Pittsburgh and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sports team impact study

Check it out, the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates, seeking $800,000 a year in county money for a slush fund for improvements to their venues, have teamed up to pay for a study showing how much the teams contribute to the city’s economy, and their hired hands have determined: a hell of a lot! $6 billion over five years’ worth of a lot! Do we dare try to analyze their methodology without actually seeing the report itself, because the teams haven’t released that? I’m game if you are! Let’s begin with this from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article on the report:

They commissioned accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to produce an economic impact study that measures their value on several fronts, including direct and indirect spending, tax revenue and jobs.

That’s not a good sign: PwC is an accounting firm, not an economic analysis firm, so it’s unlikely they tried to account for the substitution effect whereby if Pittsburgh residents didn’t have pro sports to spend their money on, they wouldn’t just stuff it under their mattresses instead. A serious economic impact study would look at, say, spending during years when there’s a labor stoppage vs. spending during years when all the teams are playing, but we can probably safely assume that didn’t happen here.

[Penguins CEO David] Morehouse said the teams brought nearly 4 million people, counting concerts, to the city in 2017 to eat at restaurants, to stay at hotels, and to partake in other activities.

“Counting concerts”? How are the teams credited with people in Pittsburgh going to concerts? (People even go to concerts in cities with no major-league sports teams! It’s a true fact!) And the total attendance of the three teams in 2017 was only about 3.2 million, so clearly a lot of these people “brought to the city” were already in the city, which makes bringing them there not such an impressive accomplishment.

“You can’t just talk about Pittsburgh’s revitalization and then say these greedy sports bastards over here. I mean, if you’re going to tell the positive story about what’s happening in Pittsburgh, we’re part of it and we shouldn’t be the ones having to say it,” [Morehouse] said.

“But if we’re going to have to say it, we’re going to say it with the largest numbers we can possibly justify! Wait, did I say that last part out loud?”

Frank Coonelly, the Pirates president, doubts Pittsburgh would be one of 20 finalists for Amazon’s second headquarters if it did not have pro sports teams. Only one finalist for the online retailer’s new location — Austin — is without at least one pro sports team in its region.

This is not actually true: Montgomery County, Maryland, isn’t home to any pro sports teams either, nor is northern Virginia, though I suppose one could squint and give them credit for the teams nearby in D.C. But mostly, this is selection bias: Amazon is looking for a major urban area to put its new headquarters in, and there simply aren’t that many major urban areas without major sports teams: There’s Greenville and Grand Rapids, I suppose, but somehow I don’t think they would have made the cut even if they had acquired teams. (Oklahoma City and Buffalo, which are similar sized, didn’t.)

The GumGum analysis found the three teams generate 513.3 million in “combined impressions” a year, whether through TV broadcasts, social media, or print publications.

To get that kind of “postcard” exposure — whether it’s shots of the city skyline, the bridges, or other local landmarks — through paid advertising would cost nearly $41.5 million.

So basically the teams want to be credited for every time they got the name “Pittsburgh” mentioned in the national media, regardless of whether it was in a positive or negative light. I could note that there are other things that got Pittsburgh mentioned nationally lately that you really don’t want to start crediting for ad impressions, but I probably shouldn’t go there.

When the Penguins were fighting for a new arena a dozen years ago, a move to Kansas City made more sense — the deal was better and the city had a larger population, Mr. Morehouse said.

But, but, your own owner said it was a bluff! Get on the same page here, guys!

Penguins could seek additional subsidies for housing on old arena site

As part of the Pittsburgh Penguins$290 million arena deal back in 2007, for which the team put in only about one-fifth of the costs (the rest came from the state and a company that got a state casino license in exchange), owner Mario Lemieux got development rights to the site of the team’s old arena. Which he still hasn’t developed yet, and which he may now demand more public subsidies for, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The Penguins have been talking to various city and county officials, including members of [Mayor-elect Bill] Peduto’s staff, about the implications involved in increasing the level of affordable housing from 20 to 30 percent. They have said it likely would require some form of public aid to bridge the funding gap.

“If you’re going to add affordable housing to the project, it generally requires some form of subsidy,” [Penguins COO Travis] Williams said.

That could pose a challenge for Mr. Peduto, who has been trying to limit the amount of public money that goes into the development.

If the Penguins don’t build something there by the year 2017, they lose the development rights, so it seems like Peduto would actually be bargaining from a position of strength here. At least until Lemieux threatens to move the housing to Kansas City.

Penguins, preservationists battle over demolition of Civic Arena

On the heels of the Steelers‘ Super Bowl defeat, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has rapidly shifted gears, making yesterday’s lead the future of the Mellon Arena, a facility that has not been used since June 2010.

The arena, initially called the Civic Arena until a naming rights deal was struck with a financial services firm, was the production location of that all-time film classic, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. The Penguins moved into the new Consol Arena in August 2010, after receiving developmental rights to the old arena property in a 2007 deal with state, city, and county officials.

Though the Sports and Exhibition Authority voted unanimously on September 16, 2010 to have the arena demolished, a group of preservationists has remained a fly in the ointment, and at least one board member said the authority’s decision does not have to be final if someone proposes a better idea. That has given opponents of demolition some hope, but the meetings underway now are likely to lead to eventual demolition, unless there is a dramatic public outcry. The historic preservationists look at the lack of a highly specific plan to move forward as an opportunity to gain landmark status for the arena, which was built with a retractable roof before any other arena or stadium tried the idea.

According to the Post-Gazette, the planning process could take nine months or more, suggesting that the Penguins don’t have a too much of a game plan as to what to do here. A spokesperson for Pittsburgh’s mayor said that these “pre-application” meetings were established to “cut through red tape” and ensure that developers and the various agencies involved are on the same page. Historic preservationists were not mentioned in that part of the story, though. That may mean a wrecking ball will soon follow, but stay tuned.

Pittsburgh report recommends razing Mellon Arena

There’s a brewing preservation mini-controversy in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins want to raze their old home, Mellon Arena, and replace it with housing, offices, stores, and restaurants, while preservationists want to gut it and turn it into … housing, offices, stores, and restaurants. A city economic impact report says that demolition would be the better option, but an architect who wants to save the arena calls the analysis “incomplete.”

Without even attempting to determine who’s right here, I’d just like to say that having been to the hollowed-out remnants of the Montreal Forum, it’s hard for me to get too excited about the prospect of saving only the shell of an arena. Especially if it involves plastic fans.