Fans are finally going to Chargers games, but they’re not Chargers fans

It’s football season again, which you can tell because people are fighting about kneeling during the national anthem again, and which means it’s time to check in on whether Los Angeles Rams and Chargers games are still full of empty seats. And the answer, for the Chargers, at least, who held their home opener on Sunday, is: Not entirely, but they might have wished it was:

With no fan footprint in Los Angeles (and many San Diego-based fans feeling abandoned by the move), the 27,000-seat StubHub Center has doubled as an extra home game for visiting teams. The Eagles famously had 80 percent of the stadium last year, and it was more of the same when the Kansas City Chiefs came to town for Week 1.

Here’s a photo of the Chiefs in front of a crowd dressed almost entirely in red for the road team:

As USA Today notes, this is in the 27,000-seat Stubhub Center; when the Chargers move to their new 70,000-seat stadium next year the year after next, they’re either going to end up with even more visiting fans, or with a ton of visiting fans and a ton of empty seats, which would be even worse. Or maybe, just maybe, there are lots of Chargers fans out there just biding their time until they can see football in a giant modern football stadium instead of in an intimate modern soccer stadium, and … yeah, I’m not seeing it either.

The Rams have their home opener on Sunday, against the Arizona Cardinals, which would seem to be ripe for visiting fans making the jaunt from one state over to visit the L.A. Coliseum. I’ll be watching, by which I mean watching Twitter, because even the prospect of a carpetbagging team owner being embarrassed by poor turnout isn’t enough to make me watch the NFL.

Friday roundup: A farewell to Baby Cakes, and other stadium news

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a week since a week ago — but then, looking at all the stadium news packed up like cordwood, it’s actually not:

Oakland to file antitrust suit against Raiders move, team threatens to take ball and go … somewhere

If you thought the only excitement left in the Oakland Raiders‘ move to Las Vegas was where all the fans would park at the new stadium — or whether anybody will turn up to games there at all — there’s a surprise for you back in Oakland:

The Oakland City Council has authorized a multimillion-dollar antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and the Raiders over the team’s impending move to Las Vegas — legal action that Coliseum officials said could result in the team leaving Oakland at the end of the upcoming season.

Let’s start with the lawsuit: It’s apparently set to be filed by the city, but was prompted by Raiders fans, and would actually be litigated by outside law firms that will take a cut of the winnings, if there are any. It would be an antitrust suit, seeking as much as $500 million in damages, according to Oakland councilmember Noel Gallo — and yes, you’re not misremembering things, the last antitrust case involving the Raiders ended with the Supreme Court ruling that the team owner had a right to move them wherever he wanted, but presumably these lawyers have come up with a new argument. (Here’s a long essay in the East Bay Express that totally fails to explain what that new argument would be.)

The truly great part here, at least for a disinterested observer mostly rooting for chaotic hilarity, is that Raiders execs have reportedly told the operators of the Oakland Coliseum that they won’t renew their lease for next year if the lawsuit proceeds, which is the absolute best threat ever, since the only reason they’re still in Oakland in the first place is that they have absolutely nowhere else to go. They could play at UNLV’s 47-year-old Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas, but team owner Mark Davis has said he doesn’t want to do that. Or they could play in some other temporary home city with an existing stadium — San Diego? St. Louis? San Antonio? — and hope that enough curiosity seekers will come out to see games to make it worth their while.

It’s probably an idle threat — there’s plenty of time before next season for everybody to come to some agreement, or for the lawsuit to crash and burn — and given that the city and county would only lose a relatively piddly $3.7 million in rent from the Raiders if they left early, and that fans seem to be behind the lawsuit even if it might cost them a final lame-duck season, it’s not all that much of a risk for the public. And — say it all with me — watching this court case has got to be more entertaining than watching Raiders games.

Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

D.C. mayor wants to build NFL stadium based on United funding model, this can’t end well

Washington, D.C. has shown a remarkable ability to elect people as mayor who, as soon as they land in City Hall, suddenly fall in love with building stadiums for the city’s sports teams. That’s nothing out of the ordinary — the strongest predictor of whether someone will support a sports subsidy is whether they’ve been elected mayor, according to a study that I’m sure someone will do someday — but D.C. really does seem to have mastered the art.

Which leads us to Muriel Bowser, who as a D.C. city councilmember wanted to spend public money on schools not stadiums, but as soon as she was elected mayor decided it’d be just great to fund a soccer stadium and a basketball arena and maybe a football stadium too. And speaking of that football stadium:

In an interview after her remarks, Bowser, who is running without serious competition for reelection in November, said that although she didn’t like the team’s name and for a period declined to use it, she was focused on reusing the land occupied by RFK Stadium now that D.C. United has departed for its own new stadium.

“We think all of our professional sports teams should be in our city limits,” Bowser said when asked why she believes the city would benefit from the Redskins’ return. “We think it’s important that in a world-class city, we have all of the major things — arts, culture, restaurants, theater and sports.”

I mean, sure? But just as you wouldn’t spend several hundred million dollars to open a new Shake Shack, there’s a price point at which getting an NFL team back within city limits (as opposed to the suburbs where they’ve been the last 21 years) makes sense, and one where it’s a massive waste of money. Bowser skipped right over this, though, choosing instead to blurt, “Bring it home!”, which is a great way to get stuck spending more than you really wanted to.

While Bowser didn’t go into any specifics on how much she’d spend on a new NFL stadium, she did say that her “model” was the D.C. United deal, which you’ll recall involved no direct construction money from the city but enough free land and tax kickbacks that it came to the largest public subsidy in MLS history. I would say that D.C. needs to find itself a better mayor, but 1) Bowser is considered a shoo-in for reelection this November and 2) everybody starts acting like this as soon as elected D.C. mayor, so what’s the point? Maybe they should consider holding a City Hall exorcism, though — Vatican operators are standing by!

Raiders reveal Vegas parking plan: All over the damn place, then take a bus

The Raiders‘ future home in Las Vegas is well under way (if a bit blurry), but until now one piece of the stadium project — a plan for where Vegas Raiders fans will park — has been “we’ll figure that out later,” words that don’t have a great track record when it comes to stadium planning. Until yesterday, when the Raiders’ parking consultants proposed a multi-site solution for where to put all those cars:

  • 2,375 parking spaces at the stadium
  • 3,700 to 4,625 spaces at the Orleans Hotel & Casino
  • 1,025 to 1,175 spaces at a former Southwest Gas facility on the northeast corner of Arville Street and Tropicana Avenue
  • 2,000 to 2,500 spaces at the southwest corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Arby Avenue
  • 2,900 to 3,625 spaces at the southwest corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Blue Diamond Road

For those of you without working expertise in Las Vegas geography (like me) and without the patience to Google-map all those sites (not like me, it turns out), that comes to a little bit of parking at the stadium, with most of the spots clustered around two intersections, one about a mile to the northwest of the stadium, and another about two miles to the south. Fans would then be bused from the parking lots to the game.

There are several questions that this plan raises — where you’re going to park the roughly 200 buses it would take to carry 20,000 people (assuming an average of two people per car) back to their cars immediately after the game is just one of them — but mostly it brings to mind this scenario: You are a Las Vegas Raiders fan, or just somebody visiting Las Vegas who decides to take in a game. You fire up Google or Waze or what have you, and it tells you how to get to the stadium. You drive there, and of course the lot is already full. You are directed to the overflow lot a mile away. You get there, after fighting through traffic with everybody else who is doing the same thing, only to be told that this lot is full, too — but there is more parking three miles back in the other direction. You get back in your car, head out into traffic again, and reconsider how badly you want to see a friggin’ Raiders game when there’s plenty of other stuff to do in Vegas.

Maybe this is an overly grim prognostication, but it certainly seems to be a concern, at the least. As is the fact that aside from the Orleans casino, the Raiders ownership doesn’t seem to have actually finalized deals with any of the owners of the lots that they want to use for parking. The stadium is supposed to open two years from now, so somebody had better get cracking.

Indianapolis Colts don’t rule out demanding third new stadium since 1984

The Indianapolis Colts were one of the early adopters in the stadium extortion game, moving from Baltimore in the dead of night in 1984 in exchange for a sweetheart deal at the then-new Hoosier Dome, and then going back to the well just 24 years later to get Lucas Oil Stadium built with the most expensive public NFL stadium subsidies up to that time. So surely there’s no way they’d become the first sports franchise to get three new stadiums in less than a half-century, right?

The current contract between the Colts and the city and the Capital Improvement Board, which operates Lucas Oil Stadium, runs from 2008 through the 2037 season. But if the Colts are not among the top five NFL teams in gross operating revenues in 2030, the team can terminate the deal…

Asked whether the Colts would need a new stadium to remain in Indianapolis past the current contract, [Colts COO Pete] Ward said the team hopes not but “it’s impossible to speculate that far ahead in today’s rapidly changing world.”

Well, that’s reassuring!

The team owners couldn’t actually break the lease and move until 2034, but you know that that wouldn’t stop them from trying to get a new stadium built earlier — hell, there’s already been talk of the Tampa Bay Rays moving if they don’t get a new stadium, and their lease doesn’t let them leave until 2027. So I wouldn’t count out the chances of the Colts at least shooting for a three-peat before the 50th anniversary of Moving Van Night.

The whole Indianapolis Star article that the above quotes are from is worth reading, as there are some other interesting nuggets as well, including Indianapolis deputy mayor for development Jeff Bennett remarking of the lack of development springing up around the ten-year-old football stadium that’s open for ten whole days a year: “I look out my window at work every day and see the stadium and the neighborhood around it. It’s just a matter of time now. The interest is there. It’s not a question of ‘if’ anymore, it’s ‘when.'” Hopefully before 2034!

Friday roundup: Trump tariff construction cost hikes, Beckham lawsuit tossed, Elon Musk inserts himself into headlines yet again

Lots of news to report this week, and that’s even without items that I can’t read because of Tronc Troncing:

Are sports leagues trolling Arizona media by refusing to release full economic impact studies?

Emerging briefly from my travel-imposed radio silence to note that Arizona tourism officials are once again talking up how sports is a mammoth contributor to the state’s economy, to the tune of $1.3 billion over the last three years. That’s according to figures come up with by the Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, and since they go against pretty much every other study conducted of sports economics ever — which conclude that most sports spending just displaces other spending, whether it’s by locals or tourists — I heartily pooh-poohed the latest of those studies when it came out last month, noting that a previous enthusiastic study of spring-training impact in Florida turned out not even to have been conducted by an economist.

After I wrote that, I got a very friendly under the circumstances email from one of the Arizona State economists, who assured me that the people behind the report had degrees and everything. He also indicated that the study had tried to avoid crediting sports with economic activity from visitors who would have come to Arizona anyway by asking survey respondents, “How strong a factor was the 2018 Cactus League in your decision to visit Arizona?”

This was very interesting, I told my correspondent. Where could I find the complete study, so I can see the full methodology?

Sorry, I was told. These reports were commissioned by the sports leagues (MLB, the NFL, and NCAA), and they were only releasing summaries, not the full reports.

This, needless to say, is a problem: Without seeing the methodology, there’s no way to tell if these studies truly show something unprecedented is going on in Arizona, or if every other study is correct that one-time and seasonal sports events don’t have any measurable economic benefit. So instead we just have the sports leagues picking and choosing which numbers to put in their press releases, with no way to tell how those figures were generated.

And if the notion of sports leagues deliberately trolling the media with cherry-picked stats is bad enough, one has to ask: Why the hell are Arizona media letting themselves get trolled? Pretty much every news outlet in the state has been running these stories at face value, without ever noting that there’s no way to evaluate the claims. That’s a dereliction of duty way worse than anything the leagues (who only have obligation to profit, not to truth) or the economists (who are just doing what their clients ask of them, though I suppose they could always refuse to take on projects with secrecy clauses on the grounds of academic openness) are doing.

Anyway, sports leagues are devious and secretive and news outlets are lazy and eager to suck up to the sports industry that provides them with many of their dwindling number of readers. Glad to see nothing has changed in my absence, in other words.

Friday roundup: Untangling NYCFC’s stadium plan, fighting over the Crew’s future, and what to do with a luxury suite

Sorry for the radio silence the last couple of days — it was a combination of not much super-urgent breaking news and a busy work schedule on my end — but let’s remedy that with a heaping helping of Friday links:

  • Part of that busy schedule was wrapping up work on my Village Voice article trying to unravel NYCFC’s latest stadium plan, and while the upshot remains what it was a month ago — this is a Rube Goldberg–style proposal with so many moving parts that it’s hard to say yet if it would involve public subsidies — it also involves city parks land that isn’t really parkland but is really controlled by another city agency that isn’t really a city agency and denies having control over it … go read it, you’ll either be entertained or confused or both!
  • The state of Maryland has luxury suites at the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles stadiums, and Gov. Larry Hogan mostly uses them for family members and political cronies. This should come as a surprise to no one, but it’s a reminder that getting government use of a suite as part of a stadium deal is less a public benefit than a, what do you call those things?
  • Based on questions asked at a Monday hearing, The Stranger concludes that most King County council members aren’t opposed to the Seattle Mariners‘ demand for $180 million in future county upgrade spending on Safeco Field, in exchange for the team signing a new lease. That could still change, obviously, but only if all of you readers turn toward Seattle and shout this post in unison. Three, two, one, go!
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber says talks are “ongoing” with the city of Columbus about replacing the Crew if they move to Austin, and by “with the city of Columbus” he apparently means the local business council the Columbus Partnership. And even their CEO, Alex Fischer, doesn’t sound too in the mood to talk, noting that Garber has called for a new downtown stadium in Columbus while not requiring the same of Austin: “I find it extremely ironic that the commissioner wants a downtown stadium at the same time that the McKalla site is the equivalent of building a stadium in Buckeye Lake.” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott retorted that Fischer’s remarks are “certainly a strange way to demonstrate an interest in working with us.” The lines of communication are open!
  • The owners of Nashville S.C. would have to pay $200,000 a year in city rent on their new stadium, which is … something, at least. Except, reports the Tennessean, “Parking revenue collected from non-soccer events at the new MLS stadium, such as concerts or football games, would go toward the annual base rent and could potentially cover the entire amount.” So maybe not really something.
  • Glendale has extended its arena management deal with AEG through 2026, which will mean continuing to pay $5.6 million annual management fees, but also collecting about $1.6 million a year in shared arena revenues. That’s not good, but it is significantly better than the lease that had the city paying the owners of the Arizona Coyotes more than $7 million a year after revenue shares, so yay Glendale for tearing up that lease and bidding out the contract to at least cut their losses.
  • Here’s Austin’s lead negotiator with Crew owner Anthony Precourt over a new stadium, Chris Dunlavey of Brailsford and Dunlavey. on whether the deal is fair to taxpayers: “All around, I don’t know how it could get characterized as favorable to [Precourt Sports Ventures]. I think the city of Austin has negotiated this to as favorable for a city as PSV could stand to do.” Uh, Chris, you do know that “good for the public” and “as least awful for the public as we could get” aren’t the same thing, right?
  • Former U.S. senator Barbara Boxer has thrown her weight behind Inglewood residents opposing a new Los Angeles Clippers arena because it could cause gentrification and displacement. Which, not all arenas do, but in hot urban areas like L.A. it doesn’t take much to cause gentrification and displacement, so I can certainly see why there’s concern.
  • An otherwise unidentified group calling itself Protect Oakland’s Shoreline Economy has issued flyers opposing the A’s building a stadium at Howard Terminal because, among other things, it could displace homeless encampments to make way for parking lots. This is getting David Beckham–level silly, but also it’s getting harder and harder not to feel like the A’s owners should just give in and build a stadium at the Coliseum site, since at least nobody seems to mind if they do that. Yet.