Bridgeport Bluefish will fold so city can host more Doobie Brothers concerts

The Bridgeport Bluefish, one of the founding members of the independent minor-league baseball Atlantic League, will cease operations after this season after 20 years. That in itself isn’t all that unusual: Indy-league baseball teams don’t have much of a shelf life, and only one other original Atlantic League franchise survives. (Bonus points to whoever can name them in comments.) The weird part here is the reason: The Bluefish are being evicted from their home stadium by the same mayor who built it for them in the first place, so that he can convert it into an outdoor concert amphitheater.

Yeah, you read that right:

Developer Howard Saffan on Monday night revealed — and the mayor’s office later confirmed — that his and concert promoter Live Nation’s competing proposal to turn the 20-year-old Harbor Yard ballpark into a warm-weather amphitheater was selected by City Hall over a new contract with the Bluefish…

He promised 29 concerts annually in a season running from May to October, and eventually hoped to include other events, from beer festivals to graduations. The amphitheater will open in spring 2019, Saffan said…

Saffan said he and Live Nation will pay for $15 million worth of renovations to the 5,000-seat ballpark, but added he does anticipate a public/private financial arrangement with the city.

This is crazy in many, many ways: The Atlantic League plays a 140-game season, so even if the amphitheater sells better than minor-league baseball, it’s going to be a tough push to bring more people to Bridgeport with 29 concerts than 70 ballgames; Harbor Yard is only 20 years old, and is a generally well-liked stadium, and furthermore is shaped like a baseball stadium so will be a weird fit for concerts; Bridgeport already has an indoor concert arena right next door to the ballpark; and then there’s that “public/private financial arrangement,” which means Bridgeport will be hit with an as-yet-undetermined bill.

The only way this makes sense is if Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who had the city pay to build Harbor Yard during his first term as mayor and has now returned to the office [EDIT: after spending more than six years in prison for corruption (thanks, commenters)], got a sweet offer from Live Nation, which is entirely possible — the concert promoter is currently engaged in a war with rival AEG to dominate the summer-outdoor-concert market, so they could easily be throwing some money around to ensure their share of the lucrative Deep Purple/Alice Cooper concert market. Though not so much money that they’ll actually pay for the whole amphitheater conversion, goodness me, no.

And then there’s this:

Ultimately the City Council must approve the amphitheater deal, which comes as Ganim explores running for governor in 2018. The returned mayor wants splashy development news to grow the city’s tax base and impress Democratic primary voters.

And there you have it: A city mayor is trying to curry favor with voters by kicking out the local baseball team so he can bring in outdoor summer concerts for “development.” There’s a first time for everything.

Consultant says $90m Brewers spring-training park would lose money, new consultant sought [UPDATED]

The Milwaukee Brewers are seeking a new $90 million spring-training facility in Gilbert, Arizona, and are generously offering to pay a whole $20 million of the cost:

According to emails among Gilbert staffers, [developer David] Sellers and financial consultants from April to June, the Brewers are willing to put $20 million toward the construction of the new facility.

The town would be on the hook for the other $70 million, which could be funded through bonds, development fees or a special taxing district…

LGE Design Build also proposed a 13-acre village next to the facility that would include 220 hotel rooms, 85,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of retail. It would cost an estimated $70 million to build, although it’s unclear who would front that cost.

We’ve been over the dismal economics of spring-training facilities before, so how do Gilbert officials justify this rather whopping expense? First by dodgy math — Sellers said annual tax receipts from baseball would only be $880,000, but there would also be added money spent at local restaurants and hotels (people are really going to stay at hotels in Gilbert rather than drive there from a more happening place?), writing that “the Brewers coming into Gilbert is Gilbert tapping into a $850 million … Valley economic impact. Just 10 percent of that would be $85 million being spent in Gilbert that isn’t happening right now.” If the Brewers played, say, 15 home spring-training games at a 7,500-seat ballpark, that would only require each and every fan to spend $755 per game to make those numbers work out.

And second, by ignoring the city’s own economic consultants, who, going against the grain in an industry where you generally tell your client whatever they want to hear, noted that the short spring-training season would limit any economic benefits. The accompanying hotel/office/retail village might bring in some money, Applied Economics concluded in an analysis obtained by the Arizona Republic, but it still likely wouldn’t be enough to make up for spending $70 million on a stadium: “the cost of investing in the stadium versus the value of the mixed-use development may not be justifiable.”

Only one thing left to do: Find some different economists who’ll provide a different answer!

Kathy Tilque, president and CEO of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, said the Applied Economics study was fairly limited in its scope and did not take into account the indirect economic benefits of a potential stadium.

The chamber is working with a different economic consulting firm to provide a broader economic analysis. That report should be completed soon and will be turned over to town officials for review, Tilque said.

“It would be a great thing not only for the East Valley but for Gilbert. We just need to make sure the numbers work,” she said.

Surely she meant “check that the numbers work,” not “make sure that the numbers work, by cooking them,” right? Right? Sigh.

IMPORTANT UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: The mayor of Gilbert, Jenn Daniels, just emailed me to indicate that my original headline (“Consultant says $90m Brewers spring-training park would lose money, town seeks new consultant”) was incorrect in one important aspect: The Gilbert Chamber of Commerce went and sought a new consultant without consulting or notifying town officials. “We had no knowledge that the Brewers and their development partner paid the Chamber to conduct a second study,” writes Daniels. “I found out that information with the rest of the public last Friday with the Chamber’s press release.” Since the Brewers were unable to show significant direct revenues from the stadium project, she concludes, “this deal is behind us.”

My apologies to Mayor Daniels, the people of Gilbert, and anyone else who may have been unfairly depicted by my original report. Not the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, though, because those guys are apparently weasels.

MLS’s eternal expansion plan: Crazy like a fox, or just crazy?

Slow stadium news weekend, so I’ll take the opportunity to note my debut article for Deadspin that ran Friday, on Major League Soccer’s ongoing expand-o-rama and whether this is likely to end well for the league. (Consensus of myself and the sports economists I spoke with: Maybe there’s a chance if you squint, but don’t bet the farm on it.)

And since this became an issue in Deadspin’s comments section: Yes, I know about Soccer United Marketing, the MLS-owned marketing company that handles such North American events as the Gold Cup; no, just because MLS according to one report paid $450 million to buy back a 25% share of SUM to regain full ownership doesn’t necessarily mean the league is “worth” an extra $1.8 billion, any more than the fact that people are paying $150 million for expansion franchises means those are worth that much; and no, nobody really knows how much SUM is worth since it won’t release any revenue figures. It’s almost certainly worth something, but as University of Michigan economist and Soccernomics co-author Stefan Szymanski estimates, probably not enough to make a huge difference in the league’s profitability once it stops cashing $150 million expansion checks. I’m going to keep digging into this in the future, but for now that’s the best verdict available.

And if you’d like to hear me talk even more about MLS and its future, I was interviewed on 700 WLW in Cincinnati yesterday, which you can hear here starting at the 67:29 mark. And coming up tonight, I’ll be on 590 KFNS in St. Louis at 6:20 pm Central time, and then KXTG-102.9/750 The Game in Portland, Oregon at 5 pm Pacific time, which is right afterwards because I am apparently a time traveler. Or the earth is round, definitely one of those two.

Montreal stadium used for refugees from U.S., isn’t this a scene in “Handmaid’s Tale”?

Lightning round!

  • Boise is all in a tizzy over plans to build a minor-league soccer stadium, because it would get a property-tax exemption. This is the kind of subsidy that people don’t usually notice unless they’re the mayor of Minneapolis, so good on Boise.
  • We finally have a due date for proposals for developing land near Belmont Park that the New York Islanders owners have targeted for a possible new arena: September 30. Tune back in then, and maybe we’ll see what they have in mind, and how they hope to pay for it.
  • Louisville is moving ahead with plans to refinance its debt on its disastrous arena deal. This won’t help a ton — the arena deal will still be a disaster — but even stanching the flow of red ink slightly is something, I suppose.
  • El Paso is involved in a court case over whether they’re allowed to hold sporting events at their new arena, because the bonds it used can’t be used for “sports facilities” and — know what, just read about it yourself, it’s too insane to describe in detail here.
  • The mayor of St. Petersburg is “intrigued” by the idea of building a new soccer stadium on the site of Tropicana Field if the Rays move out, something he apparently neglected to discuss with the local would-be MLS team owner first.
  • Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula is still refusing to demand a new stadium, despite the NFL really wanting him to.
  • Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is now being used as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers fleeing Trump’s America. There are undoubtedly many, many jokes to be made here — that’s what the comment section is for, so have fun!

D-Backs CEO: We never threatened to move team if a/c didn’t work (but still could)

After the Arizona Diamondbacks lawyer’s statement in court this week that the team could be forced to move out of Arizona if the county won’t pay to fix leaky air conditioners was met with derision and people pointing out there aren’t exactly any better markets to move to, team CEO Derrick Hall attempted to walk the threat back yesterday. It was exactly as hilarious as you would expect:

“Over a month ago, we had a huge power outage with the heat downtown and, when the power came back on a Sunday before a day game, our chill system, our air-conditioning system, went down and we had huge gushing and rushing water leaks throughout the entire ballpark in major spots,” Derrick Hall told Doug and Wolf on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station on Thursday.

Hall said the team was able to open the park and play that day, but it was a close call.

“That’s near-catastrophic and if we did not have air conditioning that day, we can’t play baseball,” he said…

The league’s plan could involve moving the team, but Hall said that would only be temporary.

“There’s nowhere to play in the marketplace if something like that happens indoors and in the summer, so I think Major League Baseball is talking about an emergency or a contingency plan and, again, they do have the ultimate authority,” he said.

Okay, so if the a/c didn’t work, the D-Backs might have had to postpone a game — something that only happens dozens of times over a typical season already. But supposedly MLB needs to have a “contingency plan” so that if the a/c doesn’t work on some future date, it would immediately fly the teams to another city and … yeah, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Just admit that your lawyer was trying to levy a ridiculous threat that the team would leave town without a county-renovated stadium and be done with it, okay?

“Obviously, [owner] Ken (Kendrick) and I would never want to leave Arizona. This is our home,” he said. “This is where we want to be.”

Sure, close enough. That’s the traditional paratrooper gambit, anyway.

Charlotte won’t get county money for MLS stadium, expansion race now bigger mess than ever

The Mecklenburg County commission voted 5-3 on Wednesday to hand over the site of 83-year-old Memorial Stadium to the city of Charlotte for a new soccer stadium for a potential MLS team — but no money for building it, which is what the ownership group had been hoping for. Commissioners said they wanted to see a soccer stadium built, but, you know, by the city, not them:

“They manage stadiums and they have a division in the city that deals with pro sports teams,” [Commissioner Jim] Puckett said. “They have a dedicated tax revenue stream that’s for entertainment and can be used for pro sports. They have the expertise and funding stream to deal with that.”

The team’s original plan was for a $175 million stadium where $101.25 million of the costs would be paid off by the county, with the team repaying the public via $4.25 million a year in rent payments. (Note to readers who can do math: No, $4.25 million a year is not enough to repay $101.25 million in bonds unless you get a 1.5% interest rate, which I know they’re low but get serious.) Now they’ll instead have to try to hit up the city of Charlotte alone, which has already indicated that its maximum contribution is $30 million.

That would leave the team to shoulder $145 million of the cost, plus MLS’s nutso $150 million expansion fee, which is a hefty chunk of change. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t have to make those rent payments, so maybe it could just go to a bank and borrow the cash, and make mortgage payments instead? Or maybe the rich NASCAR track heir who wants to launch the MLS team would rather have somebody else on the hook for loan payments if his team, or MLS as a whole, went belly-up at some point as a result of its pyramid-scam spree of handing out expansion franchises like candy to anyone who wants to pay $150 million for candy? Yeah, probably that.

If you’re keeping score, the MLS expansion candidates are now:

That’s a whole mishmash of stuff indeed, and I don’t envy the job of the MLS officials tasked with having to pick two winners this fall (and two more next fall, because they can’t cash those $150 million expansion-fee checks fast enough). You have to wonder if commissioner Don Garber doesn’t think to himself sometimes, maybe it’d be easier just to stick the expansion franchises on eBay and take the highest bids. It would mean giving up on the pretense that they’re actually selecting the best soccer cities or something, but get real, nobody believes that anyway.

D-Backs lawyer: If our stadium a/c keeps leaking, MLB could force the team to leave Arizona

Sports team owners trying to get other people — mayors, league commissioners — to make move threats for them is a time-honored tradition, but “if we don’t get a new stadium, the league might force us to move” is a rarely employed gambit. Which makes it all the more jaw-dropping that the Arizona Diamondbacks are now alleging that if Maricopa County doesn’t fix leaky pipes at Chase Field, MLB could force the team to leave Arizona:

Leo Beus, an attorney for the team, raised the MLB specter as he argued to a Superior Court judge that the case should be decided quickly because the team is “facing a crisis.”

“Major League Baseball … they’re very, very concerned,” Beus said, noting he has spoken with six of the league’s top lawyers. “If Major League Baseball decides they want to create issues for us, there might not be baseball at all in Arizona.”

“We’d like to keep the franchise in place, we’d like to make peace with Major League Baseball, not that we’re at war,” he continued. “We don’t know where that’s going to come out. They’re very concerned.”

Okay, so. Beus’s main gripes are over two incidents in June, one where a sewage pipe burst in an office (ew) and another where a power surge caused an air-conditioning system to flood suites and other areas of the stadium right before a game (less ew, but it meant the a/c was off for the game, which is pretty ew in Phoenix). But the D-Backs’ court battle with the county isn’t over whether the stadium needs to be maintained; it’s over who will pay for maintenance, which the team says is the county’s job (to the tune of $187 million), and the county says is on the team. (The latter is what the county’s agreement to the team appears to say, but I am not a lawyer, let alone a judge.)

All of which brings us to our quote of the day, from Maricopa County’s attorney, Cameron Artigue:

“This (lawsuit) has nothing to do with the water leaks and the merits of Chase Field,” he said. “The Diamondbacks are the facility manager. When a pipe breaks, that is a Diamondbacks problem. And that is, in fact, what happened. They got out the mops and they mopped it up, and life goes on. It’s a big facility and sometimes pipes break. So what?”

Anyway, if anyone really thinks there’s a chance that MLB is going to force only its second franchise relocation in 45 years because a couple of stadium pipes broke, I have some Mets World Championship bets for you to place. Chalk this up to “Lawyers Say the Funniest Things” — come to think of it, “we’d like to make peace with Major League Baseball, not that we’re at war” would make a pretty good quote of the week, too.

Sternberg: I’ll pick stadium site as soon as cities decide how much money to offer me

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says he’s all set to pick a new stadium site by the end of the year, as soon as he finds out what cities are willing to offer him to pick them:

The team is waiting for Hillsborough County officials “to completely weigh in” with a site and specifics of the project.

“When they do then we’ll be able to make a decision in a pretty quick time,” he said.

That makes it sound as if they already know what their Pinellas options are, but he said not quite.

“We have sites in mind, and it’s a question of what will get done around the site and how are they going to get paid for,” he said. “And once municipalities are able to line those things up, not completely buttoned up but at least to a good extent, then we’ll be able to make a decision.”

On the one hand, this is reasonable: You don’t want to pick a site if you don’t know, say, whether there will be enough highway access provided that fans can actually get to the game. On the other: Normal businesses of human scale that don’t have the entire back section of the paper dedicated to them usually figure out how to pay for stuff to “get done around the site” by going to their financial people and having them crunch the numbers, not by waiting for city officials to tell them what they’re willing to offer.

In short, this isn’t really much news — Sternberg didn’t even promise a site decision by the end of the year, just say it was his goal — but is a good reminder that the real issue here is less where Sternberg wants to put a new stadium, and more how he figures out a way to pay for it, which is almost certain to involve some kind of public subsidies. Stay tuned for any details of that, and pay no attention to anything else that might appear to be going on in the meantime.

Raleigh MLS team wants $91m in state land, will pay for it by hey look over there!

We have a price tag on that 13 acres of state-owned land (with state-owned buildings on it) that would-be MLS owners in Raleigh want for a stadium, and it’s $91 million, at least. Which the MLS backers say they’ll pay for by, um, er, something about a “public-private partnership”:

State Property Office Director Tim Walton … told Department of Administration officials in an email last month that $7 million an acre would be the “minimum starting point” for the 13-acre parcel of state land the club hopes will become home to a new Major League Soccer franchise.

Rather than buy the land outright, NCFC wants to form a public-private partnership with the state to use the property, which is bounded by Peace, Salisbury and Lane streets just north of downtown.

“Public-private partnership,” for those not familiar with the term of art, can mean lots of things — anywhere from “we’ll get together with the government and share profits on a joint investment” to (more commonly) “we’ll be the partner that gets the money, and you be the partner who spends it.” While details haven’t been released yet, clearly this would be an easy way to stick to a “no public money” pledge while still collecting lots of public money — either by promising to repay the state for its land with revenues that aren’t a sure bet to turn up, or by charging the state a premium to rent space for new offices in a joint development, or really any of a million other ways that could be hidden deep within a development agreement.

Is this 100% absolutely surely a scam? No! Is it something that we should be raising an eyebrow at until enough details are released to tell if it’s a scam? Hell yeah! Billie Redmond, chief executive Trademark Properties, the company tasked with site selection for North Carolina F.C. (nice way to include the state name when you’re seeking state money, btw), said, “What we are proposing is complicated, but it’s an opportunity to do something extraordinary”; whether that’s extraordinary in terms of “a win-win for all concerned” or “I can’t believe they fell for that!” is yet to be determined.

San Antonio Triple-A team threatens to leave without new stadium, two years before moving in

I tend to leave minor-league stadium shenanigans for the Friday roundups, but it’s not every day that a local elected official declares that a stadium named for his own dad is obsolete and needs to be replaced in order to keep its team from leaving town:

When the San Antonio Missions start playing Triple-A baseball in 2019, it’s still unclear if Wolff Stadium will be the team’s long-term home.

“What I worry about is that after they’re here for a year and playing in a Double-A stadium, is when the ownership group comes back to the city and the county and says, ‘Hey, look, if we don’t get a Triple-A stadium, we are going to have to move,'” said Bexar County Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin Wolff.

The stadium was named for Wolff’s father, County Judge Nelson Wolff.

Let’s back up for a second. Wolff Stadium was built all the way back in 1994 — that’s a different century! — and renovated in 2006, as part of a deal that saw the Double-A Missions take over operations of the ballpark. The county still owns it, though, so Kevin Wolff is presumably suggesting that the public should take on the cost of expanding or replacing the 9,200-seat facility to keep the team happy. (The team’s owners have already released a statement declaring the unthinkably 23-year-old stadium to be “not the long-term answer for Triple-A baseball in San Antonio.”)

Wolff indicated that Wolff Stadium needs an extra 1,000 seats to be considered Triple-A compliant, but that’s not exactly true: While 10,000 is the “recommended” minimum seating capacity, six stadiums in the Pacific Coast League hold fewer fans than San Antonio’s does currently.

In any event, San Antonio just got awarded Triple-A baseball in late June — after major-league teams decided that it was too hard to evaluate young players in the thin air of Colorado Springs — so you’d think two years before the team even moves in would be a bit early to start levying threats to relocate, but clearly not. Here’s hoping that Bexar County officials come back with “You’re welcome to pay for it yourself, and if not we’re fine with going back to Double-A ball,” or at the very least, “Quit saying mean things about the stadium named for my dad.”