Arlington evenly split on $500m Rangers stadium subsidy, Trump meltdown could sway vote

There’s a new poll out on the Texas Rangers‘ stadium subsidy vote in Arlington, and it implies that the vote could be defeated by, of all things, Donald Trump.

Bear with me here: The polling is evenly split, with 42% of Arlington voters saying they support the plan, an equal number saying they oppose it, and 16% not sure. But there’s a significant demographic skew to the results: Democrats oppose the plan 50-31%, people of color 52-32%, women 41-36%, and young voters 48-39%. Aside from young voters, who are more likely to stay home on election day because they’re disgusted by the available options, those are exactly the voters who are more likely to show up to the polls on November 8, since they won’t be at home trying to ignore the fact that their preferred party’s nominee is this guy.

Also interestingly, the WFAA poll finds that voters overwhelmingly don’t think that the Rangers need a new stadium (57-36%) and also largely don’t believe that the Rangers would move to Dallas if Arlington didn’t build them one (51-33%). So at least 10-15% of Arlington voters think that the Rangers don’t need a new stadium and don’t have leverage to demand one, but that Arlington taxpayers should give them half a billion dollars anyway because … maybe like their mayor, they can’t think of anything else to spend it on? The poll didn’t ask, so your guess is as good as mine.

Meanwhile, WFAA has another report out on hidden public costs of a Rangers stadium, and just like their last report, it’s well-researched but inflates its numbers way more than is really warranted:

The actual cost and lost revenues to the city of Arlington may be closer to $1.675 billion over 30 years — at least three times more than the $500 million price tag that city officials have told citizens.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll have no doubt already noted one problem with the sentence quoted above: “$1.675 billion over 30 years” isn’t actually three times more than $500 million right now, any more than making $1.675 million in mortgage payments over the course of three decades would be three times as expensive as paying $500,000 for a house right now. (Money in the future costs less because you can invest present money now and earn interest on it to make future payments.) To compare apples to apples, economists will use present value, which depending on how you calculate interest rates would come to around $700-800 million in actual costs today.

Why is that more than the $500 million the Rangers owners are claiming this will cost taxpayers? In part because WFAA is including an anticipated $10 million a year in naming-rights fees that the team owners would keep (about $150 million in present value) and $2.5 million a year in personal seat license sales (about $37.5 million in present value). It’s legit to look at naming rights, at least, as money that Arlington is giving away to the team despite owning the stadium — PSLs are more dicey, since they’re really a function of ticket sales, which are part of the team’s usual revenue stream — but it’s more fairly looked at as an unequal share of revenues from the new stadium, not an additional cost.

For now, I’ll still stick with “more than $500 million” as the taxpayers cost, which has the advantage of being unassailably true which still being one of the largest MLB subsidy requests in history, all to replace a 22-year-old stadium because it doesn’t have air-conditioning. Which is no doubt why this vote is looking to be much closer than past stadium subsidy measures in Arlington, regardless of how much Trump continues to implode between now and election day.

NFL decision expected sometime on Raiders, team to play somewhere in interim

Journalism can be a big game of telephone, especially in the social media age, and that’s what appears to be happening with NBC Sports’ Mike Florio’s report yesterday on the NFL’s voting timetable on an Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas, in which he wrote:

As one source with knowledge of the inner workings of the process told PFT on Sunday, a decision is expected within the next six to nine months.

Okay, that doesn’t tell us much. Except that since Las Vegas officials were counting on a relocation vote at the league owners’ meetings in January, there is now much freaking out:

Yeah, that’s not actually what Florio said at all. The league owners could delay a vote until mid-2017, or they could vote sooner than that. They could demand a sky-high relocation fee, or they could not. All we know right now is that some NFL guy Mike Florio knows doesn’t know what’s going to happen or when, which puts him in the same boat as the rest of us.

In other news, Raiders owner Mark Davis has said he intends to keep the team in Oakland for two more seasons, but also is reportedly looking at playing temporarily at Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas, and given that he has options to play at the Coliseum the next two seasons but also can opt out of them, this also tells us absolutely nothing. Except that everyone involved seems to be intent on keeping their options — and leverage — open, all of which is to be expected. Except for that “purple monkey dishwasher” remark.

Columbus Crew looking into new stadium, not saying who’d pay for it

Looks like the owners of the Columbus Crew are moving ahead with plans to replace their 17-year-old soccer stadium, hiring Barrett Sports Group LLC (who worked for Sacramento on a new arena for the Kings, among other projects) to “evaluate the potential demand for a new multipurpose soccer stadium in Columbus,” surveying fans as to what they’d like in a new stadium.

All of which is fine: If the Crew owners think they’ve outgrown their 20,000-seat stadium, then sure, look into building a bigger one. (Not they’ve completely been selling out the old place, but maybe they think more fans would turn out if the stadium had more steak bars or something.) The bigger question, obviously, is who would pay for a new or upgraded stadium, and nobody’s breathing a word about that. Or about when Barrett will complete its survey. Count on this one dragging out a bit longer — Crew execs have already been talking about this for more than three years, after all — but don’t be surprised to see stadium talk heat up in the next year or so.

Nevada assembly loses mind, okays $750m to move Raiders to Vegas, bring imaginary tourists

On Friday morning, after a 17-hour session the previous day followed by a morning of behind-the-scenes haggling, the Nevada state assembly voted 28-13 to approve a $750-million-plus package of subsidies for a new Oakland Raiders stadium in Las Vegas. The bill now goes to Gov. Brian Sandoval, who will sign it into law today.

If you can do math, you’ve already noted that that 28-13 margin is the barest margin needed for a two-thirds majority, which is what was required for the state legislature to raise hotel taxes 0.88% to fund the stadium. So what did those swing voters get in exchange for their flip-flop?

The amendment to the bill passed by the Assembly expanded the Stadium Authority Board to nine members from seven, adding another representative from Clark County and one from UNLV. The amendment also defines the rent to be charged to the university to use the stadium to “actual operational or pass-through costs” excluding any fixed costs on game or event days. UNLV also gets three additional event days, for graduations or other events.

So basically, legislators’ price for approving $750 million (at least — more on that in a moment) in taxpayer subsidies for Raiders owner Mark Davis and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson was to give UNLV a marginally better lease and another seat on the stadium board. We’ll likely never know exactly what went on in negotiations — as soon as the assembly session reopened on Friday morning, the question was called and a vote was held with no public debate at all — but it was clearly some of the worst haggling ever: Michelle Spence-Jones, the Miami county commissioner who got more than $100 million in community development money in exchange for approving the Marlins‘ stadium subsidy in 2009, has to be laughing and laughing at her pathetic Nevada counterparts.

The deal was immediately savaged by both the 13 “no” voters (“What you saw today is why people are so cynical about government because the big power players got their way and the real losers are the Nevada taxpayers,” said Republican Ira Hansen; “This deal as presented, SB1, is structured in ways that all other sports subsidies have been structured and they just have not come out in the wash,” added his Democratic colleague Teresa Benitez-Thompson) and sports economists, who universally shook their heads in dismay that Nevada was even considering this level of subsidy. Stanford economist Roger Noll called it the worst deal he’s ever seen, noting that Adelson and Davis are projecting 33% of tickets going to tourists when no other NFL team even manages 10%: “The idea that the thing is going to pay for itself based on a huge inflow of tourists is crazy.” And Smith College economist Andy Zimbalist, who I’ve criticized in the past for changing his opinions depending on who’s paying his fees but who at least knows how math works, gave a cogent explanation of why increased taxes on hotel visitors count as public money:

“The first thing that could happen is because hotel prices go up, individuals and businesses will decided it’s priced itself out of the market and they’ll do their conventions or meetings somewhere else,” he said. “In that case, you actually reduce tourism.”

“The other possibility is tourists don’t care,” Zimbalist continued. “If they’re going to pay $200, they’ll also pay $205 or $210 a night and they’ll come anyway. If that’s true, then you can raise your hotel taxes and raise revenue either to provide additional social services – put it into the schools, put it into the roads, put it into the police – or you could use it to lower taxes. Either way, the hotel tax is a real tax and it taxes people in Las Vegas.”

And, as we’ve been over before, the $750 million in bonds to be repaid out of hotel tax money are not the only public gift being provided to Davis and Adelson. They’ll also be getting the benefit of $899 million in highway improvements that will be fast-tracked because of the stadium — whether they’re all directly stadium-related and not just state transportation department wishlist material is questionable, but it’s been made clear that other Vegas highway projects will be delayed as a result, since the newly sped-up projects will drain the state’s fund of gas tax money — plus possibly future public money for maintenance and operating expenses on the stadium: From what I can tell from the text of the bill, who’ll pay ongoing costs is punted to a lease that hasn’t been written yet, and given that Adelson’s Las Vegas Review-Journal has reported (no source cited) that the public will be on the hook for those items, this could easily add hundreds of millions of dollars more to the final taxpayer bill.

The only people who can save Nevada from this expense now are the other 31 NFL owners, who need to decide whether to turn down the richest subsidy offer in league history, or whether to allow a franchise to move from the nation’s 6th largest TV market to its 40th largest. Or they also have the option of approving the move, but attaching an exorbitant relocation fee to try to get a cut of the boodle for themselves. There are many, many options, and given past evidence that NFL owners make these decisions exactly like you’d expect a bunch of cliquey billionaires to make them, anything is possible, really.

Nevadans shouldn’t get their hopes up too far, though, as even if they don’t end up afflicted with the presence of the Raiders and that $750-million-plus bill, the legislation passed on Friday allows the state to spend $380 million on a new stadium just for UNLV. Because you just know that once fans of rival Mountain West Conference teams hear that UNLV has a new stadium, they’ll decide that it’s finally time to give that Vegas place a try as a vacation spot. It’ll be a win-win!

Vegas stadium could cost public $1.65B with highway upgrades, assembly postpones vote

The Nevada state assembly met yesterday as planned to discuss a $750 million stadium subsidy to bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas — but, not as planned, adjourned for the night after 1 am, following a 17-hour marathon session that didn’t result in the required two-thirds majority for the measure. The unexpected holdup: the emergence of a report by the state transportation department that it would need at least $899 million in highway upgrades to accommodate a new NFL stadium.

After the hearing ended just after 1 a.m., Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, said late news of the report made passage of the stadium proposal more difficult….

Assistant Majority Floor Leader Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, said after 9 p.m. that the bill was just short of the support needed for passage. There were 17 solid yes votes for the plan in the 25-member Republican Assembly caucus, and an estimated 10 votes in the 17-member Democratic caucus, Hansen said. The bill needs 28 votes, a two-thirds supermajority, to pass and advance to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s desk.

Whether the additional $899 million — which would go for adding lanes to I-15 and building new carpool ramps — should be counted as a cost of the stadium project is an issue that the Nevada DOT report attempted to finesse, writing that “since the development of the transportation projects in this area of Las Vegas was already planned, there is no fiscal impact above and beyond what NDOT assumed it would deliver in southern Nevada.” However, the report also noted that the improvements weren’t otherwise scheduled to be completed until between 2020 and 2035, and haven’t yet been funded — and moving them up would require delaying other highway projects.

The assembly is set to meet again this morning, and Anderson, at least, said he was confident he could cobble together enough votes to pass the stadium bill. (If he can’t, the legislature would likely kick the proposal to the Clark County Commission to see if they could approve it instead.) The highway cost revelations seem to have thrown at least a small wrench in the works, though, as they should given the mammoth scale of the costs — another reminder that it’s really important to have a transportation plan in place before you start voting on a stadium deal, okay, people?

Rangers owners outspending stadium opponents 264-to-1, with $500m at stake it’s chicken feed

The Dallas Morning News reports that proponents of a $500-million-plus subsidy for a new Texas Rangers stadium so they can have air-conditioning have raised 264 times as much money as opponents, largely by cashing checks from the Rangers owners:

Vote Yes! Keep the Rangers raised $617,707 and spent $564,479 in this latest campaign reporting period.  Of that amount, the Rangers donated $550,000, accounting for 89 percent of the campaign’s income in this latest reporting period. That was slightly more than the team paid this year for either closer Sam Dyson and second baseman and playoff scapegoat Rougned Odor. …

Stadium opponents Citizens for a Better Arlington reported $7,687.50 in donations and spent $2,264.04, according to the new campaign filing.

This is important not for what it says about levels of support for either side — it’s a lot easier to raise money when you can get $550,000 with one phone call — but because past experience has led to a rough rule that stadium referendums only pass when proponents outspend opponents by 100-to-1 or more. This doesn’t guarantee that Rangers owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson will be able to buy themselves an election — and generate a 1,000% return on their campaign spending in the process — but they’ve certainly given themselves a nice head start.

Nevada senate passes $750m (or more) Raiders stadium subsidy, ball could move to NFL’s court

That didn’t take long: After a whole one day of testimony, the Nevada state senate voted 16-5 to approve raising hotel taxes to give Sands casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis $750 million (at least) for building a new stadium in Las Vegas and moving the Raiders there. The measure now goes to the state assembly, which could vote as soon as tomorrow.

The debate, such as it was, went along predictable lines: Major local power brokers, including other casino owners, lined up in favor of the subsidy deal on the grounds that it would be an economic boon; opponents said, wait, are you serious — Stanford economist Roger Noll testifying that the proposed deal was the “worst I’ve ever seen” and called the Raiders’ economic study “deeply flawed” for assuming that one-third of ticket buyers would be tourists who’d spend more than three nights in Las Vegas just to see football, which has never happened anywhere ever; and then the senate went ahead and voted for the bill, because JOBS!!!!1!!.

Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said he could not face a laborer in need of work knowing “I had a chance to give you a job and I voted no.”

If that’s the bar, then no government expense for anything ever would be rejected, since it’s hard to spend money on anything without creating at least some jobs. Apparently Ford can sleep perfectly well when he considers facing laborers who could be employed by doing something else with that $750 million that might have a better bang for its buck than a football stadium — as the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Jon Ralston notes, Nevada is about to face a $400 million budget deficit that could lead to cuts in mental health, education, and other services. Even if you limited the use of hotel tax dollars to tourism spending (which the legislature doesn’t have to), it would be easy enough to use that to free up other money to spend on education — but then, you wouldn’t have a football stadium, just more schoolteachers, and those aren’t shiny.

Barring an unexpected outbreak of iconoclasm in the assembly, this stadium plan looks likely to pass, which leaves us only to consider exactly how costly it would be to Nevada, and whether it will gain NFL approval. On the first, I still haven’t been able to find any lease details for the Raiders stadium, which would help determine that “at least” way back in the opening sentence: There was one report that “the stadium authority would be responsible for day-to-day operations, including maintenance”; if that means fiscally responsible, that could easily drive the public cost up past $1 billion, taking it from “most expensive NFL subsidy ever” to “holy crap that blows any previous NFL subsidy out of the water.”

As for the NFL, who knows what the other 31 owners, who seem to have no love for Mark Davis, but who have to be excited about someone upping the ante for stadium subsidies, are going to do. Much will likely depend on whether Oakland officials make a counteroffer, or NFL owners think they can be induced to. But as we’ve seen before, the league tends to make these decisions less by weighing hard economic data than by weighing perceived ball size, so your guess is as good as mine.

Manfred says he hopes for A’s stadium site plan soon; Laney College fields could be option

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said a bunch of stuff yesterday about the Oakland A’s stadium plans, none of it earth-shaking, but here you go:

  • “I hope the first piece of news will be a decision as to which site will be the focus of their effort to get their plan and finances together.” That sounds like A’s owner Lew Wolff is going to pick a site first and then figure out how to pay for a stadium, which is kind of what’s been assumed all along. But anyway, now we know Manfred assumes it, too.
  • “The Mayor in Oakland has made it clear to me that baseball is her first priority. She would like to keep both teams, but baseball is her first priority. And I think that’s a good spot for baseball to be in.” This could mean that Mayor Libby Schaaf is in “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” mode with the Raiders (which would make sense, as Raiders owner Mark Davis is so far the one asking for a lot more public money for a stadium that would be in use about 12% as often), or it could mean that she tells all the sports team owners that they’re her favorite.
  • “I do believe that John Fisher and Lew Wolff are committed to the idea that they need to get something done in Oakland. I’ve told them. They understand that it is my strong preference that the team stay in Oakland.” Fisher and Wolff have said for years that they want to stay in the Bay Area (though they would include San Jose, which isn’t an option given the territorial rights squabble with the Giants), and sports league commissioners always say that they’d rather see teams stay put, even if only as a veiled threat. But it can be a true sentiment and a threat all at once — that’s the beauty of the move-threat game.

Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News (citing “a source close to the A’s”) says that a previously unreported site could be in play for the A’s: a parcel near Laney College off Lake Merritt, which I’m guessing refers to this:


(The Merc News report says that “one plan at Laney would call for the college to tear down some of their relatively new athletics facilities.”)

That would be a tight squeeze — here’s an overhead view of the current Oakland Coliseum site at the same scale:

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-8-35-19-amBut, hey, I’m an avowed fan of baseball stadiums in constrained spaces, since it can require designers to come up with interesting solutions and not just create a giant shopping mall with a ballfield in the middle. Laney College is owned by the local public community college district, so there would certainly be concerns about Fisher and Wolff paying fair market value for the site, but … you know, let’s cross this bridge when we come to it.

Fun fact: The Laney College site is also the where the Raiders played in the mid-’60s while the Coliseum was being built, at a temporary facility called Frank Youell Field. (Okay, fun if you’re into American Football League trivia. Are you saying you’re not? I thought so.)

Vegas needs the NFL or else tourists will go to Dallas, and other Raiders stadium arguments

The Nevada state legislature’s special session to discuss a $750-million-plus stadium subsidy to bring the Oakland Raiders to town kicks off today, which means it’s time for boosters of the plan to pull out all the stops in arguing that this not only is a reasonable amount of money to throw at two rich guys, but an absolute no-brainer. What do you got, stadium proponents?

Sisolak apparently said this back in early September (unless he said it again this weekend, which is possible), but the Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting it as new news. Which is fine enough, because the notion that Las Vegas needs to be put on the tourist map is hilarious enough that it’s worth repeating as often as possible.

  • Brookings Mountain West (a joint project of the Brookings Institution and UNLV, which would get to use the new stadium for football games) directors Robert Lang and William Brown: “More than 42 million annual visitors also will notice what action Nevada’s leadership takes. Our core economy and the region’s standing as a global tourist and convention destination are in play.”

This seems to be a twist on Sisolak’s remarks, only implying that if Nevada doesn’t spend $750 million on a football stadium, tourists will stop visiting Vegas because they’ll think the state has bad leadership. Still reasonably hilarious!

Okay, starting to sense an agreed-upon message here: Sure, people are flocking to Las Vegas now, but if we don’t have a football stadium, they’ll have no reason not to go to Dallas instead! Why this would suddenly start happening now after decades of Dallas having a football stadium and Vegas not is anyone’s guess, but as “cold Omaha” statements go, it’s a vivid enough image, I suppose.

This is another common on-message point — McMillan makes it as well — so long as you don’t actually do the math on whether increased visitor spending on those things would be worth more than $750 million. (Spoiler: It wouldn’t.)

Anybody else?

This would give the members of my union more jobs while construction was underway — it’s narrow self-interest, but at least it’s true! We have a winner!

Not that any of these arguments are really expected to win the day on the basis of pure logic, economic or otherwise — rather, they’re intended to provide political cover for the state legislators who are going to have to explain in a few days why they approved giving three-quarters of a billion dollars in tax money to a wealthy casino owner and a not-quite-as-wealthy NFL team owner so they could build a stadium for private use. In modern political discourse, you don’t need to actually prove that the emperor has new clothes — you just need to make the case that reasonable people can disagree over the definition of nakedness.

Chargers stadium measure is going to lose, question is only by how much

To win $1.15 billion in public money for a new stadium and convention center expansion, San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos needs to have more than two-thirds of ballots cast on election day be in favor of his funding measure — unless he somehow gets an appeals court to not just overturn this summer’s ruling that it will take a supermajority to approve the measure, but make it retroactive that a simple majority will do. Not that it matters, because it doesn’t look likely that the measure is even going to get 50%, let alone 67%:

The survey shows 41 percent of likely voters say they are certain to vote against Measure C and 36 percent say they are certain to vote for it. The remaining 23 percent describe themselves as “not certain.”…

“If there’s some blockbuster development that could alter the course of history, maybe the support group rallies,” said [SurveyUSA president Jay] Leve, whose company conducted the poll. “But even if it does rally, it would be unprecedented and historic in the annals of polling for something that’s trailing 30 days before the election to come back and get a super majority of 67 percent.”

And to add insult to injury, a sizable portion of voters say they’d be considering voting for the measure if the team didn’t suck:

More than half of likely voters said the team’s performance had no effect on their support for Measure C, but 34 percent said it made them less likely to support the measure and only 10 percent said it made them more likely to support it.

There’s still a few weeks to go, but it’s safe to say that we can not only call this vote, but the aftermath: The stadium measure is going to fall far short of a two-thirds majority, Spanos and Mayor Kevin Faulconer will scramble to come up with a way to say that the people who did vote for it represent a mandate to develop a new deal that doesn’t require two-thirds voter approval, and then everyone will stare at their feet a whole lot as they realize that nobody knows how to make $1.15 billion appear out of thin air without raising taxes in some way (and thus requiring a public vote), which is why they were in this mess to begin with.

It’s tough to see any end game at this point that doesn’t involve the Chargers moving to Inglewood, unless maybe Spanos decides he’d rather be top dog in San Diego than second fiddle in L.A. and decides to put more of his own money into a new (or renovated?) stadium, or just decides to stick around and wait things out until maybe his team starts winning games and voters decide this is a reason to throw more money at him. I wouldn’t bet big money on it, but stranger things have happened.