Friday roundup: Tokyo Olympics back on, NFL doesn’t understand vaccines, and other hygiene theater stories

It was yet another one of those weeks, where you finally look up from the news that’s obsessing everybody only to find that while you weren’t looking, monarch butterflies had moved to the verge of extinction. There doesn’t seem to be an end to this anytime soon — which is pretty much the motto of this website, so let’s get on with it:

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WTF is up with that “vote” on a new Madison Square Garden: an investigation

Checking back in on a Friday afternoon because I have a bit more information about that new Madison Square Garden proposal that, according to a very bad website, “the City Council voted [on] this week in a Community Board Five meeting,” which is not a sentence that makes any sense.

Turns out the vote had nothing to do with the New York City council, but rather was of the Land Use, Housing & Zoning Committee of Manhattan’s Community Board 5, which is a just slightly less significant body. (Community board consideration is a required piece of the city’s land use process, but their votes are just advisory.) The meeting took place on Wednesday on Zoom, and can be watched in its entirety here.

The board’s unanimous vote was actually on several things, including endorsing including this project in the environmental impact study for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Penn Station expansion project, and also allowing for a shorter extension of MSG’s operating permit — you know what, let me just quote myself here by way of explaining what that is:

Madison Square Garden itself is privately owned, but an obscure section of city zoning law (Section 74-41, if you’re playing along at home) requires any arena of more than 2,500 seats to obtain a special permit from the city. MSG’s initial permit was issued in 1963, and for whatever reason was set to expire after 50 years; when that date rolled around in 2013, the city council, bowing to the wishes of Penn renewal advocates, granted only a ten-year extension, ostensibly to give the Garden’s owners time to make plans to decamp to a new site. (Technically, MSG could stay put, but only if it reduced its capacity to 2,500 seats—the arena can currently pack in over 20,000 spectators, depending on the event.)
Since 2023 is right around the corner, and it would almost certainly take years to get this mammoth project approved and built, CB5 has now formally endorsed the idea of a short-term extension to let the Knicks and Rangers hang out for a few more years at the current MSG in the meantime.

What happens next is not much, at least immediately. Committee member E.J. Kalafarski said during the meeting that a draft scope of the project, which is the very first step in the land use process, was “published on the internet this last week”; I haven’t been able to find it yet, but will keep digging. In any case, after that it needs to have a draft environmental impact statement done, and then it goes back to the community board for consideration, then to the borough president, then the city planning commission, and finally the city council. (If the state takes over the property, it would go through a different approval process — as the Brooklyn Nets arena did — but would still take a while.) So, nothing final for a year or two at least, but this is the beginning of the beginning.

As far as how much this would cost or who would pay for it, none of that is even remotely sketched out yet. And the design documents published by New York Yimby are just some sketches done by former Manhattan city planning director and current local resident and architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, which may or may not be adopted by whatever developer may or may not be interested in building this monster.

So, this is still very early days, but it does seem like there’s at least a little momentum for “clear out the current MSG space to make for better Penn Station access by building a new MSG a block away something something something.” This is very much worth keeping an eye on, but it’s also very likely that nothing much will be happening immediately, especially what with no one knowing whether big urban office buildings have a future anymore or not. More news as events warrant.

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Friday roundup: Jacksonville doubles down on $200m+ Jaguars subsidy, MSG replacement vaportectured, Norfolk arena sabers rattled

So, yeah, some stuff happened this week, and is continuing to happen now. But let’s not let rampaging Viking cosplayers distract us from the fact that the new year has also brought a resurgence in sports subsidy activity, with a whole lot of news that normally I might write individual posts about if I hadn’t been up too late refreshing Google News, so instead you’ll have to bear with me through some long bullet points:

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Friday roundup: Titans seek overhaul of 21-year-old stadium, FC Cincy subsidy nears $100m, plus: bored sportswriters go rogue!

A quick programming note: The next two Friday roundups will be on Thursdays, since the next two Fridays are Christmas and New Year’s. Not that I’ll be doing much special those days — I’ve done pretty much nothing since March other than sit and stare at my laptop screen — but I’m doing this anyway as a courtesy to readers who may feel the need to go out and infect extended family members with a deadly disease or something.

And on to this week’s news remainders:

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Friday roundup: More Jaguars move threats, more bad convention center spending, time is an endless loop of human folly

It’s Friday again! And December, how did that happen? “Passage of time,” what manner of witchcraft are you speaking of? Time is an eternal, unchanging present of toil and suffering under the grip of unending plagues! Thus has it ever been!

This notwithstanding, there was some news this week, though in keeping with the theme, it looks an awful lot like the news every week:

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Alberta paid NHL $4m during pandemic bubble to show pictures of Alberta wheat fields

If you’re an NHL fan, you’re possibly aware that much of this past abbreviated season’s Stanley Cup playoffs were held in a bubble in Edmonton. If you’re a diehard NHL fan, or just a diehard Canadian, you may even be aware that Edmonton is in Alberta, the province that is second in Canada in wheat production.

In fact, maybe you learned this by watching the NHL playoffs, because part of the deal to play games in Edmonton, it turns out, was a $4 million ad buy by the Alberta government to tell viewers that the province outside the arena walls is “free” and very wheaty:

Recently disclosed public documents show the Government of Alberta gave the NHL $4 million dollars in a sole-source contract between July 31, 2020 and October 1, 2020 in order to “promote investment in Alberta to provincial, national and international audiences through a unique partnership opportunity with the NHL.” But no public statement from Premier Jason Kenney or the Alberta government has made mention of the $4 million dollar payment…

What was purchased with that money is an important question and an inkling of what that money was spent on lies in a 30-second video message Kenney shared on Sept. 1, Alberta’s 115th birthday, ahead of the puck drop for the NHL playoff game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Vegas Golden Knights. The message was broadcast on the scoreboard at Rogers Place. Kenney touts Alberta’s low taxes, young population and “freest economy in Canada.” He closes by saying, “to hockey fans around the world, we hope you’ll follow the NHL’s lead and come to visit Alberta when you can.”

A short clip from an August 7 game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks also gives a hint as to where that money was spent. In a break in the action prior to a puck drop, the camera shows several large screens in Rogers Place, on those screens are Indigenous people dancing, then it fades to a tight shot of several golden brown wheat heads against a blue sky. On another screen there is a static image of the Alberta watermark.

See for yourself:

Tourism agencies do these kind of ad buys all the time, of course, but promoting Alberta to an empty arena is a just slightly strange use of $4 million, even if the images did show up in the corner of TV screens on occasion. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was a quid pro quo here where the NHL demanded an ad buy as part of its decision to site games in Alberta, but it’s certainly a good question to ask; Progress Alberta, which first revealed the ad spending, has promised to follow up, and fans of both hockey and wheat should be very interested in their future findings.

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Friday roundup: Raiders stadium runs short of tax dollars, Falcons owner makes film about how great Megatron’s Butthole is, and a Ricketts cries poor (again)

Well, that was certainly something to wake up to on a post-Thanksgiving Friday morning. Not sure how many U.S. readers are checking the internet today, but if that’s you and you’re looking for some non-Canadian stadium and arena news for your troubles, we have that too:

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Blue Jackets bailout could go from bad to worse as team seeks more “glamorous” locker rooms

When I’m asked what I think is the worst sports subsidy deal in history, and I’m asked that a lot, my go-to response is that every unhappy stadium deal is unhappy in its own way. But when pressed to pick a few for the all-time Hall of Shame, I’ll occasionally find room for the Columbus Blue Jackets arena bailout, if only because it turned a model of private arena financing into a massive public subsidy just because the team owners whined that they weren’t making enough money. And then the city of Columbus agreed to give Nationwide Insurance, which put up the money for the original private arena construction, $62 million in added tax money when it turned out casino tax revenues weren’t going to cover the original deal.

If you see this headed toward “more good money thrown after bad,” you’re way ahead of me. Take it away, Columbus Dispatch:

Okay, so maybe the Dispatch got so excited it couldn’t remember how verbs work. The point is, as the paper discussed in an accompanying story with a more grammatical headline, the 20-year-old arena needs not just a new roof, but “$94.4 million in capital-improvement expenses over the next five years.”

The good news is that arena authority director Don Brown says the general public won’t pay for the upgrade costs, because it has a repair fund already set aside, funded by “casino tax and admissions tax proceeds.” The less good news is that these taxes would otherwise go into the general fund if they weren’t being siphoned off for the arena fund; the even less good news is that thanks to casino and admissions tax shortfalls in recent years, the repair fund currently just has $454,000 left in it, plus a $2.4 million reserve fund, which is a lot less than $94.4 million.

The Dispatch article goes on to say that the Blue Jackets and their partners in operating the arena — Nationwide and Ohio State University — will be on the hook for arena upgrade costs, but also that the team’s lease requires that the building be kept in “first class” condition, which seems likely to be a point of contention in any disputes over where to come up with $90 million. Among the items that the arena authority cited the hockey team as wanting to have improved:

The locker room for Blue Jackets players is “reasonably well-appointed but is not as glamorous as NHL home locker rooms in newer facilities,” and could use a “thorough” upgrade. The player lounge and training areas are well-maintained “but not impressive,” and the players’ family lounge “does not present an NHL-level image.”

Well, we certainly can’t have that! What will the neighbors say?

There’s a lot of confusing language in the arena operating arrangement — the public arena authority is part of the management group, but isn’t responsible for upgrade cash unless OSU backs out — but given that we’ve already seen Columbus bail out the private parties for no good reason other than that they asked for it, it’s hard to rule out anything. The main takeaway here is that the Blue Jackets are publicly seeking $94 million to replace their roof and bling up their locker rooms, which is always a sign that taxpayers should hold onto their wallets.

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Friday roundup: Charlotte approves $35m in soccer subsidies, NYC spends $5m on stadium upgrades for team that may disappear, NBA joins NFL in welcoming fans back to giant virus stew

Even after dispensing with that crazy San Jose Sharks move threat story, there’s a ton of leftover news this week. So put down that amazing Defector article about how the British have fetishized the Magna Carta as a declaration of citizen rights when it’s really just about how the king can’t unreasonably tax 25 barons, and let’s get right to it:

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Sharks threaten to leave San Jose unless Google gets offa their damn lawn

In a twist so backwards that I’ve had to double-check it three times before I could get myself to even type it, the San Jose Sharks owners have threatened to move out of town if — hang on, gotta check this one more time … yep, it’s for real — if the city adds new development to the downtown area around their arena:

In an urgent plea to fans for help, the San Jose Sharks on Thursday said the team may be forced out of the city because of big downtown developments near the Diridon train station that threaten access and parking at the SAP Center, where the team plays…

“We definitely do not want to leave,” Jonathan Becher, president of Sharks Sports & Entertainment, said in an interview. “This is our home. This is where we want to be. Leaving is the last resort. But it could come to that if the arena becomes unviable.”

The development at stake is a large mixed-use development that Google plans to build to replace most much (Ed. Note: see comments) of the city’s downtown, adding 65 new buildings hosting 30,000 new Google workers, plus 4,000 units of housing. (Google says the project won’t require any tax or land breaks; most of the public concerns about it have been that it will displace existing residents.) The Sharks owners are concerned about traffic problems during construction and also that Google will be using some parking lots that Sharks fans currently use, as well as eliminating some traffic lanes — there are plans for a BART train extension to Diridon, which would make it easier for fans to arrive from the East Bay by public transit, but that’s not slated to open until 2029 at the earliest.

So it’s understandable that the Sharks owners would be gripey, but moving the team, seriously? In 2015, the team agreed to extend its lease on the city-owned arena through 2040, in exchange for about $100 million in city funding for arena upgrades and rent breaks. A city memo at the time warned that “the team’s success and popularity has cities across America vying to attract the team away from San Jose with promises of new shiny buildings at no cost to the team,” which wasn’t remotely true from what I can tell, even if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did once threaten that the Sharks could be forced to move if they didn’t get a more lucrative cable deal.

That lease extension was technically only through 2025, though, with a series of 15 one-year renewals to follow. All references to the new lease deal on the San Jose city website now go to a dead link, so it’s tough for me to check what kind of out clauses the team has before 2040, but I’ll give it a shot once folks on the West Coast have woken up today and gone to work walked to their kitchen tables and turned on their laptops.

Even if the Sharks can relocate in 2025, though, doesn’t mean it’s very likely. They have a franchise that is solidly in the middle of the pack in terms of revenue and value, with both on the rise; they have that sweet lease deal pumping more money into the arena for renovations; and they have that BART station about to open just a few years after they could potentially leave, which should make their arena accessible to tons of new fans traveling from the north. San Francisco’s Golden State Warriors arena isn’t configured to accommodate hockey, so that would leave maybe the now-vacant Oakland arena, or … Tulsa?

Way more likely is this is just saber-rattling to get San Jose to throw the Sharks some bones in exchange for putting up with jackhammers at their front door, which is entirely what you’d expect after the team owners were able to get such a sweet deal they last time they made noise about leaving town. It’s probably something city officials should have thought of when they were negotiating that lease extension — if we’re giving them a new lease through 2040, maybe we should make sure they can’t threaten to leave 15 years early if they want to shake us down for more concessions — but nobody ever said city lease negotiators were the sharpest tacks in the drawer.

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