Mark Davis is a big dumb idiot, Tuesday edition

If some things about Covid safety are becoming increasingly clear — outdoors is better than indoors, short interaction times are better than long ones, masks are hugely important — there are still a lot of question marks, including how safe outdoor sports are, for both players and fans. For now, most sports leagues look to be committed to restarting this summer, though not all the players may choose to show up: The Colorado Rockies‘ Ian Desmond just became the fourth MLB player to declare he’ll be skipping 2020, something that overshadowed the rest of his eloquent Instagram post focused on baseball’s structural racism, and more defections are likely, as everyone starts deciding for themselves what is reasonable behavior amid a fast-moving epidemic that a month ago seemed to be sparing the South and West but now is very much not.

Of course, if you’re a sports team owner, you get to make decisions for far more than just yourself. And Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis is ready to make all kinds of decisions, based on the latest science — ha ha ha, no, of course it’s based on him wanting to sell tickets, the more glorious tickets the better. And he’s especially steamed that his fellow NFL owners have decided to sell ad signage space on seats near the field this season instead of allowing every single seat to be filled to capacity:

“I can’t imagine telling one fan they cannot attend the opening game of our inaugural season in Las Vegas at the most magnificent stadium that they helped to build, let alone tell 3,500 fans that their seats are gone for the entire season,” Davis said. “Those seats in the front rows are some of our most ardent fans, including members of the famed Black Hole. You think I want to sell advertising on their seats? … We will do everything we can to see that all our fans are able to attend every game this season.”

“They helped to build” is a nice acknowledgement from Davis, given the $750 million he received from Nevada taxpayers for his new stadium, though given that his marketing campaign has been largely geared toward selling tickets to out-of-towners — the Black Hole members mostly still live in Northern California, presumably — maybe that’s not what he’s talking about at all.

But more alarming was the idea that Davis wants to have a full stadium this fall, in a state that is seeing a huge spike in virus cases even as testing rates have not increased. Though he immediately hedged on that as well:

“What Gov. (Steve) Sisolak and the state of Nevada determine to be safe in the face of coronavirus after careful consideration, I’ll abide by,” Davis said. “And at the appropriate time, he may determine that it isn’t safe for 100 percent of the fans to attend. At that point, I have to make a decision.”

If it comes to that, Davis wonders if the best solution might be to play all games without fans.

“Maybe that is the fairest thing to do,” he said. “Maybe it’s all or none, because I’d hate to have to tell any of our fans they can’t go to some or any Raiders games.”

So he’d rather tell all fans they can’t go to games than some fans? Or he just wants to make sure if he can’t sell tickets, no other NFL teams can? (He also griped during his Las Vegas Review-Journal article that “We have potentially 32 different capacities and seating formations. Where is the equity in that?”)

Or maybe looking for any sense in Davis’s statements is a futile scavenger hunt, because there was also this:

While other leagues are creating a bubble component to protect players, the NFL has not. Teams will be in their respective cities, and presumably players and staff will be free to come and go as they please.

“You can keep players from the fans, but you can’t keep players from the players,” Davis said. “That could be our Achilles’ heel. Without some form of bubble, we may be asking for trouble.”

Okay, so to recap: Mark Davis will do everything he can to make sure 65,000 fans are cheek to jowl at Raiders games this fall, but if not he may try to insist that no fans can go to NFL games at all, but players absolutely have to be kept away from anyone other than teammates, such as people in the general public who might be teeming with virus. Which they might have picked up at, you know, some big public gathering, maybe one that involved lots of cheering and shouting that is great at spreading viral droplets? It’s almost as if letting unelected business leaders set public health policy isn’t a great idea — speaking of which, somebody tell Ohio that, wouldja?

Friday roundup: Another Canadian sports bailout request, and everyone pretends to know when things may or may not reopen

Happy May, everybody! This crisis somehow both feels like it’s speeding into the future and making time crawl — as one friend remarked yesterday, it’s like we’ve all entered an alternate universe where nothing ever happens — and we have to hold on to the smallest glimmers of possible news and the tiniest drips of rewards to keep us going and remind us that today is not actually the same as yesterday. In particular, today is fee-free day on Bandcamp, when 100% of purchase prices goes to artists, and lots of musicians have released new albums and singles and video downloads for the occasion. Between that and historic baseball games on YouTube with no scores listed so you can be surprised at how they turn out, maybe we’ll get through the weekend, at least.

And speaking of week’s end, that’s where we are, and there’s plenty of dribs and drabs of news-like items from the week that just passed, so let’s catch up on what the sports world has been doing while not playing sports:

Where will the Raiders start the 2020 season, if there is one?

For most of the teams facing possible stadium or arena construction delays thanks to the coronavirus crisis, there’s an easy fallback plan, which is to just keep playing in their current venue for a bit longer. Even the Worcester Red Sox could just stick around in Pawtucket for one more season, which I would actually appreciate since I’ve never been to 78-year-old McCoy Stadium and was planning on going this summer, back when there was going to be a this summer.

For the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders, though, things aren’t so simple, because the team declined its 2020 lease option at the Oakland Coliseum early in March, even though it had until April 1 to decide whether to do so. Even if it would have been hard to return to a city whose fans said farewell to their team by throwing nachos at them, this was maybe not the best decision to rush into rather than waiting a few weeks to see if the entire world was going to come to a screaming halt and leave your football team with nowhere to play, assuming anyone can play. Possible options include:

  • UNLV’s old Sam Boyd Stadium, San Antonio’s Alamodome, or El Paso’s Sun Bowl, according to Forbes, citing no sources at all other than that this is what is “said to be” in the works.
  • Salt Lake City, Phoenix, or San Diego, all of which are just the speculation of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which notes that “it is realistic to think that all of those options could be resurrected” since they were all options being considered for 2019 before the team re-upped with Oakland for one last season.
  • Play the preseason and possibly the opening of the regular season on the road, suggests the Review-Journal, while the Las Vegas stadium is finished.

All of this, of course, assumes that there will be a 2020 NFL season, which while the league swears is what it’s planning is not at all certain, given the difficulties of staging games safely even in front of empty stadiums when it would require so many people to play and broadcast games and feed and house all those people and if any one of them tests positive, suddenly you could have to shut down. (There’s also the question of whether it’s worth starting a season that could have to get interrupted again for renewed shutdowns if the virus flares back up again.) Though if the season is played in front of empty seats, then suddenly it doesn’t matter where the Raiders play: Forbes quoted “one NFL insider” as saying “the Raiders would hold games on a Las Vegas playground before going back to Oakland this year,” and they could totally do that if they don’t need anywhere for fans to sit.

One longer-term question for the Raiders and owner Mark Davis, meanwhile, is whether their business model of selling tickets mostly to out-of-town fans who’ll use Raiders games as an excuse for a trip to Vegas can survive the coronavirus, and the coronavirus recession. Will long-distance travel still be as common in a post-virus world? Will enough people have the money to do so anytime in the near future? These are small questions, maybe, in comparison to the bigger one of how any of us are going to watch sports (or live our lives) in the coming weeks and months and years, but if we can’t rubberneck at the bad fortune of Mark Davis (and David Beckham, always David Beckham), then it’s going to be a long 2020.

Friday roundup: Won’t anyone think of the sports franchise owners?!?

Coming up on the end of week four here, I think, and how is everyone doing? I remembered that today was Friday and I needed to do a news roundup, which was the first day in several that I remembered what day it was, so I feel like things are looking up! Except for the fact that large numbers of people gathering in close confines is looking like the main way this virus spreads, and that describes perfectly spectator sports and music and theater and many other things that make life worth living, so that’s not so great. And, of course, nearly 17,000 people have died and tens of thousands more deaths are expected, and that’s not counting all the people who are dying uncounted at home. Small victories may be victories, but they’re also small.

Eventually this will all be over, though, whatever “over” means, and it’s not too soon to start wondering about what the sports world will look like on the other side. Especially for sports journalists who are twiddling their thumbs right now and hoping that their employers still exist once the worst of this has passed:

Be well, stay safe, and see you Monday!

Friday roundup: Stadium construction continues despite sick workers, drained city budgets may not slow subsidy demands, and other news from our continuing hellscape

How did everyone do during Week Whatever (depending on where you live) of the new weirdness? I finished another jigsaw puzzle, spent way more time than I thought possible trying to understand the new unemployment insurance rules, had the best idea ever, and wrote another article about how the media should stop feeding the troll. (Here’s the previous one, if I neglected to post a link to it before, which I probably did.) And, of course, continued to write this site, even if the subject matter, like all subject matter everywhere, has taken a decided turn for the microbial. Hopefully it’s helping to inform or at least distract you, because it looks like we may be here a while.

Anyway, it’s Friday again, so let’s celebrate getting another week closer to the end of this unknowably long tunnel with some stadium and arena news:

  • Construction is now shut down on the Worcester Red Sox stadium, but continues on the in-progress stadiums for the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Texas Rangers, even after workers on the latter two projects tested positive for COVID-19, and despite it being pretty much impossible to do construction while maintaining a six-foot distance from your fellow workers. The USA Today article reporting all this cites continued construction as a “boost to the economy,” which is slightly weird in that 1) pretty much all economic activity is a boost to the economy, but everyone has kind of decided now that keeping millions of people from dying is more important (okay, almost everyone), and 2) given that these stadiums will all have to be finished eventually regardless, shutting down construction would only push the economic activity a few weeks into the future, to a time when construction workers would actually have stores and restaurants open where they could spend their salary. It really would be nice if journalists writing about economics talked to an economist every once in a while.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin says she’s preparing for a “recession budget” that could require cutting back on planned projects including “a planned renovation of the PNC Arena, an expansion of the Raleigh Convention Center, an addition to the Marbles Kids Museum, a proposed soccer stadium in south Raleigh and a recreational complex at Brier Creek,” reports the News & Observer. Since every local government in the U.S. if not the world is about to see its tax revenues plummet, could this mean a temporary lull in stadium and arena demands while teams have to wait for treasuries to refill? Or will team owners just do like during the Great Recession and pivot from “times are good, now is when you should spend your surplus on giving us new sports venues” to “times are tough, now is when you should be spending to promote any development jobs you can get”? Hawaii officials say the latter, and they don’t even have a team owner lobbying them, so I think you know where I’d be laying my bets.
  • A new poll shows that sports fans believe they’ll be less likely to go to live sporting events once they’ve been “deemed safe,” mostly over fears that they won’t actually be safe. (Nearly two-thirds said they’d be concerned about “health safety,” and more said they’d avoid indoor events than outdoor ones.) There’s presumably some push-poll effect here — if someone asks you if you’re going to be concerned about your health at large events, that’s going to get you thinking about how you maybe should be concerned — but still it’s at least one data point suggesting that game attendance could suffer for a while despite pent-up hunger for live sports.
  • Meanwhile, ratings have plummeted for pro wrestling events before empty venues, which could be a sign that a big part of watching televised sports is enjoying the roar of the crowd, or that pro wrestling isn’t really a sport, take your pick. Where are those New Jersey Nets sound operators when you need them?
  • Don’t count on getting back your “sports fee” on your cable bill even if there’s no sports to watch, though maybe if your TV provider can recoup some fees they’re paying to sports leagues, they’ll consider sharing some of the savings with you.
  • A study by an “advertising intelligence and sales enablement platform” that is no doubt really annoyed right now that this press release didn’t get me to use their name and promote their brand projects that ad spending on sporting events will drop by $1 billion this year. And will that cost sports teams, or the cable and broadcast networks that are contracted to carry them? Sorry, didn’t study that part, we figured Forbes would report on this even without that info, and we were right!
  • Speaking of dumb Forbes articles, here’s one about how baseball should make up for lost revenue by expanding, which overlooks both that this is undoubtedly the worst time imaginable to get the highest expansion fee possible, and that MLB teams are all owned by billionaires so really the issue isn’t having cash on hand, it’s getting yearly income back up, and diluting your share of national revenues by one-fifteenth (if two new teams were added) is no way to do that.
  • But hey, at least stadiums come in handy for herding homeless people into en masse to keep them from getting sick, that’s neither disturbingly dystopian nor terrible social distancing policy, right? What’s that you say? You’re right, let’s instead spend some time revisiting cab-hailing purse woman, that’s a much more soothing start to the weekend.

Friday roundup: If you’re watching TV sports in empty stadiums by summer, count yourself lucky

Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”

I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:

Stadium construction gets exempted from stay-home orders, because the economy

Good news, everybody! More and more of the U.S. may be under orders to stay indoors to stop COVID-19 from spreading out of control and forcing hospitals to decide who lives and who dies, but at least the people who are building new sports stadiums can stay on the job. Inglewood Mayor James Butts has directed that construction of the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium will continue as a “critical government service”; no official word yet on the Las Vegas Raiders stadium despite the state of Nevada ordering all “non-essential” business to close, but I for one will be closely watching the construction cam to see how many construction workers are still showing up on the job.

If this seems weird, it is in fact super-weird that in a world where supermarkets have strict attendance limits and people queuing up outside have to remain six feet apart, stadium construction work is continuing as normal. And pretty much all construction work, really — while Boston has ordered construction activity to cease (at least, except for work on government-owned property), most local governments have granted exemptions to construction projects even during mass shutdowns. Check out this excited article from yesterday about construction progress at Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, right across the street from the Jacob Javits Convention Center that may soon be pressed into service as a coronavirus field hospital!

Inglewood Mayor Butts said he was ordering construction workers to stay home if they’re sick and wash their hands regularly, but this report from Somerville, Massachusetts (next door to Boston but without a construction-halt order) is not encouraging on that front:

Construction workers at the new high school being built in Somerville are also at risk of spreading the infection, according to a tradesman on the project. It starts early in the morning when workers meet under the I-93 overpass and pile into vans and buses to get to the job site, he said. Some of them work side by side, and crowd around the canteen truck that arrives every day at 9 a.m. with pizza and Italian sausages. Many of the porta-potties don’t even have soap, he said. There’s also talk that workers who arrived from a closed job site — construction has been halted in Boston and Cambridge — had previously worked with someone under quarantine.

But aside from foremen telling workers to wash their hands and keep their distance from each other, it’s “business as usual,” he said, and there’s been no official guidance from Suffolk Construction Co., the general contractor.

“They’re not going to do anything until they’re told to do something,” he said, “and if they’re not told to do something, it’s just going to get worse.”

There hasn’t been much reporting on any reasons given for keeping construction sites open while nearly everything else is shuttered, though the Los Angeles Times did describe Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office as saying that construction work was “essential to the economy.” Which, you know, I’m pretty sure teachers and waiters and jigsaw puzzle fulfillment workers would say the same thing, but they’re increasingly staying home because they realize that unlike doctors or food providers, their work can be put on hold for a few weeks without leading to mass deaths. Construction work, though, is apparently officially considered too big to fail; it’s yet another reminder that some people’s economic activity is considered more equal than others.

UPDATE: Just saw that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio replied to a press question yesterday on continuing construction by saying that “the guidance was to continue that work because it is outdoors, because clearly any part of the economy can still allow people to have a livelihood that’s so important as we see so many other people losing their livelihood, and because a lot of what is constructed obviously is crucial to our future.” So there!

FURTHER UPDATE:

 

Friday roundup: Pandemic could delay Rams and Chargers stadium, drain hotel tax base for Raiders stadium (and kill millions of people, oh yeah)

And so we come to the close of Week 2 of Coronavirusworld, with still little way of knowing what Week 3 will bring, let alone Week 8 and beyond. (I just now started to write about this far less grim response to Tuesday’s London study, until I noticed none of the authors are infectious disease specialists and the claim that contact tracing can keep infections under control was cited to a single Chinese news story that said nothing of the sort, so maybe stay grim for the moment?) With pretty much all of the sports world now shut down, though — except for Australian Rules Football for some reason — sports journalists have begun looking down the road at longer-term effects of the pandemic, resulting in some useful and some not-so-useful reporting:

Did Mark Davis really turn a 2900% profit on Raiders’ practice facility?

This story showed up late last week, but it was just too weird for me to quite know what to do with:

Raiders sell Vegas-area facility for 30 times what they paid for it 2 years ago

In a move that raised some eyebrows in Nevada, the Raiders sold their unfinished Henderson, Nev. headquarters and practice facility for $191 million and immediately leased it back, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Wednesday.

By flipping the 55.6 acres of land they purchased at a cut rate two years ago from the city of Henderson for about $6 million (about half the property’s value), the Raiders turned a profit of $185 million, more than 30 times what they originally paid for the land.

Okay, so there are only two reasons to flip a piece of land in only two years: Either you happened upon a chance to buy low and sell high, or there’s some other kind of fiscal shenanigans going on.

The Los Angeles Daily News story above (and the original Las Vegas Review-Journal article that first reported it) focuses on the 2900% profit and suggest that this is the former. But while Henderson no doubt gave Raiders owner Mark Davis a sweet deal, even the appraised value of the land was only around $12 million — it’s possible that was a low estimate as well, but the difference between $12 million and $191 million seems too much even for a government appraiser to miss.

The other possibility lurks in this language in the Review-Journal article:

Chicago-based Mesirow Financial purchased the under-construction football facility across from Henderson Executive Airport and leased it back to the NFL team for 29 years, with seven 10-year extension options, filings with the Clark County recorder’s office show.

The sale closed Friday. Public records obtained by the Review-Journal do not show the Raiders’ annual rent.

One common reason for lease-out, lease-in deals, or LILOs as they’re known, is to get out of a tax obligation: If the new owner of the land were a nonprofit or a church or school, say, the Raiders could use this to get out of paying property taxes on the site. That doesn’t appear to be the case, though, as Mesirow is a giant financial services firm, so not likely to be just a conduit for a tax dodge.

That unknown annual rent figure, on the other hand, is a major red flag. Let’s say the Raiders are paying, say, $10 million a year in lease payments. At that point, this is less a property sale than a mechanism for a long-term private loan at a 3% interest rate. That the practice facility ends up in the hands of Mesirow is all but irrelevant, as it almost certainly is, since a 30-year-old NFL practice facility isn’t likely to be worth much in the year 2050, if Las Vegas even has a water supply by then.

Now, we don’t know that Davis is paying out a high annual lease fee — we don’t know anything about how much he’s paying at all. (Though Mesirow must be getting a decent chunk of change, because owning an NFL practice facility otherwise doesn’t provide much in the way of either profits or glory.) But it’s one possible scenario, and one that the media really should be considering before jumping to conclusions on who got ripped off over what. If nothing else, call a LILO expert and ask them what they think might be going on. Sometimes the most that journalism can do is ask the right questions and reveal that there isn’t enough information available to provide all the answers, whether or not that makes for the snappiest headlines.

 

Friday roundup: Phoenix to maybe get soccer stadium/robot factory, Raiders roof is delayed, Def Leppard and Hamilton face off over who’s old and smelly

Happy Friday! I have no meta-commentary to add this week, but hopefully when you have Def Leppard getting into a flamewar with Canadian elected officials over arena smells, you need no prelude:

  • The Salt River Pima-Maricopa reservation, long rumored as the possible site of a Phoenix Rising F.C. soccer stadium, has released an image of a proposed “$4 billion sports, technology and entertainment district” that indeed seems to show a soccer stadium, though honestly it looks a little small just from the rendering. There’s also an amazing image of people testing out robots and what looks like robot dogs, which surely will be the growth industry of the rest of the century, because I bet robot dogs don’t have an enormous carbon footprint or anything.
  • The Las Vegas Raiders are now projecting $478 million in personal seat license sales for their new stadium, up from an initial projection of $250 million. (All this money will go to defray Raiders owner Mark Davis’s costs, not the state of Nevada’s, because why would revenues from a publicly funded stadium go to the public? That’s crazy talk!) Unfortunately, the stadium might not be ready on time thanks to its roof behind months behind schedule, which could cause damage to the already-built parts of the stadium if it rains, but all those Raiders fans in Vegas (or people in Vegas anticipating selling their seats to out-of-towners who’ve come to see their home teams on road trips) will surely be patient after shelling out as much as $75,000 for PSLs.
  • Charlotte is still up for giving Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper $110 million to renovate his NFL stadium to make it more amenable to hosting an MLS franchise, but may want Tepper to agree to a lease extension first. Given that the last time Charlotte gave the Panthers money for stadium upgrades it was $87.5 million for a six-year extension, the city could maybe keep the team in town through 2027 this way. At this point, it might have been cheaper for the city just to buy the Panthers outright, thus guaranteeing the team stays in town while not only avoiding all these continual renovation fees but also getting to collect all that NFL revenue for itself. (Ha ha ha, just kidding, the NFL outlawed that years ago, no doubt partly to avoid anyone from trying exactly this scenario.)
  • The Atlanta Braves‘ stadium got a new name thanks to a bank merger, and the bank got lots of free publicity when news outlets wrote about the new name, but hell if I’m going to participate in that, so google it if you really must know.
  • A Virginia state delegate wants to reboot Virginia Beach’s failed arena plans by setting up a state-run authority to attempt to build a new arena somewhere in the Hampton Roads region, which includes both Virginia Beach and Norfolk. “The hardest part is the financing mechanism behind it,” said Norfolk interim economic development director Jared Chalk, which, yeah, no kidding.
  • Denver is helping build a new rodeo arena, and as a Denverite subhead notes, “The city says it won’t reveal how much taxpayers could be on the hook for because that would be bad for taxpayers.”
  • Kalamazoo is maybe building a $110 million arena to host concerts and something called “rocket football,” which I’m not even going to google because it would almost certainly be a disappointment compared to what I’m imagining.
  • Anaheim is considering rebating $180 million (maybe, I’m going by what one councilmember said) in future tax revenues to hotel developers so that Los Angeles Angels and Anaheim Ducks players will stay in them? Don’t the Angels and Ducks players own houses locally? What is even happening?
  • And finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: A video from last summer has surfaced showing Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott complaining that Hamilton, Ontario’s arena is “old” and “stinks like a 10,000 asses stink,” to which Hamilton councillor Jason Farr replied that Def Leppard is “also old and stinks.” Clearly one of them needs to be torn down and entirely replaced! It worked for Foreigner!