Friday roundup: Fresh subsidy plans for Titans and WFT, Flames arena “paused” amid overruns, Boston Globe can’t stop clowning on Pawtucket for not wanting to spend $150m on stadium

Happy Friday! I have a ton of week-ending stadium news to bring you today, or at least there’s a ton of news out there whether I’m bringing it to you or not. What is it about that that is confusing?

Onward:

  • Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, according to DCist, wants to use “some of” the county’s $1.6 billion in state funding this year to build — wait for it — “infrastructure improvements” for the Washington Football Team‘s stadium that would include “restaurants and places to shop.” It sounds like Alsobrooks is only talking about $17.6 million, maybe, but still this earns a Stupid Infrastructure category tag until proven otherwise.
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wants to use $2 million a year in state sales tax money (figure roughly $30 million in present value) for upgrades to the Titans‘ stadium, though actually it could end up being more like $10 million a year (figure roughly $150 million in present value) if more development is built around the stadium, plus he wants to give $13.5 million to Knoxville for its Tennessee Smokies stadium. Did Lee call this an “infrastructure” plan? Not that I can find in the Tennessean’s news reporting, but everybody drink anyway.
  • The Calgary Flames‘ $550 million arena plan, which already includes about $250 million in public subsidies, has run into $70 million in unexpected cost overruns and is now “paused” until the team and city can figure out who’ll cover them. Actually, the report is that the Flames owners are demanding $70 million, and previously the city and team agreed to split overruns 50-50, so maybe it’s really $140 million over budget? Either way, there’s already a petition to scrap the whole deal, though “trim a little from the team’s design and both sides kick in a little more money” seems a far more likely outcome, especially with Mayor Naheed Nenshi declaring it “far better to have these issues sorted out at this stage than to have unexpected cost overruns after construction has begun.” (Are known cost overruns actually better than surprise ones? Discuss.)
  • The Boston Globe, not satisfied with its glowing report last month on Worcester’s new stadium for the Red Sox Triple-A team (top farm club of the Boston Red Sox, owner of the Boston Globe), ran two separate opinion pieces this week slagging Pawtucket officials for not offering up $150 million in subsidies like Worcester did and thus losing their team: Dan McGowan, the Globe’s Rhode Island politics reporter, wrote, “Imagine what we could have had if our leaders showed even a tiny sense of vision” and “It too often takes only one politician to spoil a really good idea” while condemning “extremists on both sides of the [stadium] debate” who think a thing can be either good or bad (while also calling the Worcester stadium “great”). The very next day, Mike Stanton, a UConn journalism professor who writes occasionally for the Globe, wrote that former Rhode Island House speaker Nicholas Mattiello “rightly deserves blame for his role in killing the PawSox,” though he also blamed WooSox owner Larry Lucchino for “demanding extravagant taxpayer support for a new ballpark” and harming negotiations for, I guess, less extravagant taxpayer support? Anyway, the Globe wants you to know that Worcester has a shiny new baseball stadium and Pawtucket doesn’t, and let’s not speak of what else Worcester could have done with $150 million.
  • Six Republican Congressfolk — Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Marsha Blackburn, and Rep. Jeff Duncan — have cosponsored legislation seeking to end MLB’s antitrust exemption in response to the league pulling the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new voting-restrictions law. This is part of a long line of proposals to yank the league’s 99-year-old exemption from antitrust laws, which never seem to go anywhere; the last time by my count was when more than 100 Congresspeoples wrote a letter in 2019 threatening to rescind “the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime” if MLB didn’t back down on its plan to eliminate more than 40 minor-league franchises, a letter that was signed by none of Lee, Cruz, Hawley, Rubio, or Blackburn, all of whom were in office at the time. (SPOILER: MLB didn’t back down, and Congress did.) Waving the antitrust-exemption stick has become the standard way for federal representatives to express their anger at baseball over one thing or another, in other words, but actually using it is apparently beyond the pale, either because of partisanship or lobbyists or both, pick your poison.
  • Another U.S. representative, Georgia’s Buddy Carter, has introduced legislation — or maybe just drafted legislation and sent it to Fox News, he doesn’t seem to have actually submitted it to Congress — to block MLB from relocating non-regular-season events except in cases of natural disaster or other emergencies, under penalty of allowing local businesses to sue for damages for lost revenue as a result of the move. Which, as Craig Calcaterra notes, would be hilarious because it would put MLB in the position of having to argue in court that its events have no economic impact, which is pretty much the truth: “The evidence — like, all the evidence from multiple studies — would actually be on MLB’s side in such a case! And it’d likely win! And all it would cost MLB is the ability to continue to lie about how big an impact All-Star Games and stadiums and things have on local economies when it suits its interest.”
  • The Cincinnati Reds are offering discounted tickets to fans who can show they’re fully vaccinated, and Buffalo officials say the Bills and Sabres will be required to limit attendance to the fully vaccinated in the fall, though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’ll be the judge of that. Whatever the eventual admittance policies end up being, having going to things like ballgames (or traveling internationally) be less of a hassle if you wave your vaccine card seems likely to be the best way to encourage more people to get their shots, which is the only way to get to herd immunity, which is the only way to prevent lots more deaths and more re-closings of things like ballgames, so this is good news regardless of whether sporting events turn out to be insanely risky or relatively safe.
  • Finally, I can’t let this week pass without noting that the Buffalo Bisons, who have been temporarily relocated to Trenton to make way for the Toronto Blue Jays, who will be spending the summer in Buffalo thanks to Covid travel restrictions, will be playing their home games as the Trenton Thunder while playing road games as the Bisons. No word yet on how this Frankenstein monster of a franchise will be listed in the (checks revamped minor-league nomenclature) Triple-A East standings, though I wholeheartedly hope the Thunder and Bisons get counted as two different teams, ideally with players forced to wear fake mustaches in New Jersey and go by assumed names. “Marc Rzepczynski? No, he plays for Buffalo, I am of course Shmarc Shmepczynski, would you like my autograph?”

Outgoing owner promises A-Rod won’t move T-Wolves to Seattle, everyone immediately wonders if A-Rod will move T-Wolves to Seattle

Glen Taylor, the billionaire former Minnesota state senator who owns the Minnesota Timberwolves, is in the midst of selling his team to online marketing billionaire Marc Lore and not-billionaire-but-pretty-wealthy former disgraced baseball star Alex Rodriguez for around $1.5 billion, and given that neither of those guys are locals, it’s immediately sparked heightened speculation about whether the team could move, maybe to Seattle, which is still on the hunt for a replacement for the Sonics. In response, Taylor told WCCO-AM that his sale agreement contains language to keep the team in town; as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which Taylor also owns:

“We have it in the contract, they have signed the contract to do that,” Taylor said…

Taylor said in his interview with Chad Hartman that the NBA does not want to see the Wolves moved out of Minnesota to another city like Seattle.

“The real agreement is with the NBA. The NBA will make the decision if somebody’s going to move or not move,” Taylor said. “The NBA will not approve of the Timberwolves moving from here to Seattle. It’s in the NBA’s interest that in Seattle, that a new team is formed. It’s an economic decision that’s in the interest of all of the owners.”…

He also said the new owners “are not going to pay” $1.5 billion to buy the Wolves then another $2 billion or so to move the team.

“That’s the assurance that I have that they aren’t going to move it out there,” Taylor said.

So, we have: Lore and A-Rod won’t move the team because they signed a contract saying they won’t; the NBA won’t let them move; and the NBA might let them move, but would charge the owners so much money to do so that it wouldn’t be worthwhile. That’s totally clear and not at all inconsistent!

In response, the Star Trib linked to an article it ran last July wherein several legal experts said it would be difficult to make a permanent non-relocation agreement in a sale contract enforceable, or to get one approved by the league:

“You could have some contingencies … and I’m sure there could be a provision that relates to keeping the team in place,” said Eldon Ham, an author and professor of sports law at Chicago-Kent College of Law. “But I don’t think it would be able to extend forever.”

At the crux of any guarantee to keep the Wolves in Minnesota would be how long that guarantee would last or how harsh the financial penalty would be for breaking it. Ham said any kind of agreement that makes outlandish demands, like a 30-year promise to keep the team in Minnesota, might not make it past league approval, which requires a $1 million fee just to apply, he said.

“The league itself has to approve all this,” Ham said. “So if you have a ridiculous contract, they’re just going to tell you: ‘We’re not approving this stuff.’”

So, what’s really going on here? Clearly, Taylor, who still needs to maintain his local cred if only to keep Minnesotans from threatening to burn his newspaper in effigy, is trying to do all he can to say that if the Timberwolves ever move, it’s not his fault. So he’s putting in some kind of clause in the sale agreement, but also noting that the NBA would want a ten-figure payoff to let Seattle back into the league, something the new owners are unlikely to put up just to move from one mid-size city to another mid-size city — all of which is true.

But as we’ve seen here time and again, move threats aren’t just about actual threats to move, but ways to (say it all with me now) create leverage for owners to extract concessions from local elected officials. The T-Wolves’ Target Center just got a $140 million renovation in 2017, helped along with $74 million in public money, but at 31 years old it’s also the second-oldest arena in the NBA, and you just know how shiny new sports team owners hate not having the shiniest new buildings to go with their freshly acquired baubles. Hence how there’s somehow only one remaining NBA arena built before 1990, seriously, what kind of planned-obsolescent world are we living in, people?

Anyway: There’s no reason to think that Lore and A-Rod will move the Timberwolves, but there’s also every reason to suspect that they would not be unhappy for the possibility of the Wolves moving to continue to be front-page news in, oh, say, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Especially if talk of a new arena, or another round of renovations to this one, begins making the rounds. This is all conjecture, mind you — maybe A-Rod will declare “Today, I am a Minnesotan!” and vow that the team will only leave over his dead body — but it’s conjecture informed by a whole lots of sports shakedown history, so let’s just say that if this isn’t the last we hear about Wolves-to-Seattle rumors, don’t be surprised.

Maryland approves $59.5m for Hagerstown ballpark to lure league whose teams have lifespan of mayflies

So, the Hagerstown Suns. They’d fielded a team in the South Atlantic League since 1993 and in other minor leagues for a dozen years before that, playing all that time in Municipal Stadium, built for an earlier set of minor-league teams way back in 1930. Then came the Manfred Snap, and the Suns were vaporized, along with 17 other minor-league baseball teams. The unaffiliated Atlantic League then offered a team provided that Hagerstown build “a facility that meets or exceeds the league’s standards,” a gambit that has worked stunningly poorly for a series of cities that ended up with no teams and stadiums abandoned before they reached drinking age.

You undoubtedly already know where this is going:

On Monday, a bill that would allow the Maryland Stadium Authority to serve as project manager for a new facility proposed for Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue cleared its last hurdle in the Maryland General Assembly. The authority can also issue up to $59.5 million in bonds to finance the acquisition, design, construction and related construction expenses.

Sixty million dollars! The Atlantic League stadiums for the now-defunct teams in Newark, Camden, and Atlantic City only cost about $24 million apiece, and while those were all built around the year 2000, that’s still only about $37 million in today’s dollars. I’m a fan of the Atlantic League (or used to be, before it shuttered all the teams I could easily get to), but that kind of money is crazytown. How could anyone in the Maryland state legislature — which passed the bill 44-0 in the senate, and 131-5 in the house — justify such a thing?

[State Sen. Paul] Corderman said previously the facility could also host movie nights, fireworks and other events, and bring more people through the city’s downtown to support other businesses in that area.

Because you absolutely couldn’t host movie nights at a baseball stadium that hasn’t been renovated since 1995! The mere idea is absurd!

Anyway, there’s another $59.5 million in cash transferred from taxpayers to baseball owners as a result of MLB’s minor-league contraction scheme, and even if it’s baseball owners in a league MLB doesn’t control, I’m sure they’re happy enough for the Atlantic League, which is now a “partner league” where MLB can do things like test-drive new rules. The best we can hope is that other cities that lost teams don’t follow suit in desperation to land any replacement franchise at all, and — oh, what now?

The city’s Economic Development Corporation is in discussions with the Atlantic League — a quirky eight-team league that signs former pros, but isn’t affiliated with Major League Baseball — to take over the lease from the defunct Staten Island Yankees at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, THE CITY has learned…

[Former Staten Island Yankees president Will] Smith [not that one, or the other one, or the other other one] said the EDC and City Hall should be prepared to make numerous changes to the stadium — including installing synthetic turf, increasing parking capacity and adjusting seating.

I knew this was going to be bad — I believe the phrase I used back in December was “the next round of stadium roulette might not be too far off” —  but I didn’t quite think it would be this bad this soon. Give MLB commissioner Rob Manfred this: He may be kind of a mumble-mouthed doofus, but he’s carried out this game of multi-million-dollar musical-chairs extortion to perfection. Does Cooperstown have an Evil Genius wing?

Illinois spends $13m in “infrastructure” money on new video boards for minor-league hockey arena

It was only Friday that I suggested we would be needing a “stupid infrastructure” category to cover government spending infrastructure money on things that should at the bottom of the list, below tax breaks for yachts. And now here we already have our first entry, it’s so exciting:

State officials joined the Chicago Blackhawks, the city of Rockford, and the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in announcing a $23 million multi-year capital project to revitalize the [Rockford IceHogs‘] BMO Harris Bank Center — Rockford’s largest sports arena and entertainment venue.

Fueled in part by the Rebuild Illinois $45 billion capital plan, the project will modernize Rockford’s largest destination asset, creating over 250 construction jobs, retaining hundreds of existing full-time positions, and generating millions in economic activity to the region.

Rebuild Illinois, for those not familiar, is a $1.5 billion spending plan put forward by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to fund transportation and other public infrastructure. In this case, the infrastructure being paid for by $13 million in Rebuild Illinois grants is, as Kane County Connects relates it, “necessary infrastructure improvements, improved audio-visual and digital technology, enhanced guest experience and concession areas, space for sports betting, and other modernized customer amenities.” These new video boards and hot dog stands and in-arena gambling halls are somehow projected to create “$382 million in net spending” in Rockford — though actually the report says it’s the arena upgrades “combined with the sale of the team to the Blackhawks and their long-term commitment to the facility” (Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz graciously agreed to buy the IceHogs as part of the deal for public cash) that would create the economic benefits, so maybe Pritzker is just adding up every dollar that will be spent at an IceHogs game ever and attributing that to the new scoreboards?

In addition to the $13 million in state infrastructure money, the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority and the city of Rockford are putting up $10 million in “short and long-term capital,” bringing the public cost of upgrading the arena to $23 million, for a building that was built in 1981 for, let’s see, $15.7 million. Though that’s $47.5 million in today’s dollars, so really taxpayers are only paying half the entire original construction price to upgrade a minor-league hockey arena that, while owned by the city, is managed by a private operator and used by a private sports franchise now owned by a guy rich enough to own a superyacht. Stupid infrastructure: Ask for it by name!

New Jersey city now spending $94m to rebuild Negro League stadium, maybe somebody should say something?

When last we checked in on Paterson, New Jersey’s plan to rebuild its old Negro League stadium, the price tag was still uncertain. Well, it’s uncertain now, too, but in a different way:

The estimated cost of the Hinchliffe Stadium reconstruction project has climbed by more than 20% in the last two years, rising from $72 million to $94 million, according to public records.

Yikes! I’m as big a fan of preserving historic sites as the next person, but $94 million for a stadium that will be used by no one except maybe some high school teams seems like a lot, even if the project also includes building some housing and parking garages. How are local officials justifying this expense?

[Mayor Andre] Sayegh hopes that rebuilding Hinchliffe will help revitalize the area around Paterson’s Great Falls National Historical Park.

Oh, revitalization, of course. Because when deciding on whether to visit a crazy-ass waterfall in the middle of a city, the first thing you think is “But will there be a renovated Negro League baseball stadium nearby where I can watch high school sports?”

Much of the money for the project is coming from state and federal historic tax credits, so Paterson officials can at least argue that they’re using other people’s tax money for the rehab, though is significantly less reassuring if you live somewhere other than Paterson and so are one of those other people. The upside, I guess, is that we would be gaining a historical site preserved to look like … you know, what would it look like, actually? Years into this project, I still can’t find any renderings, though there are lots of pictures of the trees growing through the current grandstand, and what’s less vital than trees?

 

 

Moving All-Star Game to fight Georgia voting law would mean putting people’s rights ahead of MLB’s profits

The Georgia state legislature yesterday passed SB 202, the voting law that is probably best known as “You can now be arrested in the state of Georgia for giving food or water to people waiting on line to vote.” The law contains a ton of other provisions as well, though, like requiring an ID (rather than just a signature) when voting absentee, limiting the number of drop boxes for placing ballots in, and banning the use of mobile voting sites, among other things. It’s all a pretty transparent move by the Republican-led legislature to make it harder for people to vote who might vote against them, which mostly means African Americans who are more likely thanks to geography or income to be hampered by the new restrictions: The no-food-or-water rule, for example, was apparently inspired by a single white woman with a gun who was outraged that get-out-the-vote groups had been giving free pizza to people who were waiting on line to cast their ballots.

The new law is so restrictive, in fact, and so reminiscent of blatant Jim Crow–era attempts to disenfranchise Black people, that it’s drawn the attention of some in the sports world, who have suggested a boycott of the state along the lines of the actions taken after North Carolina passed its anti-transgender “bathroom law” in 2016 — actions that resulted in that law’s partial repeal one year later, and its eventual complete expiration at the end of 2020. MLB players association president Tony Clark said last week that baseball players were “very much aware” of the Georgia bill and that if there were a chance to discuss moving this summer’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta, he would “look forward to having that conversation.” And yesterday, an even more prominent president chimed in on behalf of that idea:

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would strongly support Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta after Georgia enacted new voting restrictions that disproportionately target Black residents.

“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly. I would strongly support them doing that,” Biden said in an interview with EPSN SportsCenter host Sage Steele. “People look to them. They’re leaders.”

Obviously, Biden and other Democrats have a selfish reason to be promoting voting rights in this case: The people being disenfranchised are more likely to vote Democratic, which is the whole point of Republican legislators passing the law in the first place. (I mean, many of them probably also passed it because they just don’t like the idea of Black people deciding who runs their state, but then we’re getting into serious chicken-and-egg territory about the reasons why someone in Georgia would choose to become a Republican legislator.) But something can be in your self-interest and also the right thing to do, and … sorry, what were we talking about? Right, the All-Star Game!

It’s important to remember that MLB did not decide to hold its 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta because they felt the city deserved it or were under the delusion that Georgia would be a pleasant place to spend time in July. They did it because — here, let’s explain by way of a list of the last 10 All-Star Game hosts:

2011: Phoenix
2012: Kansas City
2013: New York City
2014: Minneapolis
2015: Cincinnati
2016: San Diego
2017: Miami
2018: Washington
2019: Cleveland
2021: Atlanta

The common theme here is that the stadiums involved were new — or, in the cases of Kansas City and Cleveland, newly renovated. MLB has long used the All-Star Game as a reward for cities that have coughed up money for new or renovated ballparks; the last time it held the game at a stadium that wasn’t at least freshly refurbished was Yankee Stadium in 2008, and that was meant as a sendoff in advance of the Yankees’ new extremely-publicly-funded stadium opening the following year; before that, you have to go back to Fenway Park in 1999 to find an All-Star Game that wasn’t handed out as a prize for Most Willing To Subsidize League Profits With Public Money.

Moving this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta would no doubt be a logistical pain, though it isn’t all that much shorter notice (four months vs. seven) than the NBA had when it moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina after passage of the anti-trans bill. As we were just discussing here last week, boycotts are strategies, not moral imperatives, and voting rights advocates in Georgia are still split on whether a North Carolina–style boycott is the best way to respond to SB 202. But if pressure builds to pull the game from Atlanta — say, maybe around Jackie Robinson Day, which is just two weeks from today — and MLB owners start to push back on it, that’ll likely less be about having to print up new merchandise or even the personal feelings of the almost uniformly white men who run the league, and more about interfering with sports owners’ underlying business plan of using carrots and sticks to maximize their profits.

Worcester’s $150m minor-league stadium will be awesome, says newspaper owned by team’s parent club

The Worcester Red Sox are about to open their new $157 million stadium — okay, about to open when the minor-league season starts, which isn’t until May, but anyway, isn’t two months in advance still a good time for the local newspaper to write a piece about how great the place will be once it’s finished? The local newspaper that is owned by the owner of the WooSox’ parent club? Surely this will be a reasoned and objective assessment, so let’s dig in:

Worcester didn’t want its new stadium to be Fenway Park.

Easily accomplished. Moving on!

There’s capacity for 9,508 fans, but the seating bowl of 6,000 seats — all with cup holders — is almost entirely around the infield.

That’s true of almost every minor-league ballpark. And, actually, most major-league ballparks, which have a grandstand wrapped around home plate, and usually at most some more cursory bleachers in the outfield. Glad to hear about the cupholders, though, because if there’s one thing American sports fans hate, it’s having to put their beers on the ground.

Polar Park will be unique. There’s a Woo Shop where purchases are recorded on an app without any checkout or waiting in line. There are heart-shaped light towers and a heart adorned on the side of each seat.

“Without any checkout” sounds like the Amazon store system, which is made possible by an insane number of surveillance cameras, so maybe that’s what the team has planned here? One hopes they will be heart-shaped cameras, at least, to honor Worcester’s nickname of “the Heart of the Commonwealth,” because it’s so close to the middle of the state, which, I guess?

On June 12, 1880, Worcester pitcher Lee Richmond threw the first perfect game in Major League history, against the Cleveland Blues.

Interesting! But not actually about the stadium, if we’re getting technical here.

“One of the things we’ve been good about is making sure that there is a customization factor in every ballpark, so it looks and tastes and feels and smells like the city in which it is located,” Lucchino says.

I’m not sure which is more disturbing, the notion of a stadium that “tastes like” Worcester, or what the construction crew needed to do to ensure quality control on that.

They could have built the stadium on flat land, but instead they shoehorned it into the historic Canal District with multiple levels, a nod to Worcester’s three deckers and the up-and-coming downtown restaurants.

Yes, they could have built on flat land, saving themselves and Worcester taxpayers $58 million. But they chose to build on a hill, because … I dunno, say something about restaurants, the Globe will print whatever we tell them.

“So you should be able to experience a two-dimensional ballpark. Both a low-priced ballpark where tickets are eight or nine dollars, and we have higher-priced tickets that come with more creature comforts,” says [WooSox owner and former Boston Red Sox CEO Larry] Lucchino.

That is not what two-dimensional means.

A long ball hit to left field could land in an open boxcar and wind up in Chicago.

Freight rail companies don’t leave boxcar doors open anymore, but nice thought!

The home bullpen is just a few feet past the dugout and built into the stands. To sit in a box seat sandwiched between the dugout and the bullpen is unique. Fans get an umpire’s view of pitchers warming up, and hear the pop of the catcher’s mitt up close and personal.

Seats right next to the bullpen actually sound kind of neat, though also something that can be experienced at a bunch of other stadiums, including Fenway Park. Though in Worcester this view will be reserved for high-paying patrons, so maybe that’s the unique part here.

Not mentioned at all in the article: The controversy over the stadium’s high public cost, not to mention the overruns that now have taxpayers on the hook for $146.8 million, or more than eight times what it cost to build Fenway Park in 1912, adjusted for inflation. On the other hand, the original Fenway seats didn’t have cupholders or surveillance cameras watching your every shopping move, and who can put a price on things like that? (A: Larry Lucchino, and that price was $146.8 million.)

Friday roundup: Baseball ticket chaos, and the continuing endless rain of minor-league soccer stadium demands

New York state announced yesterday that baseball stadiums will be open at 20% capacity to start the season, which, as things go, is not one of the stupidest reopenings announced by Gov. Gropey this week. As a Mets fan who will be fully vaccinated-plus-two-weeks by shortly after Opening Day, it has me weighing whether sitting three hours masked and distanced outdoors at a ballgame is low-risk enough to be worth considering or still terrible for society as a whole, which in turn had me checking out the Mets’ ticket sale policies:

All ticket management actions for tickets for impacted games [in April], including Ticket Forwarding, will be canceled. These tickets will be removed from your account and are no longer valid for admission.

Glad I didn’t buy tickets when I first noticed they were on sale a couple of weeks ago, because those are apparently now worthless. (Worthless for entry, anyway; you can still get a credit on your account for the purchase price.) Season ticket holders will get first dibs at buying the new blocks of tickets, at least for April; it’s unclear when the mad scramble for seats begins.

Then I checked the Yankees‘ site, and found this:

To be eligible, fans must have purchased their tickets through Ticketmaster and not have transferred, posted or resold them. If the tickets were transferred, the transferee or recipient of the ticket will need to transfer the tickets back to the original purchaser in order for the original purchaser to request a credit or refund. The credit request option is not available for tickets purchased via resale or the secondary market.

If you bought through Stubhub or the like, in other words, you are SOL, unless you can find the person you bought from and have them ask for a refund, then refund you.

I get why the teams are doing this — rather than figure out how to reassign already-purchased seats in distanced pods, it’s way simpler to just refund everybody and start fresh with new ticket sales. But it’s hard not to foresee a whole lot of lawsuits, or at least angry tweets, from people who bought or sold what are now worthless barcodes, and questions about whether pro sports are becoming the latest realm where buying a thing doesn’t mean you’re actually buying it.

Anyway, enough about that. On to the stadium and arena news, which I know you’ve been waiting for and which includes lots of good juicy schadenfreude, plus more minor-league soccer than you can shake a stick at:

  • I’ve been mostly steering clear of the debate over where to build a new high-school sports stadium in Spokane, because, frankly, high-school sports stadium in Spokane, and also the money ($31 million) has already been allocated, so it’s now just a question of where to build it. But if you want an explainer, here’s a good one, which I will now summarize even more briefly: Spokane residents want the stadium to be built where the current stadium is, but the USL says it’ll put a soccer team in Spokane if they move it to a site downtown, so now city officials are trying to decide who it’s more important to listen to, their constituents or the guys dangling a minor-league soccer franchise. Also local business advocates say that if the city doesn’t build a stadium downtown, the USL may look to build there anyway, and they already have $2 million in cash plus a promise of $1 million from an unidentified investor, and that’s only $28 million short! More news as events warrant, which I seriously hope is never.
  • Elsewhere in everybody-gets-a-pro-soccer-team, Grand Rapids may get a USL team if it can be determined how to fund a $40 million stadium. Nobody’s talking public money just yet, but a guy from Convention, Sports & Leisure — yes, those guys — has been hired to talk up how a stadium “has the ability to anchor development, serve as a destination but also kind of speed up and accelerate reinvestment into areas of the city, whether that’s in downtown or on the purview of downtown,” so it’s gotta be only a matter of time.
  • And the Indy Eleven, currently of the USL but maybe one day to be in MLS if you dream real hard, are still seeking their own $150 million stadium, saying it would be “more than a stadium, it is the opportunity to create a vibrant community that will attract individuals and families from near and far to live, work and play — creating jobs and improving quality of place far beyond game day.” Team owner Ersal Ozdemir already got $112 million in state money approved for the stadium last year, but then decided maybe he’d build a smaller stadium and give up on the plans to join MLS that were the whole reason for him getting the $112 million. The state legislature is currently deciding whether to give Ozdemir more time to figure out exactly which scam he wants to pull or to take back the money; “give him more rope” just unanimously passed the state house ways and means committee, so that’s not a great sign.
  • A Nevada state senator is proposing to create a state esports commission to lure major video-game tournaments to Nevada, because “economic development.” I’m still not entirely clear how many people actually travel to attend esports rather than just watching online — attendance figures are brutally hard to come by online, though apparently 45,000 turned out for one event in Beijing in 2017 — but this is one to keep an eye on, especially if esports organizers start choosing site based less on who has the most regulatory oversight (?) and more on who offers cold, hard cash.
  • And finally, circling back to questionable sports reopenings, the Texas Rangers decided to advertise their 100% capacity opening day by showing a fan flagrantly violating their own mask rules. This is all going to go just great!

 

 

Sales-tax study shows Braves stadium is giant money pit for Cobb County, just like all other studies

Sports economist J.C. Bradbury does some excellent work that has been featured on this site a bunch of times, so I was bummed to see that I’d missed a new paper he released last week analyzing the impact of the new Atlanta Braves stadium on local sales tax receipts. Fortunately, Craig Calcaterra spotted it and wrote about it in his daily baseball newsletter on Tuesday … and then I missed that too. But! My old Baseball Prospectus colleague Dayn Perry, now of CBS Sports, wrote about Bradbury’s study yesterday, and that I saw. And now I bring it to you, only slightly charred on one side from having sat so long in the oven.

Anyway, sales taxes in Cobb County: Did the Braves moving there from downtown Atlanta make them go up, or what?

The findings indicate a net increase in taxable sales in the county; however, the magnitude is small and not statistically significant. Though an influx of net new spending is evident, approximately one-third of the project’s sales derive from crowding out other local economic activity. In total, added tax collections fall well short of covering the public subsidies that fund the stadium.

Some translations from economese: The first sentence above means that Cobb County collected more sales tax after the stadium opened, but it was such a small bump that it could have been just random chance. The second means the amount that total spending went up in the county was just one-third the amount of money being spent in and around the Braves stadium; so people spending money at Braves games must have cannibalized other spending, “as local consumers reallocated spending from other Cobb merchants to the stadium development.” The third means — okay, you know what it means: The new tax money wasn’t nearly enough to pay off Cobb County’s $392 million in stadium costs.

Or, if you prefer your data in pictures, here’s a nifty chart from Bradbury’s paper:

The line for Cobb County tax revenue goes up after the stadium opened! However, so do the lines for sales tax revenue in other Atlanta-area counties. In fact, the line for the average Atlanta-area county went up even more than Cobb’s, implying that Cobb might have done even better if it hadn’t bothered with building a dumb old stadium.

None of this, as both Calcaterra and Perry note, should be any surprise: There are at this point tons of studies looking at the sales-tax impact of new stadiums and finding that it’s not much. (Plus, studies looking at other economic indicators and finding the same lack of impact: Bradbury himself looked at commercial real estate values in Cobb last year and found that it similarly did worse than neighboring counties without new ballparks.) But the Braves stadium was supposed to be the exception; not just because every stadium claims to be the exception, but because here a team and its fans were being lured away from a neighboring city to previously vacant land being used for a “ballpark village,” which was supposed to, if nothing else, siphon off a bunch of spending from Atlanta and bring it to Cobb. That that didn’t happen — or at least, only happened in small numbers that weren’t nearly enough to pay off the county’s massive stadium debt — should put an end to talk of sports venues as economic engines. It won’t, but it should.

Biden stimulus bars state tax cuts through 2024, but there are still plenty of ways to funnel public cash to stadiums

When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act — aka the stimulus bill — last week, it included a last-minute addition by the Biden administration that could significantly impact the world of tax subsidies: In exchange for $194 billion in cash grants to states to help pay for pandemic-related costs, states will have to agree not to use the money to pay for tax cuts through 2024:

(A) IN GENERAL.—A State or territory shall not use the funds provided under this section or transferred pursuant to section 603(c)(4) to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue of such State or territory resulting from a change in law, regulation, or administrative interpretation during the covered period that reduces any tax (by providing for a reduction in a rate, a rebate, a deduction, a credit, or otherwise) or delays the imposition of any tax or tax increase.

The logic behind the rule, which was inserted at the behest of the right wing of Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin, is obvious: They didn’t want states to go, Hey, cool, federal windfall, and then turn around and cut taxes, leaving themselves in the same budget hole they were in in the first place. The implications, though, could be huge. Since states will now have to refund the federal government an equal amount to what it doles out in new tax cuts, that makes tax cuts effectively twice as expensive: If you decide to dole out $1 billion to residents or companies in your state through lower taxes, the feds will send you a bill for $1 billion on top of it.

Regardless of what you think about tax rates, this might seem like great news for those opposed to sports stadium subsidies, since — assuming the provision is upheld by the courts, which is as yet uncertain — it will make it nigh-on impossible for the next four years to offer a team owner a pile of state tax breaks to juice their construction plans. Unfortunately, there are several major loopholes:

  • Since stadium deals are generally for 30 years or more, a state can simply defer its tax breaks until they’re legal again: Instead of $10 million a year in tax credits from 2021-2050, how about $12 million a year in tax credits from 2025-2050? It would make financing stadium bonds slightly more tricky, but no billionaire worth their salt ever let a little short-term debt stand between them and a subsidy.
  • There are tons of other ways states can subsidize sports projects (or non-sports projects) with resorting to tax breaks. They can just straight-up hand over cash to pay off construction bonds. They can turn over free or discounted land — or better yet, buy it and then turn it over for sports use, which will save the team owner on property taxes. (Since exempting publicly owned but privately used land from property taxes is standard just about everywhere in the U.S., this wouldn’t seem to be a “tax cut” so much as continuation of existing tax policy.) They can create a TIF district, collect at the same tax rates as always, then scrape off whatever’s considered “new” tax revenue and hand it over to the team owner. They can reduce rent or revenue-sharing payments, if the team is making any; or if not, they can institute negative rent and pay the team to play in its stadium. The possibilities really are endless.
  • The new law says nothing at all about city or county tax breaks, which make up a large portion of sports tax subsidies. So not only can a municipal government agree to cut its own taxes on behalf of a sports project, there wouldn’t appear to be anything stopping a state from sending the city a check to cover its tax breaks and passing along the cost to the state treasury, a la the Detroit Red Wings Rube Goldberg device of a few years back.

That’s all off the top of my head, and I am not a tax lawyer, and the actual tax lawyers haven’t had time to delve into the new law’s inner workings yet, so it’s possible some of the above could change. But at first glance, it certainly appears that the tax-cut clawback law will be less of an obstacle to stadium (and other) special subsidies and more of a minor speed bump. If you want somewhere to be optimistic, it at least probably means four years before states can institute, say, new tax credits to try to lure film and TV shoots — though if all the existing tax credits can remain in place, that’s not much of a silver lining. Sorry, I tried to be optimistic for a whole sentence, but it’s hard, man.