Friday roundup: Pistons disguise empty seats as other-colored empty seats, Olympics tourism is bad and likely to get worse, Suns have no clue about arena plans, and more!

Off we go! In my case, literally: I’ll be traveling all next week, so if you don’t hear much from me around here, hold tight and I’ll catch up with all the news on my return. In the meantime, keep yourself warm at night with this week’s worth of fresh items:

  • Pyeongchang’s surge in tourism for the Olympics is unlikely to be sustained in future years, according to a study that shows tourism levels quickly drop back to normal, when they even have an Olympic uptick in the first place. (Overseas visitors to London were actually down in the summer of 2012.) Given that you can still walk up and buy tickets to most of this year’s Olympic events, I wouldn’t count on it being an exception to the rule. Hope the locals enjoy all those new hotels!
  • Phoenix Rising F.C. is designing a new MLS-ready stadium on the site of its current temporary stadium on the Salt River Pima reservation, and claims it will pay the whole $250 million cost. That would sure be nice, but then that’s what we were told in Sacramento, too.
  • The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is sponsoring bills in state legislatures that establishing bans on spending public money on pro sports stadiums, which would kick in as soon as 25 states agreed to join the compact. Better they spend on that than on trying to buy Congress, certainly, but as sports economist John Vrooman noted to the Arizona Republic, this wouldn’t stop the other 25 states from continuing to spend to try to lure teams, at which point the whole system would break down. Vrooman said really any legislation needs to happen on the federal level, and “unfortunately for local taxpayers held hostage, that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.” You gotta believe, John!
  • The projected cost to restore Miami Marine Stadium — remember Miami Marine Stadium? — has risen from $45 million to $59.6 million, and Miami has only $50.4 million set aside to pay for it, and yeah, that’s not good.
  • If you were wanting a long, fawning profile of the Golden State Warriors COO in charge of building their new arena, the Associated Press is here to serve. I’m more interested in the accompanying photo of a giant model of the arena, which makes the upper deck seats look kinda crappy thanks to an intervening clot of suites and club seats, but other images that show the end seats make it look not so bad, so I’ll withhold judgment until somebody (maybe even me!) sees the new place with their own eyes.
  • Hey, Phoenix Suns president Jason Rowley, how are your arena plans going? “‘What’s the best solution?’ It hasn’t been figured out yet.” Are you thinking of going in on an arena with the Arizona Coyotes? “There really hasn’t been a whole lot of conversation between us and the Coyotes.” Any hints at all about what your plans might be? “There are so many pieces to an arena conversation that it’s very difficult to identify one thing that would either be a go-forward situation or one thing that would impact where you’re ultimately going to end up.” The Suns have an opt-out in their current arena lease in 2022, so expect more heated rhetoric once we get closer to that date.
  • The Detroit Pistons are putting black seat covers over the red seats at their new arena during their home games, to make it less obvious how many empty seats there are. The covers are removed for Red Wings games, because the Red Wings’ team color is red, so I guess for them it’s not embarrassing, it’s promotion of their brand? The Pistons are also letting fans move down from the upper deck to the lower at no cost to make the empty seats look less bad on television. Hope Detroit is enjoying all that economic development!
  • At least Detroit got lots of local construction jobs from the arena, and that’s one thing no one can take away! Unless you believe the claims of a local construction worker’s lawsuit against one arena contractor, which says he was only hired to meet the project’s 51% local hiring quota and then immediately fired, while at the same time suburban workers were brought in under fake addresses. And even then, city data shows that only 27% of total workers on the arena project lived in Detroit.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says he approves of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ preferred Ybor City site for a new stadium — it’s literally his job to say this, so no surprise there — and has told Tampa business leaders that they need to be “engaged in this effort” because “it’s good for community over the long haul.” He then added, “It’s crucial that we get a facility here that allows the Rays to get more toward the middle of the industry in terms of their revenues,” which pretty much sounds like, Hey, local corporate titans, one of your brethren isn’t making as much profit as he’d like, please give him a bunch of your money so his bank balance looks better, okay? More power to him if that sales pitch works, I guess, but I’m in no way confident it will take a significant bite out of that $400 million-plus funding hole, and remain concerned it’s mostly misdirection so that whenever the Rays eventually go to taxpayers hat in hand, they can say, Look, the business community is already chipping in, you gotta do your part too, capisce?

Coyotes sign up for another year in Glendale, this could keep going on forever

Arizona Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc already once declared that there was no way his team could play any longer at Glendale’s arena now that they didn’t manage it (and get paid handsomely for doing so), and then agreed to extend his lease for another year. So it should really be no surprise that, despite vowing not to do it again, LeBlanc’s successor Andrew Barroway has done it again:

“We are absolutely planning to play next season at Gila River Arena and are focused on building a winning hockey team, positively contributing to our community, and achieving success in all aspects of our business,” said Ahron Cohen, the team’s chief operating officer told The Arizona Republic...

The Coyotes had until Dec. 31 to notify AEG, the arena manager, whether the team plans to play elsewhere for the 2018-19 season. If the team does nothing, the lease automatically renews for one more year in Glendale.

Cohen noted the Coyotes have an “evergreen lease,” meaning it can continually renew annually with AEG.

Dale Adams, AEG general manager, said the Coyotes never gave him the impression that they would leave.

“I don’t know where they would go,” Adams said.

That’s an excellent point, since Coyotes arena plans are continuing to go nowhere fast. It’s entirely possible that the team will continue to bumble along (both on-ice and in terms of getting fans to show up) in Glendale for the foreseeable future, since apparently that’s still more lucrative than spending their own money to build a new arena in a better location elsewhere in the Phoenix area, and nobody seems to think that moving to Houston or Quebec, say, would be a better option. This is why one generally shouldn’t believe team move threat ultimatums: On rare occasions they’re true, but at least 90% of the time they’re just hissy fits.

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.