: Modell was offered Cleveland stadium plan, turned it down

When former Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell died last week, much of the press coverage was devoted to reporting on how he moved his team from Cleveland to Baltimore after his longtime hometown refused to build him a new stadium with public money. With the result, among other things, that a planned memorial at a home game of the revived Browns was cancelled at the request of the Modell family, who were afraid the fans would boo. (Or cheer, maybe. Really, either is inappropriate at a memorial, right?)

Anyway, Modell demanded a new stadium, Cleveland said no, Modell absconded to Charm City, and Cleveland ended up building a new stadium anyway to get a team back. Right? Maybe not, it turns out:

Today, the consciences of a couple of old-guard Cleveland politicians give us a long-hidden fact about Modell’s departure. Specifically, when Modell claimed he would have stayed if city leaders had offered to build him a stadium, he was lying…

George Forbes, who was Cleveland’s council president during the late 1980s and a key player in negotiations with team owners during planning for Gateway, said he and others asked Modell to be a part of the project.

Forbes said leaders proposed building a third Gateway sports facility for the Browns, just south of the Inner Belt a couple of blocks from what is now Progressive Field…

I called [former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim] Hagan, who championed the Gateway complex and suffered great criticism about its cost to taxpayers. He confirmed Forbes’ account. He described the offer as informal but honest.

“There is no question we made an effort,” Hagan said.

That’s Mark Naymik in yesterday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, which set off another round of hating on Modell from PD readers, though with a hefty side of hating on Cleveland politicians as well. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter much whether some Cleveland pols made a last-ditch offer to build a stadium for Modell before he skipped town. But it does, as one PD commenter notes, make the owner’s famous words on moving the team — “I had no choice” — even more of an overreach.


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Ravens snow cleanup team includes prison labor

I’m always on the lookout for offbeat subsidies to sports teams — bridges to nowhere and the like. Well, this is certainly a new one:

The Baltimore Ravens used actual convicts — 125 inmates and supervisors from the Department of Corrections — to join the 700 workers at M&T Bank Stadium to clear the building for this afternoon’s game with the Bears. …

The Baltimore Sun reports that the inmates and workers, many of them volunteers, are putting the finishing touches on clearing a record December snowstorm. The area was hit with 21 inches of snow, the most for the month since records started being kept in 1883.

Needless to say, most Baltimore residents don’t get the services of state-supplied labor to help dig them out when a storm hits — as one Baltimore Sun reader pointed out. It’s also still not clear whether the state (or, I guess, the prisoners) were paid for their labor, despite the efforts of citizen journalists to clear this matter up the best way they know how.

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Colts leaving good for Baltimore?

I’ve read a bunch of good reporting from Baltimore Sun writer Childs Walker, and even been interviewed by him, so I’m not happy to have to nominate him for dumbest observation of the day on the 25th anniversary of the Baltimore Colts moving to Indianapolis:

With 25 years of perspective, however, it’s possible to argue that March 29, 1984, was actually a good day for Baltimore sports. It allowed the city to cut ties with a desperately flawed franchise and a deeply unpopular owner. It spurred elected officials to get serious about plans that would keep the Orioles in Baltimore and attract a new NFL team. Those plans bore fruit in Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, beloved facilities that are now as intrinsic to downtown as the Inner Harbor. The Ravens arrived in 1996 and won a Super Bowl six years before the Colts brought Indianapolis its first Lombardi Trophy.

Uhhhh, so let me get this straight: It’s good that the Colts moved and left the city without an NFL team for a decade because it ended up forcing the state to spend $330 million on two new stadiums? Isn’t that a bit like saying the economic crash was good because it forced the government to increase unemployment insurance?

Also nowhere to be found in Walker’s article: Any mention of the fact that the Ravens, after all, “arrived” from 50 years of being the Cleveland Browns, a move that forced that city to pony up $283 million for a new stadium to get football back. Though I guess when the thesis of your article is “Hey, it worked out okay, we ended up with a better team and all it cost us was $330 million!” there’s no room to worry about how things worked out for the next guy.

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