Friday news: Phoenix funds Brewers but not Suns, brewers float crowdfunding Crew, and more!

So, so much news this week. Or news items, anyway. How much of this is “news” is a matter of opinion, but okay, okay, I’ll get right to it:

  • Four of Phoenix’s nine city council members are opposed to the Suns‘ request for $250 million in city money for arena renovations, which helps explain why the council cut off talks with the team earlier this week. Four other councilmembers haven’t stated their position, and the ninth is Mayor Greg Stanton, who strongly supports the deal, meaning any chance Suns owner Robert Sarver has of getting his taxpayer windfall really is going to come down to when exactly Stanton quits to run for Congress.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Milwaukee Brewers will remain there for spring training for another 25 years under a deal where the city will pay $2 million a year for the next five years for renovations plus $1.4 million a year in operating costs over 25 years, let’s see, that comes to something like $35 million in present value? “This is a great model of how a professional sports team can work together with the city to extend their stay potentially permanently, which is amazing, and we’re doing it in a way where taxpayers are being protected,” said Daniel Valenzuela, one of the councilmembers opposed to the Suns deal, who clearly has a flexible notion of “great” and “protected.”
  • And also speaking of Phoenix (sort of), the Arizona Coyotes are under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly having “spied on staff, engaged in union busting and fired two employees who raised concerns about pay.” None of which has anything directly to do with arenas, except that 1) this won’t make it any easier for the Coyotes owners to negotiate a place to play starting next season, when their Glendale lease runs out, and 2) #LOLCoyotes.
  • A U.S. representative from Texas is trying to get Congress to grandfather in the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium from any ban on use of tax-exempt bonds in the tax bill, saying it would otherwise cost the city of Arlington $200 million more in interest payments since the bonds haven’t been sold yet. (Reason #372 why cities really should provide fixed contributions to stadium projects, not “Hey, we’ll sell the bonds, and you pay for whatever share you feel like and we’ll cover the rest no matter how crappy the loan deal ends up being.”) Also, the NFL has come out against the whole ban on tax-exempt bonds because duh — okay, fine, they say because “You can look around the country and see the economic development that’s generated from some of these stadiums” — while other sports leagues aren’t saying anything in public, though I’m sure their lobbyists are saying a ton in private.
  • A Hamilton County commissioner said he’s being pressured to fund a stadium for F.C. Cincinnati because Cincinnati will need a sports team if the Bengals leave when their lease ends in 2026 and now newspapers are running articles about whether the Bengals are moving out of Cincinnati and saying they might do so because of “market size” even though market size really doesn’t matter to NFL franchise revenues because of national TV contracts and oh god, please make it stop.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says the proposed Oakland A’s stadium site has pros and cons. Noted!
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Calgary Flames‘ arena “needs to be replaced” and the team can’t be “viable for the long term” without a new one. Not true according to the numbers that the team is clearing about $20 million in profits a year, but noted anyway!
  • Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is set to announce his proposal for city subsidies for F.C. Cincinnati today, but won’t provide details. (Psst: He’s already said he’ll put up about $35 million via tax increment financing kickbacks.)
  • The Seattle Council’s Committee on Civic Arenas unanimously approved Oak View Group’s plan to renovate KeyArena yesterday, so it looks likely that this thing is going to happen soon. Though apparently the House tax bill would eliminate the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which the project was counting on for maybe $60 million of its costs, man, I really need to read through that entire tax bill to see what else is hidden in it, don’t I?
  • The owners of the Rochester Rhinos USL club say they need $1.3 million by the end of the month to keep from folding, and want some of that to come from county hotel tax money. Given that the state of New York already paid $20 million to build their stadium, and the city of Rochester has spent $1.6 million on operating expenses over the last two seasons to help out the team, that seems a bit on the overreaching side, though maybe they’re just trying to fill all their spaces in local-government bingo.
  • There’s a crowdfunding campaign to buy the Columbus Crew and keep them from moving to Austin. You can’t kick in just yet, but you can buy beer from the beer company that is proposing to buy the team and then sell half of it to fans, and no, this whole thing is in no way an attempt to get free publicity on the part of the beer company, why do you ask?

Suns owner: We want to stay put in renovated NBA-only arena, or else … something

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver said a whole bunch of stuff yesterday to AZcentral:

Suns owner Robert Sarver told azcentral sports Wednesday that it’s “highly unlikely” the Suns will pursue a joint basketball/hockey arena with the Arizona Coyotes…

Sarver said his focus is on an upgrade of Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“This facility was built for basketball,” he said…

Sarver said building a new arena would have “maybe made more sense” four or five years ago when the cost estimate was $450 million to $500 million. The costs now, Sarver said, are “significantly higher.” Thus his focus on upgrading Talking Stick, which soon will be the second-oldest arena in the NBA.

“I think it’s the most economically viable alternative for the city and us,” he said. “I like downtown Phoenix. That’s my first preference. I think the NBA is more of an urban game. That’s our demographic.”

Sarver added that he’d like to say in downtown Phoenix but that, “if we can’t, we’ll explore other options.”

During the news conference Sarver said the Suns “have no choice” but to either modernize Talking Stick Resort Arena or build a new arena.

“Our arena is becoming outdated,” he said. “… We have to have an NBA-quality facility. I know that. The city of Phoenix knows that. Hopefully in the next couple of years we can start construction on something.”

Let’s unpack that: Sarver doesn’t want to build a new arena with the Arizona Coyotes because it’d be too expensive, and also he wants to stay in downtown Phoenix, but if he can’t upgrade his current arena there he’ll have to build a new one elsewhere because they “have no choice.”

That’s a big ball of contradictions, unless you take it as all tactical: Sarver is putting all his cards on a renovation of his current Phoenix arena, and wants to use moving elsewhere as a threat, not an actual option. You’d think he’d at least consider sharing digs with the Coyotes as a way to cut down on competition for concerts and things with another arena, but maybe he doesn’t want to have to partner with a franchise that can’t draw flies, or figures maybe the Coyotes will leave town and he can have a monopoly on the winter sports market, either of which is a reasonable enough gambit.

Sarver still isn’t saying much about how to pay for an arena remodel, just restating the “this place is almost 30 years old, time to send it to the Carrousel” mantra he’s been holding to for the last three years. Either he’s working behind the scenes on a funding plan, or he’s hoping state legislators will do it for him — again, either way, an understandable strategy. But eventually he’s going to have to actually say something concrete, at which point you have to hope Phoenix city officials will say: You said you have no choice but to build an upgraded facility and that you want to stay in Phoenix, so what are you going to do if we don’t give you money for it, hold your breath and turn blue?

New Coyotes CEO: Arena deals are like vampires, this is a totally good metaphor to use

New Arizona Coyotes sole owner Andrew Barroway and his new CEO Steve Patterson opened their mouths this week and lots and lots of words fell out, so let’s get right to them. First, Barroway:

“We’re going to get a new stadium here. It’s just a question of when,” Barroway said. “We’re going to make it happen. I think we’ve put the people in place to get it done, I can tell you we are aggressively pursuing all options and we have to make it work. We don’t have a choice.”…

“Failure’s not an option. We have to get it done.”

That’s all more or less meaningless, unless you take Barroway literally at his word and think, “You have to get it done, one way or another? Okay, then, quit asking Phoenix-area governments to help you with subsidies, since you have to get it done even if it requires paying with your own money, right? Also, it’s an ‘arena,’ not a ‘stadium,’ you bozo.”

And now, Patterson, who was picked for the job in part for his experience shepherding sports venue deals for the Houston Texans and Portland Trail Blazers:

“I think any professional franchise needs an arena that suits the needs of the fan base and can provide a best-in-class experience. … I recognize there’s a lot of hard work to do, but I’m optimistic we’ll have a second generation of Coyotes fans growing up here in the desert.”…

“Arena deals take time, talks and negotiations. They’re kind of like vampire movies. You go to the coffin a dozen times and you think they’re dead, but they keep rising back up. Every single deal I’ve been involved with was thought to be dead a dozen times and then it rose back up.”

Vampires. You know, soulless creatures of evil that you have to stake through the heart to be sure they don’t rise up and kill you? Those things. We gotta get us one of those, and failure is not an option.

The Coyotes arena situation is going to continue to provide entertainment value at least until Phoenix becomes uninhabitable, guys.

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!

Coyotes owner buys out fellow owners, time to pretend this helps build new arena somehow

The Arizona Coyotes‘ mostly silent majority partner, hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway, has bought out the rest of his ownership partners, including the far less silent CEO Anthony LeBlanc, for an undisclosed price. And naturally, somebody thinks that regime change will mean a new life for plans for a new arena:

Sure, okay? KPNX-TV reports that “Phoenix insiders say Suns owner Robert Sarver wants nothing to do with the Coyotes [and] LeBlanc’s departure might change that,” so maybe Barroway is a more personable guy or something, and now arena partnerships will abound! Or at least Barroway will remember to invite his partners to his arena press conference, which would be a start!

The problem remains how to find money to pay for a new arena, when this whole thing started because the Coyotes ownership didn’t want to keep playing in their old new arena unless they were paid a hefty annual fee to do so. Sharing costs between the Suns and Coyotes owners will help some, but then they’ll have to share revenues as well (can’t sell naming rights to a building twice just because two teams play there), so it hardly is a panacea. Maybe it gives some new life to, or at least an excuse for new tweets about, Mayor Greg Stanton’s Rube Goldberg scheme of using tax money to pay for a new arena while pretending not to use tax money to pay for a new arena, but since it’s not like money operates differerently for Barroway than for LeBlanc, I don’t see where this changes much other than the names on the letterhead.

The Coyotes arena-subsidy saga is even more pathetic when you lay it all out in one place

Here’s a fun headline to start your week with:

Arizona’s Terrible Hockey Team Wants a Third Taxpayer Funded Stadium Since 1996

The article, in the libertarian magazine Reason, doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it is a great overview of the Arizona Coyotes situation, in which the team relocated from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996, then across town to Glendale in 2002, and now is trying to move to Tempe or anyplace else in the Phoenix area that will build them a new arena. The team owners are not just looking to play off cities against each other, though, but get state funding, which is extra-stupid because:

Since the team is already in the area, building a new stadium would not create a new source of tax revenue for Arizona, says Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross. Moving from Glendale to Tempe, Matheson says, merely would shift the economic benefits from one municipality to another.

And also:

Building more stadiums in a single metropolitan area will only create more competition for a limited number of major events.

“Lady Gaga isn’t going to play both Phoenix and Glendale,” is how Matheson puts it.

And then there’s:

The Coyotes are unlikely to leave for greener pastures, though, because NHL executives care much more about having a team in the Phoenix area than anyone in the Phoenix area cares about having a hockey team. The Phoenix metropolitan area is the sixth largest media market in the United States, which means an NHL benefits from having a presence there—even if the team is terrible and the fans are apathetic—for marketing purposes and television advertising revenue.

That’s more debatable: The NHL’s national U.S. TV revenue is pretty piddly as these things go, and I really doubt NBC said during negotiations, “Well, since you have that all-important Phoenix hockey viewership market, we’ll tack on an extra $25 million a year.” More likely is that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is fixated on his “Sunbelt strategy” to to seed NHL franchises across the U.S. South and West, and doesn’t want to back down — though since that’s a strategy predicated on filling U.S. markets to get bigger U.S. TV deals, I suppose Reason is at least half-right. You’d kind of think by now that some of the other NHL owners would be saying, “Gary, this whole Arizona thing isn’t working out, let the team move somewhere that it can actually sell a ticket or two,” but I suppose where there’s arena-subsidy life, there’s hope.

Coyotes’ $170m tax kickback bill is mostly dead, owners go back to drawing board

So if Arizona Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman though that threatening vaguely that the franchise “cannot survive” in its existing arena in Glendale was going to shake loose money from the state legislature, yeah, no, that’s not happening. State senate president Steve Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday that “I have no expectation that that bill is going to move,” and even the bill’s sponsor was reduced to mumbling something about how where there’s life, there’s hope:

[Sen. Bob] Worsley, who pushed the bill through a committee he chairs in February, said it “may be the case” the legislation is in trouble. Yet he noted that no bills truly are dead until the Legislature adjourns.

So assuming that the bill to write as much as $1 billion in blank checks to local sports teams for new buildings isn’t going anywhere, now what? Barroway and his co-owners may not be getting paid $8 million a year to run the Glendale arena anymore, but they still have a fairly cushy lease that has already been extended through 2018, so they can easily keep going year-to-year while trying to find some other Phoenix-area elected body eager to throw public money at them. They could try to move the team, but the options there aren’t much better: Quebec would require selling the team to Quebecor, Seattle still doesn’t have an NHL-ready arena, and other cities are even more of a shot in the dark. The real answer here appears to be “if you’re going to buy a hockey franchise, maybe don’t buy one that plays in a non-hockey hotbed and has never been able to draw flies,” but Barroway and company have made their bed, so honestly unless you’re a Coyotes fan, there’s no reason to worry about how they choose to lie in it.

Maple Leafs ticket prices aren’t part of a grand conspiracy, except for the usual ones

A headline like “Why are NHL tickets expensive in Toronto? Because they’re cheap in Phoenix” has got to be pretty much irresistable if you’re an editor at the Globe and Mail. But does columnist Tony Keller actually make that case? Let’s follow the bouncing argument:

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs can charge through the nose for tickets because demand for hockey in Ontario exceeds the supply.
  • The Arizona Coyotes can’t charge squat for tickets because demand for hockey in Arizona is a sad joke.
  • If the Coyotes moved to Toronto or even Hamilton, it would cut into the Leafs’ market, and they’d be forced to lower ticket prices.
  • Since the Coyotes don’t make money, they have to be subsidized by revenue sharing from teams like the Leafs.
  • “The MLSE golden goose helps subsidize a squad of American lame duck franchises; those lame ducks, stuck in dry ponds, make necessary a golden goose in Toronto.”

All of this is technically true, but there are some leaps of logic here: There’s no reason to think that the NHL would allow the Coyotes to move to within spitting distance of Toronto if they left Arizona, and that Toronto “golden goose” is something the league presumably would want to keep around (and the Leafs owners would absolutely want to keep around) with or without the Coyotes’ revenue issues. There’s a difference between “the Maple Leafs owners are willing to send some money to the Coyotes’ owners to maintain their monopoly” and “this is all part of a grand conspiracy to screw hockey fans both coming and going.” (Except inasmuch as trying to use your monopoly power as the only major pro league to jack up ticket prices is the plan for pretty much every sports league that doesn’t have open promotion and relegation.)

That said, it is undeniably true that if territorial rights were eliminated and teams could move wherever they wanted, it would be arguably good for hockey fans (except those in lousy hockey markets like Phoenix) and maybe even good for the league as a whole — just the same as it would be for MLB if the Steinbrenners and Wilpons didn’t have monopoly rights to New York City. But then, sports leagues aren’t really monolithic corporations, but rather cartels of individual business owners, each in it for themselves. The only conspiracy at work here is the profit motive combined with the failure to enforce antitrust laws, which is a bigger problem than just for hockey.

Arizona officials, columnists on Coyotes move threat: Talk to us when your team doesn’t suck

So how’s that whole threaten that the Arizona Coyotes will move (somewhere) if they don’t get a new arena to replace their new arena in Glendale that replaced their new arena in Phoenix thing going over with Arizona elected officials and the media? Not well at all:

[Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps and former mayor Elaine Scruggs] said lawmakers should kill an arena funding bill…

They added that the NHL and team are trying to pull a fast one on taxpayers and, by putting a losing team on the ice, the Coyotes have no one but themselves to blame for their financial problems.

“We have continually invested heavily to keep NHL in the state of Arizona. We have held up our end of the bargain. They have not held up their end of the bargain. They cannot put a product on the ice for a community that has a lot of options,” Phelps said. “They don’t believe there is any correlation to the fact that they have not put a team that has been competitive for many, many years.”…

“And we are paying $13 million in arena debt payments, plus annual capital maintenance where we can spend $1 to $2 million a year,” Phelps said. “Our frustration is starting to build a little bit.”

Okay, sure, Glendale officials are going to be steamed, given that this whole thing started when they canceled the Coyotes’ sweetheart lease and the Coyotes owners said, “If you’re not going to pay us $8 million a year to play in our taxpayer-built arena, then screw you.” What about reaction elsewhere, say from Arizona Republic sports columnist Dan Bickley?

Bettman’s three-page letter to the Arizona legislature is backfiring badly on the NHL’s snappish commissioner. His bold-faced remarks that the Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale” come off as heavy-handed threats that absolve a hockey team from its non-competitive past while chiding a local government for withdrawing hefty subsidies it can no longer afford…

The Coyotes have failed on their end of the bargain, running their franchise on the cheap while depending on handouts to survive. If this team had consistently exposed Arizonans to the majesty of playoff hockey over the past decade, this conversation would sound much different.

And how about Republic non-sports columnist Laurie Roberts?

Glendale taxpayers still owe $145 million on the 13-year-old hockey arena. Glendale taxpayers, once they’ve paid off their debt, will have invested nearly a half a billion dollars in trying to keep the NHL in the state, according to city officials.

And this is the thanks they get, Mr. Bettman?

The Coyotes want $225 million in public money to help pay for a new arena complex either in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley. They also want control of a planned adjacent hotel and surrounding real estate development. Team owners moan that they just haven’t been able to turn a profit on the west side.

I wonder … Is the team’s inability to turn a profit because this Valley won’t support hockey? Or is it because this Valley won’t support bad hockey?

Sense a theme here? If there’s one lesson that we’ve learned over and over in stadium and arena battles, it’s that as much as there is public distaste for giving tax money to rich sports team owners, what people really hate is giving tax money to rich owners of sports teams that suck. (This undoubtedly plays into the dismal poll numbers for the Coyotes owners’ demands, too.) Dropping vague threats to move your team because you’re unhappy with your lease and claim you can’t make money is one thing; doing so when you’ve won all of two playoff series in your 21-year history is the kind of chutzpah that isn’t likely to win you many friends, or even many enemies who’ll give you money just out of fear that the team will leave.

The irony, of course, is that having Arizona taxpayers pay for a new arena to let the Coyotes move from one part of the state to another would still be a terrible idea even if the team were winning Stanley Cups. Maybe Andrew Barroway and Anthony LeBlanc should try putting together a winning team before trying their move-threat gambit, so it’ll go over better — though if they were to do that, they might risk people actually showing up to games in Glendale, which would make it tougher to argue that they need a new arena. This whole extortion thing is more difficult than it looks.

NHL commissioner threatens that without new arena, Coyotes will move or evaporate or something

Stop the presses! NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Arizona Coyotes principal owner Andrew Barroway have threatened that if a new Arizona arena isn’t built, the team will move … sorta. Here’s Bettman, in his letter to the state senate:

The simple truth? The Arizona Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed. The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale.

And Barroway:

As Commissioner Bettman made clear in his letter to legislators, the Arizona Coyotes Hockey Club cannot survive in Glendale. … The bottom line remains the same: the team’s owners continue to lose tens of millions of dollars annually. Consistent losses of such magnitude are not sustainable — not for an NHL franchise, or any other business.

Yeah, that’s not exactly a threat, guys: For starters, it’s missing the “And if you don’t get it, then what?” piece. “Things cannot continue as they are” is a classic example of the non-threat threat, and having Bettman deliver it is a classic use of a league commissioner. But ultimately, despite the resulting headlines — “NHL and Coyotes tell Arizona: Give us a new arena or we will leave” in the Arizona Republic — there isn’t much more solid behind this than the last time the league did it, except that this time Bettman actually signed his name to it.

Those headlines, of course, are precisely the goal, or rather the idea of them throwing a threat into the arena-subsidy-reticent Arizona legislature is. This is the “Don’t make me come in there” of sports subsidy negotiations — better to let Arizona elected officials imagine what will happen if they don’t meet the Coyotes owners’ demands that to actually say it out loud and risk people getting mad at you for conducting extortion. Hey, it’s almost like these guys have a playbook!