NFL season opens, bringing partially masked fans and completely masked stadium impact claims

The NFL season has started, something I mostly noticed because of the appearance of Defector’s (née Deadspin’s) “Why Your Team Sucks” series, and pretty much every news outlet in the U.S. had an article about how there were no fans in the stands and it was weird, something I am not going to bother recapping for you all because I already just did. Except in Jacksonville, that is, where this happened:

News4Jax reports that “officials were strict on the inside and made sure everyone followed the rules” and “News4Jax saw fans wearing masks except for when eating or drinking, and keeping distance in the stands from other pods,” which:

That looks to me more like “except when eating or drinking or talking to the person you’re probably not in a household with who is way less than six feet distanced from you,” but it’s something, anyway.

What the impact on Covid in getting-better-but-still-bad Florida (its death rate per capita is now second in the country), or on still-surging Missouri (where the Kansas City Chiefs allowed in fans for Thursday’s opener, which went not so well) is really hard to predict. That CDC study on restaurants was pretty clear that taking off masks to eat and drink is a major risk, though it’s conceivable that being outdoors will help mitigate that enough that it won’t cause an outbreak. It doesn’t look like anyone has tried to determine the impact of MLS games allowing in fans yet, and that study claiming Sturgis as a superspreader event has been largely debunked, so we’re left with things like that Champions League game in February in Italy, where nobody was masked or distanced or anything, so that’s tough to draw comparisons from. So allowing fans at NFL games is still a giant human experiment, one whose impact in all likelihood won’t be clear for a couple of months yet, at which point it will be too late to do anything about it, because that’s how modern humanity rolls.

Meanwhile, in Inglewood, the Los Angeles Rams opened their new $5-to-6-billion-ish stadium with no fans in attendance, but according the the Los Angeles Daily News’ headline, “a resurgent Inglewood has hope.” Number of Inglewood residents interviewed for the story: one.

“I haven’t felt this way since the first time my father brought me to a Rams game when I was 7 years old in the 1960s,” Inglewood Mayor James Butts said on Friday. “Even though we won’t have the crowds there’s going to be that same feeling because this is history being made.”

You can just smell the resurgence!

After all the vaportecture, I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least a couple of photos of the new Rams and Chargers stadium, so here’s a nicely postapocalyptic one, courtesy of USA Today:

And here’s a nice view of what the game would look like from the upper levels, if you were allowed to watch it from there:

Five billion dollars doesn’t buy what it used to.

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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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Rams stadium’s new artificial lake deemed “gentrification,” but that’s only half the story

Writing a post based on a news story based on tweets is not exactly my favorite way of doing journalism, but in this case, I think it’s warranted. Newsweek, which still exists after passing through a series of ownership changes that included a bizarre money-laundering scheme, reports that residents of Inglewood are increasingly griping on social media about how the Los Angeles Rams‘ new stadium is getting all kinds of fancy gewgaws while the city’s schools remain underfunded; one declared of the team’s new artificial lake: “This is gentrification.”

https://twitter.com/ch1chi_xoxo/status/1288718599532589056

As someone who’s written books on both stadiums and gentrification, I think I’m uniquely qualified to nitpick this, or at least to delve a little deeper into the implications of stadium-led redevelopment.

One of the arguments often made by community members opposed to sports projects — or any kind of big development projects — is that they will price existing residents out of the neighborhood. The evidence that sports venues actually make a neighborhood a more enticing place to live is fairly weak: Stadiums bring excitement and crowds, but also public drunkenness and traffic problems. And while you can definitely find plenty of examples of stadiums that saw luxury housing rise up around them, luxury housing has been going up in cities all over America as part of the Great Inversion; as I noted a couple of years ago, the New York Jets having their stadium on Manhattan’s then-low-rent West Side rejected didn’t stop developers from coming in with a new plan that put up tons of new luxury housing, with the help of a few billion dollars in taxpayer funds. Sometimes the causality even runs the other way: Stadium builders target a neighborhood because they think it’s primed for gentrification and they can reap the benefits by speculating on land around their new venue.

If anything, what stadiums do to smooth the way for gentrification is what might be termed the bulldozer effect. As I discovered in researching The Brooklyn Wars, one of the biggest reasons why big development projects or rezonings can lead to hikes in housing costs and displacement of existing residents — even when you might think that building lots of new housing should lead to lower rents in simple supply-and-demand terms — is that they provide an easy excuse for the demolition of neighborhoods, or at least large stadium-sized parts of neighborhoods, that are standing in the way of rapid gentrification. With cities increasingly attractive places to live for people with money, for all the same reasons they grew so big in the first place (easy access to jobs and culture, mostly), the only real thing keeping them from gentrifying even faster is the distaste of many suburbanites for living next to the black and brown people with low incomes who settled there when their parents and grandparents decamped for the suburbs in the first place — at least if there aren’t a few local artists or white dads with baby strollers around to make the place feel like it has “potential.”

Which, finally, is where the artificial lake comes in. It isn’t receiving any public money that I can tell, but by carving out a chunk of Inglewood and repurposing it as a playground for the moneyed classes (or at least for people who can afford football tickets, who tend to be pretty well-off), it creates a bubble of perceived safety that allows other developers to market Inglewood to newcomers who might otherwise turn up their nose at living next to Inglewood residents. In fact, this is exactly what Inglewood Mayor James Butts said he was hoping for when he compared the stadium to the Genesis device in Star Trek: Wrath of Khan that turned a lifeless planet into a utopia, which really is an odd way to refer to the city of more than 100,000 human beings that you are supposedly representing.

New stadiums and artificial lakes, then, are less about directly luring people to cities, and more about rebranding them. Which surely must seem tempting to mayors who Google their own cities and are met with this:

All of which would be fine and great if Inglewood could be made less dangerous in a way that allowed current residents to benefit from the improvements, rather than risk being priced out as a result. (In fact, the crime rate in Inglewood has already been dropping pretty dramatically.) But in an America defined by massive and still-widening inequalities in wealth and income, that’s hard to pull off, at least not without freezing rents and banning evictions.

In the anthology New York Calling, labor historian and musician Philip Dray memorably recalled a time when he first moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side (artist on the block! quick, tell your friends looking for cheap city apartments!) and went to a block association meeting about the city’s offer to install new street trees on the sidewalk:

All the white people want the trees, but the Hispanics are against it, saying that prettifying the block will just drive the rents up. The whites are kind of numb — how can anyone not like trees?

This is America: A land where people are afraid to have nice things because they’re afraid it will just make someone with more money want to take them away from them. That’s not the only reason why stadiums continue to get built while teachers have to make GoFundMe campaigns to buy books for their students, but that’s pretty much impossible to understand without it.

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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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