- Arizona Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall says now that the team has been granted control over their stadium, “we’ve kind of tapped the brakes on” moving elsewhere. “We had urgency before because we didn’t control the stadium,” said Hall, adding, “We’re going to kick the tires around Maricopa County. But we’re going to stay here. My focus is on Arizona. And we’re going to do everything we can to stay at Chase Field.” That’s quite a turnaround from saying that the 22-year-old stadium is in such bad shape they might have to move entirely out of the state to get away from it, but anyway, this looks like a pretty nice upgrade!
- In related news, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno says that now that he’s set to gain control of development of the parking lots around Angel Stadium, he still doesn’t know whether he’ll use the cash to replace the stadium or renovate it or what. It’s almost like team owners just disparage their stadiums in order to get hold of land or other concessions, even if they’re not really that desperate to move, especially when moving would require paying for their own stadium construction! Meanwhile, the city of Anaheim has officially rejected claims that it violated public-meeting laws by holding meetings about the Angels land sale in private, which means that now those who disagree can sue the city, which they’re expected to momentarily.
- The Vegas Golden Knights are set to build their new minor-league arena at the site of the Henderson Pavilion amphitheater, and local residents are all up in arms because nobody warned them and they’re afraid it will bring traffic. Also city officials say this “will be a public/private partnership but we are in the very preliminary planning stages and don’t yet have all the details,” maybe that’s the thing to worry about more than traffic generated by minor-league hockey?
- New Jersey just discovered that the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers used $400,000 in tax breaks in 2016 to pay the fees required for applying for $82 million in tax breaks on a new practice facility in Camden. New Jersey would like its money back now, please — not all $82 million, but just the excess $400,000, because that’ll show ’em.
- Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says that “if things blow through this year and we sell a ton more tickets — a ton,” then maybe he’ll consider keeping the team in Tampa Bay full-time. Sternberg is gonna extort something from somebody, by gum, if he has to threaten everyone in North America!
- People are still hiring Convention, Sports & Leisure to do their stadium and arena impact studies, I honestly don’t know how much more I can warn them.
- “Are stadiums effective engines of economic growth? Simple answer: No.” There’s more to this interview with Davidson College economics professor Fred Smith, but that’s a decent tl;dr version.
- Wake County, North Carolina, is planning to spend $59 million over the next 25 years on a $193 million, 4,000-seat arena and community sports complex, the rest of which would be paid for by … thingy. Anyone who has more information about this project, please start a news site in North Carolina, as clearly none of the few remaining professional journalists on the job there have both time and interest to find out about this one.
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.”
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.
Happy fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, everybody! While you get ready to go to your anniversary parties and dress up as, um, hurricanes, and you know what, this riff isn’t going anywhere, let’s get to the news:
- Had you forgotten about former UNLV basketball star Jackie Robinson’s $1.4 billion retractable-roofed-arena-plus-hotel-plus-other-stuff project just because Las Vegas already has one new arena, he hasn’t — and now says it’s a $2.7 billion project that will include a 63-story hotel, a conference center, a 24-lane bowling alley, and a wedding chapel. No construction has begun yet, but Robinson says it will all be completed by 2020, or else maybe by then it will cost $5.2 billion and include a space elevator.
- Chris Hansen is trying a new gambit to turn attention away from Oak View Group’s KeyArena renovation plan and toward his SoDo new-arena plan, and it involves declaring the OVG plan a “public” and not a “private” process, which would require a longer environmental review process, and if your eyes are glazing over already I don’t blame you, skip to the next item, it’s got juicy if unproven allegations of political corruption in it.
- New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon has given Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 re-election campaign a $65,000 donation that’s twice as large as all other donations he’s previously given the governor combined, and with Wilpon in the midst of looking to get approval from the state for a new soccer stadium Islanders arena (sorry, had a brain fart on this one while typing) next to Belmont Park racetrack … well, you connect the dots. (Or don’t: An Empire State Development spokesperson snapped, “Participation in the political process has zero bearing on any of this and any of these ‘sources’ with questions are free to contact us instead of trafficking in conspiracy theories.”) Bigger question: Fred Wilpon has $65,000 to spare?
- The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof is now set to finally work by March 2018. Probably.
- Nashville held a hearing on its proposed $75 million soccer stadium subsidy deal, and if you guessed that a self-proclaimed soccer mom said it would be a “feather in our cap” while a non-soccer-fan local resident said “you’re asking me to help fund a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar project for another sports team that most likely will not benefit me,” then you’re right on the money.
- The prospective NASL team San Diego 1904 F.C. is planning a stadium that will cost only $15 million because it will be built modularly elsewhere and shipped to the stadium site in Oceanside, but at least they didn’t skimp on the searchlight renderings.
- The chair of Rhode Island’s senate finance committee says he’ll put a halt to the Pawtucket Red Sox‘ $38 million stadium subsidy request if the team owners don’t provide more financial information. It sounds like this is over the team’s internal finances, and could be resolved with a non-disclosure agreement, but still, it’s something to keep an eye on, since projects have succeeded or fallen over pettier things.
- Louisville approved $30 million in bonds to help pay for a new Louisville City F.C. soccer stadium, in exchange for which the team will repay $14.5 million over 10 years, which comes to about $11 million in present value, so the city will only lose $19 million on the deal, unless there’s still plans for as much as $35 million in state property-tax kickbacks via a TIF, in which case this is really a $54 million subsidy for a minor-league soccer stadium. Maybe they should go with one of those modular dealies instead? Just a thought.
As expected, the NHL announced yesterday that it will add an expansion franchise in Las Vegas in 2017, leading to celebration in that city and lots of derisive snorts from people who’ve noted that there are at least half a dozen bigger markets without NHL teams, most of which have a stronger history of hockey support than Vegas. (Seriously, Hartford has more TV households than Las Vegas.) What they don’t have, as I discussed last night in an article for Vice Sports, is a bunch of rich guys willing to sign a $500 million expansion fee check (at least not $500 million in U.S. dollars), and since the rich guys in question include one Florida financier and two Maloofs, there’s at least some suspicion that this is more an attempt to get into the NHL club than a long-term commitment to Las Vegas.
As for the arena angle, the new team (possibly to be called the Black Knights after owner Bill Foley’s financial company, but that’s yet to be decided) will play in T-Mobile Arena, which was privately built by MGM and AEG as part of Vegas’s arena land rush, and which is all new and shiny and apparently exciting to NHL bigwigs. What I haven’t been able to find any record of, probably because it’s a transaction between two private parties, is how much Foley and the Maloofs will be paying the arena as part of their lease, or how long the lease is for, all of which will have a huge impact on the team’s profitability, and on whether the Vegas franchise ends up there for the long haul or follows the Atlanta Thrashers into the long NHL history of failed experiments.
As for cities that didn’t get a team this time around, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman left the door wide open for further expansion, particularly citing the strength of the Quebec application, which was unfortunately undermined by the weakness of the Canadian dollar. Given the glut of billionaires compared to the limited number of major pro sports franchises, the NHL is clearly interested in following MLS’s lead and cashing in on expansion fees while the cashing is good — so if you have half a billion dollars burning a hole in your pocket and a desire to watch hockey from the owner’s box, give them a ring.
A person with direct knowledge of the NHL’s decision says the league has settled on Las Vegas as its choice for expansion, provided organizers can come up with a $500 million US fee.
The person spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because details have not been released by the league ahead of its Board of Governors meeting on June 22 in Las Vegas. Quebec City was also considered for expansion.
A second person who had been briefed on the decision said Las Vegas was a “done deal” following the recommendation of the NHL’s executive committee.
This has been in the works for a while now, though no one could actually believe that the NHL would go ahead with adding just a single team (resulting in continued unbalanced divisions), and that it would be in Las Vegas, of all places. I mean, nothing against Las Vegas, but it’s a very small city, and anything but a hockey hotbed, and — you know what, let’s let Nate Silver tell it, as he did in April 2015 and reprinted yesterday at Fivethirtyeight:
The city has had several professional sports franchises (albeit none from the four or five largest North American sports leagues), and it hasn’t supported them very well.
Consider that the city’s Triple-A baseball franchise, the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League, had the lowest attendance in the PCL last year.
Or that the city’s professional hockey franchise, the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, disbanded earlier this year after years of middling attendance and an inability to find a suitable home arena.
The Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena Football League were relocated to Cleveland in 2007 after five seasons of attendance well below AFL averages. Las Vegas has a new AFL team this season, the Las Vegas Outlaws, but their attendance was poor in their first two games…
If the city has some positives, it also has some negatives, like irregular working hours, middling public transit and abundant competition for the entertainment dollar, which may depress sports attendance.
To their credit, the backers of the Las Vegas NHL franchise, after a monthslong campaign, have gotten commitments from about 11,000 would-be season ticket holders. That sounds impressive until you consider that the Winnipeg Jets sold out their entire allotment of 13,000 season tickets in 17 minutes after the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated there in 2011. Hockey’s a bit more popular on the frozen tundra than in the middle of the desert.
Gary Bettman has spent his entire career as NHL commissioner devoted to the idea that he can increase the value of the league by expanding to areas where people traditionally don’t like hockey, and despite all signs that this was a terrible idea, he’s doubling down on it with this move. At least the other 30 NHL owners will get to pocket half a billion dollars in expansion fees, I guess, but running a league as a Ponzi scheme is … actually, a long NHL tradition, so forget I said anything.
Las Vegas just opened its third arena without a pro sports team to play in any of them, plus it’s considering building a pro football stadium, plus it has yet another arena (with a retractable roof!) that broke ground in 2014 and then has never been heard from again. So you know what that city really needs? Another arena:
[Madison Square Garden] announced Wednesday that it will build a 17,500-seat arena just off the Las Vegas Strip…
The new venue is a partnership among Madison Square Garden Co., Sands Corp., Azoff MSG Entertainment, concert promoter Live Nation and Oak View Group, an entertainment advisory firm.
“This will be a state-of-the-art venue of the future, an entertainment-only venue,” O’Connor told The Times.
On the one hand, this is not entirely crazy, because MSG successfully remodeled the L.A. Forum as a concert-only venue, and certainly they and Live Nation know something about the concert business. (The plan is for this new as-yet-un-price-tagged arena to have all its seats in front of the stage, so really “arena-sized theater” might be a better description.) On the other hand, it is completely crazy, because even if Las Vegas is a huge tourist destination, how many arena concerts can one city reasonably host? Even New York City only has three arenas (four if you count the Nassau Coliseum), and New York has like five times as many people living there as Vegas would have even if you double-booked all its hotel rooms.
This can only end with at least one of the Vegas arenas eventually going out of business. The good news, at least if you believe MSG officials, is that this will involve no public money, so it’s just the sort of crazy land rush that corporations would occasionally engage in even if subsidies didn’t exist. At least in Vegas, because that place apparently makes even corporate bean counters lose their minds.
The new Las Vegas arena built by MGM and AEG with private money (!) opened last night with a Killers/Wayne Newton concert (!!), giving the city three full-sized arenas and no sports teams to play in them. That’s understandably raised concerns of arena glut, something that MGM execs acknowledged but then attempted to hand-wave away because grow the pie:
“Our goal is to get to 100 events at T-Mobile and have no impact on our other buildings,” said Rick Arpin, the company’s senior vice president of entertainment.
That won’t happen right away.
Bookings could drop as much as 20 percent at MGM Grand Garden and Mandalay Bay Events Center in T-Mobile Arena’s first year, Arpin said. The market will “right-size” in the next 12 months, though, as T-Mobile creates events that wouldn’t have existed or come to the market without it, he said.
That includes the long-awaited reunion of rock band Guns N’ Roses, which is christening the arena on its debut weekend with opening act Alice in Chains.
It also includes the residency of country superstar George Strait, who’ll headline the arena with dates in April, September, December and February.
“His engagement wasn’t going to happen without this building. He didn’t have to tour. He was compelled by this proposition,” Arpin said. “You’re going to see more of that.”
Beyond the crazy notion that Guns N’ Roses is reuniting just because Las Vegas built a third arena, let’s take this seriously for a moment: Is it possible that 50% more concerts will come to Las Vegas now that it has 50% more arenas? It’s not like the MGM Grand Garden and Thomas & Mack Center were both so booked to the gills that touring acts couldn’t find a way to play Vegas. Some artists on tour who were going to skip Vegas might be attracted by the lure of a newer venue, maybe, but that many?
We’ll just have to wait and see, I guess. Since MGM is paying for this new building — and owns one of the other arenas in town to boot — it’s not like it’s any skin off our taxpaying noses if it turns out to be a terrible idea. It could have important implications for Sheldon Adelson’s claims that a new heavily subsidized Las Vegas stadium will bring in tons more events, though, as well as an interesting test case for other cities thinking of papering their entire cities with wall-to-wall sports/entertainment venues. Stay tuned.
When the NHL indicated last summer that it could be interested in expanding by two teams in exchange for half-billion-dollar expansion fees, and then only two cities, Quebec and Las Vegas, bothered to submit bids, everybody figured that Quebec and Las Vegas would be getting NHL expansion teams soon. As it turns out, everybody figured wrong:
Former player Georges Laraque told a Montreal radio station yesterday that the NHLPA has been informed that Quebec City is no longer under consideration for a new team, at least not in this round of expansion.
The problem is apparently the weak loonie — no, not that one, but rather the crashing Canadian dollar, which currently sits at 75 cents thanks to low oil prices (Canada produces a lot of oil by digging up all of Alberta and running it through a sieve). So despite a relatively strong fan base, an ownership group led by the former prime minister, and a new arena with around $300 million in public subsidies, the NHL has apparently decided that Quebec will need to wait on the sidelines until it can confirm that it will generate more than Monopoly money for league coffers. (“Apparently” because the NHL has denied it, but only with a “no final decisions have been reached” no-comment denial.)
So what does that mean for Las Vegas, which initially sounded like the even-crazier expansion idea? Will the NHL really go ahead with adding just one team, in a market that would be the league’s smallest and most desert-surrounded? The NHL has refused to issue any timetables for expansion, so who knows? It’s entirely possible that the league could just go back to the drawing board and issue a new call for expansion bids — after all, if you’re going to get a bidding war going, you really want more than two cities going after two slots. You can smell the excitement in Seattle already!
How sad is the state of journalism in the year 2015? Sadder than the fact that the Las Vegas Review-Journal, an ostensible newspaper that reports on news, ran an article with the headline “10 cool things about the new Strip arena,” because we know these kids today like listicles, or something. No, the sad part is how low the R-J’s bar is for cool:
5. T-Mobile is rumored to have landed the arena naming rights, but company officials are not commenting. Talk of Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship buying the name appears to have gone nowhere.
That’s right, Vegas sports fans: It’s cool that your new arena will be named after a cellphone company. Wooooooooooooo! Hey, maybe it’ll even have a cool nickname, like, uh, like, “the T.” That’d be cool!
Other things noted as cool include the fact that luxury suite owners will be able to walk from their cars to their seats via a special bridge so as not to have to hobnob with the hoi polloi, and that Toshiba will be installing face-recognition video cameras to send fans customized digital ads and then measure how long they stand staring at them. (No word on whether Toshiba’s cameras can distinguish staring in fascination and staring in horror.)
The top-ten list does include the fact that MGM and AEG are paying for the arena without public subsidies, which is cool, though in a truly cool world it would just be business as usual. That is not the world we live in, though, so one-tenth of a yay.
The L.A. Times ran an article on progress on Las Vegas’s new arena on Saturday for some reason — possibly because AEG, owner of the Kings, is building it, or possibly just because it was Saturday and they needed to fill space — and there are two main reasons to click through:
- A promise of a link to a time-lapse construction video, though all I could find was a webcam of what the arena looks like right now and a video of the groundbreaking that mostly featured a woman in a bikini and a giant shovel.
- This wonderfully glass-half-full observation, buried in the final paragraph: “Selling hockey in Las Vegas will present challenges in a city built on gambling and lofty dreams, especially after the novelty of a new franchise wears off, and other professional sports leagues are sure to monitor this venture closely. Las Vegas has always been good at reinventing itself, and transforming itself into a hockey city might be its boldest experiment yet.”
Translation: Hockey in the desert hasn’t worked well before, and Las Vegas is a heck of a lot smaller than Phoenix, but Vegas has shown a propensity for just tearing stuff down that doesn’t work and building new stuff, so sure, why not give it a try? I’m still a bit puzzled why AEG is going ahead with funding a $350 million arena with its own money when it’s only projecting at best 140 events a year at the place, and 200 is the more typical breakeven point, but hey, it’s not my money. So long as they don’t ask for a bailout if and when it doesn’t work, that is.