Nashville to explore cost of upgrading Titans stadium, Predators arena

The city of Nashville is considering spending $355,000 to assess the condition of the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators‘ venues, to determine what future maintenance and upgrade costs are likely to look like:

It comes as Metro is on the hook for up to $11 million to pay for a range of maintenance upgrades over the coming years to fulfill the city’s contractual obligation to the Tennessee Titans under a 1997 stadium deal that lured the NFL’s Houston Oilers to relocate to Nashville. That figure is on top of the $15 million Metro spent this past year to cover a replacement of all seats inside the 18-year-old stadium…

“I think if we have a benchmark (on costs) to start with, I think it will give us all a comfort-level, and then we can get into the political discussion about how we’re going to pay for it and what the best options are going forward,” [Nashville Chief Operating Officer Rich] Riebeling said.

“We’re seeing the obligations grow and we know that,” he said of Nissan Stadium. “This isn’t going to change. It’s an older building. You look around and it’s hard to believe that it’s getting on 20 years old, but it is. So we’ve got to start thinking about this.”

On the one hand, this is a perfectly reasonably thing to do: If you’re on the hook for future building upgrades, you probably should be thinking about what they’re going to be before the bills come due — and even, maybe, thinking about whether it’d be cheaper to replace the building than to repair it. (Almost certainly not, but it’s worth looking into.)

On the other hand: Who on earth thought it was a good idea for Nashville to be on the hook for future upgrades to their sports teams’ venues? In the normal world, either one of two things happens when a building is built: Either the people who are actually getting use out of the place own or operate it, and have to pay when the seats wear out and they want new ones; or the owners charge increased rent to cover the cost of upgrades. Nashville did raise ticket taxes in recent years to help pay for venue improvement funds — and as we’ve discussed before, ticket taxes mostly end up coming out of team owners’ pockets — but that’s not quite the same as actually getting to pass along the costs of upgrading buildings that are of zero use to the public if nobody’s playing there.

Anyway, let’s hope that this is a legit study, and not just a gambit for somebody to start arguing, “Hey, the Titans’ stadium is almost 20 years old, let’s build a new one, or at least do major renovations on the public’s dime!” But that never happens, right?

Calgary residents split on $1B-plus subsidy plan for Flames and Stampeders venues

There’s a new poll out of what Calgary resident think of the CalgaryNEXT plan to build a new combined arena-stadium venue for the Flames and Stampeders, and it looks like this:

  • 19% strongly support the CalgaryNEXT project

  • 21% somewhat support CalgaryNEXT

  • 15% somewhat oppose CalgaryNEXT

  • 25% strongly oppose CalgaryNEXT

  • 20% unsure

That’s close to an even split, though the opponents feel more strongly about their opposition than the supporters do about their support. It’s actually more support than I would have expected, given that a city report estimated it would cost the public between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion and Mayor Naheed Nenshi has summed up the plan as “a lot of money that we don’t have,” but it’s apparently right where numbers have been polling for a while now, so “split” seems a fair assessment for now. The headline news appears to be that the opening of the Edmonton Oilers‘ new arena hasn’t gotten Calgarians green enough with envy to reconsider the finances, which I guess these days qualifies as good news.

Islanders can actually leave Brooklyn in 2018, this is gonna be fun

So it turns out the New York Islanders lease doesn’t actually say the team can opt out of its Brooklyn lease after four years as previously reported — Newsday has discovered it says the Islanders can leave after three years or four years, as they so choose:

After the Islanders finish their second season in Brooklyn, the two sides have until Jan. 1, 2018, to renegotiate the terms of the current deal. If no new deal is reached, the two sides can stay with the current deal or choose to opt out. Each side would have until Jan. 30, 2018, to deliver an opt-out notice in writing.

If the Islanders decide to opt out, the team can choose to leave at the end of either its third or fourth season. If Barclays triggers the opt-out, the Islanders would have to leave after the fourth season. The team just completed its first season in Brooklyn in May.

The two sides need to be engaged in “good-faith negotiations” for either side to trigger the opt-out, but, of course, that’s what this opt-out would be all about: The Islanders’ new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, who haven’t been quiet about their “challenges” they say their team faces at the Barclays Center, want a renegotiated lease that gives them either a bigger cut of revenues or more hockey-friendly renovations of some kind or both, and there’s been talk that they might build their own arena in Queens or Long Island or even move back to Nassau Coliseum to create leverage.

That would be complicated, though, notes Newsday, by the clause requiring good-faith negotiations: It means Ledecky and Malkin couldn’t agree to a new arena deal before January 2018, and there’d then be no way to build an arena by fall of 2019 in time for the team to move. So the Islanders would presumably have to play somewhere else for a year or two — Nassau Coliseum would be available, but undersized for the NHL in its new configuration, though the Barclays Center is also undersized, and it would only be for a couple of years, so…

All this is no doubt going to be lurking in the background whenever the Isles owners and Barclays Center (and Brooklyn Nets) owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s people sit down to start those lease talks. Ledecky and Malkin don’t have great leverage, but they do have some leverage, so we’ll just have to see what they do with it. A couple of things are for sure: Former owner Charles Wang was apparently lying when he called the Islanders’ 25-year lease in Brooklyn “ironclad,” and he wasn’t such a terrible negotiator after all.

Quebec arena still set to lose money, will be mostly empty all winter

Hey, how’s it going in Quebec City, which opened its new hockey arena one year ago with little fanfare, since it didn’t have a hockey team to play in it? What’s the scoop, Globe and Mail?

It’s early to start bandying terms such as “white elephant”

Oh, that really doesn’t sound good.

In short: The Centre Vidéotron (named for a cable company that’s part of Quebecor, the company that owns operating rights to the arena and also is hoping to land an NHL team eventually) is having trouble filling dates (it only has a measly 12 nights booked with concerts between September and March) and losing money on operations. The arena ran up about $1.4 million in red ink in the four months of 2016 that it was open, half of which has to be covered by Quebec taxpayers according to the arena lease agreement — so it still has a shot at costing taxpayers their entire lease payment from Quebecor, as was projected in June. And, of course, it’s doing nothing to help pay back the roughly $300 million in construction costs that Quebec residents are on the hook for.

Eventually, once the Canadian exchange rate recovers, Quebec will probably get a new NHL team (because Quebecor is almost certainly willing to throw half a billion dollars at the NHL for one, and the NHL is almost certainly willing to take its money), and then everyone will be happy, or at least hockey fans will, which is close enough to “everyone” in the case of Quebec. But man, is this turning into a money pit in the meantime.

Ex-Edmonton mayor: If I hadn’t given Katz $300m, Oilers might have moved … somewhere

With the Edmonton Oilers‘ new $676 million arena set to open next month, there’s lots of attention being paid to the roughly $311 million that taxpayers are kicking in towards the cost, and whether the public is getting a good enough deal for its money. But former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, who approved the arena plan, tells CBC News that he was negotiating with a gun to his head:

“Anytime I thought that it wouldn’t happen, I was always worried that we’d end up losing a hockey team. … I think it was a big, big card that the Katz Group were able to play. In most negotiations, the city always has the upper hand, because we control the world around us. In this instance, we did not control the world around us. … To take any chance of losing that team would have been a big mistake.”

I’m not sure what Mandel is talking about with “most negotiations” — in pretty much every negotiation with a private business, there’s at least the implied threat that it will leave town, which is how we got into this whole mess — but let’s take a walk down memory lane to see how much of a threat it was that Oilers owner Daryl Katz was going to take his team and walk if he didn’t get $300 million in city cash. Katz flew to Seattle to tour their arena that is too small for hockey, and he mumbled something about needing to secure the team’s “longterm sustainability in Edmonton,” and … that’s about it. Katz’s “big, big card,” if he had one, was certainly never revealed to the public, and if he secretly revealed to Mandel a plan to move the Oilers to Albuquerque if he didn’t get his way, nobody’s telling.

Idle move threats, of course, are incredibly common in sports, for the simple reason that they provide benefits to both sides: The team owner gets a stick to use in negotiations, and the elected officials he’s negotiating with get cover when later accused of giving away the store. (“But we had to approve all that money, or else he was going to leeeeeeeave.”) There’s simply zero evidence, though, that Katz was really going to move the Oilers if his arena subsidy wasn’t approved — he might have thought about it, sure, but finding a better market than Edmonton willing to throw money at his team would have been a tough challenge: Seattle didn’t have an arena to play in (or interest in putting up lots of public funds for one), Quebec is a good bit smaller than Edmonton, Kansas City’s arena manager has no interest in a sweetheart hockey lease, Las Vegas is Las Vegas, etc.

So whatever else you want to say about Mandel’s arena negotiations, he had way more control of the world around him than he makes out — if only because “fine, go play in the street if you like” would have been a perfectly reasonable retort, if only to see what Katz then came back with. (I mean, he came back with flying to Seattle for the weekend to frighten Mandel, but that shouldn’t count.) It’s something that at least a few mayors in other cities have learned to do — come to think of it, CBC News really should have pressed Mandel about this issue, but I suppose self-imposed gullibility is everywhere.

Nassau could try to bring Islanders back to Coliseum, or Post could be on the pipe again

Hey, check it out, it’s yet another unsourced New York Post rumor about the New York Islanders moving somewhere!

Despite the team’s new ownership giving no indication it was open to such a move, county officials are in talks with the team’s current landlord about a move back to the Nassau Coliseum, sources said…

Mikhail Prohorov, who owns Barclays Center, the team’ s current home, and operates the Coliseum — which is undergoing a top-to-bottom $260 million renovation — supports the concept of the Islanders moving back east, two sources close to the situation said.

The Post has a long history of “exclusives” that never panned out, but sure, maybe? “In talks with” just means somebody put in a call to somebody, after all, and with Prokhorov (the Post couldn’t be bothered to spell his name right) running the Coliseum, presumably his people are regularly talking to Nassau’s people anyway. So it’s completely feasible that along the way somebody said, “Hey, if the Islanders wanted to move to Nassau would you be cool with it?” and they said “Sure, whatev.”

The more interesting bit here is tea-leaf reading to try to figure out who among the multiple sides at work would have chosen to leak this to the Post. Nassau County officials? Sure, it lets them remind people they still have an arena (albeit downsized in ongoing renovations) and a bunch of Islanders fans, so why not? Prokhorov? As a gambit to tell the Islanders owners “We don’t care if you’re threatening to move to Queens,” possibly, though that seems a bit convoluted.

The reporter breaking this story is a Post business writer, not a sports writer, so that would tend to indicate government official more likely, but really it could be anybody, including the guy in the next cubicle. It’s all gamesmanship and clickbait right now, so don’t take anything too seriously until it comes with some actual money attached, or at least a named source.

Islanders move threat looks like big game of chicken, doesn’t mean no one’s going over cliff

If you wanted to hear more from me on the subject of whether the new New York Islanders owners will go through with threats to move to Queens if their Brooklyn arena isn’t made more hockey-friendly, you can check out my article at Vice Sports. Short answer: probably not, but it’s at least conceivable; long answer: read the article already!

Writing about the Islanders move threat for Vice also afforded me the opportunity to research teams that spent the shortest time in a new home before skedaddling to greener pastures again:

If the Islanders actually leave Brooklyn after four years, this will be, to be sure, one of the shortest honeymoons in sports history. Not counting expansion teams like the Seattle Pilots or New Orleans Jazz that barely got the shrinkwrap off before they’d been repurposed for a new city, the shortest pit stops I can find are the Milwaukee Hawks (moved to St. Louis in 1955 four years after relocating from Tri-Cities) and San Diego Clippers (six-year stopover between Buffalo and Los Angeles). In the NHL, the record shortest stay between two other homes is the Colorado Rockies, who lasted six seasons after departing Kansas City before ending up in New Jersey with a nickname honoring a mythical winged goat.

I probably should have given honorable mention to the Phoenix Coyotes, who lasted a little over seven seasons in Phoenix before decamping for Glendale — similarly in a beef over an arena that wasn’t built to comfortably house hockey. The lesson hear seems to be that if you’re a hockey team you probably want to play in a hockey arena, and if you’re building an arena and want to be able to host hockey you should probably make it big enough to do so, but I guess owners figure why worry about that now when there’s always time for more gamesmanship later? Or they just don’t think beyond “But I’m mad now!

Islanders owners discussing new arena in Queens or LI, all hell about to break loose

So when new New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky answered questions last week about the team’s future — previously planned to include staying in Brooklyn but playing six games a year in a renovated Nassau Coliseum — by saying “Barclays Center is our home,” I called it “noncommittal,” on the grounds that 1) Ledecky was still pretty gripey about the flaws of the Brooklyn arena and 2) “Barclays Center is our home” could mean either “we would never leave a place with so many important memories made over the last nine months” or “it’s where we live, we have to deal with it until we figure out something better. It sounded like typical owner weasel words, a way to keep your options open without actually saying you wanted to keep your options open.

But even I didn’t expect this, just a week later:

The New York Islanders are in talks with the owners of baseball’s New York Mets about building a hockey arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens, people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’s owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.

That was from Bloomberg News, but the anonymous sources were soon talking as well to Newsday (which cited “two people familiar with the situation”) and the New York Post (just “sources” — the Post doesn’t get too hung up on attribution). The Post’s article also included this tidbit:

But if that doesn’t work out, Islanders owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin could move the team to Elmont, LI, sources said…

A state source confirmed the Islanders have made preliminary inquiries about moving the club to vacant state-owned land near Belmont Park. That is near another parcel being eyed by the Cosmos for a soccer stadium.

With all this, a clearer picture is starting to come into focus. When Ledecky and partner Scott Malkin bought the team from Charles Wang earlier this year, they inherited Wang’s lease on the Barclays Center, which he had agreed to despite the building’s problems for hockey — it was deliberately “value engineered” to be too small for the sport, in order to save on construction costs — because he was sick and tired of fighting with Nassau County officials over a new arena there. They also, however, inherited the opt-out clause that Wang had negotiated to allow the Islanders to break their lease in 2019 — and that’s the kind of leverage that you’d have to be crazy as an owner not to try to use.

So is an arena next to the Mets stadium feasible, and what would it take to build one? The parking lot to the west of Citi Field is already designated for the giant “Willets West” mall, but that’s currently held up in court because the lots are technically still city parkland. Could the Mets try to build an arena instead if the mall is nixed? Would the courts allow that more readily? Who knows?

Then there’s Willets Point proper, to the east of the Mets stadium, a melange of auto repair businesses that the city has been working to seize and evict for years to make way for a mixed housing and commercial development. Could the city agree to incorporate an arena as well? And on either site, would it provide the land for free, and leave it exempt from property taxes, which might be enough to entice the Mets and Isles owners to actually build this thing? And if they did, could it possibly be successful in a metropolitan area already glutted with arenas (Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, the New Jersey Devils‘ Prudential Center in Newark, plus soon the redone Nassau Coliseum) and only so many concerts to go around?

Of course, Ledecky and Malkin may never have to determine if a Queens (or Elmont) arena project is feasible, if they can use the mere possibility as a hammer to get Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to redo Barclays for hockey. The Isles owners haven’t come out and said what “improvements” they want, but to make a genuinely NHL-scaled space you’d need to knock down the entire west end of the structure and build it out another 50 feet or so, which wouldn’t be cheap, and would also entail shutting the arena for an offseason or two and losing out on revenue from those dates. So to get it done would require quite a formidable threat, and “we’re going to take our puck and go to Queens” might be the kind of thing that gets the attention of their current landlords.

Either way, though, it looks like we have a war on, one that’s likely to drag out for months or years as the various combatants (Ledecky and Malkin, Prokhorov, the Wilpons, the city, maybe Elmont) jockey for position and remake alliances. That should at least help tide everyone over until the final season of Game of Thrones.

New Islanders owner noncommittal about playing in Brooklyn, Long Island, anywhere

When developer Bruce Ratner signed a deal in 2013 to take over and renovate the Nassau Coliseum, then-home of the New York Islanders, it included an agreement for the Islanders to play six home games in Nassau even after moving to Ratner’s Brooklyn arena in 2015. Ratner doesn’t own Brooklyn’s Barclays Center anymore, though, and the new co-owner of the Islanders, Jon Ledecky, tells Newsday that he’s not 100% sure he wants to go through with playing home games on the Guyland, either:

“I think the key is neither party’s principal [representative] was there when that deal was made,” Ledecky said at a meet-and-greet luncheon with reporters at 21 Club in Manhattan. “In other words, that deal was between Bruce Ratner and Charles Wang at the time and now we’re the owners of the Islanders.”

Besides, Ledecky can’t say enough about how great it is to be in Brooklyn, and is totally not considering jumping back to Nassau County when his lease out clause kicks in starting in 2019, right?

“Obviously we’ll never be able to replicate the home feeling of Nassau Coliseum and I think in the first year people longed for that,” he said. “I know I did. Bluntly, I missed the Coliseum.”

But Ledecky was encouraged by the atmosphere in the playoffs, saying he thought it was even louder than the Coliseum got, and he believes Barclays Center is willing to work with the team to make necessary improvements.

“There were challenges last year,” he said. “I would be lying to you if I said there wasn’t. Does that mean you blow up Barclays Center and leave? No. You try to improve the home you have.”

Yeah, that sounds less like “commitment” than like “keeping your options open.” The Islanders are stuck in Brooklyn for another three seasons, and are surely going to try to build a fan base there and figure out how to make hockey work in an arena that was built solely for basketball. If it doesn’t work out by 2019, though, Long Island is still there. If nothing else, it’s leverage to try to get Brooklyn arena owner Mikhail Prokhorov to do some hockey-friendly upgrades — assuming Prokhorov cares about having hockey there instead of booking more concerts. At least it’s nice to see rich guys exerting leverage on each other for once, instead of on the public, so enjoy this while it lasts.

Three weeks after promised arena announcement, Coyotes owner still hasn’t revealed site

It’s now been three weeks since Arizona Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc’s promised announcement of a new arena site for his team, which he met by saying he had one but he wasn’t going to tell anyone where it was yet. Supposedly he was going to tell us all about it once a “real estate agreement” had been worked out, but either the lawyers are still haggling or he was blowing smoke, because there hasn’t been a peep since. Look, here’s an Arena Digest report all about how there’s no news to report!

Tune in next Thursday to see if LeBlanc is still twiddling his thumbs on this. What, you had something better to do this summer?