Did Detroit let Lions and Red Wings stall on water bills while punishing residents? Definitely maybe

The Daily Show took a look last night at how Detroit is shutting off water to poor residents who don’t pay their bills, but has left the water on for the Red Wings and Lions despite delinquent payments. It got lots of attention, and because the Daily Show is a comedy show, much of it was of the “Ha ha, so amusing” variety:

The controversy over water shutoffs for Detroit residents unable to pay their bills was front and center Monday night on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

It was a story that took some humorous twists and turns, and it probably was deemed offensive or even inaccurate to some as well.

That article on MLive didn’t actually provide any details of anyone who thought the segment was offensive or inaccurate, but in a followup, the site provided this:

“I can say right now that the information was not accurate,” DWSD spokesperson Curtrise Garner told MLive.com…

Garner said she would send MLive more information via e-mail Tuesday afternoon to show that all the commercial accounts mentioned in the “Daily Show” report have been paying their bills and don’t have any overdue balances.

“I’m taking a look at the larger ones here in the city and they are all current,” Garner said over the phone.

So where did this report of overdue water bills come from in the first place? It looks like from a June article in the Guardian, which further linked to a blog post by Oakland University journalism professor Shea Howell that reported that “Joe Louis Arena/Red Wings Hockey owes $80,000 and Ford Field $55,000.” Howell didn’t provide a source for those numbers, but they’re pretty specific to be made up, leading to the likely conclusion that if everyone is telling the truth, the Red Wings and Lions were behind on their water bills in June, didn’t get their water shut off, and have since paid up. Which is, as the Daily Show segment makes clear, the same treatment that low-income water protestors are requesting from the city.

I’m trying to reach Howell to get more info on her numbers, but as MLive seems eager to show us, modern journalism doesn’t need to wait until we see the actual documents. Updates as needed.

[UPDATE: Okay, thanks to a couple of correspondents who wish to remain nameless, I’ve tracked the Lions/Red Wings water bill story back a bit further: This all dates back to an April WDIV-TV report that found that the two sports teams were behind on their water bills. As of July, the teams still hadn’t paid, but as the Detroit water department told Metro Times, it was because the Lions and Red Wings owners were disputing their past stormwater runoff bills, which the water department was “still in the process of trying to collect.”

So: Detroit’s sports teams aren’t being allowed to keep their running water despite not paying their bills for that; they’re allowed to keep their running water despite not having paid different water bills. Which is less black and white than the simplified version that the Daily Show presented, and they probably should have done their homework better, or at least explained the situation more fully. But the general “one system for poor folks and another for big corporations” vibe is still legit.]

Raiders, Chargers owners say words “Los Angeles,” newspaper writers can mail it in from there

OMG OMG OMG Mark Davis said something nice about Los Angeles! He’s totally moving the Oakland Raiders there!

“Los Angeles is a great option.” Davis said.

An option for the Raiders?

“Absolutely,” he said.

And just to be clear, he added: “Sure. We loved it when we were down here.”

And San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos said something nice about it, too, so the Chargers are totally moving there too!

“We’re looking into all our possibilities, all our options,” Spanos said.

Does that mean potentially re-locating to Los Angeles?

“I’m just keeping all my options open,” Spanos said.

And Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan hasn’t said anything about Los Angeles, so they’re totally not moving there!

Of course, cynical types might point out that sports team owners say these kinds of things all the time, whether they’re actually interested in moving or just trying to put pressure on hometown elected officials to get cracking on stadium subsidies. (Or both. There’s nothing saying owners can’t work both sides of this street.) But we don’t allow cynical types around here, so let’s welcome your 2015 Los Angeles Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers! They’ll totally find a vacant lot to play in by then.

Wisconsin reveals that giving Bucks owners $150m in income tax rebates would make Bucks owners $150m richer

This just in! (Well, in on Friday afternoon, but nobody pays attention to the interwebs then.) Rich Kirchen has breaking news that according to Wisconsin state assembly leader Robin Vos, redirecting income taxes paid by Milwaukee Bucks players and employees could provide up to $10 million a year in funding toward the Bucks arena project, providing enough money to pay off $150 million in arena costs!

This is the first we’ve heard from Kirchen on the “jock tax” since July, when he reported that redirecting income taxes paid by Bucks players and employees could provide up to $10 million a year in arena funding. But then it was Gov. Scott Walker saying it, not Vos, so, you know, news.

So long as Kitchen is rehashing old stories, I think I’ll just quote what I said back in July about the jock tax idea:

This is revenue that Wisconsin is currently collecting, so it’s hardly free money. (Yes, it’s money that the state won’t collect if the Bucks move elsewhere, but then sports fans would just spend their entertainment dollars on something else, and employees of that something else would make more money and pay more income taxes, and so on, and so on.) So it’s really just a way of totaling up all the money that the state could credit to the Bucks, then rebating them by writing them a check equal to that amount. Except the players would still be paying the taxes, while the team owners would be getting the check. Nice work if you can get it.

Kirchen also says that an extra $150 million would more than provide the $100 million in public funding expected to be needed for the project — but given that the current price tag is from $400-500 million and the current budget goes $100 million from the Bucks, $100 million from former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, and $100 million from Mystery Investor #1 (possibly via a naming rights deal), the gap may actually be a fair bit more than that. But yes, the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau has confirmed that if the state sends the Bucks owners a check for all the state income taxes that their employees are paying, then the Bucks owners will have a bunch more money. It’s magic!

WI speaker to Bucks owner: Quit hanging with Dems or my GOP friends won’t let you eat lunch at their table

Wisconsin assembly speaker Robin Vos is a Republican, and supports the Milwaukee Bucks owners’ attempts to get public funding for a new arena. So, he tells Milwaukee Business Journal, he was aghast when Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry appeared at a Democratic campaign stop with Barack Obama, because none of his Republican friends are going to want to give Lasry money now:

“If you’re looking to people for support, you certainly don’t want to poke people in the eye,” Vos told the Milwaukee Business Journal Wednesday.

Wisconsin representative Mandela Barnes, who is a Democrat and supports the Bucks owners’ attempts to get public money for a new arena, says this is unfair:

“Personally I feel that that just because the legislature is controlled by Republicans doesn’t mean it should only be open to republicans and their supporters. Marc Lasry expressed his freedom of speech and may now see the Milwaukee area and entire state of Wisconsin be held hostage,” Barnes said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is extremely a Republican, has said he’d consider kicking in state tax money toward a new Bucks arena.

What are we arguing about again? Oh, right, whether or not Obama is evil. Carry on.


NY Post says NHL is going to give a Vegas expansion team to the Maloofs, BWAHAHAHA

The NHL gets lots of crap for being the league that lets people buy teams without bothering to check if they actually have the money to pay for them, and this is only likely to add to its legend: Yesterday’s New York Post reported that the NHL has already approved an ownership group for a not-yet-approved Las Vegas expansion team, and part of that group is the Maloof brothers. Yes, the Maloof brothers who campaigned against their own arena referendum in Sacramento, who threatened to move the Kings to Anaheim and Virginia Beach and Las Vegas before being forced to acknowledge that all those things weren’t happening, who had to be all but forcibly removed by the NBA in order to bring in an ownership group that the city of Sacramento would actually deign to give arena subsidies to. The ones who ESPN the Magazine ranked as the worst owners in all of pro sports. Those guys.

There’s still no timetable for a Vegas team, or any clear idea where it would play (though lord, will they have plenty of options), or really any confirmation of this beyond the unsourced Post report. But it looks like if and when the NHL expands, it’s extremely likely that we will have the Maloofs to kick around again. Rejoice, people.


D.C. consultant: Oops, two-thirds of benefits from United stadium aren’t benefits at all

I’ve said a lot of nasty things about Convention, Sports & Leisure, the consultancy firm owned by the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys that has gotten flak for its outrageously high estimates of benefits, for doing economic impact reports for teams its concessions arm is already doing business with, and for being owned by the Yankees and Cowboys. But I’ve never accused them of being so grossly incompetent that they can’t even get the math right on their own 400-page reports.

Until now.

According to the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell, CSL has sent a letter to D.C. council president Phil Mendelson, explaining that two-thirds or more of the promised $109 million in benefits from a $300 million D.C. United soccer stadium weren’t actually benefits at all, they were, in effect, a typo. O’Connell hasn’t written this up for the paper as of yet, but did take to Twitter to report it:

In case you’re having trouble following here: A big part of the District’s $180 million in subsidies for the stadium would involve selling public land and using the proceeds to buy other land that would be used for the United stadium. (This is both to get around the city’s bond cap, and to get around United’s desire not to have to put in much capital of its own, because jeez, they’re not even billionaires. Quite. Probably.) D.C. would be left with $71.4 million in extra cash at the end of the deal — but would be out $71.4 million worth of land. So this is effectively a wash, and shouldn’t be counted as a benefit of the stadium.

O’Connell also tweeted out the relevant section of the report where CSL just flat-out threw in this $71.4 million to make the benefit numbers look much, much bigger:

To its credit, CSL subsequently sent out a letter “clarifying” its numbers (very small scan of it here); less to its credit, it spent all summer and half the fall coming up with a 400-page report that completely botched the one number that anyone would care about, artificially inflating the projected benefits from $17.6-38.0 million up to $89.0-$109.4 million. Yes, the report still projects that the stadium would provide a small net profit to D.C. over 32 years, but given that this is based on questionable assumptions that are completely undocumented in the CSL report, it wouldn’t take much in the way of overoptimistic assumptions to put the District back in the red on the deal.

Of course, that might well have been the intent here: Throw in unrelated dollar figures and call it “profit” and hope nobody noticed until after the deal was already approved. (Or, more likely, give your employees the sense that looking too hard at where the positive numbers in your report come from is not the best way of earning future contracts, or job security.) Except that now it’s apparently backfired, with D.C. council members, who were already not real psyched to rush into a deal just because the mayor is getting kicked out of office and wants it done before year’s end, openly questioning whether this financing plan is a load of crap.

This doesn’t mean that a United stadium deal won’t ever get done — there’s plenty of haggling left to do, and the D.C. council has proven itself willing and eager to do so in the past — but it does mean it may not be in this round of negotations. Also, it means you should never ever take anything CSL says seriously. Not that you should have before, but now when you see their reports, there’s only one acceptable response.

Minneapolis All-Star Game impact overstated by 27-72%, says state revenue department

It is very, very rare for a public agency to take a look at the actual impacts of a major sporting event after the fact, as opposed to just throwing around crazy numbers beforehand. So props to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, which followed up on projections that the 2014 All-Star Game would bring $75 million in new economic activity to the state by actually counting up sales tax data, and finding that the actual figure was likely a whole lot less:

The state Department of Revenue, reviewing sales tax data for Minneapolis, added that the true figure could be as high as $55 million, or as low as $21 million…

“At the time, it seemed believable to me,” [Meet Minneapolis director of market research Kevin] Hanstad said of his original projection. Hanstad said he based his forecast in part on the estimated $60 million that the All-Star Game brought to Kansas City and St. Louis, though he added that those estimates were “loosey-goosey.”

He said the actual number for Minneapolis is likely closer to $50 million, and added that even that number remains uncertain. Hanstad said he has the most confidence in just one statistic — that the game itself, played on a Tuesday night, generated $26.9 million in economic benefit.

“It looks like there’s something there, right? But what is it?” said state Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, who said it is difficult to separate any boost from the All-Star Game from the general upswing that Minneapolis’ economy has seen since 2010. “You don’t want to overstate the case.”

The numbers from the city tourism board Meet Minneapolis, including that $26.9 million figure, are actually more suspect, because they just add up spending at the game and related events, without accounting for what gamegoers didn’t spend on that week. (Data point: When the All-Star Game was in New York in 2013, I dropped several hundred dollars to take my son to the Futures Game, FanFest, Home Run Derby, and the All-Star Game itself. Suffice to say we otherwise didn’t leave the house much that month.) The state revenue figures, on the other hand, at least try to empirically measure the All-Star bump, by comparing tax receipts this July to overall trends.

Their answer — $21 million to $55 million — seems completely reasonable, given that economists have estimated that the Super Bowl’s total impact is around $100 million in new spending, and that’s, you know, the Super Bowl. Remember, though, that this is just economic activity: total money changing hands within the state’s borders. Minnesota’s sales tax rate is 6.875%, which would put the state’s actual take from the All-Star Game at a total of around $2-4 million — maybe a million or two more if you add in any extra state income taxes paid by Minnesotans who made a smidge more money this summer. That’s not nothing, but given that the All-Star Game cost the public about $600,000 in rent breaks, traffic costs, and police expenses — not to mention $387 million for the Twins stadium that earned Minneapolis the right to host the game — it’s pretty unimpressive as windfalls go. I hope the Firestone bunt-at-a-tire game was fun, anyway.

St. Petersburg mayor said near deal for buyout of Rays’ “don’t even think about stadiums elsewhere” clause

“People who have talked recently” with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman say that he is hopeful of reaching an agreement with Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg on a deal to allow Sternberg to talk to other local cities and counties about building a new stadium there. That’s current verboten under the terms of the Rays’ lease, but Kriseman has apparently decided that everything has its price:

[St. Petersburg council chair Bill] Dudley, who meets with the mayor weekly, said one critical element would be monetary compensation for the city if the Rays leave for Hillsborough before 2027, when their contract to play at Tropicana Field expires.

“I don’t know what the number is,” Dudley said, but added that city lawyers are working on contractual language “to protect our interests.”

That’s actually reasonable enough — as I’ve noted before, making the Rays stadium situation Hillsborough County’s problem, while getting some cash out of the deal (during negotiations with former mayor Bill Foster in 2013, Sternberg reportedly offered $2-3 million per year, or approximately one Jose Molina) and potentially freeing up the Tropicana Field site for redevelopment wouldn’t be the worst outcome for St. Petersburg. Of course, Foster tried this too and got nowhere, but supposedly Kriseman is close enough to a deal that he thinks he can present one to the council by year’s end, which is something. Then all the Rays and Hillsborough need to do is find $400 million in unmarked bills lying around somewhere, and they’re home free!

Cobb County still has no idea how much Braves bridge will cost or how to pay for it

There’s now a rendering of the bridge that will take Atlanta Braves fans from their cars to the game! And one whole paragraph of details before you hit the Atlanta Journal Constitution paywall!

Cobb County officials say they intend to build a bridge to link the Braves stadium and mixed-use development to thousands of parking spaces on the other side of I-285, even though one year after the announcement they still don’t know how much the bridge will cost or how the county will pay for its half.

On second thought, that’s probably about all you need to know about this: Cobb County still needs a bridge to get people from the off-site parking, on the other side of a major highway, to the new stadium. And it still has no idea how to pay for it, thanks to approving everything else about stadium construction before actually finishing the required transportation agreement.

This is, to put it mildly, likely to be an issue. Everybody going to Braves games is going to drive, both because there will be no meaningful public transit to the new stadium, and because everybody in Atlanta drives everywhere anyway. The Braves owners, for the moment at least, have no plans to build parking on the actual stadium parcel, because they want to save that for building celebrity chef–driven restaurants. So we’re looking at the prospect of Cobb County having to shell out as much as $80 million extra for a new bridge so that fans can trudge long distances from the parking lots to their seats, or maybe sit in traffic on shuttle buses waiting to be driven the last stretch of the trip. [UPDATE: The Marietta Daily Journal reports that the bridge will now be pedestrian-only, and so significantly cheaper. But also presumably much slower to cross, unless the Braves will be holding an annual Rollerblade Giveaway Night.]

Long commute times are something that football fans, say, will often put up with, since going to an NFL game kills your entire Sunday anyway. But the Braves should be seriously worried that long delays in getting to and from their games will kill attendance on weeknights in particular, when people have a limited time to get from work to the game. And having fans spend all their pregame time fighting their way to the stadium isn’t going to help get them into those celebrity chef–driven restaurants for dinner beforehand.

It’s why I told the AJC that “this could easily end up one of those rare lose-lose-lose situations,” where the county ends up losing money (not only because of unknown transportation infrastructure costs, but because the county is counting on tax receipts from the stadium-side development to help recoup their $300 million in subsidies), the Braves end up losing money (because attendance tanks when people realize how hard it is to get to games and back), and fans end up with a worse gameday experience. Except for nicer cupholders, I guess. And who can put a price on those?

Oakland Raiders still not moving to all the places they weren’t moving to last week

Sorry, folks — I haven’t been keeping you up on all the breaking Oakland Raiders relocation rumors. Which means you’ll be as confused as I was by this headline from CBSHouston:

Report: Oakland Raiders Not Moving To San Antonio

I’m really hoping this becomes a daily thing — tomorrow “Oakland Raiders Not Moving To Los Angeles,” the next day “Oakland Raiders Not Moving To Ouagadougou.” Because I know today’s reporters are underpaid and overworked, and that’s a really easy way to generate copy.

Okay, the actual reason behind the headline, if “reason” isn’t overstating it, is that last week Raiders owner Mark Davis had lunch with former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros, and Cisneros called the odds of the Raiders moving to Texas a “very clear 50-50 proposition.” Before the meeting had even taken place, mind you, but when a guy who was mayor 25 years ago talks, people listen, I guess.

That news bounced around the interwebs for a bit, until somebody noticed that a Bleacher Report writer said that NFL sources told him it was all just for leverage:

I’m still not convinced that Los Angeles talk isn’t similarly working leverage — given that there’s still no semblance of a viable stadium plan — but people seem to be taking it seriously, and there is at least the possibility that something will happen if owners of teams wanting to keep their options open (the Raiders, St. Louis Rams, and San Diego Chargers, mostly) get worried someone else will get dibs on L.A. first and leave them without any leverage at all. The deadline for announcing plans to move for the 2015 season is in February, so expect to at least see the rumormongering to heat up to a boil until then, even if it remains more (or at least equally) directed at shaking loose stadium cash in Oakland, St. Louis, and San Diego than on L.A.