Nobody’s watching football anymore, this is definitely a thing

The plague of empty seats just keeps spreading and spreading across the NFL. Next up, the Baltimore Ravens:

Thousands of fans are trying to resell their tickets to the sold-out game Sunday against the Detroit Lions at 71,000-seat M&T Bank Stadium via Ticketmaster, the team’s official resale outlet, or StubHub. Seats were available this week in almost every section; an $80 ticket for an upper end zone seat could be had for as little as $29…

“The Ravens are finding themselves in the same situation as a lot of NFL teams this year,” said T.J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Bel Air and California. “There is a disengagement by fans across the country stemming from the daily and weekly stories the NFL league office confronts.”

Brightman, and the Baltimore Sun, blame a laundry list of those “daily and weekly stories,” including: national anthem protests, revelations of traumatic brain injuries as a standard consequence of playing the sport, injuries to key players, ticket resale sites, and hi-def TVs. And if some of that doesn’t particularly make sense (TV ratings are down because more people are staying home to watch TV?), everyone is just throwing guesses at the wall right now, cut them some slack.

The photos available on the Sun site don’t actually show the wide swathes of empty seats that other teams have seen, and fans reselling their seats for a crappy game at a discount is nothing new to sports. Still, it’s an indication that Ravens ticket demand is softening, and the next step after this would be people just buying fewer tickets in the first place. It’ll be another few years before we really have enough data points to tell where this is headed, but let’s just say if you had your money on “football will be the new boxing in our lifetimes,” you’ve got to be feeling pretty good about that bet right now.

London takes over Olympic Stadium and its nightmare lease with nightmare West Ham

Stadium public funding scandals are rarer in Europe than in North America, but there are a handful, and the tale of London’s Olympic Stadium is an especially scandalous one. The story so far: The government spent £429 million (or maybe £701 million) to build the stadium for the 2012 Olympics, then London Mayor Boris Johnson promised to spend £190 million to convert it to use for soccer by West Ham United, but it ended up costing £323 million. And now current London Mayor Sadiq Khan has taken over management of the stadium, in an attempt to rein in not just the soaring capital costs but also the deal that Johnson signed that forces taxpayers to fund everything from security to goalposts and corner flags. Of which deal West Ham’s owners say, sorry, no backsies:

The concession agreement is a watertight, legally binding contract signed in 2013 in good faith by West Ham United, who remain absolutely committed to its terms for the entire 99-year duration.”

Let’s see, what could make this even worse? How about that everyone involved seems to hate the Olympic Stadium as a home for soccer? Or maybe that if things continue to stand as they do currently in the English Premier League, West Ham will get relegated to the second division next year, meaning London will effectively be paying through the nose to provide a 60,000-seat stadium for a minor-league team? I sure hope London taxpayers are big fans of corner flags.

Somebody’s going to ask the state of Ohio to cover FC Cincinnati’s stadium gap

Welp, looks like the owners of F.C. Cincinnati has figured out where they’re going to get their missing stadium money now that the city and county have topped out at $51 million:

The City of Cincinnati hopes to obtain $10 million from the state to help cover costs related to building the FC Cincinnati stadium, should the city be awarded a Major League Soccer team later this month…

The ask is among 43 Hamilton County projects totaling $64.6 million being vetted for a final list the region wants the state to fund. The soccer stadium project request is by the far the largest on the list, accounting for 15.5 percent of the total…

“These projects are very important to the community,” said Gary Lindgren, executive director of the Cincinnati Business Committee, which is coordinating with the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce to present requests to the state.

I am admittedly somewhat confused who’s doing the asking here — a bunch of local business groups? the city of Cincinnati itself? the Cincinnati Enquirer doesn’t seem to make a distinction — but the point is that the United States’ multi-level system of government may come to a team’s subsidy rescue once again: If you don’t get what you want from one level of government in this country, you can always go ask a different one.

Any state subsidies won’t be decided until the new year, so presumably this won’t help sway MLS’s expansion decision later this month, but maybe they’ll figure “Enh, close enough, they’ll figure out somebody to pay that last $20 million or so, not our problem so long as we get out $150 million expansion check”? I mean, maybe — or maybe this will be good reason to bump Cincinnati’s bid to next year after all the funding is (presumably) nailed down. We’ll see in just a couple more weeks.

Pontiac Silverdome does not get blowed up real good at all

You know, let’s just watch and enjoy this first:

Yes, they tried to blow up the Pontiac Silverdome yesterday and failed. According to the demolition contractor as recounted by the Detroit Free Press, “roughly 10% of the explosive charges did not detonate due to a wiring issue.” Now they’ll have to either figure out a way to detonate those charges at a later date — which presumably wold mean fixing wiring in a building that’s on the verge off collapse, which doesn’t sound like a great idea — or taking a more traditional wrecking-ball approach, which also doesn’t sound great but is at least preferable.

And if that’s not enough fun for one morning, here’s the owner of a drone video company telling the Free Press why he hates filming building demolitions:

“It sounds like lobsters being put in a boiling pot, the steel lets out a high-pitched scream,” he said. “It’s definitely sad.”

Stadiums marked for death scream like lobsters being boiled alive! Happy nightmares, everybody.

Friday roundup: Austin MLS vote, Rays demand $650m in subsidies, Islanders renderings, more!

I’m busy trying to figure out whether Congress is really going to rewrite the tax code to give a couple of trillion dollars to rich people or will melt down at the last second like it did with healthcare repeal, so this’ll be in superbrief mode this morning:

MLS picks four expansion finalists, only two (or three!) will win the prize

Major League Soccer announced four finalist cities for expansion franchises yesterday, and the results are both unsurprising and kind of intriguing, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. The four remaining contenders:

These are the four frontrunners predicted by Soccer Stadium Digest last week, so no shockers there. It’s an interesting mix of candidates, though: two with stadium plans in place, one with strong fan support but a funding gap, and one with a prominent ownership group but only an NFL stadium to play in, which the league has said previously it would consider, but it seems kind of suboptimal if your goal is to extract as many new stadiums as possible. Only two winners will be chosen later this month (December 14 will reportedly be the vote), so one would think that this will come down to Sacramento and Nashville, with Cincinnati and Detroit getting a “thanks for your efforts, try again next year once your stadium plans are more firmed up.”

Unless MLS could actually pick three winners. Because don’t forget, David Beckham’s previously announced franchise still doesn’t have a home, and his stadium partner Tim Leiweke told the Toronto Star on Tuesday that he’s not super optimistic:

“I’m helping any way I can with David,” Leiweke told the Sun. “I hope it gets done, but it’s not done. I have my fears as to whether it’s going to get done because things like this that drag on this long that’s always tough on a process. But for David I hope he lands somewhere.”

So, Cincinnati and Detroit could be in there as fallbacks in case MLS needs a last-minute sub for Miami. Or, Leiweke could just be saying this as leverage to get the final hurdles cleared for a Miami stadium, and this really is still a four-to-get-two situation. In which case the final verdict will say a lot about MLS’s business model: If it’s Sacramento and Nashville, we know that anybody with a $150 million check and a soccer-only stadium deal will get the nod; if it’s Sacramento and Cincinnati, we know that MLS is looking to where there’s the most established fan support; and if Detroit is involved at all it’s either because of the allure of a more major media market, or the allure of some big-money owners who can increase the league’s ties to the NBA, or who knows.

A lot is likely to depend on how things play out the next two weeks in Cincinnati, where both the city council and the county commission approved $50 million in public stadium subsidies yesterday, but still nobody’s saying how that additional $25 million would be paid for. (Or even what the total stadium cost would be; the gap could end more than that.) And also in Nashville, where the group Save Our Fairgrounds filed suit yesterday to block construction of a new stadium at Fairgrounds Nashville. Maybe hedging with four finalists isn’t a bad idea, in other words, but picking a final two (or three) two weeks from now is going to be anything but an easy task — I guess asking the four bidders to throw money on the table until two have emptied their pockets would be too unseemly?

Cincinnati okays $37m in soccer subsidies after neighborhood council unanimously says no

It looked for a minute there yesterday like F.C. Cincinnati‘s stadium subsidy demand was going to die an ignominious death, after the community council of the Oakley neighborhood where the stadium would go voted unanimously to oppose the deal on the grounds that it would soak up all of the area’s tax-increment financing money and leave nothing for other projects.

That didn’t happen — after a four and a half hour meeting yesterday, the Cincinnati city council voted 5-2 with one abstention and one absence (Wendell Young is still out after September heart surgery) to approve between $27 million and $37 million in public money for the project. But with team owners insisting they need $70-75 million in taxpayer subsidies to make a $200 million stadium happen, that still may not be enough to get the job done. Oh yeah, and also the team may still not want to build in Oakley after all — take it away, Cincinnati Enquirer politics columnist Jason Williams:

[Team president Jeff] Berding opened the door to the possibility that Oakley might not even be where the stadium ends up.

“The mayor and council may work with us to say it might be in a different neighborhood,” he said.

Said Councilman Kevin Flynn: “It may not be in Oakley. It may be somewhere else.”

Okay, then! Williams reports that “City Hall insiders” said $27 million of the city funds will still be available wherever a stadium is built in the city, so the F.C. Cincinnati owners can now shop around for the best deal. Though regardless of where they go, it sounds like the county isn’t interested in filling the team’s self-imposed funding gap, so … MLS is going to have a really interesting time deciding whether this is enough of a new-stadium commitment to hand Cincinnati an expansion franchise, let’s just put it that way.

If the league is just looking for enough cover to put a team in a city that has turned out for lower-division soccer in record levels, maybe this will do it. If, on the other hand, they’re just looking to use the expansion process to extract the most stadium cash from cities, they can pick two other winners next month (Nashville and Sacramento, say), and tell Cincinnati “close, but we’ll need another $25 million by next offseason before you get a cigar.” Three guesses which one my money is on.

Indianapolis Colts’ roof gets stuck, clearly they need a new one

It’s no secret that I am not a football fan — I never was much of one, and League of Denial put the nail in that coffin — and so I’d forgotten until now that the Indianapolis Colts‘ Lucas Oil Stadium has a retractable roof. Or at least had one until yesterday, when half of it decided to get stuck:

They finally got it closed a few minutes ago (11:40 am, according to the Indianapolis Star), but you just know this is going to lead to the Colts demanding a new stadium, since it’s been nine whole years since the team built this one with $715 million in public money. I’m joking, I think, but given that this is Indianapolis, maybe not.

Real Salt Lake got secret $1m-a-year tax break, nobody noticed for five years

I’ve written almost nothing about the Real Salt Lake MLS team over the years, except for a brief mention of a minor-league soccer stadium the club at one point promised to build if given public land, a proposal team owner Dell Loy Hansen later backed out of, with the state later spending $10 million to build it as a rodeo arena instead. Anyway, this was mostly because Hansen wasn’t demanding the kind of public subsidies that get this site’s attention — or at least, wasn’t demanding any he was letting the public know about:

By asserting it was losing money, the Real Salt Lake soccer team quietly persuaded Salt Lake County officials to cut its property tax on Rio Tinto Stadium by nearly half starting back in 2012.

That off-the-field victory has saved the team more than an estimated $5 million in taxes since then…

Why are you only telling us this now, Salt Lake Tribune?

The tax cut happened so quietly that it never drew public attention until now. Even Salt Lake County Council members who approved it say they don’t remember the vote nor discussing it, noting it was buried among more than 700 revaluations proposed by the county assessor’s office in the same meeting.

Apparently a local commercial real estate agent, Joe Scovel, stumbled across the five-year-old tax break, and the Tribune then followed up. Hansen, it turned out, not only argued that his team was losing money, but that other local teams’ low stadium assessments meant that he should get a break too — including that one city-owned stadium wasn’t taxed at all, which, right, that’s how municipal ownership works.

Instead of taking this as a sign that maybe other stadiums were getting off scot-free, then-Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan agreed to devalue RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium by 42% to save the team about $1 million a year in property taxes. Why he did this, I’m sure no one will ever know—

Dolan — who would receive a hefty $10,000 in campaign donations from RSL or Hansen in subsequent years — backed Hansen’s request and sought the City Council’s agreement.

The upshot of all this was that Salt Lake City, which was counting on the team’s property tax payments to pay off the $11 million in bonds it sold to help pay for the stadium, is now dipping into its general fund to make the payments instead. Nice work, everybody! Especially the county tax assessors who wrote the bill so that nobody noticed until Dolan was safely out of office. At least now Dell Loy Hansen gets something substantial in his category entry on this site — I bet that was really embarrassing before now when the sports team owners gathered to smoke cigars and sip brandy and whatever else they do.

Friday roundup: CFL in Halifax, Columbus ghost stadium, Sydney is the new Atlanta, and more!

Are any of my American readers even out there, or are you all too busy tormenting retail workers with your demands for discounted goods? If so, you’re missing out, because we’ve got all your goods right here, at our everyday discount of free!

  • The CFL is considering expanding to Halifax, which means Halifax would need a CFL stadium, which means somebody would have to pay for a Halifax CFL stadium. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a stadium is “not a capital priority at this time” and would have to be built “without putting taxpayers at risk.” The Ottawa RedBlacks stadium model is being floated, which is slightly weird because that ended up costing taxpayers a bundle of money plus free land, but maybe “taxpayer risk” is defined differently in Halifax. Anyway, we’ve been this far before, so grains of salt apply.
  • Remember how I wasn’t sure what would be included in the $75 million in public “infrastructure” spending that F.C. Cincinnati is demanding? Turns out that’s because nobody’s sure: WCPO notes that the team hasn’t provided any cost estimates or a traffic study, which “leaves us wondering where, exactly, FC Cincinnati came up with its figures.” I’ll take “nice round number, slightly less than the $100 million elected officials balked at previously” in the pool, please.
  • A guy in Columbus came up with an idea to use county sales tax money to build a new stadium to keep the Crew in town, then the next day said it was just an idea he came up with over the weekend by himself and never mind.
  • The city of Worcester is still trying to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to town, and the state of Massachusetts may be getting involved, with one unnamed source telling the Worcester Telegram that stadium funding would need to be a “a three-legged stool” among the city, state, and team. You know this article is just going to be waved around in the Rhode Island legislature as it heads toward a vote on public funding for a PawSox stadium there, and what was everyone just saying about the role of enablers in abuse, again? (Not that stadium swindles are morally equivalent to sexual harassment, obviously, but you get my point. Also, why are all the articles about the role of enablers in sexual harassment a month old, are we not going to pay attention to that after all?)
  • The state of Connecticut may spend $40 million on upgrades to Hartford’s arena and some retail properties near its entrance, on the grounds that it might make it more attractive to buyers. If this seems like getting it backwards to you, yeah, me too, but at least it’s better than spending $250 million on the arena and then not selling it.
  • Laney College students, faculty, and staff all hate the idea of an Oakland A’s stadium on their campus. “They want to disrupt our education by building a ballpark across the street with noisy construction, traffic gridlock, pollution, and alcohol consumption by fans,” Associated Students of Laney College President Keith Welch told KCBS-TV. “We will not sacrifice our education so that the A’s owners can make more money.” Pretty sure they won’t get a vote, though.
  • “Industry experts” say that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will charge more for concert tickets because … it’ll draw bigger-name acts that cost more, I think they’re saying? That doesn’t actually seem like a detriment, though they also note that the new arena has a higher percentage of seats in the lower bowl, which people will pay more for even if they’re way in the back of the lower bowl, and helps explains why arena and stadium designers are so obsessed with getting as many lower-deck seats as possible even if it makes for crappier upper-deck seats. Which we kind of knew already, but a reminder always helps.
  • And move over, Atlanta, there’s a new planned stadium obsolescence king in town: The state of New South Wales is planning to spend $2 billion Australian (about $1.5 billion U.S.) to tear down the Sydney stadium it built for the 2000 Olympics, along with another smaller stadium in Sydney built in 1988, in order to build newer ones that are more ideally shaped for rugby, I think? Because nobody thought of that in 2000? I need to wait for my Australian rugby correspondent to return from holiday break for a more authoritative analysis, but right now this is looking like one of the worst throw-good-money-after-bad deals in stadium history, and it’s not even in America, the land that has perfected the stadium swindle. Crikey!