Ex-NY official who negotiated last Bills stadium subsidy: Governments gonna spend, may as well be on NFL teams

The Buffalo News is continuing its weekly reporting on the Bills stadium situation, this Saturday turning to an interview with former New York lieutenant governor and current Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert Duffy, for some reason, about what he thinks of plans to spend lots of state money on a $1.4 billion football stadium for a team that just got $130 million in stadium renovations in 2013. (That earlier deal was spearheaded by the state’s then-lieutenant governor, one Robert Duffy.) And if it’s a questionable journalistic decision to devote scarce reporting space to this one not-at-all-disinterested guy’s opinions, we should nonetheless be glad they did it, because it produced this all-time gem:

“In government, if that money is not spent on that project, it will be spent somewhere else.”

That is just beautifully concise, and undermined only slightly by being both wrong and a blatant use of misdirection. First off, it is simply not true that government spent on big capital subsidies “will be spent somewhere”: Whether whatever New York Gov. Kathy Hochul decides to give to Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula toward a stadium comes via tax rebates, or state bonds that have to be paid off later, or straight out of the general treasury, that’s money that has to come from somewhere, either by raising taxes or by cutting spending on something else.

But even if we take it as a given that governments gonna spend, “somewhere else” covers a hell of a lot of ground. If we don’t give the money to the Bills owners, the state will just go blow it on school funding or keeping the trains running or something is a pretty remarkable argument to make, though certainly on-brand for a guy whose current job is to advocate for tax cuts and other subsidies for local business owners.

Duffy does say that if state taxpayers are going to send a huge check to the Pegulas, there should be “a long-term agreement, so you’re not going back every four or five years trying to keep the team here,” which is a reasonable point. He does not, however, suggest that the state should have nailed down a longer-term agreement the last time it send a huge check the team’s way — who was the guy who negotiated that deal again? It seems to have slipped my mind…

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Louisiana is paying Pelicans owner $3.65m a year to “create” basketball player jobs

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years of covering sports subsidy shenanigans, it’s that no team owner — and, really, no owner of any American business — will pass up a chance at free public money. Which isn’t especially surprising, as which of us would, if we had the connections and the lobbyists to request large checks from the government? Not like, if we were in that position, we would really need another yacht, but then, another yacht would be nice, wouldn’t it, especially if some nice legislators were offering to pay for it?

Anyway, all this is to say that even if this story in the Louisiana Illuminator about the New Orleans Pelicans isn’t entirely surprising, it’s pretty depressing:

The New Orleans Pelicans receive a $3.65 million cash rebate every year from Louisiana — more than any other company — by counting its professional basketball players’ positions as newly-created direct jobs under the state’s Quality Jobs program, an economic incentive that’s supposed to encourage companies to create well-paid, full-time jobs for residents.

In 2020, the Pelicans reported creating a total of 183 jobs with salaries averaging $608 per hour, according to documents from the Louisiana Economic Development agency received through a public records request. The wage rate is so high because it includes NBA players’ salaries in the Pelicans’ average wage.

Yep, that’s right: In order to encourage local companies to hire people at decent wages, the state of Louisiana offers to cover up to 6% of their payroll costs for up to 10 years. The program has been in place since 1995, and according to a recent audit has generated about $5 billion a year in household income in the state — though the same audit says that “the majority of that amount would have been generated even if the Quality Jobs program had not been available,” which must be a new meaning of the word “generated.” (The audit also reported that the state only gets back between 1 and 10 cents in new tax revenue for every dollar it spends on the program, which is a pretty awful ratio.)

I know what you’re wondering at this point, or at least I know what I’m wondering: How do NBA roster spots count as “new jobs,” since there are only 15 of them, same as there have been since 2005, when the roster limit went up from 12? The answer appears to be that the state legislature passed a law in 2002 saying that they would, in order to lure the team to New Orleans from Charlotte:

The state offered up the Quality Jobs incentive during its negotiations to bring the team to Louisiana in 2002. Pelicans spokesman Greg Bensel said the state included the 5% payroll rebate from the Quality Jobs program as a provision in its lease agreement with the team.

The Louisiana Legislature has amended the program many times over the years. In 2002 — the same year the state was trying to lure the basketball franchise to New Orleans — lawmakers passed a bill that allowed the team to qualify for the program.

The bill itself is hilarious: It only adds one item with three bullet points to the law, stating that it will now cover “a National Basketball Association team which relocates to Louisiana and enters into a contract provided for in this Chapter prior to November 1, 2003,” that the subsidy is capped at $3.65 million a year, and that owners can’t pay themselves a salary and include that in their “job creation” calculations. At least somebody in the 2002 Louisiana legislature thought to close one obvious loophole! Not that it would have mattered, as the Pelicans soon enough maxed out their subsidy even without owner Gayle Benson, who the Illuminator informs us is Louisiana’s single wealthiest resident, including herself as a job created, because there’s plenty of money to be made by crediting herself with creating Brandon Ingram’s $29 million a year wage.

Louisiana has “a long history of enormous corporate giveaways,” according to the subsidy watchdog Good Jobs First, including film production subsidies and industrial property tax breaks as well as the payroll-rebate program; it was also one of the first states to offer to pay a sports team to play there, when it agreed to give Saints owner Tom Benson (Gayle is his widow) more than $18 million a year in cash grants to keep his NFL team in town. Compared to that, $3.65 million a year is a bargain, I guess, but given that it’s a subsidy that will never expire, it adds up over time: The New York Knicks and Rangers tax break didn’t seem huge when it was passed in 1982, but look where it’s gotten to now.

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Friday roundup: Sports team owners saying stuff, and the journalists who love to reprint it, Episode #736

That wasn’t a swing, was it? It sure didn’t look like a swing to me.

Sorry, right, enough about actual sports, back to the business of sports business:

  • The owners of the new St. Louis City SC MLS team want a new parking garage built next to their new stadium, arguing that the stadium “will have a magnetic quality that draws people to the district 365 days a year,” according to the garage’s lead architect. Team officials already demolished several century-old mixed-use buildings to make way for the garage, which would seem to be a lost opportunity for things like stores and restaurants that might more likely be in use year-round, but far be it from me to argue with an expert in economagnetism.
  • Albuquerque city officials say they won’t decide where to buildNew Mexico United USL soccer stadium until voters approve the money for it — which makes total sense, because the cost of a project doesn’t depend at all on what land needs to be acquired, and also no landowner would ever jack up the price of property knowing that the city needs it for an already-approved project. Today is Opposite Day, right?
  • Arash Markazi no longer works for the L.A. Times after being exposed for promoting friends’ projects in his columns and reprinting press releases almost verbatim, but Substack and Twitter don’t care if you’re ethical so long as you get eyeballs, so we have Markazi announcing, unsourced, that “The Oakland Athletics are expected to announce a handful of finalists for a potential $1 billion stadium in Las Vegas after the World Series,” and that getting turned into entire news articles elsewhere. Never mind that A’s exec Dave Kaval already said as much last month, or that “narrows down sites for stadium that nobody has proposed to pay for” isn’t really breaking news anyway, a famous reporter guy said a thing about famous business guys maybe saying a thing, everybody quick post updates at once!
  • Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd says he’ll pay stadium construction workers at least $15.50 an hour but won’t sign anything making that promise enforceable, and won’t promise to pay concessions and other stadium workers anything above the cheapest the labor market will let him get away with. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Boyd says since he’s “a longtime community member, a community benefits agreement won’t be necessary,” a sentence that it’s amazing the News Sentinel production staff could type without busting out in visible lolsobs.
  • Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium is in bad shape after the Pawtucket Red Sox left for Worcester and took all the kitchen equipment and office chairs with them. The city is considering whether to rehab the stadium for an indie-league team, but the two that kicked the tires said that at 10,000 seats it’s too big for them; or to redevelop the site for something else, but there are worries it will sink into the swamp.
  • Charlotte officials have noticed that they’re paying city police officers to provide security at Carolina Panthers games instead of having the team hire off-duty officers, because no off-duty officers want to work for the $42-an-hour rate that the team offers. I spent a bunch of time reading local articles to try to figure out if it’s the Panthers or the city or someone else chintzing on security wages, and felt bad that I couldn’t figure it out until I saw a quote from Charlotte’s police chief saying, “Listen Panthers or whoever, enough is enough?” and decided that if he doesn’t know, I shouldn’t be expected to either.
  • Do you really want to read NFL uber-insider Mike Florio speculating about whether the NFL will settle the city of St. Louis’s lawsuit against the league for moving the Rams by offering the city an expansion team? Even though Rams owner Stan Kroenke has promised to cover any losses the league is stuck with, and Florio doesn’t provide any sources at all other than “an acknowledgment in league circles of the possibility”? Probably not, but you’re a grownup, make your own decisions.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays may have been eliminated from the postseason, but that’s not going to stop the Tampa Bay Times editorial board from taking the opportunity to stump for a new stadium on the grounds that, um, let’s see, “far too few people will buy tickets to watch them play at their current stadium” and “the hard work needs to be done now to ensure the team stays in the Tampa Bay area, even if it’s part time.” One could point out that there’s no solid evidence that significantly more people would buy tickets at a new stadium, especially for a team that would disappear to Canada all summer, but the Times also says that “this is not the time to clam up or for grandstanding or unhelpful posturing,” so I guess they wouldn’t want lots of people writing them about this, huh?
  • Did you know that the USL is creating a new women’s soccer league, to be an adjunct to/compete with the NWSL, currently reeling under a sexual harassment scandal that has already brought down its commissioner and forced the relocation of its championship game? I had not, but more women’s pro teams can only be a good thing both in terms of growing the women’s game and providing more teams so that cities don’t have to outbid each other for them, though also more opportunities for teams to demand that cities outbid each other for them, because city officials are pretty much morons when it comes to this stuff.
  • Lots of times sports team owners argue that there’s no way to fund venue construction and repairs without public subsidies, but did they ever consider growing and selling soybeans? On free public land, oh, Canada, you just had to ruin this feel-good story, didn’t you?
  • Tokyo’s Olympic white-elephant stadiums are facing increased maintenance costs because they’re under attack by oysters. That is all.
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Schumer says federal money can be used for “whole new highway system” for Bills stadium

So yeah, that whole infrastructure bill thing has sports team owners and local elected officials looking for ways to scrape up a few coins for stadium and arena projects, it’s probably only a matter of time until — hold on a sec, somebody just sent me an article:

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says federal money could be used toward projects related to the new Bills stadium…

“The infrastructure money cannot be used on stadiums, but it can be used on roads,” Schumer says. “All the infrastructure that you need if there is a new stadium. Obviously, you’re going to have to build a whole new highway system, and I would add that would all be built with union labor.”

Okay, so “infrastructure money can be used on infrastructure” is uncontroversial, but “federal money designed to repair crumbling bridges and expand broadband access can be directed to build new roads to a billionaire’s NFL stadium” is maybe going to be less so. Also, “you’re going to have to build a whole new highway system” is not helped any by adding “obviously,” not when the new stadium is almost certainly going to be right next door to the old stadium, which already has highways leading to it. What gives, couldn’t you ask even one followup question, uh, “News 4 Staff”?

It will presumably be up to states how to dole out the federal infrastructure money, but the cash will also hopefully come with some strings, at least if President Biden wants to avoid a repeat of the PPP fiasco. And it will be interesting to see how fans of the other 31 NFL teams react to the Bills owners getting federal funding for their new stadium — sorry, for highways leading to their new stadium — when their preferred franchises did not.

Of course, Schumer wasn’t endorsing this use of federal infrastructure dollars, he was just—

Sen. Schumer says he’ll do everything he can to support a new stadium.

This is going to be a loooooong future.

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Manfred: A’s could move lots of places, not just Vegas, don’t make me name them

A big piece of pro sports commissioners’ job is supporting their team owners’ stadium shakedown attempts, generally by saying some variation on It’d be a terrible thing for something to happen to your team, now wouldn’t it? MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has tried this before on behalf of Oakland A’s owner John Fisher, and generally hasn’t been very good at it, but it is his one job, so let’s see how he did yesterday when he tried, tried again:

Manfred began by saying it’s “kind of beyond debate at this point” that new stadiums are necessary in both cities, adding: “Oakland, probably critical just in terms of the condition of the ballpark.”

“Particularly in the case of Oakland, we’ve had to open up the opportunity to explore other locations, just because it’s dragged on so long,” Manfred said. “And frankly, in some ways, we’re not sure we see a path to success in terms of getting something built in Oakland.”

Asked again if relocation is a possibility, Manfred said: “Yeah, (it) is a possibility. Yeah. I mean, they’ve been talking to Las Vegas. It’s gotten a lot of publicity, but there are options in terms of relocation in addition to Las Vegas.”

That is so close to English! Even if he hedges (“in some ways”) when he’s in the middle of expressing practiced impatience with Oakland-area governing bodies not leaping at the chance to give Fisher tax money, he sticks the landing: If not gifted $855 million in public cash, the A’s could move. To Las Vegas. Or somewhere. There are other options! In, you know, places.

Awkward syntax aside, Manfred’s word salad did accomplish what it set out to do: It got the San Francisco Chronicle to phone Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf to ask if this means stadium talks are falling apart now that Schaaf only wants to put up maybe a couple hundred million towards the project, and the mayor replied that oh, no, she’s still committed, it’s those nasty Alameda County officials who are refusing to okay future property tax kickbacks:

“I’m in regular communication with the commissioner and with the A’s, and nothing has changed,” Schaaf said. “The commissioner remains very frustrated and impatient — as am I — about progress toward locking down the Howard Terminal project.”…

“It is going to be incredibly important that the county votes to affirmatively state their intent to participate in financing the affordable housing and the public parks that are an integral community benefit for the total ballpark project,” Schaaf said. “I know the commissioner is definitely looking to see that progress. Many of us are counting on that as well.”

Look, it only makes sense for an elected official to try to get some other level of government to pay for her pet project — if the public cost breakdown of A’s stadium subsidies ends up being something like, say, $200 million city, $300 million county, $350 million state and/or federal and/or knocking over a bunch of liquor stores, she’s certainly done her duty of keeping costs down for her constituents. Except of course that Oakland residents are also Alameda County residents and California residents and U.S. residents, so fobbing off some costs onto higher levels of government doesn’t really benefit them, except inasmuch as it spreads the cost around to more people, including those further afield who may not give a crap whether the A’s have a new stadium or move to City Option #3.

It wasn’t that long ago that Schaaf was saying that she wouldn’t spend any public money on private stadiums, not when it could be going to “police, parks or libraries.” That was for the Raiders, though, whose owner was maybe the least likable person on earth, and actually she did offer to cover about $200 million in infrastructure costs for the Raiders, and anyway now the Raiders moved to Las Vegas and the A’s are threatening to as well, and there’s the promise of a big shiny thing, so sure, let’s lean on Alameda County as being the roadblock to a glorious tax-funded A’s stadium future. Fisher, meanwhile, hasn’t had to say a word — even team president Dave Kaval hasn’t made any threats lately, and making threats is pretty much his entire job — but no need to put yourself in the line of fire when you have league commissioners and elected officials to rattle sabers for you.

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Erie County withholds details of alleged $500m in needed Bills stadium repairs, because “safety”

One of the underlying assertions behind the Buffalo Bills owners’ demand for a new stadium is that the old one is falling down. Literally: We’ve seen team VP Ron Raccuia declare that the upper deck “will fail in plus-or-minus 5 years,” whatever that means (could it fail by 2016?), as well as claims that an “independent engineering study” shows the upper deck would “have to be replaced” at a cost of $500 million, with a full renovation costing $1 billion. At a price tag like that, spending $1.4 billion on a new stadium starts to sound, if not reasonable, at least less crazy.

Of course, plenty of team owners have claimed their old buildings were falling down to try to get new ones, so I filed a Freedom of Information Law request last week for the report, which was conducted by the engineering firm DiDonato for the Erie County Department of Public Works. And to my surprise, given that FOIL requests often take months to process, I got a response back yesterday morning, just eight days later, with this bombshell information:

Okay, that’s maybe not so much “information” as the lack thereof. What gives, Erie County FOIL Officer? The cover letter on the FOIL response stated:

1. As a critical piece of infrastructure, under the category of Commercial Facilities Sector, releasing details about the structure could endanger the life or safety of any person who enters the stadium.

2. Erie County is currently in ongoing negotiations with New York State and the Buffalo Bills regarding the future of the football team in Erie County.  Therefore, releasing the entire study would most certainly impair an imminent contract award.

3. Finally, as you can see, the study is a Draft and subject to change.  Therefore, it is a communication between Erie County and a consultant and therefore subject to the inter/intra-agency exception.

Okay, so revealing how much it would cost to maintain and repair the Bills’ current stadium, and how that cost was calculated, would “endanger the life or safety” of football fans, because … yeah, I got nothing. Nor can I begin to guess how making public the cost estimates would “impair an imminent contract award” for a new stadium, except inasmuch as if the costs don’t turn out to be as high as Bills execs are claiming, it could cause a public outcry about handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to the team owners for a new one — but that’s the kind of “impairment” that open access to public records is supposed to result in. “We can’t tell you, because we don’t want fans to know whether concrete might fall on them or whether building a $1.4 billion new stadium is really necessary” is maybe not the pinnacle of transparent government.

The full redacted study — which only includes 12 pages out of a 182-page report, and much of those are blacked out — can be found here, for anyone curious about what information Erie County decided to allow out into the world. We do learn that $250 million has been spent over the years on upgrades to the stadium (most significantly $130 million in 2013 on “new video displays, additional concessions stands and restrooms and various elements to improve circulation and provide ADA access in and around the facility”), and that “the Stadium currently remains in overall fair to good condition with some elements in fair condition” — followed immediately by a redaction, so there’s no way to tell which elements are in only “fair” shape, or what “fair” means in this case. Erie County could tell you, but they don’t want to endanger your life and safety — do you have any idea how many people trip and fall each year on stray commas? You’ll thank them for it later.

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Alameda County may discuss $350m A’s stadium tax kickback on Oct. 26, or not

Everything surrounding the proposed Oakland A’s stadium at Howard Terminal has been pretty much on hold since late August, when Alameda County, which the Oakland city officials had pegged to help contribute $495 million in tax kickbacks to pay for new roads and overpasses and underpasses and other “infrastructure” improvements around the proposed stadium development site, called the plan “too speculative and uncertain” and said it didn’t plan on holding a vote in September as had been previously expected. But now it looks like the county’s board of supervisors will at least talk about the plan at an upcoming meeting, according to the Bay City News Service:

The discussion will take place at the regular board meeting scheduled for Oct. 26, said [board president Keith] Carson’s letter, which was addressed to Elizabeth Ortega-Toro of the Alameda Labor Council, a coalition of labor unions, and Andreas Cluver of the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m.

At least, maybe, possibly. The San Francisco Chronicle, which first broke the news of the existence of this letter last week, put it this way:

“Given the magnitude of this issue and the fact that it has been stated many times publicly by the A’s representative that a final decision date on this project is December,” Carson wrote that the earliest the supervisors could discuss the ballpark is Oct. 26.

That’s not quite the same thing! There’s no agenda posted yet for the October 26 board meeting, so it’s not entirely clear yet what is actually going to be discussed.

It’s also not clear yet how much county tax money we’re talking about. The Bay City News Service cites Carson’s letter as saying it would be “more than $350 million of projected future revenues,” based on “the 45-year life of the financing district”; that may be just totaling up future annual tax kickbacks even if they’re made far in the future, though, which is like calculating how much you just spent on a house by adding up all your future mortgage payments. (The most apples-to-apples way to figure out cost is in present value, which can be calculated either by plugging future payments into a formula to discount them based on costs in the future being worth less than present-day ones, or by just looking at how much in present-day construction bonds can be covered by the future payments, which is the equivalent of seeing how much house your future mortgage payments will buy.) The total amount of money to be raised by siphoning off future property tax payments from the stadium district is $495 million, which includes a slurry of city and county taxes — it’s possible that Carson has gotten a breakdown of which level of government would give up what, but if so he hasn’t shared it yet.

The problems with tax increment financing, or TIFs, which is what this funding plan is, are by now well documented, and can be summed up as “just because the government would only be rebating new property tax revenue doesn’t mean it would be new new tax revenue, in the sense of free money falling from the sky.” For instance, the Chronicle story cites Oakland’s consultant Century Urban — a real estate management and advisory company that has worked for the San Francisco Giants, so surely is not inclined to see things through MLB-colored glasses — as saying the amount of property tax money the county would get from the stadium site would rise from $70,000 a year to $10.7 million a year. But 1) that doesn’t take into account that all the new housing and businesses will require spending on new schools and police and fire services and other things that those property taxes would normally be used to pay for; and 2) there’s no indication whether some of that property-tax money would come in anyway from new development elsewhere the demand for which will instead be cannibalized by the Howard Terminal buildings.

(The good thing is that these two forces work in opposite directions: If Howard Terminal is just shifting development around, it doesn’t really increase the cost of city services. The less-good thing is that only of them has to be true for that $10.63 million in “new” tax money not to be a windfall at all.)

All this should make for an interesting county board meeting on October 26, if it ends up on the agenda at all. Maybe we’ll also find out more about where Oakland plans to come up with the other $360 million in infrastructure funding A’s owner John Fisher is demanding. The clock is ticking, as Fisher is set to announce which cities he may or may not consider moving the A’s to sometime after the World Series, a period of time that starts on November 4 and ends when the Earth runs out of oxygen a billion years from now. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Games of chicken can drag on a while, that’s just how they are.

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Rays seeking “tens of millions” in state infrastructure money for Tampa stadium

It was only just in April that I wrote: “Nobody’s proposed any of the new federal infrastructure money going to stadiums just yet that I’ve seen, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone tries.” Since then we’ve seen state infrastructure money going to pay for video boards at an Illinois hockey arena, a proposal to use state infrastructure money to build restaurant spaces outside a new Washington Football Team stadium in Maryland, a proposal to use federal infrastructure money to bridge over train tracks near the Cleveland Browns stadium, and of course the possible hundreds of millions of dollars in state or federal money the city of Oakland may seek to help build out a whole new neighborhood for the A’s.

It’s been quite a whirlwind six months for this site’s nascent “stupid infrastructure” category. And now, this:

The Tampa Bay Rays’ potential move to a stadium in Ybor City already includes a team pitch for state financial assistance.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said a Rays representative spoke to him about a month ago about an unspecified stadium site in Ybor and the likelihood that state aid would be needed for infrastructure costs.

It’s nothing new for sports teams to request public money for things that aren’t stadium construction but are stadium-adjacent, like private highway ramps or railyard platforms or pedestrian bridges or train stations. But with “infrastructure spending” one of the few priorities Congress can agree on, even if not how much to spend on it or how to pass it, sports team owners appear to be rummaging through their desk drawers in search of any plans that could potentially apply for a cut of the boodle.

In the Rays‘ case, this is likely to amount to “tens of millions of dollars or beyond for interstate highway improvements, realigned streets, sidewalks, utility work and a potential mass transit component,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. Some of this could benefit Tampa drivers or riders of potential mass transit as well as the team, of course, but funneling highway funds to one business owner’s pet project — one that would supposedly only be in use about 40 games a year, let’s not forget, as team president Brian Auld was back out this weekend insisting that “it’s next to impossible that full-season baseball can succeed in Tampa Bay today” — is a subsidy in its own way; we’ll have to wait and see exactly what kinds of “infrastructure” team owner Stu Sternberg is demanding before we can determine how egregious the ask is.

Meanwhile, of course, there’s still no plan for paying for the stadium itself, whether in Ybor City or elsewhere, or the land to put it on, though the developer with that terribly-named Gas Worx project did buy a chunk of land in Ybor City earlier this year for $24 million, and Sternberg is reportedly still interested in that site, for what that’s worth. (Presumably that developer would wan to be paid by somebody for using their land.) Supposedly the Rays owner is still looking to have someone spend about $500 million apiece on stadiums in Tampa Bay and Montreal, but no one knows where he got those cost estimates from other than $500 million sounded like a nice round number, so there’s still a ways to go to figure all this out, yeah. But step by step the longest march, so if you can grab a few tens of millions of dollars from the state for infrastructure, do that now and cross the rest of the bridges when you come to them.

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Friday roundup: Guardians, Rays, Bills updates, plus soccer vaportecture meets Death Race!

First off, thanks to all the FoS subscribers for your patience with the bumpy launch of posts-by-email: The good news is that I think I’ve finally landed on a solution that will consistently get the latest news into your inboxes — and better yet, do so as soon as the posts are live, rather than waiting till 10 am Eastern time like the old system did. The glorious future will arrive soon, I’m sure!

But this weekly roundup post is not about the future, but about the recent past, although it’s past events about requests for subsidies in the future, which — you know what, let me just shut up and get to the news:

  • The Cleveland Guardians owners’ request for up to $400 million in public money for stadium renovations had its first hearing this week from the Cleveland city council’s finance committee, and several committee members said they’d have a tough time selling constituents on handing over more money to the local rich guy: “I hope this conversation gets to be about the economic importance in our community and not just about rich sports owners,” said councilmember Blaine Griffin said. “I have families that are struggling every day just to keep a roof over their heads,” said councilmember Mike Polensek. “This one’s going to be a hard sell, and I understand the economic impact. When everyone comes to the table, come prepared,” said councilmember Brian Kazy. The committee didn’t vote on anything, though, so it’s tough to say whether this was an indication that these councilmembers will actually oppose the subsidy, or just that they want a better explanation — or maybe some new mental health centers like last time — to cover their butts with angry constituents.
  • The Tampa Bay Times editorial board thinks Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld’s explanation of how the team plans to build stadiums and play games in two different countries is “cogent” and “practical” and could be “a newfound engine for tourism and economic development,” all words that sound good until you actually think about them. The Times has a long history of shilling for local sports team owners, going back to when it was the Tampa Tribune (which was bought and merged into the St. Petersburg Times in 2016), with one former Tribune sportswriter explaining back in 1999 during a Buccaneers stadium dispute that ““I don’t think it was any secret in the Tampa Tribune newsroom that if we lose the Bucs, there’s going to be a good chunk of advertising revenue out the window.” Or maybe the editors actually do think that asking fans in Montreal to buy tickets for games all summer to a team that if it wins the pennant will play its postseason games in Florida is cogent and practical! There’s a fine line between stupid and clever.
  • That study of potential Buffalo Bills stadium sites that is not the cost-benefit study that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is refusing to release to the public is set to be released in November or so, and everyone is all excited for some reason that it may look at a site in downtown Buffalo in addition to the current stadium location out in the suburbs. Meanwhile, the Erie County legislature was set to debate a resolution yesterday requiring three public hearings to be held before the county can vote to approve any stadium deal, but it doesn’t look like the minutes have been posted yet, and modern newspapers can no longer afford to have reporters watch legislative hearings even when they happen online, so we’ll have to wait a bit to find out what happened there.
  • Lexington is getting a USL team … as soon as it builds a 6,000- to 10,000-seat stadium. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, prospective owner Bill Shively “insisted Tuesday the franchise will not be supported by city dollars. Still, there has to be city support to make this thing go, support in terms of interest, involvement and ticket sales.” Guess we’ll have to see what that word salad ends up meaning, but “will not be supported by city dollars” traditionally means “will be supported by city dollars that we can pretend aren’t city dollars,” so don’t get too excited just yet.
  • In May, the Nebraska legislature passed a law allowing state sales taxes in districts around a sports complex to be kicked back to pay for the venue — a STIF, in other words. If you predicted that this would lead to an application for pickleball subsidies, you’re our lucky winner!
  • College football games in Florida haven’t been reducing capacity or requiring fans to wear masks, yet there have been no reported Covid outbreaks so far this fall among fans attending games. This is good news, and is further evidence that pretty much no coronavirus infections take place outdoors, even with the Delta variant, so we should mostly worry about masking up and requiring vaccinations for indoor activities. (No, this has nothing to do with sports subsidies, except that it affects teams’ bottom lines, but since I’ve raised the alarm about outdoor sporting events and Covid transmission here previously, I wanted to present the latest data point. Also, you know, proper Covid precautions could save thousands and thousands of lives, so there’s that.)
  • I’m sorry, you there in the back, did you say you wanted to see some Des Moines soccer vaportecture? Sure, enjoy this image of soccer fans about to be run over by a car! (I mean, it’s probably a woonerf, but knowing American sports-fan drivers, they’re totally about to be run over by a car.)
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This just in: Pols who like stadium subsidies think stadium subsidies are good

Let’s see what today brings in the old media slop bucket! Here’s the Chicago Daily Herald with a report on the Chicago Bears‘ Arlington Heights stadium plans titled “Could Bears stadium benefit Arlington Heights taxpayers? Mayor says yes,” wonder what that’s about:

Facing some constituent concerns — if not outright opposition — to the Chicago Bears’ potential move to Arlington Heights, Mayor Tom Hayes is touting what the relocation could mean for local property values and taxes…

“We envision that it’s going to do great things for their property values because people are going to see Arlington Heights as a destination not just to go to a Bears game but to raise their family, as they always have,” Hayes said. “I think this is only going to improve our reputation and quality of life.”

So … people have always seen Arlington Heights as a good place to live, but once they go there for a Bears game, even more will? There is actually some evidence that a stadium announcement helps drive up property values somewhat in the stadium site’s immediate surroundings — and drive down property values in the rest of the metro area that will have to pay for it — but that’s not quite the same as saying it would benefit taxpayers, especially when any public cost to Arlington Heights of the plan is as yet unknown, as Hayes freely admits:

“I don’t know how they’re going to do it,” Hayes said about a Bears stadium project that could cost billions of dollars. “They haven’t asked us for any money at this point. And we haven’t committed any money.”

Okay, that’s not actually that informative at all. No one else is quoted in the article, so really the headline should be something like “We asked Arlington Heights mayor if village would lose money on Bears stadium, he said he doesn’t think so but isn’t sure.” That’s a terrible headline, though, and even if that’s befitting a terrible story, somebody went through the trouble of going to a village board meeting and asking Hayes some questions and transcribing the answers, that’s journalism, right?

Moving on, here’s an op-ed in Colorado Politics by “public affairs consultant and former Colorado legislator” Miller Hudson (very former: he was in the state legislature from 1979-1983) titled “New Denver Coliseum will pay for itself.” No “mayor says”! Let’s see what evidence Hudson brings to bear about the home of the National Western Stock Show:

A handful of opponents claiming to represent residents of the nearby neighborhoods in Swansea and Elyria has suggested these dollars would be better spent on additional social and homeless services. Fortunately, this decision lies with voters.

Good ol’ “voters”! They’ll never listen to “opponents,” who are a different thing from voters, because, um, what else we got:

Yes, it will be nice to have a modern arena with all the bells and whistles that today’s technology can provide but, more importantly, this facility offers a chance for Denver voters to express our genuine appreciation for the families who produce the foodstuffs we purchase at the grocery store.

I have heard many justifications over the years for why new publicly funded venues are needed, but “It’s the only way to properly applaud the people who raise cows to turn into our steaks” is admittedly a new one.

The proposed arena will pay for itself over time. Crowds attending as many as 200 events each year will spend on tickets, hotel rooms and keepsakes. This economic stimulus will translate into additional revenues for the city.

This one is less supported by evidence, so what does Hudson cite for these statements?

I’m of the opinion that we owe it to our fellow citizens across rural Colorado to replace the Coliseum with a state-of-the-art showcase

Yeah, you covered that. Anything else to add?

There’s something heartwarming about watching teenagers crawling under blankets to keep their animals warm in their concrete stalls.


Okay, so while the Bears article is a classic example of stenography journalism, the Denver op-ed is just an op-ed, which has “opinion” right in the title, so it’s unfair to complain about it not having any actual facts. Except that op-eds are generally fact-checked, too: I know in part because many years ago, I arranged to write an op-ed for the Boston Globe on the reasons why it wasn’t worth Boston spending $312 million to build a replacement for Fenway Park for the Red Sox owners, only to have the op-ed editor call me back 15 minutes after accepting it to say that on second thought, she had found “factual inaccuracies” and was no longer interested. Our conversation from there, as I wrote it up at the time:

Editor: There are problems with the numbers.

Me: What numbers?

Editor: Well, the $312 million in public cost…

Me: I got that from the Globe story, if I remember right.

Editor: No, we have $100 million.

Me: No, that’s just the state money. $100 million in state, plus $140 million in city, plus $72 million for the parking garages is $312 million.

Editor: Well, and then the comparison to Comiskey Park doesn’t work for me. You say it’s going to be a sterile park, but that’s not what we say in our stories.

Me: Well, that’s what the Red Sox are saying, obviously. But the point is that the last time a city tore down an old park to make way for a modern, oversized one — and I guarantee the new Fenway will be just like new Comiskey in terms of size and sightlines — they regretted it.

Editor: Well, it just raised red flags for me is all.

Me: If you’re worried about the accuracy of the article, I can provide you with cites. I have piles of research materials here.

Editor: No, I’m kicking it back to you for now. If you want to place it elsewhere, go ahead. Maybe I’ll consider it on another day, but I don’t know about that.

(I eventually was able to publish the op-ed in the Boston Herald; you can read it here if you want to play hunt-the-inaccuracies.)

The point here isn’t whether op-eds should be fact-checked, but the discrepancy in who gets to assert what: If you’re a regular columnist, or were in an elected office sometime in the last 40 years, or agree with the conventional wisdom being put forward in the rest of the paper by other elected officials and business leaders, then you get a lot less scrutiny of the factual basis of your arguments. Though I guess another lesson here might be: Don’t include any actual facts in your essay, and you’ll leave nothing for the fact-checkers to object to.

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