The business side of big league sports is often a tough cover for local media. In a telephone interview, Neil deMause, co-author of the book Field of Schemes: How the great stadium swindle turns public money into private profit, said the unquestioning initial coverage of the Angel Stadium lease negotiations by the Times and the Register is “very typical.” In general terms, he said, news outlets tend to cover professional stadium and arena issues with either sports reporters “who don’t know anything about economics” or news reporters “who tend not to bring all their critical faculties” when confronted with the pizazz of professional sports.
Several days after the interview, deMause made a point of emailing to note that Wisckol’s piece eviscerating the city-commissioned report on the Angels’ economic impact on Anaheim, published after we’d first spoken, was “pretty excellent”—a verdict with which I and others (including the Voice of OC’s Santana) generally agree. I also know that Shaikin is a quality journalist and anything but an economic naïf, and that he did yeoman’s work covering the complex, soap opera-like financial saga of former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. I suspect that if he were given the time and directed to do so, Shaikin would bring light to the proposed Angel Stadium lease negotiations in fairly short order.
Clearly, though, overall coverage of the Angel Stadium lease has so far been insufficient to the import of the subject. Fortunately, there is time to do better. The Anaheim city staff has said they expect an appraisal of the land around Angel Stadium to be finished by January. But a Nov. 6 story by the Register’s Marroquin paraphrases Anaheim City Manager Marcie Edwards as saying that the appraisal will not be made public until just before the City Council votes on the lease, to avoid undercutting the city’s negotiating position.
The value of the property surrounding Angel Stadium is a critical component of any lease that would include conveying use of that land to Moreno or his companies, and reporters covering the lease need to press hard for the appraisal report to be made public well ahead of a City Council vote, so there is time to assess the reasonableness of the proposed lease. Reporters also should push for revelation of the proposed lease well in advance of any City Council vote on it. In long-term leases of major public facilities, many expensive devils can be hidden in the seemingly smallest of details. The public interest would be poorly served if the City Council approved a lease that was found, afterward, to be tilted toward Moreno and the Angels.
And overall, reporters covering the negotiations on a new lease for the Angel Stadium and surrounding property need to recharge their skepticism batteries, and their calculators. Tait told me the property surrounding the stadium has been permitted for the construction of 5,100 residential units and a total of 6 million square feet of commercial and office space. That the property is already approved for these uses raises its value considerably in regulation-happy California. Tait suggests that a conservative estimate of the property’s value would run in the $300 million range. Tait could be wrong. But it is reasonable to ask: What if he is right? In theory, the stadium property could simply be sold. Would trading 66 years of use of $300 million be a reasonable cost to pay to keep the Angels in Anaheim?
There are ways to calculate the future value of $300 million. My calculations, using an interest rate of 5 percent, compounded annually over the 66 years of the proposed lease, produce a total over that time of about $7.5 billion. Perhaps it is time for the media that most directly serve the Anaheim market to tell their readers and viewers what their calculations show.
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