Friday roundup: Lots more fans showing up disguised as empty seats

Is public financing of sports venues worth it? If you’ve been noticing a bit of a dip in the frequency of posts on this site over the past few months, it’s not your imagination: I had a contract job as a fill-in news editor that was taking up a lot of my otherwise FoS-focused mornings. That job has run its course now, which should make it a bit easier to keep up with stadium and arena news on a daily basis going forward, instead of leaving much of it to week-ending wrapups.

That said, you all do seem to love your week-ending wrapups, so here’s one now:

Friday roundup: Will Royals sale spark new stadium, is Miami asbestos report a Beckham ploy, could developers influence Bills’ future?

Happy last Friday of summer! You’re probably busy getting ready to go somewhere for the long weekend, but if you’re instead staying put (and enjoying the space left by all the people going somewhere for the long weekend), consider spending some time if you haven’t yet reading my Deadspin article on “What’s The Matter With Baseball?“, which interrogates the various theories for MLB’s attendance decline and determines which ones may not be total crap. Do I conclude that it’s all the fault of team owners who’d rather charge rich people through the nose for a lesser number of tickets than try to sell more seats to less deep-pocketed fans? No spoilers!

And now to the news, and lots of it:

  • A new rich guy is buying the Kansas City Royals, and already there’s speculation about whether John Sherman will demand a new stadium when (or before) the team’s Kauffman Stadium lease is up in 2031. The Kansas City Star editorializes that “Kansas Citians should reject any plan that significantly increases public spending for the Royals, either for a new downtown stadium or a ballpark somewhere else,” and further notes that there’s no guarantee a new stadium would even help the Royals’ bottom line (“Winning, it turns out, is more important than a new stadium”), which is all a nice first step; let’s see what happens when and if Sherman actually opens his mouth about his plans.
  • Miami has closed Melreese golf course after determining it had high levels of arsenic and reopened Melreese golf course after environmental officials determined there was nothing “earth shattering” about the pollution levels. And now there’s concern by at least one city commissioner (Manolo Reyes, if you’re scoring at home) that the release of the arsenic findings is part of a ploy by David Beckham’s Inter Miami to get a discount on the lease price of the land, which is still being hashed out. The Miami Herald reports that the team and city are at loggerheads over whether to take environmental remediation costs into account when determining the land value; this epic Beckham stadium saga may have a couple more chapters to go yet.
  • Buffalo developers Carl and William Paladino are really excited about the possibility of a new Bills stadium near land their own, because they could either sell it to the team at an inflated price or develop it themselves once people are excited to live or shop near a new football stadium. (No, I don’t know why anyone would be excited to live or shop near a football stadium only open ten days a year, just go with it.) Carl Paladino once ran for governor of New York, so it’s worth watching to see if he uses his political ties (or skeezy lobbyist friends) to try to influence the Bills’ stadium future.
  • A group trying to get an MLB team for Nashville may not have a stadium or a site or a team, but they do have a name for their vaporteam: the Nashville Stars. Guy-who-wants-to-be-an-MLB-owner John Loar tells the Tennessean he decided on the name “after reading a book on Nashville’s baseball history by author Skip Nipper,” which is presumably this one; the Seraphs, Blues, Tigers, Americans, Volunteers, and Elite Giants honestly all seem like better names than the Stars, which was last used by a franchise in the World Basketball League (the basketball league where tall players weren’t allowed, which, yes, was actually a thing), but it’s really not worth arguing over the name a team that may never exist in our lifetimes.
  • The Richmond city council’s plan to approve spending $350 million on a new downtown arena without consulting the public has hit an apparent snag, which is that four or five members of the nine-member council reportedly oppose the plan, and seven votes are needed to pass it.
  • The editor of the San Francisco Examiner has penned an opinion piece saying the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is overly opulent and expensive — premium lounges feature wine butlers and private dining rooms, so yeah — but is resigned to this as a necessity (or at least the headline writer is) that it’s “the price we pay for a privately-funded arena.” Which, does anyone really think the Warriors owners would have passed up the chance to charge through the nose for wine butler service if they’d gotten public money? This is the price we pay for rampant income inequality, and don’t you forget it.

Friday roundup: Developer dreams, MLB expansion dreams, and stadiums that only exist on your TV

Still traveling, so super-brief Friday roundup this week:

Friday roundup: Raleigh MLS project funding, Islanders’ train station costs, Flames arena talks are all ???

Happy Friday! If you’ve been wondering if Scott McCaughey’s excellent new album of songs written while in a hospital room recovering from a stroke can drown out the sound of poorly timed jackhammering by the gas company right outside your window, I’m here to report: Not nearly well enough!

Typing really loud so you can hear me over the din:

  • Raleigh residents are concerned that a development project centered on a new soccer stadium could price them out of living in the city. Also, there isn’t actually enough Wake County tax money available to pay for the project’s proposed $390 million public cost. And Raleigh doesn’t have an MLS team, or the promise of one. Other than that, this is going swimmingly.
  • Newsday has contradicted Long Island Business News’s report that New York state will pay “most” of the cost of a new $300 million train station for an Islanders arena at Belmont Park, saying that the actual cost is only $100 million and developers will pay most of it. Unnamed source fight!
  • Calgary city councillor Jeff Davison, who is spearheading behind-closed-doors talks with the Flames owners over a new arena, says, “We do not have a deal today, and when we will have one and if we will have one is totally up in the air. But what we can tell the public today is that discussions are productive but they’re not complete. We can’t give an exact date as to when we’ll be back with any information [but] I’m confident if we do bring a plan back, that the public will support it.” Pretty sure that translates as “Still talking, ask again later.”
  • Noah Pransky has been on a writing tear about the Tampa Bay Rays mess this week, including a review of an article he wrote in July 2009 predicting much of what has since come to pass and an analysis of how hotel-tax money that Tampa officials say can’t be spent for things like policing or libraries really can, because they could be used to free up general-fund money that’s currently spent on tourism-related expenses. “Where’s the study on best uses for that new money?” writes Pransky at Florida Politics. “How about just a best-use conversation, held out in the sunshine?” Crazy talk!
  • Speaking of tax money that could be spent on other things, Cuyahoga County is considering a 1% hotel tax hike to free up $4.6 million a year to spend on its convention center and sports venues, which in present value comes to about $70 million. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer article on this is entirely about how the bed tax hike would affect the hotel industry, because of course it is.)
  • “Could an NFL Stadium [for the Buffalo Bills] be Built on an Abandoned Coke Plant Property?” asks Erie News Now, boldly toying with Betteridge’s Law.
  • Worcester will break ground next Thursday on its new heavily subsidized Triple-A Red Sox stadium set to open at the beginning of the 2021 season, which, uh, isn’t a lot of time. They’d better hope that the climate crisis means a less stormy winter construction season in New England, which, uh, isn’t likely.

Roger Goodell touts new Buffalo Bills stadium by pretty much straight-up reading from Field of Schemes chapter four

One of the most important job responsibilities of any sports commissioner is shaking down cities for new or improved stadiums in situations where it would be too awkward for team owners to make direct threats themselves, which is to say in pretty much all situations. And of all sports commissioners, none has thrown himself into this aspect of the job than the NFL’s Roger Goodell, who has made an emergency flight to Minnesota to threaten the state legislature over the Vikings, tried to get St. Louis to build a new Rams stadium 20 years after the last one, and held out Super Bowls as a carrot for cities that agree to fund new stadiums, among other things.

Goodell has been especially vocal in the case of the Buffalo Bills, declaring in 2014 that a new stadium was necessary to keep the team in Buffalo even though the team was in the process of a sale that required any new owners to keep the team in Buffalo, and then reiterating in 2016 that “we’ve got great facilities here now and the Bills have to stay up with that.” So since it’s been a couple of years, yesterday at a golf tournament he was at it again:

“The reason why I’m supportive is because I want to make sure this franchise remains stable here, and continues, and remains competitive,” Goodell told reporters. “And I think it’s great for this community. And we’ve been able to do these stadiums in such a way that it creates a tremendous economic benefit, too.

“I want the Bills to be successful and I want them to continue to be competitive here in Buffalo.”

That’s a lot of coded arguments all in the span of a few short sentences, so let’s unpack them. Fortunately, it’s easy to do so, since Joanna Cagan and I wrote up pretty much all of these rhetorical moves way back in 1998, in Chapter Four of the very first edition of Field of Schemes:

  • “I want to make sure this franchise remains stable here, and continues.” This is the non-threat threat, as practiced by league commissioners since time immemorial, and sometimes even lesser league officials: In 1996, now all-but-forgotten National League president Leonard Coleman warned during Astros stadium talks that “We want to do all we can to first keep a team in Houston,” which turned out to be mostly Houston taxpayers doing something, as the public covered $180 million worth of stadium and private owners covered only $85 million.
  • “And remains competitive.” This is leveling the playing field, the argument that teams without new stadiums invariably lose — whether lose games or lose money or what is usually not made clear. In another book I established that there’s very little correlation between new stadiums and teams winning ballgames in MLB (new stadiums turned out to be worth about 5.5 wins per year in their first five seasons, most likely due to team owners spending more on players now that they could have the hope of selling more expensive tickets to see them play), and in the NFL, where pretty much every team has similar revenues and expenses thanks to shared TV money and the salary cap, it’s an even sillier notion that new homes lead to more wins.
  • “I think it’s great for this community.” This is the intangibles argument, where you note that it’s impossible to put a price on having a sports team to root for. Except that when economists have attempted to put a price on that very thing, they’ve found that it’s worth a lot less to residents than the cost of a new stadium or arena.
  • “We’ve been able to do these stadiums in such a way that it creates a tremendous economic benefit, too.” This is playing the numbers, and don’t even get me started.

The amusing thing about the Bills situation — or the alarming one, depending on how you look at it — is that team owners Kim and Terry Pegula seem lukewarm at best on demanding a new stadium, saying one would be nice and all, but they’re really pricey to build and tickets at them are expensive and maybe let’s all talk about it another time. Goodell, though, has only one setting, and that’s maximum shakedown mode, even when being interviewed at a golf tee. Guess he’s gotta make the other NFL owners feel like he’s earning that $40 million annual salary somehow

 

 

Friday roundup: Sacramento soccer subsidies, Fire could return to Chicago, and a giant mirrored basketball

Did I actually write a couple of days ago that this was looking like a slow news week? The stadium news gods clearly heard me, and when they make it rain news, they make it pour:

Bills owners and Erie County start talk of “impactful” “scaled-down” “billion-dollar” stadium

The Buffalo Bills owners said all kindsa stadium-related things the other day, which add up to — well, let’s start by putting them all in one place:

“[Management consulting firm CCA Icon’s owner] said, ‘Listen, this is going to be one of the biggest, most impactful projects to come [to Buffalo] in almost 50 years by the time we get around to it. Just make sure you keep your eyes wide open,'” [Bills co-owner Kim] Pegula said of the conversation with the executive.

“[The CCA Icon owner] said, ‘Keep your eyes, your ears, your head wide open because this is gonna be a game-changer for Western New York.’ So that’s what I’ve been doing,” [Kim] Pegula said. “I’m not going to put any numbers or anything on it.”

“It’s going to take a lot of work from a lot of people. The county, the fans, us, the stadium, the league, the state,” [Kim] Pegula said. “I [want] to make sure that people understood and had the patience. It is going to be a big undertaking with a lot of people involved.”

“I think the answer is probably a scaled-down version of some of these palaces that are being built around the country,” Buffalo Bills co-owner Terry Pegula told reporters Tuesday night as the NFL meeting at the Arizona Biltmore came to a close. “The thing [Los Angeles Rams owner] Stan [Kroenke] is building in L.A. is amazing, Jerry Jones’ facility in Dallas. So we need to do something that’s Buffalo style.”

“It’s pretty extensive, the work [CCA Icon is] doing,” [Terry] Pegula said. “I can’t comment on what the results are because I don’t know. We have dribs and drabs of what they’ve seen so far, but we’re open to any option and we’ll see what the market study says. … We’re waiting for our study to come out to see what all they tell us what our market can support.”

Asked if he would be willing to foot the bill for a new stadium, Terry Pegula said, “I don’t know.”

So put it all together and we have something “big” and a “game-changer” and also “scaled-down” and “Buffalo style” but really they can’t say anything until the market study is done and whether it’ll be a new stadium or renovations and who’ll pay for it is ¯_(ツ)_/¯ . Thanks for the update, Pegulas!

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, meanwhile, said that “scaled-down” still probably means “you’ve got to expect at least a billion dollars,” but that “that’s a conversation that we, in the county, as well as the state and the Pegulas will have when the time has come,” which isn’t yet. This is what behavioral economists call anchoring, and if the Pegulas and Erie County eventually propose, say, a $990 million stadium for which New York state taxpayers will only pay $700 million, don’t say you weren’t warned.

 

Friday roundup: Buffalo saber-rattling, Edmonton parking fee shortfall, Chicago music venues go to war against soccer plans

And in other news of the week:

  • This was actually last week, but I missed it then: Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has led the city council in voting to conduct a new appraisal of the Angel Stadium property as Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno prepares to opt out of his team’s lease next year. Councilmember Kris Murray, one of the two no votes, argued that this was tantamount to telling the Angels to leave; Tait replied that knowing how much the land was worth would be crucial to any stadium negotiations the incoming mayor will have with Moreno. The Gang of Four is going to miss Tom Tait.
  • The owners of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres have hired consultants CAA ICON and architecture firm Populous to “give us options” for renovating or replacing the teams’ existing venues. This is not necessarily the first step toward demanding new buildings, but it’s more of a step than the Pegulas have taken thus far, so certainly bears watching.
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been giving away unused tickets for free to their season ticket holders, to try to fill up the seats at their underattended games. Finally something that Los Angeles Chargers fans can point and laugh at! Both of them!
  • The $8.7 million a year that Edmonton was projecting to bring in from parking fees outside the Oilers‘ new arena turns out to be somewhat less: just $2.5 million a year, leaving the city with a roughly $57 million hole in its arena budget. City councillor Jon Dziadyk immediately leaped into action, blaming the reduced parking fees on people not wanting to drive downtown because there are too many bike lanes.
  • Hey, remember that minor-league soccer stadium a major Chicago developer wanted to build as part of a major Chicago development, originally pegged to luring Amazon to town but now with a life of its own? Turns out the whole thing would be funded by tax increment financing kickbacks, and would include three to five new concert venues to be run by the entertainment giant Live Nation that local concert venue operators say would drive their non-subsidized clubs out of business. The Chicago Tribune reports that the fledgling Chicago Independent Venue League “already had its new logo, a peregrine falcon wrapped with a snake, printed on black tee-shirts,” which honestly is going to be tough for any soccer team to top.

Buffalo News: We will bombard you with mixed metaphors until Bills agree to demand a $1B stadium

The Buffalo Bills stadium situation is a weird one, with the team’s owners Kim and Terry Pegula insisting a new building isn’t a priority for them, while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and especially the Buffalo News have insisted that they do too need one, and soon! And in the wake of Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz saying that a new Bills stadium would cost $1 billion, which would be too rich for the public’s blood, the News editorial board has doubled down to insist: Oh, yes, there will be a new stadium. No, really, that’s what the editorial was titled, and it went on to say:

Does Buffalo want to remain in the football business?

We say yes to that, also. And to stay here long-term, the Bills will inevitably need a new stadium. The price for one will be likely more than $1 billion….

The current county lease on New Era Field will run out in five years. The Pegulas and Poloncarz are starting to stake out positions and float trial balloons. The balloons may not be full of hot air, but they should not be taken as anything more than conversation starters. The closer we get to the deadline on the lease expiring, the more serious the talks will get.

That … is a very confusing metaphor there (hot air normally means it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but hot air is what makes hot-air balloons fly and oh my brain). And the News editorial board, whose members presumably got their position because of long experience with the written word, didn’t stop there:

Some people keep their old car until it falls apart, but as a region we can’t afford to drive this stadium into the ground.

No no no when you drive something into the ground that’s “drive” as in driving a stake not a car, and anyway stadiums don’t have moving parts so they don’t wear out like cars do, oh just never mind.

In any event, readers can skip to the last paragraph of the editorial, which goes like so:

The Bills are part of our civic fabric and if we have to pony up some tax dollars or added ticket fees to keep the team from becoming the Portland or St. Louis Bills, that’s the cost of remaining a major-league city.

You better help pay for a $1 billion stadium that your elected officials say you can’t afford and that the team’s owners aren’t demanding, or else your team will move to one of two cities that have shown no interest in building new NFL stadiums, so there! The editorial writers seem to have forgotten that Buffalo would still have the Sabres even if the Bills moved to Oshkosh or Boise, but these guys were clearly on a roll, so don’t confuse them with facts, okay?

Friday roundup: Chargers L.A. move still a disaster, Raiders still lack 2019 home, Rays still short of stadium cash

I’ve been busy getting my post-Village Voice life rolling this week — here’s my first article for Gothamist, on how to fight Amazon’s monopoly power, and I’ve also started a Twitter account for following ex-Voice news writers as we keep up our work for other outlets — but Friday mornings are sacred, for they are stadium and arena news roundup time: