St. Louis mayor says Blues arena needs $70m to keep wrestling finals, but what does math say?

I spend a fair amount of time here ragging on media outlets that go out of their way to parrot the arguments made by sports team owners and their political allies on behalf of stadium and arena subsidies. But it’s also instructive to stop and take a look at a more routine kind of media bias: the kind where journalists do their basic job of reporting the facts, but stop short of the most important step, actually explaining to readers what those facts mean.

For today’s punching bag, I present reporter Austin Huguelet of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, whose entirely competent article on St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay asking the state of Missouri for subsidies to his city’s hockey arena (or the Blues‘ hockey arena that is on the city’s books, if you prefer) included the following:

A proposal from Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, would allow the state to contribute up to $6 million per year to upgrading the St. Louis Blues’ 23-year-old home ice, which officials say needs urgent fixes if it is to continue attracting top-flight sporting events and concerts…

Without the money, Jack Stapleton of St. Louis Sports Commission said Scottrade could lose out on events like the wrestling championships to better equipped facilities with better public support.

“The competition is stiff,” he said. “We are going to up against a lot of cities with newer buildings with public funding.”

He listed Louisville, Chicago and Oklahoma City as examples.

Proponents also offered an array of statistics to support the bid. A report prepared by Johnson Consulting and given to legislators said Scottrade has generated nearly $170 million per year in spending from visitors and an average of about $11 million in annual tax revenue for the state.

So far, so good, though it’d be nice to explain who Johnson Consulting is or what their track record is for economic projections for their other consulting projects. (One example from this site’s archives: Johnson’s prediction of hotel stays due to Austin’s new convention center ended up being overly optimistic by more than 25%.) But more to the point, let’s connect the dots between the first and last figures in that story: The state is being asked for $6 million a year in subsidies in order to avoid hurting an arena that produces $11 million a year in state tax revenues. Unless the wrestling championships are a huge chunk of the arena’s business, that seems like a pretty terrible return on Missouri’s investment — taxpayers would be far better off letting Louisville have the damn wrestling and keeping their $6 million a year for other, more economically productive uses.

Sure, there are other benefits to having the shiniest arena on the block. (Though there are also other downsides that aren’t reported here, like the roughly equal amount of money that the city of St. Louis would be putting up under the Blues owners’ proposal.) But still, this is one of the huge drawbacks of a media industry that sees its job merely as accurately reporting what elected officials and business leaders say, not exploring whether it makes any damn sense. Doing basic math isn’t bias, and neither is investigating the bona fides of the institutions you’re reporting on — though both take time, something that’s increasingly in short supply at newsrooms stripped to the bone in response to declining revenues (and demand for higher profits). So my sincere sympathies to Huguelet and his ilk, but if you have a moment to spare, please try to up your game some next time, okay? Little things like an informed public and the fate of democracy depend on it.

 

Maple Leafs ticket prices aren’t part of a grand conspiracy, except for the usual ones

A headline like “Why are NHL tickets expensive in Toronto? Because they’re cheap in Phoenix” has got to be pretty much irresistable if you’re an editor at the Globe and Mail. But does columnist Tony Keller actually make that case? Let’s follow the bouncing argument:

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs can charge through the nose for tickets because demand for hockey in Ontario exceeds the supply.
  • The Arizona Coyotes can’t charge squat for tickets because demand for hockey in Arizona is a sad joke.
  • If the Coyotes moved to Toronto or even Hamilton, it would cut into the Leafs’ market, and they’d be forced to lower ticket prices.
  • Since the Coyotes don’t make money, they have to be subsidized by revenue sharing from teams like the Leafs.
  • “The MLSE golden goose helps subsidize a squad of American lame duck franchises; those lame ducks, stuck in dry ponds, make necessary a golden goose in Toronto.”

All of this is technically true, but there are some leaps of logic here: There’s no reason to think that the NHL would allow the Coyotes to move to within spitting distance of Toronto if they left Arizona, and that Toronto “golden goose” is something the league presumably would want to keep around (and the Leafs owners would absolutely want to keep around) with or without the Coyotes’ revenue issues. There’s a difference between “the Maple Leafs owners are willing to send some money to the Coyotes’ owners to maintain their monopoly” and “this is all part of a grand conspiracy to screw hockey fans both coming and going.” (Except inasmuch as trying to use your monopoly power as the only major pro league to jack up ticket prices is the plan for pretty much every sports league that doesn’t have open promotion and relegation.)

That said, it is undeniably true that if territorial rights were eliminated and teams could move wherever they wanted, it would be arguably good for hockey fans (except those in lousy hockey markets like Phoenix) and maybe even good for the league as a whole — just the same as it would be for MLB if the Steinbrenners and Wilpons didn’t have monopoly rights to New York City. But then, sports leagues aren’t really monolithic corporations, but rather cartels of individual business owners, each in it for themselves. The only conspiracy at work here is the profit motive combined with the failure to enforce antitrust laws, which is a bigger problem than just for hockey.

San Diego pulls large number out of butt, calls it SoccerCity economic impact

So last week this happened:

SoccerCity could deliver an annual $2.8 billion economic boost to the region at full buildout of the Qualcomm Stadium site, according to projections released Thursday by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

I’m not going to go to the trouble of showing you all the EDC’s calculations, because it’s easy enough for you all to join me in hollering, “NO IT WON’T!” Adding up all the future wages paid at a complex and calling that an “economic boost to the region” only makes sense if all of those jobs would only exist in the region with the complex, and nobody believes that.

This proposal started out really promising, with a soccer stadium and housing and light industry all for no public money, but between the possible $240 million infrastructure and land cleanup cost and this overblown economic impact study, it’s starting to look less like the exception than the rule. Not that it would necessarily be a disaster for San Diego, but it requires a hard, hard look before it goes before voters for approval.

Arizona officials, columnists on Coyotes move threat: Talk to us when your team doesn’t suck

So how’s that whole threaten that the Arizona Coyotes will move (somewhere) if they don’t get a new arena to replace their new arena in Glendale that replaced their new arena in Phoenix thing going over with Arizona elected officials and the media? Not well at all:

[Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps and former mayor Elaine Scruggs] said lawmakers should kill an arena funding bill…

They added that the NHL and team are trying to pull a fast one on taxpayers and, by putting a losing team on the ice, the Coyotes have no one but themselves to blame for their financial problems.

“We have continually invested heavily to keep NHL in the state of Arizona. We have held up our end of the bargain. They have not held up their end of the bargain. They cannot put a product on the ice for a community that has a lot of options,” Phelps said. “They don’t believe there is any correlation to the fact that they have not put a team that has been competitive for many, many years.”…

“And we are paying $13 million in arena debt payments, plus annual capital maintenance where we can spend $1 to $2 million a year,” Phelps said. “Our frustration is starting to build a little bit.”

Okay, sure, Glendale officials are going to be steamed, given that this whole thing started when they canceled the Coyotes’ sweetheart lease and the Coyotes owners said, “If you’re not going to pay us $8 million a year to play in our taxpayer-built arena, then screw you.” What about reaction elsewhere, say from Arizona Republic sports columnist Dan Bickley?

Bettman’s three-page letter to the Arizona legislature is backfiring badly on the NHL’s snappish commissioner. His bold-faced remarks that the Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale” come off as heavy-handed threats that absolve a hockey team from its non-competitive past while chiding a local government for withdrawing hefty subsidies it can no longer afford…

The Coyotes have failed on their end of the bargain, running their franchise on the cheap while depending on handouts to survive. If this team had consistently exposed Arizonans to the majesty of playoff hockey over the past decade, this conversation would sound much different.

And how about Republic non-sports columnist Laurie Roberts?

Glendale taxpayers still owe $145 million on the 13-year-old hockey arena. Glendale taxpayers, once they’ve paid off their debt, will have invested nearly a half a billion dollars in trying to keep the NHL in the state, according to city officials.

And this is the thanks they get, Mr. Bettman?

The Coyotes want $225 million in public money to help pay for a new arena complex either in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley. They also want control of a planned adjacent hotel and surrounding real estate development. Team owners moan that they just haven’t been able to turn a profit on the west side.

I wonder … Is the team’s inability to turn a profit because this Valley won’t support hockey? Or is it because this Valley won’t support bad hockey?

Sense a theme here? If there’s one lesson that we’ve learned over and over in stadium and arena battles, it’s that as much as there is public distaste for giving tax money to rich sports team owners, what people really hate is giving tax money to rich owners of sports teams that suck. (This undoubtedly plays into the dismal poll numbers for the Coyotes owners’ demands, too.) Dropping vague threats to move your team because you’re unhappy with your lease and claim you can’t make money is one thing; doing so when you’ve won all of two playoff series in your 21-year history is the kind of chutzpah that isn’t likely to win you many friends, or even many enemies who’ll give you money just out of fear that the team will leave.

The irony, of course, is that having Arizona taxpayers pay for a new arena to let the Coyotes move from one part of the state to another would still be a terrible idea even if the team were winning Stanley Cups. Maybe Andrew Barroway and Anthony LeBlanc should try putting together a winning team before trying their move-threat gambit, so it’ll go over better — though if they were to do that, they might risk people actually showing up to games in Glendale, which would make it tougher to argue that they need a new arena. This whole extortion thing is more difficult than it looks.

NHL commissioner threatens that without new arena, Coyotes will move or evaporate or something

Stop the presses! NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Arizona Coyotes principal owner Andrew Barroway have threatened that if a new Arizona arena isn’t built, the team will move … sorta. Here’s Bettman, in his letter to the state senate:

The simple truth? The Arizona Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed. The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale.

And Barroway:

As Commissioner Bettman made clear in his letter to legislators, the Arizona Coyotes Hockey Club cannot survive in Glendale. … The bottom line remains the same: the team’s owners continue to lose tens of millions of dollars annually. Consistent losses of such magnitude are not sustainable — not for an NHL franchise, or any other business.

Yeah, that’s not exactly a threat, guys: For starters, it’s missing the “And if you don’t get it, then what?” piece. “Things cannot continue as they are” is a classic example of the non-threat threat, and having Bettman deliver it is a classic use of a league commissioner. But ultimately, despite the resulting headlines — “NHL and Coyotes tell Arizona: Give us a new arena or we will leave” in the Arizona Republic — there isn’t much more solid behind this than the last time the league did it, except that this time Bettman actually signed his name to it.

Those headlines, of course, are precisely the goal, or rather the idea of them throwing a threat into the arena-subsidy-reticent Arizona legislature is. This is the “Don’t make me come in there” of sports subsidy negotiations — better to let Arizona elected officials imagine what will happen if they don’t meet the Coyotes owners’ demands that to actually say it out loud and risk people getting mad at you for conducting extortion. Hey, it’s almost like these guys have a playbook!

Davis finds bank to lend him Vegas stadium cash, still needs okay for Raiders’ sweetheart lease

Looks like Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis may have finally found someone to lend him a pile of money so he can take advantage of an even bigger pile of public money and build a football stadium in Las Vegas:

Bank of America will back the $1.9 billion Las Vegas football stadium sought by Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, paving the way for the team’s move to Southern Nevada, he told NFL owners Monday…

Bank of America’s $650 million stake will be a loan and will not include an equity stake in the team or the stadium.

So, advantage Davis in his ongoing battle with former partner Sheldon Adelson over the stadium they once dreamed of together. (I mean, not literally dreamed the same dreams while asleep, that would be freaky.) It was never entirely clear why Goldman Sachs backed out of lending Davis the money, unless it was out of solidarity with Adelson (which seems awfully non-profiteering of the vampire squid, but maybe), but having a bank that’ll let him borrow $650 million so that he can access $750 million in Nevada tax money is an important step for Davis.

It’s not the final hurdle, though, as he still has to get the Nevada legislature to approve a lease, and his initial proposal is terrible for taxpayers in that he’d keep all stadium revenues and pay only $1 a year in rent, (something that the stadium authority blames on needing to keep the stadium bonds tax-exempt, ha ha ha ow) and also terrible for them in that it has an open-ended “top-tier” state of the art clause that could end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars more. Not that either of these are likely to be the main stumbling block with the legislature — they’re more likely to get pissy that their pal Adelson is no longer involved — but it’s something Davis needs to work out before he can take advantage of his new Bank of America card, and it ain’t over till it’s over.

 

 

Orlando SC stadium neighbors hope for economic boost, prepare to be sadly disappointed

Good article with misleading headline alert! From the Orlando Sentinel:

Parramore residents hope stadium will help kick-start community

They do? Will it?

Soccer faithfuls won’t change Parramore’s fortunes by themselves, [Florida State University professor Tim Chapin] said.

“That sounds like a lot of economic activity, but it’s a tiny drop in a very large pond in terms of the economy,” he said. “There will be a few winners in this, but it’s not a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

A quote from Charles Frizzell, owner of a new sports bar across the street, in instructive: “I don’t know if we would have chosen this location, if it wasn’t for the soccer stadium.” Which, if the biggest impact you’re going to have is that people choosing to open sports bars will move over a few blocks to be closer to the stadium, that’s exceedingly meh impact. Plus, opening a sports bar and keeping a sports bar open are two different things: Reporter Jeff Weiner notes that similar hopes were raised by the opening of the Magic‘s Amway Center in 2010, but then mostly dashed:

Draft Global Beer Lounge, despite taxpayer subsidies, fell into debt before closing at the Church Street Parking Garage, which has since been torn down, while Parramore mainstay Johnson’s Diner also failed after moving into the CityView building.

Commissioner Regina Hill, a Parramore native who represents the neighborhood on the City Council, credits a job at the old Amway Arena, which opened in 1989 and was demolished in 2011, with offering her hope as a young woman.

“It was $7-an-hour, part-time, but it gave me the ability to get off that couch and start to feel valuable,” she said.

Now there’s a headline: “Sports facilities bring hope to low-income communities with minimum-wage part-time jobs to get them off the sofa.” Accuracy is so seldom clickbaity.

Hartford Yard Goats stadium may actually get finished, legal battle never will

And last but not least for the week, it’s time to check in with the ongoing Hartford Yard Goats stadium saga, which never fails to entertain. This week: FBI investigations and more lawsuit news!

  • The FBI has launched an investigation into now-fired developer Centerplan’s handling of stadium construction, one that Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin says was “prompted by information proactively shared by the City of Hartford.” In other words, Bronin tipped off the FBI to please look into these clowns to see if the public money that disappeared while in their hands was actually embezzled; the FBI said, sure, we don’t have much else going on right now.
  • Centerplan has upped the amount of money they’re demanding in their lawsuit against the city of Hartford, now asking for $90 million on the grounds they coulda finished the stadium, really, if the city didn’t keep giving them change orders.

At last word, at least, the stadium was on track to be ready for opening day on April 13, which means the Yard Goats may finally play a home game one of these days. Although:

[Arch Insurance senior vice president Patrick] Nails did offer one bit of concerning news, saying they are still finding minor defects in construction that the contractors are addressing.

“They’re pretty minor but the fact that we’re finding them is a concern,” he said.

Chompers and Chew Chew were not immediately available for comment.

Investigation continues into bird death toll of serial bird-killing Vikings stadium

If you like “When did you stop beating your wife?” stories, you’ll love how things are playing out in Minnesota, where the debate is now raging over exactly how many birds the Vikings stadium is killing each year:

  • The original report found 60 dead birds in a two-month period last summer and fall, which would amount to 360 dead birds a year. But! That was during peak migration season, so maybe it’s fewer dead birds than that. But also! That figure does not include “birds removed by maintenance staff, security guards, and scavengers,” or birds that are stunned only to fly away and die later, so maybe it’s more dead birds than that.
  • The Vikings have issued a statement saying that the report isn’t fair, because “it is not possible to make this conclusion based on intermittent monitoring with no direct comparisons for the same time period at other buildings.” Sure, our building kills birds, but maybe other buildings kill even more birds. ARREST THE REAL BIRD-KILLERS!

More dead bird news as it becomes available, hopefully after someone completes a poll of area cats to ask their annual bird consumption.

Arizona officials just can’t quit looking for ways to throw tax money at Coyotes

So many vague rumors and whinging going on around the Arizona Coyotes‘ attempts to get somebody else to pay for building them a new arena against the will of state residents so that they don’t have to play in their perfectly good old one, I’ve gotta go to bullet points:

  • Coyotes execs have met with Mesa City Manager Chris Brady to discuss a new arena! Twice! Mesa Mayor John Giles chimed in, “If I were the Coyotes, I know I would want to be there. But whether it’s a good deal for Mesa or not is something that we’ll have to look into.” Which seems to be code for “If the state legislature agrees to foot most of the bill with sales-tax kickbacks, sure we’ll consider it,” but way too soon to tell about any of this.
  • The city of Phoenix has extended its contract with Barrett Sports Group to explore whether to renovate the Suns‘ arena, and possibly try to make it more workable for hockey. Again, this is not a plan, or even a plan for a plan, but they’re looking into it.
  • State Senator Bob Worsley, who is behind that sales-tax kickback bill that his colleagues in the state legislature aren’t so hot on, has written an op-ed in the Arizona Republic insisting that his bill “tears up the playbook on facility deals” because it involves “no state tax increases, no risk to the state, and no existing revenue from the state General Fund,” which is only true if you think that state sales tax receipts will soar just by virtue of the Coyotes moving from one part of the state to another. Apparently if you’re a state senator, you’re not subject to newspapers’ stringent fact-checking requirements.

Upshot: Nothing, really, other than that lots of people are still trying to solve Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc’s problem that he doesn’t want to keep playing in Glendale unless he’s paid $8 million a year by the city to do so. It’s a tough life, being an NHL owner.