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:

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.

St. Louis lawsuit over Rams move heads for discovery, NFL is screwed now

That Hail Mary lawsuit filed by the city and county of St. Louis earlier this year against the NFL for allowing the Rams to move to Los Angeles without following the league’s own relocation rules still seems like a longshot to win, but it looks like it’s at least going to go to trial:

St. Louis plaintiffs suing the Rams and National Football League over the team’s relocation to Los Angeles scored a victory in court Wednesday after a judge largely denied pretrial motions by the league and its member clubs.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Christopher McGraugh also denied motions to dismiss some 85 defendants, including all member teams and members of their ownership groups, for lack of jurisdiction. McGraugh also denied the Rams’ efforts to send the case to arbitration under the terms of the Dome lease between the team and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority.

To recap, in brief: Rams owner Stan Kroenke decided to move his team to L.A. in 2016, despite having a $477 million offer on the table for a new stadium in St. Louis; the NFL’s relocation rules say that “clubs are obligated to work diligently and in good faith to obtain and to maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories”; the NFL told Kroenke, “it’s cool, go ahead and move,” mostly because Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones thought Kroenke had “big balls”; and then the city and county sued for unspecified damages on the grounds on fraud and unlawful interference with the business relationship between St. Louis and the Rams. Kroenke tried to argue that this should be subject to arbitration under the Rams’ lease, though given that he’d already chosen to terminate the lease under the lease’s state-of-the-art clause so he could either demand a new stadium or move, that takes a lot of gall, you know?

The interesting part of this isn’t so much whether the plaintiffs can win — even if St. Louis can claim $100 million or so in damages, that’s a rounding error for an NFL franchise — as what they’ll now be able to pursue in the discovery phase of the trial. The NFL already complained that the plaintiffs’ discovery requests were “extraordinarily broad, burdensome and intrusive,” which makes it sound like there’s some juicy stuff they don’t want to turn over, likely involving internal communications around the relocation deliberations. While the league could choose just to pay off the city to make this whole mess go away, I kind of hope it doesn’t — as much as it would be nice to set a precedent that sports leagues have to pay the public when they allow teams to move without following their own rules, I’d find it way more valuable to hear what other stupid crap came out of Jerry Jones’s mouth.

No, USA Today, NFL teams aren’t moving because of revenue disparities, you got snookered

An exec for the Cincinnati Bengals said a thing! A USA Today reporter believed him! Let’s investigate whether any of it makes sense.

First, the thing:

The revenue disparity between teams is “the largest it’s ever been in NFL history,” [Bengals vice president Troy] Blackburn told USA TODAY Sports. Even though teams equally share the revenues of NFL television contracts and a portion of ticket sales, they don’t share other local stadium revenues with each other, leading to the rising gap…

“Right now, you’ve got many of the small markets paying over 60-plus percent of their revenues on players, and many of the large markets are paying 40 percent of revenue on players,” said Blackburn, who previously was the team’s director of stadium development and is the son-in-law of Bengals owner Mike Brown. “Something that could be done that narrowed that gap would be helpful, and it would make it easier for the small-market teams to stay where they are and not have to explore relocation.”

USA Today’s took that and spun it into an article claiming that the reason the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders have all moved in the last year is because of these rising disparities between small- and large-market NFL teams, and more (unspecified, but presumably including the Bengals) teams could relocate if nothing is done about it.

Now, this is an odd premise to begin with, seeing as that it’s well known why these three teams moved now: Rams owner Stan Kroenke finally pulled the trigger on calling dibs on the long-vacant Los Angeles market, then the Chargers and Raiders owners rushed to get in on it too lest their only leverage on their current cities disappear, then the Chargers agreed to move in with the Rams because they couldn’t get a big-ass new stadium subsidy in San Diego while the Raiders got a big-ass stadium subsidy from Las Vegas, the end. But let’s set aside everything that our eyes tell us and see if the notion that NFL revenues are unsustainably unequal is supported by the data.

Here’s the latest Forbes team value and revenue figureshttps://www.forbes.com/nfl-valuations/list/#tab:overall. If you take a look at the “Revenue” column (we want gross revenues, not profits, which is what the “Operating Income” column shows), you’ll see that the Dallas Cowboys are crazy outliers at $700 million a year, while the rest of the league sits between $523 million and $301 million a year, meaning the top non-Dallas team earned 74% more than the lowest-revenue team.

If we go back to, say, 2011, the Cowboys are still outliers at $406 million, and the spread for the rest of the NFL is $352 million to $217 million, for a 62% disparity. So the distance between the haves and have-nots is increasing, yes, but note hugely. (You’ll also notice that every team in the league currently turns at least a $26 million profit, so while small-market team owners may be sad that they don’t own the New England Patriots, they can still be happy that they own an NFL team and not pretty much anything else.)

Now, let’s take a look at other sports. For baseball, lopping off the New York Yankees as the Cowboys analogue, we get a $462 million to $205 million revenue spread — a whopping 125%. For the NBA, taking out the New York Knicks, it’s $333 million to $140 million, 137%. For the NHL, omitting the New York Rangers, it’s $202 million to $99 million, 104%.

So while you can quibble with the Forbes numbers (or my methodology), it’s pretty clear that NFL revenue disparities aren’t any worse than those of other leagues that aren’t seeing massive team defections. Which is as to be expected, since the NFL has the strongest revenue-sharing program of any major sports league in North America, in the form of the national TV contract system put together by Pete Rozelle way back in the 1960s. In the NFL, owners get whopping checks just by virtue of owning a team — the only way to get ahead of your competitors isn’t to be in a bigger city with the chance for big cable contracts (the reason why all those New York teams sit atop the revenue charts for other leagues), but to get a more lucrative stadium deal. Which predicts that you’ll see more city-hopping in search of those, which is precisely what’s been happening.

So now that we’ve established that USA Today doesn’t have any fact-checkers on staff, what’s Blackburn’s angle? Is he just feeling whiny that the Bengals play in Cincinnati in a stadium that was a gift from taxpayers 17 whole years ago? Or does he have a specific play in mind:

“If the league is serious about franchise stability, maybe it should consider a new G-3 styled program that would help keep teams in small markets,” Blackburn said. “If it did it once, it can certainly do it again, if it truly cares about the issue.”

Ah, now we’re talking — the Bengals owners are upset that big-market teams are getting league grant money (or were, since both the G-3 fund and its successor G-4 are now depleted), and they’re not. So this whole exercise turns out to have been one NFL owner using the pages of USA Today to convince his fellow NFL owners to give him some of their money, because c’mon guys, you have so much of it!

Of course, the original G-3 program was actually limited to teams in the six biggest markets, in order to provide a check against teams moving to smaller cities in search of those sweet stadium deals mentioned above — with #6 included specifically because Patriots owner Robert Kraft played in the 6th-biggest market, and was threatening to move to Hartford at the time, and was the chair of the committee that designed G-3. So, pretty much the exact opposite of what Blackburn says it was. Oh, fact-checking.

St. Louis city, county sue Rams and NFL for breach of anything they can think of

Back when St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke picked up his team and moved it to Los Angeles, I noted here that hey, I wondered if PSL holders could sue for breach of contract, since they now held the right to buy tickets that didn’t exist? As it turned out, they could, and did, and won, sorta. I did not suggest that the city of St. Louis could sue as well, and for 15 months I was right — until yesterday:

The city, the county and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority are suing the National Football League over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago.

The 52-page suit filed Wednesday in St. Louis Circuit Court lists the National Football League and all 32 NFL clubs as defendants and seeks damages and restitution of profits.

If you’re wondering, “Hey, isn’t the NFL one of those cartel thingies where franchises have the right to move wherever, so long as the other owners say it’s okay?”, why yes. it is. But St. Louis’s lawyers have thought of that, arguing that the Rams “failed to satisfy the obligations imposed by the League’s relocation rules,” and so therefore the public is entitled to damages for:

  • Breach of contract (against all defendants).
  • Unjust enrichment (against all defendants).
  • Fraudulent misrepresentation (against the Rams and team owner Stan Kroenke).
  • Fraudulent misrepresentation (against all defendants).
  • Tortious interference with business expectancy (against all defendants except the Rams). This last count basically alleges that the NFL and the other 31 teams “intentionally interfered” with the business relationship between the St. Louis plaintiffs and the Rams by approving the relocation.

The suit says that the city of St. Louis is losing an estimated $1.85 million to $3.5 million a year in amusement and ticket tax revenue (true as far as it goes, though if bereft Rams fans are spending some of their entertainment dollars on other amusements, the city is getting some of that tax money back) plus about $7.5 million in property tax (whuh?), $1.4 million in sales tax revenue (again, not so much if some fans spend that money on other St. Louis activities), and “millions in earning taxes,” whatever those are. The city and county aren’t saying how much they’re looking for in damages, but if the above is any guide, it would have to be in excess of $100 million.

In essence, the city and county are saying, “Hey, no fair, you said you weren’t gonna move the team unless you had to, and then you did anyway, you cheaters” — which doesn’t seem particularly like a legal argument, but then, I am extremely not a lawyer. Whatever happens in the end, though, the discovery phase of this suit promises to be oh, so tasty, as St. Louis tries to dredge up every last detail of how the relocation decision was made and whether it followed the league’s rules that the NFL totally doesn’t just make up whenever it feels like it. We may get to be a fly on that wall after all.

Court rules St. Louis Rams PSL contracts still valid, could cost Kroenke $150m+ in payouts (UPDATE: probably not that much)

Well, ain’t that a kick in the head:

A federal judge in St. Louis ruled Wednesday that the Rams must refund deposits to some fans who purchased personal seat licenses during the franchise’s two decades in that city and offer others the opportunity to buy season tickets to games in Los Angeles.

I was dimly aware that St. Louis Rams PSL holders were suing over the season-ticket rights they’d purchased in perpetuity suddenly being worth nothing since there were no St. Louis Rams season tickets to buy anymore (see my brief note here), but I never thought they’d actually win. Nor, presumably, did Rams owner Stan Kroenke, because he is now seriously hosed, to a degree that we’ll attempt to figure out in a second.

First, a primer on PSLs: Initially created as a bonus for fans who bought inaugural Charlotte Hornets season tickets (not only do you get the tickets, but if you don’t want them anymore you can sell your spot on line to someone who does!), they quickly turned into a lucrative way for team owners to raise cash: Instead of first-come-first-serve tickets, offer fans the chance to buy the right to first dibs, with the carrot that they can then re-sell that right down the road to recoup at least some of what they laid out. In some cases with popular teams in cities with lots of fans with money to burn, it’s been lucrative indeed: The San Francisco 49ers managed to bring in more than $500 million from their PSL sales, which is a sizable chunk of change. And Kroenke has been hoping for similar revenue from PSL sales to help pay for his new $2.5-billion-ish stadium in L.A., though he can’t start selling them until next February as part of his relocation deal with the NFL.

So how much will this court decision, assuming it holds up on appeal, cost Kroenke? Of the 46,000 Rams PSL holders, there were two classes being represented — those whose PSLs were initially bought through a broker and those whose PSLs were bought directly from the team — and thanks to differences in the two contracts (whee lawyers!), each group now gets a slightly windfall: Broker purchasers get a refund of their PSL “deposit” (the judge declined to define what that means for now), while direct buyers get to actually transfer their PSL rights to the Rams’ new stadium. And while that may not sound so great — do any St. Louis Rams fans really want to fly to L.A. to see their former team play? — remember, the whole point of PSL rights is that they’re transferrable, so this is now a hugely valuable asset that they can sell, and more important, that Kroenke now can’t.

How much actual money would that cost Kroenke? Now we’re deep into speculation, since we don’t know how many direct vs. broker buyers there were, nor how much Kroenke was planning on selling L.A. PSLs for. Deadspin reported that the ruling will “likely cost the team millions of dollars in returned deposits and foregone profit,” but that’s almost certainly way too low: If there are 23,000 direct buyers and 23,000 broker buyers, say, then refunding 23,000 fans for their St. Louis purchases at $250 each would cost $5 million, while handing over free L.A. PSLs to another 23,000 fans could cost — let’s see, it’s a 70,000-seat stadium, so if Kroenke was shooting for $500 million in PSL sales, then scrapping 23,000 of those would lose him … $160 million, something like that, depending on which seats the judge says he has to set aside for St. Louis PSL holders?

It’s hardly a deal-breaker when you’re spending over $2 billion on a new facility, sure, but still, unexpected nine-digit losses are never fun. However all this turns out, it’s likely to be at least a moderate-sized headache for Kroenke and his accountants, as well as a cautionary tale for both teams writing up PSL contracts and fans buying them: Read the damn fine print, because it could end up being worth a hell of a lot of money.

UPDATES: As a couple of commenters have pointed out, the cost to Kroenke probably won’t be as much as I’d guesstimated: First off, more than 90% of the PSLs were sold by the broker, not the Rams, so that pushes most of the PSL holders into the less-lucrative “you get your deposit back” category. Second, the St. Louis PSLs were set to expire after the 2024 season (the Rams lawyers did something smart, anyway), so even for the L.A. PSLs Kroenke has to now pull off the market, he’ll get to resell them again in a few years. So we’re down in the $15-25 million cost range for Kroenke, which while it’s going to sting, is more of a rounding error for a guy playing in this spending stratosphere.

Kroenke seeks “significant” subsidies for suburban St. Louis development, has zero sense of irony

Deadspin says pretty much all that needs to be said about this story:

Stan Kroenke, Fresh Off Leaving St. Louis In The Lurch, Asks St. Louis For Tax Dollars

The slightly longer version: Rams owner Kroenke and his attorney Alan Bornstein are pursuing an 1800-acre development in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights that would involve retail, entertainment, office, residential and sports (no indication what kind of sports, but MLS is sniffing around, albeit more downtown than in the burbs), and are seeking “significant” tax kickbacks, possibly in the form of tax increment financing.

Nobody on the Maryland Heights council seems to be batting an eye that this is the same dude who just moved the local NFL team just 20 years after it got huge public subsidies to relocate in St. Louis — which is not all bad, since you do want these things judged on their merits and not on how warm and fuzzy local electeds feel toward the development, but also not all good, since see above re: yanking a team not long after it got subsidies. (Twitter has predictably been less kind to Stan.) Meanwhile, at least one local thinks that the location is a terrible place for tax-subsidized development:

David Stokes, the incoming director for the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, said he thinks it’s “preposterous” that the city would think of allowing such a project in a flood plain and support it with tax money, especially in light of the damage done in parts of the region by flooding in December.

“The idea that you would subsidize 1,800 acres of flood plain development, well, it’s always a terrible idea,” he said.

St. Louis wants to expand convention center after losing NFL, because that worked so well the last time

Coming off the loss of the Rams, St. Louis’ leaders have come up with a can’t fail strategy for boosting the city and its fortunes: Spend hundreds of millions to improve the convention center and domed stadium complex abandoned by the Rams to better compete in the national convention market. Kitty Ratcliffe, head of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, owner of the center and dome, recently proclaimed, “Our competitors are building, while we’ve been doing nothing.” The chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay weighed in with “We’re looking at this as a boost for the region’s tourism industry.” And they promised a consultant study “in the next few weeks” that would document the needs and set out a price tag.

Here they go again. Thirty years ago, faced with the loss of the NFL Cardinals, then-Mayor Vince Schoemehl and the region’s business leaders promoted a combined convention center expansion and domed stadium as the cure for the city’s ills. The argument by mayoral staffers was that “the City cannot feel like a ‘winner’ if it’s constantly losing things.” The city’s then budget director argued that a combined dome/convention center would be “an exciting world-class building project. We don’t often get this type of opportunity to make an international impact, like the Astrodome.”

Armed with consultant studies that promised a big boost in convention activity from what was supposed to be the country’s fourth biggest convention center, the city, county and state governments plopped down $240 million for a dome that still didn’t have a football tenant. More consultant studies said that what St. Louis really needed was a 1,000-room hotel next door to the new America’s Center complex. The head of the Convention and Visitors Commission in 1999 forecast that a new hotel would boost major conventions from 33 in 1998 to 56 in 2004, with hotel room nights almost doubling, to 800,000 a year. Mayor Clarence Harmon pressed the case for state aid for the hotel as “the foundation of our efforts to revitalize downtown and its is a cornerstone of our overall economic development strategy in the City of St. Louis.”

The new $277 million, 1,081-room Renaissance Grand Hotel opened in 2003 and immediately floundered, with occupancy and rates well below consultant forecasts. Beyond the problem of opening in the wake of 9/11, the hotel never spurred the predicted convention boom. By 2006, there weren’t 54 major conventions, but just 32. And the total continued to sink, so that 2008 saw just 438,000 convention room nights, a bit less than the 800,000 promised. With no new convention business, the hotel proved a total dud, and bondholders foreclosed on it in 2009, finally selling it for a third of debt. The story of the city’s convention business is still the same — 26 major conventions in 2014 and 425,411 room nights in 2014, almost exactly the same as the figures for 1997 and 1998.

Now, lest the city once again be viewed as a “loser,” with more promises of a “boost” for tourism, state and local officials seem poised to throw away more public money.

 

 

Chargers agree to move to L.A., vow to stay put in San Diego, all in a day’s work as an NFL owner

So here’s some things that happened on Friday:

  • The San Diego Union-Tribune reported (in an article no longer online in its original form) that the Los Angeles Rams (we should start calling them that now, right?) and San Diego Chargers had reached agreement in principle on a deal to share the Rams’ new Inglewood stadium.
  • Chargers owner Dean Spanos issued an open letter to fans stating that “our team will stay in San Diego for the 2016 season” and while he has an “option” to move to L.A., “my focus is on San Diego.”

So what does this mean, exactly? Clearly, Spanos has gotten Rams owner Stan Kroenke to agree to give him the rest of the year to lobby San Diego to cough up more money to keep its team — or as Spanos put it in his letter, to “determine the best next steps and how to deploy the additional resources provided by the NFL.” (That’d be the extra $100 million that the NFL is offering Oakland and San Diego as a sweetener for stadium deals, something that was completely unthinkable when it was St. Louis asking for it.) So expect some nasty, nasty stadium talks to continue the rest of this year, with Spanos clearing his throat and glancing in the general direction of Inglewood anytime someone suggests he kick in more of his own money.

The big question San Diego needs to be asking now is at what point Spanos will feel comfortable walking away from the table and going to Los Angeles — which unfortunately is unknowable, since the details of the deal between Kroenke and Spanos aren’t public. In fact, we have no way of knowing if the details have even been spelled out yet — it’s entirely possible that Spanos went to Kroenke and said, “Stan, let’s put out an announcement, I gotta light a fire under San Diego, we can work out the rest later,” and Kroenke grunted enigmatically.

In short, the NFL owners are playing this perfectly, levying move threats while openly proclaiming their love for current NFL cities (the better not to provoke pitchforks and torches) and holding their cards close to their vest. Which shouldn’t be surprising, as this is the business they’re in, but it’s always inspiring to watch evil geniuses at work up close. If the Chargers do end up getting the cash and staying put, it’ll be interesting to see if Raiders owner Mark Davis can pull off the same trick with Oakland.

MLS to St. Louis: Sorry about your football team, you know we play “football” too, right?

It’s official: With the St. Louis Rams gone, every other sport in town (or not in town) is hoping to grab a piece of that $477 million in public stadium money that the NFL team turned down. Just ten days after the Rams announced their move to Los Angeles, MLS commissioner Don Garber sent a letter to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressing his sympathies and offering to provide St. Louis fans with some kind of football, anyway:

Garber in his letter, dated Friday, said he was surprised and disappointed at the Rams’ departure and “in the wake of recent developments” wanted to reaffirm his commitment to considering St. Louis as an expansion city.

“I look forward to working with you, your staff and local leaders to explore ownership candidates and to investigate viable stadium solutions to bring MLS to St. Louis,” Garber said in the letter.

Yeah, like Missourians are going to accept a whole different sport as a substitute for anoth —

A Florissant lawmaker who earlier offered up a sales tax financing plan for a new riverfront football stadium is now saying a similar idea could be used to bankroll a new soccer stadium in St. Louis.

State Rep. Keith English has introduced legislation that would put a tax of not more than one-tenth of one percent on the ballot in St. Louis and St. Louis County. A green light from voters could generate between $10 million and $15 million annually, he said.

Note that this plan would have to go before city and county voters, so would almost certainly fail, especially given that nobody thought a similar Rams vote could pass, and some people actually already liked the Rams. Still, mute those cheers that by losing the Rams St. Louis has at least saved $477 million — there are plenty of other sports leagues lining up for a shot at it. How long before the Cardinals‘ stadium is 20 years old?