Poll: Effective life span of sports venues

Working on a post related to this. Vogt!

Las Vegas gains sports legitimacy by winning NHL franchise

Vegas has always lived on the fringe of pro sports. It’s home to an oft-forgotten minor league baseball franchise, UNLV, and of course, the American capital of sports betting in The Strip. It is at once a major part of the sports world, and also a satellite in terms of direct participation.

Photo: Bill Feldberg

Photo: Bill Feldberg

That dichotomy will officially end in October 2017, when an expansion NHL franchise will lace up skates in Las Vegas’s shiny new multipurpose venue, T-Mobile Arena. The arena opened in April with a slate almost entirely comprised of big name concerts. Hockey will start play this coming October, with a four-game set of exhibition games to test the arena’s ice making capability (didn’t the season end, Sharks? *sigh*).

And with that, the test of Vegas as a sports market will finally begin. The as-yet unnamed hockey team will benefit from a honeymoon period fueled by a 13,000-season ticket pledge drive. They’ll also have a first-mover advantage for at least a few years if the Raiders come to town, even longer if the Raiders don’t. The team may even be sneaky competitive, thanks to being the only team recipient in a friendly expansion draft. And whatever casual locals don’t buy in as attending casual fans could be replaced to a degree by visiting fans. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if the NHL formatted future schedules to have games hosting Buffalo or the Great White North all on weekends.

Economically, the Vegas market remains largely a one-trick pony, begging to get startups and non-service sector industries to grow in Southern Nevada. Non-gaming corporate strength will be a major factor in the team’s long-term economic health, and while there should be no shortage of smaller local sponsors and a major car manufacturer sponsor just to cover both CES and SEMA, other patronage could be a tossup. The looming threat of competition in the form of a 65,000-seat domed stadium hosting the Raiders is also a real possibility. At least that should be decided later this year. Plus the team will be competing with its own landlords, AEG and MGM, for preferred days and dates on the calendar. The PBR World Finals is moving from the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus to T-Mobile Arena and is usually held in November, mere weeks into the NHL regular season.

Long term, there’s no telling how this team will hold up. Unless Sin City turns into Winnipeg South, it’ll need a lot of casual fans to fill the 17,500-seat venue. If that doesn’t happen the place will look like a lot of Sun Belt expansion era arenas, looking half-full and disinterested. For at least a few years things should be okay since the team will be a sort of super-novelty. The arena doesn’t need the team’s rent to pay the bills, and even if it does at a later date at least it’s privately financed. Whether or not Vegas becomes the next great hockey town is almost beside the point. The NHL was the first to stake a claim on the last great domestic frontier. That’s a big deal.

And finally, yesterday MLB commissioner Rob Manfred validated Vegas as a potential site for a future team.

“I think the whole, ‘you can’t go to Vegas because there’s casinos there,’ we passed that by a long time ago, right? There’s casinos all over the place. I see Las Vegas as a viable alternative. I would not disqualify it just because of the gambling issue.”

So there you have it. With other sports coming to Vegas, the gambling issue is no longer an issue. There isn’t much to consider this a shot across Oakland’s bow, considering the barriers to getting a domed ballpark in place, especially if a football stadium already exists. Still, Las Vegas has already had its day as a relocation threat candidate for the A’s and now the Raiders, so there’s plenty of history there. The time for Vegas to be yet again a baseball stalking horse is a long ways off.

The A’s are NOT an obstacle to the Raiders

In the 2014 A’s Coliseum lease, the process for the A’s to vacate in compliance with a new Raiders stadium project was quite clear. Here’s how the stadium project was defined:

‘Raiders Construction Plan’ means a bona fide plan for construction of a new football stadium for the Oakland Raiders on current Complex property, adjacent to the current Complex property, or otherwise located sufficiently near to the Stadium such that it will materially impact Licensee’s operations, which bona fide plan must include, as pertains to such stadium project, a fully executed development agreement with a third-party developer and the Licensor for development of a new Raiders stadium, supported by a non-refundable deposit from the developer and received by the Licensor of at least Twenty Ten Million Dollars ($10,000,000.00).

And the terms for the A’s to leave:

Licensor may terminate this License upon written notice of intent to terminate to Licensee, such termination to take effect sixty (60) days after the conclusion of the second (2d) Baseball Season that commences after such notice. (By way of example, if Licensor provides Licensee with such termination notice on June 15, 2016, this License will terminate sixty (60) days after the conclusion of the 2018 Baseball Season.)

Basically, the Coliseum Authority has to give the A’s at least two full MLB seasons notice, so that they can plan for their next home. To build a stadium, the Raiders and their chosen developer partner would also have to provide a real plan, not just a couple drawings and some empty promises for studies. The point is to ensure that the Raiders and the developer are committed to the project, instead of wavering while pushing harder for alternatives outside the market (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, etc.).

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That’s it. The A’s don’t have any rights or right-of-refusal to develop the Coliseum land, to dispose of the Coliseum debt, or anything else besides playing baseball games at the Coliseum. It is not up to the A’s to determine what land the Raiders can or should use. If the Raiders want to submit a plan to develop the entire complex, part of the complex, or even tear down and rebuild the Coliseum only, nothing is stopping them, especially their co-tenants the A’s. Anyone who say otherwise is lying.

Today, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf took steps to correct a report by Matier and Ross from the weekend. Here’s her statement:

‘Today’s San Francisco Chronicle contains inaccurate information I need to clarify. On May 23, I proactively contacted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to update him generally on what we’ve felt have been productive conversations with Raiders’ negotiator Larry MacNeil.’

‘Having learned from what I believe was a past mistake of awarding an exclusive negotiating agreement to a developer not approved by the Raiders, I wanted to assure the Commissioner of my commitment to keeping the Raiders and NFL at the center of our efforts.’

‘I did express to the Commissioner my interest in continuing discussions with the Ronnie Lott/Rodney Peete group and asked how the Commissioner would view my taking more meetings with them.’

‘The Commissioner encouraged me to explore all avenues for partnership that might result in a successful project for Oakland, the Raiders and the NFL, assuming we not give away any rights without clear Raiders’ support. That is my intention in resuming discussions with them.’

‘I continue to believe the Raiders can develop a new stadium in Oakland that is responsible to the team, its fans, the NFL and the taxpayers of Oakland. Oakland has worked hard to contribute the entitlements, development opportunities and infrastructure funding to our shared vision of a stadium-centered development at the Oakland Coliseum. I’m committed to continuing to work hard to realize this vision.’

Smart move by Schaaf not only to get ahead of the story, but to also control the messaging. This statement doesn’t waver from any previous public statements made by Schaaf since the demise of Coliseum City. Certainly there are other talks happening in private. The City and County still haven’t finished the the buyout plan for the Mt. Davis debt. She knocked down the characterizations in the M&R piece, instead positioning the talks as part of an ongoing process instead of a chess match.

A Raiders stadium is not going to proceed on a ridiculously fast track as we’ve seen in Cobb County for the Braves or in Vegas for the UNLV-Raiders stadium. There are too many details, too much complexity. That’s why the whole Raiders are stuck because of the A’s lease reeks of an exercise in blame assignment. It’s going to take a while. The process of untangling all of the agreements and leases while minimizing impact on current tenants will be messy. Besides, Davis doesn’t have the coin to accelerate a project the way the Yorks did in Santa Clara. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a good thing. We have seen what happens when a project is improperly rushed.

Rangers and Arlington Working On Third Ballpark

Third? You ask. The Ballpark in Arlington was the first true ballpark in Texas. Arlington Stadium was an overstuffed minor league park not worthy of full MLB bonafides, right?

Arlington Stadium was an overstuffed minor league park, true. But it held up for 22 years in an era where ballparks were not as obscenely specced as they are today. Arlington Stadium was redone during the time of the cookie cutter stadia. It was a round bowl. A bare bones facility. It had no roof. There were no cantilevered decks, and the press box attracted the North Texas winds like a vacuum. It was odd and disproportional, yet I had a slight affinity for it when I saw the A’s play road games there. Perhaps that’s because I never had a chance watch a summer game there.

Arlington Stadium (photo by Mike Fitzpatrick)

In 1994 the Stadium was replaced by The Ballpark in Arlington (review), an early entrant in the new era of retro-classical ballparks. TBiA (now Globe Life Park) was built to hold 50,000 fans, a bunch of offices in center field, and the new standard of club seats and suites. What TBiA lacked was any kind of roof with an air conditioning system. A fixed roof was not really in the cards, and the only retractable roof at the time was at the hulking SkyDome, far too expensive for the $191 million budget. So to compensate, the Rangers built ultra large covered concourses with an open facade. It felt airy, and felt pretty good in April and sometimes September. July and August were punishingly brutal thanks to the humidity. George W. Bush, who was looking for a trophy to propel his burgeoning political career, didn’t have six years to wait until the retractable technology evolved to the point of affordability, as it did for the Astros. So TBiA was built, Dubya became governor, and the Rangers stayed in Arlington.

Recently, Rangers ownership, now changed twice, started looking for a more technologically modern home, citing the need for a retractable dome thanks to the heat and humidity problems. A dome over the top of TBiA was considered problematic because of the lack of a support structure (and infrastructure) to carry the roof’s load. Prominent Dallas interests quietly started talking up a ballpark within the city, perhaps close to American Airlines Center. Arlington pulled the rug out from Dallas by working with the Rangers on an eventual replacement for TBiA, even though eight years remained on the lease.

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What will be the price tag for improved climate control? A cool $1 billion, half of it charged to the citizens of Arlington via extensions of existing sales/hotel/car rental tax hikes. Arlington pols feel confident about the plan because they may pay off the debt at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium 10 years early. Sure, they’ll outfit the park with more restaurants, bars, club levels, different types of suite boxes, and custom bat/bear/doohickey booths. And there will be a huge fan plaza with retail and a hotel, finally giving the immediate area something else walkable from the park. That mini ballpark village will be called Texas Live!, located kitty corner from the current ballpark to the southwest.

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There are a few sobering takeaways from this whole exercise.

  • Public money makes a stadium project move faster. Once those coffers are open, stakeholders are willing to move heaven and earth to make these projects happen. This is the #1 reason why no stadium is happening in Oakland right now, why San Jose’s ballpark fizzled, and why the Earthquakes’ stadium was delayed. Owners and leagues want municipalities to have skin in the game or a pound of flesh, whatever you want to call it.
  • There is little virtue in paying off a stadium early. Just as AT&T Stadium is projected to be paid off early, Phoenix’s Chase Field had its debt retired early. For Phoenix, all that meant was that the Diamondbacks asked for a new ballpark earlier than planned. Same goes for the Rangers in Arlington. Considering how so many sports venues don’t pay for themselves, such moves take a lot of chutzpah.
  • The next wave of ballparks is here. Cobb County’s park for the Braves will open next year. The Rangers are shooting for 2021. Arizona is asking for their own smaller, more intimate park. Arte Moreno has been saber rattling Anaheim for years. Other teams will call for extensive renovation plans. This new era may not have the same wholesale turnover of venues as it did during the Selig era, but whatever happens promises to be very expensive, and for most teams, largely unnecessary.

Sometimes it feels like the world is passing the A’s by. This is no more clearly evident than in the stadium game. At least the Rays are here to keep us company.

Wrigley Field gets long-needed facelift

For the last several years the Cubs have adorned the façade of Wrigley Field with vinyl signs, as I witnessed firsthand in 2013. While they were bold and colorful, they distracted from the structure itself.

Vinyl covered exterior seems loud, no?

Vinyl covered exterior seems loud, no?

Back then I wrote about the contrast:

Wrigley famously has very little façade. Behind home plate is the light gray concrete structure accented by green and the distinctive red marquee. It’s not brick or sandstone, and there’s little to write home about. At some point recently the Cubs decided to have huge vinyl signs of the players cover up much of the concrete, as many newer parks have done. As much as I appreciate the blast of color, I miss the old humble concrete. Along the first and third baselines are chain link fences, so the back of each deck is exposed to the street it faces.

As part of Wrigley’s multiyear renovation project, the vinyl and chain link have been torn away, replaced with elements that open up the space and hark back to Wrigley’s earlier pre-war state.

Now that’s better. Gone are the concrete board and cage-like chain link fences, replaced by much more ornate galvanized steel gates.

The terra cotta facade, better seen in the Chicago Tribune’s article on the makeover, is somewhat more controversial than the rest, since the material is not exactly in keeping with steel ballpark construction. However, it is a throwback to Wrigley during the 30’s. At scale, it’s applied only to provide a warm accent that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and certainly would be less effective with mere paint or another metallic surface. It makes Wrigley even more approachable, if that was even possible. Wrigley’s famed red marquee was reinstalled only two days ago, and it remains as hot as ever. I look forward to going back sometime soon, even just to admire the exterior.

P.S. – Note the amount of roster turnover signified by the players on the vinyl signs.

O.co tells it goodbye

After a five year run, internet retailer Overstock.com and the JPA are calling it quits on their naming rights deal at the Coliseum. The deal apparently was not terribly lucrative for either side. The JPA realized $2 million a year, making at best a slight dent in ongoing debt and operations costs. For Overstock, which more or less stopped using O.co in the US, the name was more a source of confusion and mild derision than revenue growth. Here’s how confusing the name situation was and still is:

Why is Overstock.com known as O.co internationally?

Over the last few years, Overstock.com has expanded to countries all over the world. However, we discovered that “overstock” doesn’t always translate well. To minimize the confusion created by translating the word “overstock” into other languages, we decided to use O.co for our international sites.

So many welps. At least Overstock has found some success partnering with the A’s, so their partnership will continue. As for the stadium, I and most everyone I knew called it the Coliseum. Just as we didn’t call it the Network Associates Coliseum or McAfee Coliseum (or even UMAX Coliseum), we didn’t use O.co and probably won’t use any future name either. I can’t blame the JPA for trying to get some revenue out of this, but they can’t blame the fans for holding on to the edifice’s rightful, classical name. Even the downright bureaucratic sounding “Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum” has its own air, or at least Chris Berman thinks so.

Frankly, when you go through so many names, it’s probably time for a new ballpark.

 

Entering 12

And just to cheer everyone in the East Bay up, there’s this:

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Why won’t I acknowledge #11, or the 11th anniversary? Umm…

parker11

Pffft.