Friday roundup: Clippers broke public meetings law, Vegas seeks MLS team, Buccaneers used bookkeeping tricks to try to get oil-spill money

Any week with a new/old Superchunk album is a good one! Please listen while reading this week’s roundup of leftover stadium and arena news:

  • The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has determined that Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer violated open meetings laws by hiding information about the team’s proposed new Inglewood arena’s location and scope when formally proposing it in 2017, even replacing the name “Clippers” with “Murphy’s Bowl LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company (Developer).” Unfortunately, the DA’s office noted, it’s too late to do anything about this because the violation wasn’t reported in time, but don’t do it again, I guess? In related news, NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he supports the team’s arena plan, even though Ballmer is being sued by New York Knicks owner James Dolan, who also owns the nearby Forum and doesn’t want the competition, and who was apparently the main reason for all that secrecy on the part of Ballmer. It’s all enough to make you feel sympathetic to Dolan, until you remember that he is an awful person.
  • Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has announced she’s looking at building an MLS stadium in her city, because “We have not become the pariah anymore, and there is no end to this. It’s so exciting,” which would almost make sense if MLS had previously steered clear of Vegas because of gambling or something and also if MLS were currently about to put a franchise in Vegas, neither of which is the case. The stadium, if it’s ever built, would go on the site of Cashman Field, where the USL Championship Las Vegas Lights FC currently play, and would be paid for by some method that the developers “would have to present” to the city council, according to the mayor’s office. It’s so exciting!
  • The owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tried to get $19.5 million in settlement money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster on the grounds that the team lost revenue that summer compared to the following summer when it was banking extra NFL checks that the league was stockpiling in advance of a player lockout. Amazingly, that’s not what got the claim rejected — it was only nixed when it turned out the Bucs hadn’t even stockpiled that revenue at the time, but rather did so retroactively on its books when it realized it could use it as a way to try to get oil spill settlement cash. It’s such a fine line between mail fraud and clever.
  • Inter Miami owners David Beckham and Jorge Mas have agreed to pay a youth golf program $3 million to clear out of the way of their proposed Melreese soccer stadium and move, you know, somewhere else, so long as it’s not on their lawn. This is not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, but it is worth noting that Beckham and Mas are sinking a whole lot of money into this stadium and a temporary stadium until this one is ready and the old new stadium site that they say they’re not building a stadium on anymore; this can either be seen as a laudable commitment to private funding or a dubious business investment or, hell, why not both?
  • The Portland Diamond Project group has gotten a six-month extension on its deadline to decide whether to build a baseball stadium at the Terminal 2 site, and is paying only $225,000, instead of the $500,000 it was originally supposed to be charged. That seems like bad negotiating by the Port of Portland when they had the wannabe team owners over a barrel, but I guess $225,000 just for a six-month option on a site that probably won’t work anyway for a team that probably won’t exist anytime soon is nothing to turn up your nose at.
  • When the headline reads “New A’s stadium could generate up to $7.3 billion, team-funded study predicts,” do I even need to explain that it’s nonsense? If you want a general primer on why “economic impact” numbers don’t mean much of anything, though, I think I addressed that pretty well in this article.
  • The Los Angeles Rams‘ new stadium is reportedly set to get $20 million in naming rights payments for 20 years from a company that lost hundreds of millions of dollars last year, which is surely not going to result in a repeat of the Enron Field fiasco.
  • A reporter at the Boston Bruins‘ 24-year-old home arena was startled by a rat on live TV. Clearly it’s time to tear it down and build a new one.

Friday roundup: Buffalo saber-rattling, Edmonton parking fee shortfall, Chicago music venues go to war against soccer plans

And in other news of the week:

  • This was actually last week, but I missed it then: Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has led the city council in voting to conduct a new appraisal of the Angel Stadium property as Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno prepares to opt out of his team’s lease next year. Councilmember Kris Murray, one of the two no votes, argued that this was tantamount to telling the Angels to leave; Tait replied that knowing how much the land was worth would be crucial to any stadium negotiations the incoming mayor will have with Moreno. The Gang of Four is going to miss Tom Tait.
  • The owners of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres have hired consultants CAA ICON and architecture firm Populous to “give us options” for renovating or replacing the teams’ existing venues. This is not necessarily the first step toward demanding new buildings, but it’s more of a step than the Pegulas have taken thus far, so certainly bears watching.
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been giving away unused tickets for free to their season ticket holders, to try to fill up the seats at their underattended games. Finally something that Los Angeles Chargers fans can point and laugh at! Both of them!
  • The $8.7 million a year that Edmonton was projecting to bring in from parking fees outside the Oilers‘ new arena turns out to be somewhat less: just $2.5 million a year, leaving the city with a roughly $57 million hole in its arena budget. City councillor Jon Dziadyk immediately leaped into action, blaming the reduced parking fees on people not wanting to drive downtown because there are too many bike lanes.
  • Hey, remember that minor-league soccer stadium a major Chicago developer wanted to build as part of a major Chicago development, originally pegged to luring Amazon to town but now with a life of its own? Turns out the whole thing would be funded by tax increment financing kickbacks, and would include three to five new concert venues to be run by the entertainment giant Live Nation that local concert venue operators say would drive their non-subsidized clubs out of business. The Chicago Tribune reports that the fledgling Chicago Independent Venue League “already had its new logo, a peregrine falcon wrapped with a snake, printed on black tee-shirts,” which honestly is going to be tough for any soccer team to top.

Buccaneers’ state subsidy request rejected for failing to fill out forms, will try again next year

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had their request for $1 million a year in state subsidies for their stadium renovations on top of $29 million in city subsidies rejected by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. How come? They failed to fill out all the forms:

“Due to the overall timing of our stadium renovation project,” said Bucs COO Brian Ford, “certain required documents were not deliverable within the timeframe set forth by the Statute. We anticipate submitting a complete application during the next filing period.”

The Buccaneers’ 2016 application lacked documentation on how its new construction project will increase jobs and taxable sales.

We knew all that was missing when the Bucs’ owners submitted the application back in November, but they said they’d add it later. Now “later” apparently means for the 2017 round of state subsidy approvals, which given that the only difference would be getting their $1-million-a-year pipeline started a year later probably isn’t worth worrying about when you’re worth $4.7 billion.

Still in the running for state subsidies: The Jacksonville Jaguars (already getting $45 million from city), Miami Dolphins (around $75 million from city), and Daytona International Speedway (no local subsidies yet that I’m aware of). The benefit to the state of handing out this money is absolutely zero — not just because of the substitution effect or what have you, but because the Dolphins and racetrack renovations are already underway, so it’s not like they’re only going to happen if the state kicks in money. (And realistically, the Jaguars aren’t turning down their $45 million from Jacksonville, either.) This is absolutely loony, but it’s the same loony premise that the state has been pursuing for a couple of years now, so we shouldn’t be surprised or anything. Florida, man.

Tampa sports authority okays giving Bucs $29m as part of terrible lease deal

The Tampa Sports Authority has signed off on the Buccaneers‘ request for $29 million toward stadium renovations (it was $26 million when the Bucs owners first requested it two months ago, but, um, inflation?), paving the way for $100 million in new scoreboards and luxury suites and all the other stuff that football team owners are convinced will get people off their sofas and into football stadiums. Under the agreement, the sports authority would also get a slightly larger cut of non-football revenues, and the Bucs would get to play an additional preseason home game outside of Tampa if they want.

The $29 million is up from the $26 million that Tampa was going to be on the hook for when this was first proposed, but given that the team’s lease requires the city to split costs on upgrades with the team, the Bucs owners argued that spending $29 million on $100 million in upgrades is better than spending $26 million on $52 million in upgrades. (It’s not, really, since the upgrades all benefit the Bucs, but that’s their argument.) In any event, whether you consider this a new subsidy or a continuation of the old one is a matter of perspective, but this is $29 million in extra cash flowing from city coffers.

Now all that’s left is for the plan to be approved by the Hillsborough County Commission (which votes today) and the Tampa city council (which votes Thursday) — and, perhaps, for the state to decide on whether to give the Bucs owners another $1 million a year in state subsidies — and then renovations can begin. You can bet that folks in the Cincinnati Bengals front office are watching this one closely.

Tampa Bay Bucs’ renovation subsidy request form is a total clown show

Not only are the members of the Glazer family, billionaire owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, asking for state money to help pay for stadium upgrades they’ve already said they’re doing anyway, but they’re doing it in the most hilarious way possible. How, you ask? Well, for starters, they applied for state funds that, under the law, they’re not actually eligible to apply for:

Local leaders are saying the Bucs had no authority to apply for a $1 million annual state subsidy for a proposed $75 million upgrade of Raymond James Stadium. The application, submitted to the state Monday, was made without consulting either Hillsborough County, which owns the stadium, or the Tampa Sports Authority, which manages the complex…

Under the new law, applications can only be submitted by local government or an entity that either owns or manages the stadium. As the tenant, the Bucs would seem ineligible without a letter of support from TSA or Hillsborough County.

Okay, so technically they should have at least told the owner of the stadium they play in that they were asking for $2 million a year in state tax money. Who can keep up with all that red tape, anyway? But I’m sure the application itself, at least, was professionally presented to make a strong case for why the Bucs need a state subsidy:

Officials from the team, valued by Forbes at $1.5 billion, wrote in pen outside the lines on the state’s eight-page application form that the team is seeking “$1 million per year for the duration of the stadium agreement.”

The application lacks any of the required supporting documentation, such as cost estimates, an economic impact analysis or evidence that local workers would be hired for construction work.

Tampa Sports Authority president Eric Hart told the Tampa Tribune that the submission was likely a last-minute placeholder to beat Monday’s application deadline, and that the team owners would submit more information later. Next time, maybe they should really save time by just submitting this.

Billionaire Bucs owner double their renovation subsidy request, because Florida

So that whole thing from a month ago about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers planning a $100 million renovation of their stadium and only (“only”) asking the public stadium authority for $26 million of that? Forget all that, because the team is now more than doubling its public subsidy request by asking for some of those sweet, sweet state tax dollars that are being handed out:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers submitted an application to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Monday requesting tax money to help subsidize the cost of Raymond James Stadium renovations.

The Bucs already receive $2 million per year from the state for stadium bonds and the team is expecting $26 million in new renovations paid for next year by Hillsborough County. But the state cash – if approved by the Legislature – could provide another $1-to-$2 million per year for as long as the team stays at Raymond James Stadium.

This, you will remember, is part of Florida’s plan to authorize subsidies of between $1 million and $3 million a year to any sports team that fills out a form, otherwise known as the worst idea ever. It’s especially bad, Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV points out, because there isn’t even any quid pro quo here: When the Florida legislature has rejected subsidies to specific teams, they’ve gone ahead with the construction projects anyway, meaning any economic benefits from the Dolphins’ stadium having a new canopy (I know, I know, let’s pretend there are some) would accrue regardless of whether the state awards the team owner a never-ending stream of cash.

So far the legislature hasn’t actually okayed any applicants, meaning Bucs owners the Glazer family (whose patriarch Malcolm Glazer died last year, but is still running the team from beyond the grave, according to the team website) will have to wait in line with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Daytona International Speedway for state cash. A full $2 million of year could be enough to cover another $30 million in renovations, meaning if Hillsborough County approves its $26 million share as well, the Glazer will be getting the majority of their renovations paid for by the public. Which is only fair, since otherwise they’d have to dip into their $4.7 billion in net worth, and nobody wants to see that.

Buccaneers now seeking $100m stadium upgrade, “only” asking public for $26m

Remember when Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners the Glazer family said they wanted a bigger new scoreboard than the measly $18.7 million one the county was going to build for them, but they’d pay the difference? Well, almost two years later, the Bucs’ stadium upgrade plans are now in, and they’re a whole lot more ambitious, not to mention involve more complicated financing:

  • In addition to expanding the scoreboard from 2,250 square feet to 9,600 square feet and making them high-definition, the Glazers are seeking upgrades to luxury suites and to the sound system.
  • The public stadium authority would fund $26 million of the cost — as currently required under the team-friendly lease — while the team owners would kick in between $52 million and $75 million.
  • The Glazers are seeking permission to have the Bucs play a second home game outside of Tampa each year, possibly in line with the NFL now doing two games a year in London. In exchange, the county would get out of a commitment to put $11.6 million into a practice facility (also courtesy of that crappy lease) and get to keep more money from non-football events at the stadium. (Which the public owns, mind you, but the Glazers get cash from non-football events because — do I really need to say “crappy lease” a third time?)
  • In addition, Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV emails that the Glazers want the county to purchase construction materials for them so they can get out of paying sales taxes on them.

The immediate response from local public officials was not exactly positive:

“We thought we had a deal on the table last week. And then they kind of put out this whole new deal, which is quite different than what we were talking about,” said Mike Merrill, Hillsborough County administrator, whose staff is part of the negotiations because TSA is partly county-funded.

There are too many moving parts yet to say exactly how good or bad a deal this would be for Tampa. Mostly, it’s a reminder that leases that require the public to keep putting money into capital improvements even after giving a team a new stadium are a terrible, terrible idea. Also that people like watching football on giant video screens, because football is a terrible sport to watch live. I still say the future of the NFL is to build a stadium with only one really luxurious seat, and then charge a lucky billionaire tons of money to sit in it — though he’ll probably spend most of the game eating in the in-stadium steak house anyway.

Tampa pastor cleared of labor law violations in unpaid stadium job case

Tom Atchison, who you’ll remember as the “faith-based recovery program” director accused of illegally sending his substance-abuse clients to run stadium concessions for no pay as part of a job training program, writes to point out that a federal Department of Labor investigation cleared him of the “illegal” part last month. And he includes a (partly redacted) DoL report on the matter, if you want to read it yourself.

This is good news for Atchison, obviously, since it means his model of funding his programs by having people in recovery work stadium jobs and have the payments go to fund his overhead — something he says he copied from the Salvation Army — is officially sanctioned as legit. It’s less certainly good news for the people in his New Beginnings programs, depending on whether you see having them work jobs and have their residence director cash the resulting checks is a valuable way to ease them back into the work world, or a way to exploit their free labor to pay the program’s bills. Either way, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rays ended their relationship with New Beginnings after the controversy arose — presumably less because they were concerned it was illegal than because they were concerned it looked skeevy — so we can leave any future coverage of the matter to other worthy sites.

Tampa homeless charity CEO on unpaid sports concessions labor: Who you gonna believe, “former addicts” or him?

The Tampa Bay unpaid homeless labor scandal fallout continues to fall out this week, with Hillsborough County officials calling for a federal investigation, the Rays and concessionaire Centerplate launching their own probe, and the Lightning saying hey, don’t blame them, they stopped using these guys in 2013 due to “reliability and consistency concerns.” (Though not “violating labor law” concerns, I guess.)

The charity at the center of the charges, meanwhile, New Beginnings, has responded with its own press release, and it is hi-larious. For starters:

“We don’t use homeless or the clients than are in our Emergency Shelter for sporting events”.

Assuming that “than” is a typo for “that,” this at first sounds like the dozens of homeless New Beginnings clients who the Tampa Bay Times witnessed lining up to work concessions at a Buccaneers game must have been imaginary. The key here, though, is that phrase “in our Emergency Shelter” — New Beginnings does use its clients to run sports concessions, it just does so with those in its “work therapy” program, where homeless people learn how to re-enter the work world by working and not getting paid for it! (Which, come to think of it, probably is a good acclimation to the work world these days.)

New Beginnings also posted a link to a softball radio interview with New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison on a Christian radio station, in which he denied all the charges, mostly by saying, “Are you kidding me? Stop this nonsense!” Then he said this:

“Can you imagine using somebody that’s homeless off the street to cash out a register and serve hot dogs? They’d be eating the hot dogs, stealing the beer, taking the money out of the register, and running down the street!”

Your homelessness charity director, people!

Atchison went on to blame disgruntled ex-employees and “a few former addicts that are telling him how horrible we are” for the negative press coverage, without actually contesting the central point of the Times article, which is that New Beginnings is pimping out its homeless clients to Tampa Bay sports teams, not paying them anything beyond their food and shelter, and pocketing any proceeds. Instead, he appears to be falling back on the defense that he’s a good Christian, so why are you picking on him, already?

On first blush it will appear that New Beginnings is a horrible agency, but after the dust has settled the truth about the great work we do will prevail. We at New Beginnings feel like we are under attack by the powers of darkness, but God is at our side to walk us through this.

God better have one heck of a labor lawyer.

Concessionaire using unpaid homeless workers at Tampa sports venues, possibly illegally

And finally, this one really needed to run sometime other than Thanksgiving weekend:

Before every Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game, dozens of men gather in the yard at New Beginnings of Tampa, one of the city’s largest homeless programs.

The men — many of them recovering alcoholics and drug addicts — are about to work a concessions stand behind Raymond James Stadium’s iconic pirate ship, serving beer and food to football fans. First, a supervisor for New Beginnings tries to pump them up.

“Thank God we have these events,” he tells them. “They bring in the prime finances.”

But not for the workers. They leave the game sweat-soaked and as penniless as they arrived. The money for their labor goes to New Beginnings. The men receive only shelter and food.

That’s right: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (as well as the Rays and Lightning) have been using indentured servants to run their concessions. (Okay, not quite indentured servants, since these workers can — and do — quit their unpaid jobs and give up their shelter, but still pretty close.) That’s probably a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act — New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison says the program is modeled on one used by the Salvation Army, but the Salvation Army doesn’t pimp its unpaid workers out to for-profit sports teams to make money — and undeniably skeevy. And it only gets skeevier:

[Victoria] Denton, the other New Beginnings employee who went to the FDLE, said she witnessed Atchison open homeless residents’ mail, take Social Security checks and deposit them in New Beginnings accounts, and use food stamp cards to buy food for himself…

“He would say, ‘They’re drug addicts, they’re alcoholics, they’re just going to spend it on cigarettes and booze,’ ” said Lee Hoffman, the formerly homeless minister who worked for Atchison off and on from 2007 to 2010. “The only way they get any of it is if they complain hard enough.”

Sports stadiums: your job-creation engines, everybody!