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.

 

MSG investing in new Islanders arena on Long Island is so crazy it might just be crazy

There are rumors, and then there are rumors that lead to eyebrow-raising headlines:

A supergroup of New York sports executives, including owners of the New York Rangers and the New York Mets, is lining up to invest in a new arena just outside of Queens for the National Hockey League’s Islanders, according to people familiar with the discussions…

The new arena proposal is a joint venture between the Islanders, Oak View Group and Sterling Project Development, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because the talks are private. James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co., which controls the Rangers, long the Islanders hated rivals, is an investor in Oak View Group, the private equity group run by Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff. The Wilpon family, which owns the Mets, controls Sterling Project Development.

Much of this isn’t new: Bloomberg News reported last summer that the Islanders owners were looking at the Belmont Park racetrack site as a potential backup to building an arena next to the Mets‘ stadium in Willets Point, and apparently (according to those “people familiar with the discussions”) it’s now moved up to being Plan A. The new bit is the involvement of Oak View, the company run by former AEG exec Leiweke that has also expressed interest in renovating Seattle’s KeyArena, and which includes Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co. as an investor.

Let’s start with the ways this makes some sense: Belmont Park is close to the Islanders’ old fan base, it has decent transit and highway access, and the state has been looking for a way to redevelop the site for years to no avail. And if you’re going to look to build a whole new arena in an already-glutted market, who better to turn to than Leiweke, who is desperate enough to make a splash in the arena game that he could well be willing to take on plans that more established arena operators might consider too risky.

On the other hand … this makes no damn sense. The New York City area already has arenas in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Newark, and Nassau County — it just had to close one in New Jersey because there weren’t enough concert acts to go around, and it’s now apparently being used as rehearsal space. Adding another arena would just put one of the existing ones on the brink. And it really makes no sense for MSG to want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to compete with itself — unless Dolan thinks he’s better off owning two arenas to try to drive Mikhail Prokhorov’s two arenas (Brooklyn and Nassau) out of business, which would be a strange kind of loss leadering, but then, Dolan is after all an idiot.

There’s also always the possibility that the Islanders owners, Mets owners, and Oak View could try to demand public money to sweeten the pot: Bloomberg reports vaguely that “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken part in the proposed arena talks and is seeking to attach infrastructure improvement projects to it,” and we know that Cuomo is big on building things that he can call “infrastructure,” especially when he can do so via a combination of tax breaks for private developers and Ida Know. There’s also always the possibility of going back to Nassau County voters to see if they’d be more amenable to funding a new arena now, or maybe seeing if Islanders fans on Long Island would buy commemorative bricks or something to stop having to trek to Brooklyn to see games.

All of which is to say that 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.

Hartford offers to host Islanders if they’re left homeless, gets into this headline

With the New York Islanders potentially homeless starting in 2019, it was only a matter of time before other cities eager to lure a hockey team started throwing their hats in the ring. And first up is … nope, not Quebec. Not Seattle, either. Think closer to home — yep, you’ve got it:

[Connecticut] Governor Dannel Malloy and [Hartford] Mayor Luke Bronin … sent a joint letter addressed to New York Islanders ownership Friday inviting the NHL club to play at Hartford’s XL Center…

“This is a ready market anxious for an NHL team, eager to fill seats, buy merchandise, and support your team,” Malloy and Bronin wrote to Islanders owners Jon Ledecky, Scott Malkin and Charles Wang (who owns a minority stake). “Your AHL affiliate is in nearby Bridgeport, allowing quick and easy access to your minor-league players, and represents a footing in Connecticut of the Islander franchise.”

I mean, worth a shot and all, but Hartford is pretty much completely inaccessible to the Islanders’ fan base on Long Island (at least until somebody builds that Oyster Bay-Rye Bridge); and if the team’s owners really wanted to up and start over with a new fan base, Quebec and Seattle both have newer arenas and larger populations to offer. Hartford might make a tiny bit of sense as a temporary emergency move if the Islanders had no where else to play, to lure in some Connecticut fans to attach themselves to the team, and then once they’re back in a permanent home they’d travel down to … nope, still no bridge. Okay, this mostly makes sense as a way to put out a press release with “Hartford” and “hockey” in it, and I just fell for it. Damn — well played, Dannel and Luke, well played.

Arena could evict Islanders in 2019, leaving nowhere for Brooklynites not to go watch hockey

Last year, following the revelation that the owners of the New York Islanders and the owners of the Barclays Center had a mutual out clause to escape from their 25-year lease in 2018 or 2019, I wrote at length about why the Islanders owners might and might not want to avail themselves of this option. (Might not: They didn’t have anyplace better to go. Might: At least it could provide them some leverage to demand improvements to Barclays for hockey.) What I didn’t expect was what happened yesterday: Bloomberg News revealed that the arena owners were preparing to ask the Islanders to remove themselves from their place of residence, effective following the 2018-19 season:

The arena, which is already home to the NBA’s Nets and one of the world’s top-grossing concert venues, would make more money without the National Hockey League team, according to people familiar with the facility’s financials.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns the building and the Nets, has since November been seeking an investor to take a stake in both. As of earlier this month, a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season — a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said.

That’s a little hand-wavy as evidence goes — that financial projection could just have been accounting for the possibility the Islanders owners might choose to leave, and the lease out clause requires the two sides to be engaged in “good-faith negotiations” before it can be triggered — but let’s give Bloomberg’s unnamed sources the benefit of the doubt and assume there’s something to this. Given the weird lease deal between the Isles and the arena where Prokhorov pays the team a guaranteed $53.5 million a year and in exchange for its revenue from ticket and suite sales, and the fact that the Islanders haven’t been able to draw flies (outpacing only the sad-sack Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes), and that the arena has maintained a busy concert schedule (even if by offering steep discounts on rents), it isn’t all that crazy that Prokhorov might think, “Go play in the street, Islanders, it won’t be hard to find some musicians who can sell more than 12,000 tickets at a time.”

As for where the Islanders would go, that’s the excellent question that the news media spent most of yesterday asking. There’s been talk previously of building an Islanders arena on the Willets Point land near the Mets stadium in Queens that is currently being cleared of its venerable collection of auto shops by eminent domain, something that was again raised by Queens borough president Melinda Katz in her state of the borough address last week. (In case you’re wondering what power a borough president has to build an arena: Mentioning it in an annual speech is about it.) Nobody’s offering to pay for an arena in Queens, mind you, and building one with your own money seems daft in a metro area already suffering from arena glut, but it can’t entirely be ruled out.

There’s no way a Queens arena would be ready in two years, though, so in any case the Islanders would need somewhere to play starting in the 2019-20 season. That could be Nassau Coliseum, the same building they left in a huff two years ago, but which has since been sold and renovated by Bruce Ratner, the same guy who signed the Islanders to their Brooklyn lease before selling that arena to his then-business partner Prokhorov*. The Coliseum will only hold 13,000 for hockey in its new configuration, but that’s not all that much smaller than Brooklyn’s hockey capacity (15,795), and the Islanders aren’t drawing that many fans anyway, and at least there everyone would be able to see both goals.

And then there’s this:

The recurring fear then among the yo-yoed fan base, of course, would be an outside city such as Quebec or Kansas City or Seattle or Hartford, making and snaring a bid for relocation.

My gut feeling says all this is jumping the gun just a bit: While the Islanders owners and their landlords may indeed be contemplating a divorce, there’s a lot of time for haggling between now and 2019, and this could still all just be a negotiating tactic. What this does mean, though, is an intensification of talk about a new arena somewhere in the NYC area — which almost certainly means the Islanders owners, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, will try to get a good old-fashioned bidding war going among New York City, Nassau County, and anyone else they think they can rope in. (Quebec? Probably not, since New York is such a lucrative TV market even when fans aren’t showing up, but sure, use Quebec as a threat, can’t hurt.) This could get almost as ugly as the view from those obstructed seats.

*CLARIFICATION: Prokhorov has since bought operations of the Nassau Coliseum from Ratner as well. This could be a problem for the Islanders owners if you think this is about a feud, or not if it’s just about both sides realizing that Brooklyn isn’t really working all that well for either side. It certainly complicates the leverage aspect, though.

Islanders can actually leave Brooklyn in 2018, this is gonna be fun

So it turns out the New York Islanders lease doesn’t actually say the team can opt out of its Brooklyn lease after four years as previously reported — Newsday has discovered it says the Islanders can leave after three years or four years, as they so choose:

After the Islanders finish their second season in Brooklyn, the two sides have until Jan. 1, 2018, to renegotiate the terms of the current deal. If no new deal is reached, the two sides can stay with the current deal or choose to opt out. Each side would have until Jan. 30, 2018, to deliver an opt-out notice in writing.

If the Islanders decide to opt out, the team can choose to leave at the end of either its third or fourth season. If Barclays triggers the opt-out, the Islanders would have to leave after the fourth season. The team just completed its first season in Brooklyn in May.

The two sides need to be engaged in “good-faith negotiations” for either side to trigger the opt-out, but, of course, that’s what this opt-out would be all about: The Islanders’ new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, who haven’t been quiet about their “challenges” they say their team faces at the Barclays Center, want a renegotiated lease that gives them either a bigger cut of revenues or more hockey-friendly renovations of some kind or both, and there’s been talk that they might build their own arena in Queens or Long Island or even move back to Nassau Coliseum to create leverage.

That would be complicated, though, notes Newsday, by the clause requiring good-faith negotiations: It means Ledecky and Malkin couldn’t agree to a new arena deal before January 2018, and there’d then be no way to build an arena by fall of 2019 in time for the team to move. So the Islanders would presumably have to play somewhere else for a year or two — Nassau Coliseum would be available, but undersized for the NHL in its new configuration, though the Barclays Center is also undersized, and it would only be for a couple of years, so…

All this is no doubt going to be lurking in the background whenever the Isles owners and Barclays Center (and Brooklyn Nets) owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s people sit down to start those lease talks. Ledecky and Malkin don’t have great leverage, but they do have some leverage, so we’ll just have to see what they do with it. A couple of things are for sure: Former owner Charles Wang was apparently lying when he called the Islanders’ 25-year lease in Brooklyn “ironclad,” and he wasn’t such a terrible negotiator after all.