Friday roundup: CFL in Halifax, Columbus ghost stadium, Sydney is the new Atlanta, and more!

Are any of my American readers even out there, or are you all too busy tormenting retail workers with your demands for discounted goods? If so, you’re missing out, because we’ve got all your goods right here, at our everyday discount of free!

  • The CFL is considering expanding to Halifax, which means Halifax would need a CFL stadium, which means somebody would have to pay for a Halifax CFL stadium. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a stadium is “not a capital priority at this time” and would have to be built “without putting taxpayers at risk.” The Ottawa RedBlacks stadium model is being floated, which is slightly weird because that ended up costing taxpayers a bundle of money plus free land, but maybe “taxpayer risk” is defined differently in Halifax. Anyway, we’ve been this far before, so grains of salt apply.
  • Remember how I wasn’t sure what would be included in the $75 million in public “infrastructure” spending that F.C. Cincinnati is demanding? Turns out that’s because nobody’s sure: WCPO notes that the team hasn’t provided any cost estimates or a traffic study, which “leaves us wondering where, exactly, FC Cincinnati came up with its figures.” I’ll take “nice round number, slightly less than the $100 million elected officials balked at previously” in the pool, please.
  • A guy in Columbus came up with an idea to use county sales tax money to build a new stadium to keep the Crew in town, then the next day said it was just an idea he came up with over the weekend by himself and never mind.
  • The city of Worcester is still trying to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to town, and the state of Massachusetts may be getting involved, with one unnamed source telling the Worcester Telegram that stadium funding would need to be a “a three-legged stool” among the city, state, and team. You know this article is just going to be waved around in the Rhode Island legislature as it heads toward a vote on public funding for a PawSox stadium there, and what was everyone just saying about the role of enablers in abuse, again? (Not that stadium swindles are morally equivalent to sexual harassment, obviously, but you get my point. Also, why are all the articles about the role of enablers in sexual harassment a month old, are we not going to pay attention to that after all?)
  • The state of Connecticut may spend $40 million on upgrades to Hartford’s arena and some retail properties near its entrance, on the grounds that it might make it more attractive to buyers. If this seems like getting it backwards to you, yeah, me too, but at least it’s better than spending $250 million on the arena and then not selling it.
  • Laney College students, faculty, and staff all hate the idea of an Oakland A’s stadium on their campus. “They want to disrupt our education by building a ballpark across the street with noisy construction, traffic gridlock, pollution, and alcohol consumption by fans,” Associated Students of Laney College President Keith Welch told KCBS-TV. “We will not sacrifice our education so that the A’s owners can make more money.” Pretty sure they won’t get a vote, though.
  • “Industry experts” say that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will charge more for concert tickets because … it’ll draw bigger-name acts that cost more, I think they’re saying? That doesn’t actually seem like a detriment, though they also note that the new arena has a higher percentage of seats in the lower bowl, which people will pay more for even if they’re way in the back of the lower bowl, and helps explains why arena and stadium designers are so obsessed with getting as many lower-deck seats as possible even if it makes for crappier upper-deck seats. Which we kind of knew already, but a reminder always helps.
  • And move over, Atlanta, there’s a new planned stadium obsolescence king in town: The state of New South Wales is planning to spend $2 billion Australian (about $1.5 billion U.S.) to tear down the Sydney stadium it built for the 2000 Olympics, along with another smaller stadium in Sydney built in 1988, in order to build newer ones that are more ideally shaped for rugby, I think? Because nobody thought of that in 2000? I need to wait for my Australian rugby correspondent to return from holiday break for a more authoritative analysis, but right now this is looking like one of the worst throw-good-money-after-bad deals in stadium history, and it’s not even in America, the land that has perfected the stadium swindle. Crikey!

Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

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.

CA legislators reject fast-track bill for Clippers, Olympics, call it “billionaire justice”

The plan to fast-track any environmental lawsuits over any new arena for the Los Angeles Clippers (or transit projects for the 2028 Olympics) got off to a dud of a start last week, as the state legislature did not advance out of committee a bill that would have greased the skids for those projects:

Legislators on the Assembly Natural Resources Committee expressed concerns about giving well-heeled developers special treatment, and the bill failed to get enough votes to advance.

“There’s been a lot of angst as far as big CEQA exemptions for projects with individuals with tremendous means, billionaire justice, whatever you want to call it,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).

Read further in the Los Angeles Times article, and you start to see maybe why the bill had such rough sledding: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti opposed the Olympics provision as unnecessary, and AEG, owner of the Staples Center, opposed the Clippers clause as, well, helping their rivals and current tenants, and we can’t have any of that. The last time we saw two sports giants go up against each other was when the New York Jets and Cablevision, owners of the Knicks and Rangers, went toe-to-toe over a new football stadium in Manhattan. Cablevision ultimately prevailed and the project was killed; it’s way too soon to tell if AEG will pull off something similar over the Clippers arena, but expect an awful lot of lobbying money to be spilled in the interim.

L.A. cuts deal to keep imaginary 2028 Olympic surplus, this is what victory looks like

As expected, it was announced yesterday that the 2024 Olympics will be held in Paris, and the 2028 games in Los Angeles. With those two cities the only bidders for 2024, the International Olympic Committee had decided to just declare two winners at once, and once L.A. officials offered to go second, the deal was done.

So given the disaster that other recent Olympic games have been for host cities, should Los Angelenos be celebrating or cowering in fear? I’d previously argued that L.A. needed to drive a hard bargain with the IOC — as it did prior to hosting the 1984 Olympics, when it was similarly the only real bidder — and indeed the city did get some concessions in its deal:

  • The IOC will share media and sponsorship revenues with L.A., which it estimates could be worth as much as $2 billion, though there are no guarantees.
  • $180 million of this cash will be forwarded immediately as an advance, helping the city pay for some of its up-front costs.
  • The city will set aside $487.6 million in contingency funds for cost overruns, and if the games come in under budget, they’ll get to keep all of it — the IOC is waiving its usual demand for a 20% cut of any surplus.

If that seems like weak tea to you as far as concessions go — Los Angeles will get to keep its own money if it doesn’t spend it! — well, that’s what counts as a good deal compared to the unmitigated disaster that many other cities’ contracts with the IOC have been.

I’m going to try to dive into the numbers a bit more in coming days, and L.A. does have a lot of existing venues that it can repurpose for the games, which should help keep costs down. But given that cities the Olympics almost always go way over budget and cities almost always lose money on them, getting a vague promise of lots of media riches and getting to keep any surplus if there is one isn’t exactly something I’d be running out into the streets to celebrate.

FC Cincy mulling Kentucky tax kickbacks to pay its entire stadium cost, and other week’s news

All the news that wasn’t fit to print this week:

  • FC Cincinnati now wants the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati to own its stadium since Hamilton County doesn’t want to. (Does “own” mean “pay for”? Reply hazy, ask again later.) Or maybe Newport, Kentucky, since, according to team president and former city council members Jeff Berding, that would allow the team to recoup its entire $100 million through tax increment financing kickbacks of property taxes paid on the property. How would it generate a whole $100 million in TIFs? Reply hazy, ask again later.
  • Would-be Seattle arena builder Chris Hansen hired University of Washington public finance professor Justin Marlowe in May to compare the economic impact of his Sodo arena proposal to that of the KeyArena renovation plan, and he has issued his report, which says that the Sodo plan would create three times as much tax revenue for Seattle ($103 million over 35 years vs. $34 million for Key). On the other hand, the Key plan would include some kind of sharing of arena revenues, though that wouldn’t kick in until the Key developers got their share, and, yeah, basically it’s a muddle. On the whole, it seems to give the edge to Hansen’s plan, if only because that arena would pay property taxes, but I’d need to sit and break down the math to say exactly by how much, and I’ve been waiting for time to do that all week, so clearly it’s not happening. Reader exercise!
  • Oakland A’s executive VP Billy Beane promised that once the team gets a new stadium, it will stop trading all its decent players once they start to get expensive: “There’s only one way to open a stadium successfully, and that’s with a good, young team. … Really what’s been missing the last 20 years is keeping these players. We need to change that narrative by creating a good team and ultimately committing to keep them around so that when people buy a ticket, they know that the team is going to be around for a few years.” Which could make sense if a new stadium draws enough fans that having a winning team boosts revenues enough to pay for player salaries, though we’ve heard this song and dance before elsewhere.
  • The Nashville Sounds‘ new stadium was supposed to cost taxpayers $37 million, but it ended up costing $91 million.
  • What does $74 million in public subsidies buy Minnesota Timberwolves fans and staff? New seats, new restrooms, new locker rooms, an ice floor that doesn’t leak, two new loading docks, and a big glass wall, because everybody’s gotta have one of those.
  • The athletes’ village from the 2016 Rio Olympics is now a wasteland of unsold condos, because everything the Olympics touches turns to trash.
  • A homeless camp has arisen on the site of the planned Las Vegas Raiders stadium. Make your own metaphors.

Stadium architects dream of holographic players, and other Friday news

Hey, know what we haven’t done in a while? A Friday news roundup. Let’s do one of those now!

Happy weekend, everybody!

Pretty much every Olympic sports venue in Rio is falling apart now

And finally today, in The Olympics Are Bad For People And Other Living Things news, Deadspin has a rundown of all the Olympic venues in Rio de Janeiro that are falling apart just months after the games were concluded, which is basically “all of them”: The Maracanã soccer stadium that was upgraded for the 2014 World Cup is plagued by patchy grass and power outages to save operating costs (and vandals stealing seats during the power outages), a complex of nine Olympic venues that was supposed to be auctioned off after the games drew zero qualified bidders, an Olympic site that was turned into a public park was closed when its private manager shut down, and its $19 million Olympic golf course is falling into disrepair. All this for a cost of only $10-12 billion in public money!

Some of this, no doubt, has to do with Brazil’s political turmoil and resulting economic crisis, which is what leads a government to do things like skimp on paying the light bill at its most iconic soccer stadium. But when the best you can say about hosting the Olympics is “Hey, we might have been left with lots of nice but unneeded sports venues for our $10 billion if only our entire nation hadn’t collapsed,” that’s not really the best selling point for hosting the Olympics.

Olympics go 90% over budget on average, prospective hosts say, “La la la, we can’t hear you”

Since the start of the Rio Olympics, media coverage of the controversies surrounding the games has mostly been limited to things like the algae-polluted diving pool, turning attention away from the widespread protests in recent months against the Games themselves and their costs. (This is a bit of a tradition: The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were widely considered an unfathomable scandal, until the events began and suddenly everyone forgot about the caviar highway and the anti-gay laws.) So it’s nice to see Fivethirtyeight turn its attention to what a massive money suck the Olympics have become, not just for Rio but for any city that hosts them:

By the time Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic torch at last week’s opening ceremonies, the country had already spent some $4.6 billion on venues, administration, transportation and the like, putting the games roughly 50 percent over budget. By the time the games close on Aug. 21, the tally for the games will likely be higher still.

But it could be much worse. The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi blew their budget by 289 percent. The 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid overtopped projections by 324 percent. And the 1976 Games in Montreal ran a staggering 720 percent over projections; the city spent three decades paying down the bill. While outliers such as these distort the average cost overruns somewhat (176 percent for Summer Games, 142 percent for Winter Games), the median cost overrun for all games for which we have data is 90 percent, making Rio’s cost overrun somewhat lower than the historical norm, at least so far.

Those numbers are all from a new study by Bent Flyvbjerg of the University of Oxford, and are right in line with past estimates of the Olympics’ inherently massive cost overruns. The reasons why are simple: Construction projects of all kinds often go over budget, and when you add in the fixed deadlines for Olympic venues — you can’t just delay the swimming events if the stadium isn’t ready — it’s a recipe for inflated costs.

That said, what we should care about here isn’t really how badly Olympic organizers underestimate the costs of hosting the games, but whether cities lose money in the end on hosting them. And though Fivethirtyeight buries the lede a bit here, it eventually notes that the numbers on that count are if anything even more dismal:

Host cities almost invariably fail to cover Olympics costs with associated revenues (for instance, in 2012 London took in $3.5 billion in revenues and shelled out something like $18 billion to host the games), leaving them with piles of debt and various useless venues. Research has repeatedly shown that in most cases the Olympics are a money loser for cities, particularly those in developing nations where the cost-benefit proposition tends to skew even worse.

The Rio Games will likely be cheaper than other recent Summer Olympics, but still cost Brazil several billion dollars, in exchange for a hoped-for boost in tourism that other cities have found never arrives. You’d hope that all this would make cities think twice before looking to host the 2024 Summer Games, the next ones up for bid, but you would be wrong. At least we’ll always have Oslo.

Losing key to stadium is least embarrassing thing about Rio Olympics

Okay, so yes, ha ha, the organizers of the Rio Olympics forgot to bring one of the keys to the Maracanã Stadium for the opening event, a women’s soccer match between Sweden and South Africa, and had to call in the fire department to bring bolt cutters to open the gates. Look, hilarity!

All things considered, though, this one screwup really should be overshadowed by the ways in which the Rio Games are a far more massive screwup — not just because of incompetence, but because putting on an Olympics is a massively expensive undertaking that has doused city after city in red ink. (Chicago, which was runner-up to Rio for getting the 2016 Olympics, is currently congratulating itself on having dodged a bullet.) Brazil is expected to end up spending between $12 billion and $20 billion on hosting the games, a figure that they’ll never ever make back on Olympic revenues, especially given both Zika fears and the proven effect that the Olympics make everyone not there for the Games clear out of town for three weeks. And it’s hard to envision Rio even doing too well in terms of publicity (if anyone really needed to be told about Rio — it’s already the subject of two movies about adorable talking parrots, after all) when the enduring image of the Games could be athletes swimming through raw sewage.

Of course, once the opening ceremonies kick off tonight, all will likely be forgotten, at least in the official coverage of the Olympics. But as much as it’s fun to laugh about Rio, just as we previously laughed about Sochi’s caviar highway, remember that those firefighters who had to cut open the Maracanã had just been through layoffs to help pay for, among other things, Olympic debts. Now that’s comedy! Or maybe that other thing.