Moreno officially shuts down talks with Anaheim on Angels land deal, makes goo-goo eyes at Tustin

The Los Angeles Angels‘ season is decidedly not over — they open the American League Division Series on Thursday, against either the A’s or Royals — but Angels president John Carpino still managed to upstage his own team’s division crown on Friday, by announcing that he was walking away from negotiations with Anaheim on renovating his stadium, and could instead look into moving the team to the nearby small city of Tustin:

“Our goal from day one was to ensure a high-quality fan experience well into the future,” John Carpino, the Angels president, said in a statement as his team prepares for the playoffs. “We have spent a lot of time on this memorandum of understanding, and after 12 months, we feel our best course of action is to dissolve this non-binding agreement.

And this from Angels owner Arte Moreno:

“It’s been over a year,” Moreno said. “We’ve gone backwards. We haven’t accomplished anything.”

What’s going on here, in a nutshell: Moreno declared last year that he’d be happy to renew his lease and do stadium renovations on his own dime, if the city of Anaheim would just give him the right to develop his stadium’s parking lot for one dollar Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait then conducted an appraisal of the land the Angels wanted, and determined that it was worth between $245 million and $325 million, significantly more than Moreno was planning to spend on renovations.

This was, as Deadspin aptly puts it, “how to call a team’s bluff on stadium subsidies.” Moreno, though, had more bluffs up his sleeves than that, and speculation immediately began that the team could move somewhere else in Orange County. Say, Tustin, which has a large decommissioned marine air station it could hand over for a dollar if it really wanted to. Or Irvine, which … is also in Orange County, so sure, why not?

Whether this Tustin threat is for real or just leverage is hard to say: As I told the Orange County Register, it’s conceivable that Moreno could come up with enough cash for a stadium if he were given enough free land, and maybe some property or sales tax kickbacks or something. Or it could be that he just hopes the fear of being the guy who lost the Angels to Tustin would be enough to scare Tait into capitulating. It shouldn’t be — if the Angels left, Anaheim would suddenly have $325 million worth of vacant land it could then develop, and Angels fans really wouldn’t be put out by driving a few extra miles to Tustin — but this is what brinksmanship looks like. The Tustin city council, meanwhile, has called a special closed session (preceded by public comments) for 4:45 pm tomorrow to discuss a possible land deal with Moreno.

And finally, let’s not forget this, from the Voice of OC:

The Angels’ stadium lease with Anaheim runs out in 2029. A previous clause in the lease allowed the Angels to leave in 2016. If the owners didn’t use the exit clause, the team was locked in until 2029. But last year, the city council gave the Angels three more years, until 2019, to decide whether to stay in Anaheim or go elsewhere.

Great negotiating there, Anaheim city council.

Hillsborough commissioner talks about task force to talk about Rays move talks, again

The Tampa Bay Rays‘ season ended yesterday, so it’s probably about time for more rumors about them moving across the bay:

County Commissioner Ken Hagan said he will ask his fellow board members Wednesday to designate the Tampa Sports Authority as the agency that will deal with the Rays should St. Petersburg let the team look at stadium sites outside Pinellas County.

That’s pretty deep into the subjunctive, there, but Hagan insists that he has reasons to believe that “an agreement is near which would allow the Rays to legally speak and meet … about a new stadium,” mostly that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has indicated he may be open to the idea. Though Kriseman immediately called Hagan’s proposal “premature” and “problematic,” so this is probably just Hagan being Hagan.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has assembled land around his team’s arena and is trying to build one of those mixed-use urban districts that are all the rage — fortunately, without asking for city money, at least. Still, people are now wondering whether this will be a good thing or a bad things for any plans to move the Rays. And then there’s Hagan, who just warns that it’s a sign that eventually “we’re going to reach a point where we’re past the point of no return” on a Rays stadium. When the hurry-up offense works for you, might as well go with what you’re comfortable with.

CT prof replies on Hartford project: Yes, stadiums suck, it’s the rest of it that’s worthwhile

In the wake of my post on Friday critical of the excited media reception of University of Connecticut economist Fred Carstensen’s report on Hartford’s proposed minor-league-ballpark-plus-lots-of-other-stuff development, Carstensen weighed in with some long responses of his own, and then I responded to his response, and soon enough a whole bunch of us were having fun playing with the pencils on the bench there.

You can go read the whole comment thread now, but for those who are pressed for time, here are some of the highlights:

  • Carstensen’s analysis, he stresses, was of the combined stadium/retail/commercial/housing development, not just the stadium. The stadium itself, he notes, would likely be a bad deal for the city, as will the retail piece; however, adding office space that could bring in new jobs and apartment buildings that could bring in new residents could make it a net positive.
  • The REMI model that he used does account for displacement of other spending, though it wasn’t spelled out in the Hartford paper; I’m still reading through REMI’s FAQ to figure out how exactly it handles it.
  • It might well be more beneficial for Hartford to seek a development on the same site that doesn’t require a $60 million stadium subsidy, but that’s not what’s on the table here. So at least the city would be getting something positive back for its money, even if there’s no way of knowing whether it’s the best deal possible without putting the site back out for bids.

My concern remains not just that last bullet point, but the question of what happens if the stadium subsidy gets approved, then the office and residential space — all the good stuff, in city fiscal terms — never gets built. Carstensen writes via email that this is in fact something he pointed out in his testimony (but which didn’t make it into the papers that I could tell): Any deal would need to include some kind of provisions to cover the city’s costs if the rest of the development doesn’t happen, or else Hartford could be left holding the bag.

Anyway, my apologies for giving short shrift to Carstensen’s study of the project, which looks like was actually more comprehensive (and more mixed in findings) than what made it through into the next day’s reportage. This still looks like a risky project for Hartford, but he’s not the one trying to paper over the risk.

NFL’s tax-exempt status could be providing tax breaks to teams, not just league

Timothy Lavin of Bloomberg View had an op-ed up last week on the NFL’s tax-exempt status, which I set aside before reading at first because while the league’s tax exemption is annoying, it doesn’t really amount to all that much of a tax subsidy. (Because individual teams, which are what actually earn the revenue, are still taxed.)

Except that Lavin has found some potential loopholes that the NFL may be exploiting to use that tax exemption as a more significant tax dodge:

  • “First, the league’s primary business these days is no longer football, it’s financing.” The NFL’s stadium loan fund — which is really more of a grant fund, since the teams get to pay it back with revenue they wouldn’t keep otherwise — appears to allow the league to borrow money on lower terms than it would otherwise, and pass the savings on to the teams that are building stadiums.
  • NFL teams pay more than $300 million a year total in dues to the league. If that money is then used to help teams pay for stadium costs, the team owners get to treat it as a business expense rather than a capital expenditure, which allows them to write it off much more quickly.

Lavin cautions that without looking at NFL teams’ books (ha ha ha ha!), we don’t know how much they’re actually saving by these methods, so it still may not be a huge deal. But this does potentially explain why the NFL is holding onto its 501(c)(6) status, which MLB voluntarily ditched in 2007.

Either way, the benefits for teams almost certainly pale in comparison to those from the IRS’s continuing acceptance of the tax-exempt bond dodge, which saves sports teams around $150 million a year, at the expense of the federal treasury. Maybe someday Congress will get around to doing something about all this, beyond staging the occasional hearing.

Hartford stadium study shows dollar bills to pour out of butts of flying monkeys

A University of Connecticut economic consultant hired by the Hartford city council to evaluate the proposed New Britain Rock Cats stadium project has come out with his draft report, and it says … you know, how long am I going to have to keep doing this, really? Some guy (a finance and economics professor, though his doctorate is actually in economic history, if you want to get technical) gets paid a bunch of money ($7,500 in this case) to write a report showing the positive benefits of a new stadium project (between 1,000 and 1,300 permanent full-time equivalent jobs created! personal incomes after taxes raised by $120 million!), and the local paper dutifully reprints what he says about it, and then I have to be the one to actually read the thing? I mean, I know it’s my superpower and all, but every time?

Okay, fine: Fred Carstensen’s report looks to be pretty basic, not actually evaluating the specific pros and cons of the Hartford stadium project, but rather just taking the projected economic activity at the stadium, brewery, retail, and other stuff that the project developer wants to build, plugging it into the REMI economic impact software, and hitting “Calculate.” This shows us that if there are lots of new stores and housing and things in Hartford where people will be spending money, a lot more money will be spent in Hartford. It’s math!

What it doesn’t show — unless Carstensen did these calculations and then neglected to mention it in his paper — is what the negative impacts of funding this project would be. If there are new retail outlets, would that prevent people from spending the same money at other stores elsewhere in the city or state? What else could the land that would be devoted to the project be used for, and what would be the economic activity that would occur then? What else could the $4 million a year that Hartford would be chipping in for the project be used for, and would giving up that city spending cause economic losses elsewhere? Sorry, you only paid for the $7,500 report, you must have wanted the deluxe model.

Now, I don’t expect news reporters or city council members to be economists — but then, I’m not an economist either, and it’s really not that hard to learn to read these things and figure out what questions to ask, at least. Or, if you’re really on deadline and crunched for time, at least do a one-minute Google search to find that Carstensen has predicted huge benefits from every sports project he’s studied previously — even citing the “impressive impact” of a UConn football stadium after a study that he later admitted showed the stadium wouldn’t even pay back the state’s investment. [UPDATE: Carstensen says this misrepresents his (and his economic analysis center's) previous work, which only found a positive impact from stadium-plus-other-stuff projects, not stadiums themselves; see comments for more.]

Anyway, if our nation’s journalists aren’t going to do the job, it’s up to you, the nation’s readers. Next time you see a headline about the jobs and economic activity that are going to result from a new sports project, click through to the actual study and see if it’s examined all of the deeper consequences mentioned here. And then, why not make a phone call or drop an email to your favorite local news source asking them why they didn’t bother to ask the obvious questions? (If you want to really get their attention, cc Jim Romenesko or CJR or FAIR.) Friends, they’ll call it a movement.

Vegas MLS developers: Forget all that we-pay-you-for-your-debt business, just give us $3m a year

With a majority of the Las Vegas city council unconvinced by their revised financial plan, boosters of a publicly subsidized MLS stadium have come up with: a completely new financial plan! Now, instead of the city putting up $7 million a year or so in bond payments and getting (maybe, if the team turns enough profit) $4 million a year back in rent payments, the city would just kick in $3 million a year, and the team would put its $4 million a year into paying off new private loans, and pay no rent.

It’s the same deal as before, then, except for eliminating the risk that the team wouldn’t make enough money to make the rent payments and leave the city on the hook for more than its $3 million — which is a potentially big concession. No word yet on what councilmembers think of this, but we should find out soon enough: The council is set to vote next Wednesday on whether to keep negotiating or kill the deal dead.

Dolphins stadium built on a Native American burial ground no really

There is absolutely no reason for me to post a link to this story, except that it is the perfect opportunity to make lots and lots of jokes:

A few months before the grand opening of [Joe Robbie Stadium], the Los Angeles Times wrote an article detailing the construction and unique funding of the Dolphins’ new stadium. The article also mentions the burial site discovery:
“Then there were the two acres that archaeologists claimed were an Indian burial ground more than 1,000 years ago. They said that the Tequesta Indians had used the site about 800 A.D., and the Seminole Indians in the mid-19th Century.”
The discovery threw a wrench into the Dolphins’ construction plans because they were faced with archaeological guidelines before they could continue digging. The Dolphins originally agreed to avoid clearing part of the southeast corner of the property where the remains where found but later received permission to remove the remains and artifacts. Because you don’t just not build a football stadium because Native Americans happened to use your land to bury their dead centuries ago.

Not only do the Miami Dolphins play there, but the Florida Marlins used to as well, so feel free to blame anything and everything on the stadium’s builders having violated the spirits of the dead. Or just make Poltergeist references, that works too.

Cubs fans split on Wrigley changes, agree on utter powerlessness of mere citizens

As the owners of the Chicago Cubs prepare to break ground on renovations to Wrigley Field that will include two new giant electronic scoreboards, Chicago media outlets, with nothing better to do because who cares about Cubs road games in September, are busy talking to fans about what they think of the changes:

“That’s cool,” said Pamela Carrisales of Lubbock, Tex., who attended her first game at Wrigley Field with boyfriend Junior Jimenez.
“I’m still nostalgic for the old Comiskey Park,” said Fred Ciba, of Wilmette. “I liked the old Comiskey Park better than the new Comiskey Park.”
He said he’s afraid that after spending millions of dollars on renovations, flash and sizzle, the “new” Wrigley Field won’t be as good as the “old” one.
“But what are you going to do?” he lamented.

Yeah, it’s too bad no one has invented any kind of public process by which citizens and their elected representatives can exert control over what changes private landowners can make to buildings that are important to the general public. That’d be cool.

Cubs set to break ground on Wrigley changes, despite lawsuit and National Park Service qualms

Al Yellon of SBNation has posted some photos from this weekend of the Wrigley Field outfield wall and bleachers, because with the Chicago Cubs on the road the rest of the year, this was the last chance to see Wrigley without the big ol’ video board that is set to be installed over the winter.

Despite the landmarks lawsuit filed last month, and the possibility of $75 million in tax credits being at stake if the National Park Service decides the honking big ad boards are too honking big, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is apparently determined to break ground this weekend on the first stage of renovations. It looks like that will only be for the expanded underground clubhouse, though — video boards don’t need all winter to be installed — so there’s still the chance, however slim, of a court injunction or NPS ruling that could change Ricketts’ plans. It’s a long way to April.

Youth soccer group opposes Vegas soccer stadium, because irony

Journalists love irony, even those who don’t work for Slate, so this had to be irresistible:

The [Las Vegas MLS] stadium funding foes also include another unlikely group — the Nevada Youth Soccer Association, which represents 10,000 statewide soccer players, including 7,500 in Southern Nevada.

Soccer moms opposed to a soccer stadium! Now there’s man-bites-dog.

The problem with the MLS project, according to the Nevada Youth Soccer Association, is that it would use $3 million of city parks money, at the same time that Las Vegas is raising soccer field usage fees by $40 a kid to cover the parks department’s budget deficit. The city says the money that would go to the soccer stadium is from the parks capital budget, not the operating budget, and … moving money from the capital budget to the soccer stadium budget is easier than moving it to the field maintenance budget, I guess?

Anyway: Soccer moms opposed to a soccer stadium! There’s another week to go before the city council votes on whether to keep this deal alive, so we’ve got to kill time however we can.