Islanders owner: We’re totally going to move to Belmont, someday, somehow

We still have zero details on how the New York Islanders owners’ plan for an arena at Belmont Park would work, but co-owner Jon Ledecky nonetheless gave team beat writers the hard sell on it yesterday:

“We are locked and loaded on Belmont,” Ledecky said Tuesday at a luncheon with Islanders beat writers. “We have the blinders on for Belmont. We’re not looking at other places, other things, other opportunities. We want to make Belmont a reality.”

Great! Visualization is the first step, right?

More interesting is the tidbit buried deep in the article that the Islanders need to decide whether to opt out of their Barclays Center lease in January, but the state Empire State Development agency hasn’t announced when it will make its decision on the Belmont land. This means Ledecky and friends could be in the position of having to decide to terminate the lease without knowing when and if they’ll get a site for a new arena — which would at the very least leave the franchise having to negotiate a new lease extension in Brooklyn from a position of crappy leverage. Though since it’s a mutual lease out clause, I suppose if the Barclays Center owners want the leverage, they can just cancel the lease themselves and be done with it.

Meanwhile, Ledecky and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark are keeping up their war of words over which is more economically useless, the arena or the Islanders:

While I’m dying to find out the financial details of the Isles’ Belmont plan, I’ve gotta admit that this is a lot more fun.

Friday roundup: Raiders talk lease extension, Rams attendance woes may set record, and more!

Here’s what you missed this week, or rather what I missed, or rather what I saw at the time but left till Friday because there are only so many hours in the week, man:

NYCFC, Islanders to go head-to-head for Belmont Park land as potential new home

Today is the deadline for responses to New York state’s Request For Proposals for redeveloping a plot of land near Belmont Park racetrack just outside the New York City border, and it looks like the Islanders are going to have some sports competition for their arena plans after all:

New York City FC, the pro soccer team partly owned by the Yankees, is preparing the submit a bid to build a soccer stadium on the state-run property in Elmont, Long Island, near the Queens border, sources told The Post Monday night…

NYCFC would partner with developer Related Co. in its proposal, sources said. … The Islanders bid is expected to include teaming up with Sterling Project Development, which is controlled by the majority owners of the Mets; and Oak View Group, which is backed by Madison Square Garden, owners of the NHL’s Rangers and National Basketball Association’s Knicks.

The state Empire State Development Corporation told me it won’t be releasing the RFP responses, so we’re going to have to depend on whatever the Islanders and NYC F.C. tell us about their plans, which isn’t likely to be much. (Though I do eagerly anticipate some wacky renderings with lots of fireworks going off.) The prospect of two sports franchises going at it for the same land at least raises the possibility of a Seattle-style bidding war here, which could only be good for New York state taxpayers. More news, and pretty pictures, tomorrow, I hope.

This week in boondoggle vivisection: Plenty of good seats available in SF, Cleveland, Ottawa

We’ll get to the weekly news roundup in a minute, but first, I need to mention this editorial from yesterday’s Globe and Mail, which makes several eminently reasonable points about how Calgary shouldn’t capitulate to the Flames owners’ extortion attempts for arena cash (“using past bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions does not qualify as logic,” “arena financing is a hamster wheel, and here is an opportunity to jump off”), and then says this:

Everyone involved should take note of a remark this week by Neil deMause, renowned stadium boondoggle vivisectionist and creator of the fieldofschemes.com website: “The number of mayors who’ve been voted out of office for standing up to sports team subsidy demands remains zero.”

That’s right, I am a major-newspaper-certified renowned boondoggle vivisectionist, y’all. Clearly it’s time to order some new business cards.

Okay, the rest of the week’s news:

  • The Los Angeles Rams aren’t the only California team having trouble getting fans to turn out for games in the September heat: The San Francisco 49ers are seeing so many empty seats on the sunny side of their stadium that they’ve hired architects to see if it’d be possible to add a sun shade. One problem: The stadium can’t get any taller, as it’s in the flight path of San Jose’s airport. Until then, the 49ers are handing out free water bottles and sunscreen to fans on the hot side of the stadium, which is nice and all, but probably isn’t what you want for your big marketing push. This once again points up how smart the 49ers management was to stick fans with PSLs before the team got lousy and people noticed how crappy the new stadium was for actually watching football in.
  • And speaking of empty seats, the Cleveland Indians won their American League–record 22nd straight game yesterday, but they still can’t sell out their ballpark, which not that long ago saw a record sellout streak of 455 straight games. Indians GM Mike Chernoff blamed Cleveland’s small size, the start of the school year, and “weekdays,” three things that apparently didn’t exist in the ’90s. At least he didn’t blame the 23-year-old stadium or demand upgrades as a solution — yet, anyway.
  • And also speaking of empty seats, the Ottawa Senators have begun tarping over part of their upper deck for every game, because they can’t sell tickets there. The Senators owner is already blaming his 21-year-old arena for that one (apparently the last owner built it in the wrong place), so team president Tom Anselmi was left to say: “We just need more of us to come to more games more often.” Can’t argue with that!
  • And also also speaking of empty seats, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have only sold about 5% of available tickets so far to actual fans (ticket brokers have bought up another 18%), with less than five months to go before the games start. If you’re looking to snap up a bargain to watch curling, though, be forewarned: Not all the new hotels planned for the Olympics are finished yet.
  • And speaking of seats that a team hopes won’t be empty, the Oakland A’s will be letting in fans for free to a game next April against the White Sox. Make jokes all you want about how dismal an A’s-White Sox matchup will be, it’s still free baseball, and you never know what you might see that you’ve never seen before.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman declared that that the scaled-down Nassau Coliseum is “not a viable option” for the New York Islanders, two weeks before the team is set to present plans to Nassau County for a new arena near Belmont Park. A total coincidence, I’m sure.
  • The Rhode Island state senate started hearings on a new Pawtucket Red Sox proposal yesterday, with the team owners and their allies noting that “the team’s 54-percent share of stadium costs is the highest portion of private investment in 14 AA and AAA ballparks built over the last decade,” according to the Providence Journal. What was that someone was just saying about using bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions?
  • Deadspin’s Drew Magary has come up with a new nickname for the Atlanta Falcons‘ new iris-roofed stadium: Megatron’s Butthole. Drew Magary needs to be put in charge of all stadium nicknames, starting immediately.

Montreal stadium used for refugees from U.S., isn’t this a scene in “Handmaid’s Tale”?

Lightning round!

  • Boise is all in a tizzy over plans to build a minor-league soccer stadium, because it would get a property-tax exemption. This is the kind of subsidy that people don’t usually notice unless they’re the mayor of Minneapolis, so good on Boise.
  • We finally have a due date for proposals for developing land near Belmont Park that the New York Islanders owners have targeted for a possible new arena: September 30. Tune back in then, and maybe we’ll see what they have in mind, and how they hope to pay for it.
  • Louisville is moving ahead with plans to refinance its debt on its disastrous arena deal. This won’t help a ton — the arena deal will still be a disaster — but even stanching the flow of red ink slightly is something, I suppose.
  • El Paso is involved in a court case over whether they’re allowed to hold sporting events at their new arena, because the bonds it used can’t be used for “sports facilities” and — know what, just read about it yourself, it’s too insane to describe in detail here.
  • The mayor of St. Petersburg is “intrigued” by the idea of building a new soccer stadium on the site of Tropicana Field if the Rays move out, something he apparently neglected to discuss with the local would-be MLS team owner first.
  • Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula is still refusing to demand a new stadium, despite the NFL really wanting him to.
  • Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is now being used as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers fleeing Trump’s America. There are undoubtedly many, many jokes to be made here — that’s what the comment section is for, so have fun!

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.

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.

Major Barclays Center redo for Islanders is off the table, says arena exec

Whatever is going on in the crazy behind-the-scenes multipartite talks over where the New York Islanders will make their future home, it doesn’t sound like massive hockey-friendly renovations to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center will be part of it, at least not if you believe arena CEO Brett Yormark:

Barclays Center does not plan to make any “significant design changes” in order to retain the Islanders long-term, according to Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark…

“We always welcome constructive dialogue regarding optimizing the player and fan experience at Barclays Center,” Yormark said. “However, we have no appetite to make any significant design changes to Barclays Center.”

Reading between the lines here — and in other recent comments by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also noted in the above Newsday article — and the situation looks something like this:

  • The Islanders owners are moving full steam ahead on building a new arena either on Long Island or maybe in Queens.
  • Their Barclays Center landlords aren’t going to be threatened into spending a huge chunk of change on redoing a building that would require hundreds of millions of dollars of work to make it fit hockey properly, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t consider some smaller lease changes to kick some money back the Islanders’ way to make up for the crummy sightlines.

Really, this is now turning into an old-fashioned arena construction battle, with the Belmont Park site the first contestant, and then plenty of Plan Bs if that doesn’t work out. Plan C would be the Islanders staying put in Brooklyn — neither side seems too eager for that to happen, given that both sides are looking to terminate the lease in 2019 — though Plan C could end up looking better to the Isles owners than Plans A or B if those end up costing too much money for construction, land acquisition, and whatever.

If I had to put my money somewhere, it would probably be on an eventual return to a new arena somewhere in Nassau County (maybe with a brief stopover first at the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum), since that’s where the team’s fan base is, and it’s easier to find available land there than in New York City. But I wouldn’t put a whole lot of money on any one likelihood, because there are so many variables here it’s impossible to predict, beyond that the now nearly decade-long wandering Islanders saga isn’t likely to get resolved anytime soon.

Islanders really definitely considering building new arena at Belmont Park, maybe

Confirming rumors that first emerged last summer and then re-emerged in February, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Friday that the owners of the New York Islanders are definitely going to bid on state-owned land at Belmont Park racetrack, with the goal of building a new arena there:

“Yes, there is an RFP [request for proposal] for Belmont and I know they are going to participate in that,” Bettman said of the Islanders. “I believe that everyone thinks there is a terrific opportunity there, if not at Willets Point, to create a more hockey friendly environment for the Islanders, which is something [Islanders co-owner] Scott [Malkin] is committed to do.”

You’ll note that all this is still pretty hedgy: “Participating” in bids for the land isn’t the same as actually committing to building an arena (the New York Cosmos participated in bidding for years, and that went nowhere), and Bettman still isn’t ruling out building in Willets Point near the Mets‘ stadium, either. He did rule out playing at the renovated Nassau Coliseum as “not a long-term option,” but really all this comes down to is: The Islanders owners want a new arena of their own, and they’re going to try to get one, by gum.

Who would pay for both construction and land costs remains a mystery. Yes, Tim Leiweke’s Oak View Group and his partners at Madison Square Garden seem eager to make a splash in the arena business regardless of the cost, but that still doesn’t necessarily make the finances of yet another New York–area arena work out. I’ll close, by repeating what I said back in February:

There are way too many unknowns here to say whether this story could have legs, or is mostly just the Islanders owners trying to leverage Prokhorov into giving them a lease extension in Brooklyn that lets them keep their guaranteed-income deal and/or renovates the Barclays Center to be a less sucky place to watch hockey. I’m in an optimistic mood today, so I’ll say I hope that this is another indicator of a burgeoning arms race within Big Arena that sees billionaires throwing money at new venues without demanding big public subsidies, just because they’re trying to drive each other out of business. It couldn’t end well — anybody remember the Borders-Barnes & Noble war? — but at least the only casualties would be some private corporation’s bottom line.

The new Belmont Park request for proposals is expected to be issued soonish. If nothing else, it will be a very interesting ride.

Brooklyn arena losing even more money since Islanders and their sweetheart lease arrived (UPDATE: not!)

When last we visited Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, it was losing millions of dollars a year, and arena (and Nets) owner Mikhail Prokhorov was threatening to evict the New York Islanders in 2019 because he thought he could do better without them. Now, Forbes’ Michael Ozanian reports (or not! see below) that the arena is losing even more money since the Islanders moved in:

Brooklyn Arena LLC, the arena arm for the Nets that operates the Barclays Center, post an operating loss of $45.6 million last season, according to the 2015-16 financial statements. That was the first season the Barclays Center hosted the NHL team.

The prior year Brooklyn Arena LLC posted an operating loss of $38 million.

Now, keep in mind that “operating loss” doesn’t actually mean “loss”: More than $30 million of that figure is for depreciation, which is just a way of telling the IRS that you should owe less in taxes on your building because it’s getting older. Assuming the depreciation figure has stayed roughly the same, and using Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report’s Norman Oder’s earlier estimate that the arena had lost $5-6 million the previous year, this would up the arena’s actual red ink to about $13 million after the Islanders arrived.

The reason for this is pretty clear once you look at the arena revenue figures that Oder reported on last week:

BarclaysThirdPartyEventProfitSummary1In short, the Barclays Center only really brings in any significant revenue from concerts — everything else is almost a wash. (Though it’s interesting that sporting events got more profitable the year the Islanders arrived — assuming that’s not just tricksy bookkeeping.) So you can see why it might make sense for Prokhorov to give the heave-ho to the Islanders and their deal in which the arena owner pays the team a flat fee ($37.5 million, per Ozanian) in exchange for its ticket-sales revenues, in hopes he can do better booking more concerts.

In any case, it’s clear that the deal to bring in the Islanders has pretty much sucked for Prokhorov, thanks to wildly overoptimistic assessments of how many Islanders fans want to go see games in a too-small arena a long train ride from where most of them live. It seems to be working out significantly better for the Islanders owners, according to Forbes figures, which raises at least the possibility of a lease renegotiation, at least a short-term one, that guarantees the Islanders owners less money. Though it’s hard to predict this early in the game, especially since there’s an arena sucker born every minute.

URGENT UPDATE: Michael Ozanian screwed up, and Forbes doesn’t employ fact-checkers:

I was wrong. The exact opposite is true. The Barclays Center posted an operating profit of $46 million with the Islanders for the year 2015-16, versus an operating profit of $38 million in 2014-15.

I inadvertently inserted minus signs instead of plus signs. A spokesperson for the arena operating company gracously called me today to point that out.

Okay, first off, apologies for not double-checking Ozanian’s numbers, but I (wrongly) assumed that the dude literally in charge of the most important sports business coverage in the country could read a spreadsheet. Or somebody else at the magazine could.

I could try to backtrack and figure out what we now know about the Islanders’ worth to the Barclays Center and vice versa, but I want to actually have time to spend quality time with the numbers before saying anything more. Meantime, go stare at the “event profit summary” that I reposted from Norman Oder above, since he’s a professional and actually knows what he’s doing.