Suns owner: We want to stay put in renovated NBA-only arena, or else … something

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver said a whole bunch of stuff yesterday to AZcentral:

Suns owner Robert Sarver told azcentral sports Wednesday that it’s “highly unlikely” the Suns will pursue a joint basketball/hockey arena with the Arizona Coyotes…

Sarver said his focus is on an upgrade of Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“This facility was built for basketball,” he said…

Sarver said building a new arena would have “maybe made more sense” four or five years ago when the cost estimate was $450 million to $500 million. The costs now, Sarver said, are “significantly higher.” Thus his focus on upgrading Talking Stick, which soon will be the second-oldest arena in the NBA.

“I think it’s the most economically viable alternative for the city and us,” he said. “I like downtown Phoenix. That’s my first preference. I think the NBA is more of an urban game. That’s our demographic.”

Sarver added that he’d like to say in downtown Phoenix but that, “if we can’t, we’ll explore other options.”

During the news conference Sarver said the Suns “have no choice” but to either modernize Talking Stick Resort Arena or build a new arena.

“Our arena is becoming outdated,” he said. “… We have to have an NBA-quality facility. I know that. The city of Phoenix knows that. Hopefully in the next couple of years we can start construction on something.”

Let’s unpack that: Sarver doesn’t want to build a new arena with the Arizona Coyotes because it’d be too expensive, and also he wants to stay in downtown Phoenix, but if he can’t upgrade his current arena there he’ll have to build a new one elsewhere because they “have no choice.”

That’s a big ball of contradictions, unless you take it as all tactical: Sarver is putting all his cards on a renovation of his current Phoenix arena, and wants to use moving elsewhere as a threat, not an actual option. You’d think he’d at least consider sharing digs with the Coyotes as a way to cut down on competition for concerts and things with another arena, but maybe he doesn’t want to have to partner with a franchise that can’t draw flies, or figures maybe the Coyotes will leave town and he can have a monopoly on the winter sports market, either of which is a reasonable enough gambit.

Sarver still isn’t saying much about how to pay for an arena remodel, just restating the “this place is almost 30 years old, time to send it to the Carrousel” mantra he’s been holding to for the last three years. Either he’s working behind the scenes on a funding plan, or he’s hoping state legislators will do it for him — again, either way, an understandable strategy. But eventually he’s going to have to actually say something concrete, at which point you have to hope Phoenix city officials will say: You said you have no choice but to build an upgraded facility and that you want to stay in Phoenix, so what are you going to do if we don’t give you money for it, hold your breath and turn blue?

Boston teens discover that Bruins owner stiffed city on recreational facilities for 24 years

A group of Boston teenagers trying to find funding for a new community hockey rink and stumbling upon a 24-year-old plot by the owners of the local sports arena to scam city recreational facilities out of money sounds like the best YA novel ever — and it is. Or would be, if not for the fact that it all totally happened:

The discovery was the result of a painstaking search that involved a civics lesson in legislative sausage-making, the close eye of a neighborhood activist, and a bit of detective work by several determined teenagers…

[In 1993,] Jeremy M. Jacobs, the developer of the new Boston Garden, ultimately agreed to hold three charity events a year, with net proceeds going to the Metropolitan District Commission, which maintained the city’s recreational facilities, such as pools and skating rinks…

[Michael Reiskind, a longtime member of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council,] shared his recollections with Ken Tangvik, director of organizing and engagement for the Hyde Square Task Force, during an April meeting on the development site…

Tangvik, who said the tip “was a gift,” then deployed his youth organizers to look up the Massachusetts laws enacted in 1993, and they found, “An act furthering the establishment of a multi-purpose arena and transportation center.” One section of the law stated, “The new Boston Garden Corporation . . . shall administer . . . no less than three charitable events per year . . . and shall pay the net proceeds . . . to said Metropolitan District Commission.”

The students were astounded.

“Let’s just read this one more time,” [Lorrie] Pearson recalled thinking.

In short: For the last 24 years, Boston Garden (now named after some bank or something) has been supposed to be holding three charitable events a year, and giving the proceeds to city recreational facilities. Instead, it’s been holding, um, none. So that’d be a 72-charitable-event backlog, which the youth organizers are hoping they can use to convince the arena’s owners Delaware North (run by Jeremy Jacobs, owner of the Bruins) to kick in some money toward a new community hockey rink in Hyde Square, something the neighborhood and surrounding poor communities have been without since two local ice rinks were closed because of disrepair in the ’90s.

Hopefully that will happen, but in the meantime: How the hell did a multi-million-dollar contractual obligation of the Bruins’ owner go unnoticed by everyone in city government for 24 years? If 17-year-old kids can read the legal language and figure it out, you’d think so could anyone at City Hall, no? If I’m at the Boston Globe, at least, I’d be calling every budget director for the last two decades and pointing out that they just got shown up by a bunch of meddling kids.

New Coyotes CEO: Arena deals are like vampires, this is a totally good metaphor to use

New Arizona Coyotes sole owner Andrew Barroway and his new CEO Steve Patterson opened their mouths this week and lots and lots of words fell out, so let’s get right to them. First, Barroway:

“We’re going to get a new stadium here. It’s just a question of when,” Barroway said. “We’re going to make it happen. I think we’ve put the people in place to get it done, I can tell you we are aggressively pursuing all options and we have to make it work. We don’t have a choice.”…

“Failure’s not an option. We have to get it done.”

That’s all more or less meaningless, unless you take Barroway literally at his word and think, “You have to get it done, one way or another? Okay, then, quit asking Phoenix-area governments to help you with subsidies, since you have to get it done even if it requires paying with your own money, right? Also, it’s an ‘arena,’ not a ‘stadium,’ you bozo.”

And now, Patterson, who was picked for the job in part for his experience shepherding sports venue deals for the Houston Texans and Portland Trail Blazers:

“I think any professional franchise needs an arena that suits the needs of the fan base and can provide a best-in-class experience. … I recognize there’s a lot of hard work to do, but I’m optimistic we’ll have a second generation of Coyotes fans growing up here in the desert.”…

“Arena deals take time, talks and negotiations. They’re kind of like vampire movies. You go to the coffin a dozen times and you think they’re dead, but they keep rising back up. Every single deal I’ve been involved with was thought to be dead a dozen times and then it rose back up.”

Vampires. You know, soulless creatures of evil that you have to stake through the heart to be sure they don’t rise up and kill you? Those things. We gotta get us one of those, and failure is not an option.

The Coyotes arena situation is going to continue to provide entertainment value at least until Phoenix becomes uninhabitable, guys.

A ticket tax would be the least bad thing about the godawful Blue Jackets arena bailout

Nationwide Arena, the county-owned home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is still barely bringing in enough money to pay operating costs, something that has been a problem for years now, ever since the city, county, and state teamed up to bail out the team from its money-losing private arena construction deal. Now, the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority is proposing a solution: adding a ticket surcharge to build up a surplus to pay for any unexpected repair expenses.

There are probably those among you reading this thinking, “Those bastards! First they take a money-losing arena off the hands of a private sports team, now they’re forcing fans to pay for it with higher ticket prices!” It’s a reasonable enough response, but it’s dead wrong — at least the last part is. Allow me to explain why.

So you’re the head of the ticket sales office for a not-overly-popular NHL team. (Or a super-popular one — it doesn’t matter for our purposes here.) Your job is to figure out how much you can charge for tickets that will make your bosses the most money possible. Selling more tickets doesn’t really cost you anything — you may have to hire a few extra concessions workers for the night, but it’s not like you have to manufacture more hockey — so your calculus is just: How far can I raise prices before fans decide to stay home and watch on TV?

Now, let’s add a ticket tax to the mix — say it’s $2. If you were charging $50 previously for a certain tier of seats, that’s because you figured that $51 would drive enough fans away that it would end up costing you money. So do you now add $2 to that $50, and charge $52 a ticket? Only if you’re an idiot — we just said you’re going to bring in less money if you charge more than $50, remember? So the only solution is to keep charging $50, and eat the $2 ticket tax yourself.

It’s a bit counterintuitive, because it doesn’t work that way in other economic realms — add a 1% sales tax, and stores don’t all cut their list prices by 1%. But those are for good that actually cost something to procure — if you sell one less of them, that’s one less that you have to buy from the wholesaler — and besides, if consumers choose not to shop at your store (or restaurant or whatever), they’ll still have to pay the same tax if they do something else that evening. Unless people are so desperate for hockey that they’ll pay any price to see it, you’d be insane to do the same for tickets — and if the fans are that desperate, you should be raising ticket prices already, with or without a tax.

There is much that is terrible about the Blue Jackets arena deal: Taxpayers essentially took responsibility for the arena’s losses for no damn reason after the team had initially built it with private money, and now it’s left for the city and state to squabble over who’ll pick up the check. But whenever you hear “ticket tax,” remember, that’s a good thing for fans and taxpayers alike — because the peculiar economics of sports venues means that it’s really a stealth way of sticking it to the team owners. Say, is there anything in the Blue Jackets’ lease preventing the facilities authority from setting fees at, say, $20 a ticket to get taxpayers some of their money back…?

Long Island officials launch campaign for Islanders to return to “modified” Nassau Coliseum

I ended up missing last night’s state senate public hearing at the Elmont Public Library over plans for a possible New York Islanders arena near Belmont Park racetrack — which turned out fine, as most of it sounds to have been taken up by Islanders fans eager for the team to move to new digs closer to the Island. (Which is fine and expected and all, just, you know, expected.) Besides, the big news of the day was that the Nassau and Suffolk county legislatures have scheduled a joint news conference for Friday to propose that the team move back to Nassau Coliseum:

The Nassau Legislature wrote to Islanders’ owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin last month asking them to “give the idea of returning the team to its true home every consideration possible.” Members of the Suffolk Legislature sent a similar letter to the team and National Hockey League.

The lawmakers want Nassau Events Center, which spent $165 million to renovate the Coliseum, to increase the capacity of the 13,900-seat arena make it capable of hosting an NHL team.

“We have been assured by NEC that they are very willing to make necessary modifications to accommodate an NHL team,” the Nassau letter reads.

That is all slightly strange, seeing as that Nassau County presumably wouldn’t care whether the Islanders played at Nassau Coliseum or in Elmont, both of which are in the county. (Suffolk residents might prefer the Coliseum site slightly since it’s about five miles closer to them, but enh.) But clearly somebody in a position of influence has bringing the Islanders back to Uniondale on their agenda, and both county legislatures are on board.

Very much not on board is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who previously called Nassau Coliseum “not a long-term option” for the Islanders. But maybe if the newly renovated Coliseum got another round of renovations? Paid for by, um, somebody? Presumably not the people running the Coliseum, since they’re the same people who are the Islanders’ current landlords in Brooklyn — though maybe this could be some kind of weird ploy to get the Islanders out of the Barclays Center to clear dates for more lucrative concerts and at the same time fill dates in Nassau, but if so why do they need the legislatures to step in when they’re already negotiating with the Islanders owners and … you know what, this is way more tea-leaf reading than is worth attempting. Let’s just wait till Friday’s press conference, and wildly speculate then instead.

Detroit officials fight to block arena lawsuit withdrawal, say they want to be sued, dammit

The tale of the Detroit city clerk candidate and former school board member who sued the city over spending money on a new Red Wings and Pistons arena without a public vote and then asked for the case to be dismissed when threatened with financial sanctions has gotten even weirder, with the city of Detroit now demanding that the federal judge in the case allow them to continue to be sued:

Calling it a “cynical attempt” to put the project at risk, the defendants argue in a Wednesday filing in U.S. District Court that the plaintiffs haven’t met the standard for a voluntary dismissal and the request should not be granted.

[D. Etta Wilcoxon and Robert Davis] filed a motion Saturday to drop the suit without prejudice. Davis said the plaintiffs instead were focused on a separate case they filed against Detroit’s school district and its board that he said will ultimately decide whether voters should have a say in the bonds being used for modifications to the arena.

But any litigation, no matter how frivolous, threatens to interfere with the timely funding of the project and creates the “very real possibility” that the Pistons could cancel their planned move from Auburn Hills to Detroit, attorneys for the defendants argued in a court filing Wednesday.

The excuse here is an upcoming NBA owners meeting next Tuesday at which the Pistons‘ move to the new downtown arena is expected to be on the agenda; not having the lawsuits resolved by then would create “havoc,” say the city’s lawyers. Instead of having the suit withdrawn, they want it dismissed — which presumably wouldn’t stop Wilcoxon and Davis from proceeding with their separate suit against the school board, but maybe the NBA doesn’t care so much about that. Or maybe the city lawyers just want to retain the option of financial sanctions against the plaintiffs, to scare them out of suing at all? Let’s not worry about that right now, and just enjoy the spectacle of a city insisting on its right to be sued, because that doesn’t happen every week.

Lawsuit-loving former school board member drops one Red Wings arena suit, files another

The lawsuit against using city tax money to fund $300 million toward a new Detroit Red Wings and Pistons arena has been dropped, after a federal judge refused to issue an injunction against the spending. Also, hasn’t been dropped, because the plaintiffs are going ahead with another suit, this one against the school board?

[Activist Robert] Davis said another federal lawsuit he and [City Clerk candidate D. Etta] Wilcoxon filed Tuesday against the Detroit Public Schools Community District seeks to force a vote on the public funding.

“There is no decision on the merits,” Davis said of the lawsuit’s dismissal. “All of these issues are going to be determined in the DPS case.”

What seems to have happened is that the Detroit Development Authority filed a motion on Friday seeking sanctions against the plaintiffs for filing a frivolous lawsuit, so they decided to go after a different public agency instead. It’s not immediately clear how suing the school district would force a public vote, since they’re not the ones spending the money, but hey, I am not a lawyer, so it’s possible this is just a legal maneuver that allows the case to move forward. Though it’s also possible this is just grandstanding by a city clerk candidate and a guy who loves lawsuits so much he sued his union for back pay after they fired him when he was convicted of embezzlement. If I choose not to cover this story much going forward, you’ll understand why, right?

Friday roundup: What arena glut looks like, and other news of our impending doom

Hey, I like this Friday news roundup thing! Let’s do it again:

  • A public hearing has been set for Elmont Public Library on July 10 to discuss the possibility of a New York Islanders arena near Belmont Park racetrack. Team owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin won’t have to submit their actual bid until after that, so who knows what everyone will be commenting on, but I’m going to try to go and report back, if I can figure out what time the hearing is, a detail that none of New York’s myriad news agencies seem to have reported on.
  • There’s a thing called the Canadian Premier League, apparently, though it’s more destined to be a second-tier league (think USL of the North) that can serve as development for Canadian soccer players. Anyway, assuming this gets off the ground, Halifax has approved plans for a privately funded 7,000-seat “pop-up” stadium on a public soccer pitch, which will be taken down once the season is over so regular folks can use the field — park users are a little gripey, as you’d expect them to be, but all in all it’s a far cry from the kinds of demands that minor-league soccer teams in the States are issuing, and promises to be far less of a disaster than most of the other things Halifax is known for.
  • Two out of three Hamilton County commissioners agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements before receiving details of FC Cincinnati‘s soccer stadium proposal, because it was the only way they could find out about the team’s plans. Apparently being on the deliberative body that will be deciding whether to give your team gobs of money just doesn’t hold the same kind of sway that it used to.
  • The Atlanta Hawks owners are considering building a mixed-use project around their arena similar to what the Braves did around their stadium, which Mayor Kasim Reed says is the result of the city handing over $142.5 million in renovation funds, no, I don’t understand that either. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution further reports that a new state law would allow local governments to kick back sales taxes to help pay for development in so-called “enterprise zones,” and okay, now it all starts to make sense.
  • One of the Detroit city councilmembers who voted to approve $34.5 million in subsidies for a new Pistons practice facility says she’s considering changing her vote after being deluged with complaints from constituents, but also said she believes the objections are “based on misinformation that I plan on trying to address or clarify at this public meeting on Friday,” so, we’ll see.
  • And finally, here is a photo showing three past, present, and future NBA arenas all side-by-side, because this is what 21st-century America thinks is a rational use of land, resources, and carbon footprint. Future alien visitors who find this as a relic of the civilization that once was, we can’t really explain it either.

Court rules Detroit can spend tax money on Red Wings arena, because they already pinky-swore

A federal judge has refused to impose an emergency injunction against Detroit using tax money to pay off construction debt for the new Red Wings and Pistons arena without a public vote, on the grounds of “OMG won’t anyone think of the city’s bond rating?!?”

In his opinion, federal Judge Mark Goldsmith said the plaintiffs ultimately failed to establish why an emergency injunction was needed.

“The loss of  anticipated commercial activity connected to the Detroit Piston’s downtown presence would be regrettable, but the loss of the city’s hard-won creditworthiness caused by defaulting on existing bond obligations would do catastrophic damage to the status quo,” Goldsmith said.

This is, needless to say, a dangerous precedent, since it would mean that cities could go ahead and sell bonds without being sure they’re legally allowed to pay them off, figuring that no one will stop them after the fact for fear of harming the city’s credit rating. (Which cities are already doing, of course.)

The plaintiffs can still continue with the court case, and have indicated that they will — as well as filing a state court action to stop the Detroit city council from approving funding for the Pistons’ practice facility, as it is expected to do today — but if the courts keep ruling, “Too late, the getaway car has already left and it would be too much of a mess to chase it down now,” it’s hard to see how court challenges will do any better down the road. There’s a long tradition of this kind of thing in Michigan — the Tigers‘ new stadium was funded in part by the governor funneling off state money without legislative approval and courts later ruling, “Enh, water under the bridge” — but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing when courts rule not on the basis of the law but on the basis of who will be most inconvenienced.

Stadium architects dream of holographic players, and other Friday news

Hey, know what we haven’t done in a while? A Friday news roundup. Let’s do one of those now!

Happy weekend, everybody!