Downtown L.A. stadium declared officially dead, unofficially

I’m not actually how to read this, as the official NFL position on AEG’s downtown Los Angeles stadium plan has been that they’ve hated it for a year and a half now, but: Yahoo! Sports is reporting that two “sources” (one of them a “league source”) are saying that the AEG plan is dead as far as the league is concerned, as “Unofficially, the NFL believes that the cost of the AEG plan, which the league believes will be at least $1.8 billion, will make it unworkable”:

“The numbers just don’t work, no matter how you look at the deal,” a league source said in February. “It’s either too hard for AEG to make money [and pay the debt on the stadium] or too hard for the team. I just can’t see a way for it to work.”

Again, nothing really new, except that the NFL is now sending off-the-record staffers to leak the word that really, it’s time to move on to other L.A. stadium proposals. Not to mention a decidedly on-the-record Marc Ganis, the NFL consultant who might as well be a league source, who pointedly told Yahoo!: “The focus on the sale of AEG has stalled the chance for people in the area to view potential other sites and opportunities. … If Los Angeles leaders don’t move on to look at other options it will only delay the return of the NFL to Los Angeles further, possibly even years longer.”

This might be a reasonable ploy to get L.A. moving on some other stadium possibilities — or at least vague rumors of possibilities — but it’s terrible timing for the Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, and any other NFL teams I may have left out that are currently using the “L.A. has a stadium deal ready to go!” threat to try to extract money from their current hometowns for new or renovated stadiums. I was just telling a reporter yesterday that these teams are all scrambling for stadium funds now because they have a limited window to use the L.A. threat before it either falls apart or somebody else moves there first; it looks like that window may have just begun to slide shut.

 

NC gov to Panthers: No money for you

So it turns out that state bill cutting the amount of Charlotte restaurant taxes they could use for their stadium renovations was the least of the Carolina Panthers‘ worries: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared yesterday that he was rejecting the team’s demand for $62.5 million in state moneytoward the project, telling the Charlotte Observer, “We don’t have the money in the state to address that issue. I have never been actually asked for the $62 million, nor do we have it.”

This now leaves the Panthers with only access to Charlotte’s existing restaurant taxes, which would be enough to contribute about $110 million toward the stadium project — if the city decides that it wants to spend all of its restaurant tax money on renovating a privately built and owned stadium for an NFL team owned by a half-billionaire. No response yet from the team, but I assume it’s only a matter of time before Roger Goodell flies into town to allude darkly to the Panthers moving to L.A. if the right palms aren’t greased.

NC house bill would leave Panthers stadium plans $34m short

The North Carolina house of representatives introduced a bill yesterday to allow Charlotte to use restaurant taxes to fund renovations to the Carolina Panthers‘ stadium — but there’s a catch. Instead of allowing the city to double its existing restaurant tax from 1% to 2% as it was requesting, the house bill would only allow the use of existing restaurant tax money for the Panthers. Which, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which collects the restaurant tax, would only leave enough money to pay for $110 million in stadium upgrades, not the $144 million that the Panthers have asked for from the city.

Also, that restaurant tax money is currently being set aside for upgrades to the city’s convention center, so if it’s spent on the Panthers, it would no longer be available for that. (The Charlotte Observer reports that bill sponsor Rep. Ruth Samuelson “acknowledged that with less money, the city would have to make choices.”) Plus, there’s still no word on the $62.5 million in direct funding that the Panthers have asked for from the state, though Samuelson indicated that it could come directly from the governor’s office.

Right now, this leaves the Panthers with at least a $34 million budget hole, and Charlotte with a good bit more than that if the city doesn’t want to empty its pockets for the team. One Charlotte councilmember suggested maybe the city could offer a smaller tax hike instead — say, 0.5% over 15 years instead of 1% over 30 — but given that Samuelson said “there’s no stomach here for a tax increase,” it’s unclear whether that would go over any better. It’s far from a major roadblock — the Panthers could always, for example, scale back their plans for the scoreboard to replace the one they haven’t built yet — but as the first sign of any serious pushback that the team has received to its plans so far, it’s well worth watching.

Panthers owner: We don’t have to pay for stadiums, we’re the phone company

First it was Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dees saying only taxpayers are stupid enough to spend money on stadiums, now it’s Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson being maybe just a bit too honest about why he’s demanding public subsidies to renovate his privately built-and-owned stadium:

Asked Wednesday why the team couldn’t pay its own way, Richardson said, in short, because they don’t have to. NFL teams, he said, “are so coveted, they don’t have to pay. There are only 32.”

In other words, “We’re a monopoly, so like it or lump it.” Lily Tomlin couldn’t have said it better.

Charlotte slush fund to pay for new Panthers stadium to replace renovated Panthers stadium?

Apparently some Charlotte legislators just can’t get enough of giving money to the Carolina Panthers: Not only did the city council vote to hand over $144 million for stadium renovations, including renovations to replace parts that haven’t even been built yet, but at least one councilmember wants to prepare to build a whole new stadium to replace the one they’re paying to renovate. Council economic development committee chair James Mitchell told the Charlotte Business Journal yesterday that the council approved a 30-year 1% hike in restaurant taxes, more than would be needed for the Panthers’ renovations, so that there’ll be a pot of money to replace Bank of America Stadium entirely in the not-too-distant future:

“In another 15 years, the stadium will be 32 years old,” he said. “Do you want to have to ask for more money? We can build a reserve and we can start building on amateur sports. It’s a 2-for-1.”

There are several jaw-dropping elements to this, not least that I can’t recall an elected official asserting that a stadium needs to be replaced at the same time he’s proposing spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fix it up. Even more remarkable, though, is that you have a local legislator proposing setting aside money that the team owners not only haven’t asked for, they haven’t even asked for the stadium itself. You gotta hand it to American technology — we’ve finally developed the first self-blackmailing politician.

Panthers seeking subsidies to replace video boards they haven’t even built yet

The Carolina Panthers have released their laundry list of improvements they want for Bank of America Stadium once they get $206 million in public money, and in amongst the usual suspects — additional escalators, new team store, schmancier luxury suites — there’s this gem:

Installing new video boards, ribbon boards and overhauling the sound system. The figure for these features — $59 million — includes the projected price of having to replace the new equipment within a decade because of technological advances. In other words, the city, state and team plan on buying two sets of video boards.

On the one hand, that certainly shows foresight: They’ve realized that they’re inevitably going to want even newer scoreboards in less than ten years, because hey, that’s what everybody else will have by then, and have budgeted for it now. On the other, this has got to be the first time that a team has asked for money to replace video boards that it hasn’t even built yet — unless you count the blank checks that other teams have written for themselves via “state-of-the-art” clauses.

And that’s not even the most WTF item in the Charlotte Business Journal article on the team’s requests, which would be this:

Bank of America Stadium, with these renovations, could become a football version of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, [Panthers president Danny] Morrison added, naming the two oldest Major League Baseball stadiums.

Maybe in another eighty years. It’d need another eight new scoreboards by then, though.

Charlotte council, behind closed doors, votes to okay $144m in tax money for Panthers

The Charlotte city council voted on Friday to approve public subsidies for Carolina Panthers stadium renovations … or at least, we assume they voted. The council meeting on Friday with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and Mayor Anthony Foxx took place in closed session, so all we have is a press release issued by the city, in which it said Charlotte will raise restaurant taxes by 1% for 15 years to provide $143.75 million in cash for the Panthers to redo their privately built and owned stadium.

The council already voted 7-2 last month to endorse the idea, so none of this was a surprise exactly. But tell us, Mayor Foxx, exactly why was this necessary?

“If we had not made this decision, at some point in the future the team would’ve been sold and moved away…we would’ve felt that loss, economically. We would feel it from the standpoint of the psychology this community has enjoyed over the years,” Mayor Foxx said.

Well, okay, if there really was a threat of the team moving, then it’s arguable that you can put a price tag on that and—

“I never would want our team to move somewhere else. I never said that,” Richardson said after the city council’s closed-session meeting.

You know, owners and mayors have been playing this game for years, but it’s still amazing how they manage to pull it off: Team owners are able to get the benefit of a move threat while still publicly denying up and down that they’re making a move threat, thus avoiding the wrath of their fan base. They can only manage it when mayors are willing to play along and be their water carriers, as happened again on Friday:

Mayor Foxx says he’s concerned about “poachers”. He says there are cities that are building stadiums but don’t have NFL teams.

Right, like… like… Okay, there aren’t actually any cities building NFL-ready stadium that don’t have teams, but why quibble over a detail like that?

Here’s another one:

Mayor Reed says “no mayor or city council have played the stadium game and won.” He says a city without an NFL team will likely languish.

What Mayor Reed is saying here is — wait a minute. Mayor Reed? He’s not the mayor of Charlotte, he’s the mayor of Atlanta. Why is the mayor of Atlanta addressing the Charlotte city council about giving money to the Panthers?

Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta addressed the group and told them “Atlanta is where it is because people made tough decisions.” He says he came to share lessons with Charlotte “as you all go through some of the issues that look and feel a lot alike.”

I could go on trying to rebut the arguments here, but really, when you bring in this guy to address your stadium meeting, I think it’s clear that you’re not interested in hearing any dissident voices on public stadium funding. The Panthers subsidy deal now heads for the state legislature, which has been asked for $62.5 million towards the plan. No word yet on how the legislature might vote, but you have to hope they won’t invite Jerry Jones as their economic expert.

Charlotte restaurants: Don’t tax us to pay for Panthers stadium upgrades, tax somebody else too

In case you were wondering if Charlotte restaurant owners are peeved at the prospect of having food taxes raised to pay for upgrades to the Carolina Panthers‘ privately owned stadium, well of course they are:

In a letter to Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and members of the City Council, Tom Sasser, chairman of the Charlotte chapter, stressed the industry’s support for the Panthers, but cautioned “that the city should not rely solely on the restaurant industry and our patrons.”

Whether the complaints of restaurateurs will be enough to sway the North Carolina legislature to find other sources of revenue for the stadium plan — diverting tax money currently being used to pay off the Charlotte Convention Center is one option that’s been raised — is way too early to say. But it sure looks like things are moving from “Should we give the Panthers money?” to “Where should we get the money to give the Panthers?”, which is a major, major victory for team owner Jerry Richardson.

Panthers want $187m in public subsidies for promise to stay put for 10 years

The Charlotte Business Journal has more details on the Carolina Panthers stadium renovation talks, and it turns out that owner Jerry Richardson now plans to ask for $125 million in city money, plus $62.5 million from the state. In exchange, the Panthers would commit to remaining in town for … ten whole years. Even though the increased city restaurant tax to pay for the renovations would last for 15 years.

Asking for nearly $200 million in renovations for a stadium that is privately owned and is only 16 years old might raise some eyebrows, but everybody’s favorite owner-friendly stadium consultant Marc Ganis is on hand to explain why this is totally reasonable:

Bank of America Stadium could last 35 years, “but it must have a major upgrade in this 20-year cycle,” said Marc Ganis, a consultant to franchises in the NFL and other sports. “The cycles are shortening. It’s not that the concrete is worse, it’s not that the seats aren’t built as well, it’s the revenue-enhancement technology and fan expectations that are moving at an accelerated rate.”

In case you’ve never run across the term “revenue-enhancement technology” (and are picturing something along the lines of this), that means “stuff that lets the team sell more crap, mostly advertisements but more overpriced food wouldn’t hurt either.” And “fan expectations” translates as “people want to have a giant video screen as clear as their hi-def TVs back home, especially since their seats are probably so far from the field that they can’t tell who’s playing (not that anybody can identify three-quarters of the people in a football game anyway).”

The key word in Ganis’ quote, though, is “must.” As in, okay, the Panthers want all this stuff so they can make more money — why, again, should the city and state be paying for it? Just because Richardson could move the team to Los Angeles if he wanted (and be stuck with owning an empty stadium back in Charlotte, and all that’s if you even think an L.A. NFL stadium has much chance of happening anytime soon in the first place).

Still, North Carolina lawmakers appear to be taking these demands seriously — all of which just goes to show that the NFL would be absolutely crazy to let a team move to L.A. anytime soon, since the threat of L.A. is proving way more lucrative than an actual L.A. team would be. The Minnesota Vikings already got a huge pile of public money by waving the L.A. threat flag, and now we have the Panthers, the San Diego Chargers, the Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins, the Oakland Raiders, and probably a few other teams I’m forgetting all trying to do the same thing. They can’t all move to L.A. at once, of course — which is why it’s important for the NFL to make sure nobody moves there, or else the threat won’t work anymore. This hostage-taking business is harder than it looks.

Panthers to ask NC for even more stadium money, on top of $125m from Charlotte

When I reported on the Carolina Panthersnew demand for $125 million in city money to help renovate their 16-year-old privately owned stadium, I neglected to mention — because so did the press reports at the time — that the Charlotte city council voted 7-2 on Monday night to ask the state legislature to consider the plan. If it’s approved there, the plan will come back to the city council, which will vote on it again, for real this time.

And speaking of the Charlotte Observer letting out information in dribs and drabs, there’s this, buried way down in paragraph #8:

The total cost of the stadium renovations is reportedly more than $200 million. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is also expected to ask the state for money, according to people who attended the meeting.

So the total public subsidy has now gone from $80 million in September to $125 million yesterday to somewhere between that and “more than $200 million” today, depending on how much money Richardson asks for from the state. No official response from the governor or legislature yet, but maybe they’re waiting for Richardson to actually settle on a figure.