Friday roundup: Tons of news, but you’ll forget it all once you see that Houston is spending public money on a pro rugby stadium

And in other news that doesn’t involve proposed Tampa Bay Rays stadium sites:

  • United Airlines is spending $69 million on naming rights to the Los Angeles Coliseum in advance of the 2028 Olympics, but IOC rules prohibit corporate names during the Olympics, oops. Hope you enjoy the most expensive college-football naming rights deal in history, United!
  • Hotel revenue fell 16% in San Diego last year after the Chargers left town, but went up 0.2% in St. Louis after the Rams left. I’m not honestly sure what if anything this means — you’d really have to look at hotel revenue on football weekends to do this right, and it doesn’t look like this study did — but feel free to speculate wildly.
  • Did I mention the Yahoo Finance article yet that compares the Amazon HQ2 chase to the competition to host the Super Bowl, and cites me saying that while Amazon will bring more jobs, “that said, there’s almost no way it’s worth the kind of money that cities are talking about”? Well, now I have, enjoy!
  • AL.com has recalculated the public costs of a proposed University of Alabama-Birmingham football stadium and come up with a total of $18.2 million a year — $10.7 million from a bunch of county taxes, $3.5 million from a new car rental tax surcharge, $1 million from other county funds, and $3 million from city funds — not the $15.7 million I had previously reported. UAB and a naming rights sponsor and other private contributors, meanwhile, would only put in $4 million a year, and only for the first ten years. Out of his goddamn mind, I tell you.
  • Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report filed a Freedom of Information Law request to see the competing bids for the Belmont Park site that eventually got awarded to the New York Islanders, and was shot down on the grounds that it would “impair present or imminent contract awards.” Wait, wasn’t the contract already awarded? Will it be okay to ask again once it’s too late to do anything about it?
  • The WNBA’s Chicago Sky are moving to the new DePaul basketball arena that the city of Chicago helped pay for, which I guess is marginally good for Chicago in that it gets to steal a tiny sliver of economic activity from Rosemont, screw those guys, right? (Actually, Rosemont is apparently a gated community, so maybe screw those guys.)
  • A New Orleans Pelicans game was delayed because the arena roof leaked. No one is demanding that a new arena be built just yet that I’ve heard, but given that the current one is 19 whole years old, it’s gotta to be a matter of time, even if this one does have a fire fountain.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates are threatening to sue the city-county sports authority over who’ll pay how much for $10 million in improvements to their stadium, because apparently the people who write these stadium leases are idiots.
  • If you enjoy this site but were thinking, “Wouldn’t this be better as a YouTube video with lots of animated charts?”, Vox has got you covered.
  • The Houston city council has approved spending $3.2 million in tax dollars on a pro rugby stadium for the Houston SaberCats, who are a pro rugby team that is going to play in a pro rugby league, which councilmember Jack Christie calls “a beautiful example of public-private partnerships that we ought to look at in the future, because as far as I have heard, there’s not been one city tax dollar used for this development.” I’m done. Have a good weekend.

Study shows Super Bowl only sells 22% as many hotel rooms as NFL claims

If you want a good concrete example of how Super Bowl economic-benefit claims are bunk, just keep in mind this paragraph from a Sunday New York Times article on the subject:

In a forthcoming paper, [Berry College economist Frank] Stephenson examines the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl, which generated 224,000 hotel stays, according to its economic impact report. Indianapolis serves as an apt comparison to Minneapolis since it is a cold-weather city in the Midwest. Actually, in the week leading up to the Super Bowl and the three days afterward, Indianapolis hotels rented an additional 49,000 rooms compared with what would be expected, less than a quarter of the estimate.

That is a large discrepancy! We’ll have to wait for Berry’s full paper to get into the nitty-gritty of where all those Super Bowl visitors are staying, but it certainly helps explain why other economists like Holy Cross’s Victor Matheson have found the economic impact of the game to be less than a quarter what the NFL and host cities claim.

Stephenson goes on to note that there’s likely a ton of leakage of that money from the local economy, since fans “don’t give it to the housekeeper or bellboy or front-desk person; a lot of it just flows to whoever owns the hotel” — or as Matheson once put it, “Imagine an airplane landing at an airport and everyone gets out and gives each other a million bucks, then gets back on the plane. That’s $200 million in economic activity, but it’s not any benefit to the local economy.”

Meanwhile, the city of Minneapolis is spending $50 million on hosting the game (on top of the billion dollars or so it put into the Vikings‘ new stadium that’s hosting it), though it says it’s raised it from corporate donors. I think I’ll wait to see what the actual numbers look like after the fact, though — it’s becoming increasingly clear that when it comes to the Super Bowl, you want to check the final bill, not the initial estimates.

Harris County demands repayment for Houston Super Bowl costs, told “sorry, too late”

Harris County spent $1.3 million on security and other support for Super Bowl LI in Houston, and now county officials are asking that the NFL — or really, the Super Bowl Host Committee, a nonprofit that acts as conduit for Super Bowl spending — reimburse them. Which, unfortunately, they didn’t think to ask for in their contract for the event, and the host committee says no backsies:

Super Bowl Host Committee officials say they would like to reimburse taxpayers but are not obligated to because the county did not, in its offers of support for the weeklong event, negotiate that it be compensated or repaid by organizers. The city of Houston did and has been repaid $5.5 million by the host committee…

“It is very shortsighted,” said Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. “There will be future events, future Super Bowls.”

Yes, there will! And Harris County is welcome to try to negotiate repayment of costs for future events, though given the NFL’s typical demands for being allowed to host the game, good luck with that. (Really, the city of Houston should be applauded for even getting repayment for its security costs, as well as for turning down NFL demands for $50 million in renovations to a nearly-new stadium and still landing the game.)

Meanwhile, does the Houston Chronicle’s report include unverified claims of the massive windfall Houston allegedly received from the game? Of course it does:

Super Bowl organizers tout some $347 million in economic impact from the game, the amount visitors spent while in Houston.

And how much would have been spent by the would-be visitors who steered clear of Houston because of the Super Bowl? You know, like happened the year before in Santa Clara? Nah, it says $347 million in a popup right on the host committee’s website, it’s gotta be true, right?

New L.A. stadium won’t host Super Bowl until 2022, we know you’re broken up about this

Now that the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium has been delayed until 2020 thanks to rain, the NFL has moved the 2021 Super Bowl to Tampa and given the 2022 Super Bowl to L.A., because of a league rule that says stadiums can’t host Super Bowls in their first seasons, or because the league was afraid the stadium wouldn’t be ready by 2021, or because the rule is there because of fears stadiums won’t be ready on time or — wait, what the heck is this?

Somehow I’d missed this particular Inglewood stadium rendering, which makes it look kind of like a space-age tennis racket suspended on pillars over an open pit. It almost certainly won’t look much like this — for one thing, everything used to build it won’t be blazing white, and neither will all the surrounding buildings and parking lots — but that appears to be somebody’s best attempt to depict a translucent (?) roof with some kind of video boards suspended from it, and … you know what, we should probably just wait to see this thing. I get why it’s going to cost $2 billion now, though, even if I still don’t quite get why Stan Kroenke wants to spend that much.

Minneapolis developer claims Super Bowl will fund its affordable housing project, is this for real?

Could it be? An actual benefit that a city is getting from hosting the Super Bowl? That’s what the Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting about that city’s hosting of the 2018 game, which has supposedly helped local developers create a new subsidized housing project for middle-income earners:

[For-profit developer] Ryan [Cos.], First Covenant Church, and Community Housing Development Corp. (CHDC) a year ago outlined a rough vision for a six-story apartment building across S. 6th Street from the new Vikings stadium. This week, they submitted to the city a near-final plan for the $38 million project, which was designed by UrbanWorks Architecture…

Ryan, First Covenant and CHDC found a way to make the math work for their project, one that takes the Olympics for inspiration. They have an unnamed private partner with a nice budget for housing and operational space during the Super Bowl festivities that is close to committing to the project.

Since the building’s site is within the Super Bowl’s required security perimeter, 500 feet from the stadium, the group plans to first rent the building to this private entity at a rate that would make the project financially possible — and without subsidy.

So, great, right? The “unnamed private partner” gets space to use during the Super Bowl, people earning $20,000 to $55,000 a year get some new affordable apartments, and it’s a win-win all around!

Well, maybe. The developers say their model is Olympic Villages, which after the games are over are often repurposed for other uses, but those are usually built with Olympics money, not paid for by a particular private entity looking to rent short-term space. Not only is the CHDC’s private partner unnamed, but so is the amount they’re willing to pay to rent the buildings for Super Bowl week — you can get a one-bedroom in downtown Minneapolis during the Super Bowl on Airbnb for a whopping $8,000 a night, so if you double that for the prime location and multiply by a full week and for 160 apartments, that’s: $20 million, maybe? And that’s the retail price, so I’d be very surprised if the private partner is paying more than $10 million for the Super Bowl rental, which comes to about $60,000 an apartment, which is about one-quarter the typical cost of building affordable housing in Minneapolis, though if they just need it to span the gap between their costs and what renters can afford to pay … maybe. Or it’s possible this project would be happening anyway, but they’re getting a little extra cash and some added publicity via the Super Bowl angle.

I would love to see a way to fund affordable housing on the backs of rich people who are willing to pay whatever it takes to live next to the Super Bowl for a week, but I’d need to see more numbers (and names) attached to this before I’m willing to give it the full three cheers. In housing as in stadiums, please hold your applause until all the financial details are in.

NFL gives three Super Bowls to cities with new stadiums, implies, “Keep ’em coming”

The NFL awarded the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles yesterday, continuing its policy of using the big game as a reward to cities and teams with new or significantly renovated stadiums. Or as Rams owner Stan Kroenke said following the decision, “I think they are telling the communities and the owners who stick their necks out that it’s worthwhile.”

The most important target of the announcement, then, isn’t the three cities that will now get the questionable benefit of hosting the NFL’s annual week-long road show, but those that are being wooed with that dubious carrot. Right now most of the reporting is on how New Orleans and Tampa Bay were snubbed because their stadiums aren’t as shiny as the cities that got the nod, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays into future coverage of stadium campaigns — already, San Diego Union Tribune chief Chargers stadium cheerleader Kevin Acee has written that the possibility of getting a Super Bowl shouldn’t be the reason to vote for a new stadium, but really he means that you should vote for a new stadium regardless, so all remains right with the world.

Interestingly, there’s no reporting yet that I can see out of Las Vegas on the Super Bowl decision, but that may be because they’re too busy covering yesterday’s conflicting comments on a potential Oakland Raiders move from owner Mark Davis (“This is the real deal. If Las Vegas can come through, we’re going to be there”) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (“It’s very premature at this point. Until we have more information, it’s pure speculation”). This could be just everyone playing their role — in terms of using Vegas as leverage in hopes of drumming up stadium subsidies from Oakland, Davis is bad cop, Goodell is good cop — or it could be a sign of deeper rifts among league owners over whether Davis should get to bolt from a bigger market to a smaller one in exchange for a lucrative (to him) stadium deal, and on what terms. We won’t know for sure until the next ESPN postmortem, I expect.

NFL commissioner waves around well-worn Super Bowl promise to boost Chargers petition drive

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did what commissioners do on Saturday, promising San Diego a Super Bowl if it approves a new stadium for the Chargers. Well, not promising exactly:

“I’m confident that if they can get a stadium built here, the owners will want to support it with a Super Bowl,” Goodell said. “I think that’s what this community deserves, and we’re all going to work to try and find a solution.”

Yeah, you can totally take that promise to the bank. Not that San Diego wouldn’t get a Super Bowl with a new stadium — they hold them every year, after all, and it wouldn’t be too hard to work San Diego into the rotation at least once — but Goodell’s appearance was far less “announcement” than “media event,” designed to help kick off the Chargers’ petition campaign for $1.15 billion in city spending on a new stadium and convention center annex. A Super Bowl also wouldn’t much help in paying that off, as innumerable economists have found, but at least it might be a pleasant distraction, maybe?

Super Bowl tourists drove away usual visitors to South Bay, just as economists predicted

It’s been a month since Santa Clara welcomed the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ersslippery turf, so how did the South Bay make out in terms of that $800 million in economic impact that the NFL projected? Take it away, Team San Jose, the tourism bureau with the instantly dated name:

Even with room rates falling below astronomical predictions, they were still high enough above normal to make the three-day Super Bowl weekend “the best weekend of hotel performance in San Jose history,” said Ben Roschke, Team San Jose’s director of business development.

Sounds great! And what are the actual numbers?

Instead of selling out every single room during Super Bowl week, as the city projected, San Jose hotels actually welcomed fewer guests than the same week last year, preliminary figures released Monday show.

With three out of every 10 rooms vacant, the city won’t reap the nearly $1.9 million in additional hotel taxes it forecast Super Bowl week would deliver. Instead, a report submitted by Smith Travel Research shows the city will likely receive about $600,000 in extra hotel taxes, said Victor Matheson, an economist at College of the Holy Cross, who studies the economics of Super Bowls.

That’s not enough to offset the $1.25 million in costs mostly for police services during Super Bowl week.

How could hotel occupancy rates be both above normal and below normal? The trick is in what timespan you look at: For Super Bowl weekend, even sky-high hotel rates weren’t enough to keep people away, which makes sense given that if you’re already dropping obscene amounts of money on Super Bowl tickets, getting gouged on a hotel stay isn’t that big a deal. However, for the entire week before the game, occupancy rates were down 9% from the same week last year, presumably because business travelers steered clear of the hiked room fees (by 64%, according to the Smith Travel report), while football fans didn’t show up until closer to game time.

This is probably fine for the hotels, since they ended up making more money from the increased room rates, even if they hosted fewer people overall. In terms of overall local economic impact, though, it’s terrible, because it means for the first half of Super Bowl week, there were far fewer hotel visitors knocking around San Jose and spending their luscious out-of-town dollars elsewhere in town, something that gamegoers couldn’t make up for during their relatively short stays. (Sales tax receipt figures for Super Bowl week haven’t been released yet, but anecdotal reports from San Jose business owners were that Super Bowl week was “kind of a letdown” and “wasn’t too much different from a normal week.”)

If all that sounds familiar, it should, because economists like Phil Porter have been noting this trend for more than 15 years already. Matheson ended up telling the San Jose Mercury News that the Bay Area as a whole could break even on its Super Bowl hosting costs, which is nice, but isn’t exactly an $800 million windfall.

 

Hot dog vendors sue Super Bowl concessionaire for trapping them on bus line with no pay

A group of Super Bowl 50 workers have sued Levi’s Stadium concessionaire Centerplate for labor law violations, charging that they were illegally denied required pay and rest breaks during the game. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you saw lead plaintiff Gabriel Thompson’s writeup of his Super Bowl hot-dog-vending experience in Slate (with the help of a grant from the Nation Investigative Fund — hi, Esther!):

I swipe my card at 8:36 a.m. I am now on the clock, more than 90 minutes after I arrived to catch the shuttle. This unpaid time is likely illegal: In 2000, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers who require workers to travel in company vehicles must be paid from the time they were told to arrive at the departure point…

[After the game,] thousands of workers are shuffling slowly along a path that follows alongside a tennis court, passes over a small bridge and finally spills out onto a road, where two buses idle. It takes me seven minutes to make my way to the end of the line; by that time it has stopped completely. We all wait for another 20 minutes, without moving. More workers join, and the line becomes tighter and hotter. Many people have been on their feet since 4 a.m., and we are packed so closely that sitting down is impossible. One woman starts sobbing.

Another hour passes. We’ve moved about two hundred feet. “There’s gonna be a riot here!” someone yells. It certainly feels possible. A chant breaks out: “We want to go home! We want to go home!” The crowd gets even tighter and pushier. At one point, a group next to me tries to shove its way through, but there’s nowhere to go, and they only succeed in knocking a few people to the ground. A second woman breaks down into tears and is escorted out. It’s now 11 p.m. The urge to sit has become overwhelming. Two groups of men have somehow decided they ought to fight each other, but it’s too crowded even to do that. I end up next to a temp from Culinary Staffing America, who, like me, has already clocked out and so likely won’t be paid for this time. Others nearby, direct employees of Levi’s Stadium, are incredulous when we tell them that. They’ve been instructed to clock out after they reach Avaya Stadium.

The two takeaways here: The bulk of the jobs created by the presence of a Super Bowl (such that it really creates any at all) are exceptionally crappy ones; and crappy jobs in the 21st century U.S. are exceptionally crappy indeed. One of Thompson’s co-workers in Santa Clara was a woman who earned $11 an hour through a temp agency and “was living in a storage unit in a San Jose trailer park.” America!

The Super Bowl and the NFL are both still awful for living things

I did not see the Super Bowl — I actually spent the day rewatching “League of Denial” with my son, after which he decided he’d rather play FIFA 16 on the PS4 than watch American football — so don’t have any actual Super Bowl-related content to use as clickbait, though I know that’s how the game is played. So instead, I’ll direct you to read this article about how the Super Bowl is bad for cities, or this video from the Wall Street Journal, or this two-year-old article by me that still holds true. Or maybe you’d prefer an article on how stadiums get to host Super Bowls just as rewards for teams building them even if they suck, or a list of all the specific ways that the host stadium for this Super Bowl sucks, helpfully titled “Levi’s Stadium is garbage”?

Hope you enjoyed the game! It would be sad if all those players‘ brain cells, not to mention those public tax kickbacks, had died for nothing.