Friday roundup: Spending on training facilities is a bad idea, Portland seeks MLB team, Jays game postponed after roof hit by falling ice

I can’t believe none of you wrote in to ask why I hadn’t reported on a Toronto Blue Jays game getting postponed due to falling ice puncturing a hole in the stadium roof, but I guess you’re all acclimated to waiting for the Friday roundup now for that sort of thing. But wait no longer! (Well, wait a few bullet points for that one in particular.)

Friday roundup: Marlins claim British residency, video football with real humans, and the White Sox stadium that never was

Busy (minor) news week! And away we go…

  • Derek Jeter’s Miami Marlins ownership group, facing a lawsuit by the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County over the team stiffing the public on the share of sale proceeds they were promised, are trying to stave it off by claiming that (deep breath) because one of the owners of an umbrella company of an umbrella company of the umbrella company that owns the Marlins is a business incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, the case should be arbitrated by a federal judge who handles international trade issues. Maybe the Marlins should quit trying to sell tickets to baseball games and sell tickets to the court proceedings instead.
  • Tampa Bay Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz, in response to concerns that a big-ass baseball stadium wouldn’t fit into the Ybor City historic district that it would be on the border of, said that “we expect to build a next-generation, neighborhood ballpark that fits within the fabric of the Ybor City community,” though she didn’t give any details. That’s vague enough to be reassuring without actually promising anything concrete, but it’s worth making a note of just in case the historic district ends up becoming a stumbling block in stadium talks, which, stranger things have happened.
  • A guy wants to start a football league where fans vote on what plays to run via Twitch, and build an arena in Las Vegas for people to watch … the players? The voting? The Las Vegas Review-Journal article about it was a bit unclear, though it did say that the organizers want to “create the experience of playing a football video game with real people,” which isn’t creepy at all. It also reports that the league plans to use blockchain technology, which is how you know it’s probably a sham.
  • Something called the Badger Herald, which I assume is a University of Wisconsin student paper but which I really hope is a newspaper targeted entirely at badgers, ran an article by a junior economics major arguing that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will be a boon to the city because during the first few years “many will come from across the state to watch the Bucks play in this impressive new facility” and after that it will “continue giving the people of Milwaukee a reason to be optimistic.” The author also says that the arena was built after “the NBA gave the Bucks an ultimatum — either obtain a new arena, or the NBA would buy the Bucks and sell the franchise to another city,” which, uh, no, that’s not what happened at all.
  • Here’s a really nice article for CBS Sports by my old Baseball Prospectus colleague Dayn Perry on the Chicago White Sox ballpark proposed by architect Philip Bess that never got built. Come for the cool pictures of spiders, stay for the extended explanation of why supporting columns that obstruct some views are a design feature that stadium architects never should have abandoned!
  • The Los Angeles Rams are trying to pull a San Francisco 49ers, according to Deadspin, by making a run at a Super Bowl in the same year they’re selling personal seat licenses for their new stadium. More power to ’em, but prospective Rams PSL buyers, check how that worked out for 49ers fans before you hand over your credit card numbers, okay?
  • The state of Connecticut has cut $100 million for Hartford arena renovations from the state budget, at least for now, so that it can use the money toward a $550 million bailout of the city of Hartford itself. Is that what they call a “no win-win situation“?
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the New York Islanders need to move back to Long Island because Brooklyn’s Barclays Center “wasn’t built for hockey,” which he actually pointed out at the time they moved there, but did anybody listen?
  • Alameda County is moving to sell its share of the Oakland Coliseum complex to the city of Oakland, which should make negotiations over what to do with the site slightly simpler, anyway.
  • That Missouri governor who killed a proposed St. Louis MLS stadium subsidy, calling it “welfare for millionaires,” is now under pressure to resign after his former hairdresser claimed he groped her, slapped her, and coerced her into sex acts. Maybe we should just stop electing men to public office? Just a thought.

Long Island may get yet another arena for the Islanders not to play in

Suffolk County, New York, otherwise known as “the part of Long Island you can only get to by starting in New York City and driving more than an hour east,” yesterday approved a $1 billion development project in Ronkonkoma that will include a 17,500-seat sports arena. Or maybe an 8,000-seat sports arena. Apparently it’s all still up in the air, except that whatever it is, it’ll be great for the local economy, because economies:

“This is entirely tax positive. There is no residential here,” [lead engineer John] Cameron said. “This is an economic engine. A catalyst for growth.”

And if you can’t trust a construction engineer to make economic impact predictions, who can you trust?

Cameron said his company had been contacted by a sports league about using the arena, which could mean anything. (Note that he didn’t even say “pro” sports league, at least not as ABC7 reported it.) The Islanders, for their part, immediately dismissed any interest in playing in eastern Long Island. I suppose it’s conceivable that a Suffolk County arena could survive just on selling concert tickets to Long Islanders who don’t want to make the shlep into the city, or drive an hour in Long Island traffic to Nassau Coliseum — though lots of them work in the city anyway, so Nassau Coliseum would just be a stop on the way home. Building a sports arena makes more sense with a sports team to play in it, is all I’m saying, unless the developers plan to ditch or massively downsize the arena aspect down the road after using it to get Suffolk County’s attention, which is entirely possible.

Anyway, what the hell the developers’ business plan is should matter less to Long Island taxpayers if they’re not on the hook for any costs, and no subsidies have been reported thus far — though Long Island Business News does note that “it has yet to be determined whether the property and the additional 40 acres of compost site will be sold or ground-leased for the redevelopment effort.” But surely they’ve at least agreed on a price for the land, right? Right? Tune back in for any further reports that filter in from the far-flung province of eastern Long Island.

Friday roundup: Warriors rail stop turns pricey, West End stadium undead again, Montreal mayor meets with would-be Expos owners

Superbrief mode today:

  • Expanding light-rail service to the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is now expected to cost at least $62 million, which is a lot for Muni Metro, though not for some other transit systems. The Warriors owners are kicking in $19 million, but the rest will be funded by tax money from the arena district, which may or may not be enough to cover the entire nut. Tim Redmond saw this coming.
  • F.C. Cincinnati owners are officially pivoting back to the West End stadium site that it had declared dead last month after not getting offered enough property-tax breaks on the land. How come? Team CEO Jeff Berding said of the other two options, Oakley is “not as close to the urban core as desired,” and the team couldn’t secure land in Newport, Kentucky. Sounds like the West End has the club over somewhat of a barrel, which it should be able to use to ensure the team pays full property taxes, at least, though some residents may be more concerned about keeping out a stadium entirely over fears it will further gentrify their neighborhood.
  • The mayor of Montreal is meeting today with an ownership group that wants to bring a new Expos MLB team back to town. “We don’t need a cent from the city of Montreal, but we need a little help,” prospective co-owner Stephen Bronfman said earlier this week; your guess is as good as mine what that actually means.
  • Minnesota taxpayers have spent $1.4 billion on new or renovated sports venues over the past 20 years, if anyone is counting.
  • The Pawtucket Red Sox‘ stadium demands continue to be stalled, if anyone is keeping track.
  • “A deputy in one of Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup host cities has claimed that a latest inspection by the world’s footballing body has neglected a missing column at a newly built stadium.” You’ve just got to read the whole Moscow Times article now, don’t you?

 

Profiteering innovator Wayne Huizenga dies at age 80

Former Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins, and Florida Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga died on Friday, and any time a soul passes from this earth there’s a sadness, and we pass long our sympathies to all of Huizenga’s relatives and loved ones.

And now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how Wayne Huizenga helped to make the sports world a worse place while he was alive:

Does all this make Huizenga a bad man? First and foremost, he was a corporate businessman, trying to extract maximum value from the assets he owned, whether his sports teams or waste-hauling company or Blockbuster Video, even if at the expense of the public or his fellow team owners or his team’s on-field success. Whether this makes him a capitalist running dog or someone merely following his own rational self-interest depends on your political perspective, but it’s undeniable that his cash grabs were more innovative than that of most team owners, and had a more detrimental effect on the sports landscape. So while he may have exhibited “kindness and generosity,” as his former team tweeted last Friday, he also did all those other things too; and that, in all his complexity, is how he should be remembered by history.

Friday roundup: Coyotes seek investors, Detroit MLS stadium deal maybe not dead after all, and new stadium fireworks renderings!

So much news! Let’s get right to it:

Hartford arena director says building needs $100m renovation because it’s “tired”

The head of the state authority in charge of Hartford’s XL Center says it needs costly upgrades before it can be sold to a private operator, because of “tired systems”:

“The building is truly out of its prime,” Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, said in a legislative hearing. “It has had a very difficult time competing, primarily with our own casinos, let alone when Springfield comes along. It requires quite a bit of upgrade, not simply of its tired systems which we can’t even find parts for anymore but just the way it presents itself.”

Among other things, apparently none of the elevators or escalators at the building are functioning. The Connecticut legislature is currently considering a $100 million proposal by Gov. Dannel Malloy to rehab the arena, though Freimuth didn’t say whether that would be enough to make it competitive.

The other obvious question that Freimuth didn’t answer is whether anybody would pay $100 million to buy the arena — if not, it’d be kind of a dumb investment by the state. But apparently he considers the XL Center too big to fail, or too downtown to fail, or something:

Knocking down the building could cost as much as $40 million, Freimuth said, all to create a hole in the middle of downtown.

“Frankly, having that go dark at the center of town, well, symbolically, it sends a lot of bad vibes, obviously,” Freimuth said. “It impacts everything from parking revenue to restaurant revenue to taxes. … The event load plays into the hotels.”…

The arena also is considered a key amenity in the city’s revitalization and is attractive to people moving into the new downtown apartments, Freimuth said.

This is the same claim that arena advocates made a year and change ago, when they argued that nobody was going to move to downtown Hartford without a renovated arena, despite tons of people in fact moving to downtown Hartford in recent years. Maybe millennials just like climbing stairs? Damn kids today are killing escalators, too.

Flames arena wasn’t built to last like in Charles Dickens’ day, writes confused Canadian columnist

Here’s an article from the Globe and Mail on the Calgary Saddledome that starts with an extended Charles Dickens reference, because man, oh man, does sportswriting get boring after a while if you don’t mix it up.

Once columnist Roy McGregor gets to the point, it turns out to be that unlike the things Charles Dickens saw on his visit to Canada — and, presumably, Dickens’ works themselves — the Flames‘ arena wasn’t built to last, or at least “wasn’t made to produce revenue in the deep streams demanded these days by professional hockey.” (Whereas Canadian buildings in 1842 were? Hey, it’s not my metaphor.)

This is an assertion we can actually check! Hey, Forbes magazine, how does the Calgary arena compare to the rest of the NHL in revenues? Unfortunately, Forbes doesn’t break down the NHL by venue revenues, but the Flames rank 21st out of 30 overall in the league in total revenues, which is neither great nor awful. They’re about $22 million in annual revenue behind the Edmonton Oilers, the team that’s most often held up as an example of a nearby franchise that got a new arena and is now thriving — spending $1.2 billion on a new arena to get back $22 million a year in new revenue would be spectacularly stupid, which is no doubt why the Flames’ owners want the city of Calgary to spend much of the money instead. And if that strikes you as spectacularly stupid in turn, McGregor has an answer for that: revitalization!

In this era of what he calls “sportainment,” André Richelieu says that, increasingly, arenas are being built as entertainment hubs, the “jewel box,” so to speak of massive developments that go far beyond any sporting event.

Richelieu, who has taught sports marketing at Laval University and is currently a professor at École des sciences de la gestion in Montreal, says “The rationale behind these real estate projects is to trigger traffic all year round in order for the new stadium complex to become a point of convergence for the community and, in some instances, revitalize a neighbourhood.”

Yeah, no, not so much. With numbers like this, maybe it’s understandable that you’d reach for the Dickens quotes instead.

 

New York state didn’t study value of arena land before selling it to Islanders at cut-rate price

Hey, remember back when I did some quick-and-dirty estimates that showed that the New York Islanders were getting a hugely discounted deal from New York state on land for their new arena, and then Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report did his own estimates that came up with similar numbers? I finally got my Freedom of Information Law request back from the state-run Empire State Development agency, and as I write for this morning’s Village Voice, it turns out that the state never bothered to even do as much as Norman and I did to see if $40 million was a reasonable price for the land or a massive public giveaway:

In response to a Voice Freedom of Information Law request for any land value assessments provided by or to ESD for either the Islanders plot or any neighboring parcels, the agency has replied: “Please be advised ESD has no record responsive to your request.” In other words, Cuomo’s development agency has agreed to lease a prime piece of development land to a consortium of sports developers — and didn’t even check to see how much it could charge in rent for the public property.

The best way to guess at land value, according to property experts, at least when you’re looking at a unique parcel like a giant chunk of state-owned (so not subject to local zoning) racetrack parking lot land, is to look at per-square-foot prices for other vacant land in the vicinity. That method currently comes up with a value of New York state’s giveaway to the Islanders of between $74 million to $300 million — this at a time when the state is grappling with a $4 billion budget deficit. State senator Liz Krueger, who has annually introduced a bill to require improved reporting on all state corporate subsidies, told me she finds it “disturbing” that the state “would go into a 49-year lease with no evaluation of equivalent land lease or sale deals in the same area/county.” I asked ESD for a reason why the agency didn’t do any due diligence in this case, and didn’t hear back; if I get a belated response, I’ll update both here and at the Voice site.

Gary Bettman to hold breath and turn blue if Flames don’t get arena subsidies

The Calgary Flames arena squabble has remained fairly quiet since the Flames owners failed in their attempts to displace Mayor Naheed Nenshi in last fall’s elections, except for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who won’t shut up about it. Since October, Bettman has declared that the Flames’ “sustainability” was being jeopardized by stupid economists who don’t believe arenas revitalize cities just because numbers show they don’t, said the Flames can’t be “viable for the long term” without a publicly subsidized arena, called the lack of forthcoming public funds “very frustrating,” and said that Calgary will never get the Olympics without a new arena, even if the IOC says the exact opposite. As on Friday, he was back on the sustainability tip:

“It’s clear that this building is the oldest building in the league. It’s clear that the team needs a new building. Calgary’s a great market, there are great fans here, but a building is as important a factor as anything else. The team’s competitive situation, financial stability is obviously being impacted with each season that they stay here.”

Bettman said that Calgary used to be a top 10 team that made money for the league, but now over the past few years, the NHL has been the one writing cheques.

“The cheques are getting bigger and that means the situation, financially, continues to deteriorate and that will affect, I suppose, the competitiveness of the organization.”

What does the evidence say? Let’s check out Forbes’ team revenue numbers, which are estimates but have been right on the money when actual revenue data is leaked. Here are the most recent charts from the Forbes Flames page (time moves right to left, so the most recent year, 2017, is at left):

So revenue has in fact been going up pretty steadily, though operating income (profits) has taken a dip as the team ownership started spending more money on players. The Flames have dipped from 13th to 19th among most valuable NHL franchises since 2010, but that’s more owing to other teams boosting their value in the interim than to anything going wrong for the Flames — “they’re still making money, just other teams are making even more now” isn’t usually what normal humans mean by “unsustainable.”

Bettman also said Friday that the Saddledome is costing Calgary concerts that it could otherwise get, because like the Olympics, that is totally the concern of an NHL commissioner:

“I was told that there were 27 acts, some of them multiple days, that have played in Edmonton since the building opened that haven’t played here,” Bettman said. “That goes to the quality of life of the city and that’s an indication as to the differences in the buildings.”

I have other news fish to fry this morning, so I’ll leave this to readers to fact-check. Be sure to check for acts that played Calgary but not Edmonton, too!