Saints threaten to play in Baton Rouge as leverage to get Superdome reopened to fans

The battle over letting fans back into sports stadiums has so far been a matter for state politicians and team officials, who have tried to strike a balance between concern for public health and desire for private profit. But no team has succeeded in pitting two different government against each other, in a “savvy negotiator creates leverage” way, to compete for a team’s presence — until now:

Fed up with COVID restrictions that have silenced the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Saints say they’re considering another venue that could bring back a little noise.

LSU and Baton Rouge say they are happy to lend out Tiger Stadium…

Officials with Visit Baton Rouge say even a few extra Saints fans could bring in big business for the city…

“Obviously it would be the biggest single event that would occur, or episode to occur in Baton Rouge during this pandemic,” said Paul Arrigo, President & CEO of Visit Baton Rouge.

Some background: New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell has issued much tougher measures on public events, mask-wearing, and other Covid prevention methods than the rest of the state, creating what one disease expert called an unintentional controlled experiment in the efficacy of anti-pandemic rules. (So far Orleans Parish is doing significantly better than the rest of the state, both in terms of total cases and recent cases.) And the Saints, of course, play in the Superdome, which is of course indoors, which is of course where the virus goes to spread. So Cantrell has steadfastly refused to open the dome to fans:

“While the Saints’ request for a special exception to the city’s COVID-19 guidelines remains under consideration, allowing 20K people in an indoor space presents significant public health concerns,” Cantrell said in a statement.

“At present, no NFL stadium in the country with a fixed-roof facility is allowing such an exception,” her statement read. “We will continue to monitor the public health data, but cannot set an artificial timeline for how and when conditions may allow for the kind of special exemption being requested.”

Playing outdoors at LSU’s Tiger Stadium actually seems like a good solution here, at least if masked (when not eating or drinking) and distanced fans attending games outdoors turns out to be safe, which we still don’t know for sure. But Saints execs seem to be using the option less as a stop-gap measure than as a saber to rattle, issuing a statement saying that their “overwhelming preference is to play our games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with partial fan attendance” even while they’re exploring the option of playing in Baton Rouge.

And why should New Orleans care if the Saints play in Baton Rouge temporarily? All together now: ECONOMIC ACTIVITY!!!1!

“Baton Rouge is going to get all of that money. They’re going to get all the restaurant money, all the hotel money,” said [New Orleans native and Saints fan Andruski] Austin. “They’re going to get all of that.”

Okay, so maybe asking a random Saints fan for an economic impact statement wasn’t the most expert source you could use, WWL-TV. The Saints have five home games left this season, so you’re talking maybe 100,000 fans total going to games in Baton Rouge; most of them are either going to be local or make the hour-plus drive from New Orleans, so there’s probably not a ton of hotel money at stake. Maybe you’ll get some more restaurant visits, but at most you’re talking about a couple million dollars in spending — Baton Rouge has a 5.5% local sales tax, so maybe could see $100,000 or something in new taxes as a result, which probably wouldn’t be enough to pay for extra hospital services if even a small outbreak resulted from Saints fans piling into Fat Boy’s Pizza for a postgame meal.

It’s entirely possible that none of this will sway Mayor Cantrell, and also possible that the Saints will play games temporarily at LSU and everything will be fine. But this is another worrisome data point in the trend of sports teams seeing taking on increased Covid risks as a competitive advantage — and cities now being encouraged (by the local news media and random football fans, anyway) to do the same. Letting fans back into sporting events as soon as it’s safe is a great idea; letting them back in as soon as someone is worried that they’ll be leaving money on the table if they don’t is extremely not.

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Everything sports leagues are getting wrong about letting fans into games, ranked

Another week, another pile of news about sports leagues grappling frantically with what to do about a world where, on the one hand, billions of dollars of revenue are at stake, and on the other, if you let people gather too close to each other for too long, lots of people could die. Let’s start with the NBA, which just completed its successful playoff bubble for the 2019-20 season and is currently trying to figure out how to play next season starting in maybe January:

  •  “Roughly 40 percent of the NBA’s annual $8 billion revenue is tied to arena-related spending on tickets, concessions, parking and merchandise,” notes the Washington Post. Since the NBA salary cap is tied to revenue, this means the league and players will either need to reach an agreement on adjusting that formula for the upcoming season, or seeing draconian cuts in how much each team is allowed to spend.
  • The just-completed playoff bubble worked well, but asking players to spend months more away from their families is likely a non-starter — especially, says the Post, “because the NFL and MLB are operating without bubbles.”
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has pointed to “rapid testing” as a necessary advancement before fans can be allowed back in arenas. “If it becomes possible to administer coronavirus tests and get instant results, such a process could be added to the check-in procedure at NBA arenas and facilitate fan attendance,” writes the Post. “‘There are a lot of pharmaceutical companies focused on that,’ Silver said. ‘There’s a huge marketplace for that.'”

Okay, a couple of things here. First off (no, I’m not really going to be ranking these, headline poetic license, sorry), it’s more than slightly worrisome that the MLB and NFL non-bubbles are being used as precedent for the NBA’s plans, since those two have each led to significant outbreaks on several teams. At least these have mostly so far been nipped in the bud by fast quarantines; so if the NBA doesn’t mind scheduling a bunch of makeup doubleheaders, it might work, depending on your definition of “work.”

As for rapid testing: Yes, it is a big problem that testing takes so long right now, as most people are really only able to find out whether they were sick several days ago, which isn’t nearly as helpful from a prevention-of-disease-spread standpoint as finding out if you’re sick right now. But if Adam Silver genuinely thinks you can just scan everybody at the turnstiles and turn away anyone who’s positive and thus create a safe bubble, he needs to read up on how this virus works — for starters, you can be infectious for 48 hours or more before you start testing positive, so while rapid testing could screen out some disease spreaders, it’s hardly a panacea.

The NBA still looks like a bastion of public health concern, though, compared to college football, where the approach is neatly summed up by Lauren Theisen’s Defector article “A Willingness To Risk A Superspreader Event Is Now A Competitive Advantage“:

  • Texas A&M not only admitted 24,709 fans for Saturday’s game against Florida — just under 25% of the 102,733 capacity at Kyle Field; the state of Texas actually allows 50% capacity, though no one’s tried it yet — but it packed fans pretty close together in sections near the field, for maximum intimidation factor, but also minimum social distancing.
  • In response, Florida head coach Dan Mullen now wants his stadium at full 90,000 capacity, “to give us that home-field advantage that Texas A&M had.” The state of Florida has no official limits on fan attendance currently, and Theisen warns that this “could become a dangerous arms race over the next several weeks of the season.”
  • In the largely unregulated world of the NCAA, this is likely to be decided unilaterally by individual schools, just as they’re now deciding whether to cancel games based less on whether they’ve had positive coronavirus tests than on whether they’ve been forced to admit they’ve had them.

And then there’s baseball, which let 10,000 fans (more or less — on TV it looked like less, anyway) into Arlington’s new stadium for last night’s first game of the NLCS between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, raking in their first ticket sales of the year. (Though not for outrageous prices by postseason standards, if StubHub is any guide, with some seats available for under $50.) The roof was open and usable seats were distanced, though they appeared not to be staggered by row — it was tough to tell given how the Fox broadcast avoided any crowd shots. And one 9th-inning homer was followed by an image of two bros hugging each other while unmasked, which may help explain why Fox mostly eschewed crowd shots.

How dangerous is all this? We simply don’t know yet. We do know that outdoors is safer than indoors, but also masked is safer than unmasked and distanced is safer than not distanced; whether piling 90,000 college football haphazardly masked college football fans on top of each other outdoors would spread more virus than distributing a few thousand masked-and-rapid-tested NBA fans around an indoor arena is something that we can only know for sure after someone tries it and sees whether it leads to bodies piling up in hospital corridors. There is some promise in reports that universal masking can result in infections that are less deadly, thanks to reduced viral load — basically, less virus at one time may give the immune system a fighting chance. But even then those less-sick people could still go home and spread virus all over a relative who then gets really sick, so it’s still more silver lining than actual solution.

In a sane or at least less profit-driven world, we’d all be waiting for the results of studies like the one in Germany where they simulated virus spread at an actual indoor concert with masked and distanced fans. But that’ll take a while to get the results from, and college football has to be played now, dammit. Instead, we’re likely to get a patchwork of policies, which could be a disaster or could be totally fine, and we won’t know which until after the fact. Just keep in mind that even if it does turn out totally fine, that doesn’t mean it was a good gamble — just because the surgery worked doesn’t mean it was worth the risk. That’s probably an especially hard lesson for sports fans to learn, since sports analysis is so prone to “pinch-hitting with your worst hitter was a genius move, because he ended up hitting a home run!” reactions, but it’s an important one if you want to successfully win games or ward off a virus, more than once in a blue moon.

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Friday roundup: Jaguars’ billionaire owner wants $232m in tax money, plus guess-the-Angels-rationalization contest!

We made it another week further into the future! Sure, it’s a future that looks too much like the recent past — bad pandemic planning and stadium deals with increasingly more well-disguised subsidies — and we’re all still here discussing the same scams that I really thought were going to be a momentary fad 25 years ago. But the zombie apocalypse hasn’t arrived yet, so that’s something! Also the Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale was really excellent. Gotta stop and smell the flowers before refocusing on the underlying horror of society!

And with that, back to laughing to keep from crying:

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The NFL’s plan is to keep poking at the virus until people start getting sick

So this happened:

Before anyone gets too excited and/or horrified, the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars have all said they’re going to continue to operate at 20-25% capacity for the time being. This was just Gov. Ron DeSantis making clear that he lifted all restrictions on outdoor sporting events two weeks ago, when he also prohibited local governments from enforcing tougher restrictions or even fining people for not wearing masks. (If you’re wondering how that’s working out, virus rates in Florida haven’t surged so far, staying fairly level — though still high — but then, it generally takes more than two weeks for a surge to take hold, and also when you’re dealing mostly with stochastic spread via superspreader events, there is a lot of randomness involved as to whether and when a surge kicks in.)

So, props to the NFL for not immediately opening the fan floodgates in Florida, sure. But that’s hardly an indicator of a league that is concerned with safety above else. As we’ve seen this week — and as Barry Petchesky adeptly recounted yesterday at Defector — the league is currently dealing with a cascade of outbreaks on teams that has now caused a couple of games to be postponed, and could end up with even more. And, writes Petchesky, it was all totally predictable:

We don’t know a lot about COVID-19, but we know a few things about sports. We know bubbles, deployed by the NBA and NHL, and by MLB for its postseason, can work. We know that not-bubbling, like MLB tried for its abbreviated regular season, doesn’t work, at least not if your goal is to avoid having to cancel or postpone games. We know the NFL, due to the sheer size of its rosters and the massive logistical undertaking that staging a football game requires, probably can’t enter a bubble. We also know that it can’t afford to postpone many more games before a backlog pushes the Super Bowl into June.

That caveat re: MLB’s non-bubble is important: If the goal of “let’s let baseball teams all play in the home stadiums while still seeing their families and going to the grocery store and whatnot” was to keep anyone from getting infected, yeah, it was a disaster. But if the goal was to find a way to limp through a season with lots of postponements and makeup doubleheaders because players weren’t willing to be separated from their families for three months — the NBA and NHL were already up to playoff season, so their bubbles didn’t have to last as long — then it worked exactly as planned.

The NFL, of course, can’t stage doubleheaders, and can’t easily reschedule too many games without adding additional weeks to the season. And with 64-player rosters (48 active, 16 on a practice squad), plus a sport that involved a lot more contact than baseball (though we’re still not clear whether that’s the main risk or it’s just gathering indoors in clubhouses that mostly spreads the coronavirus), that’s a lot more dice being rolled every week than for other sports, so it’s absolutely no surprise that we’re seeing outbreaks.

Unlike MLB, though, which after some initial stumbles realized that you need to quarantine entire teams for a week or more after each new case turns up, the NFL seems to be charging ahead on a policy of Well, hopefully nobody else caught it. After New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive on Friday, Sunday’s scheduled game between the Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs was delayed — all the way to Monday night. But it can take four or more days for an infected person to test positive, while they become infectious in as little as 48 hours. So even if Patriots players all tested negative before their Monday night game, someone on the team could easily have still been incubating the virus, and spreading it to their teammates. Which may in fact have happened.

The NFL has already been heavily invested in hygiene theater, touting its disinfecting drones and temperature checks for fans, even though neither does much at all to protect anyone from Covid. (All evidence is that the virus doesn’t spread much via surfaces, and while most people with Covid symptoms run a fever, nearly half of infected people don’t have any symptoms.) Hygiene theater is based on the idea that the easier something is to do, the more one should focus on it; the decision to hold the Pats-Chiefs game on Monday after just a 24-hour delay seems to have been the inverse: If it’s too hard to do, let’s decide it doesn’t matter.

Unfortunately, in a sport where doing much of anything to combat the spread of the coronavirus among players is really hard, that’s a recipe for, if not necessarily disaster, a whole lot of extremely risky behavior. And the NFL has another decision coming up that is going to be equally hard, if only for economic reasons: The Super Bowl is scheduled to be held on February 7 in Tampa, and DeSantis has now said that it’s okay by him if they sell out the place, and that would be worth tens of millions of dollars to the league. Even if the image of a packed Super Bowl that turns into another biological bomb may give league planners second thoughts, you know that somewhere in the league offices they’re wondering: Could we get away with 30% capacity? 40%? What if we have disinfecting drones hovering over every fan? How close can we get to the precipice of a superspreader event without going over?

And that appears to be the NFL’s policy, really: Keep inching up to the limits of what’s considered safe, see who gets sick, then inch up a little further if it’s not too embarrassing a number. As I’ve noted before, this makes for a very useful experiment about how many fans can be in one place outdoors before disaster strikes — if the NFL really wanted to do it right, it should dictate that some teams allow more fans and others allow fewer, to see what the threshold is for sparking outbreaks — but it’s an experiment with human lives, which when conducted without the humans involved knowing the risks and consenting to them is generally considered a crime against humanity. But then, playing with human lives is pretty much the NFL’s jam, so why quit now while you’re massively ahead?

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Everybody loves an old stadium once it’s dead, San Diego edition

Demolition has begun on San Diego Stadium, aka Jack Murphy, aka Qualcomm, former home of the Padres and Chargers and most recently San Diego State football, as the university prepares to build a new stadium plus other development and parks and such. (As noted here previously, the city sold the 135-acre site to the Cal State system for $86 million, and if I can’t figure out for sure if the Oakland Coliseum sale is a fair price, I’m certainly not going to attempt to calculate it for the transfer of land from one government agency to another.) And because the news media love nothing more than images of new stadiums going up or old stadiums coming down, NBC San Diego offers us not one but two videos of the building in its final days, one a walkthrough and one a drone flyover.

I’ve watched them both So You Don’t Have to, and aside from the generic rock-ish music laid over the video (Shazam identified the songs as this and this, which they’re clearly not, so they must have come on some “Royalty-Free Songs Of The Early 21st Century” CD), there’s not much emotion to be wrung from them. Look, some old pipes! Ooh, the concrete light towers! To be fair, I only went to the place once, in the 1980s, for a Padres game I barely remember; if you grew up going to sporting events there, it’s more likely this was an important place to you, just like my childhood concrete donut was to me. (Though at least mine had weird blue and orange steel panels to distinguish it.)

If San Diego Stadium isn’t especially mournable like some more historic ones, it’s still a notable example of America’s (or more accurately, American sports business leaders’ and elected officials’) fetish for the new. As the videos show, it was a perfectly serviceable old bowl, splitting the geometry nicely between baseball-shaped and football-shaped in a way that too many of the perfectly round multipurpose stadiums of the 1960s and ’70s didn’t. It was mostly concrete, because that’s how architects rolled in 1967, and had kind of a retro “space age” look that architectural critics probably scoff at now. Still, aside from lacking a repurposed warehouse to act as the left-field foul pole, it was more or less just as pleasant a place to watch a sporting event as either of the two stadiums that replaced it, unless you really put a huge premium on cupholders.

Each team getting its own new stadium, of course, is one of the main reasons the old place was abandoned, first by the Padres in 2004 after owner John Moores won a referendum to approve public subsidies by placing ads on the outfield wall during the 1998 World Series, then by the Chargers after owner Dean Spanos absconded to Los Angeles with the team after throwing a hissy fit over nobody wanting to gift him with a new stadium like Moores got. Team owners and stadium builders love to tout the green-ness of their new structures, but I have yet to see an analysis weighing the value of LEED certification vs. the additional carbon footprint of tearing down buildings and replacing them with new ones every couple of decades. And that’s aside from the cost in the other kind of green: Petco Park cost taxpayers about $300 million, and the new San Diego State stadium being built because the old stadium is too big for Mountain West conference football or not state-of-the-art enough (or whatever) comes with a public price tag as well — not say it’s never worth tearing down old to build new, but it’s often overlooked that there’s a certain value in making use of buildings that are already paid for.

When I look at the images of San Diego Stadium, I’m most reminded of Barcelona’s Camp Nou, another stadium of similar vintage (opened 1957) that is also a big concrete bowl, albeit one that is way more beloved by its team’s fans. Camp Nou was supposed to be undergoing a $700 million renovation right now, but it’s been pushed back several times by financing questions, most recently to 2025, maybe, as the Covid pandemic has taken a toll on the team’s finances, and no local governments in Catalonia are eager to pay the renovation costs, so it could well remain unimproved in all its concrete glory for the indefinite future. In the end, the difference between “iconic” and “outmoded” comes down mostly to money, and who can make more of it by which method — at least, until it’s time for the wrecking ball, at which point it’s time to send up the drones and apply the royalty-free music. In America, emotion itself is only another commodity to be milked for profit, and we do it very, very well, mostly, even if the dream images concocted to sell our emotions back to ourselves sometimes go in some weird-ass directions.

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A’s owner buys half of Coliseum site for $85m, this is definitely either a good deal or a massive swindle

It’s even more officially official now: The Oakland A’s owners have bought out Alameda County’s 50% stake in the Oakland Coliseum site for $85 million, signing the deal yesterday, 18 months after a tentative deal was first announced, and 10 months after it was supposedly finalized. (The wheels of real estate grind exceedingly slow.) If team owner John Fisher is successful in acquiring the other half share of ownership from the city of Oakland — negotiations for that piece remain underway — then he’ll have control of the entire 155-acre site to do with as he pleases, whether it’s for residential development or a new stadium or a giant Ferris wheel or what have you.

What you want to know, I’m sure, is whether this is a good deal for the public or a massive giveaway, and I am here to tell you: Man, these are hard questions! There are definitely benefits to unloading the Coliseum land, which includes the stadium, the Oracle Arena, and surrounding parking lots — Fisher would be on the hook for $5 million a year in operating costs if they maintain the current setup, plus would have pay property taxes on the site, which the county doesn’t. But since any buyer would be in the same boat, really the question remains whether this is a fair price for the land.

And as we’ve seen again and again, setting a fair-market value for land is way more art than science, especially if you don’t put it up for public bidding and instead just hand it to the guy who happens to be standing next to you. A study of land sales in Oakland from 2005-2010 puts the average price at $1.4 million an acre, which would mean Fisher would be getting about a $50 million discount; on the other hand, home values have been soaring in Oakland in recent years, so maybe a decade-old study isn’t the best way to determine current values? It’s almost like sports team owners/real estate developers like to get land instead of cash because it’s so hard to tell whether this represents a public subsidy!

In fact, the A’s land deal is even more convoluted than that, since the Coliseum site purchase is still coupled with a plan to build a new stadium at Howard Terminal about four miles away, which would require maybe $200 million for “transportation and other infrastructure” that would be paid for with city tax kickbacks. It’s really the kind of thing where you’d want to negotiate everything at once, including what Fisher would be allowed (or required) to do with each parcel and how much public infrastructure money would be provided — but the county is strapped for cash right now and has been wanting to get out of the stadium business for a while, so it’s tapping out. This leaves it up to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to ensure she negotiates the best deal possible for the public, and she’s been very quiet of late. Hopefully before any city deal is finalized, we’ll have some better appraisals of both the Coliseum land value and the infrastructure costs; though if past history is any guide, that’s not too likely unless the mayor demands it. Schaaf used to draw a hard enough line to be considered part of the Gang of Four of city mayors who wouldn’t kowtow to team owner demands — this will be a good test of whether she’s going to end up a Tait or a Nenshi.

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Friday roundup: Utah may build stadium for rugby (and the children!), Suns build big-ass kitchen, plus more robots than you can shake a stick at

Happy October! We seem to have now reached the uncanny valley of the epidemic, where some things are returning to almost normal — or even hyper-normal, as in the case of the baseball postseason having expanded to include so many teams I keep expecting the Sugar Land Skeeters to show up — while other things remain sadly unchanged. I guess if there’s a silver lining it’s that the resumption of some normal things hasn’t caused the pandemic to worsen perceptibly (yet), but that’s what people were saying about the Netherlands back in June and that didn’t work out well at all. Just wear your masks, people, and don’t take them off to eat or talk on the phone or talk to the president, and let’s hope for the best.

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NYCFC stadium plan remains a quagmire wrapped in a swamp wrapped in a morass

When last we checked in on NYC F.C.‘s never-ending quest for a new soccer stadium in the Bronx, it was going nowhere fast, weighed down by problems with everything from obtaining the necessary land to rezoning the site. And it hasn’t sped up any during Covid, but a report by The Outfield (no, not those guys) has used public record requests to shed a little light on what the team has been up to in the meantime:

  • Developer Maddd Equities, which is working with the team on the project, has hired lobbyists to work on getting state approval to decommission a ramp to and from the Major Deegan Expressway, since the street it leads to would now be buried beneath the stadium. A big sticking point: The state “would have no interest in owning or maintaining a bridge which is not open to public traffic” and neither does the city, so Maddd or the team would presumably have to buy the thing, which would end up being turned into a pedestrian bridge sticking weirdly out of the side of the stadium like so:

    The bridge would be used to provide access to the Bronx waterfront, which has been an issue ever since a bunch of recreational space was displaced when the new Yankee Stadium nearby was build atop a public park and moved to the other side of the Deegan. That would maybe be a plus for local residents, though the necessity of having to climb a flight of stairs to get to a deck outside the soccer stadium before walking across the bridge would put a bit of a damper on its utility.

  • Maddd and NYC F.C. still have to arrange to buy a large chunk of the proposed stadium land, which is currently owned by an elevator company called GAL. But first GAL needs to find another site to relocate to, which according to public records has involved hiring more lobbyists to pressure the Bronx Borough President’s office to help out, on the grounds that GAL’s current home is “the lynch pin” of the soccer development. (Note to lobbyists: While that spelling is allowed, you probably don’t want to use it.)

The headline that The Outfield put on all this is “Is NYCFC’s Stadium Ready To Ramp Up?”, to which the answer appears, as Ian Betteridge would predict, to be “nope.” Which isn’t to say that it won’t happen eventually — lots of stadium deals happen eventually, and “eventually” is a long time — but for now it should probably remain classified under “reply hazy, ask again later.”

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MLB’s plan for fans at World Series should work fine if viruses agree to take a break while you’re eating

Once the MLB playoffs get past this current war of all against all stage, they will retreat to two sets of “bubbles,” with the National League headed to the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros home parks, while the American League will be hosted at the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres stadiums. And since Texas is a state that allows fans to attend outdoor sporting events at 50% capacity, MLB announced yesterday that it will be selling tickets to the N.L. Championship Series and World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington. About 11,500 tickets will be made available per game, which is about 28% of the stadium’s 40,518-seat capacity.

The reason for doing this is obvious: LCS seats are slated to go for between $40 and $250 and World Series tickets between $75 and $450, so if both series go seven games MLB can expect to rake in from $20 million to $40 million just from ticket sales, not even counting concessions and souvenirs and all the other crap well-heeled baseball fans will plunk down money on after a summer of having nothing baseball-related to buy other than cardboard cutouts of themselves. But MLB is concerned about your safety too, so they will be imposing Covid protocols for those who wish to attend games:

  • Tickets will be sold in “pods” of four, with each pod separated from its neighbors by at least six feet. No seats will be sold within 20 feet of the field.
  • Masks will be mandatory “except when actively eating or drinking at their ticketed seats.”
  • Food sales will be pre-packaged and “contactless,” with no filthy money changing hands.
  • No bags will be permitted except for diaper bags or those required for medical reasons.

On the surface, this nods to all the science of preventing coronavirus spread — distancing, masks — but there are some worrisome loopholes. First off, while the pods will be sacrosanct, with no breaking them up to sell them to other fans, there’s no way to ensure that people seated in the same pod are members of the same household. That means — unless ticket buyers have to provide names of everyone in their party at purchase and IDs will be checked on entry, like for airplane flights, which seems like it would involve a lot of contact and non-distancey lines — there’s nothing stopping someone from buying four tickets and then inviting along three “friends” who they know from their long acquaintance at the other end of a Paypal transaction.

Way more concerning, though, is the bit about masks being required “except when actively eating or drinking.” Aside from being hard to enforce — we’ve already seen lots of fans taking masks on and off at NFL games — it’s not like the virus is going to see if you’re eating or drinking at the moment and go, “Oh, that’s cool, I won’t spread right now.” Having more people masked for more of the time is useful harm reduction, but adding a loophole for eating or drinking is a major potential disease vector.

(The bag thing has nothing to do with viral spread — what, are they afraid people are going to sneak in virus in a backpack? — and everything to do with making sure people eat only food they buy from the league.)

And then there’s the biggest elephant in the room, which is that Globe Life Field is a roofed stadium; in fact, that’s its entire reason for existence. If there’s one thing that’s become clear about the virus that causes Covid, it’s that it spreads far more effectively indoors than outdoors, thanks to stagnant and recirculating air. I’m not aware of any studies that investigate whether roofed sports stadiums should count as “indoor” or “outdoor” for viral spread purposes, but suffice to say there won’t be any passing breezes refreshing the air at the Rangers ballpark if the roof is closed.

But don’t just take it from me. Listen to an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Public Health on that school’s plans to all fans into (outdoor) football games:

Audrey Pettifor, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Gillings School, said reopening the stadium is not a good idea, calling it “crazy.”

She said she had doubts about just how safe thousands of people gathering in a stadium could really be, especially considering the amount of infrastructure required for safe entrance and exit from the stadium, as well as the difficulty of enforcing sanitation and mask protocols on individuals.

“If everyone wore masks, then we would say the risk of transmission is probably really low, no matter the size of the crowd,” Pettifor said. “But if there’s a hole in that chain, depending on the number of positive people in that crowd, the number of people who are unmasked and the number of people who are closer than six feet apart, then our risk starts going up.”

MLB’s plan to sell tickets to postseason games is full of holes. (In its chain. Which normally has a hole in each link, but okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, just go with it.) So far there don’t appear to have been any major outbreaks at NFL or MLS games that have allowed in fans, so maybe MLB will be able to roll the dice here and everything will be fine. Or maybe the league is inching up to the line where it will recreate Game Zero in Milan, and then loose tons of newly infected fans to bring the virus back to their home towns once the games are over. We still have a limited number of risk bullets, and we — or at least MLB officials and the governor of Texas — are choosing to spend them on rich people getting to watch baseball games in person.

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Anaheim approves stadium land sale to Angels owner at $350m discount, because who needs more than two public meetings, really?

Last night, news watchers were treated to a chaotic public shouting match that seemed like it would never end — no, not that one. Across the country in Anaheim, the city council met for eight hours last night to debate the city’s plan to sell $500 million worth of land to Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno for $150 million plus promises of a new park and affordable housing; finally, after 1:30 am, the council voted to approve the deal by a 5-2 margin, with the same two no votes — councilmembers Jose Moreno and Denise Barnes — as when the preliminary deal was passed last December.

Bill Shaikin in the Los Angeles Times sums up the aftermath neatly in a pair of quotes:

“This is a spectacular day for Anaheim,” Councilman Stephen Faessel said.

“This was not a deal,” Barnes said. “It was a mess.”

Because the council now holds all its meetings via Zoom, public comments were required to be submitted by email, and more than 250 came in. As Shaikin reports, these “included dozens of submissions of the same form letter in support of the deal” after Moreno’s management company, SRB, sent out text-message alerts asking people to write the council in support of the deal.

For the best take on the Kafkaesque proceedings, go read Spencer Custodio’s report in the Voice of OC, which includes many wonderful passive-aggressive journalism takedowns, like this one after Moreno and Barnes tried to delay the vote until the council could hold an in-person meeting:

“We’re in the eleventh hour. We’ve been talking about this for a year and a half. And we’ve had over 30 meetings where this has been mentioned,” Councilman Trevor O’Neil said.

There were only two public meetings last year when the Council discussed specifics about the deal.

The council is required to repeat its vote next Tuesday to finalize the deal, but it’s clear that another week isn’t going to change anybody’s minds. Which means that the city of Anaheim has performed the astonishing feat of taking a position of strength — Moreno having terminated the team’s lease with nowhere else to play, gifting the city with the option of trying to impose whatever demands on him it wanted — and turning it into a deal that gives the Angels’ billionaire owner $350 million worth of free land, more than six years after then-mayor Tom Tait shot down a similar plan by pointing out that giving away land is the fiscal equivalent of giving away money. That’s seizing defeat from the jaws of victory in a way that even the Angels never managed.

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