Swing vote on Rams stadium says he wants “a good deal,” doesn’t specify what that is

The St. Louis board of aldermen’s ways and means committee heard public testimony last night on the Rams stadium plan, and construction unions opposed the plan, while other members of the public argued that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote on it — ha ha ha, of course that’s not what happened:

“I am for the stadium being built,” said Darryl Hunter, who is in the pipefitters union. “It will also serve as an anchor for future projects.”…

Still, those who spoke out against the project routinely referenced the lack of a public vote. … “This was supposed to be put up to a vote of the people St. Louis,” said James Anderson, of St. Louis. “That vote has been taken away. We should do something that benefits all of the city.”

While alderperson Megan Green has introduced a bill for a public vote, it would need to be approved by the same elected officials who will be voting on the stadium plan itself. So all eyes are increasingly turning to board president and swing vote Lewis Reed, who dropped a few hints on Monday on where he stands on the issue:

  • He wants a stronger minority participation clause than the one that would spend about $1.3 million on pre-apprenticeship programs for women and people of color, saying that “falls way short of what we would need.”
  • He indicated there may not be time for a public vote, but said that the best way to protect taxpayers would be “by making sure we have a good deal in place.”

Okay, so those aren’t exactly big hints, but it does look like he’s angling for some kind of compromise where he can say he got something for the public, though we don’t know what “something” he’ll settle for. With $243 million in city money currently on the line, there’s lots of room for a better deal, though given how these things usually go, I’d predict it’ll end up being something like “everyone in the city gets $1 off coupons for Rams merchandise.”

St. Louis voters want to vote on Rams stadium subsidies, because you know how voters are

“A few residents” spoke out at St. Louis City Hall yesterday morning about the Rams stadium plan — currently sitting somewhere north of $500 million in public subsidies — according to KSDK TV, which further reported that “some even argued to the Convention and Tourism Committee that they should be able to vote on whether public money is used on a stadium.”

The occasion was a committee hearing on … actually, it was on alderwoman Megan Green’s bill to hold a citywide vote in March on whether public money is used on a stadium. And some people even argued for it! Those wacky voters, with their desire to vote!

The board of aldermen’s ways and means committee, meanwhile, is set to meet tonight at 6 pm to discuss the overall Rams stadium bill. I don’t think there’s likely to be a vote, but there’s a chance we might get more of a sense of where the members of the board stand on the bill, particularly board president Lewis Reed, who at this point is set to be the deciding vote on the proposal. I bet a few residents may show up there as well to have their say.

NFL considering half-billion-dollar L.A. relocation fee, could put off decision until 2017

Of course, whether or not St. Louis and Missouri approve $500 million or so in subsidies for a new Rams stadium, there’s still the little matter of the NFL approving which team or teams it will allow to move to Los Angeles. And despite rumors that the league was getting close to a decision, Ian Rapoport of the league-owned NFL.com now reports that the L.A. situation is in “gridlock,” and while the “hope” is that a league vote could come by May, it might not take place until 2017.

What’s the holdup? It’s always possible that this is just a matter of the owners’ cabal not being able to decide which of their brethren’s move plans they want to approve, or that they’re waiting to see what city officials in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland ultimately approve. (Though if so, why leak it to the media when a looming deadline is more likely to create a sense of urgency for those voting on stadium plans?)

There’s one other wild card, though, which is that, according to a report last week in Sports Business Journal, NFL owners are looking to get $500-600 million in relocation fees from any team moving to L.A. Given that the best guess is that a relocated L.A. team would see its revenues rise by a present value of maybe $500 million or so, taking on well over a billion dollars in stadium debt plus another half a billion in relocation fees seems like financial suicide.

So to the existing game of chicken between the owners of Rams, Chargers, and Raiders and the three cities that want to keep them, add in an overlay of an additional game of chicken between the L.A.-seeking owners and the NFL over how much cash they’ll have to cough up to the league to be allowed to move. I can see where this might result in gridlock, yes.

St. Louis on hook for $243m in Rams stadium costs, comptroller calls bill “fiscally irresponsible”

St. Louis comptroller Darlene Green, who’d previously expressed her opposition to the proposed Rams stadium plan as too expensive for city taxpayers, expressed her opposition more officially on Friday, saying she’ll vote against the current bill as “fiscally irreponsible”:

“If the bill is passed in its current state and presented to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, my vote will be ‘no,’” Green said in a news release issued late Friday afternoon.

I’ve gotten a look at the city’s financial projections for the stadium, and they’re super-convoluted — not only is stadium sales tax revenue kicked back to the team to compensate for using naming-rights money to pay off city stadium bonds, which is Goldbergian enough, but the amount of tax revenue kickback bounces around between 25% and 100% over the next 40 years. From the looks of things, though, the city of St. Louis would be looking at (all numbers in present value, at a 5% discount rate) $66 million worth of sales-tax kickbacks, plus $77 million in future maintenance and operation costs, on top of the $100 million in hotel taxes that would be extended and used for the new stadium after they’re done paying off the old one. That’s $243 million from the city alone, and given that even the city’s best-case scenario (assuming all Rams sales taxes are new revenue, and they grow at 5% a year, well above the national average) is that city sales tax revenues will amount to $150 million present value, yeah, that does seem pretty fiscally irresponsible.

Green’s proposed solution is for the state — which is already set to be on the hook for about $200 million in hotel tax money, plus at least $50 million in tax credits, plus probably some maintenance costs as well, though I don’t have a spreadsheet spelling out those — to pick up more of the costs. Whether she’ll get her way will depend on the other two members of the three-person board of estimate, St. Louis mayor Francis Slay and board of aldermen president Lewis Reed — which, given that Slay is the one who negotiated this plan, probably means this is going to come down to how Reed votes. Reed has been relatively quiet recently on the stadium plan, but back in the spring he said St. Louis should do everything it takes to keep the Rams, so there’s that.

Of course, the Rams bill won’t even get to the board of estimate unless it first gets through the board of aldermen, which has been busily holding hearings but isn’t ready for a vote yet. The likely scenario on the ways and means committee, which must approve the bill to send it to the full board, is a 4-4 tie — alderman Stephen Conway recently griped, in CBS Sports Radio 920’s copy-editor-free transcription, that “there are people against it because it’s sheik to be against it and the wealthy NFL owners” — for which the tiebreaking vote would be cast by … oh, look, it’s Reed again! I think we can guess who the governor and the mayor and the Rams are likely wining and dining about now, huh?

St. Louis holds stadium panel outdoors, finds sunshine doesn’t make locals any happier about lack of vote

The St. Louis board of aldermen (truth in advertising note: not actually all men) held a public hearing on the proposed new Rams stadium on Saturday, and held it outdoors near the proposed stadium site, because it was a nice day and a good excuse for a gimmick. Also, alderman Steve Conway felt, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that “the best way for everyone to grasp the scope of the project is by having the meeting where the stadium would be built.”

Anyway, what’d the public have to say?

The majority of city residents who spoke called for a public vote.  Many, like Andrew Arkill, also questioned whether a stadium was the best use of tax dollars.

“This is about the financial impact of the residents of the city of St. Louis, who all of you  are elected to represent,” said Arkill. “I don’t hate sports. I don’t hate football. I don’t hate the Rams. I don’t even hate the idea of building new stadiums. What I am concerned about is the public financing of these stadiums, especially when the financing package doesn’t offer an attractive return on investment.”


“You’ve got a stadium area where people clearly said if they are going to put more money into stadiums, we need to vote on it,” said Michael Bird who lives in Dogtown. “We need democracy. And here you go. You’ve got the stadium (coming) across the highway to this area right here. (It’s) against the will of the people. It’s disdainful.”

There were also locals with “Keep the Rams in St. Louis” signs, but from the sound of things the pro-“hold a public vote on this already” sentiment was strong — which shouldn’t be surprising, as that’s also been the sentiment when voters have actually been asked to vote on whether to hold a vote. The St. Louis board of aldermen is going to vote on whether to hold a public vote, but the mayor says they shouldn’t, because people might not vote the right way.

Okay, I think everyone has grasped the scope of the project now.

Everyone knows what the NFL-to-LA negotiations are, commences haggling over the price

I got busy yesterday preparing for my talk this morning reading from the Coney Island chapter-in-progress of The Brooklyn Wars (if you want to see some highlights, Amy Nicholson of Zipper fame did some livetweeting), which means I didn’t get a chance to recap the flood of news around Wednesday’s presentations to the NFL by cities whose teams are threatening to move to L.A. Not that there was much real news in the sense of anyone coming up with new plans or decisions on how L.A. relocation will decided or discoveries of a money tree for funding the actual stadiums or anything, but, you know what, let’s just get to it, shall we:

  • Officials from each city — San Diego, Oakland, and St. Louis — spent two hours apiece meeting with NFL owners, after which St. Louis stadium point person Dave Peacock said, “I doubt our presentation could have gone much better.” Which is … good, right? This is like the “You can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor” SNL sketch.
  • San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York came out of the meeting and said, “Let’s look at the markets where teams are already, and if they prove to not be viable, then we will look at the next step, which is relocation,” and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson added that a St. Louis stadium proposal which meets “the protocol for the NFL on relocation” would force the league to keep the Rams there. (Which, given that the NFL gets to write that protocol, doesn’t mean a ton, but it got everyone in St. Louis excited that “If we throw enough money at the Rams, they’ll have to stay, even if we don’t know how much money is enough!”
  • The Chargers and Raiders then blew up the news cycle entirely by announcing that their new point person for their proposed Carson stadium would be Bob Iger, the freaking CEO of freaking Disney. Which means nothing, really, except that they’re “serious” and all that, since “the chair of Disney is going to run our stadium” sounds better than “we want to build a stadium and we have some drawings and, uh, yeah.”
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf revealed that she’s considering issuing city lease revenue bonds for a Raiders stadium, for the first time opening the door to the city spending money on actual stadium construction costs. (ABC News calls them “tax-exempt bonds,” but lease revenue bonds for stadiums are required to be taxable, so forget that.) Lease revenue bonds would be repaid by rent payments by the Raiders, so really would just be a way of letting Mark Davis use the city’s low-interest credit card if he agrees to pay it off — though Schaaf also opened up the possibility of using tax increment financing (i.e., kicking back taxes paid by the Raiders and surrounding development), which obviously would be a whole nother kettle of fish.

In short … okay, there is no in short, since this is just a continuation of all the sides in this multidimensional game of chicken angling for an advantage. Will St. Louis convince NFL owner that their $500 million-ish stadium subsidy offer to the Rams is too rich to turn down? Will Schaaf’s offer of cheap money and maybe a smidge of tax kickbacks lure Davis into giving up on wedging his foot into the L.A. door and sticking with Oakland? Does Bob Iger provide Carson with the buzz it’s been missing since it discarded its idea for a giant eternal Al Davis flame? And most important, can anyone really make gobs of money on a move to L.A., or is it some combination of calculated risk and blackmail threat?

Answers to thee questions and more coming soon, I hope. Though I also wouldn’t recommend holding your breath, because the NFL’s deadlines, like its relocation protocols, are decided by the NFL, so if it’s in their interest to wait, they’re damn well gonna wait.

Do the financial numbers justify an NFL move to L.A.? Sorta

I’ve been threatening for a while to do a deep dive into the numbers behind moving an NFL team to Los Angeles — in short, does market size still not matter much in the NFL because everyone shares the same national TV money, or have the economics changed to where L.A. is now a potential goldmine? Thanks to Vice Sports, I finally had time to do so, and the answer is: a little of both. The short version:

  • NFL revenues may still be fairly flat across franchises compared to other leagues, but they’re up overall — and even if owning a big-market franchise is only worth 30% more than a small-market one, if the actual value of that 30% has risen, it means building an L.A. stadium is a better investment for owners than it was just five years ago.
  • Personal seat licenses have potentially changed the game, since now that the 49ers paid for a stadium essentially by crowdfunding, everyone else thinks they can, too, if the market is good enough.
  • It’s still not enough to explain why St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke would want to spend $1.8 billion on an L.A. stadium. Says Roger Noll, dean of sports economists: “Yes, it’s worth something. It’s not billions of dollars.” But Kroenke may have other reasons for wanting in to L.A. — and even if he doesn’t, the gamesmanship behind the fight to move to L.A. may be making his decision to take on the risk, as well as that of the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders owners, unstoppable.

Anyway, go read it for yourself and then we can always debate the numbers in comments below. It’s not quite a definitive answer to whether all the L.A. move talk is serious, a bluff, or somewhere in between, but it’s at least an attempt to establish some basis for discussing it.


NFL really pushing this whole “Rams should get to keep taxes and eat them too” thing

When last we left the St. Louis Rams stadium controversy, NFL VP Eric Grubman was trying to insist that using city revenue from sales and income taxes on Rams games was a terrible idea — not because that’s money that currently goes to the city treasury, as you might think, but because those taxes are “an NFL asset in the way we view the world,” so really they should just go to Rams owner Stan Kroenke to pay his share of stadium costs. Which is the kind of argument that’s so off-the-wall crazy that you have to figure he doesn’t mean for anyone to take him seriously, he’s just trying to—

After doing some poking around the past few days, serious concerns are growing in the NFL that any owner — let alone Kroenke — would sign off on what St. Louis is proposing…

When viewed through an NFL lens, the $75 million should count as team money, which brings the private contribution to $685 million.

As a result, what St. Louis currently sees as a $610 million private to $390 million public split, the NFL sees as a $685 million private to $315 million public split.

And that is a huge issue.

Okay, so the Los Angeles Daily News is taking Grubman seriously. Which means the NFL is actually preparing to defend turning down around $400 million in stadium subsidies from St. Louis on the grounds that not only should tax money be used to subsidize private construction projects, but that teams should get that tax money plus more tax money to make up for the fact that the first tax money is money that was paid by the team, so get your own damn tax money. It’s not quite the definition of chutzpah, but it’s getting close.

NFL to meet on Veterans Day to hear latest proposals to end the L.A. relocation war

Mark down November 11 as the day to mourn the senseless loss of 38 million lives in World War I. Also, the day for St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland to make their latest stadium presentations to the NFL.

Not that either is likely to provide any new news: We already know how those cities’ stadium plans are turning out (if not quite as definitively as the Great War, then close enough), so don’t expect any sudden surprises. And the presentations will take place in a closed NFL meeting room, and the league has said that no owners will be available for interviews afterwards, so there’s not even likely to be any good tea-leaf reading opportunities.

Behind closed doors, at least, the presentations are likely to give owners something to chew on, so maybe later in November we’ll be treated to some insider gossip about who’s siding with or against whom, which is always fun. As always, I’d prefer some coverage of whether any of these stadium plans — in the three current NFL cities or in L.A. — make any damn sense, but I guess if I want that job done, I’m just going to have to do it myself.

Watching NFL stadium extortion in slow motion is not pretty

Marine Layer of Newballpark.org watched NFL VP Eric Grubman’s three-hour “town hall” with Oakland Raiders fans so you didn’t have to, and his recap is well worth reading. If you just want it in bullet points, though, here you go:

  • This was a sad spectacle, not that anyone should have expected anything different: “As each story about generational bonding or heartbreak was heard, the more it sounded like groveling. That’s what the owners and the NFL have reduced fans to doing: begging to keep the team in town. … Some guy within NFL Films will be tasked with editing the combined nine hours of testimony down to probably 30 minutes that will be consumed by the collective 32 NFL owners at a future league meeting. I don’t envy that person one bit.”
  • Grubman is the NFL’s answer to George Clooney’s smarmy hatchet man in Up in the Air: “Grubman’s ability to empathize with every fan and speaker was amazing to watch. Veterans and government employees received laudatory Thank you for your service salutations. Several times he prefaced a remark with, I know what it’s like to be a fan. It was as breathtaking and sickening a performance as I’ve ever seen – including Clooney’s, which netted him an Oscar nomination.”
  • Nobody has a magic wand: “No one wants to be left with the check at the end of the night, whether it’s Davis and his ownership partners, the City of Oakland and Alameda County, or stadium financiers. This is not a trivial amount of money – $400 million – that we’re talking about. Fans need to stop treating this issue like it is.”

That’s about the size of it. Not like any of this public charade is likely to matter much in the end — that’s going to come down to 32 guys in a room and someone with a list of subsidy promises and an adding machine — but it’s important to remember that even corporate sports behemoths feel the need to worry a smidge about public perceptions.