The Millennium Dome’s New Lease of Life

November 27, 2009

Last night, over 17,000 fans packed an arena in London, England, to watch Roger Federer, arguably the best tennis player ever, flirt with exit from the season ending World Tour Finals tournament. He still lost his match, but didn’t go out, because this is the group stages of the tournament, a round-robin stage. Instead, by winning the second set on a tie-break, before falling to an overall two sets to one defeat, he won a sufficient number of games to ensure his progress.

Three of the four players in the group that Federer and his conquerer, Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, won two matches and lost one. The other player was Britain’s (or Scotland’s, to appease Scottish readers) Andy Murray. Federer won 44 games and lost 40 in his three matches, del Potro won 45 and lost 43, while Murray won 44 and lost 43, losing a heavy final set to Roger Federer. So Murray was eliminated from the tournament by a single game. It was undoubtedly a thrilling climax, and the tournament will now progress.

Interestingly enough, the 6-3 final set scoreline was about the only score by which Murray could have been knocked out – or at least, that’s what the BBC reports. Of course, a 6-2 or 6-1 scoreline for del Potro would have still put Federer and del Potro through, although 6-0 would have put Federer out. 6-4 and del Potro would be boarding the flight home this morning, same with 7-5 or 7-6.

Furthermore, for those conspiracy theorists out there, del Potro crumbled in the second set tie break from an eminently winnable position, and wimpered to defeat. A straight sets defeat for Federer and he was out. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that these two chaps contrived to engineer one of the few possible scores that ensured they both progressed?

Given Nick’s recent post on corruption in soccer, tennis is an eminently more corruptable sport than soccer. That isn’t to say soccer is clear, or tennis bent because of the different number of players engaging each other in a given match (22 plus subs and officials in soccer, 2 plus officials in tennis). It’s just to give some bait to those who like a good conspiracy theory (and hadn’t already spotted this probably fairly obvious one!).

What I’m more interested and amused about is the arena those 17,000 fans packed into. Nine years ago, to great fanfare, that same arena was opened as the Millennium Done, to general farce and ridicule. It didn’t last too long, was strongly criticised as a waste of money, and lay dormant for quite a while. It’s nice though to see that someone took on the rather obvious idea of turning it into a venue. It’s now the O2 Arena thanks to the mobile phone company’s sponsorship, and it hosts musical concerts, even an opera (Carmen next May), and now, excitingly, sports events. That London and the UK now has a venue for hosting indoor sports events to suitably large crowds (over 17,000) is very exciting, and I’d be interested to see how much public money had to be sunk into that one – my imagination is that, if we forget about the costs to develop the Dome way back, it’s probably fairly small. Or maybe I’m being naive?


More match-fixing problems in international football (Thanksgiving Edition)

November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the U.S. and around the world (though you may not celebrate it, or celebrate it on another day).  As I was up early this morning watching things cook in the oven, I spent my time reading about the newest betting problems emerging in Europe.

It seems, the big fear in Europe has been whether things in domestic football leagues in Europe would become as bad as things in Asia, where the Chinese top flight professional soccer league is currently under investigation by police for match fixing involving a blow out win of a single match, which seems to be reaching through all levels of the league, and may end in the league being shut down by the police/government.  The growing popularity of football (soccer) in Asia, coupled with the large number of individuals who bet on games in Asia, has seem to have now had a backwards effect on European football.

Earlier this year in Newcastle, England, two Chinese students were found murdered, having evidence of being tortured.  The two students who were getting master’s degrees have been recently linked with a large Chinese international betting company which ran betting on the Premier League.  It looks like these two murders were ordered by a Chinese criminal syndicate which ordered the killings in revenge for something, but what “it” is, is somewhat unsure.  The article discusses further how gambling is illegal in China, yet it is believed that around 40 billion pounds of bets were placed last year on the Premier League in China alone.  With this in mind, the Chinese triads and criminal syndicates have been looking more and more to place agents in England in closer contact with the Premier League in order to run the betting operation.

In Germany and Switzerland, several individual were arrested and are being questioned in a match-fixing scandal.  Two players have been questioned in connection with this latest incident, and one of the players has already been suspended by his club, despite no word of what his role may have been in any of this.  While the players involved are members of a fourth-tier German professional football team, the police in Germany and Switzerland are saying that this match-fixing probe involves over 200 matches in Europe, including games played in the Champions League, the highest level club tournament in the region.  UEFA is calling it the biggest match-fixing scandal they have ever had, and it seems an international gang of over 200 people may be involved.  It is said that the bribery may be occurring in Europe, the betting in China, and the group cashing in the money in Berlin.  UEFA is already reacting by investigating various referees on the continent.  With the previous scandals which have rocked Italian football, and now this mega-scandal brewing, it seems that there may be many clubs, players, officials, managers, referees, and so on in European football who are in big trouble.  It is even reported that UEFA is aware of, and investigating the fact that many club official had been illegally placing bets on their own club, which is against UEFA rules.  I expect a quick, severe, and harsh backlash when all of this happens.

Yet one thing which seems to stand out in all of this is a connection China, and growing betting markets around the world.  I’m sure David Stern and other North American league commissioner’s will be paying attention to this.  And this will probably be yet another excuse for none of the major North American sports leagues placing franchises in Las Vegas.

More on the Silverdome Sale

November 25, 2009

Nick remarked on the sale of the Pontiac Silverdome for the rock bottom price of $583,000 last week.  An article in the Globe and Mail provides some additional interesting information about this transaction:

  1. The new owner, Toronto real estate developer Andreas Apostolopoulos didn’t expect to win the auction, and only mailed in a bid after seeing an ad for the auction in the back of a newspaper. There were only 4 bids.   He has never visited the Silverdome, but plans to next week. Apostolopoulos manages a “small portfolio of retail and industrial properties.”  He has zero experience managing large venues or sports facilities.
  2. Apostolopoulos has vague plans for attracting an anchor tenant – an MLS team – but has not contacted MLS and the league appears to want nothing to do with Mr. Apostolopoulos and the facility.  He is also considering concerts and other large events.
  3. Maintenance costs are $1.5 million per year.  Given the low cost of the facility, Mr. Apostolopoulos does not need external financing for this project.  “I can carry the costs for a few years.”

Since the site includes 127 acres of land, and the city has pledged to remove development restrictions, Mr. Apostolopoulos will probably be able to realize a profit on the transaction eventually, when the real estate market picks up.  That much commercial land should be worth much more in a better economy, but the cost of tearing down the Silverdome could be significant, which would limit the redevelopment potential.  Note that Apostolopoulos is also exposed to some exchange rate risk.  As a Canadian real estate manager, the funds he must use to pay the maintenance costs are in Canadian dollars; any depreciation in the Loonie, which is currently trading at about 93 cents, will drive up those costs.

Given Mr. Apostolopoulos’ unexpected win, and his lack of experience managing sports venues, you have to wonder about this quote from Pontiac’s Emergence Financial Manager following the sale: “The Silverdome will now be in the hands of professionals who can devote their time to transform this high-profile property into a vital asset instead of enabling it to continue to languish as an empty facility.” Good luck with that.

Buying into Major League Soccer, and the return of the NASL?

November 24, 2009

Yesterday, was the final championship game of the Major League Soccer (MLS), with Real Salt Lake taking their first league title ever.  I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but I’m wondering if this is the first professional sport league championships for the state of Utah.  Does anyone know?

On the losing side of yesterday’s game, which came down to one of the most dramatic penalty kick shootouts I have ever seen, was the Los Angeles Galaxy lead by David Beckham and Landon Donovan.  With the season now over, Beckham will pack his bags and make the rounds in Europe playing for Milan on loan as he did last season.  Last time things didn’t go so well with both teams coming to a major battle of the rights of Beckham, how much he is worth, and what should be paid for a few months of his service.  Some say, that Milan may have paid around $10 million, or about a single year of Beckham’s salary.  Not a bad deal for the MLS if you ask me.

What really caught my eye, however, was MLS commissioner, Don Garber’s public statements about Beckham and the league’s expansion.  It was made public that Beckham has in his contract the option to buy the league’s 20th franchise after 2011 or whenever he stops playing in the league.  It seems Garber doesn’t want Beckham owning a team and playing at the same time, which, while understandable, is ironic considering Phil Anshcutz and Lamar Hunt at one point in time controlled eight of ten franchises.  I guess the MLS is trying to tone down on the conflict of interests. Currently the league has 15 franchises, Philly comes next year, and Vancouver and Portland the year after that.  That brings the league to 18 teams, with Montreal considered to by the strong front runner to get #19.  However, Garber says the Montreal bid is not yet acceptable to the league, which requires teams to pay $40 million to join the league.  The league seems ready to keep expanding, and as I have mentioned before, it is fast approaching the number of franchises which the failed NASL had.  You can read more about Garber’s words here.

Curious that I discuss the North American Soccer League (NASL) which failed in 1984, but had some of the all-time greats play in the U.S. including Pele, Beckenbauer, and Cruyff.  Well guess what, the league is on the way back!  I first thought this was some kind of April Fool’s joke, but then I looked at the calendar.  Turns out the NASL is being reformed as a break away division two league in North America, after breaking away from the United Soccer League (USL).  There are now two second-tier soccer leagues in the U.S., notably one of the franchises which broke away was the Montreal USL team.

So who knows, maybe the Canadian investment team which bought the Pontiac Silverdome does have a chance at landing a professional soccer franchise.  Though an MLS bid would seem unlikely, there are now two leagues which will surely be looking for teams.

The big question: Did no one learn from the original NASL’s failure?  All signs seem to indicate we are ignoring why the old league most likely failed.

Le Hand of God

November 19, 2009

The fall-out of last night’s France-Ireland World Cup Play-off match will continue to reverberate around: The BBC currently has a live news feed, the type of thing reserved for actual football matches. At 2pm Ireland will make a statement, apparently, but of course all focus remains on UEFA and FIFA reactions – both of whom are firmly tight lipped over the episode.

The calls are there, for video technology, and all sorts of reforms, but there does appear to be something somewhat forgotten in all of this: Ireland were not heading into the World Cup but for Henry’s handball. Henry’s handball moment came minutes after France were denied what to many was a clear penalty and furthermore, had the “goal” not happened, Ireland still needed to put the ball in the net themselves to make it to South Africa, or triumph in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. So it’s a little strong to say that this one decision cost Ireland all those potential millions.

Football is a fluid game with one controversy after another, and much of that is what makes the game such a money spinner for many: The BBC and other more commercial news outlets would be having many less hits today had the game been conventional and boring, with video technology ruling the goal out.

The interesting thing naturally is the conspiracy theorists: France were seeded in the play-offs, ensuring they didn’t face Portugal or Russia, the other big nations in the play-offs. Then they got the awful decision in their favour, as opposed to Ireland. Many English Premiership watchers notice that Manchester United and Liverpool always get the decisions in their favour, particular at home. But is this just a perception, given our cognitive abilities, or a general statistical pattern? I feel a research idea blossoming…

FIFA World Cup Finance

November 19, 2009

So, today (yesterday by the time I post this) was the final day of qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.  I had been cheering for the underdogs for the UEFA qualifying, especially after they were seeded using their team rankings, giving the stronger teams all a better shot at making it through to the finals in South Africa.  While Slovakia managed to take down Russia, it looked like Ireland was well on their way to South Africa until a Thierry Henry handball in the 103′ minute of the match cost Ireland the match, and a shot at heading back to the world cup.  Considering the prize money for each World Cup has been increasing, and that the last place squad in the Confederations Cup received $1.4 million, I wonder how much Henry’s handball, and the referee’s giant mistake cost the Irish squad.  Not to mention irate Irish fans, potential sponsors, and television revenue in Ireland.  I’d be curious to see the negative economic impact of the Henry’s imitation of Maradona’s famous “Hand of God” on Ireland, and the possible positive impact for France.

Speaking of economic impact and financial anaylsis, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) has been storming along with their attempts to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.  In their latest “study” the USSF claim that bringing the World Cup to the U.S. will bring $5 billion to the U.S. economy, and create between 65,000 to 150,000 jobs.  Now that is a stimulus plan!  You can read the summary of the study here.  What I found strange was the estimate process used a model which had cities generating between $400 million to $600 million per city for an entire month.  In using this model, they generate the $5 billion influx into the U.S. economy through using three prototype markets.  Notably absent are the costs of hosting such an event.  There is a great deal of literature out there about hosting the Olympics and major costs which go along with it.  To me, the World Cup seems to be a better draw and possibly have a higher potential for true economic and financial benefit in developed nations with an existing infrastructure of stadiums.

However, I worry when I read reports such as this in the U.S., especially considering that the USSF wants to use this study to motivate all 27 potential host cities within the U.S. to conduct their own analysis of how much economic activity hosting the World Cup would generate.  As with all these type of studies, the costs of hosting events, repairs and building of roads and transportation, traffic and security issues, and other things are not considered.  Another problem I have with this “model” that the USSF is using, is working under the assumption that fans will come to the World Cup, and stay for a whole month, with each city seeing a constant flux of visitors, and maintaining high levels of spending and tourists for an entire 31 day period.  Looking at the schedule for say, the 2010 World Cup, one can see the group stages where all 12 venues have games lasts for about 14 days.  Following that in the knockout stage, only 16 teams are left (with a large number of fans possibly going home at this point).  With only a select few holding matches during the knockout stages of the tournament, it would seem that visitors coming to watch the World Cup wouldn’t hang around in cities where there is no football being played.  Effectively, maybe 4-6 venues could see a fully sustained crowd for a whole month, but probably most of the host cities would only see people coming in on days matches are played in the first two weeks.

It seems to me like the USSF is doing extrapolation which is way beyond the actual scope of hosting the World Cup.  Of course, this is nothing new with such economic or financial analysis of mega sporting events.

Pontiac Silverdome Sold! For $583,000!

November 17, 2009

A while back, I had seen a picture of a for sale sign in front of the Pontiac Silverdome, the former stadium of the Detroit Lions and had thought it was just a mere joke or photoshopped photo (See photo to the right).  Today, I was reading through the news, and to my amazement, the Silverdome was indeed for sale.  The big shocker is the price the stadium went for, a mere $583,000!   The original cost of the stadium: $55.7 million, which means the stadium has been sold for about 1/100th of what it originally cost to build the stadium.  It is noted that there are houses which cost more than this 80,000 seat stadium.

The stadium, which is located in the hard-hit state of Michigan, was put up for auction by the city of Pontiac who owned the stadium.  The top bid was made by a Canadian group, which has claimed they will be turning the Silverdome into a domed soccer stadium.  The Silverdome does have a history of hosting sporting events, hosting four FIFA World Cup matches in 1994, Elvis Presley, Pope John Paul II, The Cherry Bowl, The Motor City Bowl, Super Bowl XVI (where Joe Montana made his name), and so forth.

After the completion of the newer Ford Field in Detroit, the Pontiac Dome has gone essentially unused for the last seven years, with the Lions leaving in 2001.  In the time since, the city has tried to host several events and teams in the stadium including a WHA hockey team, a Canadian Football Team, both deals fell through.  The city did use the parking lot as a drive-in movie theater for a few years, but the stadium was closed down for good in 2006.  The investment team plans to make a bid for an MLS team, and to use the stadium for its games.  I don’t think this will go over very well.  The MLS has realized how problematic it is to use mega-sized stadiums for matches which draw around 10,000 fans on average.  However, the $583,000 is definitely cheaper than building a smaller soccer specific stadium so maybe it will all work out.  Some how I don’t see an MLS franchise in Detroit doing very well.