Friday roundup: Deadspin est mort, vive Deadspin (also baseball may be dead again, film at 11)

This was another shitty week in what feels like an endless series of shitty weeks, but with one undeniable bright spot: On Tuesday, the former staffers of Deadspin announced the launch of Defector, a new site that will be everything the old Deadspin was — sports and news reporting and commentary “without access, without favor, without discretion” — but this time funded by subscriptions and staff-owned, so safe from the threat of new private-equity owners decreeing that they stop doing everything that made the site both popular and worthwhile. I’ve already explained why I thought Deadspin desperately mattered for anyone who cares about sports’ role in our greater lives, or just likes great writing that makes you both laugh and think; you can read here my own contributions to the old site before its implosion (not sure why the article search function is listing every article as written by Barry Petchesky, who knows what the private-equity people are up to). Needless to say, launching a DIY journalism site in the middle of the collapse of the entire journalism business model is an inherently risky prospect, so if you want to give the Defector team a bit more of a financial foundation to work from, you can subscribe now. I already have.

But enough good news, let’s get on with the parade of sadness and horror:

Buccaneers could get $10m in federal money to let people go to NFL games in middle of pandemic

The Hillsborough County Commission is set to vote tomorrow on spending $10 million in federal CARES Act money to equip the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ stadium with stuff to make attending games there … the word The Athletic uses is “safer,” but we’ll be the judge of that. Among the stuff that would be paid for with the public funds:

  • Touchless ticket scanners: $502,475
  • A new public-address system in parking lots so that fans can hear when it’s their turn to enter the stadium: $250,000
  • Stanchions and barriers to “set up queuing inside the stadium for escalators, ATMs and other areas”: $225,000
  • 6,600 traffic cones to mark off (socially distanced?) parking spaces: $50,000 (checks out: apparently traffic cones are crazy expensive)
  • Conversion to touch-free toilets, sinks, and soap and paper-towel dispensers: $788,000
  • PPE for stadium staff ($300,000), “employee protection guards” ($550,000), and reconfiguring the press box and other areas to make it easier for people working there to socially distance ($550,000)

So on the one hand, all these seem reasonable things to do if you’re looking to reopen a sports stadium anytime soon, and arguably even good investments for the longer-term future, assuming we’ve all recognized now that everyone communally touching the same items is a vector for all kinds of microbes. And the CARES Act money is earmarked for projects to improve “public safety,” at least according to The Athletic, though I can’t actually find the language in the bill itself. (It’s really long.)

On the other hand, the CARES Act money is finite, and Hillsborough County is looking at choosing to spend what cash it has on a publicly owned facility that mostly benefits a private sports business. (The University of South Florida also uses it for college football games, if there are any college football games this year.) Bucs owners the Glazer family stand to make a ton of extra revenue if they’re able to sell tickets this season, but it doesn’t sound like they’ll be on the hook for any spending to allow that to happen.

There’s also some curious information in The Athletic about the timing of the upgrades:

The agenda proposal calls for the first and largest phase of the project to be completed by Oct. 31 (about midway through the NFL season as currently scheduled) and the balance finished by the end of the year.

So at least half the season would be played without all the new fancy sinks and such, and the entire project would be completed just in time for the football season to end. But it would still come in handy for the 2021 season, if an effective vaccine still eludes us by then, and if it turns out to be safe for people to gather together so long as they don’t all touch the same things, which already doesn’t seem to be what science says.

In short: Spending $10 million in public on stadium upgrades to keep football fans (possibly) safer is arguably better than spending it on new clubhouse toasters, but maybe not absolutely the highest priority. And at worst, it can be seen as endorsing social-distancing theater: Should a county government really be spending any money on abetting the reopening of public gathering places in a state that has had more new cases in the last ten days than the entire country of China has since the pandemic began? Tune in tomorrow to see if that question gets raised by the county commission, or if it’s all just Hey, the federal government gave us this money, so it doesn’t really cost us anything, right?

Friday roundup: I, for one, support our new dancing robot overlords

Happy Friday, everybody! Let’s see what’s going on:

While I’m sorely tempted to stop right there, we do have some other news this week to cover, so let’s continue:

  • Oak View Group, the operator of the New York Islanders‘ new Belmont Park arena currently under construction for a planned opening next year, is reportedly interested in taking over operations of the Nassau Coliseum as well, according to Newsday “sources.” I mean, so would I if the price were right, and given that current operator Mikhail Prokhorov is $2 million behind in rent and threatened with eviction, OVG probably thinks it can get a good deal here, but still it’s hard to see this as anything other than throwing a few pennies at shutting down a rival so as not to risk any competitors making a go of it.
  • Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury has looked at the impact of the new Atlanta Braves stadium that “was intended to serve as an anchor for further economic development in the suburban business district of Cumberland that would ripple throughout the county,” and found that local commercial property values actually went down relative to similar properties elsewhere in the Atlanta metro area. Bradbury theorizes that businesses may not want to locate near all the traffic congestion of a sports stadium, or be scared off by the tax surcharges put in place to help fund the $300 million public cost. “This finding is consistent with the vast literature on the economic impact of sports venues and events,” concludes Bradbury, which is economistese for “We told you so, over and over and over again, but you wouldn’t listen.”
  • Restaurant owners in Edmonton are so desperate for business that one declared himself “super-excited” at the prospect that visiting NHL teams might place some takeout orders, and the Edmonton Journal sports section is so desperate for hockey news that it ran a whole article about it. Wait, that was in the business section? These are not glorious times for journalism.
  • The National Women’s Soccer League used a forgivable loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program to help pay players when its season shut down, which sounds like (and is) a subsidy but is also exactly how the PPP is supposed to work: covering salaries to keep people from being laid off during a pandemic, thus keeping the economy from collapsing even more than it is otherwise. Sure, it would have been nice if the program hadn’t run out of money before most businesses could access it, but given that the maximum player salary in the NWSL is $50,000 a year, it’s hard to complain too much about them being less deserving than anyone else.
  • The way the PPP was not supposed to work was for companies to hold onto employees and then lay them off as soon as they’d certified for the forgivable loans, but that’s what New Era did in Buffalo, and now Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is so mad that he’s refusing to call the Buffalo Bills stadium by its New Era-branded name, which will totally show them.
  • Lots of NFL teams are planning for reduced capacities at games this fall, while the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is preparing for his players to “all get sick, that’s for sure.” And that’s the state of the NFL in a nutshell right now.
  • Hawaii can’t spend $350 million on replacing Aloha Stadium with a new stadium and redeveloping the area around it because somebody made a typo in the legislation and wrote 99-year leases instead of 65-year leases, everybody laugh and point!

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.