Florida to use standardized ranking to pick which sports projects to throw money at for no good reason

The state of Florida accepted its first applications for its new official state-vetted sports tax kickbacks process yesterday, and the finalists are:

  • The Miami Dolphins, seeking $3 million a year in sales tax rebates.
  • Daytona International Speedway, likewise seeking $3 million a year.
  • Orlando City SC, seeking $2 million a year.
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars, out for a piddly $1 million per annum.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity will now spend the next 60 days ranking the applications by “economic viability,” to evaluate each application within 60 days and by Feb. 1 provide the Legislature with a list that ranks the applications based on economic viability. According to the application form, the list of criteria runs from the sort-of-reasonable (jobs created, though there’s no indication of how to calculate this or whether they’re full-time-equivalent jobs) to the completely cracktastic (“amount of positive advertising or media coverage the facility generates”), with seemingly random thresholds for whether a project gets awarded 1, 2, or 3 points per item.

The worst of it, though, is that the applications all appear to be for projects that are already underway, meaning the number of new jobs and Super Bowls and “positive advertising” that will be generated if the teams get the subsidies vs. if they don’t is precisely zero. Yet the state legislature will now have no opportunity to discuss how stupid this is, nor will citizens have the chance to testify about this, because instead it’s all outsourced to a bunch of state workers with a checklist — all to reduce the amount of lobbying pressure on the legislature over sports projects. Florida continues to be the worst.

Here’s the $43m scoreboard that Jacksonville taxpayers are buying for the Jaguars

If you’ve been wondering what $43 million in new end-zone scoreboards looks like, here you go, courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ crack computer rendering squad:

Yup, that’s real big, all right. It probably won’t look so great when the city of Jacksonville runs out of money to maintain the stadium because it spent the whole maintenance fund on new scoreboards (or, more likely, it’ll look just fine but something else in Jacksonville will get the short end of the stick to replenish the maintenance fund), but hey, everything has to be bigger, right?


Jacksonville to pay for Jaguars scoreboards by raiding maintenance fund

The city of Jacksonville, which back in June announced that it would be spending $43 million on new scoreboards for the Jaguars but it didn’t know where the money would come from, now appears to have found $43 million under the sofa cushions:

The city’s share will come from the Sports Complex Capital Maintenance Fund, which is already being directed towards the stadium. … The city will issue bonds for its $43 million share and then pay off those bonds with the money put into the maintenance fund, approximately $4 million to $5 million annually. The Sports Complex Capital Maintenance Fund gets its money from a 2 percent tax on hotel guests, part of the 6 percent hospitality tax levied by the city. The fund was established in 2009.

Only one problem: As the Florida Times-Union previously reported, using the maintenance fund for capital improvements means it’s not there for maintenance, and there’s already “a long list of stadium maintenance upgrades” that need to be done. None of the press coverage of yesterday’s announcement bothered to mention that, but then, when you have a media universe where ESPN runs the headline “Khan kicks in $20M to help stadium” when the Jaguars owner already promised that months ago — and it’s less than half what the public will be kicking in — we’re not exactly talking prize-winning journalism here.

Stadium news roundup, special July 4th week haven’t-been-paying-attention edition

Catching up on some of the week’s news that slipped by while I was traveling (full reporting here will return late Monday, or maybe Tuesday depending on how much sleep I get on the plane):

Jacksonville has no clue how to pay for Jaguars’ $43m scoreboards, costs could rise further

Yesterday morning I noted that the city of Jacksonville doesn’t know how it’ll pay for its $43 million share of stadium upgrades for the Jaguars; yesterday afternoon, a spokesperson for Mayor Alvin Brown announced that, nope, still no clue. And the city council seems to have taken notice as well, even if they don’t all see it as a big problem:

  • Councilmember Clay Yarborough told the Florida Times-Union that “at first glance” he doesn’t see how the city could close libraries and cut core services while spending money on humongous scoreboards for the Jaguars.
  • Councilmember Bill Gulliford said announcing the improvements and then figuring out how to pay for them later is like “sending the fire truck after the building is burned down.”
  • Councilmember Matt Schellenberg called it “a big win for Jacksonville,” but said he was “very concerned the mayor makes these announcements without having the backup financial information that everybody can look at and feel comfortable that it can be done.” But it’s still a big win, presumably regardless of whether it can be done.
  • Council president Bill Bishop said, “We have to stay current. We have to be sure we’re competitive, not only in the NFL but in the world. This is all part of moving Jacksonville forward.”

And the city’s costs could go even higher: Jacksonville’s contract for hosting the annual Florida-Georgia college football game requires 82,000 seats, which is currently met by adding 6,000 temporary bleacher seats to the 76,000-seat stadium. Since the Jaguars are looking to remove another 7,000 seats in the renovation — because NFL teams have realized they can’t actually sell that many tickets to an HDTV-obsessed generation, and they want to avoid blackouts — this would more than double the amount of temporary seats the city would need to set up, adding “several hundred thousand dollars” in annual costs, per the Times-Union.

Meanwhile, on Mike Florio watch, the NBC Sports NFL-water-carrier noted the lack of funding by linking to the Times-Union story:

Lost in Wednesday’s announcement that $63 million will be devoted to upgrading EverBank Field was one fairly significant fact.

The City of Jacksonville doesn’t know how it will come up with its $43 million share.

I guess that’s Florioese for “Oops, did I forget to ask how it’d be paid for?”

Florio also manages to argue that this shouldn’t be decried as “welfare for billionaires,” because “most of the teams trying to raid public coffers haven’t committed to playing one game per year for the next four years in London, with strong hints that the plan could be extended and expanded.” In other words, it’s okay to give $43 million to your local sports team for no good reason, so long as that team’s owner not only isn’t committing to staying in town, but might actually shift more games out of town even if you give him the money. Remind me not to go to NBC Sports for relationship advice.

Jaguars asking Jacksonville for $43m so they can have the biggest scoreboards on the block

In the latest sign that the Dallas Cowboys have created a monster, the Jacksonville Jaguars owners announced yesterday that they’ll be building not one but two giant video boards, measuring 55 by 301 feet each, in each end zone of EverBank Field. That’s “one foot longer than the length of the field,” notes NBC Sports’ Mike Florio.

The new screens, plus additional renovations that will remove 7,000 seats, will cost $63 million and, according to Florio, the team will pay for $20 million, while the city of Jacksonville will pay $43 million. The Jacksonville city council still has to figure out where the money will come from, but Gator Bowl Association president Rick Catlett says the council shouldn’t worry its little minds about that:

Catlett said the focus should not be on what this project will cost, but on the tens of millions of dollars the city would lose if it lost some of the national, high-profile events currently held in Jacksonville.

Because in exchange for this, the Jaguars and the Gator Bowl agreed to lease extensions that would … no? No lease extensions? Well, at least now the Jaguars and the Gator Bowl will be happy, and who can put a price on happiness? At least until scoreboards that are merely 2D and no bigger than the field become hopelessly passe.

Florida bill to subsidize soccer stadiums clears first committee vote

That bill to give sales-tax kickbacks to pretty much any sports franchise in Florida that doesn’t already get them moved ahead yesterday, as a state senate committee unanimously approved giving $2 million a year to two MLS franchises for the next 30 years. For good measure, the senate commerce and tourism committee also approved giving added tax breaks to Lockheed Martin and Fidelity National, which have already gotten nearly $7 million in subsidies apiece, and could still consider requests for additional money from the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.

For those keeping score, if the MLS bill is signed into law, it would leave the Orlando City Soccer Club just $45 million short of its $75 million subsidy demand for a new stadium. ($2 million a year for 30 years adds up to just $30 million in present-day expenses because some of it would have to pay for interest on bonds.) It would also potentially open up a road to subsidies for these guys, though they’d have to actually join a real league first.

Florida legislature proposes subsidies for MLS, Jaguars, Daytona Beach, your mom

Florida has long been one of the most generous states in terms of stadium subsidies, offering $2 million a year in subsidies to pretty much any major-league team that says it needs them to build a new stadium. “Major league” is here defined as MLB, NFL, NBA, or NHL, though, so state senator David Simmons has proposed adding MLS to the list, making major-league soccer teams eligible to put as much as $30 million or so in stadium costs on the public tab.

Simmons is from the Orlando area, and it’s fair to assume he’s carrying water here for the Orlando City Soccer Club, a minor-league team that’s hoping to get a new stadium and move up to MLS, only without, you know, having to actually pay for all of it. His bill would allow up to two MLS teams to receive funds, though, so presumably the Tampa Bay F.C. people could get involved as well.

Which would only be fair, since everybody else in the entire state of Florida with claims to being a pro sport is already looking to get some state money:

The help for a future Orlando soccer team comes in addition to a request by the Miami Dolphins NFL team for help with stadium renovations, and the speaker of the House said Wednesday that he expects other bills to be filed to provide help for renovations to Daytona Beach International Speedway and for the Jacksonville Jaguars to make renovations at EverBank Field.

Florida is actually projecting a state budget surplus this year, mostly because it cut so much in past years that there’s some extra money now that the local economy doesn’t totally suck, so it looks like everybody is figuring that it’s time to strike while the iron is hot to grab a piece for themselves. There’s no telling whether all of this bills will pass, but given Florida’s past history in such matters, I wouldn’t bet against it.


The NFL’s new stadium fund explained (sort of)

With the NFL lockout finally over, the blogwaves are afire with talk of how the league’s new collective bargaining agreement will affect various teams’ stadium campaigns. We’ve already seen a report that the San Diego Chargers could get up to $150 million in NFL stadium funds, another that the San Francisco 49ers and Raiders could pool their stadium credits to get $300 million for a shared stadium, and still others that AEG’s planned Los Angeles stadium could get a cut. (The Minnesota Vikings could also be in line for funds, though apparently they’ve already been counting that particular chicken before it hatched.)

So how much money is really available, and where is it coming from? The press reports are maddeningly incomplete and contradictory, but this is, to the best of my knowledge, what’s going on:

  • Back in olden times, the NFL had a program called “G-3,” which allowed home teams to keep the visitors’ share of club seat revenues to use to help pay off new stadium costs. Initially implemented to help convince NFL teams to remain in large markets — it was originally concocted, in fact, by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who limited it to the top six media markets, of which he just happened to play in #6 — it was eventually expanded to the whole league. Then the program ran out, and the flow of funds stopped.
  • The successor to G-3 — which, sadly, won’t be called G-4 — instead takes a 1.5% cut off the top of NFL revenues, and allocates it to stadium projects. (Sources disagree over whether this comes entirely out of the players’ share or the owners would contribute as well.) At $9 billion a year in total league revenues, that would imply $135 million a year in stadium credits — though apparently the math isn’t nearly so simple, which may explain why this article says only $95 million. Still, that’s a huge amount of money, enough over ten years pay off about $734 million in stadium bonds. (It’s not $950 million in stadium bonds because payments ten years from now aren’t worth the same as payments now.)
  • That huge number notwithstanding, scuttlebutt is that only three teams will be allowed to tap the new stadium loan fund, with rumors putting a cap at $150 million per team. That’d mean that from among the 49ers, Raiders, Vikings, Chargers, any team moving to L.A., and maybe the Jacksonville Jaguars, at least a couple of teams would get left out in the cold. Unless the NFL expanded the program again, which it seemingly would have the money to do.

All in all, this is a good thing for both teams wanting to build stadiums and for taxpayers not wanting to put their own money into stadiums, as this is the NFL recognizing that — because of its weird status as a league where the vast majority of revenue comes from national TV contracts — if it wants to encourage teams to stay in big markets and avoid killing the Fox golden goose, it needs to subsidize stadiums with its own money. Of course, it also could end up helping grease the wheels for some otherwise stuck stadium projects that would still involve some taxpayer money — $150 million per stadium doesn’t go all that far — so in that sense, not so good. But in the grand scheme of things, billionaires voting to spend some of their own billions on projects to increase their billions is nothing to sneeze at.

AEG outs five NFL teams as L.A. relocation targets

AEG president Tim Leiweke, not content to be dropping arbitrary deadlines for his company’s downtown Los Angeles stadium plan, let loose another media salvo on Thursday by declaring that his boss, Philip Anschutz (the “A” in “AEG”), was prepared to buy an NFL team to move it to L.A. — and then naming names about which teams he was considering:

“St. Louis, Jacksonville, not extensively, certainly Oakland, San Diego, Minnesota are still in the mix,” Leiweke said listing the teams AEG has met with before adding: “We’re not packing any [moving] vans right now.”

Now, “met with” doesn’t necessarily mean the current team owners are actually considering AEG’s offer (or that there’s a solid offer to consider). Still, it was enough to set off media mayhem in the listed cities. A San Diego Chargers blog declared that “The Hit List Is Out“; Oakland Raiders CEO Amy Trask issued a statement denying that her team was for sale; and Minnesota Vikings execs insisted that their only meetings with AEG were over possibly operating the new stadium they want built in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, though the St. Louis Rams probably aren’t for sale, ESPN noted this would give their owner welcome leverage in his own stadium campaign. And that’s the main upshot here: For Leiweke to come out with a statement like this is a win-win for all the bigwigs involved — AEG gets a carrot to dangle alongside its July 31 deadline stick, and the owners of all the rumored move targets get a threat to use against their own localities, plus plausible deniability against being blamed for threatening a move.

And as for us? We get to play the home version. (Currently leading: The Jacksonville Jaguars, by a sizeable margin over “nobody” and then the Raiders.)