- The group trying to force a public referendum on Phoenix Suns arena subsidies threw in the towel this week, after the city promised a court battle on the grounds that spending $168 million in tax money on renovating an arena is not a “legislative act.” The lesson: If your opponent doesn’t have deep pockets, threaten to sue them into oblivion. (Side lesson from the Suns mess: Elected officials always have their price, and it’s usually pretty cheap.)
- Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper said he’d “love to put some sort of roof” on his stadium so it could host the Final Four, and because this is 2019, nobody can tell if he was kidding.
- David Beckham’s Inter Miami has been turned away by both the Miami Marlins and Dolphins to share digs temporarily in 2020, thanks to the problems of scheduling MLS games around the MLB or NFL schedules, leaving the team with a mystery “preferred site” that team co-owner Jorge Mas promised to reveal in “late February, early March.”
- Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis says he is “not frustrated” about not having a place to play in 2019, indicating it’s his “preference” to stay in the Bay Area but that he has “other options” as well. In other words, Mark Davis probably doesn’t have any better idea than the rest of us where the Raiders will open the 2019 season, which is just seven months away.
- Sorry if I failed to keep you up on the Queensboro F.C. saga, but the city of New York late last month signed a letter of intent that proposes two scenarios for the contested Willets Point neighborhood, one with a minor-league soccer stadium, one without. In other words, nothing has been decided at all, so feel free to go back to ignoring this story until somebody actually takes a step toward putting concrete plans in motion, or at least releases some cool vaportecture renderings.
- Tottenham Hotspur stadium opening update: April, maybe.
- In anticipation of the arrival of the Boston Red Sox‘ Triple-A team in Worcester, the Worcester Business Journal has taken an exhaustive look at how funding a new minor-league ballpark worked out for nearby Manchester, New Hampshire and eleven other cities. The answer: really, really not well at all, with the new stadiums sparking little of the promised neighboring development. On the glass-partly-full side, Southern New Hampshire University business professor Doug Blais does say of building sports venues, “It’s much easier to say it’s been successful at a $25-million price point rather than a $100-million price point”; unfortunately, Worcester is on the hook for more than $90 million.
- And here’s an exhaustive look from the Kansas City Star at some Chiefs tax returns that were briefly made public; no earth-shattering stadium subsidy news, but it is an excellent explanation of how easy it is to make a bundle owning an NFL team, regardless of whether you win games or not.
- And here’s an article from Fast Company about how stadiums can be good things for municipalities, because look at what the Roman amphitheater in Arles has done for that French city. Never let it be said that I do not provide you with links to the full breadth of stadium coverage.
Remember last year around this time, when a new rich guy bought the Carolina Hurricanes and didn’t immediately demand a new or renovated arena and I was all “he has a sweetheart lease through 2024 so maybe he won’t complain for a few more years”? Well, forget all that:
“If you look around the league, for public buildings, we’re at the bottom of the league,” Hurricanes president Don Waddell said. “It’s nothing that anyone did wrong. Those were the times back in the ‘90s. But if we’re going to be a sustainable franchise in this marketplace for a long time, the lease plays an important role. The economics of the deal have to change in our favor.”
Well, that’s a tidy bundle of threat bombs! Without changing the “economics” of the lease — read: giving Hurricanes ownership more and the public Centennial Authority less — the franchise won’t be “sustainable” for “a long time.” (I will skip including here my usual link to the Army Protection Racket sketch. Oh, paralipsis!)
The irony is that, as mentioned above, Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon has an exceptionally team-friendly lease now, where he gets all the revenues from the arena while paying nothing in operating or capital upgrade costs, just a $3 million a year rent that he can deduct a bunch of expenses from before paying. (He’s still probably losing money on the team, but them’s the breaks when you own a hockey team in a small city in basketball country.) But leases can always get sweeter — hell, the Arizona Coyotes used to get paid to play in their arena! — and you can’t get if you don’t ask, right?
There’s also the issue of upgrades to the Hurricanes’ arena, which “is in need of massive renovations that could exceed $150 million,” according to the News & Observer, citing no sources at all. The paper goes on to report: “While the building’s behind-the-scenes infrastructure has been maintained at a high level by the arena authority, public-facing areas from the arena bowl to the entrances have an understandably dated look compared to state-of-the-art arenas elsewhere.” So it really just needs a more modern paint job? A $150 million paint job? I’d think Dundon would do better asking for $150 million to subsidize his annual operating losses, but I guess if you can ask for both, all the better!
Calgary city councillor Jeff Davison, the main public official advocating for a new Flames arena, has provided his latest thoughts on the process he hopes to see for getting one approved, and man, does he have feels aplenty:
“I wouldn’t see public debate as necessary in terms of this deal,” says the councillor.
“We’ve done our homework to do engagement up front. Engagement shouldn’t be used as a poison pill.
“And frankly, a lot of the people who want to engage after the fact want to shut projects down. They just want their vote to say: No, I still oppose this.”
That is definitely a bold policy position to take, telling your constituents that you don’t want to hear from them, because they might disagree with you! Did Davison temper his statements at all to admit that the public might have some role in democratic decision-making? Let’s find out!
“At the end of the day, through the channels that are already available to us, rather than just public debate people can call their councillor and they do.
“People can talk about it in the community and they do. People can engage where engagement has been available to them and they have.”
There we go: You can call your elected officials, and you can complain on Facebook. It’s 2019, people, what do you want, the right to make public decision by casting votes on broken pottery?
Davison’s view that democracy is about having your say on election day and then shutting up is actually a somewhat common one, at least among people who were voted in on election day and would now like everyone to shut up. Most memorably, then–New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani rejected proposals for a public referendum on building the Yankees a new stadium as representing “the absence of leadership”; though Giuliani also once said that “freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do,” so maybe he’s not exactly the go-to guy for dictionary definitions here.
Anyway, Davison also hinted that any Flames arena deal would include “a couple hundred million dollars being put into a public facility the city owns,” which if “a couple” means “two” would be a hell of a lot less than the Flames owners’ last proposal, but it’s probably best for Calgarians to believe it when they see it. And then if they don’t like it, call their councillors! That Jeff Davison seems like an open-minded fellow, I bet his staff will be happy to give their messages all the attention they deserve.
F.C. Cincinnati has released new renderings of its planned $250 million MLS stadium, and as tends to happen, now that the public money is secured and it’s more important to figure out how to cut costs, the designers are taking steps to drab it up. Here, as a reminder, is the original plan:
And here’s what the team is proposing now:
Note any differences? It’s subtle, but I bet you can spot it.
The orange glow, said team officials according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, was eliminated “to accommodate neighborhood residents who were concerned and to cut costs.” Instead, the entire stadium will now be in black and white, as well as the entire surrounding neighborhood. Sounds like somebody needs a magic basketball!
In other news, F.C. Cincinnati’s owners were seeking to get a city-owned parking lot on the stadium site for $1, while the city council was holding out for the site’s $1,632,384 appraised value. The solution reached yesterday: The team will give the city use of a whole bunch of parking spaces plus a $300,000 police investigative unit facility, but no actual money. Mayor John Cranley said that the proposed deal “in my opinion gets us more than double the city’s appraised value,” and is “frankly a no-brainer”; Cranley didn’t show his math, but clearly he puts a lot of value on free parking.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed [joined] KTVU on Tuesday to explain why she’s opposed to the Raiders using San Francisco as a temporary home.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Oakland Raiders should play in Oakland,” Breed said. “In San Francisco, we have a number of challenges that we need to address with the Warriors coming to the new Chase Arena, the housing –1,400 units — that’s going to break ground in that area, our transportation system, our ferry landing. We have a number of things for years that we’ve been working to prepare for, and we don’t need another layer to add to what we already have in terms of an area that’s really congested, filled with construction, and will host a number of concerts and games for both basketball and baseball over the coming months.”
And then, arguably even more importantly, this happened:
Update on the #Raiders stadium situation: #49ers are still not expected to waive their territorial rights for San Francisco, sources say. With the SF Mayor going public against the Raiders playing at Oracle Park, SF is off the table. It’s Oakland or Levi’s Stadium for the Raiders
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 6, 2019
What the hell exactly happened here? Either Raiders owner Mark Davis jumped the gun by opening talks with the Giants owners before checking in on whether Mayor Breed and the 49ers owners would be okay with NFL games at the Giants’ ballpark, or Raj Mathai jumped the gun by reporting that the move was a done deal, or both. Either way, it’s an important lesson that “talks” don’t mean much until you have the approval of everyone necessary, and a lot can still go wrong until you do.
If Rapoport is correct and it’s really the Oakland Coliseum or the 49ers’ Santa Clara stadium for the Raiders, man oh man is Davis between a rock and a hard place: The 49ers will almost certainly want to charge him through the nose to share their digs after cutting off all other options, and Davis is desperate not to give Oakland the time of day after officials there sued him for announcing he was moving the team to Las Vegas. And the clock is ticking: The NFL usually likes to release its schedule no later than April. It looks like the Raiders owner is going to have to pay dearly in either cash or dignity or both in order to find a place to play next season — maybe at least some of that $750 million check from Nevada taxpayers will go to a better cause than burning barrels of fossil fuels in order to get a haircut.
I’m honestly kind of tired of reading and reporting rumors about where the Oakland Raiders will play in 2019, but this one seems like it has at least a little more legs, so what the hell:
#BREAKING: #Raiders will play in San Francisco for 2019 season. Team reaches deal w/ #SFGiants to use #OraclePark (formerly #ATTPark). Announcement expected this week. (per my @NFL sources). #RaiderNation #SuperBowl53 #NFL pic.twitter.com/anr0zQOqtX
— Raj Mathai (@rajmathai) February 4, 2019
Raj Mathai is the news anchor (and former sports anchor) for NBC’s Bay Area station, so he may well have some sources. And the Associated Press added that it had heard talks between the Raiders and San Francisco Giants owners are ongoing, so sure, maybe. Or maybe they’re just toying with the Raiders in order to get their stadium’s new corporate name lots of mentions, a cause which I will not be helping with, not even with a link!
Meanwhile, San Francisco Supervisor Mark Haney, one of the elected officials who’d previously said they’d try to block a Raiders temporary move to S.F. in solidarity with their Oakland elected-official siblings, has remarked that “there’s a lot to figure out” about any Raiders residency, though it’s still not clear how much say San Francisco had over the Giants owners’ use of their privately owned and operated stadium. More news if the rumors pan out!
This is going to take a minute to get to the stadium connection, so bear with me:
Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs, and also the man who started the news site DNAinfo and bought my current part-time employer Gothamist before shutting them both down in a hissy fit when they unionized, recently had a cache of his old emails leaked to the news site Splinter (which is owned by Gizmodo Media Group, whose site Deadspin I sometimes write for). The whole series is well worth reading — I’ve previously mentioned here the revelation that Joe’s son Todd once suggested moving the Cubs in a hissy fit after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel bragged about refusing to give them public money for stadium renovations — but today’s installment, collecting all the racist and/or crazy email memes that Joe Ricketts shared with his family, includes this invaluable nugget he forwarded in 2011:
It appears Barry fled New York to Chicago using his new identity to get a job . He likely ordered a fake diploma to bolster his new identity as “Obama”. Fake diplomas were very big in the 80s and diploma mills were even being used by federal workers to get promotions. There is evidence his alleged attendance at Columbia was faked (Barry never attended Columbia) and Barry lied his way into Harvard (he had no transcripts to get in)… Including telling the Saudi royal family he was fighting in Afghanistan with the Muslim Jihad against the Russians, so they would help him get into a law school.
“Barry” is Barack Obama, and the rest of it is the conspiracy theory that the then-president was secretly a Muslim and faked his birth certificate and maybe was a male prostitute and … you may have heard the rest from a certain then-presidential candidate.
Fine, so Joe Ricketts believes unverified things he reads on the internet, like a lot of people. Unlike a lot of people, though, shortly thereafter he also considered spending $10 million on an anti-Obama attack ad, only to have to pull it when people started canceling their accounts with his brokerage TD Ameritrade. But Emanuel, who prior to being elected Chicago mayor had served as Obama’s White House chief of staff, was reportedly “livid” about the proposed ads, and stopped talking to Cubs officials entirely about nearly $300 million in public money he’d been considering providing for the Cubs’ private renovations to Wrigley Field. Ricketts never got his public money, ended up spending his own money on Wrigley renovations, and now people are blaming that for the Cubs not wanting to spend money on Bryce Harper this winter. (Though it doesn’t make any sense economically — if anything, spending lots of money on a renovated stadium creates more of an incentive to spend money on a winning team in order to fill those more-expensive seats with more expensive fannies. And there are plenty of other explanations why the Cubs, and everybody, haven’t signed Bryce Harper.)
Ricketts apologized yesterday for some of his emails, though he didn’t specify which ones — he also had written that “Islam is a cult and not a religion” and replied “good one” to an anti-Muslim Star Trek joke, so there’s a lot to choose from. Anyway, just one more week before pitchers and catchers report to Cubs spring training! Feel the excitement!
It’s too cold to type an intro! I miss the Earth before we broke it. But anyway:
- It’s Super Bowl week, so we get articles on how Atlanta spent a lot of money on sports stadiums and NFL stadiums cost a lot of public dollars and the Los Angeles Rams‘ new stadium will be “transformative,” and Roger Goodell is “hopeful” the Oakland Raiders will decide “soon” where they’ll play this fall, none of which really provide in the way of much new information, but the Atlanta one has some good quotes from economist J.C. Bradbury, at least.
- And if you thought you could avoid the Super Bowl just by not living in the city hosting it and studiously ignoring the NFL — okay, maybe that’s only me — know that an unspecified amount of your federal tax dollars will be going to provide security help for the event, including flyovers by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Defense Department aircraft. Somebody tell the feds that the Atlanta stadium has a roof, so should already be safe from blimp attacks.
- Some D.C. officials don’t want Washington’s NFL team to move to the RFK stadium site, and some do. Also, audio clip of me for some reason!
- Newballpark.org blogger Marine Layer has calculated that the cost of building a gondola to any new Oakland A’s ballpark at Howard Terminal will amount to $12.60 per each round-trip ride, which either means fans are going to have a huge extra cost or local government is going to end up subsidizing the rides, neither of which is a great solution.
- Tottenham Hotspur stadium opening date update: nope, nothing yet.
- Nashville S.C. will begin play in the MLS in 2020, initially making the Tennessee Titans‘ stadium their home, because NFL stadiums are totally fine for hosting MLS matches so long as they’re not standing in the way of an owner trying to demand a soccer-only stadium.
- The Detroit Pistons still can’t get anyone to go to their new arena, though one local sportswriter says the building has been a success because a 13-year-old won a figure skating championship there, and how can you put a price on that?
- The Texas Rangers owners’ decision to install fake turf at their new stadium that they built to replace their old stadium because the old one didn’t have air conditioning may be unpopular, but rest assured that it’ll be fine because “technology and data are changing baseball — and the world around us — at an unbelievably fast rate.” I am not sure Tug McGraw would be assuaged.
Phoenix officials say they flipped on Suns arena subsidy thanks to added social service spending, owner being all friendly-like
I almost didn’t finish reading this Arizona Republic article about the Phoenix Suns‘ successful push for $168 million in arena renovation subsidies, since the headline and intro made it seem like it was just going to be another unsupported article about how area residents were convinced that it was a good deal because that’s what the city councilmembers who switched their votes to approve the deal insist, and why would they lie? But buried toward the end of the piece is some actual information about what seems to have prompted those swing votes to swing Suns owner Robert Sarver’s way:
- Councilmember Michael Nowakowski, who’d been the key vote demanding public hearings before approving the Suns deal, said he was swayed by the city agreeing to spend more money on homelessness prevention and public safety, though none of that money will be provided by Sarver. (Some of it will be rent paid by Sarver, but only rent he was going to pay anyway under the original deal; for why this counts as public money, see the Casino Night Fallacy.) Also, Sarver let Nowakowski look at the Suns’ financial books: “Everybody says he’s really rude and tough to deal with but it hasn’t been that way.”
- Councilmember Vania Guevara, who’d previously called the arena subsidy “bad policy” and said she’d vote against it, switched sides after Sarver agreed to make a $10 million contribution to local preschool programs and other nonprofits.
As far as wangling boodle in exchange for your vote goes, this is pretty penny-ante stuff compared to the more than $100 million that Miami-Dade county commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones got funneled to her district in exchange for approving the Miami Marlins stadium deal. Phoenix officials come cheap, I guess.
Republic reporter Jessica Boehm also raises the question of whether Sarver’s deep pockets could have influenced Nowakowski and Guevara, both of whom are currently raising campaign money for election battles later this year, but Nowakowski reassured her that no funny business like that had happened:
Nowakowski said Sarver never brought that up in any negotiations.
He said Sarver did bring up Suns Charities and asked Nowakowski if there were any non-profits in his council district deserving of the Suns’ support.
Nowakowski said he did not think it was appropriate to have that conversation during the arena negotiations but said he told Sarver that he would be happy to work with him after to see how the team could be more involved in the community.
That’s reassurance, right? Not a city councilmember admitting publicly that he was offered payola by a pro sports team owner and replied, “Shh, let’s talk later so it’s not so obvious”? I can’t tell anymore what’s a scandal and what’s just what passes for democracy these days.
You know, it never fails: No sooner do I praise a sports venue deal for being the rare case that doesn’t screw over taxpayers than it turns out the team owner actually plans to screw over taxpayers at least a little. So I should have known that my Deadspin article a year and change ago about how the Seattle arena deal is an exceptionally good deal would beget this:
With costs climbing on the KeyArena renovation, members of the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group were in Olympia on Wednesday seeking to defer at least $80 million in sales tax payments related to that project and an NHL training facility…
“We want everybody at the legislature to hear from us that we are not asking for any special consideration,’’ Leiweke said of the Olympia visit. “We’re not asking for a tax break. We’re not asking for a waiver. We’re not asking for a rebate. We’re simply working through the payment structure and we’re going to pay 100 percent of our taxes.’’
Well, no: If you require legislation to be passed just for you, then by definition you’re asking for special consideration. Even if the Mariners and the Seahawks owners got similar special consideration before you did.
The gain from the tax deferral is likely to be small: As the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker explains it, OVG will even pay interest to the state on about $90 million in deferred construction sales tax payments. The main benefit would be shifting the cost from its capital books to its operating expense books, which would allow the arena builders to save money on its federal taxes by deducting them all at once rather than depreciating them over time:
“In effect, it’s a tax scheme that is designed to make sure you get your money back quicker,’’ [College of the Holy Cross sports economist Victor] Matheson said. “That all being said, it’s a small subsidy and it is not a subsidy from the taxpayers of Seattle and Washington, but a subsidy from federal taxpayers. And it isn’t a huge one. Even a stadium critic like me would have a hard time getting too worked up over it.’’
Me too! But it’s still a subsidy, even if a small one, and also one that as a U.S. federal taxpayer I’m going to help kick in for. So even if it’s not as bad as the Kansas City Chiefs owners trying to demand a full sales-tax break on the purchase of a bronze sculpture of late Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt Sr., it still makes me a little sad that we can never have nice things.