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?

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!

NFL officials leak word that league could move Chargers to London, or at least threaten to

Man, no sooner do I go and post about rumors that the Jacksonville Jaguars could move to London than The Athletic (paywalled) goes and reports rumors that the Los Angeles Chargers could move to London:

The Athletic has learned through NFL sources that the possibility of the Chargers moving to London has been broached among league personnel. The Athletic also has learned that, while the team is fully committed to Los Angeles where it will move into the new $4.5 billion stadium with the Rams next year, the Chargers would at least listen if the NFL approached them about London as a possible option.

Finally, The Athletic has learned that NFL owners are concerned enough about the Chargers’ situation in L.A., where a crowded sports market and the presence of the more established Rams has resulted in a tepid embracement of the Chargers, that they would provide the necessary support for a relocation to London if the Chargers pursue it.

That’s a whole lot of completely anonymously sourced reporting, coming down to: People around the NFL are talking about what if the Chargers moved to London, and the Chargers owners would consider it, as would other NFL owners, given that the Chargers’ situation in L.A. is such a flagrant dumpster fire.

Of course, the problem with anonymously sourced reporting is that you never know what the motivation is of the people hiding behind anonymity — or to put it more bluntly, these people could be lying thanks to an ulterior motive. What could that be? Pretty much anything: Trying to scare Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke into modifying how much cash he wants from Chargers owner Dean Spanos to play in his stadium or into allowing them out of their deal to share digs entirely, trying to scare Chargers fans into buying more tickets to avoid having their team leave the continent entirely, trying to keep alive the London threat even though a full-time NFL team there still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. (It makes sense if you’re the NFL maybe and want some sucker to take a travel hit in order to expand the league’s market, but less so if you’re that sucker.)

Regardless, if some within the NFL are openly (if not so open as to actually give their names) advocating for a London move to be considered, that’s a pretty blunt admission that approving the Chargers’ move from San Diego to L.A. was a complete catastrophe, and at least some league officials are looking for an exit strategy. London might or might not be it, but it certainly seems like somebody is ready to shake something up about the Chargers’ future plans, which can only mean one thing: More future ESPN articles where Jerry Jones talks about people’s balls.

 

Could visiting fans taking over Rams and Chargers home games be good news for Las Vegas? (Yeah, no, probably not)

They played football again on Sunday — nobody seems to be getting on that idea of banning the sport for being hazardous to human health, nor even the idea of replacing human players with digital avatars — which included home games for both the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. And, as has become commonplace for L.A.’s new teams, most locals seem not to have gotten the message that the sport is still being played:

All of which is embarrassing news for the Rams and Chargers owners who moved their teams to L.A. on the premise that they’d sell lots of tickets in America’s second-biggest market, and slightly worrisome for when the two teams move into their new Inglewood stadium next year. But could it be good news for the Las Vegas Raiders, who are building their entire business model on selling tickets to tons of visiting fans?

That question was discussed Monday in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that asked, among other things, if projections by the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee are correct that the Raiders’ presence will bring in tons of new visitors to Vegas:

An early study by the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee forecast the stadium would generate $620 million in annual economic impact and bring in 450,000 visitors who otherwise would not have come to in Las Vegas. Officials said just under half of attendees at all stadium events are expected to be non-resident consumers, with about 23% in town specifically for that event.

Those projections, as they pertain to Raiders games, are a sticking point for Stanford economist Roger Noll.

“There is no NFL team in the country that has more than about 3 or 4% of tourists in the stands,” Noll said. “So it would have to be the case that this would be more than an order of magnitude increase.”

But also!

Stephen Miller, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research, said while Las Vegas quickly adopted the [Golden] Knights, many out-of-town fans also go to games.

“They come specifically to attend the game,” Miller said, “and then they stick around and have fun in Las Vegas.”

I reached out to both economists for their sources on these stats, and while I’m still waiting on Miller, Noll got right back to me. He said that he’s gotten peeks at proprietary data from team surveys of fans and addresses of ticket buyers on the resale market, and what he’s seen supports his conclusion: Very few NFL fans travel for games. He also clarified that his 3-4% estimate is for fans traveling specifically in order to see football — if a Pittsburgh Steelers fan happens to be in L.A. (either for a trip or because they’ve relocated there, as people are known to do) and decides to take in a Steelers road game while in town, that’s not additional spending that can be credited to the presence of the NFL.

Noll does add that the number of visiting fans typically rises when the home team is terrible, and season ticket holders start dumping their tickets on the secondary market — “For example, when the 49ers were having bad years, empty seats at the last couple of home games were one-fourth to half of the total seats, and sometimes a quarter or so of attendance was fans of the other team.” Which brings up an interesting question: Would it be in Nevada’s best interest for the Raiders to suck, so that more seats will go to out-of-towners looking to cheer on their teams to stomp on the Raiders, who will then “stick around and have fun in Las Vegas”? Modern economic development strategy has gotten very, very weird.

Should everyone consider just moving the Chargers back to San Diego already?

With football season in full swing, it’s time for Los Angeles Chargers fans to start not showing up in droves again, and they happily obliged yesterday, with both lots of empty seats and lots of visiting fans despite playing in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium. Which is always fun for schadenfreude purposes, but it also seems to be alarming Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who is not at all happy that the Chargers’ alleged L.A. fan base isn’t turning out to pre-purchase seats to the new stadium the teams will share next year:

That’s a pretty weak tease, admittedly, and also not really surprising, since as the Big Lead notes, there’s been tension between Kroenke and Chargers owner Dean Spanos ever since the two were forced into their L.A. marriage by the NFL a couple of years back. And it’s only been exacerbated by the Chargers’ ticket sales woes:

The Chargers told NFL owners they were projecting to make $400 million from PSL sales in Los Angeles. That number was part of the justification for leaving San Diego, as more money was available in the the nation’s second-biggest media market. After being in said market for more than a year, the franchise “adjusted” that projection from $400 million to $150 million. A little quick math shows that’s just 37.5 percent of the team’s initial projection. That’s also $250 million that would not be helping to fund Kroenke’s stadium.

I’m pretty sure that’s wrong — not that the Chargers slashed PSL prices, that’s correct, but that Kroenke would have to take a $250 million bath as a result, since Spanos has to pay a share of stadium costs regardless of how much money he’s making from PSL sales. Unless the Chargers owner tries to get out of his obligation by claiming he doesn’t have the cash, which would indeed make for quite the Monday noon Pacific time bombshell.

The bigger question here is: Why is everyone even going through this whole charade anymore? Sure, Kroenke (and the NFL) needed a tenant to help defray costs of the Rams’ new stadium, but now that the total price tag is up around $5 billion, any contribution from the Chargers is starting to seem like a drop in the bucket. (The Big Lead further claims that “Kroenke and the Rams would love nothing more than to completely remove the Chargers from the equation and have the Inglewood stadium all to themselves,” which seems odd since it’s not like Kroenke would be able to do much of anything else with the stadium on Rams off weeks, but this whole stadium keeps seeming more and more like an expensive vanity project anyway, so who knows?) So maybe would it make sense to look at just sending the Chargers back to San Diego, where their actual fans are?

Sure, it would involve figuring out how to undo the Chargers’ $650 million relocation fee, and also you know Spanos won’t want to go back to San Diego unless he can find a way to leverage it into his own shiny new stadium, preferably paid for by someone not named Dean Spanos. But I think it’s fair to say that calling a do over is more of a non-zero possibility than it was a couple of years ago, which is pretty amazing considering the Chargers haven’t even moved into their new L.A. stadium yet. Let’s see what noon Pacific time brings.

People in L.A. still buying Chargers tickets, refusing to actually go see Chargers play

The Los Angeles Chargers played a home game yesterday, which means it’s time to play fun with empty seats at Chargers games:

The announced sellout, while embarrassing for a game where most of the actual seats were empty, at least gives us some more info about what’s going on here, especially coupled with the news that seats were available on StubHub for as little as $9. Clearly people are buying tickets to Chargers games; they just have no interest in using them. Which means somebody — either Chargers fans in L.A., if they exist, or ticket brokers in L.A. — gobbled up season tickets in hopes of landing season tickets at the Chargers’ new home when it opens in 2020. So maybe everyone is just waiting for the new stadium before they’ll go see Chargers games — though no matter how nice it is, you have to figure it’s still less enticing than seeing a game right now for $9, especially with the Chargers actually playing well this season.

The more likely theory is that nobody in L.A. cares much about the Chargers, and the people getting on line for season tickets are going to end up either taking a bath on them or trying to sell them all to out-of-town fans. Or hoping that Elon Musk builds a tunnel to San Diego.

 

Friday roundup: Nobody wants the Olympics, nobody wants the Marlins home run sculpture, nobody wants the Chargers (but L.A. is stuck with them through 2040)

So what else happened this week? Glad you asked:

  • Stockholm’s new city government said it won’t provide any public funding for a possible 2026 Winter Olympics. That would leave only Milan and Calgary as bidders, and the former hasn’t committed to public spending either, while the latter is set to hold a public referendum next month on hosting in the midst of complaints that no one knows how much it would cost. It’s still a longshot, but there’s a real chance here we could see our long-awaited “What if they held an Olympic bidding war and nobody showed up?” moment, or at least that the IOC will have to consider bids that don’t include its usual requirement that local government promise to backstop any losses.
  • “Several dozen” Long Island residents marched in protest last week against the New York Islanders‘ proposed arena near Belmont Park, saying it would create too much traffic and construction noise. Those aren’t the best reasons to be concerned about it in my book — I’d be more upset about the crazy discount on land New York state is giving the team, if I were a New York taxpayer, which I am — but maybe the protestors are worried about that too but it didn’t fit easily on a sign.
  • The owners of the Miami Marlins (i.e., Derek Jeter and the money men behind him) are going to have to pay $2.5 million to Miami-Dade County for moving Red Grooms’ home run sculpture outside their stadium, since relocating it means that Grooms will disavow the work and make it worthless. They should’ve just traded it to Milwaukee for some lousy prospects.
  • Oklahoma City is looking for capital projects to spend the next iteration of its sales-tax hike on, and Mayor David Holt says if a maybe-MLS-caliber soccer stadium isn’t included, “the Energy won’t be here forever.” The Energy, if that name draws a blank for you, is the city’s beloved USL franchise that’s been there since … 2014? It’s only a matter of time before teams start threatening to move before they even exist, isn’t it?
  • Bwahahahaha, the Los Angeles Chargers are reportedly locked into their lease at a new Inglewood stadium through 2040, so there’s no way they’re moving back to San Diego or elsewhere no matter how terrible their ticket sales are. Dean Spanos is so screwed! Uh, until he sells the team for a multibillion-dollar profit, but he’ll be crying the whole way to the bank, I promise you!

Chargers lower tickets prices at new stadium in hopes anybody might turn up to root for them

ESPN reported yesterday that the owners of the Los Angeles Chargers, noticing the distinct lack of enthusiasm with which they’ve been met in their new home, were downgrading their initial revenue goals at the Inglewood stadium set to open in 2020 from $400 million to $150 million. And on cue, the Chargers announced yesterday that they were setting ticket prices and seat license fees at the new stadium significantly lower than the rival Rams:

The least-expensive general seating season ticket in the new Inglewood stadium will cost $50 per game and require a one-time personal seat license fee of $100…

The Chargers will share the new facility with the Rams, who last month announced their season tickets will start at $60 a game, with personal seat licenses beginning at $1,000.

I’m not actually sure what “initial revenue” means in that ESPN report, and the site didn’t specify — each NFL team gets $250 million just in TV revenue, so maybe it means first-year stadium revenue, or maybe it means the initial take from PSL sales. If the latter, that would make sense, since the biggest discounts appear to be on the seat-license side, where allowing cut-rate prices is going to seriously cut into the team’s cash flow, especially once fans realize they can get in for a $100 one-time fee and then balk at paying higher PSLs for better seats.

Team execs are spinning this as a way to make Chargers fans more likely to use their tickets themselves instead of selling them to out-of-town fans to recoup their costs, but I’m not sure that microeconomics works that way: It seems just as likely that this will goose sales to ticket speculators who will now figure, “Hey, for only a $100 fee I can get a steady supply of tickets to sell to visiting fans who actually want to see Chargers games, unlike people around here!”

All of which is only likely to stir more murmurings that maybe the Chargers picked the wrong city to move to — or, you know, shouldn’t have moved at all. Turns out that sometimes shooting the hostages doesn’t work out that well.

Friday roundup: Chargers L.A. move still a disaster, Raiders still lack 2019 home, Rays still short of stadium cash

I’ve been busy getting my post-Village Voice life rolling this week — here’s my first article for Gothamist, on how to fight Amazon’s monopoly power, and I’ve also started a Twitter account for following ex-Voice news writers as we keep up our work for other outlets — but Friday mornings are sacred, for they are stadium and arena news roundup time:

Friday roundup: More MLS expansion drum beating, more wasteful non-sports subsidies, more bonkers Tottenham stadium delay stories

Getting a late start this morning after being out last night seeing Neko Case, so let’s get to this: