Friday roundup: Nashville saves (?) $75m by giving Predators $103m, South Carolina offers to give $125m to Panthers practice facility (?!), Oakland A’s shipping cranes are multiplying (?!?)

Since last week I went off-topic to discuss a review (kindly) poking fun at some of the ridiculousness of Marvel movies, I should note that there’s a TV series that manages to create a fun, exciting superhero universe while simultaneously poking fun at the entire genre in ways that expose not just its ridiculousness but also its fundamentally Manichean politics, and which has now been canceled by Amazon, a company that has been at the forefront of scheming to shake down cities for subsidies in exchange for building its own facilities. Coincidence?!?!?!? Well, okay, yes, almost certainly, but here’s hoping The Tick ends up picked up by a less ethically compromised corporate entertainment giant, if that’s even a thing.

Where was I? Oh right, stadiums, what’s up with those this week that we didn’t get to already?

  • The Nashville Predators have indeed agreed to a 30-year lease extension as first reported last week, and how good or bad a deal it is depends on your perspective: The team’s $8.4 million a year in tax kickbacks and operating subsidies will be reduced to just $4.9 million a year in tax kickbacks, which would be $75 million in taxpayer savings but on the other hand the tax kickbacks will be extended to 2049 now instead of 2028, so that’s $102.9 million in additional taxpayer costs. (Neither figure translated into present value.)
  • A South Carolina legislative conference committee has approved $115 million in tax breaks for a Carolina Panthers practice facility in Rock Hill. Yes, you read that right, a practice facility. State officials say that the 15-year tax kickbacks of all state income taxes will pay for themselves, a conclusion that state senator Dick Harpootlian determined was based on, in the words of the Associated Press, “every Panthers player and coach moving to South Carolina and spending their entire paychecks here and the team buying all the material for the new facility from companies in the state.”
  • Speaking of practice facilities, the Washington Wizards‘ new one is costing $1 million more a year for D.C. to run than anticipated, which is not good after the city already spent $50 million to build the thing for the team’s billionaire owner. D.C. officials recently booked three new concerts for the arena, but expects to lose money on each of them; an Events D.C. board member said they would let “people know that they have a place to go, that this is a fun place,” which I guess is another way of saying they’ll make it up in volume.
  • Omaha is spending $750,000 on hosting an Olympic swim meet, which on the one hand is a lot cheaper than $115 million for an NFL practice facility, and on the other is for a one-time Olympic swim meet.
  • Two unnamed sources tell The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal that New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft is “on the brink of securing a stadium site,” which tells us nothing about the state of the Revolution’s actual stadium plans since this could be a planted rumor to try to gain momentum, but does tell us lots about The Athletic’s poor grasp of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics policy on use of unnamed sources.
  • I wrote a thing for Gothamist about how the New York Mets banned backpacks because they have too many pockets to easily search, but not other bags with lots of pockets, pretty much on the grounds of “the light’s better over here.” The best argument either of the security experts could come up with for the policy is that fewer bags means faster lines which means less time queued up outside stadiums as a stationary target for any theoretical terrorists, which is frankly mostly an argument for staying home and watching on TV.
  • Journalist Taylor C. Noakes notes in an op-ed for CBC News that bringing back the Expos might be nice for Montreal baseball fans, but probably won’t do much for the Montreal economy since “the economic impact of a professional baseball team on a given city [is] roughly equivalent to that of a mid-sized department store,” which, yup.
  • The latest Oakland A’s renderings show it still oddly glowing amid a darkened rest of the city. Plus now there are shipping cranes on both corners of the site! I am about to start working on a theory that this entire stadium plan is just a dodge for John Fisher to build lots of shipping cranes.

Friday roundup: Predators sign possibly non-sucky lease extension, NYCFC stadium rumors reach code orange, and why are we laughing at fat Thor, anyway?

Sorry if I’m posting a bit late this morning, but I started checking Deadspin for any last-minute news, and ended up having to read all of Anna Merlan’s best Avengers: Endgame review ever. If you’re tempted to click that and go read it now, please wait until after reading this post because it will make you forget all about wanting to know about soccer stadium zoning regulations or whatever, and anyway this week’s roundup is relatively short and will let you get back to thoughts on Thor fat-shaming in due haste; if you’re not tempted to click that at all and are wondering how this post went off the rails so quickly, just skip ahead to the bullet points already:

As mayoral election threatens Nashville soccer, hockey subsidies, Predators’ mascot weighs in with key endorsement

When MLS announced that it was awarding one of two new expansion teams to Nashville S.C. last December, it seemed like the city had gotten the nod mostly because it had promised more than $75 million in subsidies for a new stadium. As it turns out, though, neither is now entirely certain — the public funds or the expansion franchise — thanks to, well, let’s let VenuesNow magazine tell it:

Former Mayor Megan Barry championed the stadium project but resigned in March after pleading guilty to a felony theft charge connected to her affair with a former police bodyguard. Mayor David Briley, who took over for Barry, faces a special election May 24, and other candidates have called into question the wisdom of Briley continuing on the stadium path.

Mayoral candidates have questioned allowing the team to take over space next to the stadium for development while Nashville taxpayers shoulder financial risk, candidate Ralph Bristol told local daily newspaper The Tennessean. One, Carol Swain, doesn’t believe the city can afford to fund the stadium, which the team plans to pay off with $25 million up front and $9 million a year over 30 years (ticket taxes are expected to cover the remainder of the yearly debt), and another, state Rep. Harold Love Jr., wants to look at changing the location but wonders whether any money at all should be spent on a stadium.

But can a new mayor undo a decision that the metro council already made last fall? Apparently so, as the council still needs to approve the stadium lease and rezone land at Nashville’s fairgrounds for stadium use. And if it doesn’t, team owner John Ingram warns, MLS could still pull the franchise and give it to another city.

And Nashville SC isn’t the only sports team concerned about Thursday’s mayoral election: The owners of the Nashville Predators, who have been seeking a new lease that would include public money for renovations for their arena, are worried about the outcome as well. So they waded in the only way they know how: By having the Predators’ president and mascot stand side-by-side to endorse Briley for re-election:

I don’t know about you, but when a silent person in a giant sabre-tooth tiger head points at me with instructions on who to vote for for mayor, I pay attention. I don’t know that I do what he says — the only pointing mascot I’ll take political leadership from is Youppi! — but I will certainly stare on, transfixed by the spectacle.

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?

Tennessee taxes visiting players, gives money to Grizzlies, Predators

Grantland’s Zach Lowe explores the strange case of Tennessee’s jock tax, which unlike most such taxes — which are meant to grab a share of salaries earned by visiting athletes playing in your state — is a flat $2,500 per game, up to a maximum of three games a year. And it only applies to NBA and NHL players. And, in a case of Grantland burying the lede a bit, the tax doesn’t actually go to Tennessee at all:

Except the money doesn’t go to the state — another of Tennessee’s jock tax quirks. It goes to the operators of the [Memphis] Grizzlies‘ arena, who happen to also own the franchise, Klempner says. The state doesn’t see a dime, at least not directly. The theory is that arena operators will use the extra cash to spruce things up, draw more celebrated acts, and spend in other ways that will ultimately bring more visitors and money to the Memphis area.

“The state is collecting this money on behalf of a private entity,” [interim head of the NBA players’ union Ron] Klempner says.

The Tennessee jock tax, which also benefits the operators of the Nashville Predators arena (who are, surprise, surprise, the owners of the Predators), was first created in 2009 under somewhat mysterious circumstances: contemporary reports don’t mention that the money would go to the arena operators rather than the state. NBA and NHL players have been griping about the tax ever since, though, and it’s no doubt more of those complaints, from Klempner among others, that prompted this latest Grantland story.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising, in any case, given that Tennessee elected officials already gave the Grizzlies owners a non-compete clause that let them drive a neighboring city-owned arena out of business, plus accidentally gave them a parking garage, and gave the Predators owners $2 million a year in sales tax subsidies without telling their city landlords. Maybe Tennessee newspapers might want to start reading the fine print before these deals are actually signed into law, you think?

Predators to give up secret $2m tax subsidy in exchange for new tax subsidy?

Very strange story out of Nashville, where the Predators may be on the verge of giving back some of a $2 million a year subsidy that nobody even knew they were getting.

Under a new lease first agreed to in 2007 in order to keep the team in town, the city agreed to give the team a $750,000 rent break, a share of non-hockey revenue at their arena, and kick back some of the sales taxes collected at hockey games to the Predators owners — an amount projected to total $4.2 million a year. However, the Predators apparently also got the state legislature to pass a bill redirecting sales taxes from non-hockey events to the team — without asking or even telling their city landlords.

Predators CEO Jeff Cogen now says that the extra $2 million a year in cash was vital to the team — “It put the Predators on solid financial standing that there is no risk of them going anywhere” — and simultaneously that not getting the extra $2 million a year won’t hurt the team at all — “It will challenge us to operate more efficiently and we are up for the challenge.” Of course, he also didn’t say that he’d agree to give up all the money without getting something back — only that the team is working on a new deal with Mayor Karl Dean that will involve less taxpayer money. So long as there aren’t any more hidden clauses, that is.

Predators’ lease to blow up on Nashville?

I can only partly make head or tail of what’s going on here, but: Nashville Predators executives are scheduled to meet with city officials this week to discuss whether the team is in default of its brand new lease on the Sommet Center. At issue is apparently a lien the federal government has placed on principal owner David Freeman for non-payment of taxes, and a lawsuit the team has filed against The Sommet Group to get out of its naming-rights agreement on the arena.

It doesn’t exactly make sense that the city would declare the Predators in default of their lease at a time when they’re trying to hold them to it, but the Nashville Business Journal has a bit more of an explanation:

Authority members are adamant that they do not want to force a showdown with the team by declaring a default, seeking $50 million in liquidated damages and eliminating the city’s National Hockey League franchise. The issue is complicated, however, by the fact that the team may have the ability to exercise an early termination clause later this year, which would require a payment of just $20 million.

In short, if the authority does not declare a default and team decides to leave Nashville anyway, taxpayers would be out $30 million.

Two lessons here: One, don’t give teams out clauses in their leases unless you want them to be held over your heads as negotiating threats (as we’ve seen before). Two, the NHL really will let just anybody become a team owner.