Extra $100m in Rams stadium tax kickbacks “DOA,” says St. Louis mayor

Hey! So remember the $100 million or so in “city event day taxes” that it was revealed last week the city of St. Louis was going to be putting in toward a new Rams stadium under Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan, filling a budget hole of that size? Turns out two things:

  1. “City event day taxes” really does mean kickbacks of existing city sales taxes, ticket taxes, and team income taxes, as I had guessed.
  2. You can forget all that, because according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist David Nicklaus, that plan has now been withdrawn, and we’re back to a $100 million budget hole.

Wha happen? This, apparently: On Friday, city comptroller Darlene Green complained that the added tax kickbacks, on top of hotel taxes that would be extended and redirected from paying off the Jones Dome, “would put the city’s credit at risk and potentially lead to higher interest costs to issue bonds for much needed citywide public safety and infrastructure improvements.” Dave Peacock, chair of the governor’s stadium task force that came up with the proposal, responded that “everyone is reacting to old information, one idea that was being considered and is no longer being considered.” Peacock said.  Mayor Francis Slay’s office then added that the game-day tax plan “was put forth by the task force but was not OK with the city. The mayor described it as dead on arrival.”

Peacock tried to defend the now-86ed plan by saying that there had long been plans to use game-day revenues to fund the stadium — if so, I hadn’t noticed, but even I’m not all-seeing about local stadium news, so maybe? In any event, even if having the city forgo sales and income taxes from Rams games — something the city currently collects, mind you — isn’t totally off the table, it’s certainly no longer something Nixon can count on for his plan. So, we’re back to $388 million from the city and state and then $100 million from “TBD.” Is it any wonder the NFL is sending its other owners around to get all shouty about this? Extortion really doesn’t work unless people agree to pay the ransom with all due haste, people!

Texans owner to St. Louis, San Diego, Oakland: Fund stadiums, and make it snappy!

In case anyone in St. Louis is getting too complacent about Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan to cobble together $400 million in public money and give it to Rams owner Stan Kroenke for a new stadium, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair is on the case to tell everyone to hurry it up already!

“That’s what we have to see is the term sheet — you know, what’s the firm commitment,” McNair told the Post-Dispatch during a break between sessions of the owners’ October meeting here. “If they’re going to do something, they need to act.

McNair said he did not know what was holding up the process.

McNair — “a respected NFL owner” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s report — also brandished the bossy stick at officials in San Diego and Oakland who haven’t snapped to it to meet their teams’ stadium demands:

McNair said the committee hasn’t “seen much in Oakland,” and worried that San Diego is moving too slowly on a public vote regarding stadium financing.

“They’re talking about an election in June. And I think that would be too late,” he said of San Diego. “They could have had one in January, but they’re not ready for that.”

“We hope in the next few weeks,” McNair said, “we’ll have firm commitments from these cities as to what they’ll do and what they won’t do.”

All part of the stadium playbook (see “Two-Minute Warning”), in other words. It’s kind of a new twist having another owner deliver the message instead of the commissioner or one of his henchmen, but maybe Eric Grubman was otherwise occupied.

St. Louis’s taxpayers’ hidden Rams stadium costs aren’t quite worth $215m, but they’re still pretty bad

St. Louis Magazine is reporting that it’s uncovered $215 million in hidden public costs for Gov. Jay Nixon’s new Rams stadium proposal, which is kind of a lot, even for a stadium that was already looking at a public subsidy of at least $388 million. This is now exploding all over the interweb, so, is it true?

So far we had two main taxpayer revenue sources for the Rams project: $201 million in projected proceeds from refinancing the bonds sold to fund the Jones Dome (the 20-year-old stadium that the Rams have now decided they want out of), plus $187 million in various state tax credits. The St. Louis Magazine piece asserts that by refinancing the Jones Dome bonds and extending the taxes that pay for them, this would tack on an extra $215 million in added taxpayer costs:

Documents obtained by St. Louis Magazine through a Sunshine Law request show that the city’s obligations to cover debt retirement would jump from about $6 million per year at present to $9,785,000 in 2020, then increase every year to a staggering $15,975,000 in 2051.

That $6 million a year we already knew about: It’s the city’s share of tax money that is currently being used to pay off the Jones Dome bonds, and was supposed to accompany $12 million a year from similar state taxes. Another $6 million a year from the county never materialized, though — or rather, the county told Nixon they’d sue his pants off if he tried — which left us in the scenario I described here:

The state just has to worry about how to finance $400 million for a new stadium plus $100 million left on the old one from the same taxes that were approved to build the Jones Dome — which seemed a mathematical impossibility back when it was first proposed, even before Gov. Jay Nixon said he’d skip using the $6 million a year in county tax money if it would require a public vote. … That would leave $18 million a year to pay off $500 million in expenses, which simply can’t be done — but at least if Nixon can conquer math, he no longer needs to worry about winning over St. Louis voters as well.

To fill that roughly $100 million gap, the state has come up with another city funding stream called the “City Event Day Tax Appropriation.” Without access to the documents that the magazine has, I can’t begin to say how it would be funded — kickbacks of stadium-related taxes, maybe, just from the name? — but it starts off slow in 2021 before climbing to much larger figures by 2051, for a total of $215 million.

Now, it should be immediately apparent that that $215 million in future payments isn’t really worth $215 million — it’s heavily backloaded to the middle of the 21st century, which isn’t worth nearly as much as money you have to spend now. (This isn’t due just to inflation, but to interest rates — any time banks will pay interest on your money, it’s better to have cash now than in a couple of decades.) Recalculating to present value would bring the actual cost down to, let’s see, probably something more in the $100 million range. And hey, wasn’t that a $100 million hole that was left when the county pulled out? What a coinky-dink!

The upshot, then, is that Nixon is still proposing to hand $400 million to Rams owner Stan Kroenke for a stadium, plus another $100 million in future taxes to be used to pay off the Jones Dome debt — but he’s identified where the missing $100 million would come from, and it’s city taxpayers, somehow. So, not quite an extra $215 million in costs like the headline promised, but still pretty bad — unless you’re Stan Kroenke, in which case it probably just made your day.

St. Louis Rams stadium gets naming-rights sponsor, needs only actual stadium

Move over, Farmers Field, there’s a new vaportecture stadium with its own naming rights deal. Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed $1 billion-ish St. Louis Rams stadium will be officially known as National Car Rental Field, if anything can be official about a stadium that isn’t built yet and doesn’t even have a complete funding plan, let alone a team owner willing to go along with it.

Under the agreement, the car rental company would pay an average of $7.9 million a year over 20 years to slap its name on the building. Since that’s just an average — payments could be heavily backloaded for all we know — there’s no way to determine a present value on those payments, but it’s a fair guess that it could pay off around $100 million in stadium costs. Nixon’s stadium task force didn’t actually say whose $100 million this would be: The naming-rights cash could go to the building’s public owners, which would make sense but go against common sports-stadium practice, or could go toward paying Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s share, which would maybe make him (and the NFL) more amenable to keeping the team in town and not moving it to Los Angeles.

And that’s what’s really going on here, with a corporate name for a stadium that doesn’t exist yet: Nixon is trying to show the NFL that he has momentum, or something, toward a new stadium and so they shouldn’t let the Rams move. As gambits go, there are dumber ones, especially since right now it looks like all St. Louis needs to do is to convince a handful of NFL owners to keep voting against Kroenke. It’s stupid, but the way things are going, I expect the L.A. move threat gamesmanship to get way more stupid before the winter is out.

Besides, in the meantime National Car Rental gets its name on some nice stadium renderings. And I can’t find anyone with anything bad to say about National other than that you have to haggle with them for the best rates just like other car rental companies, so here’s hoping they enjoy their moment in the computer-rendered sun!

Rams owner reportedly open to sharing L.A. stadium (if price is right, won’t name price)

With multi-sided game of chicken that is the NFL’s plans to move a team (or two) to Los Angeles going nowhere fast, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has reportedly decided to up the ante a bit:

Rams owner Stan Kroenke, intent on playing next season in Los Angeles as he attempts to build a new stadium in Inglewood, has made it clear to the league he is willing to share the facility with another owner from the onset, league sources said.

(Great, thanks for that wording, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. Now I have this stuck in my head.)

As described by La Canfora, this is largely Kroenke trying to win over NFL owners who may be opposing his bid for a stadium in Inglewood because they’d prefer to see two teams move to L.A. (Whether they’d prefer this because they don’t want a single owner hogging all the riches, because they don’t want a single owner being stuck with the nearly $2 billion stadium cost, or just because they want the ensuing game of stadium musical chairs to have maximum number of empty chairs and minimum number of remaining players, it’s tough to say — and may vary owner to owner, even.) Kroenke hasn’t indicated how he’d split revenues and costs with another owner, so we’re still at the very, very early talking stages here — or the talking about talking stages, even.

Regardless, it’s a sign, if La Canfora’s sources are accurate, that Kroenke feels like he has some work to do to win over the NFL on allowing him to move. And, perhaps, that he’s serious about moving to L.A., though we can’t discount the possibility that this whole thing was leaked to turn up the heat on St. Louis. Closed-doors games of chicken are so hard to keep score on.

More 49ers fans dumping seat licenses, because 49ers’ new stadium sucks

The San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium in Santa Clara has had some problems since it opened last year — the grass won’t stay put, it was brutally hot, getting in and out by car was often painful, and the stadium lights blinded nearby airline pilots. And now, according to KGO-TV, some seat license holders are fed up and want out of their season-ticket deals:

If you were hoping to get your hands on a San Francisco 49ers Season Builders License, or SBL, you’re in luck. Thousands are now available, but re-sellers say it has nothing to do with the team’s current record. Still, a growing number of fans are very dissatisfied…

“Half the stadium, we get beat up by the sun. So if you’re going to watch a game, you want to enjoy, drink a few beers. Here, you drink a few beers, and you get beat up, come home with sunburn, it’s just a bad experience,” [San Jose resident Tuan] Le said.

Other fans complained that the 49ers changed their ticket policy this year, sending only electronic tickets that can’t be printed until 72 hours before the game, making it harder to sell unwanted tickets.

Now, it’s only 3,000 licenses that are up for resale, up only slightly from last spring, and not all that much in a 68,000-seat stadium. And besides, the magic of PSLs (or SBLs as the 49ers call them) is that the team doesn’t have to give a crap about any of this: They’ve sold the licenses already, and it’s the fans’ problem if they made a bad investment.

The more interesting question is what this means for plans to finance stadiums in Los Angeles by similar means: Will L.A. fans, seeing the mess in Santa Clara, be more hesitant to plunk down for Rams/Raiders/Chargers PSLs? Nobody knows, but then nobody knows how viable those PSL sales projections were in the first place. This is a cautionary tale for somebody, that’s for sure, but whether it’s for football fans, for city officials in Inglewood and Carson, or for cities that think they have to outbid L.A. for the right to keep their teams is yet to be determined.

NFL owners still can’t agree whether Rams, Chargers, or Raiders should move to L.A.

Whenever I’ve asked about the prospects for an NFL team moving to Los Angeles, I’ve tried to stress that we have no idea what’s going to happen, in part because this is something that will be decided by a vote of NFL owners, meaning it could be determined by personalities of 32 rich guys as much as anything. And guess what? It turns out that the 32 rich guys can’t agree on anything right now, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:

Neither the Inglewood project, spearheaded by Rams owner Stan Kroenke, nor the Carson project, led by Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis, has sufficient support to carry a vote…

Several ownership groups maintain that if the relocation came to a vote right now, there would be a sufficient split to hold up any move forward. The NFL will not bring the matter to a formal vote among the owners until enough straw polling has been conducted to ensure one of these projects has at least 24 votes in the affirmative.

Spanos is the more popular of the two owners among the general constituents, but Kroenke’s project is viewed by some as potentially the more lucrative for all the entire league — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Patriots owner Bob Kraft chief among them. Some estimate Kroenke would have as many as 10 votes in his favor right now.

Now this is some quality tea-leaf reading here: The NFL is split between people who don’t like Stan Kroenke and people who don’t like the Carson stadium project. It would be nice to know why other owners think the Inglewood plan would be more lucrative for the league as a whole than the Carson one — why people might not like a guy who is known a “Silent Stanley” and who bum-rushed the line to move to L.A. is less mysterious — but La Canfora doesn’t say.

Anyway, all this is good reason to bet the over in any pools about when this whole L.A. situation is likely to be resolved, because looks like we the hoi polloi are not the only ones confused about which deal makes sense. At this point I’ll going to be increasingly surprised if any teams are approved to relocate for the 2016 season, if only because it seems like the league could use a little more time to see which cities are shakedownable for stadium funding. (Current scorecard: St. Louis maybe, San Diego possibly but don’t hold your breath, Oakland only if you squint really hard.) Something has to tip the balance for league owners, especially when a three-quarters majority is needed, and that something is still in the future.

St. Louis columnist says Rams need new stadium because of Ferguson and something about balls

Boosters of a new St. Louis Rams stadium held a rally yesterday, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon reiterated that he thinks he can spend money on one without legislative approval, because ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT!!!!!!

Nixon said he has no plans to seek Legislative approval. This is an economic development project, he repeated Thursday. He doesn’t seek Legislative or voter approval for business expansion, he said, or factory construction.

“If we don’t do this, there is no other project that’s going to knock out 50 dilapidated buildings and build a world-class facility there,” he said. “There’s nothing else in the queue.”

Besides, he said, the Legislature had all session this year to do something, and couldn’t get anything done, he said.

Yeah! If you don’t build a stadium, you legislators, I’m going to build one for you! How’s about them apples!

(In completely unrelated news, yet another state legislator said that the reason the legislature hasn’t yet passed a stadium bill is that it thinks it should actually hold a vote before taking on extra debt.)

I was going to write something snarky about how crazy this all is, but then I ran across this Benjamin Hochman column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner! presumably not for this!) that asserts that the combined impact of the Ferguson police killing of Michael Brown and the possibility of the Rams leaving has “emasculated” St. Louis, and the city needs a new stadium in order to, presumably, give it, you know. Where’s Cynthia Ozick when you need her?



Your Labor Day weekend reading: Cost to cities of losing teams, and Calgary’s art of the steal

If you’re looking for some light stadium-subsidy reading to make your blood boil over the last weekend of summer, there were a couple of good ones this week, and I don’t say that just because they quote me a lot:

  • Louis Bien at SBNation has a long piece up about the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders threatening to move to L.A., and the cost on those teams’ fan bases. (I’m not honestly sure what the “you care too much” is about in the headline, as it doesn’t seem to have much to do with Bien’s actual article, but whatever.) Included is a long section on the dubious threat to cities’ well-being that team relocations actually pose, with my favorite line coming from Rick Eckstein of Public Dollars, Private Stadiums fame:

Quality of life improvements claimed by the franchise were “a load of crap,” Eckstein wrote to me. He continued: “Los Angeles has been doing just fine without football for the last decade; there has not been a mass exodus from Seattle after the Sonics left; the Long Island suburbs will not go vacant with the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, just as they survived the Nets leaving; Montreal has shown no ill effects after losing the Expos while the Nationals decidedly did NOT put DC ‘on the map.'”

  • Katie Baker in Grantland has an article that does a really cool thing, taking the “Art of the Steal” chapter from Field of Schemes (and subsequent “Art of the Steal Revisited” chapter from the expanded edition) and applying it specifically to the Calgary Flames owners’ arena demands. Best quote in the piece, though it’s not new and wasn’t particularly said about arena demands (it was about hockey lockouts), is from current Flames president Brian Burke when he worked for the Maple Leafs: “My theory is, make the first meeting as short and unpleasant as possible. Sometimes it’s better to just punch the guy in the face.” Not sure if demanding at least $490 million in taxpayer cash while claiming this would be for the public good quite qualifies as a punch in the face, but it’s pretty close!

Rams stadium to serve “regular fans” by giving them place to drink beer and not watch the game

When you’re locked in a flamewar with the legislators you need to pass your football stadium funding plan, what can you do to get people excited about it again? Release new renderings of what the stadium might look like if it ever gets built!

55e61e893f6ba.imageNow, sure, you or I might look at this and think, “Wow, those upper deck seats are going to be a million miles from the field, sitting atop two (or three?) levels of luxury suites and looking down even on the scoreboard.” But that’s not how HOK designer Eli Hoisington thinks of it:

“There’s a trend where everything is luxury, everything is suites now. And we put the general die-hard St. Louis fan front-and-center, embedded in the experience.”

Hoisington’s example of “front-and-center”: Fans will get a three-story brewpub on the outside of the stadium, where they can buy beers and look out at the Mississippi River. Also a 30-foot-wide observation deck for looking at, again, not the game.

Here’s where I would normally make a joke about a slow, muddy river being more entertaining to watch than the Rams, but you know what? This isn’t about what the Rams have done on the field lately, or what they’ll do in the future, or even whether diehard fans might enjoy watching the team through good times and bad, because that’s what diehard fans do. This is about stadium designers thinking that the best thing can do for “regular fans” is give them a really big place to get drunk while watching the game on TV monitors. The saddest part of which is that in the modern NFL-watching experience, it may actually be true.