Friday roundup: More crazy stadium subsidy demands than can fit in one headline, you call this a lull?

Every couple of weeks, it seems, someone in the comments predicts that we are about to see the end of sports’ 30-year surge in stadium and arena subsidies, either because of Covid-depleted budgets or legislators smartening up or just everybody already having a new place. To which I say: If the stadium scam is slowing, why are my Friday mornings still so #$@&%*! busy?

Ahem. And now, the news:

  • A lawyer for the South Bend Cubs, saying the team owners were “shocked” to discover that a law allowing them to siphon off up to $650,000 a year in sales and income taxes for their own purposes had expired in 2018, has asked the state legislature to renew it. Oh, and also increase the cap to $2 million a year. You know, while they have the document open on their screens. “South Bend and every other city that has retained their relationship with Major League Baseball have to get to a certain level by 2025,” said attorney Richard Nussbaum. “If they don’t, they risk losing the team.” It’s an epidemic, I tells ya.
  • Speaking of which, Hudson Valley Renegades owner Jeff Goldklang got his $1.4 million in stadium renovation cash from Dutchess County, after emailing residents and fans warning them that the team could move if it was denied the subsidy.
  • Fort Wayne F.C., which I had to look up to be sure it actually exists and which turns out to be a “pre-professional” (much in the way that kids are “pre-adults”) USL League Two club, is seeking to move up to League One in 2023 and wants a $150 million soccer-stadium-plus-other-stuff project, to be paid for by mumble mumble hey look over there! It also features an instant classic in the field of fans-throwing-their-hands-skyward-while-fireworks-go-off-over-soccer-players-not-playing-anything-recognizable-as-soccer renderings, which is worth $150 million if it’s worth a dime:
  • The Oakland A’s owners (not the Oakland A’s, I still remember when I was an intern at The Nation Christopher Hitchens lecturing us on how one should always say “the U.S. government” and not “the U.S.” because just because the government approved something didn’t mean the populace did, but anyway) won their lawsuit to allow their Howard Terminal stadium project to have challenges to environmental impact reviews reviewed on a fast track, which is a big thing in California. “This is a critically important decision,” said A’s president Dave Kaval, who indicated he hopes the Oakland city council will be able to vote on a stadium bill this year, presumably after it’s figured out who the hell would pay for what.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin wants to talk about building a new hockey arena to keep the Carolina Hurricanes in town long-term — their “old” one opened just over 21 years ago — and Sougata Mukherjee, the editor-in-chief of the Triangle Business Journal, points out that maybe now is not the best time what with 7% of the state not having enough to eat, small businesses on the brink, and, oh yeah, a pandemic still going on. Cue Hurricanes execs or their political talking about how a new arena will mean “jobs” in three, two…
  • While we wait, here’s San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Bryce Miller saying that San Diego should build a new arena to lure a nonexistent NBA expansion franchise because it would be “catalytic.” In the sense of the Oxford dictionary’s sample sentence for meaning 1.1, maybe?
  • Twenty years ago this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ and Steelers‘ Three Rivers Stadium was blowed up real good, only a little over 30 years after it was first opened. I went to a couple of games at Three Rivers over the years, and I agree with former Pirate Richie Hebner’s review that “the graveyard I work in during the offseason has more life than this place,” and the Pirates’ new stadium is one of my favorites. Still, it and the Steelers’ new stadium deserve the blame for popularizing tax kickbacks in the stadium financing world, after Pittsburgh voters passed a referendum barring any new tax money from going to new stadiums, and the state legislature responded by “loaning” the teams stadium money that would be “repaid” by taxes the state would be collecting anyway — prompting Pittsburgh state rep Thomas Petrone’s timeless comment: “It’s not a grant. It’s not a loan. It’s a groan.”
  • Phoenix restaurants are hoping that having partial attendance at Suns games will provide more happy hour customers, something that seems not only ambitious given the proven not-so-robust spinoff effects of sports stadiums, but also slightly heedless of whether it’s such a great idea to encourage basketball fans to congregate indoors and take their masks off to drink and then go directly to congregating indoors to watch the Suns. In entirely unrelated news, restaurants around the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium in Inglewood are afraid of being driven out of business by new high-priced options gravitating to serve well-heeled football fans.
  • Finally a partial explanation of how funding for that new Des Moines Menace soccer stadium would work: In addition to city funds, it would be up for state hotel-tax funds designated for projects that “improve the quality of life for Iowa residents.” Other projects proposed to dip into the hotel-tax pool include a Des Moines Buccaneers junior hockey arena, a private indoor amateur sports facility, and a new mall; is it just me, or does “quality of life” seem to have been interpreted as “ways to put money in the pockets of Iowa business barons”?
  • Hey, remember the $200 million highway interchange that Las Vegas is building, totally coincidentally, near the Raiders‘ new stadium? It is now a $273 million highway interchange. But the city needed to build it anyway, because traffic was too bad at the old interchange and, shh, don’t tell them.
  • Okay, here’s one way in which maybe the pandemic has delayed some stadium spending: The Baltimore Orioles owners have signed a two-year lease extension on Camden Yards, while also working with the Maryland Stadium Authority “to establish a new long-term agreement that includes upgrades to the facility,” according to WJZ-TV. So it’s possible some 2021 and 2022 sports subsidies will end up getting pushed back to 2023 or so — yay?
  • If you wanted a live webcam of construction on the new Knoxville stadium for the Tennessee Smokies that hasn’t even been approved yet, let alone started construction, the team’s new stadium promotion website has got you covered.

Friday roundup: Tokyo Olympics back on, NFL doesn’t understand vaccines, and other hygiene theater stories

It was yet another one of those weeks, where you finally look up from the news that’s obsessing everybody only to find that while you weren’t looking, monarch butterflies had moved to the verge of extinction. There doesn’t seem to be an end to this anytime soon — which is pretty much the motto of this website, so let’s get on with it:

Friday roundup: Phoenix to get USL stadium with giant disappearing soccer ball, plus more fallout from MLB slashing minor league teams

Too much going on this week to have time for more than a brief intro, but I do want to note that “’Company announces advertising campaign’ is not a story, no matter how easily that campaign can be metabolized by the publications it’s aimed at” is something that should be tattooed on the foreheads of all journalists, even if it is a quote from an article about Pantone colors.

And now, how sports team owners and their friends are trying to rip you off this week:

Friday roundup: Raiders stadium runs short of tax dollars, Falcons owner makes film about how great Megatron’s Butthole is, and a Ricketts cries poor (again)

Well, that was certainly something to wake up to on a post-Thanksgiving Friday morning. Not sure how many U.S. readers are checking the internet today, but if that’s you and you’re looking for some non-Canadian stadium and arena news for your troubles, we have that too:

Raiders renting out parking spaces at new stadium so fans can watch games on TV for $80 per person

Good news, Oakland Los Angeles Oakland Las Vegas Raiders fans! Even though you can’t buy tickets to see games in person, because of that whole “deadly pandemic” thing, you can still sit in a parking lot and watch the game on TV, and it’ll only cost you $400 per carload!

The Las Vegas Raiders sent an email to season ticket holders late Tuesday advertising the Tailgate Zone at Allegiant Stadium, where fans in vehicles with five or fewer occupants can park in a stadium lot and watch the team’s game Sunday versus the New England Patriots.

Fans will watch the action on a large LED screen and a stage will be constructed where Raiders special appearances and performances are planned…

Options range from $400 for the Tailgate Ticket package to $500 for the VIP package, with both including food and beverage packages. Fans are also allowed to bring additional food and beverages from home, including alcohol, which isn’t served at the event.

Okay, so on the one hand this isn’t the most outrageous thing ever. Tailgating is super-popular among football fans for reasons I still can’t quite fathom — it mostly seems to involve being drunk in public and something about jumping on folding tables? — but if people really want to pay $80 per person to sit in a parking lot and watch a big screen instead of doing the same in their living room, more power to ’em, I guess? And the $80 does come with some free nachos or something, and there will be a system of alternating cars and tailgate spaces so that people can still socially distance (because surely drunk football fans would never dare wander out of their designated zones to socialize with each other), so clearly at least a little bit of thought has been put into this.

On the other hand: This is the most outrageous thing ever! A team owner who just got $750 million in taxpayer cash to help build a new stadium so he could move his team out of its previous home is now making up for not being able to sell high-priced tickets to watch the game in person by selling high-priced tickets to watch the game on TV in a parking lot! In a just world, Mark Davis would open up the damn parking lot for free as thanks to Nevada residents for helping buy his new bauble, and maybe offer to sell them some damn overpriced nachos if they want! What is this world even coming to?

Also, I’m pretty sure that photo accompanying the article depicts a Raiders fan dressed as Cthulhu. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with severely overpriced cosplay. It had a good run — roll the tape.

Friday roundup: Everything old is new again

What a week! In addition to the new site design and new magnets and new sports subsidy demands rising and falling almost before you could even register them, this week featured the long-awaited debut of Defector, the independent sports (but not only sports) site launched by the former staff of Deadspin. Read it for free, subscribe if you want to post comments and, you know, help support journalism for our uncertain future. I am a charter subscriber, needless to say, and am currently trying to decide which color t-shirt to buy.

On the down side, the entire West Coast has been set aflame by the deadly mix of climate change and gender-reveal parties and looks like a post-apocalyptic movie. The year 2020 comes at you fast. Let’s get to some more news:

  • The owners of the New York Islanders are angling to downsize the Nassau Coliseum so that it doesn’t compete with their new Belmont Park arena for sports and the largest concerts, which is problematic in that they don’t actually hold the lease on the Coliseum, and already ironic in that the Coliseum was already just downsized once so as not to compete with the Islanders’ previous new arena in Brooklyn. Maybe this whole arena glut problem is something New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo might have considered before giving the Belmont project a whole bunch of land price breaks and a new train station? Meh, probably not necessary, we’re all friends here.
  • Hey look, we’re already calling the Los Angeles Angels stadium purchase a $320 million deal even though it’s really only $150 million plus a whole lot of “thanks for some building affordable housing and parks,” that was fast, Spectrum News 1.
  • Some rare actual good news from the pandemic: Somebody in Arlington was smart enough to include a clause in the Texas Rangers‘ lease on their new stadium that requires the team owners to triple their rent payments if parking and ticket tax revenue fell short of projections, which obviously they’re doing what with nobody buying tickets or parking this year. Sure, it’s still only another $4 million, which won’t go far toward paying off the city’s roughly half a billion dollars in stadium costs, but it’s better than a kick in the head. (Also, what on earth is going on in that photo of the Rangers’ stadium that D Magazine used as its illustration?)
  • The Inglewood city council approved the sale of 22 acres of public land to Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer for $66 million, which I don’t even know how to determine whether it’s a fair deal or not anymore, but given the city mayor’s idea of appropriate oversight, I’m not super-optimistic.
  • University of Texas-Austin will have about 18,000 fans in attendance for its season-opening college football game tomorrow, but rest assured that it will be keeping everyone safe by … requiring student season ticket holders to test negative for Covid before being allowed into the game, but not requiring the same of anyone else? (Also fun: They’re supposed to all go get tested today, and get their results back tomorrow, which is not how Covid testing works right now at all.) Clearly the desire to look where the light is better is strong.
  • The Las Vegas Sun has a loooooong article about the process by which the Raiders got their new stadium in Las Vegas that pretty much comes down to “Mark Davis was the sincerest pumpkin patch of all,” but by all means go ahead and read it if you like sentences like “The first major obstacle was how to get both projects done in what most in the resort corridor would feel was a reasonable [tax increase]. That took time to overcome.”
  • Marc Normandin took a great look back at that time the owner of the San Diego Padres tried to gift the team to the city of San Diego for free and MLB said no. It’s subscriber-only, so I’ll quote my favorite section: “There is a reason Mark Cuban will never own an MLB franchise, and that reason is that he’s the kind of owner who might shake things up in a way that forces other owners to have to spend money they don’t want to. On clubhouse comforts, on minor-league players Cuban might try to increase the pay and better the living conditions of in order to produce happier, healthier future MLB players: there is no guarantee Cuban would do those things, necessarily, but his actions and spending helped shape the way the current NBA locker rooms look, so the possibility exists, and that possibility is too big of a risk for MLB’s current 30 owners to take. So, instead, they aim for safe options, like a minority owner in Cleveland becoming the majority owner in Kansas City, as he’s already proven he understands the game and how to play it.”
  • First Dave Dombrowski and Dave Stewart, now Justin Timberlake — if building 1990s star power is the way to get an MLB franchise, Nashville is a shoo-in. Though as Normandin notes, they’d probably be better off finding a minority owner from Cleveland.

Okay, I have to go pick up my computer from its trip to the computer mechanic so I can go back to typing these updates on a keyboard I can actually see the letters on. (Yet another thing that happened this week.) Try to have a good weekend, and see you all on Monday.

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!