We’ve talked a couple of times over the last few months about the current stalemate between the former California Angels and the city of Anaheim. Even after a recent short-term lease extension, the Angels have to vacate Angels Stadium at the end of the 2020 season. Given the Angels’ desire for a new, publicly-funded stadium – one which Anaheim has no desire for, given the current fractured relationship between the parties – the team has been casting about somewhat publicly for a new home. An obvious local alternative site has yet to materialize, however, leading to speculation that the team may consider Las Vegas or the new ballpark being built in Portland as a potential new home.
Recent developments, however, have taken this saga in an unexpected direction. Earlier this week, the City of Long Beach confirmed that it had reached out to the Angels to discuss the possibility of the team moving to a planned waterfront ballpark. The site in question is the former home of the Ringling Brothers circus, and is known as the “elephant lot.”
Now, the Long Beach municipal government, for its part, downplayed the extent of the talks.
“As part of our efforts to create a downtown waterfront development plan, we are exploring the feasibility of a downtown sports venue on the Convention Center parking lot,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement.
‘We are in the early stages of our due diligence and are exploring a variety of options for this property. We have approached the Angels to express our interest and discuss the possibilities of this opportunity. This is very preliminary and discussions are ongoing.”
That said, there’s reason to believe that a move to Long Beach could be a plausible outcome for the Angels, and an attractive one for the City. First, Long Beach has been discussing the possibility of offering the Angels not only a publicly funded stadium but a publicly funded headquarters as well, and reportedly has been looking for a building to purchase for that purpose. Second, the team does have history with Long Beach, and nearly ended up there instead of Anaheim.
The Angels negotiated with Long Beach in the 1960s, but the talks ended when then-owner Gene Autry rejected Long Beach City Manager John Mansell’s demand that the team be called the Long Beach Angels.
But most interestingly, Long Beach is already going to be developing the elephant lot for the 2028 Olympics, which are slated to be held in Los Angeles.
Essentially, the Long Beach waterfront will become a waterfront sports park, hosting a variety of sports and events including BMX, water polo, sailing, marathon swimming, triathlon events, and the good ol’ nail-biter that is handball. Like the Valley Sports Park being proposed at the Sepulveda Basin Recreational Park, much of Long Beach will have temporary structures that are decorated with purple-pink-yellow spectrum of the Olympic bid’s branding.
The problem for Long Beach is that the odds of an economic boon from hosting the Olympics are low, because the costs of hosting the Games are staggeringly high. The Council on Foreign Relations, for example, reported last year that cities have actually begun withdrawing bids because of the cost of building the necessary infrastructure.
Altogether, these infrastructure costs range from $5 billion to over $50 billion. Many countries justify such expenditures in the hopes that the spending will outlive the Olympic Games. For instance, some 85 percent [PDF] of the Sochi 2014 Games’ more than $50 billion budget went to building non-sports infrastructure from scratch. More than half of the Beijing 2008 budget of $45 billion went to rail, roads, and airports, while nearly a fourth went to environmental clean-up efforts.
And those infrastructure costs are often not recouped, as structures built for the Olympics can sit unused and vacant for years on end.
Also problematic are so-called white elephants, or expensive facilities that, because of their size or specialized nature, have limited post-Olympics use. These often impose costs for years to come. Sydney’s Olympic stadium costs the city $30 million a year to maintain. Beijing’s famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium cost $460 million to build and requires $10 million a year to maintain, and sits mostly unused. Almost all of the facilities built for the 2004 Athens Olympics, whose costs contributed to the Greek debt crisis, are now derelict. Gangwon, the South Korean regional government responsible for most of the 2018 Games’ infrastructure, is expected to incur an $8.5 million annual deficit due to upkeep of unused facilities.
A comprehensive study of the 2010 Salt Lake City Games found that these costs weren’t defrayed by economic growth. In fact, the study’s authors found that “the Games had a modest short-run impact on employment and no significant
impact on total employment in the long run.” More recently, an analysis of the Sochi Games predicted that “the accounting loss will probably be one of the highest on record, as average official ticket prices are generally lower than at comparable recent events while costs may be the highest in the history of the Games (estimates have been revised multiple times since 2007, to reach around US$ 50 billion but are yet to be confirmed).” And current analysis has found that the Olympics have no long-term positive impact on economic growth.
The end result is what are called “Olympic Ruins” – abandoned structures that require millions of dollars in upkeep, yet have no real purpose. The “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing is among the most famous examples of this, but it’s hardly alone.
So if you’re Long Beach, about to spend a significant amount of money constructing venues and infrastructure for the Olympic Games, it makes a lot of sense to think about what would happen to those venues after the pomp and circumstance ends. In that vein, inviting the Angels to Long Beach makes a lot of sense. A modern multi-sport venue could potentially both host the Angels and the 2028 Games, and ensure that the venue doesn’t sit vacant for months or years after the closing ceremonies. That doesn’t make publicly funding the Angels’ new ballpark a good idea – the data consistently says it isn’t – but if Long Beach really is committed to hosting the 2028 Games, having the Angels occupy the Olympic arena before and after the Games may make a certain amount of economic sense, if for no other reason than to mitigate very real economic damage by keeping some part of those facilities in use after the Olympics leave town.
And if you’re the Angels, this is – for the most part – a dream come true: a publicly funded, modern stadium, close to Los Angeles and in a large market, complete with corporate headquarters. The question is whether the Angels are willing to share the park in 2028.
None of this means a deal is done, or is even likely to get done. But a marriage between the Angels and Long Beach arguably makes more sense than continuing the existing pact between Anaheim and the team, which may be fractured beyond repair after years of animosity. If nothing else, it will be fascinating to see how this unfolds.
Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.