Las Vegas taxpayers being forced to pay $80M for ballpark naming rights


Questionable stadium deals have become the norm in baseball (and in all of sports, really). The Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves both have stadiums that were built largely with public money, and they will continue to haunt those cities — and their taxpayers — for years.

The latest questionable stadium deal doesn’t involve the majors, and it’s not directly about the building of a stadium. It’s about naming rights. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will pay a massive $80 million to retain naming rights for the Las Vegas 51s stadium for the next 20 years. This will allow them to put “Las Vegas” in the name of the stadium. The team, which is the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets (though that relationship is ending after the 2018 season), currently plays at Cashman Field and has been owned by a group of local investors since 2013.

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Even without context, $80 million for 20 years of naming rights for a minor league stadium is enormous. It comes out to $4 million a year. But once you have context, the deal looks even more ridiculous. From the Review-Journal:

USA Today reported last year that naming rights for most minor league baseball stadiums cost $50,000 to $300,000 a year. For $4 million a year, the LVCVA could have bought naming rights for almost every one of the 15 other ballparks in the Pacific Coast League. The total cost of the six known PCL stadium-naming deals, which includes the Fresno Grizzlies’, is just $2.6 million. Four stadiums don’t even have a naming rights deal.

In fact, the Grizzlies naming rights deal comes to just over $1 million a year, and until now it had been the richest deal in the minors. The sum of $4 million a year, four times the Grizzlies’ deal, is a tremendous overpay. Especially since the LVCVA is a government agency, and they’re essentially just giving away citizen-paid tax dollars to a private group of investors to keep “Las Vegas” on the front of a stadium.

Victor Joecks of the Review-Journal has a theory on why the LVCVA is paying so much for naming rights. The 51s are moving into a new stadium in 2019, and this is a construction subsidy in disguise.

This whole fiasco makes more sense if you view the $80 million as a construction subsidy. Even for the LVCVA, it’d be hard to justify giving a private business tens of millions of tax dollars. Calling it a “naming rights” deal, however, gave the proposal a thin initial layer of credibility.

Calling it “naming rights” may give this proposal a thin layer of credibility, but it’s still a ridiculously terrible deal no matter what it’s called. Joecks and the Review-Journal haven’t been shy in criticizing the LVCVA for this naming rights deal. Here’s a zinger from Joecks’ Saturday article on the proposal.

Thank goodness that everyone who visits the Las Vegas Ballpark will see signs reminding them they’re in Las Vegas. After all, our town is such a forgettable place.

What a farce.

Those are fighting words. And the LVCVA hasn’t liked being criticized by the local paper of record one bit. LVCVA board member and Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman had her own fighting words for the Review-Journal at a meeting last week.

“For the past month or two, maybe even longer, the Review-Journal has taken (it) upon itself to criticize this board — in my opinion, having lived here over 50 years, without cause,” Goodman said at Tuesday’s meeting, referencing this year’s Review-Journal investigations that have uncovered reckless spending by the agency. “Certainly, 43 million tourists coming in here every year speaks to the success of what this body, this staff and our leadership have brought about.

“I find it insulting and revolting that we had to defend ourselves,” Goodman added. “This is the most incredible body in the entire country. And the proof’s been in the pudding.”

Well then. That’s certainly a response. But past successes don’t make anything, especially a government agency, immune to criticism. And it’s the job of the local paper to not just report the news, but to uncover the truth of what’s going on in the city. Especially when it involves the tax money of people who live in the area. Goodman may think it’s “insulting and revolting” that the LVCVA has to defend itself from the local paper, but the Review-Journal is doing a service to the tax paying citizens of Las Vegas. Would she feel the same way if her constituents were directly questioning this naming rights deal?

What’s funny about Goodman’s comments is that according to the Review-Journal, Goodman didn’t actually vote on the naming rights proposal. She abstained because she didn’t feel that the LVCVA board had enough time to examine the proposal.

“How is this going to play out in the public?” Goodman said. “Are we going to be brought to our knees again — look at the LVCVA and its poor choice of spending?”

Of course, now that the proposal has been approved, that’s exactly what’s happening. You could call the mayor psychic, but she seems to have completely forgotten she ever had any concerns about the proposal at all.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher





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