Friday roundup: Pistons disguise empty seats as other-colored empty seats, Olympics tourism is bad and likely to get worse, Suns have no clue about arena plans, and more!

Off we go! In my case, literally: I’ll be traveling all next week, so if you don’t hear much from me around here, hold tight and I’ll catch up with all the news on my return. In the meantime, keep yourself warm at night with this week’s worth of fresh items:

  • Pyeongchang’s surge in tourism for the Olympics is unlikely to be sustained in future years, according to a study that shows tourism levels quickly drop back to normal, when they even have an Olympic uptick in the first place. (Overseas visitors to London were actually down in the summer of 2012.) Given that you can still walk up and buy tickets to most of this year’s Olympic events, I wouldn’t count on it being an exception to the rule. Hope the locals enjoy all those new hotels!
  • Phoenix Rising F.C. is designing a new MLS-ready stadium on the site of its current temporary stadium on the Salt River Pima reservation, and claims it will pay the whole $250 million cost. That would sure be nice, but then that’s what we were told in Sacramento, too.
  • The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is sponsoring bills in state legislatures that establishing bans on spending public money on pro sports stadiums, which would kick in as soon as 25 states agreed to join the compact. Better they spend on that than on trying to buy Congress, certainly, but as sports economist John Vrooman noted to the Arizona Republic, this wouldn’t stop the other 25 states from continuing to spend to try to lure teams, at which point the whole system would break down. Vrooman said really any legislation needs to happen on the federal level, and “unfortunately for local taxpayers held hostage, that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.” You gotta believe, John!
  • The projected cost to restore Miami Marine Stadium — remember Miami Marine Stadium? — has risen from $45 million to $59.6 million, and Miami has only $50.4 million set aside to pay for it, and yeah, that’s not good.
  • If you were wanting a long, fawning profile of the Golden State Warriors COO in charge of building their new arena, the Associated Press is here to serve. I’m more interested in the accompanying photo of a giant model of the arena, which makes the upper deck seats look kinda crappy thanks to an intervening clot of suites and club seats, but other images that show the end seats make it look not so bad, so I’ll withhold judgment until somebody (maybe even me!) sees the new place with their own eyes.
  • Hey, Phoenix Suns president Jason Rowley, how are your arena plans going? “‘What’s the best solution?’ It hasn’t been figured out yet.” Are you thinking of going in on an arena with the Arizona Coyotes? “There really hasn’t been a whole lot of conversation between us and the Coyotes.” Any hints at all about what your plans might be? “There are so many pieces to an arena conversation that it’s very difficult to identify one thing that would either be a go-forward situation or one thing that would impact where you’re ultimately going to end up.” The Suns have an opt-out in their current arena lease in 2022, so expect more heated rhetoric once we get closer to that date.
  • The Detroit Pistons are putting black seat covers over the red seats at their new arena during their home games, to make it less obvious how many empty seats there are. The covers are removed for Red Wings games, because the Red Wings’ team color is red, so I guess for them it’s not embarrassing, it’s promotion of their brand? The Pistons are also letting fans move down from the upper deck to the lower at no cost to make the empty seats look less bad on television. Hope Detroit is enjoying all that economic development!
  • At least Detroit got lots of local construction jobs from the arena, and that’s one thing no one can take away! Unless you believe the claims of a local construction worker’s lawsuit against one arena contractor, which says he was only hired to meet the project’s 51% local hiring quota and then immediately fired, while at the same time suburban workers were brought in under fake addresses. And even then, city data shows that only 27% of total workers on the arena project lived in Detroit.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says he approves of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ preferred Ybor City site for a new stadium — it’s literally his job to say this, so no surprise there — and has told Tampa business leaders that they need to be “engaged in this effort” because “it’s good for community over the long haul.” He then added, “It’s crucial that we get a facility here that allows the Rays to get more toward the middle of the industry in terms of their revenues,” which pretty much sounds like, Hey, local corporate titans, one of your brethren isn’t making as much profit as he’d like, please give him a bunch of your money so his bank balance looks better, okay? More power to him if that sales pitch works, I guess, but I’m in no way confident it will take a significant bite out of that $400 million-plus funding hole, and remain concerned it’s mostly misdirection so that whenever the Rays eventually go to taxpayers hat in hand, they can say, Look, the business community is already chipping in, you gotta do your part too, capisce?

People are now designing sports venues based entirely on abstract geometric shapes, this is truly the future

Okay, the Tampa Bay Rays may have just won vaportecture for all time, as team owner Stuart Sternberg declared Saturday that he wants his new stadium to look like this:

Or not look exactly like Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi’s 1923 sculpture Bird in Space — it would make for some really short foul lines — but at least use that as “our guiding design” towards a building that will be a “minimalist, iconic, porous facility.” (“Porous” here appears to be a hip architectural term that means “relating to its surroundings,” as coined by Richard Goodwin in his memorably named Porosity: the Architecture of Invagination.)

“We’re going to continue to push the designers really hard,” Sternberg said the day after announcing the Ybor project was the team’s choice for a new home. “If the stadium is done correctly, it’s going to be iconic yet you won’t even know it’s there.”

It’s an invisible stadium, you guys! Or maybe one that’s just so in tune with its surroundings that it disappears into them, like a Mayan pyramid or this guy.

All this, of course, is roughly 50% bluster and 50% misdirection, since the whole point of Sternberg’s current push, what with announcing a stadium site and all with no idea how to pay for it, is to get people all excited about this and hope the sense of momentum gets them to view a multi-hundred-million-dollar funding gap as an obstacle to be overcome, rather than a reason maybe not to do this at all. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board is already down with this, writing on Friday that “significant progress has to be made by the end of the year” because “it will take regional support to ensure baseball remains in Tampa Bay” and this “could be the last, best option.” (To be fair, they also said Sternberg will have to kick in more than the $150 million he’s promised, but still, this is how-do-we-get-it-done-ism in a nutshell.)

In fact, I would dismiss Sternberg’s Brancusi references to just the ravings of a rich dude hoping to sweet-talk the public out of their tax dollars if not for the fact that Madison Square Garden has announced it’s building an 18,000-seat arena in Las Vegas that will be shaped like a sphere, and called, naturally, the MSG Sphere:

This will be for concerts only, no sports, and will cost nobody knows how much, and will feature “high-speed internet at every seat” and “beamforming” technology so that people in adjacent seats can hear different things and 36 miles of LEDs on its exterior that will enable projection of anything they want, including the event taking place inside or even:

A different camera system set up around the city will be able to virtually cloak the dome with real-time images and video of its surroundings, making it seemingly disappear.

An invisible arena. Maybe that way Las Vegas can pretend it doesn’t already have 43 other arenas. Vegas is headed for the Arena Event Horizon any day now.

Friday roundup: Tons of news, but you’ll forget it all once you see that Houston is spending public money on a pro rugby stadium

And in other news that doesn’t involve proposed Tampa Bay Rays stadium sites:

  • United Airlines is spending $69 million on naming rights to the Los Angeles Coliseum in advance of the 2028 Olympics, but IOC rules prohibit corporate names during the Olympics, oops. Hope you enjoy the most expensive college-football naming rights deal in history, United!
  • Hotel revenue fell 16% in San Diego last year after the Chargers left town, but went up 0.2% in St. Louis after the Rams left. I’m not honestly sure what if anything this means — you’d really have to look at hotel revenue on football weekends to do this right, and it doesn’t look like this study did — but feel free to speculate wildly.
  • Did I mention the Yahoo Finance article yet that compares the Amazon HQ2 chase to the competition to host the Super Bowl, and cites me saying that while Amazon will bring more jobs, “that said, there’s almost no way it’s worth the kind of money that cities are talking about”? Well, now I have, enjoy!
  • AL.com has recalculated the public costs of a proposed University of Alabama-Birmingham football stadium and come up with a total of $18.2 million a year — $10.7 million from a bunch of county taxes, $3.5 million from a new car rental tax surcharge, $1 million from other county funds, and $3 million from city funds — not the $15.7 million I had previously reported. UAB and a naming rights sponsor and other private contributors, meanwhile, would only put in $4 million a year, and only for the first ten years. Out of his goddamn mind, I tell you.
  • Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report filed a Freedom of Information Law request to see the competing bids for the Belmont Park site that eventually got awarded to the New York Islanders, and was shot down on the grounds that it would “impair present or imminent contract awards.” Wait, wasn’t the contract already awarded? Will it be okay to ask again once it’s too late to do anything about it?
  • The WNBA’s Chicago Sky are moving to the new DePaul basketball arena that the city of Chicago helped pay for, which I guess is marginally good for Chicago in that it gets to steal a tiny sliver of economic activity from Rosemont, screw those guys, right? (Actually, Rosemont is apparently a gated community, so maybe screw those guys.)
  • A New Orleans Pelicans game was delayed because the arena roof leaked. No one is demanding that a new arena be built just yet that I’ve heard, but given that the current one is 19 whole years old, it’s gotta to be a matter of time, even if this one does have a fire fountain.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates are threatening to sue the city-county sports authority over who’ll pay how much for $10 million in improvements to their stadium, because apparently the people who write these stadium leases are idiots.
  • If you enjoy this site but were thinking, “Wouldn’t this be better as a YouTube video with lots of animated charts?”, Vox has got you covered.
  • The Houston city council has approved spending $3.2 million in tax dollars on a pro rugby stadium for the Houston SaberCats, who are a pro rugby team that is going to play in a pro rugby league, which councilmember Jack Christie calls “a beautiful example of public-private partnerships that we ought to look at in the future, because as far as I have heard, there’s not been one city tax dollar used for this development.” I’m done. Have a good weekend.

Islanders to split games between Brooklyn and Nassau while awaiting Belmont Park arena — which may have a train problem

The New York Islanders made it official yesterday: Until their new Belmont Park arena is ready in 2021-ish, they’ll split time between Brooklyn and Nassau County, with 12 home games (out of 41) at the Nassau Coliseum next season and a total of 48 (out of 82) over the following two seasons. (Though those numbers could also include a few exhibition games; the announcement wasn’t super clear.)

If you’re wondering why the Islanders will still play any games in Brooklyn at all when the team owners hate the place and the feeling is mutual, team owner Jon Ledecky spelled that out:

“To be a max cap salary team you have to maximize revenue,” he said. “The Coliseum amenities are not as good as Barclays. There are over 100 suites at Barclays and less than a dozen here. Nassau Coliseum does not have an optimal situation at this point.”

In other words, we can make more money in Brooklyn, even if our fans hate it and we do too. But at least by splitting the difference Ledecky and his partners can avoid alienating fans further while waiting for that new arena to open.

And, oh yeah, about that new arena: The Village Voice’s Aaron Gordon has been looking at the possibilities for running Long Island Railroad trains there on a regular basis, as Ledecky is insisting the state of New York pay for, and discovered that this may run up against the bounds of the physical universe.

Currently, [Center for Transportation Research at University of Tennessee, Knoxville director David] Clarke says, there are no switches east of Belmont that allow trains to navigate the tracks in such a way that allow them to get to Belmont. The only option using existing infrastructure would be, as Clarke put it, to “zigzag”: overshoot the Y connection by a few hundred feet and then reverse across the switches to get to the Belmont spur. It would be like a three-point turn in the middle of a highway, but for a train.

And it gets worse: The LIRR could install new switches to the east of Belmont Park to avoid this zigzag solution, but thanks to a bridge over a highway immediately adjacent to the racetrack, this would require running westbound trains on eastbound tracks for a long stretch. During rush hour.

Then there’s the problem that even if a defunct rail spur were activated to get fans from Long Island to Belmont, the layout of the tracks would mean most of them would have to switch trains at a little-used station that would need massive upgrades to handle the surge of passengers, and … you know, just read the whole thing, it’s worth it. Suffice to say that when the MTA says it can’t begin to guess how much this will end up costing taxpayers, it probably has good reasons to.

Bettman says Calgary needs new arena to host Olympics, IOC begs to differ

Gary Bettman reeeeeeally wants a new arena for the Calgary Flames that is paid for by somebody other than the Flames owners, yet despite having declared the money-making team can’t be “viable” without one and insisted that “academicians” are wrong about arenas not revitalizing cities just because their “numbers” show that they don’t, he still hasn’t convinced Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi to cough up the dough. So now he’s taken to a time-honored sports tradition: whining.

“The whole problem is, no matter how the city dresses it up, the fact of the matter is they’re looking for the Flames to pay for the whole thing,” Bettman said Sunday.

This is just reiterating last fall’s Flames talking point that because the team would be paying property taxes like any normal property owner, all that money should be counted as a “contribution” to the arena costs, and not just, you know, paying your taxes, because of the Casino Night Principle. That didn’t go over too well the last time Bettman said it, and honestly “You just want us to pay for our own arena that we’ll get all the money from!” doesn’t sound like that much of a complaint, but I guess when you have one arrow in your quiver, you keep going back to it.

Though that’s not really fair, because Bettman has at least one other trick up his sleeve, which is threats — in this case, that Calgary will never get the 2026 winter Olympics without a new arena:

“It may be that an Olympic bid fails cause there’s not going to be a new arena, and clearly if there’s going to be an Olympics in Calgary, which would be great again, they need a new arena,” Bettman said.

Not that hosting the Olympics is necessarily a prize you want to win, but still, that’s an interesting point if tru—

Last Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee assured the city, after examining the facilities, that the Saddledome would be an acceptable venue for both hockey and figure skating at the Olympics.

Oh, Gary. You try so hard. and all you get in return is a $9.6 million a year salary. At least you’ll always have Glendale.

 

Friday roundup: Islanders close to Nassau deal, Olympic stadium to be razed after four uses, and it’s rethink your MLS stadium site week!

And in other stadium and arena news this week:

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!

Islanders owner says Cuomo will use state money for train upgrades to new arena

Newsday’s Jim Baumbach has again sat down with a calendar to calculate when a new New York Islanders arena might open, and again come up with a best-case scenario of the 2021-22 season, if construction can be completed in 26 months after the environmental impact study is done; if it takes longer than that, which is entirely possible, the Islanders might not move into their new home until 2022.

All of which is perfectly reasonable and we already pretty much knew. The more interesting bit is about increased train service to the new development, which Baumbach sheds a small bit of new light on:

ESD has begun talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about increasing service at Belmont’s Long Island Rail Road station, which is only part time. The Islanders’ proposal calls for a full-time station. [Islanders co-owner Jonathan] Ledecky said on WFAN radio Wednesday that [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo also will be involved with the LIRR aspect.

“There’s money in the budget according to the governor and his people,” Ledecky said. “We have to make sure that money gets spent and that station becomes a vital part of the community, not just when there is horse racing and not just when there is a concert or a game. All the time, 365 [days a year], 24 hours a day.”

Cuomo’s office, in response to a request for comment, referred back to a statement last month that said the LIRR “will develop a plan to modify service to accommodate New Yorkers for sporting and special events.” The LIRR reiterated in a statement this week that it is “committed to expanding service” at Belmont but did not offer specifics.

As Aaron Gordon reported last month for the Village Voice, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the LIRR, doesn’t even have a cost estimate for how much it will cost to extend full-time train service to Belmont, but clearly Ledecky is counting on the state to pay for it. Add in the steeply discounted land lease payments and possible breaks on property taxes and the public subsidy for this project has to be considered to fall in the category of “dunno, but it could be a whole helluva lot.” At least there’s a 16-month environmental review before this thing gets finalized; while the state will be focusing on things like how a new arena will affect traffic patterns, I’ll be over here trying to determine how the money will actually work. Stay tuned.

Friday roundup: A’s won’t give up on Laney, Isles could play “some” games at Coliseum, more!

Tons of stray news items this week, so let’s get right to them:

  • The Rhode Island state senate’s finance committee approved $44 million in spending by the state and city of Pawtucket for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, which is what everyone expected, because the real opposition is in the state house. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said that if the bill passes the Senate, “it will be assigned to the House Finance Committee and be given a public hearing,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but then, Mattiello has been saying consistently that his constituents hate this plan.
  • Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval said that the team owners have “identified three final locations” for a new stadium, and … they’re the same three sites the team announced more than a year ago, even after Laney College officials since took themselves out of the running. “We spent a lot of time getting it to three final sites, and those are the sites that are viable,” Kaval told reporters. Props for sticking to your convictions, I guess, but there’s a time to go to a Plan B, and it’s maybe after Plan A told you, “Get offa our lawn.”
  • The city of Liverpool is set to spend £280 million on a new stadium for Everton F.C., four years after saying no to a similar plan, but Mayor Joe Anderson defends the plan as a loan that the team will repay and more. The Guardian reports that “the city council could make £7m-a-year profit from interest charged on a loan of £280m over 25 years, plus extra revenue from business rates and related developments once the stadium is up and running” — which sounds good if the profit is guaranteed just from the loan payments (the city would reportedly have first dibs on Everton team revenue), not so much if it would rely on those “related developments,” which could be stuff that would happen with or without a new stadium. As is so often the case, it all comes down to what that comma means.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman toured Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, after which New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky said he was “confident” that “some games” would be played there while waiting for a new Belmont Park arena to be built, but that playing full seasons there would be “difficult.” So that would imply … some games in Nassau and some in Brooklyn, since the two arenas have the same owner? Some in Nassau and some at Madison Square Garden, which is set to help build the new arena? Some in Nassau and some on a frozen-over East River after that ice age that the American Museum of Natural History seems to think is imminent hits? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • A Unitarian minister writes in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer that if the Charlotte city council is going to spend money on a new Carolina Panthers stadium, it should be required to build affordable housing, too. My theology is shaky at best, so I’m not sure what Unitarianism has to say about a right canceling out a wrong.
  • Speaking of North Carolina, the Hurricanes got a new owner this week, and in his first few hours as head of the team, he didn’t demand a new arena or threaten to move the team without one. Though that may have more to do with the team’s sweetheart lease on its current arena that last through 2024, which had led former owner Peter Karmanos to say in 2015 that “we’d have to be idiots to move from here,” so give the new guy a few more hours, at least.
  • This. You’re welcome.

Islanders may not be ready to open new Belmont arena until 2022

Here’s the latest proposed timeline for the New York Islanders‘ new arena project next to Belmont Park, courtesy of Newsday’s Jim Baumbach:

As Metro NY notes, if the team can’t break ground on the arena until mid-2019, then it might not open until fall of 2021 or even 2022, which would mean a bunch of years playing in an interim home, likely at Nassau Coliseum.

None of this should be any surprise: It’s a project on state land, so has to go through the SEQR process just like the Nets‘ Brooklyn arena did, and that’s a year-plus timeline. If anything, I’d think the arena development group may need the time to get their financing ducks in a row — it’s possible they’ve lined up private loans and such already, but also possible they were leaving that until after they had formal approval to build at the Belmont Park site — not to mention figure out who’ll pay for increased train service to the arena, and how much they’ll pay in payments in lieu of taxes to the state, and how much of a break on the land costs they’ll get courtesy of state taxpayers. Oh wait, that last one is already determined: a whole heck of a lot. One hopes that this year-plus break will give local reporters the time to investigate the deal to see what the likely public costs will actually be, but one doesn’t hope all that hard, given past performance.

Friday roundup: Panthers stadium rumors, Isles temporary arena plans, and Project Wolverine

It’s the first news roundup of 2018! Please remember to stop writing “2017” on all your stadium-subsidy checks.

  • The Carolina Panthers haven’t even been sold yet following owner Jerry Richardson’s resignation amid sexual harassment complaints, and already Charlotte news outlets are wondering where a new owner would put the new stadium that they would no doubt demand. The Panthers’ current stadium is 24 years old. Yes, human civilization is doomed.
  • The Rhode Island state senate has tweaked its Pawtucket Red Sox stadium proposal, giving the city of Pawtucket a flat $250,000-a-year cut of naming rights fees instead of 50% of whatever the team got, and clarifying that the team would pay overruns on construction costs, but not land acquisition costs. The PawSox owners released a statement calling this “encouraging,” while House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he has “sensed resistance with the public” to putting $38 million in public cash into the deal. It looks likely that this is still headed for another Senate-House standoff, in other words.
  • New Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter has a plan code-named Project Wolverine (for Jeter’s home state of Michigan, not the X-Man) that projects windfall profits by getting Fox to give the team a massive new TV deal and attendance to spike despite selling off all his best players. This has nothing to do with stadiums except to remind everyone that giving former owner Jeffrey Loria a new ballpark at taxpayer expense was a waste of close to a billion dollars, and getting Loria to sell to Jeter doesn’t seem to have raised hopes any of having management that isn’t delusional or focused solely on squeezing every last dollar of profit possible from a franchise that will forever be selling off any players as soon as they figure out how to play baseball. Miami might have been better off keeping its money and using it to buy residents plane tickets to go see a real baseball team.
  • NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the league “wouldn’t rule out” the New York Islanders playing games temporarily at Nassau Coliseum while a new arena at Belmont Park is under construction, which makes sense, because why would they? Sure, the Coliseum now only holds 13,000 for hockey games after its renovation, but the Islanders’ current home of the Barclays Center only holds 15,795, and at least the Coliseum doesn’t have its ice all off-center. Plus, the Islanders aren’t drawing even 13,000 a game anyway, so it’ll just be a matter of fewer empty seats until the new arena is opened, which we still don’t know when that would be, do we? It’ll be interesting to see what kind of lease Coliseum owner Mikhail Prokhorov offers to the Islanders owners — on the one hand, they’re threatening to go off and build a new arena that will compete with his, but on the other, he pretty badly wants them out of the Barclays Center, so it’s anybody’s guess.