Category Archives: Ownership
For me, when the Forbes MLB valuations are published every March, it’s like Christmas nine months early. Forbes goes to the trouble of sleuthing around baseball even as team financials are meant to be heavily safeguarded. It provides this blog and others with that last bit of off-the-field news just before the season starts in earnest. Thanks to Mike Ozanian and Kurt Badenhausen for putting the 2013 edition and previous editions together (full list).
As expected, the combination of the Dodgers ($2.1 billion) and Padres ($600 million) sales plus new TV contracts on the horizon pushed franchise values up. Way up. No team has a valuation lower than $450 million. Credit also goes to MLB Advanced Media, whose expanding product line includes MLB.tv, the At Bat apps for phones and tablets, and Tickets.com. Forbes estimates that if it were public, MLB AM could be worth $6 billion on its own. Slow, deliberate baseball is not the kind of enterprise one thinks of when looking for examples of startup culture, yet the success of MLB AM is undeniable and felt in every owner’s pocketbook every year.
These new valuations result in an aggregate $3.5 billion rise over last year. The A’s, who were last in 2012 with a $321 million valuation, are now 28th with a $468 million valuation. That’s a whopping 45.8% gain, all without negotiating any lucrative new media deals or the benefit of new ballpark revenues. $468 million is reflective of the new national TV deals that MLB will receive starting with the 2014 season. Even with the increase, the A’s are $160 million below the media franchise value and $276 million below the average valuation. For reference, the big market Giants got a $143 million boost and moved from 9th to 7th place. As we observed last year, the bubble is real. Thanks to baseball’s solid, diverse revenues, the bubble is also not going to burst anytime soon.
Debt that the A’s are carrying appears to be unchanged at around $90 million. This is no surprise because haven’t signed any big contracts since Yoenis Cespedes. By staying put, the debt-to-value ratio has gone down from 28% to 19%. That’s important because if Lew Wolff is going to build a new stadium in the next several years, it’s best to keep debt relatively low and operating income high so that they can borrow big for a ballpark. The downside of that conservative approach is that much of the A’s young talent could be out the door sooner rather than later, as we’ve seen frequently over the years.
Forbes also explained a little of their methodology this go-around.
Our team valuations are enterprise values (equity plus debt) and are calculated using multiples of revenue. Thus while teams value MLBAM and BELP on their balance sheets on a “cost basis,” which understates their true value, we incorporate market value estimates for those assets. Two more significant ways our accounting differs from the P&L statements of many teams: we include revenue teams keep from concerts, soccer games and other events at their ballparks; and we deduct from revenue stadium debt payments that are paid with stadium revenue. In short, our team values are meant to reflect what a buyer would be willing to pay in an arms-length transaction and our operating income measures are meant to indicate how much cash is generated.
Basically, Forbes is making the distinction that their numbers are reflective of how each team is run as a business, as opposed to P&Ls reported to baseball which may be products of arrangements designed to hide or minimize secondary revenue sources and expenses. While commissioner Bud Selig and the owners will downplay or write off Forbes’ figures, we can feel a little more confident in their soundness based on what they’ve dug up and the new industry information that has come in over the last two years.
Wait, what’s that BELP thing? BELP stands for Baseball Endowment Limited Partners, a sort of internal baseball hedge fund. It was started when the owners collected the franchise fee for the Washington Nationals into another partnership called Baseball Expos Limited Partners. The owners and Selig decided to reinvest that $500 million instead of distributing it to each ownership group. The strategy has literally paid dividends for the owners, because once money from BELP I was rolled over into BELP II, baseball started getting major profits from the fund. BELP was first exposed a few years ago when Deadspin received leaked financials from several teams, but the kinds of investments BELP chose to venture into were kept under wraps. In the past, I’ve put BELP in the category of “Other” when accounting for Central Revenue. I’ll probably break it out going forward, though that will be based entirely on estimates since BELP isn’t public.
The main article ends with a few notes on the A’s, which is somewhat unusual. It’s pointed out that the A’s got another fat revenue sharing check of over $30 million, and an attendance boost coinciding with the team’s division crown. Local revenues continue to lag, so revenue sharing and central revenues are (more than) keeping the team afloat. That’s a double-edged sword, as it gives critics of Wolff and John Fisher ammo to say the team is again being “cheap” with regards to how it runs the team. Now that payroll is taking up less than 40% of revenues, it’s worth asking if the team is saving money – perhaps for a ballpark. If the marginal cost per win in terms of talent is difficult to justify (see: $11 million/year for Kyle Lohse), filling the piggy bank for a ballpark wouldn’t be a bad way to go.
Of course, there’s another side to the revenue-payroll debate. With all of the money that’s coming in, Wolff, Fisher, and the other partners would have to be absolutely nuts to sell the team. They’ll only get more money next year, which they can invest in one of their cornerstone players. The windfall also makes it even more difficult for interested East Bay parties such as Don Knauss to get the team. Last year, as the Dodgers and Padres sales happened, I predicted that the A’s value would hit at least $500 million. They haven’t that number yet, but they’re almost guaranteed to hit it in 2014. So again, that puts the cost to keep the A’s in Oakland at $1 billion: $500 million for the team + $500 million for the ballpark. Good luck with that.
Mercifully, the dozens of public speakers at tonight’s Sacramento City Council meeting were done by 9. That left an hour for the City Council to discuss last Saturday’s term sheet on its merits. The evening culminated with an expected 7-2 vote to approve the term sheet, which the City and the ownership bidding group will present to the NBA in New York next Wednesday, April 3.
The two dissenters were Council Members Kevin McCarty (District 6) and Darrell Fong (District 7). McCarty was concerned about the lack of detail about the economic impact of the plan, and wanted to see a real report to that effect. Fong was harsher, asking for the same and also questioning some of the revenue backfill assumptions. Both wanted to see a deal more along the lines of what Seattle was offering, which is a roughly 40% public share. The Sacramento deal rates at 58% public, though if the $70 million in outstanding loans being repaid can be counted as a private contribution, it’s closer to a 50/50 split. Fong also cited San Diego as an example where as part of the deal, Padres owner John Moores was committed to developing much of the surrounding area in the Gaslamp Quarter. The whales have promised to make some further investments downtown and in Natomas if the construction moratorium is lifted. It’s up to the City to hold ownership to that promise.
The vote was almost upstaged by news from Monday that Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs is joining the ownership group, making him the fourth “whale”. I figure that Qualcomm will get first dibs on a naming rights deal, which makes some sense if the Chargers eventually move into a newer stadium in San Diego or some other market. New head whale Vivek Ranadive brought Jacobs in. So if you’re tracking it, the white knights coming to save Sacramento come from Silicon Valley, LA, San Diego, and the East Bay (which Mayor Kevin Johnson was quick to point out). When including the local minority shares, practically every part of the state is “represented” within the group.
Sacramento City Treasurer Russ Fehr came out strongly in support of the deal terms, repeatedly saying that backfill revenue estimates were conservative and weren’t based on radical changes such as huge parking rate increases. While some parts of the plan such as the 5% ticket surcharge can be achieved comfortably, there was still a very vague explanation on the parking revenue passthrough that should net $3 million. CM Fong also pointed out that no one had consulted the county on the possessory income tax part of the backfill, only saying that the projected $898,000 comes from an estimate tied to last year’s Railyards proposal. Detailed financial terms will undergo much greater scrutiny when the time comes, and the term sheet is nonbinding (as opposed to Seattle’s binding proposal), so things can and will change just as they did for the 49ers stadium project in Santa Clara.
Opponents to the term sheet were all grouped to speak first and were severely outnumbered by supporters, most of whom wore white “Crown Downtown” T-shirts. They all raised their arms in the air, which – no, was not some Nazi deal – was the group mimicking KJ when he got the phone call that the deal was done.
What’s next? The Seattle and Sacramento groups will make presentations a week from today, followed by the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings two weeks later. All along, I’ve said that NBA commissioner David Stern played this to perfection. He may have even played it too well, getting two cities to pony up at least $200 million for arenas in states where only a few years ago, this was considered impossible. Now the other team owners have the tough task of determining which bid is the most sound and beneficial to the league as a whole. That won’t be easy.
The more I look at this, the more I think that the real wildcard in this debate is something that isn’t even being discussed: local TV deals. Seattle’s a larger market, but a NBA team will be the fifth pro franchise in the area which could limit TV money. Seattle’s predominant RSN is ROOT Sports Northwest, run by DirecTV/Liberty Media. Sacramento is technically a mid-market (#20) based on size, but historically has lagged in terms of local TV revenue from Comcast SportsNet California. It wouldn’t surprise me if both bidders had already established talks with their respective RSNs to figure out how much more revenue they can get. If Seattle can get $10-20 million more per year or Sacramento can keep it competitive, that might be the deciding factor. All these histrionics, and it could come down to a factor that isn’t much in their control. Sounds about right.
P.S. Readers who are following my articles about the Kings here or my tweets covering the news may think I’m needlessly slagging the Sacramento plan. I suppose it comes from a relative place of security. The A’s are not in danger of moving out of the Bay Area anytime soon, and if Bud Selig intended to create the kind of bidding war situation now on display in Seattle and Sacramento, he’s failed miserably so far. I’d like to see more cities hold fast to the idea of minimal public contributions and let more teams pay for the majority of new stadia. It seems like with the Kings arena and the 49ers stadium we’re regressing from earlier progress with AT&T Park and Staples Center. I certainly don’t want to see Sacramento lose the Kings, but I also think they should be able to secure the best deal possible, whatever that is. There have been plenty of privately funded arenas built over the last several years (Staples, Nationwide Arena in Columbus), yet time and time again it’s the leagues that have the leverage.
All Things D’s Arik Hesseldahl reports today that Valley tech giant HP is in talks to end its naming rights deal at the San Jose Arena. The current deal runs through 2017, with HP pushing to end it as early as this summer. CEO Meg Whitman, who previously helmed another San Jose tech firm, eBay, is apparently reevaluating HP’s marketing efforts, and that means curtains for sports naming rights. It’s too bad that HP is pulling out, though given the company’s struggles the past few years, some restructuring is certainly in order.
HP didn’t originally negotiate the current naming rights deal. It was inherited when HP merged with then-rival Compaq of Houston. At the time Compaq already had naming rights to the old Summit arena in Houston, which created the need to distinguish the two venues by locale. Shortly after the merger, the arena took on the seemingly synergistic HP Pavilion name (“Pavilion” is a longstanding name of HP’s consumer desktop PC line), though it’s unclear whether the name association actually helped sales.
SAP may be stepping into the void created by HP’s departure. The enterprise software company already has had its name on the annual ATP tennis tournament held annually at the arena (which is moving to Rio de Janeiro starting next year), and SAP chairman Hasso Plattner just finished acquiring up to 90% of the San Jose Sharks. Plattner may have carte blanche to make the deal as he pleases, but shareholders may be wary of a move considering that SAP lost nearly $4 billion last year. SAP may push for a lower cost naming rights deal since they could be considered San Jose’s “preferred partner”.
I imagine that if the naming rights deal transfers from HP to SAP, the arena will simply be called SAP Arena or SAP Arena at San Jose. Of course, the arena already has its own nicknames, “The Tank” and “Shark Tank”, that locals and hockey fans will continue to use until the arena is eventually replaced.
P.S. One of SAP’s biggest competitors is Oracle, who has naming rights at the Arena in Oakland. A copyright trial between the two companies is ongoing, as a judge considered a $1.3 billion damages award to victorious Oracle excessive. I doubt that this will make Larry Ellison more or less likely to extend the Oracle Arena naming rights deal – especially if the Warriors leave for San Francisco – but it’ll probably chap Ellison’s hide to know that every time he flies one of his private jets into SJC, he’ll see the SAP logo on the large arena rooftop below. It wasn’t that long ago that rumors had Ellison bringing a NBA franchise such as the Kings or Grizzlies to San Jose. There’s absolutely no chance of an Ellison-helmed NBA team coming to San Jose as long as SAP wields the power at the arena.
P.P.S. – Given Ray Ratto’s repeated butchering of the name “San Jose” to “San Azzay”, I suppose that for Ratto SAP could mean “San Azzay Pavilion”.
As the San Jose Earthquakes continue their drive towards a new stadium for the 2014 MLS season, team President David Kaval has been keen to release little bits of information every so often to tease fans about what they’ll soon be getting. Last fall, a brochure was distributed that showed suite options. Suites subsequently sold out. Now it’s cutaway drawings of the unique (for MLS) seating bowl, which also show some architectural elements that should get Quakes fans talking.
Buck Shaw Stadium, the current home of the Quakes, is small, quaint, and old. The intimate setting there creates a nice home field advantage, but it isn’t the best venue in terms of sight lines and comfort. The pitch of the bleachers is not particularly steep, making it hard to see the action over the heads in front of you.
To remedy that problem, and to create a stadium that didn’t look like other MLS venues, the still-unnamed Earthquakes Stadium will have a single seating deck with a 30° angle. To put that in perspective, that’s slightly steeper than the original upper deck at the Coliseum (~28.5°). With a vertical clearance of around 19 inches from one row to the next, seeing the entire field all the way to the touch lines shouldn’t be a problem. The suites and club seats are located at field level, and the bowl sits above them in a horseshoe shape. The steep seating arrangement will make the bowl rise rapidly, so much that it’ll look bigger than it really is. The comparison document emphasizes how close the first row is to the action, though it should be made clear that what they’re referring to is the first row of the suites or club seats along the sidelines. The supporters sections behind the southern goal should also benefit from being very close to the field.
Other MLS stadia frequently have a 21° pitch, which translates to a 12-inch rise per 33-inch row. That’s steeper than the Coliseum’s very gradually pitched lower deck (11°), and slightly less angled than the plaza level.
In the cutaway comparisons, it’s easy to see how much smaller the footprint of the stadium will be compared to others throughout the league. Cleverly, the architects at 360 put together a truss system that supports the seating bowl and the roof. They accomplish this by taking an angled beam and extending it through the top row up to the center of the roof. The roof itself covers the entire bowl, which the Quakes say should help contain noise. There is a gap between the top of the bowl and the roof, but I expect that to be filled in by a press box and perhaps additional suites at some point. I haven’t run the numbers to determine the distances yet, but I figure that sitting in the top row at midfield will be similar to the experience of sitting in row 12 of section 217 at the Coliseum for a Raiders game – still a very good seat. Sure, Buck Shaw’s worst seat is technically closer. Buck Shaw is also barely half the size of the new stadium.
Finally, the truss system also creates a façade that juts out over fans as they enter the stadium. The cover image of the document shows a corner of the stadium, not covered by vinyl signs or cladding. Instead, the treatment used is a series of metal ribs that run horizontally. This is a brise soleil, a façade built to provide sun protection while allowing indirect sunlight in. A similar element was built to control sunlight coming into the San Jose City Hall rotunda, which has a large glass dome. Chances are that something – maybe signs – will go up there to give the stadium more color and a distinct image. Even if it doesn’t, the façade is better than chain link or overdone glass curtainwall. It’s unlikely that many of the elements in use for the Earthquakes Stadium would make it to an A’s ballpark, simply because the viewing angles are less demanding for baseball than for soccer. That’s just as well, because it’ll be good to have a unique look for a stadium that no one else has besides the Quakes.
It took an extra couple of days, but the City of Sacramento finally released its arena term sheet. The document was supposed to be made available late Thursday, in order to give the public and the City Counsel the customary three business days to review it. The Saturday evening release gives 72 hours of lead time in advance of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which will have the term sheet on the agenda.
I’ve taken some time to review the document, live tweeting observations as I went. Field of Schemes’ Neil de Mause also made notes on Twitter, going straight into the financial aspects of the plan. In the term sheet is a comparison of the deal to the 2012 deal negotiated by the City, Maloofs, AEG, and NBA, the same deal that the Maloofs backed away from weeks later.
A big immediate takeaway is that the price has gone up $56.5 million, which City Manager John Shirey attributes to inflating materials costs. A 14% increase? Probably not. Instead, either the 2012 estimate was not sound and prone to cost creep, or the Ranadive-Mastrov-Burkle (RMB) group pushed for better finishes or features in the arena. It could be a little of both. The amount of the public contribution is the same, though the public percentage of the project is smaller due to an increased private share. AEG is not onboard this time around (yet), so the private share is listed solely as a Kings ownership responsibility.
Just like the last plan, the bulk of the public share ($212 million) will come from the sale of parking revenues. The difference in this plan is that the City is not selling the revenue rights to a private parking operator. Instead, the City is going to the trouble of creating a nonprofit, quasi-governmental corporation to control the revenues and distributions. The corporation will contract out with private companies to manage the lots and garages. The reason for this change is simple: it allows the City to refinance debt for existing garages ($50+ million) by continuing to use tax-exempt bonds. Under the previously negotiated arrangement, the City risked losing tax-exempt status on the bonds. The corporation would control parking revenue on all downtown lots except for Downtown Plaza, the arena site. Those revenues would stay with the Kings.
Despite the added complexity in the parking revenue arrangement, projections are fairly similar. The City receives $9 million annually from its downtown lots, which is being pledged towards the arena. The task is to find sources to adequately backfill that $9 million. The City projects $1 million in profit from arena operations, $3 million in new parking revenues, and a possessory interest tax payment of nearly $900,000 every year. Due to the lack of granularity, I’m naturally skeptical of these figures, as they seem like placeholders for a much more thorough accounting later. For now, the incremental $3 million is highly suspect, as the expected increased revenues from arena events are different line item altogether. If revenues fell short, the City could use hotel taxes to complete the backfill. The term sheet is nonbinding, as the deal is subject to CEQA and other approvals. Sacramento’s City Council will have to come back at a later date and approve the whole deal including the financing and the DDA, just as Santa Clara did for the 49ers.
2012′s aborted deal had the Kings locked in for 30 years. 2013′s plan has the team in place for 35 years to start, plus two 5-year options. Capacity and estimates for premium accommodations were carried over from 2012. RMB will handle cost overruns, plus ongoing maintenance and capital costs via a $1/ticket fee. Another carryover is the noncompete clause at Sleep Train Pavilion once the downtown arena opens. In conjunction with that, the City is selling 100 acres of land near STP for future development purposes.
One item lightly addressed was the fate of the $75 million the Kings still owe per the 1997 purchase/leaseback of the STP land in Natomas. The City indicated its willingness to refinance those bonds in order to get the arena deal done, but exactly how that would occur is left completely wide open. Mastrov and Burkle appeared to have erred when submitting their bid by factoring in that debt. The NBA didn’t factor it in and asked the bid to be raised to reflect a value without a discount.
Assuming the City Council approves the deal on Tuesday, this term sheet will be part of the submission to the NBA in 10 days.
Is this a good deal? I’m inclined to say no for taxpayers, yes for the NBA and the Kings. For Sacramento, it’s an enormous price to pay to keep the Kings in town, though it isn’t as bad as fully funding an arena with taxpayer money as is frequently done outside California. RMB generated a good deal of PR by pledging up to 1.5 million square feet of ancillary development at Downtown Plaza. Unlike the arena’s projected completion date of September 2016, no date was given for any ancillary development completion. Clearly that will only be done with regard to market conditions, which in downtown Sacramento have been spotty.
If we’ve learned anything from past attempts to use arenas as part of a grand urban renewal scheme, results are mixed at best and many of the successes come in established cities with properly targeted transition areas (United Center in Chicago, Staples Center in LA, Verizon Center in DC). Most of the time, arenas and ballparks bring visitors from within the region on event days only instead of creating the oft-desired 7-days-a-week metropolises many cities aspire to become. Cleveland, Phoenix, and yes, San Jose are prime examples of this phenomenon. If you live in Sacramento and you support this plan, don’t lose sight of what this is really about: basketball. Over the last month I’ve seen social media campaigns about the arena being bigger than basketball. That’s nice from a campaigning standpoint, but it’s not reflective of what’s really at stake. Even if the Kings leave, someone will buy and operate Sleep Train Pavilion, bringing in concerts to help pay for it. Sleep Train Amphitheater will continue to operate during the summer. Concerts will be held in the area because the region’s large enough to demand them. Basketball, on the other hand, won’t come back if the Kings leave. Is basketball worth the $258 million public cost? It’s funny, the people who desperately want the Kings to stay are sometimes will to pay any price to make it happen. Those opposed to an arena couldn’t care less and think pro sports are close to worthless. It can be hard to establish a middle ground between those extremes.
The City of Sacramento was supposed to release its arena term sheet today. Hourly delays turned into postponement as City Manager John Shirey explained that the document was still being hammered out. Release has been rescheduled to Friday, and now we have a good reason for the delay: Warriors minority partner/VP and tech industry veteran Vivek Ranadive is now onboard as part of the Mastrov-Burkle group. The news is even bigger than that, since Ranadive will take over Mastrov’s role as leader of the group. If the Ranadive-Mastrov-Burkle group is approved by the NBA, Ranadive would take the CEO role and be a Governor at league meetings and votes.
My immediate reaction to the Ranadive news was that it’s good that the Sacramento group has more financial ballast to take on the Seattle bid. Ranadive is not a billionaire, but his status as a current minority owner and a guy who is in with David Stern and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis can be nothing but good for the bid. On the other hand, this is a major piece of 11th hour upheaval that fundamentally changes how the bid works. Ranadive bargained hard to become the controlling partner, and it’s likely that when Stern visited the W’s two weeks ago, the commish pushed Mastrov to relinquish that stake. That’s a huge role to give up if that’s been your goal for several years, if not longer. Maybe in the end it’ll help Stern streamline ownership approval if Seattle is denied. Regardless, it looks like some serious desperation on Sacramento’s part.
Ranadive’s emergence as potentially the first Indian-born owner of an American major pro sports franchise would be a major win for the NBA. It was Ranadive who introduced the W’s Bollywood night themed games, and I’d expect some serious South Asian outreach the same way the NBA has aggressively courted China and East Asia. Moreover, Ranadive continues a trend of the NBA bringing in tech-based owners. Consider the current list of owners with tech backgrounds:
- Paul Allen, Microsoft (Blazers, purchased in 1988)
- Mark Cuban, Broadcast.com/Yahoo (Mavericks, 2000)
- Dan Gilbert, Quicken/Quicken Loans (Cavaliers, 2005)
- Ted Leonsis, AOL (Wizards, 2010)
- Joe Lacob, Kleiner Perkins (Warriors, 2010)
- Robert Pera, Ubiquiti (Grizzlies, 2012)
That’s more than the other three leagues combined and signifies what the NBA thinks of the nouveau riche tech world: they like it. The NFL and MLB have the least turnover, with plenty of multi-generational old money mixes with real estate tycoons and media companies. Now we’re seeing a proliferation of hedge funds and tech money infiltrating the ranks. Oil money has made major inroads into the Premier League. The economy has changed thanks to the internet and globalization. It’s good to see team ownership reflect that. For the most part, the days of the singular owner are over. The money’s bigger, as is the risk, so it makes more sense to team up to build an ownership group that can provide both the fun and the returns investors are looking for.
When the season starts and you notice the A’s-themed tarps that will stay up the entire year except when replaced by Raiders-themed tarps, remember this:
It can’t be emphasized enough that whatever is planned in the future for the Coliseum, this debt has to be factored in. The City and County will want to repackage the debt in a way that takes the burden away from their respective general funds. Naturally, the A’s and Raiders probably want no part of this, considering how expensive it already is to privately build anything. Even if nothing gets built until 2018, $100 million in debt will remain, making that a sort of tax on any new stadium(s). The JPA is asking the A’s to pay more in rent, reportedly up to $3 million a year. Even then a substantial subsidy will be required. Ultimately, no deal on Coliseum City – no matter the size or scale – will go anywhere unless the outstanding debt at the Coliseum is addressed to all parties’ satisfaction. That’s a challenge as towering as Mt. Davis itself.
Added 11:30 AM – Matier and Ross have an item covering the JPA’s ongoing lease negotiations with the A’s and Raiders.
The tug-of-war for the five-year extension is over the $3 million in parking taxes that Oakland says the team owes, and over the A’s claim to about a third of the beer sales at the Coliseum – be they at an A’s game, a Raiders game, a U2 concert or any other event.
The tightrope is with the Raiders, who don’t like giving the A’s the beer money and don’t appreciate the A’s request for ballpark “improvements” that may come at the Raiders’ expense.
The parking tax referred to in the piece dates back to 2009, when Oakland unilaterally decided to enforce a long-dormant 18.75% tax per car at the Coliseum. The A’s hiked up parking fees from $15 to $17, and the price stayed there ever since. However, the A’s sat on the additional revenue while other details shook out, such as a revenue split between Oakland and Alameda County that was only settled last year. Assuming that a 2014-18 (or longer) lease extension can be worked out, the parking tax would be yet another detail to negotiate. The beer revenue split goes back to when the A’s sued the Coliseum Authority and received lease concessions, including a split on pouring rights for all events and some advertising revenues. As for the baseball-specific improvements that the Raiders may be resisting, I’m not clear on those. I’ll try to dig that up. All I know at the moment is that Lew Wolff has wanted an escape clause if the Coliseum undergoes changes for the Raiders.
Finally, M&R end on a vague note – MLB might look favorably on Oakland if a short-term deal can be worked with Wolff/Fisher or “a new set of local owners”. Perhaps, but let’s be clear on a couple of things. First, even if Wolff were to declare today that the he and John Fisher were putting the team up for sale, the actual process to vet prospective bidders (such as a Don Knauss & Co. bid) and then complete the sale would take the better part of a year or more to complete, which is of no help to the A’s immediately as they try to work out a short-term extension. Second, MLB won’t approve a sale to an East Bay-focused group unless there is an ironclad ballpark deal in place. Otherwise there’s no point because the A’s would remain revenue sharing recipients indefinitely, even though it’s written into the CBA that they’re supposed to be off revenue sharing in the next several years. Third, MLB has offered to insert itself into the lease discussions, only to be told no by Wolff. Wolff’s making a leverage play here. He did well in getting a ton of flexibility in the last two lease negotiations. This time, talks are sure to be more rancorous. If MLB wants to float a feel good item to help soften up the JPA, I’m sure Wolff won’t mind. Finally, there’s the issue that appearing to help the A’s and MLB may send the wrong message to the Raiders, who are the only team directly working with the JPA and Oakland at the moment. It’s a very fragile, fluid situation. No one said it’d be easy.
NBA commissioner David Stern made a trip out to Oakland to talk up the Warriors as a “model franchise” and the team’s trip next fall to China, where they’ll play preseason games against the Lakers. Stern’s event had another large contingent of media from Sacramento, who wanted to hear Stern’s take on last week’s bid to save the Kings by Mark Mastrov and company. NBA Commissioner David Stern says Sacramento bid is “not quite there” financially compared to Seattle. He’s hopeful it will be eventually. To ensure that Sacramento lines up its (final?) bid properly, the NBA will hold a meeting on April 3 so that everyone has their ducks in a row in advance of the Board of Governors meetings on April 12-13.
— Antonio Gonzalez (@agonzalezAP) March 9, 2013
David Stern very clear that Sacramento bid is not ready …. But also said there was enough time and that he expected one to be produced
— Ailene Voisin (@ailene_voisin) March 9, 2013
BREAKING: David Stern on Sacramento’s bid for the Kings “Unless it’s increased, it won’t even be considered.”
— Seattle SuperSonics (@BringBackSonics) March 9, 2013
That, folks, marks the end of the short period of Stern as bystanding non-arbiter. In case anyone thought that this was about anything other than getting the biggest, best bid possible for the sale of the Kings, it isn’t. The owners want to see their franchise values grow. If the McCourt disaster did it for baseball franchises, the Maloof debacle could certainly do it for hoops. Earlier this week a rumor was floated that the Hansen-Ballmer group might have to pay a $75 million relocation fee, instead of an amount closer to the $30 million Clay Bennett paid to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. The owners want their piece, and David Stern’s last major effort as the commissioner will be to facilitate that. The man has played the whole thing perfectly. Now, the NBA and the bidders have kept the details close to their respective vests, so we can’t say for certain how low the bid was or how much it needs to be raised. I know this much: Mastrov put in a $420 million bid for the Warriors nearly three years ago. Stern and the owners know that Mastrov can raise capital, whether they’re bidding for 100% or 65% of the Kings. Fortunately for the Sacramento bid, there’s a few weeks left to raise the bid. Now it’s a lot like competing bids for a house in a seller’s market. The best offer with the most cash wins. You know what they say on the court: Come strong or don’t come at all.
Stern was also asked about the chances of a second Bay Area team coming via expansion if the Kings left, and he swatted that notion away. Stern left it to the Board of Governors (owners) and his successor to wrestle with that concept.
“I don’t think that we’re in for expansion of the league, any time soon. That’s just the way it is. … There are no territorial rights barriers. The only barrier is a vote by the NBA’s Board of Governors, but they’re being convened to consider the application to sell the Kings and to move the Kings.”
There’s no incentive to entertain talk of expansion as long as this bidding war – and it is indeed a bidding war – is on. Maybe after April the NBA and the losing city/bidder can talk about a framework to get an expansion or future relocated team. Chances are that even then, that losing city/bidder will be left to lick their wounds, and if it’s Sacramento/Mastrov, after having being on the losing end twice (last year for Sac when the Maloofs reneged, Mastrov in 2010 with the W’s), everyone may want to take some time to determine how much effort they want to put into this yet again. There’s just as much emotion that goes into these efforts as there is money.
I’ve thought that the horse race mentality that some of the Seattle and Sacramento partisans recently have taken on was silly, but this news certainly makes the proceedings feel like a horse race. One of these cities will have a lot of broken hearts in early April.
USA Today NBA writer Sam Amick has a 2-for-1 today in the form of a solid interview with USC Sports Business Institute’s David Carter prefaced by a recap of the ongoing Seattle-vs.-Sacramento drama. Carter tries to get to the heart of the issue facing NBA owners next month: Is it better to be the 5th team in a larger market (SEA) or the only team in a smaller market (SAC)? Carter doesn’t take sides, instead choosing to lay out the cases for both. He also expanded the discussion to include the implications of trying to build something in California, where public funding for stadia is difficult to attain. The end of the interview has a response that encapsulates the issues in Sacramento and throughout the state so well that I had to quote it here. (Questions come from Amick, answers from Carter)
Q: I’ve been hearing a few things about the public subsidy coming into play with Sacramento’s offer, potentially around $255 million that they would put into the arena, and the idea that the NBA has concern about walking away from that type of public contribution – especially in California – where it’s so tough to get public contributions. If they walk away from it, they lose a blueprint they’d like to use moving forward. Does that pass your smell test?
A: “That’s a great observation. We’ve seen that with not just teams, but teams and venues throughout the state – from San Diego to obviously now Sacramento. The Bay Area is a good example, and LA has been at the center of it. These leagues want to be able to extract public subsidies, and if they don’t do that then it gives other cities the opportunity to point the finger and say, ‘Well they didn’t kick in tax dollars over there, why should we here?
“If it’s a quality, free-standing business that’s going to be competitive in the marketplace, then it should be able to survive on its own. That would be one side of the argument. The other side of the argument, from these owners – and it’s a good one – is that there are a lot of people who are enjoying our product and not paying directly for it. You have a sense of pride in your city, even if you don’t attend a game or you don’t watch too many of them on television. Someone needs to pay for that externality, for that benefit that the community is getting for having this company in town. You could argue that that subsidy is supposed to cover that benefit people are getting from having the team there. Maybe it’s more of theoretical bump than anything else, but it’s fair to say, ‘What’s Green Bay without the Packers?’ That’s truly a sports company town.
“Maybe if it’s an amenity, or if it’s a resource that a lot of people want and can identify with, then maybe people should be paying for someone living vicariously through their product but not paying for it.”
Take that into your weekend. I’m going to refrain from commenting on it for now, as I’d like to see what responses are elicited first.
Before you read the rest of this post, head over to Deadspin and read about the Carolina Panthers’ leaked financials from the last two years.
Then read the Charlotte Observer’s piece, which includes a response by the Panthers.
The leaked document came from Deloitte, and there’s nothing to indicate that it’s inaccurate. In fact, the Panthers didn’t deny the report, only saying that the document presented “an incomplete picture” of the team’s profitability. According to the team, the missing context was the uncertainty surrounding the league lockout preceding the 2011 season. It’s not unusual these days for teams to considerably shrink operations during a lockout, establishing a sort of bunker mentality. The consequences can be cruel, as it usually means laying off dozens if not hundreds of “non-essential” personnel. In the Panthers’ case, they decided that they’d be best off reducing player payroll. And so they did with a $77 million roster, $43 million short of the $120 million salary cap set for 2011. Philosophically all of this probably made sense back then, as the team was in rebuilding mode with #1 draft pick Cam Newton and Ron Rivera replacing John Fox at head coach. Newton’s Rookie-of-the-Year campaign juiced the loyal fanbase enough to boost the following year’s payroll to $100 million. Despite that uptick, the Panthers’ record only improved by one win last season. The team finished 3rd in the NFC South, going 7-9. The NFLPA predicts that the 2013 cap will be $123 million.
The Panthers are ranked #16 in the Forbes NFL valuations list with an estimated revenue of $269 million for the 2012 season and a valuation of just over $1 billion. Not knowing Forbes’ exact formula and numbers, I imagine that the discrepancy is mostly a matter of accounting, depending on whether partner distributions (profit-taking) and other maneuvers with team revenue are counted. Distributions amounted to $12,228,541 for both years, or roughly a 6% return on the original $206 million franchise price. That leaves a rather large net income amount that they can do whatever they want with.
One of those things they can do with the money is fund the improvements they are requesting for Bank of America Stadium. You may remember that a month ago, the team struck a deal with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County for a package of improvements that would total $300 million. This week the state balked at giving the share it was expected to provide ($62.5 million), and the leak certainly won’t help Panthers owner Jerry Richardson’s case for a handout. It’ll be interesting to see if new pressure mounts to have the local public funding aspect of the deal reversed, since it’s clear that the team can pay its own way. To do so may require scaling things back a bit, but really, why on earth is $250-300 million necessary for a stadium that’s only 17 years old and is one of the better designed and maintained facilities in the league? The Panthers had expected to pay $96 million of the project cost. If the City/County reneg on their part, Richardson could be forced to scale back the project to, say, half the size and cost at $125 million. That amount in a loan for 25 years at 6% runs $9.3 million per year. With what we’ve learned this week, Richardson and the Panthers can afford it. Of course, this news didn’t come in time before Atlanta officials announced that a deal has been struck for the Falcons’ $1 billion retractable dome plan, which will include $200 million in public funding.
What does this mean for the Raiders? Politically, it’s terrible. Not only will the memory of the Mt. Davis debacle not go away, now comes this news that should cast doubt on any team crying poor and looking for a public handout.
Except for one thing. When the Raiders cry poor, they are in fact, poor. Not poor as in sleeping on the street, but poor in terms of losing money on a regular basis. Forbes noted that the Raiders posted losses last year and in 2009. The Oregon professor consulted by Deadspin for the article, Dennis Howard, mentioned that when he looked at league financials a decade ago, the Raiders lost money then. Considering how bad a deal Mt. Davis has been for all concerned parties, it could be the worst all-around stadium deal in the history of sports. Nevertheless, the fundamentals are that the Raiders continue to come up short in the revenue game in Oakland. Worse, they don’t have the cash reserves or cash flow to bankroll a significant new stadium project. Perhaps they don’t even have enough to fund a revamped Coliseum as I’ve suggested. Season ticket rolls going into the new tarped-off Coliseum were lower than another Raiders team – the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who hit over 30,000 season tickets last year – and that’s an also-ran program in the Big 12.
The NFL is giving the Raiders guidance and the Raiders are taking steps to boost revenue, but as we know in the Bay Area, they’re not going to see big returns unless the team starts winning as it did a decade ago. It’s hard to see how this can be turned around as long as the dependency is there. No wonder the NFL is skittish about earmarking G-4 money for a Raiders stadium project. We know that in the short term the Raiders will have two choices: stay at the Coliseum while working out a venue deal in Oakland, or go to Santa Clara for 5-10 years. I wrote a month ago that the costs could prove prohibitive in Santa Clara if they were to pay for the true cost to stage the games, compared to continuing to get a large subsidy from Oakland/Alameda County. Ultimately, the cheapest option may be for the Raiders to limp along in the Coliseum as is while the parties wait for the fanbase to grow as the team improves. Hopefully, this doesn’t also mean that the A’s will have to keep sharing the Coliseum indefinitely. That’s not something that either the NFL or MLB want.
Added 11:00 AM – Deadspin just completed a reader chat with University of Michigan sports economics professor Rodney Fort. Some of it is good reading.