HBO Real Sports is latest to notice that Red Wings arena development promises were a lie

I just this morning got around to watching Tuesday night’s episode of HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel on District Detroit, the development that was supposed to spring up around the new Detroit Red Wings arena, but hasn’t — something that’s been covered by other outlets in the past. While trying to remember how to log in to HBO Go, I had already learned that the Ilitch family, owners of the Red Wings and Tigers, had called it “a self-interested, sensationalized and inaccurate report designed to attract viewers instead of a balanced report on the rebirth of Detroit and our contributions to City’s turn around,” so needless to say I had high hopes.

And I can now say that … it’s fine. It lays out all the main plot points of the District Detroit saga — rich family meets struggling city, rich family that kept property blighted for years promises city new development in exchange for public money, rich family builds parking lots for its own profit instead of new development — in that breezy eyebrows-furrowed narrative style that’s been familiar ever since 60 Minutes launched back in the late Paleozoic. Aside from a debatable dig at how the city’s literally crumbling schools were denied funding as a result of the arena subsidies (the state claims that it reimbursed the city schools, but it’s complicated), there’s nothing that hasn’t been reported many times before, let alone that could be considered “inaccurate.”

The most enlightening parts are the segments interviewing former state representative John Walsh, the sponsor of the Red Wings bill (and now president of the Downtown Detroit Partnership), who is helpfully unrepentant about helping to birth this whole mess:

Real Sports correspondent David Scott: “Did you consult any independent economists about it?”

Walsh: “I didn’t consult any, but I did plenty of research. I am known as a data-driven person.”

Scott: “The North American Association of Sports Economists — I don’t know if they came up in your research? They concluded that sports subsidies have no consistent positive impact on jobs, income, or tax revenue.”

Walsh: “If they’re only looking for dollar-for-dollar return, I agree with them—”

Scott: “But they’re not. They’re talking about job creation, they’re talking about local economic development.”

Walsh: “How do you quantify that? At some point you have to have a level of faith in a project.”

My expectations of American elected officials, especially American elected officials who immediately jump from public office to working for local business lobbying groups, couldn’t be lower, but still hearing one say “I am known as a data-driven person” immediately followed by “At some point you have to have a level of faith” is impressively horrifying. This isn’t going to displace John Oliver’s report on stadiums as my favorite YouTube video on the sports subsidy scam — especially since HBO hasn’t put it on YouTube, though I’m sure if you dig around you can find it somewhere — but if it convinces some future legislator somewhere that “hmm, maybe we should have checked to see how this worked out in other cities first, using actual math,” then it’s 17 minutes of air time well spent.

Friday roundup: NYCFC turf woes, Quebec’s NHL snub, and why people who live near stadiums can’t have nice things

And in less vaportectury news:

  • NYC F.C. is having turf problems again, as large chunks of the temporary sod covering New Yankee Stadium’s dirt infield were peeling up at their home match last Saturday. There’s still been no announced progress on the latest stadium plan proposed last summer (which wasn’t even proposed by the team, but by a private developer), and I honestly won’t be surprised if there never is, though Yankees president Randy Levine did say recently that he “hopes” to have a soccer stadium announcement this year sometime, so there’s that.
  • Deadspin ran a long article on why Quebec City keeps getting snubbed for an NHL franchise, and the short answer appears to be: It’s a small city, the Canadian dollar is weak, Gary Bettman loves trying to expand hockey into unlikely U.S. markets, and Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson hates prospective Quebec Nordiques owner Pierre Karl Péladeau, for reasons having to do with everything from arena competition to Anglophone-Francophone beef. Say it with me now: Building arenas on spec is a no good, very bad idea.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers arena has an even more terrible new name than the two terrible names that preceded it. “I know that sometimes [with] change, you get a little resistance and people say, ‘Why are they changing it?’ and ‘How’s that name going to work?'” team owner Dan Gilbert told NBA.com. The answers, if you were wondering, are “Dan Gilbert is trying to promote a different one of his allegedly fraudulent loan service programs” and “nobody’s going to even remember the new name, and will probably just call it ‘the arena’ or something.”
  • Inglewood residents are afraid that the new Los Angeles Rams stadium will price them out of their neighborhood; the good news for them is that all economic evidence is that the stadium probably won’t do much to accelerate gentrification, while the bad news is that gentrification is probably coming for them stadium or not. The it-could-be-worse news is that Inglewood residents are still better off than Cincinnati residents who, after F.C. Cincinnati‘s owners promised no one would be displaced for their new stadium, went around buying up buildings around the new stadium and forcing residents to relocate, because that’s not technically “for” the new stadium, right?
  • Worcester still hasn’t gotten around to buying up all the property for the Triple-A Red Sox‘ new stadium set to open in 2021, and with construction set to begin in July, this could be setting the stage for the city to either have to overpay for the land or have to engage in a protracted eminent domain proceeding that could delay the stadium’s opening. It’s probably too soon to be anticipating another minor-league baseball road team, but who am I kidding, it’s never too soon to look forward to that.

Friday roundup: Sacramento soccer subsidies, Fire could return to Chicago, and a giant mirrored basketball

Did I actually write a couple of days ago that this was looking like a slow news week? The stadium news gods clearly heard me, and when they make it rain news, they make it pour:

New York studying whether to build Islanders an impossible train station that could cost $300m

Hey, remember how the New York Islanders owners said that their new Belmont Park arena would require a full-time commuter rail station, and it turned out that would be somewhere between cost-prohibitive and physically impossible, and then lots of local elected officials said they wouldn’t approve the arena without a 24/7 train station? Surprise, surprise, New York state is now “expanding its environmental review to study the possibility of adding a full-time Long Island Rail Road station,” according to “sources” cited by Newsday. The paper continues:

No decision has been made about the new station’s location on the Main Line, sources said.

It is also unknown how much a new station would cost or how it would be financed.

That is a mighty large detail, considering that one (now former) MTA board member said a couple of months ago that building a full-time train station could cost as much as $300 million.

Of course, studying something isn’t the same as building something, so it’s entirely possible this is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s way of establishing a price tag (and degree of possibility) for such an undertaking, so that he can then say to local pols, “Look, this wouldn’t work, can’t I just give you some extra youth sports funding or something and make your objections go away?” The environmental review is supposed to be done by the end of June, so that doesn’t give the state a lot of time to explore its options; but then, this is a governor who reworked an entire multi-billion-dollar transit project that had been in the works for years on the advice of a few academic-honcho friends, so maybe he knows some good non-Euclidean mathematicians who can help out.

[UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: The Newsday article indicates that the new station under study would go on the main LIRR line, presumably between the Bellerose and Queens Village stops, not on the spur that leads directly to Belmont Park. But that would leave fans at least a half-mile walk from the new station to the new arena, which isn’t much less than the walk would be from the existing Queens Village station — and it would still be extremely expensive and involve difficult geometry (the Cross Island Parkway would get in the way, among other things). My money is still on this being a proof of bad concept, but we’ll see in a couple of months, maybe.]

Friday roundup: Rays stalling on St. Pete stadium talks, Marlins tear out seats to please millennials, Raiders stadium maybe delayed or maybe not

Happy baseball season! Or not-so-happy baseball season, as Deadspin reminded us in two excellent articles this week, one on all the ways from bag-check fees to card-only transactions that teams are using to separate fans from even more of their money, the other on how fans were stuck on endless lines to get into stadium on opening day because of things like paperless ticketing apps that kept crashing. And on those cheery notes, the rest of the rest of the week’s news:

Friday roundup: Cobb County still losing money on Braves, Beckham now wants two new stadiums, A’s reveal latest crazy rendering

It’s yet another morning to wake up and read the news and want to immediately go back to bed, or maybe get out of bed and protest something or just hug somebody. There’s a full week of additional stadium and arena news to recap, though, and that still matters, even if maybe not quite as much as man’s inhumanity to other humans, so:

  • Cobb County is still losing money on the new Atlanta Braves stadium, but it was at least down to $5.8 million last year from $8 million the year before. That’s mostly thanks to increased property tax payments from the development around the stadium, though, and as I’ve covered before, property taxes aren’t free money, they’re revenues that are supposed to pay for all the social costs of new development, so please everybody stop pretending that’s how fiscal math works.
  • David Beckham’s Inter Miami (do I have to keep identifying them that way? you bet I do!) now wants to play its first two MLS seasons, 2020 and 2021, at a new stadium in Fort Lauderdale while waiting for its Miami stadium to be ready. I admit to being somewhat confused as to how an 18,000-seat stadium can be built in Fort Lauderdale in less than a year (even if it’s just a temporary facility that will eventually be converted to host the franchise’s youth team) when it’ll take two years at least to build one in Miami, but mostly I’m just excited for Beckham to have two different stadium ideas that can run into inevitable obstacles because he’s Beckham.
  • The Oakland A’s dropped another new rendering of their proposed Howard Terminal stadium as part of their latest site plan, and mostly it’s notable for apparently being the only building left with its own electrical power after the apocalypse wipes out the rest of humanity, which should help ticket sales. Vaportecture fans will also be pleased to see that the gratuitous shipping cranes for unloading containers to nowhere have been moved to a different corner of the site, possibly for logistical reasons but more likely because the renderers thought they framed the image better there.
  • Tottenham Hotspur stadium update: Finally looks on target to open in early April, except for the small problem that players trying to take corner kicks will tumble backwards down a slope if they stand more than one foot from the ball.
  • Milwaukee-area residents will finally get to stop paying a sales-tax surcharge to pay off the Brewers‘ Miller Park next year, after 24 years of the 0.1% tax being in place. (The public will keep on paying for repairs to the stadium, but it’s already built up a reserve fund from sales tax payments for that purpose.) That’s certainly good news for Wisconsin residents who want to see their spending dollars go 0.1% farther, though even more so it will make it harder for anyone to try to use that tax stream to fund a replacement stadium for Miller Park, which the Brewers haven’t talked about but you know it’s just a matter of time.
  • The Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Authority is set to vote today on a new short-term lease for the Raiders, who would pay $7.4 million in rent for 2019 and $10.4 millon in rent for 2020 if necessary, plus $525,000 a year in rent for the team’s practice facility for up to three years after moving to Las Vegas. Plus, Oakland still gets to continue with its antitrust suit against the Raiders for leaving in the first place. I love happy endings!
  • Calgary city councillor Evan Woolly says instead of giving tax kickbacks to a new Flames arena, he wants to give tax breaks to all businesses across the city in an attempt to keep more of them in town. I’d definitely want to see his projected economic impact numbers before deciding if that would be worth it, but it certainly makes as much economic sense as giving money solely to a pro hockey team on the same logic.
  • “Planning experts” told the city of Saskatoon that it should kick off downtown revitalization efforts by building a new arena, because that’s the “biggest piece,” and, and, sorry, I’m looking for any actual reasons these experts gave, but not finding any. Though given that one is described as a “real estate sales specialist,” maybe their reasoning is not so mysterious after all.
  • The New York Islanders management emailed season ticket holders to ask them to sign a change.org “Support New York Islanders New Home at Belmont” petition, which leads me to think that maybe they’re taking this whole local elected official opposition thing more seriously than they’re pretending when they keep saying don’t worry, they’re totally going to have the place open by 2021.
  • The Carolina Panthers are talking about moving to South Carolina, but only their offices and practice field, not their actual home stadium. Not that that’s stopping them from trying to get out of paying their stadium property tax bill.
  • The government is Sydney is rushing to demolish a 31-year-old Australian football rugby (sorry, read too quickly and can’t tell all the Australian ball sports apart really anyway) stadium nine days before a new government might come in that would have preserved the building, and while I don’t fully understand the whole history here, you can read about it here while we wait for FoS’s Aussie sports correspondent David Dyte to chime in.
  • Emails obtained by the Los Angeles Times reveal that Irving Azoff tried to talk the Los Angeles Lakers into moving out of the Staples Center and into the MSG-owned Forum, but talks didn’t go anywhere. This honestly doesn’t seem like much since it was just an emailed offer that was rebuffed, but it is interesting in that it shows how the arena management wars are playing into sports team decisions. (And also in that it reveals that Lakers owner Jeanie Buss refers to Clippers owner Steve Ballmer as “Ballz.”)

Islanders fans pretty worried about this whole Belmont arena traffic and transit situation

New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky again stressed this weekend that his team’s arena is totally on track to open in 2021 as scheduled, so it’s good timing that I had an article run at Deadspin yesterday pointing out that yeah, it really isn’t, at least not if the elected officials threatening to block it if it doesn’t come with a full-service train station are serious, because there’s no easy way to build a full-service train station there.

And even if they do approve it anyway, it will likely result in an arena that is once again hard to get to by both car and public transit, which has a bunch of Islanders fans slightly worried they’d be getting out of the Brooklyn frying pan and into the fire. My favorite bit:

James Francis Fess, a lifelong Islanders fan—he claims that his father literally placed an Islanders hat on his head the day he was born—and a leader of the Blue and Orange Army fan group, worries that the traffic on the nearby Cross Island Parkway on game days “is going to be insanity. The traffic around the Coliseum is nothing like around Belmont. You can look up any single day on a traffic map, and I guarantee you that it’s going to be black on the Cross Island.”

Fess says he got to ride to the Belmont arena announcement last season with the team’s entourage, which included both Ledecky and longtime broadcaster Stan Fischler, who moonlights as a transit expert. The resulting conversation, he says, was both enlightening and worrisome.

“I mentioned to [Ledecky], ‘It’s not true that people will have to transfer at Jamaica still, right? Like how they do for the Barclays Center.’ And he’s like, ‘No, we want the train to go directly there. Stan’ll know about this, because Stan knows everything about trains.’”

Fischler, recalls Fess, began rattling off a list of changes that would be needed to make full service to Belmont a reality. “Ledecky’s sitting there like, ‘Wait a second.’ I see the look on his face, and I think ‘Oh no, they didn’t even think about this.’”

All the Islanders fans I spoke to wished that the team had just stayed put at the Nassau Coliseum site, and while there’s no doubt some sentimentality behind that, it’s also true that getting to an arena on the Queens/Nassau border on a weeknight during rush hour with limited train service is not going to be pretty. It may be the best option now after what the current team owners stumbled into following Charles Wang’s impulsive flight to Brooklyn — I spend much of the end of the article discussing the increasing evidence that rich sports people are no better at planning and decision making than the rest of us — but it’s still pretty remarkable that Islanders owners keep picking places to play and saying, “We’ll figure out how to get fans there later.”

Friday roundup: Flames arena questions, Braves funny math, and more vaportecture renderings and videos of suite chairs than you can shake a stick at

I swear they keep making these Fridays closer and closer together:

  • Canadian economists have lots of questions about who’s going to pay for a new Calgary Flames arena, which is as should be because the city council won’t say yet how it will be paid for. And we apparently won’t know more for a while, because first the council needs to figure out who’ll be on the negotiating committee with the Flames, and it’s not even scheduled to meet until next month. I can’t be the only one thinking, “Excellent, lots of time for somebody to leak the details to the press before everything gets negotiated,” can I? Deadspin has a tips line, just saying!
  • The Atlanta Braves brought in $442 million in revenue last year, for a profit of $92 million, but blamed the team’s debt payments on their new stadium in Cobb County for not leaving enough left over to spend big on free agents. After public subsidies, the Braves owners are on the hook for less than $20 million a year in construction debt payments, plus $6 million a year in rent, so, um, yeah.
  • The latest Texas Rangers stadium renderings make the seats in the top decks look just as crappy as in the previous renderings, there are still clip-art fans with translucent heads, and the roof is open in all of them even though the whole point of the new stadium is to have air-conditioning, which won’t work if the roof is open. At least we finally get to see how fans will get to that deck suspended in midair in left field — via a brick-colonnaded walkway, of course — so we no longer have to worry about Rangers fans having to purchase jetpacks to get to their terrible seats.
  • And still more renderings, these of a USL stadium a would-be team owner wants to build in Fort Lauderdale on the site of Lockhart Stadium, the same site David Beckham has targeted as a training site for his Inter Miami MLS team. Are there spotlights pointing pointlessly into the sky? You bet! Is this, regardless of whether the USL stadium stands a chance of getting built, yet another reason to laugh at Beckham over how he can’t catch a break? Don’t you know it!
  • Here’s a video of what the chairs and shelving will look like at the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium. And here’s a picture of what the place settings will look like in the luxury suites at the new Golden State Warriors arena, but it’s just a still photo — come on, Ben Golliver, it’s 2019, don’t you know people want to see furniture in video form?
  • New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky insists that the team’s proposed Belmont Park arena is still “on track for the 2021-22 season,” but what else is he gonna say?
  • Winnipeg will provide a total of $16.6 million in tax breaks and other operating subsidies this year to the Jets, Blue Bombers, Goldeyes, and Manitoba Moose, and bonus points to any non-Canadian who can name what sport each of those teams play. Economic Development Winnipeg CEO Dayna Spiring claimed that the public will make its money back — no, not through the taxes the teams won’t get breaks on, that’s a Wichita thing to say. Rather, Spiring said the public will earn its money back on exposure, via the value of Winnipeg’s name appearing on hockey broadcasts. Somebody please alert this Twitter account.
  • Tottenham Hotspur stadium opening update: still maybe early April! Also, it may be called Nike Stadium, or maybe not.
  • Wichita announced it planned to double down on its $75 million expense for a new minor-league baseball stadium for the relocated New Orleans Baby Cakes Triple-A franchise by also selling land around the stadium to the team owners for $1 an acre, with the mayor saying the city would make money on the $38.5 million in taxes the new development would pay over the next 20 years. This is still not how taxes work, but Wichita has since said it was putting off the land sale after Wichitans griped about the stealth subsidy, so I won’t belabor the point. For now.
  • And finally, NBA commissioner Adam Silver want to make watching basketball at home more like being at the game, via “technology.” Wait, isn’t one main problem pro sports is facing that fewer and fewer people want to go to games because it’s just as pleasant and cheaper to watch games at home on their giant hi-def TVs? I mean, no complaints here if Silver really wants to replicate the smell of Madison Square Garden in my living room, but it seems a bit, I dunno, against their business model? Unless maybe this will be some kind of premium feature you only get by subscribing to their streaming service that will be described as “Netflix for basketball,” yeah, that’s probably it.

Calgary council approves $1.5b in spending on Flames arena and other stuff, will explain later where money will come from

It took a break in the day-long closed-door session for an open-door session on the rules for talking behind closed doors, but the Calgary city council finally approved a Flames arena financing plan last night, as part of $1.5 billion in spending that will also fund expansion of the city’s convention center and arts center, and construction of a new field house for such sports as track, basketball, and indoor soccer. And how will all this be paid for, and will the tenants — such as the Flames — be repaying any of the capital expense through rent or revenue sharing?

The city will be able to pursue all four projects, said Nenshi, through a combination of cash reserves — including drawing from the city’s flush rainy day fund — as well as government grants and the community revitalization levy…

The city says it will release further details about the financial strategy to pay for all four projects at the Mar. 18 meeting of council.

Okay, that partially answers the first half of the question: The city will use cash on hand (which otherwise could be used for other projects, or reducing taxes, or rainy-day needs like the rainy day fund is meant for); plus a CRL, which is the Canadian version of a TIF that kicks back future increases in property tax receipts; plus grants from the provincial and/or federal governments that may or may not exist. All of this enables the council to say “no new taxes,” which is apparently what they really wanted to do, even though any government spending ultimately comes from taxes.

As for the other piece — will Calgary recoup any of this money on the back end — we apparently will have to wait for the next council meeting in two weeks. Or maybe not even then, since there still needs to be negotiation with the Flames owners? They decided all this in closed session, so who can tell!

Needless to say, not knowing any of the financial details beyond the vaguest generalities makes it really hard to evaluate how good or bad this deal would be for Calgary taxpayers, which is presumably exactly why the council is keeping the details a secret for now. All we know is that four councillors — Evan Woolley, Peter Demong, Jeromy Farkas, and Druh Farrell — out of 15 opposed the measure, though interestingly not Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who called out the last Flames arena plan as too expensive for the public. So maybe this indicates that this is a better deal; or maybe it indicates that Nenshi has caved; or maybe something else entirely; tune in March 18 to find out, or not!

Also unknown for the moment: Whether the arena design will still include its very own Stargate:

This is gonna be a long two weeks.

Calgary council still won’t say what Flames deal is, but they’re not happy with it yet

The Calgary city council is back at work debating a Flames arena plan today, and because it’s a closed-door meeting with no details to be revealed until the deal is done, we don’t even have streaming video to stare at in increasing boredom. So all that’s left to do is to instead stare at tea leaves to try to guess at what’s happening, and the Calgary Herald is on it!

Several councillors have confirmed that the 7-6 vote to postpone reflected discomfort with the proposed terms and fears the deal was moving too quickly without sufficient scrutiny.

Others on council say they’re frustrated with city hall’s inability to move ahead after months and months of discussions.

The six councillors who voted against the postponement included councillors Jeff Davison, Jyoti Gondek, Ray Jones, Joe Magliocca, Ward Sutherland and Sean Chu — the majority of whom are on the record as supporting the most recent proposal.

Coun. Evan Woolley, who voted to postpone, said he understands the frustration of his colleagues.

“At the same time, we need to have rigour to this process,” Woolley said. “Based on the conversations that came out of council meeting this week, I am deeply concerned that we are giving up rigour in favour of speed.

“I am very uncomfortable and was very uncomfortable that we were going to make mistakes and we are talking about taxpayers’ money here, and significant amounts of money.”

So parsing these even more finely, a majority of the council still wasn’t happy with the deal last week, so wanted to talk about it more today. What exactly they’re questioning, nobody’s saying, but whatever it is the questioning will be rigorous — sorry, rigourous — so everybody can breathe a little easier. Unless, of course, this is more about butt covering than actual scrutiny, but there’s no way to be sure!

We’ll find out more … not tomorrow, probably, but maybe after the council sits down with the Flames owners to hash out a final deal, and okay, it’s going to be tea leaves, nothing but tea leaves, for a while yet.