Charlotte newspaper to new Panthers owners: Here’s how to shake us down for stadium cash

So I know I’ve poked fun before at the Charlotte news media for wondering aloud about how to meet the new Carolina Panthers owners’ demands for a new stadium when the new owners haven’t even been selected yet, let alone have they made any stadium demands. But, guys, this is getting seriously nuts.

Here, for your perusal, is an article from today’s Charlotte Observer, an actual newspaper, about all the ways that a prospective Panthers owner could extort stadium money from taxpayers, and which ones would work best:

  1. “We need a new stadium built outside Uptown Charlotte.” Unlikely to work, says Tom Regan, graduate director of the University of South Carolina’s sport and entertainment management department, because it’s too hard to get to the outskirts of town, just look at how the San Francisco 49ers are suffering in Santa Clara. (Which probably isn’t actually the reason for the 49ers’ woes, but whatever.)
  2. “A new domed stadium will draw frequent major events.” They only play the Super Bowl and Final Four once a year each, so they wouldn’t be in Charlotte very often regardless.
  3. “A major retrofit on Bank of America Stadium is necessary.” The place is only 22 years old and just got a significant taxpayer-funded upgrade, seriously?
  4. “If you don’t give us what we want, we’ll find a city that will.” “Given the current ownership structure of the Panthers and ongoing renovations (and lease agreements) at BOA,” says Vanderbilt sports economist John Vrooman, “the new majority ownership partner will probably be from or have strong financial ties to sweet home Carolina, and the Panthers are not likely to engage a credible franchise-relocation stadium-extortion game for at least another decade.”
  5. “We’ve upgraded, but there are still things city could help us do.”
    Add more suites at public expense, maybe, suggests Regan? Who could say no to that, right?

None of this specific analysis is incorrect, per se — in fact, it sounds like the Observer polled a bunch of stadium experts and got back, “The Panthers don’t really have much reason to complain or much leverage.” But the thrust of the article itself — trying to figure out which arguments for getting public stadium money might work best, like you’re a consultant to the team’s new owners rather than, you know, a journalism outlet — remains nuts, and is even more so when you consider the headline:

‘Stadium extortion’ arguments for Panthers ‘folly,’ industry experts say – except one

Except even Regan didn’t say that demanding more upgrades like suites wasn’t “folly” — in fact, he said, “When I look at stadiums on the East Coast – outside of the domes — Charlotte has one of the nicer stadiums.” So the Observer is really bending over backwards here to find some way to spin this as “Charlotte needs to do something for the Panthers.” I’d expect better from a major newspaper, but then, I’d also expect a headline that doesn’t make it sound like “one industry expert” is the exception, not one stadium extortion argument, so clearly I’m not hep to the ways of 21st-century journalism.

How not to evaluate how much public money to spend on a stadium, in seven easy steps

I’ve often said that cities should calculate what sports teams are actually worth to them before writing a blank check for a stadium or arena — you know, like Naheed Nenshi has tried to do in Calgary — so when Andrew Dunn, editor-in-chief of something called the Charlotte Agenda (“Charlotte Agenda exists to make Charlotte the smartest, most human city in the world”! Also: “We believe in drinking beer at work”!), set out to do just that today for a Carolina Panthers stadium deal, gotta give him at least some props, right? Let’s see how he did:

  • “Economists generally agree that the costs to taxpayers outweigh the benefits of all the additional spending on construction, hotels, restaurants, tickets and concessions.” He can read! Good start!
  • Notes that Charlotte paid $87.5 million in 2013 for a six-year lease extension for the Panthers, which means “the going rate is at least $13.75 million per year to make a team stay put.” He doesn’t note that that was one of the worst returns on a stadium subsidy in history, so maybe his reading doesn’t extend to this site.
  • “I believe that the Panthers are worth public money.” That’s kind of assuming your conclusion there, but in case he means “something, even if it’s only a penny,” I’ll allow it.
  • “I’ll grant that Charlotte’s government will never be able to directly recoup in employment and sales taxes the money it puts toward the Panthers. But putting public money toward pro sports shouldn’t be analyzed that way. Think of it more as a marker of what kind of city we want Charlotte to be.” Followed by an assertion that the Hornets and Panthers “put the Charlotte name in the national consciousness and touched off a business boom,” his sole presented evidence being a 1994 Chicago Tribune article in which a Hornets season-ticket holder says that the teams put Charlotte on the map.
  • “An investment in the Panthers is not using the same money that would build affordable housing.” This because the city could use hotel and rental car tax money that is earmarked for promoting tourism, notwithstanding that if general fund revenue ends up being used on a tourism project because the hotel and rental car tax fund is all spent on a football stadium, it’s absolutely taking away from money for things like affordable housing.
  • “Let’s figure out what we’re willing to do before a new ownership group gets involved. They’ll buy the team knowing what support they can count on from the community.” I.e., let’s make an offer before we’ve even been asked for anything. Where figuring out what a team’s presence is worth to a city (and, just as important, whether it has any better options for leaving if you don’t lavish its owners with cash) is a great preparatory step for negotiations, up and telling new team owners, “Hey, we have a check this big waiting for you!” is a terrible, terrible idea. What were we just saying about bidding against yourself?
  • “Perhaps both sides will come out in the black.” Uhhh, remember bullet point #1 back up there? Where you wrote that economists agree a win-win situation almost never happens? Maybe his reading doesn’t even extend to the very editorial he’s writing.

Overall grade: D, maybe C-minus for a good essay topic, but the execution needs a lot of work. To do this right you need to analyze the actual return on a stadium investment in tax revenues, the emotional value of an NFL team to a community, any measurable impact on business activity as a result of the presence of sports teams (though those economists back in the first paragraph have it covered for you: there is none), what other options the team has to move, and so on. Instead, Dunn’s analysis comes down to: Economists say stadiums don’t pay off, but I really like football, and there’s tourism tax money just sitting right there, so somebody just offer something already, I can’t take this uncertainty! Sounds like somebody needs another beer.

Friday roundup: A’s won’t give up on Laney, Isles could play “some” games at Coliseum, more!

Tons of stray news items this week, so let’s get right to them:

  • The Rhode Island state senate’s finance committee approved $44 million in spending by the state and city of Pawtucket for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, which is what everyone expected, because the real opposition is in the state house. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said that if the bill passes the Senate, “it will be assigned to the House Finance Committee and be given a public hearing,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but then, Mattiello has been saying consistently that his constituents hate this plan.
  • Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval said that the team owners have “identified three final locations” for a new stadium, and … they’re the same three sites the team announced more than a year ago, even after Laney College officials since took themselves out of the running. “We spent a lot of time getting it to three final sites, and those are the sites that are viable,” Kaval told reporters. Props for sticking to your convictions, I guess, but there’s a time to go to a Plan B, and it’s maybe after Plan A told you, “Get offa our lawn.”
  • The city of Liverpool is set to spend £280 million on a new stadium for Everton F.C., four years after saying no to a similar plan, but Mayor Joe Anderson defends the plan as a loan that the team will repay and more. The Guardian reports that “the city council could make £7m-a-year profit from interest charged on a loan of £280m over 25 years, plus extra revenue from business rates and related developments once the stadium is up and running” — which sounds good if the profit is guaranteed just from the loan payments (the city would reportedly have first dibs on Everton team revenue), not so much if it would rely on those “related developments,” which could be stuff that would happen with or without a new stadium. As is so often the case, it all comes down to what that comma means.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman toured Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, after which New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky said he was “confident” that “some games” would be played there while waiting for a new Belmont Park arena to be built, but that playing full seasons there would be “difficult.” So that would imply … some games in Nassau and some in Brooklyn, since the two arenas have the same owner? Some in Nassau and some at Madison Square Garden, which is set to help build the new arena? Some in Nassau and some on a frozen-over East River after that ice age that the American Museum of Natural History seems to think is imminent hits? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • A Unitarian minister writes in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer that if the Charlotte city council is going to spend money on a new Carolina Panthers stadium, it should be required to build affordable housing, too. My theology is shaky at best, so I’m not sure what Unitarianism has to say about a right canceling out a wrong.
  • Speaking of North Carolina, the Hurricanes got a new owner this week, and in his first few hours as head of the team, he didn’t demand a new arena or threaten to move the team without one. Though that may have more to do with the team’s sweetheart lease on its current arena that last through 2024, which had led former owner Peter Karmanos to say in 2015 that “we’d have to be idiots to move from here,” so give the new guy a few more hours, at least.
  • This. You’re welcome.

Charlotte TV station knows a guy with a farm where Panthers stadium could go, totally

The Carolina Panthers story so far: Team owner Jerry Richardson was investigated for sexual harassment and stepped down as managing partner and said he would sell his stake, and immediately speculation started as to whether whoever bought the team would demand a new stadium, and then the local media jumped ahead straight to wondering where this phantom stadium that the new owner who hasn’t even been finalized yet might demand would go, and that brings us to last night’s WCNC-TV headline:

EXCLUSIVE: Where the new Carolina Panthers stadium could be built

The actual story, such as it is, is that two unnamed sources told the station that there is “interest” in building a stadium near the South Carolina border, and there’s a guy who owns a 220-acre farm there and his daughter-in-law went to school with the son of possible new owner Felix Sabates, and it’s truly amazing that this is an EXCLUSIVE and nobody else is on this story, huh?

But I didn’t come to you today just to laugh at self-important local TV news broadcasts; no, I came to you to laugh at what that headline really should bring to mind. Because where a new stadium “could” be? WCNC really should have shaken down a few more unnamed sources, because the possibilities are endless:

  • Here are 21 lots in Charlotte that are big enough to hold a football stadium. (Okay, one appears to be the side of a hill, but that worked for Dodger Stadium, right?)
  • If you’re willing to go further afield in North Carolina, here are 304 sites around the state that would work.
  • You know where there’s a lot of cheap land? Alaska. Just saying.
  • Olympus Mons. Pros: Lots of room for parking and ancillary development. Cons: Minor media market, but as long as you get a cut of the NFL’s national TV contract that shouldn’t matter too much, right?

This has been your morning exercise in finding places to build a stadium for an owner who doesn’t even own the team yet, let alone has he demanded a replacement for its stadium that’s just 21 years old, but that’s the job of journalism, right, to anticipate subsidy demands before they’re made and make them for you? Pretty sure it’s something like that.

Friday roundup: Panthers stadium rumors, Isles temporary arena plans, and Project Wolverine

It’s the first news roundup of 2018! Please remember to stop writing “2017” on all your stadium-subsidy checks.

  • The Carolina Panthers haven’t even been sold yet following owner Jerry Richardson’s resignation amid sexual harassment complaints, and already Charlotte news outlets are wondering where a new owner would put the new stadium that they would no doubt demand. The Panthers’ current stadium is 24 years old. Yes, human civilization is doomed.
  • The Rhode Island state senate has tweaked its Pawtucket Red Sox stadium proposal, giving the city of Pawtucket a flat $250,000-a-year cut of naming rights fees instead of 50% of whatever the team got, and clarifying that the team would pay overruns on construction costs, but not land acquisition costs. The PawSox owners released a statement calling this “encouraging,” while House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he has “sensed resistance with the public” to putting $38 million in public cash into the deal. It looks likely that this is still headed for another Senate-House standoff, in other words.
  • New Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter has a plan code-named Project Wolverine (for Jeter’s home state of Michigan, not the X-Man) that projects windfall profits by getting Fox to give the team a massive new TV deal and attendance to spike despite selling off all his best players. This has nothing to do with stadiums except to remind everyone that giving former owner Jeffrey Loria a new ballpark at taxpayer expense was a waste of close to a billion dollars, and getting Loria to sell to Jeter doesn’t seem to have raised hopes any of having management that isn’t delusional or focused solely on squeezing every last dollar of profit possible from a franchise that will forever be selling off any players as soon as they figure out how to play baseball. Miami might have been better off keeping its money and using it to buy residents plane tickets to go see a real baseball team.
  • NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the league “wouldn’t rule out” the New York Islanders playing games temporarily at Nassau Coliseum while a new arena at Belmont Park is under construction, which makes sense, because why would they? Sure, the Coliseum now only holds 13,000 for hockey games after its renovation, but the Islanders’ current home of the Barclays Center only holds 15,795, and at least the Coliseum doesn’t have its ice all off-center. Plus, the Islanders aren’t drawing even 13,000 a game anyway, so it’ll just be a matter of fewer empty seats until the new arena is opened, which we still don’t know when that would be, do we? It’ll be interesting to see what kind of lease Coliseum owner Mikhail Prokhorov offers to the Islanders owners — on the one hand, they’re threatening to go off and build a new arena that will compete with his, but on the other, he pretty badly wants them out of the Barclays Center, so it’s anybody’s guess.

Richardson forced to resign as Panthers owner, accept windfall from future stadium threats

It’s now been four days since the Carolina Panthers announced that owner Jerry Richardson was under investigation for workplace misconduct, and two days since Sports Illustrated revealed that the misconduct included routinely asking female employees to turn around so he could ogle their butts and then it was announced that Richardson would sell the team, and one day since Richardson stepped aside from running the team. So, of course, it’s time for the Charlotte Observer to ask if whoever ends up buying the Panthers will demand a new stadium:

Bank of America is now one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL. A new ownership group might want a more lavish stadium with a retractable roof, that would allow the city to host the NCAA Final Four and the Super Bowl.

“Bank of America Stadium, for the fall, is a fabulous facility for football,” said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant who advises NFL owners on stadium deals. “The concept that Jerry (Richardson) has of a ‘Stadium in a Park,’ has worked very well there.”

But wait, you, the devoted FoS reader, ask, didn’t the Panthers just get a whole bunch of money from Charlotte so he could build a giant statue of himself among other things, in exchange for a lease extension? Yes, but that extension was only for six years, and runs out in 2019, meaning the Panthers’ owner could move elsewhere as soon as the completion of next season and only pay a small financial penalty. Or, more to the point, can threaten to move at the completion of next season, in hopes of landing a huge financial windfall, whether for an entirely new stadium or for major renovations to their current one, which is an ancient 21 years old.

In fact, Richardson could be selling at just the right time: Whoever buys the Panthers will end up with not only a seat in one of America’s most exclusive clubs, but the ability to shake down either Charlotte or some other city or both for the biggest stadium subsidies they can get, without the baggage of being a hometown hero with a giant statue of themselves outside their home stadium. That should be good enough to create a nice premium on whatever price Richardson is looking to get for the team, which should help pay for settlements in all the new harassment lawsuits he’s no doubt going to be facing — and if you’re now thinking, “Does this mean that taxpayers somewhere are going to end up indirectly helping to pay the cost of Jerry Richardson’s crimes?”, maybe you don’t want to think about that too hard if you’re going to get through the day.

Panthers owner gets giant statue of self, endless Pepsi machines, at least one from public

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson got an $88 million gift from Charlotte city taxpayers in 2013 — after being invited to sit in on closed-door council meetings on the subsidy — to perform upgrades to the stadium that he himself owns. The Panthers just revealed the latest batch of goodies they’re building with the money, and they include:

  • “Four new security posts around the stadium to account for people coming onto the property and to account for people once they are inside the property,” according to Panthers exec Lance Emory.
  • Ninety-five new walkthrough metal detectors.
  • More WiFi access points.
  • Improvements to the top 500 level deck, including digital menu boards and all-you-can-drink Pepsi stations.

None of that is terrible stuff to add, though why it’s the responsibility of the city of Charlotte to add it remains baffling. (In return for the money, Richardson only promised to keep the team in town until 2019, which by one accounting is the third-richest per-year subsidy in NFL history.) If you want terrible stuff to add, you have to turn to this:

According to the Charlotte Observer, the two panthers “represent both offense and defense and North Carolina and South Carolina.” But you’d surely figured that out already.

I can’t find any reporting on how much the statue cost, let alone what money was used to pay for it, but given that it’s described as a birthday present from Richardson’s corporate partners, at best it’s something that they could afford to give him because of the $88 million in city cash that he brought in by hanging out with the city council back in 2013. Maybe those two cats in the statue represent something else as well, which suggests an even better nickname for the thing.

Inventor of PSLs says he never meant them to be a mere cash grab from fans

My Vice Sports colleague Aaron Gordon has a fascinating interview up today with sports marketer Max Muhleman, best known as the inventor of personal seat licenses. And he gets Muhleman to reveal something that I hadn’t heard before: The original idea for PSLs was not to charge for them at all, but rather use them as a reward for fan loyalty.

As the story goes, Muhleman’s first PSLs were developed for the then-expansion Charlotte Hornets, when owner George Shinn suggesting buying leather jackets for fans who’d put down non-refundable season ticket deposits without knowing if there would even be a team. Muhleman, who’d run the ticket drive, countered by suggesting that fans be allowed to pass their seats on to someone else if they gave them up, rather than having them go to the next person on the waitlist as was usual practice. He called this “charter seat rights.”

Then, history happened:

Muhleman never meant for the PSL to become an investment. It was simply about thanking the fans who pledged their own money to help support a new team or stadium. The idea of re-selling Charter Seat Rights didn’t even occur to Muhleman until he saw a classified ad in the paper after the Hornets’ incredibly successful inaugural season, when they sold out every game in the 23,000 seat arena. The ad read: “‘Leaving town. Two charter seat rights. $5000.” When Muhleman called the number, the person on the other end said they had already received about a dozen calls and they regretted not asking for $10,000.

Four years later, when Jerry Richardson was trying to raise money for a Carolina Panthers stadium, he turned to Muhleman, who remembered that classified ad. Eventually, the rebranded PSLs raised $92 million for Richardson at zero cost to him, and a revolution was born.

The Vice headline claims that Muhleman now “hates PSLs as much as you do,” and while I love a grabby headline as much as the next guy, it’s not quite accurate: He actually tells Gordon that he feels like PSLs have gotten so pricey that they’re just a money grab, losing the necessary balance of also building fan loyalty by offering them something in exchange for their fandom:

“I thought we were on to something that worked, that it made good music with the sport, the fan, the owners, we could all come together in a harmonious, mutually productive, helpful way,” he said. “But these programs I see, so many of them I can only say are unilateral, and unilateral in favor of ‘how much can we get out of these people?’ And I do not believe the path to success in sports is maximum leverage of fans.”

Of course, it depends on your meaning of “success.” When it’s a choice between hundreds of millions of dollars in cash now and potential good will down the road, that hasn’t been a decision that most NFL owners have had to think too hard about.

Charlotte Observer now serving as Panthers’ p.r. department on city-funded stadium upgrades

The Carolina Panthers have announced what they plan to do with the $87.5 million the city of Charlotte gave them last year for stadium renovations, and in one of the most egregious cases of stenography journalism in a long while, the Charlotte Observer chose to cover this by running a Storify consisting entirely of tweets from the team like this one:

But seriously, the Observer has to have covered this with a real news story, right? Okay, here’s one, and it consists of … just a summation of what the Panthers said, with the only quotes coming from team president Danny Morrison. (Though at least it does mention that the renovations are being paid for mostly by the city.) Not that this calls for a major investigation — the story today is the details of the renovation plans, not the funding plan — but it would be nice to give at least a hint of analysis of what the public is getting for its cash. Though really, who can put a price on the public benefit of seamlessly integrated escalators?

Eagles announce stadium upgrades, don’t announce public subsidy request, but will

The NFL approved league G-4 stadium funding yesterday for the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles, as part of the expected shares of new or renovated stadiums that — whoa, wait, the Eagles? What are the Eagles doing on that list?

“We are excited to have received league support today for our stadium revitalization project at Lincoln Financial Field,” said Eagles President Don Smolenski. “We will share the details of this project with our fans in the coming weeks.”

And not just with fans, one hopes, but with Philadelphia legislators as well, since one of the conditions of the G-4 program language is that any funded projects must be “public-private partnerships.” So the only way this is going to work is if the Eagles seek some public money for upgrades to 10-year-old Lincoln Financial Field. If those cost $60 million to $100 million as previously projected, then we’re talking about $30 million to $50 million in public money. It’s the sort of thing you’d hope that any of the numerous articles about the renovation plan would have mentioned, but I guess it’s a lot to expect today’s newspaper journalists to think outside the press release.