Friday roundup: Panthers’ record sale price goosed by public money, Beckham stadium delayed yet again, Rams stadium really will cost $4B-plus

Google looks to have broken all of its RSS feeds, so if I missed anything important this week, drop me an email and I’ll play catchup next week:

Temple economist Michael Leeds just pwned the Browns on their stadium demands, yo

The Cleveland Scene has a long article up today about the Cleveland Brownssaber-rattling for a new stadium, most of which is about what the Browns are probably after in seeking to replace a 19-year-old stadium — a site with lots of land around it to develop, probably — and how likely that is to happen — not too likely, according to the Scene, unless the Browns owners can get Cleveland to decommission an airport, which is hard because the FAA would be involved. It’s an interesting read, but I mostly want to take a moment to appreciate this quote from Temple University economist Michael Leeds, explaining why teams keep upping the ante for what they “need” despite having stadiums that are barely out of the packaging:

“Every parent goes through this type of thing and knows the deal,” he said. “You ask your kid what they want for their birthday, and she might say, ‘I want a pony.’ You ask her why and she says the kid down the street has one. Most of us figure out a way to ignore what she wants and get her something else.”

[mic drop]

Hamilton County may now have to fire sheriffs to afford payments to Bengals required by stadium lease from hell

Hamilton County, Ohio, has reached an agreement with the Cincinnati Bengals allowing the county to defer $2.67 million in payments to the team from this year to next. And if you’re wondering why the county is sending public money to the local pro sports team on a regular basis, you clearly haven’t been following the county’s lease from hell, which not only requires taxpayers to foot the bill for any future stadium improvements needed to keep the team on par with other NFL franchises (including, famously, holographic replay systems once they’re invented), but also has the team paying negative rent, with the county forwarding $2.67 million a year (rising by 5% each year) to the Bengals owners for “operating costs.”

County officials made noise late last year about simply refusing to make the payment and seeing what the Bengals owners would do — they could break the lease and threaten to move, but then they can do that when the lease runs out in 2026 anyway — but instead they seem to have settled on waiting a year to figure out where to come up with this year’s $2.67 million, plus next year’s $2.8 million. Which is going to be a bit of a problem, because the cupboard is pretty much bare:

The cash-strapped county can’t pay the Bengals this year because it faces $28 million budget deficit in 2019. The county is considering raising the sales tax to help keep the overcrowded jail running, pay for sheriff patrols and avoid deep cuts to staffing.

If Hamilton County ends up adding “laying off sheriffs” to “selling public hospitals” on the list of things it’s done to pay for this Bengals stadium over the years, it will truly cement its place as negotiator of the worst lease in the history of professional sports. If it hasn’t already, that is.

Friday roundup: Nevada gov candidate threatens Raiders’ roads, Phoenix sued over Suns arena plans, Rays stadium could seek Trump tax break

And the rest of the week’s news:

Browns owner says team may seek new stadium to promote Cleveland redevelopment, this is where we came in, bye

If Field of Schemes has an origin story, it almost certainly begins on the day in 1995 when Joanna Cagan came to a meeting of our Brooklyn Metro Times zine and complained about how the Cleveland Browns were moving to Baltimore to become the Ravens, and the NFL was shaking down Cleveland for hundreds of millions of dollars in stadium money in order to provide a replacement team. So it’s more than a little weird to be reading this:

The Cleveland Browns have begun long-term discussions about a development project that could include a substantially renovated stadium or a new facility at a different site in downtown Cleveland.

Well, sure, the old place is 19 years old! Gotta be thinking about a new one!

Browns co-owner Dee Haslam told ESPN that a new stadium could be a decade out, but that really she just wants the Browns to be about helping contribute to the growth and revival of Cleveland, because that’s what football is all about, or something:

“The main thing is to start the conversation, at some point,” said Haslam, who agreed to the interview after ESPN learned of the talks. “I don’t know that we’re ready to start the conversation, but we are ready to get all the information we can about what’s possible.

“So I think it’s really important to find out what’s possible. There could be a lot of great ideas that we might not be able to do because it’s not feasible for one reason or another. I don’t want to get the horse in front of the cart until we’re knowledgeable enough to know, because we’re not informed enough to know right now.

“But we do know that we have a desire to make a bigger impact on the future of Cleveland.”

Okay, so clearly this is very preliminary, which makes sense, as the Browns’ lease at the stadium taxpayers built for them in 1999 runs until 2029 (by which time “it could be one of the league’s oldest facilities,” helpfully notes ESPN, which, hey, surprise for you guys, it’s already in the older half of NFL stadiums because those things are like goddamn mayflies). Also clearly, it’s Haslam noting that Cleveland is starting to explore ideas for downtown redevelopment, and thinking, we should try to get us some of that action, and then when questioned by ESPN spouting a lot of nothing about “making an impact” because what else is she going to say, really?

What would have been nice would have been for ESPN to ask: So, why does downtown Cleveland still need redevelopment focused around a football stadium when it just built a football stadium 19 years ago on the premise that it would help redevelop downtown? But that’s probably a bit much to expect from a network that has a $1.9 billion a year business partnership with the NFL.

Friday roundup: Senators owner stalling on arena commitment, Jaguars owner wants to buy Wembley, and gondolas, forever gondolas

As late as Wednesday, I thought this was turning out to be a slow news week. Then the news made up for it in a hurry:

  • The New York Islanders owners held a question-and-answer session for residents near their planned new arena on Tuesday, and when asked about how they plan to increase Long Island Railroad service to avoid tons of auto traffic, a state development official said, “We are in very active discussions with the LIRR — meeting with them once a week — and those talks are ramping up.” Hopefully they’re involving Dr. Strange in those discussions, because they badly need to find some new topological dimensions.
  • Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to talk to Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk about whether he actually plans to pursue the LeBreton Flats arena development he won rights to last year, after Melnyk called it “a huge project with tremendous risk” and said, “If it doesn’t look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I’m not suggesting that right now” and “Something’s got to break somewhere and I mean a positive break.” Melnyk has made threats like this before, but you’d think now that he has an agreed sale price for the land he’d be happy; it sure sounds like he’s angling for some additional public subsidies now that he has his mitts on the land, which you can’t really blame him for, since Watson opened the door to that already. Come on, mayor, haven’t you learned yet not to get the can opener out when the cat is around?
  • Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the group started by the Rays to push for business support for a new stadium, is signing up plenty of members, but DRaysBay notes that “the real test of commitment will come when businesses are asked to make clearer financial commitments to a stadium plan.” Yeah, no duh. (The subhead here, “Business leaders line up behind stadium plan, but financing questions linger,” is also a masterpiece of understatement.)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says that the Toronto Blue Jays‘ Rogers Centre “needs an update to make it as economically viable as possible,” noting that other stadiums “have millennial areas, things like that that have been built and become popular more recently.” So, like, an Instagram parlor?
  • Here’s a story about how 25 years ago the NHL handed Norman Green the rights to move the Minnesota North Stars to any open market as consolation for putting an expansion team in Anaheim, where he’d wanted to move, and he ended up going to Dallas. Also it has Roger Staubach in the headline for some reason.
  • And here’s a story about how 50 years ago NHL expansion inadvertently kicked off the rise of arena rock, which is probably overstated but it has links to vintage Cream videos in it, if you like that sort of thing.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is in talks with the Football Association to buy London’s Wembley Stadium for £600 million, which is certain to raise eyebrows about the possibility of the Jags moving to London, but is probably for right now more about Fulham F.C., which Khan also owns, being about to get promoted to the Premier League and wanting a bigger place to play. Khan also said, “I think it needs investment and updating. Compared to American stadiums the video boards are something that need to be looked at. The lounges are a little bit dated.” The current Wembley Stadium was built in 2007.
  • The son of former disgraced Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt wants to build a gondola to take fans from Union Station to Dodger Stadium to avoid traffic. “It’s not actually crazy,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti insisted on Thursday, which, given that this is a city considering allowing Elon Musk to build a network of tunnels to whisk residents about via some unknown technology, maybe we should take that with a grain of salt.
  • San Diego State says its stadium plans could eventually be expanded to fit an NFL team, for a mere additional $750-$850 million. Most San Diegans responding to an internet poll (which means some San Diegans, some non-San Diegans, and some dogs) don’t think they’re getting an NFL team anytime soon, anyway.
  • The Port of Oakland has approved giving the Oakland A’s owners exclusive negotiating rights to develop Howard Terminal, which now gives the A’s exclusive rights to two possible stadium sites. As DRaysBay would say, financing questions linger.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has toured the new Milwaukee Bucks arena and says it has “unique sight lines.” Hopefully he means that in a good way, though I’m still wondering about that “sky mezzanine level.”

How cities haven’t actually fallen out of love with funding sports stadiums

The May issue of Governing magazine has an article with the provocative headline, “How Cities Fell Out of Love With Sports Stadiums,” though it’s really mostly about why St. Louis balked at throwing money at an MLS stadium and fought back against paying for arena upgrades for the Blues after getting burned when the Rams got the most sweetheart lease deal in history and then used a lease loophole to move back to Los Angeles just 21 years later.

All that is good and fine, as is the article’s discussion of how “the economic impact reports singing the praises of sports development have largely been discredited.” But in the service of trying to make the story into “regular folks used to fall all over themselves to hand money to sports teams, but now they’ve smartened up,” writer Liz Farmer oversimplifies or just plain gets wrong a number of things about the stadium subsidy game and how it’s played, which is going to be a problem if any people in the business of actual governing take it as gospel. Let us count the ways:

“When [Rams owner Stan] Kroenke came along and had the gall to start making demands for a football team that hadn’t had a winning record since 2003, the city was — quite literally — spent. St. Louis was suffering under the same socioeconomic and fiscal pressures as Cleveland, Detroit and most other Rust Belt cities. Its population was declining rapidly, and it was stuck paying off debt for the existing stadium until 2022. Residents were increasingly skeptical when it came to investing in gaudy entertainment amenities the lower-income population couldn’t afford to use.”

St. Louis’s population has been declining since 1950 — if anything, it’s leveled off some in recent years — though its county population has soared as more people moved to the suburbs. And residents were pretty darned skeptical before, too: Way back in 2002, St. Louis citizens approved a referendum requiring that all public subsidies for sports facilities would need to go to a public vote. Unfortunately for voters, courts ruled that the target of that referendum — the Cardinals stadium deal that had just been approved prior to that — was grandfathered in, but it’s not like public resistance in St. Louis is anything new.

“The era of taxpayer-financed stadiums came about almost by accident. Seeking to limit the use of government bonds in stadium financing, the federal Tax Reform Act of 1986 included a provision that capped at 10 percent the direct stadium revenue — mostly from ticket sales and concessions — that could be used to pay for the cost of the facility. That meant that governments would have to raise broad-based taxes, such as on sales or business, to cover the rest of the cost.”

Not quite. What the 1986 tax reform law was attempting to do was to rein in cities’ use of federally tax exempt bonds for private projects — not just stadiums, but all kinds of development — by saying, “Look, only really public amenities, okay? Don’t just offer discounted bonds to anybody who asks and then stick federal taxpayers with the bill.”

Unfortunately, the way that Congress chose to address this was by defining public amenities as things that were paid for by the public — if more than 10% of the cost was paid off by private funds (or special taxes that were just private funds masquerading as public dollars to get eligibility), low-cost federal bonds were off the table. Unfortunately, what that did was to increase the leverage of sports team owners, who could now say, “Yeah, sorry, we would love to put in more money of our own, but then it would increase the financing costs, and we can’t have that, can we?”

This is by no means what started the era of taxpayer-financed stadiums, though: Team owners were already demanding new stadiums and arenas left and right, using the usual playbook of methods to do so (move threats, claims of economic benefits, etc.). The tax reform law further titled the scale toward bigger demands, but it didn’t create the demands in the first place — and while getting rid of tax-exempt bond subsidies would be a nice step, it wouldn’t put an end to stadium subsidies in the slightest.

“But Congress didn’t account for the fan loyalty and pride that — at the time — made raising local taxes more acceptable.”

Fan loyalty and pride are still on full display, but sports fans are taxpayers, too, and have been resisting handing their tax dollars over to sports team owners as much as anyone since the beginning. Just ask Frank Rashid.

“The boom was driven in part by demand from teams and fans for a more sophisticated sports experience than the drab concrete coliseums they were used to.”

If by “more sophisticated sports experience” you mean “more pulled-pork sandwiches and nicer cupholders,” sure. But plenty of sports venues have been torn down in recent years to make way for new facilities that are arguably even drabber than the ones they replaced.

“The Washington, D.C., soccer team, D.C. United, spent years negotiating with the nation’s capital over a new soccer-specific stadium. Those talks effectively shut down once the economic downturn hit in 2008, and the team spent another seven years shopping around in the surrounding counties — even going as far as Baltimore — trying to find a local government that would pay for the facility. None would bite. Ultimately, the team stayed in D.C. and is paying to build a stadium on land the city spent $150 million acquiring. The deal includes a non-relocation agreement.”

In addition to that free land, D.C. United is also getting $43 million in property tax breaks, making it the most expensive MLS soccer stadium subsidy in history. The tide is turning!

“Kiel Center Partners, the firm that owns the NHL Blues, had asked the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen for $64 million to finance upgrades to the Scottrade Center. Had the city’s voters not been distracted by the soccer stadium proposal and by a heated mayoral election, the financing might have met more resistance. Some aldermen did question whether the city’s 1994 lease with the team required it to pay for upgrades, but still the proposal narrowly passed. If it had been submitted to a popular vote, it most likely would have failed.”

Again, “if voters had been asked, they would have voted it down” is likely true of all of St. Louis’s past sports subsidy deals. (Possibly not the original Rams deal, though if they’d known that it would allow the team to move away by claiming their two-decade-old stadium was no longer “state of the art,” they might have balked at that, too.) And voters didn’t get to vote because the city council just up and decreed that they wouldn’t be allowed to, despite that 2002 referendum, so it’s tough to see how this is a sign of increased political resistance.

“So the hockey team got its way. Things like that still happen. But they don’t happen easily, and they don’t happen with broad public support. Several years ago, for instance, when the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings wanted a publicly funded stadium, the state legislature rejected the proposal. Eventually the team got its money, but with a state law capping public contributions to the $1 billion project at $498 million.”

OMG, the Vikings owners actually had to ask for stadium subsidies multiple times! And then they had to settle for a mere half-billion dollars in cash, except counting tax breaks and other hidden goodies it’s actually costing taxpayers more like $1.1 billion, so, uh.

In the end, the Governing article isn’t a terrible one, and it does touch on a lot of details of the stadium scam that Governing likely wouldn’t have been caught dead discussing 20 years ago. (Now there’s some progress.) But if the takeaway is that the general public loved sports stadium plans, but now have realized they were duped, that’s not the story at all: Actually it’s been a battle from the beginning between team owners trying to extract as much public money as possible, and taxpayers and some of their local representatives trying to push back. And while maybe a few more elected officials are pushing back harder, there’s pushback against the pushback, too. So this whole mess isn’t ending anytime soon, much as I wish it were so I could retire this blog and go back to treating sports as the purely apolitical, fun pastime that it never really was.

Jaguars to ask for unspecified amount of public cash, but not for stadium

The owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars have announced that they want to build a $2.5 billion complex that would include a high-end hotel, a convention center and hotel, a park, an upgraded marina, a 3,000-space parking garage, and “mixed-use entertainment buildings” with ground-floor retail … but not a stadium, all near its existing stadium. They would still want subsidies, though:

The Jaguars owners already got $45 million in city subsidies for stadium upgrades a little over two years ago, so maybe it was considered gauche to ask for more so soon? (Though their stadium is 23 years old now, that’s practically ancient in NFL years.) Anyway, according to WOKV radio, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry intends to “put that proposal through his scorecard to ensure there will be a return for the citizens of Jacksonville,” so one hopes that his scorecard contains a reasonable algorithm and wasn’t written by, say, these guys.

Finally, I am so not commenting on what that cylindrical building proposed for the waterfront looks like:

Friday roundup: Spending on training facilities is a bad idea, Portland seeks MLB team, Jays game postponed after roof hit by falling ice

I can’t believe none of you wrote in to ask why I hadn’t reported on a Toronto Blue Jays game getting postponed due to falling ice puncturing a hole in the stadium roof, but I guess you’re all acclimated to waiting for the Friday roundup now for that sort of thing. But wait no longer! (Well, wait a few bullet points for that one in particular.)

Friday roundup: Marlins claim British residency, video football with real humans, and the White Sox stadium that never was

Busy (minor) news week! And away we go…

  • Derek Jeter’s Miami Marlins ownership group, facing a lawsuit by the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County over the team stiffing the public on the share of sale proceeds they were promised, are trying to stave it off by claiming that (deep breath) because one of the owners of an umbrella company of an umbrella company of the umbrella company that owns the Marlins is a business incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, the case should be arbitrated by a federal judge who handles international trade issues. Maybe the Marlins should quit trying to sell tickets to baseball games and sell tickets to the court proceedings instead.
  • Tampa Bay Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz, in response to concerns that a big-ass baseball stadium wouldn’t fit into the Ybor City historic district that it would be on the border of, said that “we expect to build a next-generation, neighborhood ballpark that fits within the fabric of the Ybor City community,” though she didn’t give any details. That’s vague enough to be reassuring without actually promising anything concrete, but it’s worth making a note of just in case the historic district ends up becoming a stumbling block in stadium talks, which, stranger things have happened.
  • A guy wants to start a football league where fans vote on what plays to run via Twitch, and build an arena in Las Vegas for people to watch … the players? The voting? The Las Vegas Review-Journal article about it was a bit unclear, though it did say that the organizers want to “create the experience of playing a football video game with real people,” which isn’t creepy at all. It also reports that the league plans to use blockchain technology, which is how you know it’s probably a sham.
  • Something called the Badger Herald, which I assume is a University of Wisconsin student paper but which I really hope is a newspaper targeted entirely at badgers, ran an article by a junior economics major arguing that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will be a boon to the city because during the first few years “many will come from across the state to watch the Bucks play in this impressive new facility” and after that it will “continue giving the people of Milwaukee a reason to be optimistic.” The author also says that the arena was built after “the NBA gave the Bucks an ultimatum — either obtain a new arena, or the NBA would buy the Bucks and sell the franchise to another city,” which, uh, no, that’s not what happened at all.
  • Here’s a really nice article for CBS Sports by my old Baseball Prospectus colleague Dayn Perry on the Chicago White Sox ballpark proposed by architect Philip Bess that never got built. Come for the cool pictures of spiders, stay for the extended explanation of why supporting columns that obstruct some views are a design feature that stadium architects never should have abandoned!
  • The Los Angeles Rams are trying to pull a San Francisco 49ers, according to Deadspin, by making a run at a Super Bowl in the same year they’re selling personal seat licenses for their new stadium. More power to ’em, but prospective Rams PSL buyers, check how that worked out for 49ers fans before you hand over your credit card numbers, okay?
  • The state of Connecticut has cut $100 million for Hartford arena renovations from the state budget, at least for now, so that it can use the money toward a $550 million bailout of the city of Hartford itself. Is that what they call a “no win-win situation“?
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the New York Islanders need to move back to Long Island because Brooklyn’s Barclays Center “wasn’t built for hockey,” which he actually pointed out at the time they moved there, but did anybody listen?
  • Alameda County is moving to sell its share of the Oakland Coliseum complex to the city of Oakland, which should make negotiations over what to do with the site slightly simpler, anyway.
  • That Missouri governor who killed a proposed St. Louis MLS stadium subsidy, calling it “welfare for millionaires,” is now under pressure to resign after his former hairdresser claimed he groped her, slapped her, and coerced her into sex acts. Maybe we should just stop electing men to public office? Just a thought.