Friday roundup: Stadium news reporting hits rock bottom, don’t believe anything you read (except on this site, duh)

Hey look, it’s Friday again! The St. Louis Cardinals are maybe (assuming no positive test results today) going to start playing games again tomorrow for the first time in 17 days; if they pull it off, and no other teams have outbreaks in the meantime, it will be the first time in nearly three weeks that all 30 baseball teams will be in action, and every team in the four major U.S. sports that are in action. That’s way better than I expected, frankly, and shows that isolating players from the general public (and each other) can work — there’s probably a decent chance that most leagues can limp to a conclusion without shutting down entirely, though football remains an enormous question mark with such huge rosters and no bubbles. Still, glass half full, that’s what I always say! (Okay, I never say it, but I’ll say it now.)

In other newses:

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Friday roundup: Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it for 150 years edition

Happy Juneteenth, the most quintessentially American of holidays, in that it celebrates both the nation’s ability to right seemingly intractable horrific historic wrongs through grassroots action faster than anyone ever could have dreamed, and also its ability to then revert to virtually the exact same horrific wrongs in all but name for the next century or so. We got issues.

And speaking of issues — if that’s not too inappropriate to compare the enslavement of an entire people with the siphoning off of tax dollars for sports, which it probably is, but segues gotta segue — here are a bunch regarding stadiums and arenas that reared or re-reared their heads in the last week:

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Friday roundup: Sacramento faces cuts to pay arena debt, Henderson approves arena debt, music festival to be held in phantom Yankee Stadium parking lot

Sorry, getting a late start today, let’s get straight to the news without delay:

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Friday roundup: Sports remains mostly dead, but train subsidies and bizarre vaportecture live on

It’s been a long, long week for many reasons, so let’s get straight to the news if that’s okay:

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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.
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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:

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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:

 

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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:

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Friday roundup: Congress gets riled up over minor-league contraction, Calgary official proposes redirecting Flames cash, plus what’s the deal with that Star Trek redevelopment bomb anyway?

Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers, who if they haven’t yet may want to read the New Yorker’s thoughtful takedown of the myths that the holiday was built on. Or there’s always the movie version, which has fewer historical details but is shorter and features a singing turkey.

And speaking of turkeys, how are our favorite stadium and arena deals faring this holiday week?

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Liveblogging that ginormous ESPN article about the Rams’ and Chargers’ new stadium

ESPN ran a major print feature yesterday on the difficult road the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers are facing since winning the right to move to L.A. from their previous homes of St. Louis and San Diego, respectively, touching on the teams’ attendance woes, bad blood between their owners, and pretty much everything else you could want to know if you’re a football obsessive. As a non-football obsessive myself, I mostly wanted to know what this all means for the present and future of sports stadium deals — Rams owner Stan Kroenke is famously funding the teams’ new Inglewood stadium out of his own pocket — and so the only way to approach this was to break it into bite-size chunks as I went along, because damned if I was going to read the whole thing twice.

And so, as a public service, here is me reading that ESPN article so you don’t have to:

It is a futuristic mass of steel and concrete that appears to have both risen from the earth and descended from space.

This is going to be really long, isn’t it? Normal-length articles don’t get to stop and milk their purple prose like that; I smell longform.

backers hope SoFi will mark the end of one NFL era in Los Angeles — defined by rotting venues and teams that have drifted in and out over 73 years

“Rotting venues” — everybody drink!

the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers, an arranged marriage of clubs whose high-level executives barely speak with one another

Okay, maybe this will be juicy! Getting interested now.

In the fourth quarter against the Steelers, the opening of the Styx song “Renegade,” a Steelers anthem, blared from the stadium’s sound system, the setup to a failed Chargers joke that got the visiting fans even rowdier. Overhead, as with most Chargers home games, a plane dragged a banner that read: “Impeach Dean Spanos.”

Look, I don’t have any rooting interest against the Los Angeles Chargers — I think the last football team I either rooted for or against may have been the New Jersey Generals — but it is very easy to hate Dean Spanos as a man who 1) tried to get his city to pay several hundred million dollars toward a new stadium even though residents were clearly massively against it, and 2) when that didn’t work, moved his team a hundred miles away without really considering the consequences, mostly so that nobody else could do it first. So schadenfreude, yep, that seems like the appropriate response here.

In 2015, the Rams’ Inglewood project, then estimated to cost $1.86 billion, was competing against a Chargers-Raiders $1.8 billion option in Carson. Few outside the NFL knew it, but Jones positioned himself to profit from either proposal. Concessions for either project — and the construction, in the case of Inglewood — would be managed by Legends, the company co-owned by Jones and the Steinbrenner family.

I mean, sort of? Legends manages concessions at all kinds of venues, so really Jerry Jones just profits from “sports existing as a thing people like.” But getting the construction management for Inglewood certainly had to be the cherry on the top for Jones.

Kroenke — one of the NFL’s wealthiest team owners, worth an estimated $9.7 billion — would pay to build the stadium, perhaps the only option in California, whose legislators and voters rarely approve a single public dollar for new stadiums. Spanos, a long-respected owner with a reputation for putting the league first, would be given the first option to be Kroenke’s tenant, for $1 a year, and if the Chargers decided to remain in San Diego, the Raiders could join the Rams in L.A. — an outcome nobody around the league wanted, owing to Al Davis’ burned bridges and the co-opting of team apparel by gangs…

Now these unequal partners are locked in a bitter fight, stoked by Kroenke’s fury over cost overruns exceeding $3 billion, questions over the Chargers’ long-term viability in the market, a lawsuit seeking billions over Kroenke’s departure from St. Louis that has engulfed the entire league, and an increasingly fractious and sometimes petty civil war between Rams and Chargers officials, according to documents and nearly two dozen interviews with owners, league and team executives, and lawyers.

First of all, of all the reasons NFL owners, or anyone, hates Al Davis, I’m sure “gang members wear his team’s jerseys” is wayyyyy down the list. But I’m down for the increasingly fractious and sometimes petty civil war. And tell us about those infuriating cost overruns!

A PHONE CALL between Kroenke and Goodell in the autumn of 2015 was a harbinger for the current impasse.

Aw hell, this is going to be one of those New Yorker–style “But first we must return to the beginning…” formats, isn’t it? Scroll scroll scroll.

On a whiteboard, the two options that had been on the table for a year — “STAN/LA” and “CHARGERS-RAIDERS/CARSON” — were crossed out.

Scroll.

“I don’t want to go to L.A.,” Spanos said. “I want to stay.”

Ha ha whiny rich boy! Scroll.

He was determined to do what was best for his club and for his family

For his family! Scroll!

Spanos and his executives surprised Rams officials by drawing a hard line, demanding a cut of all revenue streams, input over design elements, and approval over all decisions made by Legends and by StadCo L.A. LLC, the stadium company controlled by Kroenke. Rams officials tried to be cordial, but they seethed. The way they saw it, Spanos had the entire Southern California market to himself for 21 seasons with little to show for it, but now he felt entitled to a chunk of revenue on a project to which he would contribute one dollar a year.

Kroenke sort of had a point there, except that much of that revenue — seat licenses, suite sales, naming rights — would be generated by those extra eight home games a year played by the Chargers. Spanos ended up getting to keep 15% of revenues from suites, naming rights, and sponsorships, the story notes shortly afterwards, which had the unfortunate consequence that each team owner would benefit as much from the other’s luxury seating sales as his own. This was not a good start for two owners who didn’t much like each other to begin with, and liked each other even less after a contentious negotiating session.

All the revenue from both teams’ sale of SSLs would go to Kroenke to help defray the cost of the stadium. But per the term sheet, the Chargers neither had to meet a revenue target nor even sell a single SSL.

Anyone getting the sense yet that Stan Kroenke is maybe kind of a terrible negotiator?

When it was Spanos’ turn to speak, he surveyed the scarce and scattered Chargers fans. “This is surreal!” he said. A group of fans flipped him off.

Seriously, I will be just fine if this article is nothing but this the rest of the way down.

JERRY JONES HAS always believed in the transformative power of a new home

SCROLL!

“big balls”

Drink again!

Most teams hire at least a dozen staffers to handle SSL sales for a new stadium, in addition to hiring a company like Legends. The Chargers, which outsourced most of the work to Legends, were flying blind in L.A., with no analytics department or sophisticated method of reaching fans… All the Chargers had was “a couple of email addresses” of potential ticket holders, in the words of a team executive, and a slogan — “Fight for L.A.!” — that sounded less like a rallying cry and more like a schoolyard challenge to their future landlord, which did not go unnoticed by Rams executives, who mocked the slogan.

Well, you know, of course they did. Because of the way the agreement was written, no matter how many seat licenses the Chargers sold, the money would just go to defray Kroenke’s stadium costs. And while it would be no fun to not sell many tickets to Chargers fans, if you’re getting 15% of all the shared venue revenues, that makes the empty seats go down a lot easier.

I’ve had a bunch of conversations with Roger Noll where we’ve scratched our heads about what Kroenke was thinking by spending billions of dollars on a new stadium just so he could move into a bigger market in a league where market size means next to nothing thanks to the equally shared national TV contract, and I think we may have our answer: Hey, Roger, I think Stan Kroenke may just be an idiot.

Spanos and Chargers COO Jeanne Bonk then made a controversial decision. They slashed prices for 26,000 upper deck seats, lowering tickets to the $50 to $90 range, and dropped the SSL rate to $100 — up to 15 times less than the Rams were charging for the same seats. … Spanos insisted the price drop wasn’t a spiteful move but a reflection of weak demand.

Nothing saying it couldn’t be both!

Chargers executives were convinced the Rams were lashing out because stadium construction was billions over budget. In the eyes of Chargers brass, the Rams had every right to be angry. But blowing up at Legends was tricky for the Rams because Jones had delivered the L.A. vote — and Kroenke and Jones have become pals, a power clique of two. Still, Legends had never managed a project so massive — and it had “gone off the rails,” a source close to Legends says. It began in 2016, when the Rams realized that both initial estimates — $1.86 billion in early 2015, which rose to $2.4 billion by late 2015 — had been poorly calculated. Vendor costs ballooned because of competition with LAX’s $14 billion renovation. The infrastructure was unexpectedly pricey, with a massive retaining wall required 100 feet below grade for the field. A record amount of rain in early 2017 complicated matters even more, filling the hole of the field with up to 15 feet of water that needed to be drained and costing the Rams 40 work days. And so the Rams announced in May of that year that completion would be delayed until 2020. In March 2018, the project had hit a cost of $5 billion, but the price continues to go up. StadCo officials now refer to it to owners and executives around the league as “our $6 billion stadium,” although some executives insist it won’t be that high.

It’s tough to make apples-to-apples comparisons of cost overruns on the Inglewood stadium, because Kroenke has been sort of hazy at times about whether he was talking about construction costs for just the stadium or for the entire complex, which will also include a 6,000-seat theater, housing, office and retail space, a 12-screen movie theater, a luxury hotel, a brewery, and a lake with a waterfall fountain. Still, $4 billion in extra costs is a stupendous amount of money, and makes what was already a questionable deal for Kroenke look like a total disaster, no matter how many seat licenses the Rams and Chargers can manage to sell. And given NFL owner politics, “Kroenke can’t do anything about it because Jerry Jones’s company is in charge of construction and you can’t cross Jerry Jones” makes total, stupid sense.

There’s more, including the lawsuit against the NFL for violating its own relocation rules that’s demanding that NFL teams pay over the $1.1 billion in relocation fees received from Spanos and Kroenke as restitution, and more bickering between the two owners (“There have been spats over the types of golf carts the stadium will use”). Go read it yourself, but be forewarned, it is so very, very long.

And yet despite its length, it never really addresses the elephant in the room: Will the opening of the new Inglewood stadium solve anything, for Kroenke or Spanos or the NFL or anyone? It sure seems unlikely: The teams remain relatively unpopular in L.A. (though the article does raise the prospect that they could end up fighting to be everybody’s second-favorite team in town behind whatever out-of-town team fans adopted during the NFL’s long absence, and then maybe eventually drawing new fans from a younger generation), Kroenke and Spanos are still trapped in a marriage of convenience, and that $5-6 billion price tag is going to be super-hard to make pay off, even if the stadium and luxury hotel and movie theater and whatnot are all massive successes. If so, it’ll be great for schadenfreude purposes of laughing at the owners who thought they could make a bundle by hightailing it to greener pastures and abandoning existing fans, but maybe less so for providing a model by which teams can effectively fund new stadiums without resorting to public subsidies. Which maybe isn’t so bad — if new stadiums mostly don’t pay for themselves, maybe everyone should just stop pretending the world needs tons of new stadiums — but given the way development politics work, I have to be at least a bit worried about future NFL owners telling cities, You gotta help us with money for this, we don’t want to be the next Stan Kroenke. Schadenfreude and glasses half-empty, those are this site’s two mainstays, and they’ve served me well so far!

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