Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Does he know something we don't? ESPN host says "Brooklyn’s done. Brooklyn’s finished."

ESPN columnist and radio host Bill Simmons, in his free-flowing February 16 podcast, flatly declared that the Nets' announced move is doomed: "Brooklyn’s done. Brooklyn’s finished."

There's no evidence that Simmons has any inside information--though a Nets official, speaking anonymously last October, told a Bergen Record columnist the move wouldn't happen. I think, however much the project appears to be struggling, it's hardly doomed.

Meanwhile, developer Forest City Ratner is angling to get federal stimulus funding to move the project along and is hoping for a swift resolution of pending legal cases, which is not implausible.

So, while Simmons' statement is opinion, not fact, it's another example of how the "Atlantic Yards is dead" meme has been getting around.

NBA teams on the ropes

At about 65:35 of the podcast, Simmons brought up rumors about troubles in the National Basketball Association:
Sacramento might move. New Orleans might move. The New Jersey owner is supposedly broke. Memphis--that situation is just a financial train wreck. That’s four teams... I think it’s going to be really interesting next year... especially when you’re talking about season ticket deposits coming in in April and May, which is only two or three months away.

That doesn't bode well for the Nets during the 2009-10 season.

Simmons' friend and radio foil Joe House brought up the possibility of a team in Las Vegas.

BS: I think Seattle is in play, Anaheim is in play. I think contraction is in play with somebody, though I think it’s a last resort for [Commissioner] David Stern... I would definitely say Las Vegas, Anaheim, and Seattle. Las Vegas--they don’t have the arena... I’d say that anybody that has a modern hockey arena is in play.

His example was Anaheim, but the Prudential Center in Newark surely is as modern a hockey arena as they come.

Brooklyn in the mix?

A few moments later, House brought up the Nets.

JH: Is Brooklyn back in the mix?

BS: Brooklyn’s so out. Brooklyn’s done. Brooklyn’s finished.

JH: That’s too bad. I liked that idea.

Smaller market

A few minutes later, Simmons suggested that a small market team, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, might be setting an example.

BS: We all make fun of the city that shall not be named, but they’ve been selling out; they sell the suites.

JH: They’re the only game in town.

BS: Maybe that’s where you go.

Social contract

After Simmons brought up the fact that a lot of team owners lost paper wealth, House skeptically brought up the impact of sports teams on urban economies.

JH: You know my point of view... the idea that a person owns a sports team to make money on it is just preposterous. It violates what I regard as the social contract between the city and the team. The cities go out of their way, bend over backwards, with the infrastructure, with the direct financial support, with the public money in so many of these instances. It’s been demonstrated that the economics behind a sports franchise doesn’t necessarily impact the community in a way that, like the Seattle baseball stadium was supposed to bring all this development that never proved out.

BS: It’s a racket, is what it is. We know this now--we didn’t know this--I think the first big thing was Camden Yards [in Baltimore], kinda rejuvenated that area... Well, what’s Camden Yards doing right now?

JH: They put the football stadium out there too. So the combination of football and baseball there. That’s not really much of a residential area...

BS: That led to PacBell, PacBell rejuvenated the area in San Fran that it’s in, and that I think led people to think it was the new trend. We need arenas, we need luxury suite money If you give us the money to build this arena, we’re going to pump up this part of your downtown. Now that the results are coming in, it’s really not happening. It’s kind of like a false premise, that nobody really totally knew, but they were able to rope these cities into money. Now you have like Sacramento, they want a new stadium and they’re like: "We can’t survive here, we need a new stadium." Sacramento’s probably looking at it thinking, "It’s not happening anywhere else, why should we give you 500 million?"

JH: "Yeah, we could use that money on schools, if that’s okay."

He and Simmons had a good laugh.

BS: "Thanks for your offer. We’re going to resist the urge to watch Beno Udrih for the next five years."

Declining fan base?

As they closed that segment, Simmons predicted that the economic downturn was going to hit sports attendance hard, calling the impact "catastrophic."

BS: The middle class, upper middle class of Detroit, St. Louis, Washington, the White Sox--who’s paying 90 bucks a ticket to take their family to a baseball game?

JH: People weren’t doing it in Washington last year, brand new stadium. You put bad product out; people aren’t going to pay money to see it.

That's a problem the Nets face. The product isn't bad, but it's not excellent either. And the use of stars like Vince Carter as salary cap chess pieces just fuels further fan cynicism.

NetIncome/Bobbo weighs in

On the Nets Daily forum, the man known as NetIncome (and, in commenting on this blog and elsewhere, as Bobbo), suggested that, given that Forest City Enterprises continues to absorb Nets losses, the company is committed to the Brooklyn move. Then again, "if the Nets trade Carter for cap space, that will be a strong indication they are retrenching and could mean they're going to sell."

"Four days after the trade deadline, the state of New York and the arena critics will be in court in Brooklyn on the biggest case yet," he wrote. "If Ratner gets a decision in his favor (probably come down in March), the state will move on condemnations. Then, we will see what Ratner has in the way of financing."

Actually, an arena financing plan is needed before (or simultaneously with) condemnations.

NetIncome wrote, "The Times reported the other day that Ratner wants to cut the cost of the arena in half. Sounds like a huge number, but the original $962 million estimate was the result of surging construction costs. Those costs have done a 180 and [Nets CEO] Yormark told fans two weeks ago that the arena will be a little smaller."

Actually, the original estimate was $435 million. It was up to $950 million last year. And cutting that cost in half would mean the arena would cost less than the one in Orlando. That's not going to happen.

"The reality is that Ratner keeps going," NetIncome concluded. "He may have stopped demolishing buildings at the site, but there wasn't much more to demolish."

This from a man who has been to Brooklyn once in four years. The reality is that Ratner stopped not because he ran out of work to do (trestle, anybody?) but (all evidence suggests) he ran out of money to go further. Hence the push for the stimulus.

NetIncome concluded by observing, not unwisely, that the move to small markets, however lucrative it may be for a team with an attractive arena deal, may not be good for the league, because smaller markets ultimately lessen the value of the national TV deal.

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