Friday roundup: Bad spring training math, Beckham’s curse, and the opening of Megatron’s Butthole

No time for quips today, just the news:

  • A study by Arizona State University found that spring-training baseball was worth $373 million to the Arizona economy in 2018. I can’t find the actual report itself, but it looks like they came up with this number by interviewing a sample of out-of-town visitors at spring training games about how much they were spending on their trips — which would be a perfectly good methodology if not for the fact that lots of people travel to Arizona and then think “I’ll go see a baseball game while I’m there,” instead of traveling there just for baseball and thinking, “Sure, I’ll check out that big canyon, too.” Which is why when spring-training games have been canceled for labor conflicts, the observed impact on local economies has been pretty much zero. I wonder if the people who wrote this Arizona State report are actual economists, at least.
  • Nashville is getting an MLS franchise because it promised to build a soccer stadium, but it still might change its mind and not build a soccer stadium, and this is going to be great fun to watch if it does. (Not if you’re a Nashville MLS fan, I guess. But [insert requisite jibe about anything being more fun to watch than MLS soccer].)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that he hopes MLB expands by two more teams during his lifetime (or during his tenure as commissioner — he wasn’t exactly clear), specifically mentioning “Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada. We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.” That got people in those cities all excited, which is presumably the point in saying such things — of course, none of those cities have MLB-ready stadiums (unless you count Olympic Stadium in Montreal), so prepare for a stadium arms race sometime before Manfred dies.
  • Megatron’s Butthole is now fully operational.
  • The estimated cost of renovating Key Arena has risen from $600 million to $700 million, but the city won’t have to pay any of that because their deal with the developers says those guys have to pay any cost overruns. Kids, when signing your next arena deal, do that.
  • A Florida man was arrested for setting fire to golf carts at the golf course where David Beckham wants to build his soccer stadium, but police say it was just arson and has nothing to do with the stadium proposal. Except insomuch as David Beckham is cursed, okay? If construction on this place ever begins, I fully expect it to be interrupted by all its milk cows going dry.

Mariners owners still demanding $180m in lease subsidies, or else … something

The fight over the Seattle Mariners‘ lease is heating up, with team execs insisting they won’t sign a 25-year extension on their Safeco Field lease that expires this winter unless they get $180 million in county hotel tax money to use on maintenance and upgrades, and Seattle officials going, Wait, what? Let’s start with King County councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who says that now that the Seahawks‘ stadium is about to be paid off, the hotel tax money that funded that can be used for something else, such as housing:

“There is no reason they would walk away from a business enterprise that is generating so much wealth for them. The threat is nonsense,” Upthegrove said.

“We have a simple choice,” he continued. “We can invest this money in public needs, or we can use it to allow these business owners to make even more money.”

To which Mariners executive vice-president Fred Rivera responded:

“This [stadium] is owned by the county, and the question is how much should the county pay for its building?” Rivera told Seattle Weekly on July 20. “The discussion [between the Mariners and the PFD] was ‘What’s a fair amount for the club and for the PFD to contribute to make sure that those nuts-and-bolts items are appropriately taken care of over the next 25 years?’ and that’s what resulted in this financing plan.”

Rivera also said that, if the allocation isn’t made, that they “would have to go back to the table” with the PFD and “determine how the publicly owned stadium will be kept in a first-class condition.”

That’s an interesting pair of arguments, coming down to: Hey, it’s the public’s stadium, the public should pay to keep it in good shape but also You don’t wanna know what we’ll do if you don’t give us this money. On the former, while technically yes, Safeco Field is owned by the county, that was a bookkeeping dodge designed, as it is with most publicly owned stadiums, to get the team out of having to pay property taxes — the Mariners owners control all the stadium revenues, so it’s a “publicly owned stadium” solely on paper.

And on the latter, it’s not entirely clear what the M’s owners can do if their bluff is called — as Upthegrove notes, they’re profiting immensely from paying in Seattle, so moving to, I dunno, Portland would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. As I told Seattle Weekly:

DeMause points out that the Mariners aren’t exactly negotiating from a position of absolute strength given the organization’s historic roots to Seattle. “Yes, Seattle wants the Mariners to sign a lease extension. But at the same time the Mariners need to sign a lease extension, because where the hell else are they going to go?” he said. “It’s not like there are a whole lot of great markets outside of Seattle.”

In any event, Rivera says if the lease subsidy is rejected, the Mariners owner will sign a five-year lease extension, and won’t threaten to move: “There is no thought of the Mariners leaving Seattle. I want to be absolutely clear about that.” (Unless this was meant as a non-threat threat, which, maybe.)

Here’s an idea, then: Whichever public officials end up negotiating this lease, whether now or five years from now, how about instead of arguing about how much of a subsidy to give the team, ask the team owners why they can’t pay more rent than $2.2 million a year, or share some stadium revenues with the public? After all, if the Mariners are just tenants, rents in desirable neighborhoods do go up, and they’d be hard-pressed to find other digs with all the same amenities (48k rms, rtctbl rf). Two can play at lease hardball.

Miami-Dade offers Dolphins extra $57.5m in subsidies, just because

Not only did Miami-Dade county commissioners approve subsidies for a new Miami Dolphins practice field last night, but they added an additional ten years of subsidies that could be worth as much as $57.5 million. In exchange, the Dolphins owners will do absolutely nothing:

As the discussion on that proposal began Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes Hard Rock, introduced last-minute legislation that dramatically changed the proposal by extending the existing deal for another 10 years. While the original proposal could have earned the Dolphins an extra $12 million or so, the extension tacked $57.5 million onto the potential payout through 2046…

There was no explanation from Jordan on why the richer stadium deal was revealed minutes before the commission vote.

The Dolphins owners haven’t yet accepted the deal, so presumably Jordan and her fellow commissioners (all but one of whom present, commission chair Esteban “Steve” Bovo, voted for the plan) figured they’d sweeten the pot to encourage the Dolphins to move their training facility from Broward County to Miami-Dade by offering up a bunch of subsidies at a future time when most of them will no longer be in office, if they’re even alive. (And if Miami-Dade is even above sea level by then.) Because who can put a price on this:

“They basically live at the training facility,” [Dolphins CEO Tom] Garfinkel said after the 10-1 vote. “Probably 10 months out of the year. They have most of their meals there. There’s a lounge there. There’s a barber there.”

A barber! Think of all the lucrative income taxes on barber tips that Miami-Dade would be missing out on if the Dolphins practiced in Broward! Or would, if local income taxes weren’t unconstitutional in Florida! But still!

Since the future subsidies are dependent on how many “major events” are held at the Dolphins’ main stadium, there’s almost no way whoever owns the Dolphins in the 2040s will actually get $57.5 million out of this deal, unless the NFL is playing ten Super Bowls a year by then. (Which they might have resorted to by then — there are stranger predictions.) Still, it’s a significant additional gift to a pro sports team owner in exchange for nothing more than the possibility that maybe it’ll entice him to have his team practice on your side of the county line. Marlins stadium debacle or no, Florida men are gonna keep Floridaing.

Miami-Dade to vote on $7.5m in tax breaks for Dolphins practice field, somewhere David Beckham is softly weeping

The Miami-Dade county commission is set to vote today on a pair of new subsidies to the Miami Dolphins — one for about $7.5 million in property-tax breaks for a new training facility, the other for bonus payments to the team’s owners for hosting major sporting events at their stadium that could be worth as much as $11 million, but probably won’t be.

The training facility subsidy first: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is talking about building a $50 million training camp in Miami Gardens to replace their old one in Davie, and since that’s a move across county lines, he’s asking to be paid $500,000 in property-tax breaks by their prospective new county for doing so. Paying to steal a handful of seasonal jobs from your neighbor is just nifty, says Miami-Dade’s county mayor:

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the Dolphins incentives won’t boost South Florida’s economy, but will give a lift to Miami-Dade.

“I think it’s a good plan,” he said. “It won’t be any new jobs in the area, but it will be new jobs in Miami.”

That’s honest! Disturbing, but honest!

As for the other subsidy being voted on today, it’s an expansion of the deal signed by Miami in 2014 in which the county pays Ross a bonus for every “major” sporting event held at the Dolphins’ stadium: a Super Bowl earns the team $4 million, for example, while international soccer friendlies earn $750,000. The total amount per year is currently capped at $5 million, and county commissioner Barbara Jordan wants to raise that by $750,000, which in present value over 30 years would be worth a little over $11 million.

Except that the Dolphins have been nowhere near reaching the cap yet, since major events in Miami have been few and far between:

So far, according to the county’s budget office, the Dolphins have requested $750,000 bonus payments for only two events: the 2016 Orange Bowl college football game and the 2017 El Clasico international soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

So the only time this new cap will come into play, really, is if there’s a year where Miami hosts a Super Bowl and a couple of major soccer games, and how often is that going to happen?

Still, if you want to take away from this that Miami elected officials are totally chill about handing over cash to an NFL team to build a training facility but keep giving the side-eye to anything David Beckham proposes for an MLS stadium, you wouldn’t be wrong. Reasonable people may disagree about which side of that equation needs fixing, but it’s a clear sign that where football remains an 800-pound gorilla, soccer is at best maybe 100, 150 pounds.

No, Warriors’ new arena doesn’t mean they don’t have to worry about the luxury tax

The Athletic is one of the latest new sports websites, and I wish them all the luck in the world, since more sports news (and more sports news jobs) can only be a good thing for those of us who cover this world. One thing I can’t do, though, is read The Athletic, because it has a hard paywall that doesn’t even allow a certain number of free articles a month, and they simply don’t run enough must-read stories for me to cough up $5 a month for a subscription.

So instead I’m reading (and linking to) this summary in The Big Lead of Tim Kawakami’s Athletic article about how the Golden State Warriors don’t have to worry about the $200 million luxury tax bill they’ll be hit with starting in 2019 for all their high-priced players, because hey, they’ve got a new arena:

According to Kawakami, the Chase Center will have “membership fees” of about $15,000-$20,000 per seat for season tickets, which get paid back without interest in 30 years. A Warriors official said that 79% of season ticketholders who have been pitched so far have agreed to pay them; additionally, most luxury suites are already sold, and Chase is paying about $20 million a year for the naming rights. Add in parking, concessions, actual ticket sales, and money from both local and national TV and even if the Warriors are paying $300 million a year for their players they are going to be just fine.

Two things: First off, yes, the Warriors owners are going to collect bucketloads of money from their new arena — if the above is correct, that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million just for seat licenses and naming rights alone. But they’re also going to have roughly a $1 billion construction bill for the new San Francisco arena, so most of that new revenue is already spoken for.

Secondly, Kawakami (or at least The Big Lead’s summary of Kawakami) fundamentally misunderstands the difference between fixed and marginal costs and revenues. Most of those new revenues — certainly the PSLs and the naming rights — the Warriors owners will be getting regardless of whether the Warriors are any good for much longer. So the decision they’ll be facing won’t be “do we have $200 million extra lying around to tithe to the NBA for having all the good players” — their owners have more than $2 billion in wealth between them, so cash on hand isn’t so much an issue — but rather “would we rather have another all-but-guaranteed ring, or would we rather have $200 million more this year?” (Previous Kawakami reporting showed that the Warriors bring in about $35 million a year in added revenues from each playoff run, which isn’t enough by itself to justify those crazy luxury tax expenses.) And that’s a tough call for even the mos championship-hungry sports team owners, as witness the New York Yankees‘ scramble to get under MLB’s luxury-tax threshold.

So anyway, short version: Yes, the Warriors’ arena will bring in lots of money; no, it’s not all free money that the owners will happily spend on whatever bills come in under the door. Thanks to the crazy San Francisco market, it may well be the exception to the rule that most sports venues don’t even pay their own construction costs, but it’s not “an ATM machine” as this article claims, either.

Friday roundup: D.C.’s ballpark boom, Rays’ stadium “ingenuity,” and other logical fallacies

You know how the New York Times now offers The Week in Good News, to remind you that not absolutely everything is awful? This is not that, not at all, though it does include a nice oblique shoutout to this site:

  • I think at this point just about every reader out there has emailed or tweeted me about this Washington Post article on development around the new Nationals stadium, variously headed “Ballpark Boomtown” or “The promise: Nationals Park would transform the city. Did it?” or “Nationals Park brings growth, worries to Southeast Washington.” The hook is that construction is booming around the new stadium — one former local opponent is even quoted as saying “Nats Park has been a tremendous boon to the region and the city and even to our neighborhood” — so doesn’t this disprove the idea that sports venues don’t create economic growth? The short answer: It’s hard to say from the anecdotal stories in this article, as it could be that the stadium sparked development that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, or it could be that it redirected development that otherwise would have taken place elsewhere in crane-happy D.C. (a point made in the article by economist Dennis Coates, who says, “This is not income growth; it’s redistribution”), or it could be that the Navy Yard would have gotten developed with or without the stadium. I’ve been poring over the big lists of logical fallacies and cognitive biases and haven’t yet found one that exactly describes the tendency to only look at what did happen thanks to a decision and not what would have happened without it; if this doesn’t have a name yet, the Stadium Catalyst Fallacy has a nice ring to it.
  • The city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky are projected to end up spending more than $1 billion in up-front costs and interest payments on the University of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, and while that’s not the best way to determine public costs — really you want to translate future payments into present value, and include not just arena debt service but operating costs and what have you as well, a calculation that this Louisville Courier-Journal article doesn’t attempt — holy crap, one billion dollars is still an acceptable response. (Sports marketer Jim Host, who helped devise the arena plan, has his own response — “If you allowed yourself to be deterred by the negative aspects, nothing would ever get done” — which probably belongs somewhere on that logical fallacy list as well.)
  • Andrew Barroway, who bought half of the Arizona Coyotes in 2015 for $152.5 million and the other half in 2017 for $120 million, and who has complained that his team “cannot survive” without a new arena because of annual losses that are “not sustainable,” now wants to sell half the team for $250 million. Just think on that one for a while.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred thinks Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will get a new stadium built, despite not having any idea how to pay for one, thanks to his “creative ability and persuasive ability in terms of getting something done,” while Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper says “with ingenuity, solutions can be found” — like how about building school offices into a stadium and selling off school administrative buildings, huh, didja think of that one, smartypants? “There always will be naysayers who dismiss every idea and every project with cynicism,” writes Hooper — hey, it’s the Jim Host Fallacy!
  • Another Tampa Bay Times columnist, Daniel Ruth, had a far more acerbic take on the Rays’ stadium plans, boggling at the $892 million price tag for what would be MLB’s smallest stadium at a time when “public transportation is barely above the level of rickshaws.” Then he closed with the suggestion that Tampa could build “a museum dedicated to the history of architectural renderings of all the stuff that’s never happened,” called “the Field of Schemes Institute of Higher Chutzpah.” Which is a lovely thought and much appreciated, but shouldn’t it really be the Field of Schemes Center for the Study of Vaportecture?
  • Finally, huge thanks to everyone who kicked in toward the summer FoS Supporter drive — your generosity toward a site that delivers a daily dose of reminders of the world’s injustice remains a wonder to me. In appreciation, here is a video of my own cat leaping headlong into a seltzer box. Don’t ever say I don’t provide any good news here:

Beckham wins vote to hold vote on holding talks on Miami soccer stadium

Well, lookie there, a David Beckham stadium project has actually taken a step forward:

On Wednesday, Miami commissioners voted to hold a November referendum to ask voters if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham’s ownership group to build a $1 billion commercial and soccer stadium complex on the city’s only municipal golf course, Melreese Country Club. Voters will decide if the city should make an exception to its competitive bidding law to allow the administration to negotiate the no-bid deal with the Beckham group, a for-profit private entity, to develop 131 acres of public land.

In other words, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell switched his vote to “yes,” after Beckham’s partner Jorge Mas agreed to phase in a minimum $15 an hour wage requirement for commercial tenants at the stadium complex. So score one for being the squeaky wheel.

The stadium plan will now be up to voters, which, you know, it’s tough to complain about — if Miami residents think giving up a golf course for a reasonable price is a fair swap for getting a soccer stadium, then more power to them. (One still has to hope that Mas and Beckham won’t sway them with campaign ads making phony economic claims as the Heat did 22 years ago, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross this fall.) Technically, the commission still has to negotiate an actual deal if the vote passes, but since Beckham and Mas already got three votes to hold the vote, it’s unlikely those votes will flip back against them if a referendum passes.

So congrats to Beckham for finally, after so many long years, taking an actual step forward toward the MLS expansion franchise he was promised in exchange for signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and — sorry, what’s that?

A lawsuit has been filed against the city of Miami claiming that it broke its charter when it entered into a no-bid deal to put a Major League Soccer stadium on city-owned property.

Well, it was an unreservedly good day for Becks for an hour or so, anyway.

Beckham kicks in sweeteners for proposed Miami MLS stadium, swing vote still holding out for more

David Beckham and Jorge Mas’s Miami MLS ownership group issued a revised set of proposed stadium terms last night in hopes of winning over balky city commissioners, in particular offering to pay any cleanup costs for the toxic waste that sits under the golf course he wants to use as a site. He’s tweaked his offer in other ways, too, though, as the Miami Herald reports:

  • The rent the team pays to the city would now be the greater of either what was determined by two independent appraisers or 5 percent of gross rent revenue collected from tenants at the site.
  • The team owners would provide an additional $5 million toward funding the city’s Baywalk and Riverwalk.
  • Team employees would be guaranteed a minimum wage of $15 an hour if they didn’t get health insurance, or $13.19 an hour if they did.
  • The city would get 1% of any sale price for the team or other team interests on the site.
  • Any lost parkland would be replaced by the team owners.
  • First Tee Miami, a golf youth empowerment program, which is apparently actually a thing, would be guaranteed access to a new driving range at the former golf course site.

The Beckham/Mas plan already looked pretty reasonable for the Miami public, and this sweetens the pot slightly more. And it appears to resolve questions 1 and 3 of the five questions the Miami New Times asked about the deal on Sunday; the biggest remaining one is “How much money is this thing going to make, really?“, but if the owners really are covering all the costs and kicking in for some extra parks and such on top of that, it shouldn’t really matter too much whether the tax benefits to the public aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

According to the Herald, swing vote Ken Russell was still undecided when he left a meeting with Mas after midnight last night, and still holding out to make sure the living-wage provision applied to all employees on the stadium site. Which is his right: This is the only chance the city commissionhas to leverage the no-bid land sale to get concessions from Beckham and Mas, so by all means, haggle over the fine print. And while you can quibble over the details — “Is a golf course or a soccer stadium or something else the best use of land?” is an inherently subjective question depending on what you mean by “best” — we can at least applaud the city of Miami for recognizing that they have Beckham over a barrel, and insisting that he provide something to local residents in exchange for their approval. If every set of local officials would do even just that, we’d have a lot saner world in terms of city development policy — hey, maybe we have something to thank Jeffrey Loria for after all!

Please become an FoS Supporter to help this website, here is a video of a cat climbing a stadium wall

I usually try to make my semi-annual call for FoS Supporters — that’s my special term for you folks who help keep this site running by kicking in a few bucks in exchange for some cheap trinkets, ad space, and a warm feeling of helping make the world a better or at least more informed place — in June when readers aren’t all off on vacation, but I missed that target this year, so instead I’m going to have to SHOUT EXTRA LOUD to get your attention!!! And, because I’m feeling in an extra-generous mood, show you a video of a cat climbing up the outfield wall at the Miami Marlins‘ stadium:

For those who are new to the world of FoS Supporters, there are three membership levels, each with different rewards:

  • For $25 a year, Mini-Supporters get a Field of Schemes pin, a set of Field of Schemes trading cards, and an electronic copy of my 2016 book The Brooklyn Wars.
  • For $50, Six-Month Supporters get everything above plus the ability to place an ad in the top-right banner space, which will be viewed on a rotating basis with other member ads. (I’ll help design the ad if you have an idea but no graphic design skills.)
  • For $100, One-Year Supporters get everything above, but the ad banner stays in place for one year.

Mostly, though, your support is what enables me to take the time to keep reporting on stadium and arena shenanigans on a daily basis, as well as pursuing extra projects like the FoS 20 interview series (I just recorded the fourth installment yesterday, and it’s a good one) and moving this site to a more robust server, something that’s been on my agenda for a while now but has been awaiting a free weekend or two to arrange all the logistics. I continue to be amazed and moved by the fact that you all are willing and seemingly eager to chip in to help with this project that shows no signs of winding down as it enters its third decade.

So whether or not you choose to become a member or renew your membership this time around, seriously, thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, for commenting, and for sending me the latest jaw-dropping stadium news items. Money is great — it literally pays the bills! — but a community of people eager to debate the modern sports stadium game is priceless. Thanks for coming along for the ride.


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Lions owners, Dan Gilbert discuss adding retractable roof to make Ford Field somewhat less crappy for soccer

Dan Gilbert’s pitch for a Detroit MLS expansion team was declared dead as soon as he gave up on his $300 million–subsidy land swap plan and switched to wanting to have the soccer team play at the Lions‘ stadium instead, but he never exactly gave up on it. So it’s not surprising that he now has a Plan C to get back on the future expansion list — but as for what that plan is, well:

Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said on WJR-AM (760) Monday morning that he and other Lions executives are looking into a retractable roof to help bring a Major League Soccer team to Detroit.

This is not the first time the idea of a roof for soccer has been raised — Gilbert himself mentioned it to Sports Business Daily last month, saying, “If we get that worked out, I think we have a pretty good chance” of getting an MLS team. Wood provided some more details yesterday, though, kind of:

Wood also explained adding a retractable roof is something that would be easy, saying the cost could be “With a ‘M’ and an ‘S’ and maybe three digits in front of the ‘M.'”

“We’ll figure out who’s going to pay for it after we figure out the cost,” Wood said.

For those who aren’t fans of cryptic crosswords, that first sentence translates as “it’ll cost at least $100 million,” which given that the U.S. Open’s new retractable roof cost $150 million and the Tampa Bay Rays owners are talking about a fixed roof that would cost $245 million seems like an underestimate at best. (Of course Wood didn’t say what those three digits would be.) Whereas the second sentence is either one of the most hilariously inept things a sports executive has said, or else code for “we don’t know who’s gonna pay for it, but it sure won’t be us.”

The idea behind adding a retractable roof is that it would enable the Lions to add a grass field, which would make MLS happy. That’s not an outright requirement, though — Atlanta United, for example, was okayed as a new franchise despite an artificial turf field — and it wouldn’t really address other reasons why MLS prefers soccer-specific stadiums, which is that having maybe 10,000 fans rattling around inside a 65,000-seat soccer stadium feels kind of crappy and looks even worse on TV. (The Falcons modified their stadium for soccer by building in moving sections of seats and retractable curtains to cover the upper deck.)

And while I’m always happy to see sports team owners looking to adapt existing stadiums rather than build entire new ones, at anything other than the very low end of this price point, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense — other cities are building whole new soccer stadiums for only about $200 million, so if a roof would end up costing something similar, that seems like kind of a waste, though I suppose it does save on land acquisition costs, and let you get twice the bang for your buck on maintenance and operations on your building.

MLS hasn’t even set its next deadline for expansion bids, so there’s plenty of time for the Lions owners and Gilbert to work this out. But for the moment, I’m categorizing this plan of action as “screwy.”