Atlanta mayor “comfortable” giving $150m he doesn’t have yet to Hawks owner for arena remodel

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed still really wants to throw money at the Hawks for an upgrade to their 17-year-old arena:

“We have not settled on the number, but what we have looked at is our own capacity of what we can comfortably finance,” he said in an hour-long meeting with AJC reporters and the newspaper’s editorial board. “We think that number is between 100 million and 150 million (dollars).

“The total project would be anywhere from 200 million to 300 million (dollars),” he said.

Reed said the sources of funding haven’t been determined, but rental car taxes are likely to be part and he did not rule out funding from the Westside Tax Allocation District.

So… wait, what? The city can comfortably finance $100-150 million, but doesn’t know where the money would come from? I thought that $150 million figure was supposed to be from money available after the city sells Turner Field? Now it’s just a big ol’ number that Reed is offering Hawks owner Tony Ressler because that’s just what Atlanta does, even though the team can’t move anywhere without paying massive penalties? Come on, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I’m counting on you to raise your eyebrows at least a little more at this.

 

Turner Field to be converted into college football stadium, add housing and retail

The has announced that it’s selling Turner Field, soon-to-be-former home of the Braves, to a consortium made up of

Which, sure, fine enough, though there’s no actual development agreement yet, so it’s tough to say what this all would actually look like. And given that local residents are in the middle of a community planning process and complaining that they want things to hold off until that’s complete anyway, that’s arguably a good thing. But anyway, if you were concerned that your cherished memories of, um, something good that happened at Turner Field (involving Chipper Jones, maybe?) were going to be bulldozed, it looks like that’ll only partly be the case.

New Braves stadium to hike ticket prices 45%, Braves say this is because seats will be 45% better

The Atlanta Braves have released ticket prices for their new stadium in Cobb County, and fans can expect to absorb a whopping 45% price increase over Turner Field. Also, only a 4.7% price increase over Turner Field. Whaaa?

Turner Field features the third-cheapest price among Major League Baseball teams for non-premium season tickets at $19.14 per game, according to Team Marketing Report of Chicago, which uses data from all 30 MLB teams. The league average is about $29.

The Braves, however, say their average non-premium price is actually higher — $26.48. The Team Marketing Report survey excludes seats near the field and in other prime areas that wouldn’t be considered premium in a modern stadium. That effectively depresses Turner Field’s average.

The average non-premium seat cost at the new Cobb County ballpark is expected to be $27.73, according to a Braves spokeswoman. That would be a 45 percent increase over the Team Marketing Report average for Turner Field, but only a 4.7 percent increase over what the Braves consider their average price.

All of this mostly goes to show how hard it is to define “ticket price” in a 21st-century landscape of amenity-filled club seats and dynamic pricing. (The prices released by the Braves yesterday are just for season tickets; no one knows how individual games will be priced.) TMR divides up its pricing data into “general” and “premium” seating — the latter for “club seats or any section that has special features,” which is clear as mud — which allows teams to claim that a share of a price increase is due to added amenities, kind of the way that poverty isn’t a problem because poor people now have refrigerators.

The Braves, meanwhile, claim that you can’t compare seats at the old and new stadiums at all, because the new one will offer (in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s paraphrase) “

 

Hawks for sale, winning bidder must buy arena too, NBA says they’re not moving anyway, so there

Bill Simmons’ invisible friend may or may not be right that some rich guys are interested in buying the Atlanta Hawks and moving them to Seattle (okay, he’s right about Chris Hansen, because Chris Hansen would buy his own grandmother and move her to Seattle if he could clone her four times and get her to suit up for NBA games), but the Hawks are indeed for sale, as announced yesterday by the team’s owners. And not only that, but the lucky winner will be buying not just the team, but operating rights to Philips Arena, which was built way back in 1999 when the team was still owned by Ted Turner. (The county paid most of the construction cost, though most of that the team is paying back in rent; though the county owns the building, so Turner got a tax break … I’m not going to start calculating subsidy totals for a 16-year-old arena deal, sorry, not on a Friday.)

Anyway, the interesting bit here is: Does including the arena in the deal make it less likely that a new owner could try to move the Hawks? (The NBA actually released a pretty strong statement on Wednesday that the team isn’t going anywhere, but it’s a sports league’s prerogative to change its mind.) After all, if Hansen, let’s say, were to buy the team and move it to Seattle, he’d have to pay a premium to get the arena as well, then would have to figure out what to do with it with no sports team to play in it. (I guess it would still have the Dream, which is separately owned by two women who share the same hair.) They could try to fill dates with concerts, I suppose, but even a guarantee of 41 sparse Hawks crowds a year might be better than starting from scratch with empty dates and hoping that Ariana Grande has a sister.

Without seeing how the internal finances of the Hawks/Philips Arena management structure look, there’s no way to tell, and don’t hold your breath waiting to see that. Unless … I bet they’d have to open their books to qualified bidders, right? So if we said we wanted to buy the Hawks… Quick, who has a few hundred million dollars free on their AmEx?

Atlanta mayor offers Hawks $150m not to move, not that they were threatening to

Man, did everything in the stadium and arena world happen yesterday, or what? Well, let’s get started and see how far we get:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says he’s getting involved in negotiations over who will buy the Hawks now that majority owner Bruce Levenson stepped down over revelations that he ordered staffers to fire black cheerleaders and play less hip-hop music in order to placate racist white fans. And by “involved” he means “offering them public money to insure they stay in town“:

Reed said the city will likely be willing to offer concessions to any new owner to ensure the Hawks commit to remaining in Atlanta for another 30 years. He said there could be as much as $150 million available after the city sells Turner Field, the current home of the Braves, though the mayor said that process has been held up by the baseball team’s refusal to set a definite date for its departure.

Now, nobody involved with the Hawks has said boo about moving the team, but apparently Reed is concerned enough to throw $150 million on the table without even being asked. It’s especially dubious given that the Hawks’ lease requires them to pay off the remaining bonds on their arena (around $100 million at this point) before they could leave, plus another $75 million in an early termination fee if they left before the 2018-19 season. Plus, of course, they’d have to have somewhere to move to that would be more lucrative than Atlanta.

Reed is talking about asking any new owner to commit to staying in town for another 30 years, which, given that the arena bonds will currently be paid off in 2028, really amounts to a 16-year extension on their lease. $150 million in exchange for staying put for 16 years … I guess it could be worse, but it still amounts to paying the Hawks almost $10 million a year just to keep on doing what they’re doing already. This negative rent trend is really starting to get out of hand, though I guess in a world where the NFL expects musicians to pay to play at the Super Bowl halftime show, it’s not entirely unexpected.

Georgia State floats turning Turner Field into football stadium, has no idea how to pay for it

When the Atlanta Braves announced plans to move out of Turner Field for a new stadium in Cobb County last fall, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed immediately said he’d seek bids to redevelop the old (if you can call a 17-year-old stadium “old”) stadium site. And now he has at least four in hand, including one from Georgia State University to redo the Olympics-turned-baseball stadium into a college football stadium:

Georgia State is proposing repurposing Turner Field into a 30,000-seat football stadium and building another baseball stadium that will include Hank Aaron’s wall as part of the structure.

University President Dr. Mark Becker and Atlanta real estate development firm Carter provided the Atlanta Journal-Constitution an exclusive look at the proposal on Wednesday. The idea is more than just stadiums. They want to be partners in building an estimated $300 million development that will include retail, residential and student housing and will be paid for through a mix of public and private funds.

On the bright side, a retail and housing complex with two college stadiums is arguably a better use of the land than a Braves stadium and a bunch of parking lots. On the less bright side, nobody knows how much all this would cost or how it would be paid for, though given that Georgia State is a public university, ultimately the state seems likely to be on the hook for the bulk of it. So, good money after bad, or making lemons into lemonade? Too soon to tell.

Five things we learned about the Braves’ new stadium, if you’re not picky about “things” or “learned”

As long as I’m summarizing other people’s articles so you don’t have to this morning, let’s tackle Atlanta’s 11Alive TV station’s piece on “five things we learned about the Braves‘ new stadium” during an “exclusive” visit with team officials. The five things:

  1. Braves officials are touring lots of other stadiums to see what they want!
  2. The Yankees have won lots of World Series and the Braves haven’t, but the Braves are going to “celebrate” whatever history they have!
  3. Populous stadium architect Earl Santee says the new Braves field will have “intimacy” unlike the Yankees’ new stadium! Which was designed by Earl Santee!
  4. Santee says the stadium will “embrace more of the Southeast region architecture-wise” so “if we have folks coming from Charleston, they feel like they belong”! (I suggest a giant Waffle House!)
  5. The new stadium will be ready for 2017, unless it isn’t, in which case the Braves will have to renew their lease on Turner Field, but they won’t do that, because it will be ready! Really!

Number of people quoted in the piece: 3. Number of people quoted who are working for the Braves: 3. 11Alive’s motto, printed proudly at the top of its site: “Holding the Powerful Accountable.”

Cobb County to residents: Jeez, we had one public meeting on Braves stadium, what do you want, blood?

The Cobb County group Citizens for Governmental Transparency — described by USA Today as “a strange-bedfellows coalition of 12 groups ranging from the Tea Party to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference” — held a town hall meeting yesterday on the county’s still-not-all-that-close-to-finished $300 million Atlanta Braves stadium subsidy plan, and took a strong stand in favor of at least trying to inch that number in a downward direction:

Sharon Hill, a member of Citizens for Governmental Transparency, said Tuesday night’s meeting at Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was the second in an ongoing series of town halls on the new stadium. “We recognize that we can’t stop it,” she said. “We are pushing to be a part of whatever goes on.”

That’s setting your sights on a winnable goal, I guess, though given the long list of ways in which the Braves deal could still fall apart, it might be a bit premature to declare it a done deal just yet.

The best part of the USA Today story, meanwhile, isn’t anything from the town hall meeting at all, but rather the quote from Cobb County about how the stadium approval process, which lasted all of two weeks after the initial announcement, was totally open and transparent and all that good stuff:

A Cobb County spokesman said the stadium deal is moving ahead and that there have been opportunities for public comment.

“The county commissioners have approved and signed a Memorandum of Understanding, and are in the process of completing longer-term agreements,” said spokesman Robert Quigley. “The board has voted and has taken action to authorize the chairman to move forward. There have been numerous opportunities and will continue to be opportunities for the public to interact with the commissioners on this project,” he said.

Sure, Cobb County commissioners are easy to find. Just look in the hallway.

Baseball writer wonders if Atlanta “deserves” the Braves, like what does that even mean?

A FoS reader points out a Twitter spat he had with MLB.com reporter Tracy Ringolsby about the Atlanta Braves stadium situation, which started out with Ringolsby complaining, “Turner Field has not held up well. Never had surrounding growth. Traffic is horrid. Can’t blame a business for moving,” and eventually leading up to this:

Ringolsby, Ringolsby. Didn’t he say something like this similar once before? Oh, yeah, here it is, from the dispute early last decade about the fate of the Minnesota Twins:

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had the right idea.

Might as well contract the Minnesota Twins.

The folks in the Twin Cities certainly don’t seem to care.

As much as they whined and as many lawsuits as they filed after Twins owner Carl Pohlad quickly volunteered to be paired with Montreal for contraction following the 2001 season, now that they have won the battle to keep the Twins, few in the Twin Cities seem to care.

Ringolsby’s argument back then was that the Twins were winning (they’d made the American League Championship Series the previous year) yet fans weren’t showing up (the “Twins rank 27th among baseball’s 30 teams in average home attendance,” wrote Ringolsby, though Doug Pappas pointed out that they were actually 20th). Attendance tracked upward to just under 30,000 per game after that, took a major leap the first two years of the Twins’ new Target Field, and last year dropped back near 30,000 per game again now that the team is terrible again.

In other words, about what you’d expect from a mid-sized market. (Minneapolis-St. Paul is 15th in U.S. Nielsen market size.) How does Atlanta’s attendance stack up?

The Braves’ “poor” attendance last year was 31,465 tickets sold per game, which was good for 13th in MLB. Atlanta is the 9th largest media market, but four of the markets ahead of it (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and S.F-Oakland) have two teams apiece. Of the 12 teams ahead of the Braves last year in attendance, only three (St. Louis, Detroit, and Colorado) hail from smaller markets; of the 17 teams that drew fewer fans, four (Toronto, New York Mets, Oakland, Chicago White Sox) came from bigger markets. That’s arguably a mediocre showing — the Braves won their division, after all, though so did St. Louis and Detroit (the Rockies are clearly putting something in the water) — but it’s hardly terrible. Braves attendance has actually been remarkably steady since the initial Turner Field, especially when you consider the team’s attendance was pretty dismal during the Hank Aaron years, so a more reasonable conclusion is: mid-sized market, mid-sized attendance figures.

When you think about it, the whole notion of whether a city’s fan base “deserves” its team is a bizarre one: Attendance is based on so many factors (market size, ticket pricing, perceived quality of team, whether there’s other stuff to do in the summer) that it’s tough to pin the blame on fans for not showing up in droves when the team demands it. For that matter, is it the fault of rabid A’s fans that more of their neighbors don’t come out to games? Is hosting a major-league baseball team some kind of test that citizens are expected to pass, by buying tickets whether they want to or not? And finally, in what way does it punish Braves fans by moving their team from downtown Atlanta to Cobb County, which just means a different impassable highway interchange for them to drive to?

Maybe I’m thinking about all this too hard — it’s just a tweet, after all, and Ringolsby may have just been snarkily countering the argument that Braves Field is a nice place to see a game. (He also remarked that “You need to get out more and see what a great place to see a game is like. Destination stadiums don’t work,” which I’m also not sure what it’s supposed to mean.) But regardless, it’s worth looking at the thought process behind this stuff, because it’s very easy to throw around concepts like metropolitan areas being worthy or unworthy of sports franchises, when really it’s just a matter of where the rich guys who own them decide to put them, based on their projected profits. What it comes down to is that Cobb County — or rather four members of the Cobb County Commission, standing in the hallway so they could avoid public debate — decided to throw a lot of money at the Braves, and Atlanta officials didn’t, so Braves owner John Malone decided to go where the simoleons are. If Atlanta had coughed up a few hundred million for a new or renovated stadium, the Braves would undoubtedly be staying put — and it’d be interesting to see what attitude writers like Ringolsby would have toward Braves fans, and the Turner Field environs, then.

Become a FoS Supporter for 2014! (Now with actual tchotchkes!)

It’s been a little over six months since I last asked FoS readers to chip in to help pay for this site, and man, it was quite a six months: We had the crazy denouement of the Sacramento Kings relocation battle, the Atlanta Falcons’ squabble over relocating century-old churches to make way for their new stadium, Cobb County’s stunning announcement of plans to lure the Atlanta Braves to the suburbs with $300 million in public money, and a pile of other sports stadium and arena stories each more bizarre than the next. It’s all been great for site traffic, but the flood of news also requires more of my time to keep up, all at the sub-minimum-wage levels provided by Google Ads and the occasional book royalty.

So with a new year dawning and no doubt more sports subsidy insanity on its way, I’m putting out a call for new FoS Supporters who’d like to kick in $50 (or $100 for the full year) in exchange for getting the right to put whatever you like in the rotating ad space at the top right corner of this page. (You can submit your own 250×90 pixel image, or send me text and I’ll design one for you.) Plus, I’m introducing a new “Mini-Supporter” level, which doesn’t get you the ad space, but does get you a cool new button that you can baffle your friends and ballgame neighbors with, access to members-only online chats with yours truly, and some other goodies as yet to be determined, plus the usual warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you’re helping make the world a more stadium-knowledgeable place. (Full Supporters get all this stuff as well, plus double the warm fuzzies.) Maybe next year, I’ll work up to tote bags.

Full deets are below, and the button to click on to sign up is below that. As always, I am eternally grateful for both the monetary and moral support (and occasional moral outrage) I get from readers of this site, and I hope that with your help I can go on doing this until it’s time to build yet another Atlanta Braves stadium. Which the way things are going, is likely to be about five minutes after the new one opens.


For those of you who read FoS regularly and would like a way to support the cause, you can now become an FoS Supporter. Starting in 2014, there are three different membership levels:

  • Mini-Supporters ($25 for one year) get not just the warm glow of knowing that they’re enabling me to keep on reporting daily on stadium and arena news while silencing the voice in my head that says “Shouldn’t you be doing real work?” but also: a one-inch members-only pin (pictured at right), based on the great Scott MX Turner’s moneybags design; access to members-only live monthly web chats; plus anything else I can think up during the year that seems fun and doesn’t require me to learn how to laser-etch iPhone covers out of sustainable wood or anything.
  • Six-Month Supporters ($50 for six months) get all the mini-supporter benefits plus the ability to place an ad in the top-right banner space, which will be viewed on a rotating basis with other member ads. Messages can be anything from “I Support Field of Schemes and I Vote” to “Read My Website, It’s Way Better Than This One” or anything else that will fit legibly in a 90×250-pixel space. (You’re welcome to send me your own display ad, or I’ll design one for you if you send the text.) I do retain veto power over needlessly offensive or inaccurate messages, so “Jeffrey Loria Is a Booger Brain” would be ruled out of order. Probably. Unless you could provide citations.
  • One-Year Supporters ($100 for one year) get all of the above, but your ad will be put in place for (wait for it) one year.

Stated in traditional fundraising-drive cups of coffee, even full Supporter status is only one cup of coffee every five days. Or, if you prefer, “Sure, I can give him 50 bucks once, I’ll just let somebody else sign up after my six months are up, and read for free then like always!” Group memberships are welcome, too, if you and some friends want to pool your pocket change and sign up that way.

Either way, your support will be greatly appreciated, since Google Ads and the occasional book sale don’t go very far. (Not that I wouldn’t welcome more book sales — and then you get an actual physical object! Or a non-physical object if you go for the cheaper electronic edition!)

To join, just choose your preferred option and click the big button below, then type your mailing address into the “message” field. Thanks in advance for your support.


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