Friday roundup: Grizzlies lease has secret out clause, judge orders do-over in Nashville stadium vote, reviewers agree Rangers stadium is super-butt-ugly

Normally the end of June is when news around here starts slowing down for the summer, but as no one needs reminding, nothing is normal anymore. There isn’t even time to get into sports leagues trying to reopen in the midst of what could be an “apocalyptic” surge in virus cases across the South and West, because busy times call for paralipsis:

  • The Daily Memphian has uncovered what it calls a “trap door” in the Memphis Grizzlies‘ lease that could let the team get out of the agreement early if it has even a single season where it doesn’t sell 1) 14,900 tickets per game, 2) all of its 64 largest suites, or 3) fewer than 2,500 season club seats. (There is at least a “force majeure” clause that should exclude any seasons played during a pandemic.) That could force the city to buy up tickets in order to keep the lease in force, the paper notes, and though talks between the team and city are underway to renegotiate the deal, you just know that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera will want something in exchange for giving up his opt-out clause. Pera has so far said all the right things about not wanting to move the team, but then, he doesn’t have to when he has sports journalists to spread relocation rumors for him; if savvy negotiators create leverage, city officials really need to learn to stop handing leverage to team owners when they write up leases, because that really never works out well.
  • In a major victory for local governments at least following their own damn rules, opponents of Nashville’s $50 million-plus-free-land deal for a new MLS stadium won a court victory this week when a judge ruled that the city violated Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act by approving the stadium’s construction contract at a meeting held with only 48 hours notice, when the law requires five days. The city’s Metro Sports Authority can now just hold another meeting with normal notice and reapprove the contract, but still it’s good to see someone’s hand slapped for a change for hiding from public scrutiny.
  • The reviews of the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium that received $450 million in subsidies so the team could have air-conditioning are in, and critics agree, it looks like a giant metal warehouse, or maybe a barbecue grill, or maybe the Chernobyl sarcophagus. Okay, they just agree that is is one ugly-ass stadium from the outside; firsthand reports on whether the upper-deck seats are as bad as they look in the renderings will have to await fans actually being allowed inside, which could come as soon as later this summer, unless by then Texans are too busy cowering in their homes to avoid having to go to the state’s overwhelmed hospital system
  • Amazon has bought naming rights to Seattle’s former Key Arena (Key Bank’s naming rights expired eons ago), and because Amazon needs more name recognition like it needs more stories about its terrible working conditions, it has decided to rename the building Climate Pledge Arena, after an Amazon-launched campaign to get companies to promise to produce zero net carbon emissions by 2040, something the company itself is off to a terrible start on. The reporting doesn’t say, but presumably if greenwashing goes out of style, Amazon will retain the right in a couple of years to rename the building Prime Video (Starts At $8.99/Month) Arena.
  • The NFL is still planning to have fans in attendance at games this fall, but it’s also going to be tarping off the first six to eight rows of seats and selling ads on the tarps as a hedge against ticket-sales losses. Even when and if things return to normal, I’m thinking this could be a great way for the league to create that artificial ticket scarcity that it’s been wanting for years, n’est-ce pas?
  • Amid concern that the New York Islanders will be left temporarily homeless or forced to move back to Brooklyn in the wake of the Nassau Coliseum being shuttered, Nassau County’s top elected official has promised that “the next time that the Islanders play in New York it will be in Nassau County.” If my reading-between-the-lines radar is working properly, that probably means we can expect to see the Islanders’ upcoming season played someplace like Bridgeport, Connecticut.
  • New Arizona Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez is definitely hitting the ground with all his rhetoric cylinders running, telling ESPN: “When I took the job, [owner] Alex Meruelo told me finding a solution for where we should be located was priority one through five. I thought it was one through five, and he quickly corrected me and said, ‘No, it’s priority one through 10 for you.'” Shouldn’t that really be one to 11?
  • Here’s an actual San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist saying voters did the city a favor by turning down a $1.15 billion-dollar Chargers stadium plan, because the city would be having a tough time paying it off now what with the economy in shambles. Of course, $1.15 billion still would have been $1.15 billion even if San Diego had the money, but budget crunches do seem to have a way of focusing people’s attention on opportunity costs.
  • Speaking of which, here’s an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about how it’s hard for Cobb County to pay off the construction debt on its Atlanta Braves stadium what with tourism tax revenue having fallen through the floor, though at least the AJC did call up economist J.C. Bradbury to let him say that it doesn’t really matter which tax money was used because “there’s no found money in government.”
  • Both of those are still way better articles, though, than devoting resources to a story about how holding baseball games without fans is going to lead to a glut of bags of peanuts, for which Good Morning America has us covered. Won’t anyone think of the peanuts?!?
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Coyotes owner says he has many bigly arena offers, they’re just huge, really

Banking and media and food and casino billionaire Alex Meruelo bought a majority stake in the Arizona Coyotes almost exactly one year ago, which meant he inherited the franchise ownership’s mission of finding a Phoenix-area government to shake down for money for a new arena. And, guys, that’s no easy feat in the middle of a pandemic, but poor Alex is giving it his best shot:

If it wasn’t for what happened with COVID, we’d be so much further ahead.” Meruelo said. “It’s really set us back at least six to nine months. I still hope and I plan, with [new team CEO] Xavier [Gutierrez]’s help — Xavier is very good at this — we’d like to get something announced by the end of the year.

“We’re working very hard. What I can tell you is this: Xavier has moved down here. His whole family’s here with them. They bought a beautiful house. My son lives here. I’m not going to go anywhere and we’re committed to Arizona. It’s not that simple. And you ask, ‘Why?’ Well, we’re still right now currently playing in Glendale. You know very well we can’t leave tomorrow. It’s impossible to leave tomorrow, so I have to be there probably a couple more years. Now, Glendale has expressed a tremendous amount of interest in us staying there. So I will listen to what they have to say. But we’ve also gotten a couple offers from the East Valley, which are extremely attractive.”

As Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic points out, that last bit is especially dubious, since if he’s gotten “extremely attractive” offers from the East Valley, he could have taken them long before the Covid epidemic hit. Far more likely is that Meruelo is just trying to keep the arena fires lit while the current crisis passes — he even hedged on a timeline for an announcement this year (“we’d like to”), which is great for getting headlines about how a new Coyotes arena is in the works while also retaining plausible deniability if December rolls around and he still has nothing to show for it.

And it’s important to remember: What Meruelo is waiting for isn’t the money to build an arena — with a net worth of at least $2 billion and possibly a whole lot more, he has plenty of that — or even a place to build one, but rather for somebody else to offer him the money to build one. And since he’s fortunate enough to operate in a market that has multiple municipalities (plus Native American tribal entities) that he can play off against each other, his best bet for getting a bidding war going is to keep on talking about what excellent offers he’s gotten, and how [your city name here] had better step up to the table if it wants to have a shot. That’s just what savvy negotiators do.

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Friday roundup: CFL calls its owners “philanthropists” who need bailout, plus actual sport with actual fans takes place in actual stadium!

And how is everyone out there? Going stir-crazy? Waking up early to watch Korean baseball? Starving to death? All good options!

I personally have been watching this 1988 game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos (spoiler: Randy Johnson is, as the announcers keep noting, very tall), while continuing to keep tabs on what passes for sports stadium and subsidy news these days. Let’s get to it — the news, I mean, not the Phils-Expos game, I have that paused:

 

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Friday roundup: Won’t anyone think of the sports franchise owners?!?

Coming up on the end of week four here, I think, and how is everyone doing? I remembered that today was Friday and I needed to do a news roundup, which was the first day in several that I remembered what day it was, so I feel like things are looking up! Except for the fact that large numbers of people gathering in close confines is looking like the main way this virus spreads, and that describes perfectly spectator sports and music and theater and many other things that make life worth living, so that’s not so great. And, of course, nearly 17,000 people have died and tens of thousands more deaths are expected, and that’s not counting all the people who are dying uncounted at home. Small victories may be victories, but they’re also small.

Eventually this will all be over, though, whatever “over” means, and it’s not too soon to start wondering about what the sports world will look like on the other side. Especially for sports journalists who are twiddling their thumbs right now and hoping that their employers still exist once the worst of this has passed:

Be well, stay safe, and see you Monday!

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Coyotes stay put in Glendale another season, five years after insisting they were gone

Hey, it’s been a while since we checked in with the Arizona Coyotes, whose then-owner Anthony LeBlanc in 2015 objected to not getting paid by the city to operate their own arena by saying he was talking to lots of other cities, then signed another lease extension in 2017, then signed another one this January. What’s the latest?

Arizona Coyotes officials have confirmed the team will stay in Glendale for another season as the team draws larger crowds to Gila River Arena than it has in years.

“We will absolutely play the 2020-2021 NHL season in Gila River Arena,” Coyotes CEO Ahron Cohen said in a statement on Friday.

Coyotes attendance was indeed up ever so slightly last year, and they’re currently only fourth-worst in the NHL, ahead of the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, and Ottawa Senators. The team’s new owner has said that staying n Glendale without a new arena would be “difficult,” and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said last summer that the current situation is “not viable long-term,” but at a certain point actions speak louder than words, and the fact of the matter is that we’re now going on five years since LeBlanc threatened to leave town if he didn’t get to keep his sweetheart arena lease, and the team is still there, with no serious relocation talks underway that anyone has publicly reported on.

I never want to suggest that pro sports teams’ move threats are entirely a bluff: They do move on occasion, though it’s way more common in the NFL where local cable market size isn’t an issue and there are a lot fewer tickets needing to be sold; and Phoenix has never really been a hockey hotbed, so there are arguably other markets the Coyotes could viably leave for. Still, it’s a good reminder that the number of teams that move is a tiny, tiny fraction of the number whose owners threaten to move, and in almost every case there’s a long, drawn-out negotiating process before the moving trucks are actually packed up. So as memorable an image as the Baltimore Colts packing up their Mayflower vans may be, usually playing hardball over a lease doesn’t result in losing a team “overnight,” so maybe we can all stop using that word?

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Friday roundup: Saints’ $300m subsidy moves ahead, St. Louis MLS announcement on tap, Richmond council votes no on democracy

Sometimes I feel lucky to cover a topic with so many constant absurdities, and then this happens, and I realize that constant absurdities are just the new normal. Anyway, I did get to edit this this week, which is an excellent look at how this week’s absurdity is having potentially catastrophic impacts on people’s lives, so go read it!

But not before you read these:

  • The Louisiana State Bond Commission has approved selling $450 million worth of state bonds to fund renovations to the Superdome, in exchange for the New Orleans Saints signing a 15-year lease extension. As covered back in May, Saints owner Gayle Benson would cover one-third of the bond cost, leaving Louisiana to pay off $300 million, bringing the Saints’ five-decide subsidy total to a cool $1.442 billion. In exchange, the Saints will sign a 15-year lease extension — with another 15-year option, but there’s no way they’re going to extend their lease again without more subsidies the way this gravy train is rolling — which comes to state taxpayers ponying up $20 million a year for the presence of an NFL team, which is a hell of a lot of money, though not as much as Indiana pays the Pacers, because Indiana.
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this week that St. Louis will be announced next Tuesday as the next MLS expansion city, bringing the number of teams in the league to a cool 154. (I think it’s actually 28, but honestly the number changes so fast it’s hard to keep track.) Deadspin read the announcement that there would be no public subsidies for the as-yet-unnamed team’s stadium and excitedly reported that the deal “might not completely fleece the city”; sadly, it will actually involve about $60 million in public subsidies, but since about half of that is coming from the state, not the city, that Deadspin headline is still technically correct, right?
  • The Richmond city council has voted 5-3 against allowing a referendum on the city’s proposed new $350 million city-subsidized arena on the November ballot, because voting is for elected officials, not regular folks. Though regular folks do still get to vote on electing elected officials, something that referendum sponsor Reva Trammell clearly had in mind when she said following the no-voting vote: “I hope the citizens hold their feet to the fire. Every damn one of them that voted against it.”
  • Two-plus years after the arrival of the Hartford Yard Goats in exchange for $63 million in public stadium cash — plus a couple million dollars every year in operating losses — the Hartford Courant has noticed that stadium jobs are usually part-time and poorly paid. Not included in the article: any analysis of how many full-time jobs could have been created by spending $63 million on just about anything else.
  • New Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo said he intends to keep the NHL team in Arizona, but that keeping it in Glendale is a “difficult situation,” at which point a Glendale spokesperson said that city officials would meet with Meruelo “to see how we can help him achieve his goals of success.” Which is all fine and due diligence and all, but given that helping Meruelo “achieve his goals” is likely to mean paying him money to play in Glendale like the city used to do, it’s not exactly promising; if nothing else, Glendale officials would do well to remember that Meruelo currently has exactly zero better arena options elsewhere in the state, so he’s not exactly negotiating from a position of strength.
  • Joe Tsai, who was already set to buy the Brooklyn Nets from Mikhail Prokhorov, has officially exercised his option to purchase the team, plus the Barclays Center arena to boot, for a reported $3.5 billion. Given that the arena is currently losing about $21 million a year, this seems like an awful lot of money even if the team does employ whatever’s left of Kevin Durant. Since Tsai already owns the New York Liberty, though, maybe it at least means that WNBA franchise will finally return to the city from its exile in the suburbs.
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Coyotes sold to billionaire, Gary Bettman celebrates with arena demand and move threat

The NHL approved a new billionaire to buy a majority stake in the Arizona Coyotes from their old not-billionaire owner, and league commissioner Gary Bettman naturally cited this as a reason why somebody should get the new billionaire guy a new arena:

“I think (Meruelo) is committed to trying to get a new arena in the right location and making it work,” Bettman said. “He is a person of substantial means, and he is very good, if you look at his career, in turning around businesses and making them successful. I think this is an extraordinarily positive step for the Coyotes and their fans in Arizona.”

Alex Meruelo has substantial means! It is entirely possible, of course, that Bettman means that Meruelo has lots of money and will “try to get a new arena” by looking deep within his own bank account and then paying for one, but also this is Gary Bettman so of course that’s not what he means.

Bettman added that while he didn’t want to threaten that the Coyotes would leave Arizona without a new arena, that’s exactly what he was saying:

“I’d rather not go there, because I’m not going to issue threats,” Bettman said. ”(Meruelo) has told us, including in his interview with the executive committee, that he very much likes Arizona. He wants to make it work there, and he’s going to try very hard for that to be the case. Obviously, the club is not viable long-term in Glendale, but hopefully we don’t get to that point.”

The Associated Press then filled out its article on Bettman’s crafted public statement by citing the Coyotes’ low attendance and all the places they could move to if they wanted. There’s a reason why I have a category titled “the sports-media complex.”

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Friday roundup: New Coyotes owner could move team (or not), public cost of Panthers practice facility goes up, and fresh Austin FC vaportecture!

If you noticed this site being inaccessible a lot the last two days, hey, so did I! The good news is that a bunch of that time was spent in discussions with the good folks at Pair.com about migrating the site to a more stable hosting platform, which is currently in the works, though it may take a week or so before everything is finalized. In the meantime, if you notice occasional glitches, rest assured it’s all part of the process for bringing you a Better, Brighter Tomorrow.

Meanwhile, in the week’s stray stadium news roundup, where the tomorrows never seem to get better or brighter:

  • Billionaire real estate developer Alex Meruelo is set to purchase a majority ownership stake in the Arizona Coyotes, and The Hockey News wonders if this means the team will finally get a new arena or move to Houston, because surely the team’s previous owners never thought of those things. It’s also worth noting, as I do every time Houston gets raised as an NHL team relocation bogeyman, that while Houston is a big market, so is Phoenix, so moving the Coyotes to Texas might not immediately solve the team’s attendance woes as much as you’d think.
  • South Carolina’s $160 million public price tag for a Carolina Panthers practice facility — I know, that dollar figure and that noun phrase make me boggle every time I type it — could go up by an undetermined amount, thanks to road improvements and other stuff the state could be on the hook for. A hundred million here, a hundred million there, and you start to run into some real money.
  • New Austin F.C. stadium renderings! Bonus points for portraying players on the pitch in positions that might actually be possible in a real soccer match; demerits for trying to make the game seem exciting by having a few fans randomly raising fists, and for devoting way too much space to pictures of dining tables instead of showing what the view would look like from other parts of the stadium. (Though there is one renderings of what the game would look like from behind a dining table, which is, you will be surprised to learn, not very good.)
  • The Tampa Bay Rays can’t get people to come to games even by selling tickets for $5, which sounds bleak until you remember that bleacher seats at New York Yankees games went for $1.50 as recently as 1985, which is only $3.55 in 2019 dollars, so maybe the Rays are still charging too much?
  • Here’s an article by CBS San Francisco about the Oakland city council passing two bills in support of a new A’s stadium at Howard Terminal that is entirely sourced to a tweet by A’s president Dave Kaval. Oh, journalism.
  • And here’s an article (on some sports site I’ve never heard of) that declares it a “RUMOR” (in all caps) that MLB is exploring an expansion team in Las Vegas, cited entirely to a tweet by a Las Vegas “news and rumors” site I’ve never heard of, which really only predicts that there will be an announcement after the World Series of a “Major League Baseball plan.” You know who else has a Major League Baseball plan? Portland, Oregon. They don’t have an MLB expansion team either, and all signs are they won’t for a while, but nice to hear they’ll be getting some company in the vaporfranchise competition.
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Friday roundup: Red Wings owner touts his “passion” amid sea of parking lots, cities are terrible stadium negotiators, newspapers are terrible newspapers

The cryptocurrency-based journalism startup Civil couldn’t have gone much worse, but it did spawn a couple of successes, none more welcome than Hmm Daily, the news commentary site from former Gawker and Deadspin editor Tom Scocca. Or as I will always think of him, the co-founder of Funny Paper, the now virtually unfindable-on-the-internet weekly(ish) political analysis of daily comic strips that was the greatest such enterprise until the great Josh Fruhlinger elevated it to an even higher art form. I’ve been enjoying Scocca’s excellent columns on the militarization of language and how big a giant bee is for months now, but I didn’t feel compelled to bite the bullet and kick in any money until I spotted this photo caption in an article by Scocca’s Funny Paper co-conspirator Joe MacLeod: “I have no beef with the M&M’s homunculus infesting the menu.” If you know me at all from reading this website, you know that I immediately pulled out my wallet and became a paying Hmm Daily subscriber (at the $5 a month level, though the reward at the $50,000 level is truly amazing).

Anyways, on to the sports stadium and arena newses:

  • The District Detroit development around the new Red Wings arena still consists mostly of some state-subsidized parking lots, but Red Wings exec Christopher Ilitch says that’s okay because “Our timelines may change. Our passion, the energy, the way we feel about this community has not.” And truly, who can put a price on feels?
  • The Voice of OC cites “experts” as saying that Anaheim may not be driving a hard enough bargain with Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno on a price for stadium parking lot development rights, and oh hey look, it’s me. Also Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, who says, “Cities tend to be remarkably bad negotiators when it comes to professional sports,” which, yup.
  • Politifact Wisconsin did a fact-check on claims that the state of Wisconsin will get a “tremendous” payback on its Milwaukee Bucks arena subsidies and found that that’s only if you assume the Bucks would have moved without them, and assume that Bucks fans would have all stopped spending their money in Wisconsin without them, and assume that NBA salaries will quintuple by the 2040s, and further found that Villanova sports stadium researcher Rick Eckstein calls the revenue estimates “fantasy figures,” and concluded that this makes the claim Mostly True. It is just slightly possible that having staff members of the local newspaper that has a record of overarching credulity on the arena deal do fact-checking on it might not be the best idea.
  • The people trying to get an MLB franchise in Portland are running out of momentum as MLB waits for the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s to work out their stadium situations before considering expansion, but at least they got a meeting with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred — no wait, the news report has corrected itself, they didn’t even get that. Well, at least they have weirdly non-Euclidean renderings.
  • Speaking of MLB expansion hopefuls, Montreal’s would-be neo-Expos owner Stephen Bronfman has a deal in place on land for a new stadium … not on buying the land, mind you, but with a developer to help develop the non-stadium part of the land once they buy it. This could be a while.
  • And speaking of the Rays and of terrible newspapers, the Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano wants to know when St. Petersburg and Tampa officials will stop bickering and get to work on throwing money at Rays owner Stuart Sternberg already?
  • The New York Times is a significantly less terrible newspaper, but a profile on A’s president Dave Kaval with the headline “Can This Man Keep the A’s in Oakland?” is not only pretty sycophantic in its own right, but it assumes a lot about the team owners moving without a new stadium when they’ve already gone a couple of decades demanding a new stadium and not getting one and still not moving.
  • Henderson, Nevada, is giving $10 million to the owners of the Vegas Golden Knights to build a practice rink, which is dumb but less dumb than some other cities’ expenses on similar projects.
  • The Arizona Coyotes are getting a new majority owner and the Phoenix Suns are up for sale, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, who added, “as one NHL official told me yesterday, when I asked that very question, I said, ‘Does this new owner mean that there’s an arena closer to fruition?’ And the answer was, if you get a new owner, there’s a better chance of a new arena. So you can put two and two together, Steve.” Then the Suns owners and a report in The Athletic on the Coyotes completely refuted what Shannon said, so maybe you’re better off putting two and two together without his help.
  • I was about to write up this news story about a potential rezoning approval for Austin F.C.‘s new stadium, but then I saw that KXAN managed to write “Austin’s Planing Commission” and “this ammendment” in the first three paragraphs, and now I gotta go cry all day about the death of copy editing, sorry.
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Friday roundup: Sacramento soccer subsidies, Fire could return to Chicago, and a giant mirrored basketball

Did I actually write a couple of days ago that this was looking like a slow news week? The stadium news gods clearly heard me, and when they make it rain news, they make it pour:

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