Just several months have passed since I last wrote about the mayor of Albuquerque and his never-ending quest to get a new stadium built for the local soccer franchise, New Mexico United (NMU). To shortly summarize, the mayor has been begging public officials for the last 3 years to give NMU upwards of $50 million taxpayer dollars for a new stadium. After city councilors rejected this idea, the mayor decided to try his luck with a public vote. In 2022, the public was quite unanimous in saying they wanted nothing to do with this project. One of the many reasons for the ballot rejection came from the lack of clarity over the entire deal. The public had a right to be confused. Even today, good luck trying to get a lot of information on all five of the owners of NMU. To make matters worse, both NMU and the mayor have consistently given their stadium ideas/proposals to other city officials with little to no time to look into the project. Intentionally.
Then slowly over the last few months, stories began to be written about the mayor trying yet again to get a new stadium built on a different piece of property. Last week, we found out that the mayor had successfully convinced city officials to form some type of partnership with NMU to build a new stadium. Instead of NMU asking the public for $50 million dollars, the team will pay $30 million dollars out of their own pocket to build a new stadium. NMU will also pay rent and give the city a small percentage of parking fees. To be fair to the city, this is a far better deal than Buffalo got with the Bills or any other sports team who recently built a new ballpark or stadium.
But the deal still has plenty of drawbacks and costs. First, this deal is being rushed at an extreme pace:
“The lease agreement was introduced to city council on October 2 by the Keller Administration for approval and it is scheduled for final approval by the city council on October 16. The lease is being presented to the city council as a take it or leave it proposition without allowing negotiation of additional terms the council may want. A 16 day period before final approval of the lease by the city council does not come even close to allow the council to review the lease and to have at least one committee meeting for the Council to debate, take public input and for ask for additions or amendments to the lease”— Pete Dinelli, 11/16/23
There is still a lot that we don’t know about the contract between NMU and the city. It will be interesting to see how many demands NMU will put into the fine print that nobody knows about right now. Kind of like how Albuquerque is currently paying the minor league baseball team additional money not found in the original lease due to ground issues at the ballpark. Which seems likely considering this mayor has a history of trying to rush through anything helpful to NMU. Remember when the mayor told a crow of supporters that he would put the stadium issue onto a ballot…before he had even informed the city of his plans to do this? City councilors were left confused at having zero information, all the while expected to decide the mayor’s question in a short amount of time.
Second, taxpayer money will be used for the stadium project. Some expenses are things we know about…for example, the city will be paying upwards of $10 million for infrastructure around the stadium. Some are not known because we aren’t being told about them…for example, the state has given Albuquerque money “for infrastructure improvements that will provide needed upgrades at Balloon Fiesta Park”. Is this something that must be done in the future? A yearly thing? A one-time payment? We don’t know. What we do know is that the current agreement between the city and the team states that the “City agrees to support and help secure Industrial Revenue Bonds for the Stadium”. This means that NMU’s owners could benefit from several tax exemptions, even while not paying down on those same bonds.
Third, the amount of money being given to the city compared to the revenues that NMU can keep is extremely different. Specifically, NMU must pay the city for rent and parking fees. Considering that NMU is allowed to keep “all revenues generated from use of the stadium”, the amount being given to the city is tiny.
“Critics of the plan at the city council meeting on Monday called the $35,000 per year lease plus a 10% cut of parking revenue for the city a “sweetheart deal” for the team, the report said. The critics argued that taxpayers should not subsidize the stadium, even indirectly” — Center Square, 10/17/23
Fourth, NMU promised the public that since the stadium would be a part of the community, locals would be able to have access to the stadium during non-gamedays. NMU is now telling the city that they can have 10 free days of stadium use per year. Maybe you think that the public being given time at the new stadium is an irrelevant factor. But keep in mind that the New Mexico United did a PR tour before their failed stadium ballot last year. NMU repeatedly claimed that the stadium wouldn’t just sit around when the team wasn’t playing in it. One of the owners of United told a local news outlets that the team didn’t “want a stadium that sits empty 345 days…we want that to be impacting part of our community”. Instead, the city is being given 10 days of free use for the stadium.
Fifth, the land that the new stadium is being built on is called Balloon Fiesta Park. This land is run by a commission called the Balloon Fiesta Commission. One problem is that this commission is virtually non-existent. When this commission tried to ratify the team agreement last week, they couldn’t because there “weren’t enough people to vote”. Considering the commission hasn’t published an agenda in more than three years, one local reporter correctly noted that there was a “lack of transparency (that) exists surrounding the commission”.
But let’s step away from the many issues that I have with the stadium agreement. This week, I was reading several stories from local outlets about this new stadium. I began to notice that several of the pieces were written by various local groups that had nothing to do with sports. For example, why are members of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber (AHC) supporting the stadium with these idiotic opinion pieces that talk about how much they love this stadium deal. Why on earth would the head of a group that is “focused on improving education” be talking about the specifics of this stadium deal? In one recent piece, the story claims that there is virtually no downside to this deal. The public wins either way! Rather than caring about numbers or facts, the public should embrace the stadium because “the sky is the limit” and it will bring the city so much non-existent tourism money.
You won’t be shocked to find out that absolutely nothing found in these stories is backed up with any substance. I can’t find a single economic number given by NMU or any of its supporters that isn’t just completely false. For the last two years, the owner of New Mexico United has touted that a new stadium would “bring 780 jobs” to the area. Sounds great until you realize that almost 65% of those 780 jobs are temporary only gigs with limited to no benefits. The other 280 jobs are never explained by the owner. Not to worry though, as his supporters take this stat and run!
- “Those looking to build the stadium say it can create 780 jobs” – Macree, 11/26/22
- “The new venue is estimated to bring 780 new jobs to the city” — USLChampionship.com, 09/24/21
NMU began play in 2018, but actually started their stadium push in 2020. In that same year, the city of Albuquerque released their yearly “Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy”. This report took input from several local groups. Yes, one of them was a member of the AHC. The report says that the city’s plans for boosting tourism that year involved developing “a downtown soccer stadium, and other facilities that draw visitors for specific sports”. When one of your yearly objectives is to “Support a stadium in Albuquerque for the NM United soccer team”, it isn’t hard to see what side of the fence you are on in this issue. What about strategies to expand the culture and history of the local area? “Support (for) NM Stadium” is the report’s answer, among other things.When the team was trying to win the ballot in 2022, they came out with tales of economic glory. A story in the SantaFeNewMexican.com (SFNM) does an impressive job going over falsehoods made by the team over how many new jobs would be created by a new stadium. A team advisor publicly told the media that a new stadium “will maintain about 280 full-time jobs each year and create over $1 million in sales tax annually”. This was repeated in commercials and other pieces written by team supporters.
“New Mexico United had 29 players, eight coaches and a support staff of 26. A new stadium would not have necessitated another 217 full-time employees. In truth, the new venue wouldn’t have added any full-time jobs except in the construction phase. Once those jobs ended, 25 years of public payments on stadium debt would have remained. Regardless of whether stadiums are new or old, they employ seasonal workers on game days. These crews staff admission gates, parking lots, security stations and outlets selling concessions and merchandise” — SantaFeNewMexican.com, 10/3/23
When the SFNM contacted NMU to ask them about these numbers being garbage, an NMU official claimed that they were told by “advocates” that these numbers were correct, and they were “merely repeat(ing) them”. How lucky.
Over the last few years, the New Mexico United owners have really increased how often they push for a new stadium. Thankfully, I am not the only one noticing outside groups like this supporting a cause that isn’t really in their so-called ballpark. As the ABQ Journal wrote in 2021, when the public was asked whether to fund the stadium on a ballot, even they seemed to be wondering why some of these groups were supporting the deal:
“Despite the challenges, business groups like the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber have expressed support for the deal” – ABQ Journal, 2021
Over the last two years, the AHC has publicly supported whatever was the latest stadium proposal at the time through interviews or written pieces. In 2021, AHC came out pleading with residents that the city “needs this stadium” due to the 500 jobs it will create and the $27 milllion created during construction. Again, there is nothing to prove these numbers. Nothing. I take that back. The AHC did say that this stadium would be like getting a shot or something.
This reminded me of what happens in the technology/telecom area whenever a big merger or purchase is about to happen. Suddenly, all of these odd groups write letters to local news places stating how great this merger/purchase will be for America! Other times, a big company will hire a PR firm to literally create a fake coalition group that surprisingly supports all the big companies positions. TechDirt.com has written many stories going over the times that outside groups went to public bat for specific topics that they had no connection to. Last year, one specific article written uses an example that hits close to our story:
“For years, we’ve noted how one of the greasier lobbying tactics in telecom is the co-opting of civil rights groups to provide the illusion of broad support for what’s often awful policy. Such groups are given cash for a shiny new event center in exchange for parroting any policy position that comes across their desks, even if it dramatically undermines their constituents. As a result, we’ve shown how time and time again you’ll see minority coalitions like the “Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership” supporting awful mergers or opposing consumer-centric policies like more cable box competition or net neutrality” – TechDirt, 09-25-07
Why do this? Well, for starters…money. The soccer team can be found in the directory of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber. I am not saying this proves anything, but it doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
Maybe we can look at the latest tax return for the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber and see who gave them money? I wish.