Friday roundup: MLB billionaire owners cry poor, Rangers stadium reviews get worse and worse

What a week! I know I say that every week, but: What. A. Week. In addition to the World Series insanity, I spent some time this week writing an article about other ways that giant monopolistic cartels screw over regular folks, but it’s not up yet* so you’ll just have to find out about it next week (or keep refreshing my personal website, or follow me on Twitter or something).

In the meantime, there’s lots of sports stadium and arena news to keep you occupied:

  • NYC F.C. may have announced progress on its new soccer stadium this week while providing no indication of actual progress, but the Washington Football Team one-upped them when team president Jason Wright earned an entire NBC Sports article about their stadium plans by saying he didn’t even have a timeline for the process. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Republic likewise issued a statement on their new stadium construction plans that amounted to nothing (“I do have a hard hat in my trunk!” said team president Ben Gumpert, by way of news). At this rate, team owners will be able to get reporting on their stadium campaigns after denying they even want one — oh wait, we’ve gone there already.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says the league now has $8.3 billion in debt, $3 billion of it accrued during 2020’s pandemic season, which doesn’t actually tell you how well baseball is doing — presumably some of it was borrowed against future revenues from TV contracts and naming-rights deals and the like — but sounds impressive when you’re about to go into union contract talks. Also, notes Marc Normandin, that’s really only a $100 million loss per team, which isn’t an unfathomably huge sum for the billionaires who own most teams; plus we have to take Manfred’s word on that debt figure, and it already doesn’t include things like teams’ ownership of regional sports networks. MLB owners, he writes, are “hoping, as they so often do, that you have no idea how anything works, and will just take them at their word. So that they can do things like, oh, I don’t know, decline the 2021 option on basically everyone with one in order to flood the free agent market with additional players they can then underbid on and underpay, claiming that this is all financially necessary because of all the debt, you see.” Or as we may start calling it soon, getting Brad Handed.
  • Philadelphia public schools lost $112 million in property tax revenues in 2019 that were siphoned off to tax breaks for developers, according to a new Good Jobs First study, nearly double their losses from just two years earlier. Good thing the 76ers‘ plan for an arena funded by siphoned-off property taxes was rejected, though there are more plans where that came from, so Philly schools should probably still hold onto their wallets.
  • One more review of the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium that team owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson got $500 million to help build because the old one lacked air-conditioning, this one from a fan who’s visited every stadium and arena in North America: “This would probably end up probably down near the bottom.” He added that the upper decks are too far from the field, the place is too dark, the scale is “ridiculous,” and on top of that fans were taking off their masks as soon as security is out of sight, which, yup.
  • Las Vegas has extended its negotiating window again for a new soccer stadium to lure an MLS team, which makes you wonder why they even bothered to set a window in the first place instead of just hanging out a shingle saying, “Have Stadium $$$, Inquire Within.”
  • Sports team owners make tons of “dark money” to political campaigns to try to get elected officials to support their interests, according to ESPN, though disappointingly their only real source is an unnamed NBA owner. But that source did say, “There’s no question,” in italics and everything, so you know they’re serious.
  • Maybe the NHL should just play games outdoors so they can allow in fans? There are dumber ideas, but they might want to figure out how to get fans to keep their damn masks on first.
  • There are some new renderings of the New York Islanders‘ luxury suites at their new arena, and I can’t stop puzzling over what that weird counter-like thing is in this one, or why the women are all wearing stiletto heels to an NHL game. I’ll never understand hockey!

*UPDATE: Now it’s up.

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Friday roundup: Jaguars’ billionaire owner wants $232m in tax money, plus guess-the-Angels-rationalization contest!

We made it another week further into the future! Sure, it’s a future that looks too much like the recent past — bad pandemic planning and stadium deals with increasingly more well-disguised subsidies — and we’re all still here discussing the same scams that I really thought were going to be a momentary fad 25 years ago. But the zombie apocalypse hasn’t arrived yet, so that’s something! Also the Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale was really excellent. Gotta stop and smell the flowers before refocusing on the underlying horror of society!

And with that, back to laughing to keep from crying:

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Friday roundup: Throwing good money after bad edition

This will be remembered as the week that all 30 MLB teams played at once, after the Cincinnati Reds returned from being sidelined by a positive Covid test … for one whole day, until the New York Mets were sidelined by two positive Covid tests. Is this a sign that having 900 players plus coaches plus other staff flying around a country with some of the highest Covid rates in the world is likely to keep resulting in occasional infections? Probably! Is it a sign that the MLB season is doomed to fail? Probably not, given that the season is almost halfway over already, though it’s going to get interesting once the “Everybody Plays!” postseason kicks off and a positive test result means delaying the entire schedule, and/or maybe playing entire playoff series as seven-inning doubleheaders. There’s increasing talk of playing everything after the first round in a bubble in, uh, Texas and Southern California, which sounds like a terrible idea but the NBA has managed to keep its players uninfected in the eye of the Covid hurricane in Florida, so who knows, really. Maybe there are no good ideas right now, only more and less terrible ones.

Anyway, enough about the goofy baseball season that could end up with a sub-.500 team winning the World Series, let’s talk about what you’re really here for:

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Friday roundup: What if a stadium tax break fell in the forest and there were no journalists around to hear?

Sorry if the posts were a bit light this week, but, one, it’s August (checks — yep, August, holy crap) and local governments are mostly out of session so it’s usually a slow month for stadium news even during what we used to call normal times, and two, I’ve been spending some time working on an FoS-related project that hopefully you will all enjoy the benefits of down the road a bit. (I also took a brief break to write about how Melbourne, Australia has declared a “state of disaster” and imposed strict new lockdown measures for virus rates that in the U.S. wouldn’t even get states to ban house parties.) If you were really missing me chiming in on the latest in baseball not shutting down just yet and instead adding a billion doubleheaders, maybe I’ll get around to a longer post on it next week.

For now, a quick tour through some of the news items that didn’t make the full-item cut this week:

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Friday roundup: The baseball gods are very, very angry

Happy baseball season, everybody! Last night the New York Yankees were leading the Washington Nationals 4-1 when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred came out to explain the new playoff system in which 16 teams will make the postseason and the only advantage you’ll get from winning your division is home-field advantage in empty stadiums, at which point the baseball gods tried to kill Manfred by hurling lightning bolts at him and the game had to be called. This really could not be a more auspicious beginning.

Anyway, stadium and arena news, that’s what you’re here for:

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Washington to finally ditch “Redskins” name thanks to naming-rights sponsor, of all things

Well, after years of not happening at all, that happened fast: Washington NFL owner Dan Snyder is set to announce today that he’ll be ditching “Redskins” as the team name, effective … well, we’ll get to that in a second.

The interesting part here is what it took to change Dan Snyder’s mind: not years of complaints that it was offensive to Native Americans to use a racial slur as a nickname, but rather when the team’s corporate partners, including naming-rights owner FedEx, announced they would pull out of their sponsorship deals if the name weren’t changed. Which, sure, was the end result of the broader campaign to change the name — and the broader campaign for breaking down systemic racism in general — but it’s an important lesson that when you want your message heard, you need to pick a messenger who rich dudes will listen to.

So far the naming-rights revolution has been pretty one-sided: Team owners sign contracts with corporations to slap their names on buildings that in most cases taxpayers paid for and own, and everyone goes home happy. (Except the taxpayers. And sometimes the naming-rights sponsor.) This current Washington situation does, though, make clear one downside to making everyone say a corporate name when referring to your stadium and relying on that as a revenue stream: People have to associate your stadium with good things for that to be worth something, and genocide is experiencing a dip in popularity at the moment, so if you want to keep earning money, you may have to listen to what the people paying you money are demanding. It’s the same principle, really, as every boycott ever, going back to the one that helped end slavery.

The next task, then, is for Snyder to pick a new name, which he’s apparently already done — except that in the time he was refusing to consider a new name, he was so adamant about his position that he neglected to secure a backup plan:

Two people with knowledge of the team’s plans said Sunday that the preferred replacement name is tied up in a trademark battle, which is why the team couldn’t announce the new name Monday.

The presumed new name is either Redtails (after World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen) or Warriors (after the broader group of people who drop bombs on things), though that hasn’t stopped lots of Twitter jokes about how Snyder must want to call his team Lady A too. This would not be the first time that a team name was determined in part by not wanting to pay off a trademark squatter: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays reportedly got their name after owner Vince Naimoli balked at paying $35,000 for his preferred name of Tampa Bay Stingrays, which led to a name that everyone hated so much that they eventually became the Rays, which the team’s logo eventually retconned to be about the sun instead of a fish.

For the time being, then, the team will continue to be called the “Redskins,” and presumably FedEx will keep making naming-rights payments in good faith that eventually either Snyder will cough up the money for Washington Warriors or will pick a name that he can get for free. Look, here’s a whole list of ’em! I think I’m gonna go now and trademark the Washington Dooming Bearcats, just in case.

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Congress to consider bill offering RFK Stadium land to NFL team once it drops “Redskins” name

There’s been talk for years that one condition of Washington’s NFL team getting a new stadium in D.C. would be changing its name from a pejorative term for an entire race of people based on their skin color, and now that the George Floyd protests have led to a mass rethinking of corporate racist imagery from Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben to possibly the Cleveland Indians, the time seems more ripe than ever for Washington team owner Dan Snyder to consider ditching “Redskins” as well. But where past discussions were always more in the “get rid of your godawful team name and then we’ll talk” vein, yesterday D.C. Congressional representative Eleanor Holmes Norton declared that she’s introducing a bill to … well, let’s start with how NBC Sports Washington reported this after Norton went on its football podcast yesterday (not yet posted on its website as of Tuesday morning, it looks like), then try to unpack what it actually means:

D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is prepared to bring a bill to Congress to buy the federal land that houses RFK Stadium in an effort to get a new facility built for the Washington football team.

As soon as the Redskins change their name.

“I certainly will. This is unused land. Unused Federal land. And the District can’t afford, because we have a height limit, to have any land go that goes unused. I couldn’t get this bill through even when Republicans controlled the House,” Norton said Monday. “So I now believe I can get it through only after the name is changed for the good of the District of Columbia.”

Speaking exclusively with the Redskins Talk Podcast, Norton explained that a new stadium on the RFK site will make a tremendous economic impact for both the citizens of D.C. and for Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

“Everybody wants to come to the nation’s capital. Events benefit tremendously by coming to the nation’s capital,” the congresswoman said. “But you’ve got to have a place to hold those events. There was only one place to hold those events. And [not having] that place has – for no good reason – cost all those involved, including the District of Columbia, but above all Dan Snyder, a boatload, indeed a fortune, in revenue.”

So, the first part of this makes no sense: Congress doesn’t need to buy federal land, because it’s already federal land. If this is the same bill that Norton proposed back in March 2019 and later nixed by the White House — which she seems to be implying by saying “this bill” — it was actually to sell the RFK Stadium land to D.C. for fair market value once the team name issue was resolved, with D.C. presumably figuring out from there what it wants to offer to Snyder in terms of a stadium deal.

As for a stadium making “a tremendous economic impact for the citizens of D.C.,” there’s tons of reasons to believe that’s not true; yes, D.C. has more to gain by luring in people from outside the city since so much of the local population would otherwise stay home in the burbs, but that still doesn’t likely raise the impact level to “tremendous.” And in the abbreviated quotes provided, Norton doesn’t appear to be leaning heavily on that part anyway: She’s more trying to dangle that “boatload” of revenue in front of Snyder in hopes of getting him to agree to this quid pro quo.

That’s something that’s seemed unlikely for years, since Snyder loves the team name so much that he’s resisted all attempts to change, including pleas from a giant water-drop mascot, while trying to buy Native American support with a foundation donating to tribal causes; as one FoS reader originally from the D.C. area noted to me this morning, a football name change there would feel like a seismic shift akin to the Berlin Wall coming down. But then, that’s how historical change tends to happen — either not at all or all at once — so maybe this will be the moment that Snyder chooses to go along with what many people have been clamoring for and change the name. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t manage to leverage that decision into getting paid handsomely with public dollars in exchange for doing what other corporations are doing just because it’s right — or because they want to look like they’re doing what’s right, anyway.

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Friday roundup: 49ers stadium squabble, Richmond nixes arena plan (for now), Mets’ $55m taxpayer-funded sofas off-limits to mere minor-leaguers because “status”

A glacier in Antarctica just lost a chunk of ice bigger than Seattle twice the size of Washington, D.C. nearly the size of Atlanta almost as big as Las Vegas a third the size of Dublin, maybe it’s time to quit driving an SUV? Or maybe it’s just time to focus on some more human-scale disasters that involve small groups of people enriching themselves to the detriment of humanity:

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Friday roundup: Panthers owner donated to Charlotte officials during stadium lobbying, St. Louis MLS didn’t need $30m in state money after all, and what time the Super Bowl economic impact rationalizations start

Happy Friday, and try not to think about how much you’re contributing to climate change by reading this on whatever electronic device you’re using. Though at least reading this in text doesn’t require a giant server farm like watching a video about stadiums would — “Streaming one hour of Netflix a week requires more electricity, annually, than the yearly output of two new refrigerators” is one of the more alarming sentences I’ve read ever — so maybe it counts as harm reduction? I almost linked to an amusing video clip to deliver my punchline, wouldn’t that have been ironic!

And now, the news:

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Dan Snyder doesn’t get RFK site transferred to DC for possible NFL stadium, will have to settle for Space Force instead

Finally, some stadium news that isn’t about the Los Angeles Angels: While everyone else was distracted by the news about Space Force, the spending bill signed by President Trump last week also neglected to include approval for transferring RFK Stadium and its surrounding land from the National Park Service to the Washington, D.C. government, which is considering possibly using it for an NFL stadium:

The attempted measure was a long-term lease extension to the District that would have allowed for development of the 190-acre federal parcel of land along the Anacostia River. But it was ultimately omitted from the massive federal spending bill that was approved last week.

Because it probably was the final “must-pass” bill that Congress will consider for months — and perhaps until late 2020 — the Redskins will have limited opportunities to get access to the land through such channels.

There are a bunch of reasons why the land transfer didn’t go through, from federal officials not trusting city officials to lots of people not liking Snyder’s team’s name to nobody caring about the team because they suck. (The Washington Post article about this made sure to mention the team’s 3-11 record.) The land could still be transferred — and it could even still be transferred and then D.C. could decide not to use it for a stadium, especially with number-one council stadium advocate Jack Evans getting booted out of office for ethics violations — but the tide doesn’t seem to be running that way right now. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for holding the line on public subsidies depends on what Snyder ends up doing (he’s already proposed building a stadium in a version of northern Virginia in a postapocalyptic future where the Earth’s rotation has been thrown off its axis), but at least it gives us another reason to laugh and point at him besides nobody showing up for his team’s games, and that’s always welcome on a Monday.

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