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: When is a football stadium too old to be a football stadium?

If it wasn’t clear from the photos of devastation in the Bahamas, the death toll from Hurricane Dorian is going to get much, much worse than the official confirmed number (30, at this writing). You can find a list of some organizations raising money to help survivors here; please give generously if you can. And remember as you do that it’s the warming oceans that helped make this so bad.

And with that, on to news that’s marginally less life and death:

  • Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District chair Ray Baker says the Broncos‘ current stadium (which just got a new corporate name, go keep track of these things on your own if you like because I can’t be bothered to remember them) should last “between 50 and 60 years,” at which point Broncos president Joe Ellis replied that “I can’t judge where entertainment venues are going to need to be in the future” and “I can’t tell you whether or not, in 10 years, the city of Denver and our seven-county region has an appetite to host a Super Bowl or an appetite to host a Final Four, which means you need a roof. Or do you need a new stadium?” The new naming-rights deal lasts 21 years, at which point the stadium will be 40 years old; please place your bets on whether it will still be standing by then.
  • RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., will not make it to its 60th birthday in October 2021, which is all well and good as nobody plays there now and it’s costing the city $3.5 million a year for maintenance, landscaping, pest control, security, and utilities. (Note: Yeah, that seems like a lot to me too for an empty stadium.) D.C. officials say they plan to build an indoor sports complex and food market on the site, but have no plans as yet for an NFL stadium, no matter how much Mayor Muriel Bowser might want one.
  • Cleveland Browns COO David Jenkins says team execs still haven’t decided whether to demand a new stadium or a renovated one, but “we’re not far from having those conversations.” Note to Denver: The Browns’ stadium is two years older than the Broncos’.
  • Forbes reports that the value of the Oakland Raiders jumped by $1.5 billion to $2.9 billion after announcing their move to Las Vegas, which is an indication that either there’s something wrong with Forbes’ franchise valuation estimates or there’s something wrong with how much rich people are willing to spend to buy sports teams, or both. Even with the state of Nevada kicking in $750 million, the team will still be on the hook for more than $1 billion in stadium construction costs, which is going to soak up most of the team’s new stadium revenue even if their plan to sell tickets mostly to tourists and visiting fans works out.
  • The Anaheim city council is still squabbling over who knew when that when they voted on a Los Angeles Angels lease extension back in January, they were actually giving team owner Arte Moreno the right to stay through 2029 if he wanted, not just until 2020. (The team owner got a one-year extension of his opt-out clause as well, but the lease is now back in place to its original expiration date set before Moreno opted out the first time last year.) One thing that’s for sure is that this was a major gift to Moreno as stadium renovation talks continue, because “the best friend of a sports team owner is time,” says, uh, me.
  • A bill making it easier for Oakland to create tax districts at Howard Terminal to help raise money for infrastructure for a new A’s stadium passed the California state legislature this week; it’s still unclear exactly how much tax money would be spent on infrastructure, or exactly what “infrastructure” would mean, or even if the stadium will be built at Howard Terminal at all, but that’s one more skid greased, anyway.
  • The new Long Island Railroad station outside the new New York Islanders arena is set to be open by 2022, which only about 90 years faster than these things usually go in New York. It helps to have friends in high places!

 

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.

Browns owners say they don’t need new stadium so long as city spends maybe $95m to deck over nearby highway

How long, exactly, have we been doing this stadium-watch stuff? Long enough that the very first conversation my Joanna Cagan and I had about possibly writing something together was when her hometown of Cleveland was talking about building a new stadium for the Browns at the same time that their school system had been placed into receivership. That stadium eventually opened in September1999 (one year after the first edition of Field of Schemes came out), and that was almost 20 years ago, people, so of course the Browns owners (who of course aren’t the same Browns owners as they were then) want something new, and that something new is … a bridge?

The team, as the Haslams reiterated Tuesday, is hoping a pedestrian bridge can be built over State Route 2 that would better connect FES to the city…

A pedestrian bridge was originally supposed to be completed prior to the 2016 Republican National Convention.

But a 2014 proposal was scrapped. Another plan, as Crain’s reported in February, is being discussed, but the potential price — which would go well beyond the $25 million raised for the 2014 proposal — is a sticking point.

The proposal, if you click through, is actually for a “land bridge” that would build a 5.3-acre park spanning railroad tracks and the highway, which you can see why it would cost more than $25 million. And while it wouldn’t be entirely for the Haslams’ benefit — there are also plans for housing development near the stadium, and also of course Cleveland residents would get a small park out of the deal — it sounds like the Browns owners are going to make themselves front and center in pushing for such a plan.

How much more than $25 million could a deck park cost? Here is a helpful paper titled “Cost-Effectiveness of Capping Freeways for Use as Parks” that notes that Freeway Park in Seattle, which is similarly a 5.2-acre deck park above a ground-level highway, “came at a relatively low cost of $18 million per acre.” That would price a Cleveland bridge-park at $95.4 million, which is a chunk of change, though obviously a lot less than building a new stadium. Though co-owner Dee Haslam also said that they would “make improvements to the stadium,” and didn’t say who’d pay for that, so we could still be looking at a nine-figure ask, but at least it’s a lot less than a billion dollars for a new stadium, and oh here comes our old friend anchoring again!

 

Temple economist Michael Leeds just pwned the Browns on their stadium demands, yo

The Cleveland Scene has a long article up today about the Cleveland Brownssaber-rattling for a new stadium, most of which is about what the Browns are probably after in seeking to replace a 19-year-old stadium — a site with lots of land around it to develop, probably — and how likely that is to happen — not too likely, according to the Scene, unless the Browns owners can get Cleveland to decommission an airport, which is hard because the FAA would be involved. It’s an interesting read, but I mostly want to take a moment to appreciate this quote from Temple University economist Michael Leeds, explaining why teams keep upping the ante for what they “need” despite having stadiums that are barely out of the packaging:

“Every parent goes through this type of thing and knows the deal,” he said. “You ask your kid what they want for their birthday, and she might say, ‘I want a pony.’ You ask her why and she says the kid down the street has one. Most of us figure out a way to ignore what she wants and get her something else.”

[mic drop]

Browns owner says team may seek new stadium to promote Cleveland redevelopment, this is where we came in, bye

If Field of Schemes has an origin story, it almost certainly begins on the day in 1995 when Joanna Cagan came to a meeting of our Brooklyn Metro Times zine and complained about how the Cleveland Browns were moving to Baltimore to become the Ravens, and the NFL was shaking down Cleveland for hundreds of millions of dollars in stadium money in order to provide a replacement team. So it’s more than a little weird to be reading this:

The Cleveland Browns have begun long-term discussions about a development project that could include a substantially renovated stadium or a new facility at a different site in downtown Cleveland.

Well, sure, the old place is 19 years old! Gotta be thinking about a new one!

Browns co-owner Dee Haslam told ESPN that a new stadium could be a decade out, but that really she just wants the Browns to be about helping contribute to the growth and revival of Cleveland, because that’s what football is all about, or something:

“The main thing is to start the conversation, at some point,” said Haslam, who agreed to the interview after ESPN learned of the talks. “I don’t know that we’re ready to start the conversation, but we are ready to get all the information we can about what’s possible.

“So I think it’s really important to find out what’s possible. There could be a lot of great ideas that we might not be able to do because it’s not feasible for one reason or another. I don’t want to get the horse in front of the cart until we’re knowledgeable enough to know, because we’re not informed enough to know right now.

“But we do know that we have a desire to make a bigger impact on the future of Cleveland.”

Okay, so clearly this is very preliminary, which makes sense, as the Browns’ lease at the stadium taxpayers built for them in 1999 runs until 2029 (by which time “it could be one of the league’s oldest facilities,” helpfully notes ESPN, which, hey, surprise for you guys, it’s already in the older half of NFL stadiums because those things are like goddamn mayflies). Also clearly, it’s Haslam noting that Cleveland is starting to explore ideas for downtown redevelopment, and thinking, we should try to get us some of that action, and then when questioned by ESPN spouting a lot of nothing about “making an impact” because what else is she going to say, really?

What would have been nice would have been for ESPN to ask: So, why does downtown Cleveland still need redevelopment focused around a football stadium when it just built a football stadium 19 years ago on the premise that it would help redevelop downtown? But that’s probably a bit much to expect from a network that has a $1.9 billion a year business partnership with the NFL.

Friday roundup: Beckham sued over MLS land purchase, Browns’ flammable stadium, and more!

It’s Friday roundup time! Let’s get started:

  • A local Miami landowner is suing Miami-Dade County over its plan to sell land to David Beckham’s would-be MLS ownership group for a new stadium, arguing that the no-bid deal violates state law requiring public land to be sold to the “highest and best bidder.” Bruce Matheson, who owns land nearby the planned stadium site in the Overtown neighborhood but “spends most of his time aboard his 72-foot Argosy yacht,” according to Miami New Times, has previously blocked the use of a public park for expansion of the Miami Open tennis tournament, so he might just know what he’s doing here. Also, David Beckham is clearly cursed, so that can only help Matheson’s case.
  • In case it wasn’t clear that Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center subsidy deal was a complete disaster from last October’s report that the city was losing almost $10 million a year and the arena was in danger of going bankrupt, Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center is a complete disaster. One big reason why: sales-tax projections were based on past sales-tax growth, which included a sales-tax rate hike in 1990, which wasn’t going to happen again. Whoops! The latest plan is to have the city bail out the arena by taking on an extra $100 million in debt, which tenants the University of Louisville could pay off with less than four years’ worth of the profits they’re making on running the place, but won’t because finders keepers, losers weepers.
  • Wichita is about to spend $60 million on a new stadium for the indy-minor-league Wichita Wingnuts — slogan: If You’re Gonna Go, Then Go Nuts! — and the manager of nearby Picasso’s Pizza is excited about it: “People from all over the Wichita area love some Picasso’s,” says Efrain Ramirez. “Because we’re Picasso’s, you gotta make it look cool, it’s gotta be artistic. You gotta put your flair on it.” Well, excited about something, anyway. Spare a thought for the poor small-city reporter who has to wring a quote about economic development out of a pizzeria manager, okay?
  • Speaking of sports venues and local businesses, some bar owners near the Detroit Red Wings‘ new downtown arena are excited about it, while others are worried they’ll get “trampled” by the “big guys.” No interviews were conducted by the Detroit News with bar owners near the Red Wings’ old downtown arena, which will now close. This has been your moment in 21st-century journalism.
  • The Cleveland Browns‘ stadium is covered in the same flammable cladding that caused the deadly Grenfell Tower fire, but Cleveland’s top building official promises this poses “zero risk to the fans.” Presumably because if you’re watching a Browns game, death will come as sweet release.
  • The turf at the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara continues to suck.
  • The Roma soccer club is owned by Americans, so they are naturally inclined to levy stadium threats. It also plays in Italy’s Serie A, which like all soccer leagues outside the U.S. works by promotion and relegation, so if the team threatened to move, Rome could just start a new team to replace it. So instead team president James Pallotta is threatening that if the ownership group doesn’t get approval to build a new stadium, they’ll sell the team to … someone who won’t demand a new stadium? You may not have thought this entirely through, James.
  • A Russian farmer has built a stadium out of straw to poke fun at the $700 million St. Petersburg is spending on a new World Cup soccer stadium. Cost of the straw stadium: $675. Be sure to click the link above for a truly bizarre Russian video for 2016 with a giant straw bear and a straw sphinx and … watermelons? Guys, I am slightly worried about whoever’s in charge of media links for ESPN.

Cleveland to Browns, Cavs, Indians: Everybody gets $57m in tax money, now play nice

And it’s official: The Cleveland Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers will get equal cuts of the “sin tax” extension voters approved back in 2014:

Each team will get $4.6 million per year for the next 20 years. The money can be used to upgrade the stadiums and arena where they play.

Via the magic of net present value calculators (even those that don’t know how to spell “principal”), we can determine that this revenue stream will be worth about $57 million in today’s dollars to each team. It shouldn’t be hard for each of them to find ways to spend that down — especially with the Cavs already asking for another $70 million to pay for a new super-spendy glass exterior wall — but if all else fails maybe they can just buy some IBM “Internet of things” gewgaws and call it “infrastructure.”

County official proposes diverting one-third of tourist dollars to build Cavs a glass wall

It’s been almost eight months since the Cleveland Cavaliers asked for a $140 million expansion of their arena to add more public space and give it a glass exterior wall, and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said, “Let me get half of that for you.” Now, Budish thinks he may have found some of the money, asking the local tourism agency to use hotel tax money to pay for the Cavs’ renovations.

Destination Cleveland collects about $15 million a year in hotel taxes, and paying off $70 million in Cavs expenses would cost about $4-5 million a year, so this would clearly be a hefty chunk of change, unless Budish has other revenue sources in mind as well. The Cavs are already getting a cut of the alcohol-and-cigarette-tax extension that county voters approved back in 2014 — Budish recently proposed splitting the proceeds evenly among the Cavs, Indians, and Browns, as nobody bothered to work that out beforehand — and since that amounts to about $170 million in total present value, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is effectively asking for $70 million on top of the $60 million he just got two years ago for renovations. But really, who can put a price on the enjoyment that local sports fans get from a glass wall?

No crazy stadium renderings released today, Internet is sad

Slow news day today, to the point where the only remotely stadium-related news is a minor-league soccer team signing a lease to play in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium — which once hosted the 49ers, but now is a public park, so that was somewhat controversial — and the news that if you ask Siri where to find sadness in Cleveland, it will give you directions to the Browns‘ stadium.

Enjoy your Friday and your weekend, and may we be rewarded with more wack-ass stadium renderings on Monday.