Feb 28, 2024 - Sports

76ers spending millions on marketing strategy for new arena

A rendering of 76ers proposed new downtown arena.

A rendering of the Sixers' proposed arena. Rendering: Courtesy of City of Philadelphia/Gensler

The Philadelphia 76ers have spent more than $4.4 million on lobbying and marketing since 2022 to bolster support for its proposed new downtown arena.

Why it matters: The $1.5 billion Market East proposal faces mounting opposition from Chinatown leaders who believe it'll devastate the neighborhood.

  • A recent analysis suggests the arena could cost Philadelphia and the state more than $1 billion in lost tax revenue — roughly the same amount the 76ers project the stadium would generate in revenue.

Driving the news: The team's lobbying firm, CBL Real Estate, spent more than $2.1 million over the latter half of 2023, per an Axios analysis of the group's expense disclosure forms.

  • That includes a recent wave of signs sprouting up in neighborhoods touting the stadium as a "win-win for Philly."

State of play: As tensions grow over the project's viability, CBL has steadily increased communications spending compared to when it first began representing the team.

  • The firm reported expenses of just $27,000 between April and June 2022, but that amount soared to more than $1.1 million over the final three months of 2023 — the bulk for efforts targeting Philadelphians.

Zoom in: A recent batch of signs that appeared in Fairmount, paid for by the team's development arm, 76ers DevCo, listed the potential benefits of the project and encouraged people to "join the team to bring a new Sixers arena to our community."

  • The signs included a QR code directing people to the 76 Place website where they can sign up to support the project.
Signs have popped up around Philadelphia promoting the Sixers' proposed arena.
One of the signs promoting the 76ers' proposed arena. Photo: Delano Massey/Axios

Behind the scenes: The signs are part of the Sixers' broader lobbying strategy that has included canvassing, various types of advertising and arranging meetings with city officials.

  • The team contends the project has broad support among city residents and commuters. It said it collected more than 30,000 petition signatures in support between Labor Day and mid-December.

Yes, but: The team's lobbying firm had its practices scrutinized last year when CBL was fined $4,000 by the city's ethics board for failing to disclose its efforts to influence officials about the arena.

  • As part of a settlement, the group submitted two updated 2022 disclosure forms showing it had contact with former Mayor Jim Kenney's administration, former Council President Darrell Clarke and current Councilmember Mark Squilla.

What they're saying: Vivian Chang, executive director of Asian Americans United, tells Axios that "developers are trying to buy" public support for the arena through lobbying and PR.

  • Leaders are concerned potential lost tax revenue could "deepen existing inequity and harm the people who need the most and already get the least," says Bishop Dwayne Royster of POWER Interfaith.

The other side: Sixers spokesperson Mark Nicastre declined to talk about the communications tab, but said the team's "grassroots efforts" are intended to combat "misperceptions and disinformation" about the team's plans.

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