Friday roundup: Tax money for A’s “privately funded” stadium, ticket prices to blame for MLB attendance drop, and USL stadiums for everybody!

Running late after staying up reading that damn Rams/Chargers article, so going to have to rush through the week’s remaining news a bit. I’m sure you all will add the requisite snarky remarks in comments:

Liveblogging that ginormous ESPN article about the Rams’ and Chargers’ new stadium

ESPN ran a major print feature yesterday on the difficult road the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers are facing since winning the right to move to L.A. from their previous homes of St. Louis and San Diego, respectively, touching on the teams’ attendance woes, bad blood between their owners, and pretty much everything else you could want to know if you’re a football obsessive. As a non-football obsessive myself, I mostly wanted to know what this all means for the present and future of sports stadium deals — Rams owner Stan Kroenke is famously funding the teams’ new Inglewood stadium out of his own pocket — and so the only way to approach this was to break it into bite-size chunks as I went along, because damned if I was going to read the whole thing twice.

And so, as a public service, here is me reading that ESPN article so you don’t have to:

It is a futuristic mass of steel and concrete that appears to have both risen from the earth and descended from space.

This is going to be really long, isn’t it? Normal-length articles don’t get to stop and milk their purple prose like that; I smell longform.

backers hope SoFi will mark the end of one NFL era in Los Angeles — defined by rotting venues and teams that have drifted in and out over 73 years

“Rotting venues” — everybody drink!

the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers, an arranged marriage of clubs whose high-level executives barely speak with one another

Okay, maybe this will be juicy! Getting interested now.

In the fourth quarter against the Steelers, the opening of the Styx song “Renegade,” a Steelers anthem, blared from the stadium’s sound system, the setup to a failed Chargers joke that got the visiting fans even rowdier. Overhead, as with most Chargers home games, a plane dragged a banner that read: “Impeach Dean Spanos.”

Look, I don’t have any rooting interest against the Los Angeles Chargers — I think the last football team I either rooted for or against may have been the New Jersey Generals — but it is very easy to hate Dean Spanos as a man who 1) tried to get his city to pay several hundred million dollars toward a new stadium even though residents were clearly massively against it, and 2) when that didn’t work, moved his team a hundred miles away without really considering the consequences, mostly so that nobody else could do it first. So schadenfreude, yep, that seems like the appropriate response here.

In 2015, the Rams’ Inglewood project, then estimated to cost $1.86 billion, was competing against a Chargers-Raiders $1.8 billion option in Carson. Few outside the NFL knew it, but Jones positioned himself to profit from either proposal. Concessions for either project — and the construction, in the case of Inglewood — would be managed by Legends, the company co-owned by Jones and the Steinbrenner family.

I mean, sort of? Legends manages concessions at all kinds of venues, so really Jerry Jones just profits from “sports existing as a thing people like.” But getting the construction management for Inglewood certainly had to be the cherry on the top for Jones.

Kroenke — one of the NFL’s wealthiest team owners, worth an estimated $9.7 billion — would pay to build the stadium, perhaps the only option in California, whose legislators and voters rarely approve a single public dollar for new stadiums. Spanos, a long-respected owner with a reputation for putting the league first, would be given the first option to be Kroenke’s tenant, for $1 a year, and if the Chargers decided to remain in San Diego, the Raiders could join the Rams in L.A. — an outcome nobody around the league wanted, owing to Al Davis’ burned bridges and the co-opting of team apparel by gangs…

Now these unequal partners are locked in a bitter fight, stoked by Kroenke’s fury over cost overruns exceeding $3 billion, questions over the Chargers’ long-term viability in the market, a lawsuit seeking billions over Kroenke’s departure from St. Louis that has engulfed the entire league, and an increasingly fractious and sometimes petty civil war between Rams and Chargers officials, according to documents and nearly two dozen interviews with owners, league and team executives, and lawyers.

First of all, of all the reasons NFL owners, or anyone, hates Al Davis, I’m sure “gang members wear his team’s jerseys” is wayyyyy down the list. But I’m down for the increasingly fractious and sometimes petty civil war. And tell us about those infuriating cost overruns!

A PHONE CALL between Kroenke and Goodell in the autumn of 2015 was a harbinger for the current impasse.

Aw hell, this is going to be one of those New Yorker–style “But first we must return to the beginning…” formats, isn’t it? Scroll scroll scroll.

On a whiteboard, the two options that had been on the table for a year — “STAN/LA” and “CHARGERS-RAIDERS/CARSON” — were crossed out.

Scroll.

“I don’t want to go to L.A.,” Spanos said. “I want to stay.”

Ha ha whiny rich boy! Scroll.

He was determined to do what was best for his club and for his family

For his family! Scroll!

Spanos and his executives surprised Rams officials by drawing a hard line, demanding a cut of all revenue streams, input over design elements, and approval over all decisions made by Legends and by StadCo L.A. LLC, the stadium company controlled by Kroenke. Rams officials tried to be cordial, but they seethed. The way they saw it, Spanos had the entire Southern California market to himself for 21 seasons with little to show for it, but now he felt entitled to a chunk of revenue on a project to which he would contribute one dollar a year.

Kroenke sort of had a point there, except that much of that revenue — seat licenses, suite sales, naming rights — would be generated by those extra eight home games a year played by the Chargers. Spanos ended up getting to keep 15% of revenues from suites, naming rights, and sponsorships, the story notes shortly afterwards, which had the unfortunate consequence that each team owner would benefit as much from the other’s luxury seating sales as his own. This was not a good start for two owners who didn’t much like each other to begin with, and liked each other even less after a contentious negotiating session.

All the revenue from both teams’ sale of SSLs would go to Kroenke to help defray the cost of the stadium. But per the term sheet, the Chargers neither had to meet a revenue target nor even sell a single SSL.

Anyone getting the sense yet that Stan Kroenke is maybe kind of a terrible negotiator?

When it was Spanos’ turn to speak, he surveyed the scarce and scattered Chargers fans. “This is surreal!” he said. A group of fans flipped him off.

Seriously, I will be just fine if this article is nothing but this the rest of the way down.

JERRY JONES HAS always believed in the transformative power of a new home

SCROLL!

“big balls”

Drink again!

Most teams hire at least a dozen staffers to handle SSL sales for a new stadium, in addition to hiring a company like Legends. The Chargers, which outsourced most of the work to Legends, were flying blind in L.A., with no analytics department or sophisticated method of reaching fans… All the Chargers had was “a couple of email addresses” of potential ticket holders, in the words of a team executive, and a slogan — “Fight for L.A.!” — that sounded less like a rallying cry and more like a schoolyard challenge to their future landlord, which did not go unnoticed by Rams executives, who mocked the slogan.

Well, you know, of course they did. Because of the way the agreement was written, no matter how many seat licenses the Chargers sold, the money would just go to defray Kroenke’s stadium costs. And while it would be no fun to not sell many tickets to Chargers fans, if you’re getting 15% of all the shared venue revenues, that makes the empty seats go down a lot easier.

I’ve had a bunch of conversations with Roger Noll where we’ve scratched our heads about what Kroenke was thinking by spending billions of dollars on a new stadium just so he could move into a bigger market in a league where market size means next to nothing thanks to the equally shared national TV contract, and I think we may have our answer: Hey, Roger, I think Stan Kroenke may just be an idiot.

Spanos and Chargers COO Jeanne Bonk then made a controversial decision. They slashed prices for 26,000 upper deck seats, lowering tickets to the $50 to $90 range, and dropped the SSL rate to $100 — up to 15 times less than the Rams were charging for the same seats. … Spanos insisted the price drop wasn’t a spiteful move but a reflection of weak demand.

Nothing saying it couldn’t be both!

Chargers executives were convinced the Rams were lashing out because stadium construction was billions over budget. In the eyes of Chargers brass, the Rams had every right to be angry. But blowing up at Legends was tricky for the Rams because Jones had delivered the L.A. vote — and Kroenke and Jones have become pals, a power clique of two. Still, Legends had never managed a project so massive — and it had “gone off the rails,” a source close to Legends says. It began in 2016, when the Rams realized that both initial estimates — $1.86 billion in early 2015, which rose to $2.4 billion by late 2015 — had been poorly calculated. Vendor costs ballooned because of competition with LAX’s $14 billion renovation. The infrastructure was unexpectedly pricey, with a massive retaining wall required 100 feet below grade for the field. A record amount of rain in early 2017 complicated matters even more, filling the hole of the field with up to 15 feet of water that needed to be drained and costing the Rams 40 work days. And so the Rams announced in May of that year that completion would be delayed until 2020. In March 2018, the project had hit a cost of $5 billion, but the price continues to go up. StadCo officials now refer to it to owners and executives around the league as “our $6 billion stadium,” although some executives insist it won’t be that high.

It’s tough to make apples-to-apples comparisons of cost overruns on the Inglewood stadium, because Kroenke has been sort of hazy at times about whether he was talking about construction costs for just the stadium or for the entire complex, which will also include a 6,000-seat theater, housing, office and retail space, a 12-screen movie theater, a luxury hotel, a brewery, and a lake with a waterfall fountain. Still, $4 billion in extra costs is a stupendous amount of money, and makes what was already a questionable deal for Kroenke look like a total disaster, no matter how many seat licenses the Rams and Chargers can manage to sell. And given NFL owner politics, “Kroenke can’t do anything about it because Jerry Jones’s company is in charge of construction and you can’t cross Jerry Jones” makes total, stupid sense.

There’s more, including the lawsuit against the NFL for violating its own relocation rules that’s demanding that NFL teams pay over the $1.1 billion in relocation fees received from Spanos and Kroenke as restitution, and more bickering between the two owners (“There have been spats over the types of golf carts the stadium will use”). Go read it yourself, but be forewarned, it is so very, very long.

And yet despite its length, it never really addresses the elephant in the room: Will the opening of the new Inglewood stadium solve anything, for Kroenke or Spanos or the NFL or anyone? It sure seems unlikely: The teams remain relatively unpopular in L.A. (though the article does raise the prospect that they could end up fighting to be everybody’s second-favorite team in town behind whatever out-of-town team fans adopted during the NFL’s long absence, and then maybe eventually drawing new fans from a younger generation), Kroenke and Spanos are still trapped in a marriage of convenience, and that $5-6 billion price tag is going to be super-hard to make pay off, even if the stadium and luxury hotel and movie theater and whatnot are all massive successes. If so, it’ll be great for schadenfreude purposes of laughing at the owners who thought they could make a bundle by hightailing it to greener pastures and abandoning existing fans, but maybe less so for providing a model by which teams can effectively fund new stadiums without resorting to public subsidies. Which maybe isn’t so bad — if new stadiums mostly don’t pay for themselves, maybe everyone should just stop pretending the world needs tons of new stadiums — but given the way development politics work, I have to be at least a bit worried about future NFL owners telling cities, You gotta help us with money for this, we don’t want to be the next Stan Kroenke. Schadenfreude and glasses half-empty, those are this site’s two mainstays, and they’ve served me well so far!

Anaheim council really doesn’t understand how this whole “negotiating” thing works

The city of Anaheim and Los Angeles Angels officials are set to have a second closed-door negotiating session tomorrow for a new lease that would include a stadium renovation plan, as the clock ticks down to a December 31 deadline for the team to decide on whether to opt out of its current lease. Or, doesn’t tick down so much at all?

The team faces a Dec. 31 deadline to opt out of its stadium lease or remain bound to it through 2029, but one city councilman suggested the deadline might not be that firm.

“I’m hearing it’s not a big pressure point,” Councilman Jose Moreno said after Tuesday’s council meeting…

Even without an extension, there is nothing that would prevent the team and city from resuming negotiations in the new year. The Angels are well aware that their ultimate deadline could be next November, when three of the seven council seats come up for election.

I mean, sure: There is nothing stopping Angels owner Arte Moreno from declining to exercise his opt-out next month, then continuing to negotiate with the council to rip up his old lease and give him a new one that grants him development rights to the stadium parking lot. Except that would be really dumb, for both sides: Moreno’s only leverage to force Anaheim to rip up his lease is that opt-out, and Anaheim has no incentive to do a stadium deal unless that threat is on the table; it’s always possible that the city could agree to extend the opt-out for a year like it did last December, but what would it gain from that?

While it’s tough to tell given the secret nature of the talks, this whole thing certainly smells less like private and public parties each trying to negotiate the best deal for their respective sides, and more like two partners in general agreement on wanting to do the deal haggling over the exact details while waiting for the clock to wind down to the point where there won’t be time for any public debate before a final vote. Not that it’s always bad to be non-adversarial — hey, maybe this deal would be so lucrative that the city and Moreno will both end up with big cash windfalls (spoiler: it won’t be) — but when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, it’s more than a bit disconcerting to see the public’s representatives saying, Sure, the bomb goes off at midnight, but we can always just ask him to shut it off and keep talking, it’s all good.

Pat Williams, mad that Orlando got snubbed for MLB’s pretend expansion list, introduces “Orlando Dreamers” logo and hat

Former Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams is making an announcement right now about a possible new MLB team for Orlando, and I’m liveblogging it like it’s 2008! (Which is to say, writing down notes as it goes and then posting it all afterwards.)

Highlights:

“The next logical step is to try and become a Major League Baseball city!”

“We need a mascot! But that’s not pertinent right now. What is pertinent is finding out how badly this community wants to do this.”

“I saw a news report that Major League Baseball was considering expanding at some point to 32 teams. And then Major League Baseball announced the six markets they would be considering: Montreal, Portland, Vancouver, Nashville, Las Vegas, and Charlotte. And when I read that, my competitive blood rose, and kept rising.”

“Orlando, Florida, the 18th largest media market in the country!”

“We have a nickname. And we’re going to tell you about it. When I say Walt Disney, what comes to mind? What I say Arnold Palmer. When I say astronaut John Young. … They were all dreamers!”

“So ladies and gentlemen, may I inform you that we will be the Orlando Dreamers baseball team.”

Way too much to unpack here, starting with why Pat Williams thinks that name-checking Arnold Palmer is going to resonate with sports fans of today. (Not to go all generational politics on you, because generational politics is the opiate of the masses, but it should not escape notice that Pat Williams is 79 years old.) Mostly the takeaway should be that now that MLB has hinted that maybe someday possibly it might admit more expansion teams, every would-be team owner is jockeying to get in line; and now that the Nashville Stars have shown that you can get attention just by announcing a team name, everybody else is going to try that as well. I look forward to the flood of terrible team names that will surely result, plus the flood of terrible stadium renderings, though not so much to the public-money bidding war that MLB is almost certain to launch in order to determine which teams make the cut, once the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays stadium situations are resolved and there’s an actual cut to make.

And speaking of the Rays, surely Williams doesn’t think Orlando could get an expansion team even if the Rays are still in Tampa Bay? Someone at the press conference just asked, and Williams replied:

“At this point, all I can tell you is this. The Rays have eight years left on a lease. They have said that they are exploring this radical plan to play in two cities. … Can it happen? Well, they’re going to see if it can happen. In the meantime, our job with any potential owner is to make this package here so attractive, and so — how about this word — luscious, that people say, ‘We gotta get there.’ … I’m dreaming a little bit, guys. So that’s my answer there, Mike.”

So you are, Pat. Just like Arnold Palmer would have wanted.

UPDATE: This is what the @OrlandoDreamers Twitter just tweeted to show off the new logo and hat. Their social media director may also be 79 years old:

 

Congress to MLB on minor-league contraction: You remember us, right, the ones with control over your antitrust exemption?

Yesterday more than 100 members of Congress, many of them representing cities that would lose minor-league teams under MLB’s minor-league contraction plan, issued an open letter to MLB expressing their “firm opposition” to the plan and urging the league to “strongly reconsider” it. And as NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra notes, the letter includes an implicit threat:

The abandonment of Minor League clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs. We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.

For over a century, Congress has taken numerous actions specifically designed to protect, preserve, and sustain a system and structure for both Major and Minor League Baseball to flourish.

That’s not an outright “We’re gonna hold hearings on rescinding your antitrust exemption if you go through with this,” and in any event even 100+ members of Congress isn’t anywhere near a majority. Still, MLB clearly got Congress’s attention with this, which makes the contraction gambit an even weirder strategy: Is it really worth risking the league’s nearly 100-year-old antitrust exemption just to save a few hundred thousand dollars per franchise in minor-league salaries? Maybe MLB figures it can negotiate a compromise (read: buy off representatives who are leading the charge by sparing their teams) or that Congress will have bigger fish to fry in 2020 and won’t bother with them — trying to understand the motivations of a roomful of rich dudes is always a tough call, especially when they often turn out to be thinking with the wrong parts of their anatomy.

Queensboro FC still vague on how its stadium on a public university campus will work

Ever since last Tuesday’s announcement that New York City would be getting a new USL team called Queensboro F.C. in 2021, I’ve been trying to figure out where exactly this second-tier (soccer’s term for the top minor league) team would play. That was the holdup when the franchise was first rumored last winter, and while last week’s announcement mentioned a “new, modular stadium at York College in Queens that will have a capacity of around 7,500,” none of the news outlets appeared to have actually called York College to see who would build it or where it would go, important questions given that the campus, though conveniently located right by a major subway terminal, isn’t exactly bursting with huge swathes of vacant land.

So, I called. And was directed to a press spokesperson for the City University of New York school, who said she’d get back to me with a statement from the school’s president, but couldn’t “promise it will be today.” That was Thursday; it’s now Tuesday, and still no statement has been forthcoming.

I next tried the team itself, whose press representative told me yesterday they’d be back to me “shortly”; I’m still waiting. After that, it was on to city councilmember Francisco Moya, who has helped shepherd the team into existence and declared himself one of its first fans, whose communications director actually replied:

Queensboro FC will be playing in a modular stadium, which will be 100 percent privately funded through the club. The City is not involved in the arrangement between QBFC and York College.

That is slightly more of an answer, but not much of one. Where will this stadium be built? Does a “modular stadium” just mean a bunch of temporary bleachers that can be taken down and stored away when York College needs to use its track? Is York College being paid anything for use of its land? And does the public university have to get any city or state permissions before repurposing public land?

These are all kind of important questions, and it’s reflective of the sad state of journalism in this city (and in this country, and on this planet) that no one seems to have asked them — or, worse, has asked them and when they didn’t get answers, didn’t bother to mention that in their articles. (It’s also sad that an entire minor-league baseball team in Staten Island has been marked for elimination, and none of the city press has deigned to report on borough residents’ thoughts on that — or has just forgotten that Staten Island is a part of New York City, which is a thing that happens.) I’ll report back here if I learn of anything to add, but in the meantime: Friends don’t let friends reprint sports team owner press releases without at least trying to check their facts, okay?

MLB’s minor league hit list would kill 42 teams that cities spent hundreds of millions on stadiums for

The list of 42 minor league baseball teams targeted for elimination by Major League Baseball has leaked, and let’s get right to the names marked for death:

  • Appalachian League (advanced Rookie): Bluefield Blue Jays, Bristol Pirates, Burlington Royals, Danville Braves, Elizabethton Twins, Greeneville Reds, Johnson City Cardinals, Kingsport Mets, Princeton Rays
  • California League (advanced A): Lancaster Jethawks
  • Carolina League (advanced A): Frederick Keys
  • Eastern League (Double-A): Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Erie SeaWolves
  • Florida State League (advanced A): Daytona Tortugas, Florida Fire Frogs
  • Midwest League (full-season A): Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings, Quad Cities River Bandits
  • New York-Penn League (short-season A): Auburn Doubledays, Batavia Muckdogs, Connecticut Tigers, Lowell Spinners, Mahoning Valley Scrappers, State College Spikes, Staten Island Yankees, Vermont Lake Monsters, Williamsport Crosscutters
  • Northwest League (short-season A): Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Tri-City Dust Devils 
  • Pioneer League (advanced Rookie): Billings Mustangs, Grand Junction Rockies, Great Falls Voyagers, Idaho Falls Chukars, Missoula PaddleHeads, Ogden Raptors, Orem Owlz, Rocky Mountain Vibes
  • Southern League (Double-A): Chattanooga Lookouts, Jackson Generals
  • South Atlantic League (full-season A): Hagerstown Suns, Lexington Legends, West Virginia Power 

Or, if you prefer, here’s a map:

In addition, many surviving teams would need to switch leagues: The Brooklyn Cyclones will reportedly make the leap all the way to Double-A to replace Binghamton, while other survivors of the NY-Penn League would join with join with remnants of the South Atlantic League in a new mid-Atlantic league. (I haven’t seen reporting yet on who’d shift levels to replace Erie or the two Southern League teams.) The Pioneer League would be eliminated entirely, while only the Pulaski Yankees would escape the flaming ruins of the Appalachian League.

If all this looks like a mish-mash of teams in smaller cities, teams in not-as-brand-new stadiums, and teams far from major league affiliates, that’s apparently exactly what it is. According to both published reports and sources I’ve spoken to, the downsizing plan was first concocted in the front office of the Houston Astros, the franchise most dedicated to using advanced techniques to gain a competitive edge, even if it means breaking the rules. As the Astros execs’ thinking went, advanced analytics (i.e., grading players based on such things as using high-speed cameras to measure body mechanics) could replace watching young players play actual baseball, saving the trouble of having to pay so many of them to do so. (Not that this is a huge expense — an entire single-A roster can be had for about $600,000 a year — but again, the Astros are all about exploiting every advantage.) And while Houston execs could and did reduce their minor-league affiliates on their own, from nine teams to seven, why should they have to compete against teams like the New York Yankees whose owners were willing to keep minor league teams stacked up like cordwood?

According to the New York Daily News’ Bill Madden, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow quickly found support from two other team GMs, David Stearns of the Brewers and Mike Elias of the Orioles, who had previously worked for him in Houston. And other team execs quickly realized that eliminating minor league teams could have other benefits as well: It could allow MLB to force realignments so that their affiliates would be closer geographically, enable the elimination of teams whose stadiums weren’t seen as up to par, and potentially provide increased franchise fees from teams whose owners wished to survive. Plus, if minor leaguers are going to insist in court on being paid minimum wage, that would go down a lot more smoothly if each franchise only had four minor league payrolls to cover. The contraction proposal, reports Madden, passed 30-0 in a vote of MLB teams earlier this year.

The eliminated franchise owners wouldn’t be entirely SOL: They could apply to join a newly formed “Dream League,” an ill-formed proposal that would involve wannabe pro players somehow being allocated to nearby leagues — “we can fill rosters with players from local markets,” Morgan Sword, MLB senior vice president of league economics and operations, enthused to the New York Times — that would receive cash subsidies from MLB, but would otherwise be on the hook for paying their own player payrolls. Minor league officials are doubtful many franchises could afford to operate on such a basis, with one unnamed source telling the Times a Dream League would be a “death sentence” for clubs, and another speculating that at best 10 of the 42 teams could survive.

And what would all of this mean for the cities that have supported minor league baseball by erecting stadiums, partly or entirely at public cost, to ensure the presence of a team? Just as a small sampling: New York City spent $71 million to build a ballpark for the Staten Island Yankees in 2001; Jackson spent $8 million on a stadium for the Generals in 1998, and has additionally chipped in $500,000 a year in operating subsidies since then; the SeaWolves just got $12 million in state money and the Rumble Ponies just received $5 million in state and city funds for upgrades to their ballparks. Chattanooga, meanwhile, has been discussing a new stadium to replace the Lookouts’ current one, which will turn an ancient 20 years old next year; that’ll presumably be off the agenda if there’s no team, but who’s to say that MLB won’t allow new applicants to the slimmed-down minor league register, if they come with snazzy enough stadium plans and a lucrative enough fee? Madden reports that “for over a year now, MLB has been asking Minor League teams to lobby their state governors and legislatures to enact legislation allotting ‘integrity fees’ — a percentage of the baseball gambling revenue in their states — that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for MLB,” and suggests that local officials won’t take too kindly to that if teams are being eliminated, but who’s to say if they’ll consider them if it would remove their teams from the hit list?

What is certain, if this plan reaches fruition, is lawsuits, and plenty of them: Teams, cities, and concessionaires alike could all sue MLB, since wiping out teams would mean abrogating tons of long-term leases and contracts that are in place. (“My God, we’ll be sued all over the place from these cities that have built or refurbished ballparks with taxpayer money, and this will really put our anti-trust exemption in jeopardy,” Madden reports an unnamed MLB official as saying. “It’s crazy.”) The Yankees could technically sue as well, given that they only granted permission for the Cyclones’ existence in their territory in exchange for being granted a Staten Island club in the same league, though if they voted for the plan, presumably that’s not in the cards.

This is all still just a preliminary negotiating proposal, mind you, and there is a ton still to hash out before the MLB-MiLB operating agreement is rewritten sometime next year. (The Winter Meetings from December 8–12 are bound to be hopping with plans and counterplans; anyone feel like crowdfunding me a trip to San Diego?) But by establishing its intentions and sending out the message that all that’s left is to haggle over the details, MLB is clearly in a position to get minor league team owners thinking about how they can buy their way off that list; I can’t fathom a guess as to how this all will end, except that it will almost certainly be really, really ugly and benefit those with the most cash to burn, because that’s how monopoly capitalism always functions.

Friday roundup: Developers pay locals $25 each to hold pro-arena signs, a smoking and farting winged horse team logo, and do you even need a third thing after those two?

It’s been another week of pretty bad news, topped off by a private equity firm somehow buying the entirety of .org domains, meaning every nonprofit website will now have to be licensed from an entity whose sole mission is to squeeze as much money from them as possible. The stadium and arena news, by contrast, isn’t all terrible, so maybe it qualifies as cheery? You be the judge:

  • The Richmond city council voted Tuesday to put off a decision on a $1.5 billion downtown development that would include a new arena (public cost: $350 million), after a contentious hearing where both supporters and opponents held signs espousing their opinions. Or espousing somebody’s opinions, anyway: Some locals holding “yes” signs later reported that the project’s developers paid them $25 a pop to do so. City council president Michelle Mosby replied that if anything people were just reimbursed gas money, which 1) only makes sense if everyone there drove their own car and had to travel like 250 miles round trip to get to the hearing and 2) isn’t really any less corrosive of democracy anyway.
  • If you’ve been wondering how Inter Miami plans to build a temporary 18,000-seat stadium in Fort Lauderdale (later to be turned into a practice field) between now and March and figured it would have to involve throwing up a bunch of cheap metal bleachers, now there’s video of construction workers doing exactly that. Also laying down the sod for the field, which I thought usually takes place after the stadium is more or less built, but I guess if they can build the stadium without treading on the field, no harm in doing so now. This all raises questions of whether the stadium will feel excessively crappy, and if not why more soccer teams can’t just build cheap quickie stadiums like this without the need for public money; I guess we’ll know the answer by springtime one way or another.
  • When the state of Minnesota agreed to pay for the Vikings‘ new stadium with cigarette revenue after electronic pulltab gambling money didn’t come in as expected, it still kept collecting the gambling cash; and now that e-pulltabs (which are just lottery tickets, only on a tablet) have taken off, there’s debate over what to do with the cash that the state is collecting, about $5 million this year but projected to rise to $51 million by 2023. The Vikings owners want the money used to pay off their stadium debt early, while some lawmakers would like to use the revenue to fund other projects or reduce taxes on charitable gambling institutions now that it’s no longer needed — all are valid options, but it’s important to remember that the state already paid for most of the stadium, this is just arguing over what to do with the zombie tax that was left over after the financing plan was changed. (It would also be nice to know if e-pulltab gambling has cannibalized revenues from other gambling options, thus making this less of a windfall, but modern journalists have no time for such trivialities.)
  • The city of Wichita is spending $77 million (plus free land) on a Triple-A baseball stadium to steal the Baby Cakes from New Orleans, and have been rewarded with the Wichita Wind Surge, a name that’s supposed to reference the city’s aviation history or something but actually means “storm surge,” which isn’t a thing that they have in landlocked Kansas? It also features a logo that looks like a horse and a fly got caught in a transporter accident, which the team’s designer explained with “The nice thing about Pegasus, however, to me, was the fact that it’s got a horse in there.” A local designer responded with a sketch of a winged horse smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer, and farting, which by all accounts is much more popular with Wichitans. (The sketch is, I mean, though I’d love to see a poll asking Wichitans, “Which do you prefer, the name Wichita Wind Surge or farting?”)
  • San Diego State University’s plan to buy the city’s old football stadium and its surrounding land for $87.7 million has hit some “speed bumps,” namely that city economists have determined that the price could be below the land’s market value and $10 million of the sale price would have to be set aside for infrastructure improvements for the university’s development. “There’s also the matter of the $1-per-month lease that, as proposed, may not adequately protect the city from expenses or legal risk,” notes the San Diego Union-Tribune. Given all these uncertainties, the city’s independent budget analyst called SDSU’s proposed March 27 deadline “very challenging,” not that that’s stopped city councils before.
  • Saskatoon has enough room under its debt limit to finance either a new central library or a new sports arena, and regardless of what you think of how badly Saskatooners need a new library, it’s still a pretty strong example of how opportunity costs work.
  • The Phoenix Suns‘ new practice facility being built with the help of public money will include a golf simulator for players, because of course it will.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Arizona Republic has revealed what the Diamondbacks owners want in a new stadium; the original article is paywalled, but for once Ballpark Digest‘s propensity for just straight-up paraphrasing other sites’ reporting comes in handy, revealing that team owners want a 36,000-  to 42,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof and surrounded by a 45- to 70-acre mixed-use development and a 5,000-seat concert venue and good public transit and full control of naming-rights revenue and public cost-sharing on ballpark repairs. And a pony.
  • Will Raiders football hike your home value?” asks the Nevada Current, apparently because “Is the moon made of green cheese?” had already been taken.
  • And last but certainly not least, your weekly vaportecture roundup: The New Orleans Saints‘ $450 million renovation of the Superdome (two-thirds paid for by taxpayers) will include field-level open-air end zone spaces where fans have ample room enjoy rendered people’s propensity for flinging their arms in the air! The new Halifax Schooners stadium designs lack the woman hailing a cab and players playing two different sports at once from previous renderings, but do seem to still allow fans to just wander onto the field if they want! It should come as no surprise to anyone that even Chuck D can do a better job of drawing than this.

Oakland drops suit against county on Coliseum land sale to A’s, who does this mean won exactly?

After months of wrangling over the city of Oakland’s lawsuit against Alameda County over the county’s sale of Oakland Coliseum land to A’s owner John Fisher without offering it to the city first, mostly between council president Rebecca Kaplan (who filed the suit) and Mayor Libby Schaaf (who thought it was dumb), Schaaf and Kaplan abruptly announced yesterday that they’d agreed to drop the suit:

The Surplus Land Act is part of what was at issue in the lawsuit in the first place: The California state law requires that any agency selling public land must give first dibs to plans that promise to build affordable housing. While city officials are no longer trying to pressure the county to go through the Surplus Land Act bidding process on its sale, the city will still require it for sale of its half-share of the Coliseum property — and since Fisher or anyone else can’t build anything without full ownership of the land, this should pretty much amount to the same thing.

How much of a stumbling block this will mean for Fisher’s plans to redevelop both the Coliseum site and a new stadium and other development at the Howard Terminal site isn’t entirely clear: Newballpark.org notes that “As affordable housing is not a huge moneymaker without some sort of subsidization effort, I wouldn’t expect a ton of better offers than what the A’s can provide,” but adds that a lot still needs to be fleshed out about the team’s plans for each site. At least negotiations can now begin, though, and there’s a framework for making sure Oakland gets a fair deal for its property and some control over what happens to it, which isn’t a terrible thing at all.

What shook loose the dropping of the lawsuit appears to have been the one-two carrot-and-stick punch of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s threat to move the team to Las Vegas and Fisher’s offer of an $85 million purchase price plus a community benefits agreement if the lawsuit were dropped. So either Oakland caved to threats, or agreed to drop its suit once it had used it for leverage to get concessions, or, really, both. Which is how negotiations work, and while it’s no doubt annoying that MLB with its antitrust exemption gets to threaten to blacklist cities that won’t play ball on stadiums, it seems like Oakland haggled as well as possible under the circumstances. Now all they need to do is to negotiate a stadium deal that is actually fair to taxpayers, and … well, let’s take one small victory at a time.

 

Every city in U.S. now building a soccer stadium, or at least it seems like it

Some days it seems like this site is turning into Soccer Pitch of Schemes. I mean, seriously, check this out:

The reason for this flood of soccer stadium building has less to do with soccer being the sport of millennials or whatever, and more to do with there being umpteen gazillion soccer teams in the U.S. now, and more on the way, and lots of them not having brand-new stadiums of their own because sometimes there just isn’t time to do that before you have to collect some more expansion fees, you know? Which should cut both ways — if MLS and the USL alike are going to expand to every city with its own post office, you’d think that cities wouldn’t need to spend big bucks on stadium funding in order to have a shot at a franchise — but here we have Switchbacks president Nick Ragain saying of the Colorado Springs vote that “what it means is we have a long-term professional soccer team in Colorado Springs,” and nobody in the media rolling their eyes, so I guess these are questions that are not asked in polite society.

And speaking of soccer and the media not rolling their eyes, yes, an Argentine football team celebrated the reopening of its stadium with a giant holographic flaming lion as many of you have emailed and tweeted at me, but also it’s not really a hologram and fans in the stadium couldn’t even see it except on TV screens. Number of news articles pointing this out: one; number of news articles going “Oooooh, fiery lion!”: more than I can count.