31 December 2005

The future of stadiums?

ESPN's sports business reporter Darren Rovell penned a neat article on the use of technology and automation in enhancing the fan experience. A single smart card with RFID could one day act as a complete ticketing and purchasing system for parking, entry, concessions, and merchandise. Not only would the system speed up transactions, it could be used for security purposes as well. There are obviously issues to work out regarding data security and encryption. It will also be a challenge to change patrons' thinking to the idea of prepaid or rechargeable smart cards instead of cash or credit/debit cards. Incentives can be given to those who subscribe, and it can be said that the "rewards card club" memberships many teams have introduced the past few years are a mere stepping stone to a more comprehensive approach. As a person who works for a company putting out leading edge technology, I wholeheartedly endorse the concept.

29 December 2005

Petco Park tour

I've spent the last week in San Diego visiting family, and while I was there I took in a tour of Petco Park. It proved to be a highly educational experience, especially when trying to look at the venue from the perspective of a team owner such as Lew Wolff. Wolff likes several features of Petco including its "neighborhoods," or areas of regular or season ticket holders. One potential positive in the concept is that the community feel created by neighborhoods could be a factor in subscription retention in years to come, particularly when the novelty effect wears off.

As the tour guide led us through and pointed out many of the unique design elements of Petco, I made some of my own observations:
  1. Revenue-generating opportunities are more diverse at Petco than at SBC Park. The Western Metal Supply building alone has a restaurant, bleachers, and several party suites. The only significant party area at SBC is the concourse behind center field, which is sometimes roped off when it's reserveed for group gatherings.
  2. The Sony Dugout Club, which is reserved for the 150 or so ticketholders immediately behind home plate, is fantastic. It's ostentatious with its huge leather booths, granite tables, and multiple plasma televisions, but if you're a corporate guy looking to impress a client, it's a can't-miss venue. It also has a great view of the Padres' batting cage.
  3. The bleacher concept is only flawed in the sense that the risers descend to the field with the fence partially obstructing some views. Other than that, it's fantastic. The "beach" area will be expanded slightly when the fence is pulled in before the start of the season. BTW, the individual plastic seats on the concrete risers are the Colosseum-Two model made by Dant Clayton, a highly reputable bleacher manufacturer out of Louisville, KY.
  4. The standing room areas are brilliant, perhaps too brilliant. Since the standing room option ($5) has become so popular, seatholders immediately in front of the SRO drinkrails have gotten annoyed at the occasional spilled drink - so much that the Pads are taking out an entire row in front of the drink rail. A nice side effect for the team is that it will create a little more ticket scarcity since a couple hundred seats may be removed from inventory.
  5. The Toyota Terrace has separate club seating and suites. The tour guide pointed out the fact that several Indian gaming interests have suites. Sycuan even holds regular tribal meetings in their suite. I'll expand on this in an article on Las Vegas that will be posted on Friday.
  6. With 17 acres to work with, HOK and architect Antoine Predock had a large space on which they could place buildings, plants, and architectural elements. With an A's ballpark, 17 acres may not be available because of costly land acquisition (5 acres = $30+ million). The acreage was used effectively, as much of the ballpark is recessed from the street, minimizing visual impact.
  7. The use of differing sizes of squarish and rectangular sandstone was a nice touch. It really softens the facade while paying homage to Aztec architecture, albeit with a modern twist.
  8. Ramps are hidden while stairs leading up to the main concourse are prominently featured, which is reminiscent of an Aztec temple. There are 18 elevators and a few escalators, but they are also hidden away.
  9. The stadium appears to be built quite high when looking at it from the field, but that's only because of the proximity of the mezzanine and upper decks, which are both cantilevered well over the lower deck. It would be lower if not for the two levels of suites and club lounges, which effectively add 25-30 feet to the height of the stadium. From the streets lining the outfield, the stadium facade is some 30 feet high when it meets the sidewalk. Look straight up and you'll see the upper two decks. The field is not significantly below the street (~6 feet).
  10. The Park at the Park is a great concept. It's one I think can be integrated into an A's ballpark that could be a big community asset if executed well. It doesn't beat McCovey Cove and the Promenade, however.
  11. The Giants went a little cheap on the video/scoreboard solution deployed at SBC Park. They signed a huge package deal with Panasonic, who not only provided the scoreboard and video board (dubbed Astrovision), but also the TV's in the suites and concourses and the distributed audio system. At Petco, the Padres partnered with Cox Cable and Sony, which meant that HDTV and Sony widescreens are everywhere. There are also little scoreboards above each concourse that have static signage attached. Of course, the Pads had a nice little financial and political delay which allowed them to get the HD stuff in house, which the Giants didn't a few years back. That just means that when it comes time for the Giants to do some upgrades, they won't be cheap. Memo to Lew: 1080p LCD! And Meyer Sound - because nobody does it better!
  12. I counted four different Hussey Seating seat models in use at Petco. The exposed suite seats were covered with tarps. Leather rolling chairs were pulled into each suite. The first tier club seat holders got nice, wide chairs with padded inserts for both the back and seat. The high-roller Sony Dugout Club seats were a high-back variety with fold-out tablets, like those found in a university auditorium. The regular seats were the old-school looking Legend model.
For those who happen to be in San Diego in the near future, I fully recommend the tour. An adult ticket costs $9 with discounts for seniors and kids. The tour runs about 90 minutes.

22 December 2005

Purdy connects the dots

Update 12/22 09:00 - David Pollak has a wrtiten an article on the complexity of the soccer-baseball relationship.

Ever the ballpark advocate, Mark Purdy's new column
in the Merc builds on the theory that a soccer stadium initiative will sprout into something containing both baseball and soccer facilities. From this there is one glaring question: Is the pursuit of a soccer stadium an end-around to a ballpark?

Yes and No. Yes in the sense that it's an extremely clever way to get the facilities on the ballot. Separately, they're much weaker than they are together. There's no commitment from Wolff to bring the A's to San Jose, but there is a pretty clear threat should a ballot initiative be approved. No because territorial rights are still a major problem, but the thinking may be that the offer is so good for Wolff (and by extension MLB) that it would be foolish for the commish to pass it up.

So what would it look like? Try this:

The key to the idea, as I've said before, is the inclusion of public park space. There is a lack of courts and playing fields in the Midtown-Downtown area, and by including them in the package, stadium proponents could get a crucial ally that may otherwise be a NIMBY foe.

The 22-25,000-seat soccer stadium sits on top of what is now Park Avenue. To get the right amount of space, Park Avenue would have to be closed down. It actually works out quite well, since any excavated ground can be used to fill in the underpass leading to the railroad tracks. Close down Park west of the tracks for about a block, and the neighborhood will have 4-5 acres of park facilities linked together by an underpass. There would be plenty of room for the following:
  1. A public park situated west of the ballpark with picnic areas and unique landscaping
  2. A multi-purpose playing surface for a youth soccer field or sandlot
  3. Basketball and tennis courts west of the ballpark
  4. A pedestrian-only plaza or paseo between the two stadiums
  5. A single vehicle access ramp for both facilities and other shared infrastructure
There's more to the concept including ballpark specifics, but this is all I'll release for now.

21 December 2005


That's the new capacity of the Network Associates Coliseum now that the A's have announced that the upper deck won't be sold at all in 2006. Since the initial news came out that View season tickets weren't for sale a few weeks ago, it wasn't certain if the seats would be sold at all, or only for certain high-demand games. The former is definitely the case. In the accompanying press release, A's President Michael Crowley even confirmed that it's part of the trial balloon to understand and transform demand for A's season, advance, and walk-up tickets:
"Our goal is to create a more intimate ballpark atmosphere and bring our seating capacity in line to what we have proposed for our new venue."
The team also makes a claim that the decrease in capacity is being done to improve the fan experience, citing a survey that indicated views from the ironically named View level seats were among the worst in baseball. One observation I have to make is that the A's failed to explain exactly how they were going to improve the fan experience on than the closing of the upper deck. They should have explained how access to concessions and restrooms should or will be improved, which it almost certainly will be. Otherwise it won't appear as more than an experiment.

One thing should be explained about this move: the A's probably won't get higher revenues this season as a result. Say the A's sold 10,000 View level seats per game against the Yanks/Red Sox/Giants and account for $10 per person in concessions revenue, the gross revenue for those 12 games would be $2.4 million. That's not that much in the grand scheme of things. Lost revenue from View tickets sold at other games would be made up by selling tickets for Plaza level seats. While it appears from the outside that the A's are just interested in selling a bunch of higher-priced seats, it's more about getting that predictable demand curve in place with season tickets and advance sales. Diminished walk-up sales should no doubt contribute to a flatter curve.

Oakland makes up with Raiders, rebuffs A's

Following up on a story that surfaced last month, Oakland City Council approved the settlement that will kill once and for all the Raiders' disastrous PSL system and hand full control of football ticket selling operations to the Raiders. Two articles have shown up so far on this:
What wasn't known in November was the type of concessions the city and Coliseum Authority might need to make to get the A's to go along with the deal. That was finally revealed last night as A's officials and local pols said that the A's wanted a three-year extension on the existing lease. That request, along with a similar extension request by the Raiders, was denied.

In light of the difficulty seen in getting the Coliseum North project off the ground, one would think it would behoove Oakland/Alameda County to sign the A's for three more years. That time could be used to work on alternate sites or reshape Wolff's proposal into something more feasible.

The only thing I can see that may have made Oakland balk at the concession was if the lease terms were merely three additional one-year extensions with the same buyout terms the A's currently have in the 2008-10 years. That would not help Oakland in the least, since it would give the A's a longer safety net as they pursued other options out of town.

If the lease extension was a lock-in, where the end of the long-term lease agreement was pushed out from 2007 to 2010, it doesn't make much sense for Oakland to reject it. It's possible that Oakland is calling the A's bluff and holding a hard line so that the A's can be forced to make a decision by 2010. It might also net better lease terms for Oakland. Still, those are tenuous supporting arguments for a decision that can only be termed as baffling. More to come on this.

20 December 2005

This could be from your champion

A voice from the past wrote the following letter to the Washington Post:
Regarding the Dec. 18 front-page story "Beyond Washington, Most Teams Cover Stadium Overruns; District Agreed to Pay Costs Exceeding Ballpark Budget," about the District's lease deal with the Washington Nationals:

First, when comparing the District with other cities, it is important to keep in mind that stadiums in Seattle, Milwaukee and Phoenix included roofs, a complicated design feature that makes a project trickier. The District's stadium will be simpler.

The Nationals are contributing $5.5 million a year on top of $20 million upfront. Over the 30-year lease, this amounts to $165 million. Almost no other U.S. city is receiving that much rent; some teams pay just $1 million a year in rent.

Also, Camden Yards in Baltimore was 95 percent funded by that city. By comparison, the District's stadium is funded almost exclusively by large businesses, the federal government and ticket holders -- sparing average taxpayers.

Further, many ballparks, such as Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, are isolated. In the District, we've spent a little more to locate the stadium just 10 blocks from the Capitol. We're creating a new neighborhood out of parking lots and warehouses; in a few years a formerly gritty corner of the city will be lively and productive, bringing millions of dollars in sales, property and income tax revenue into the general fund each year.

Finally, most maintenance costs at the stadium are the responsibility of the Nationals, not the city.

Our hope is that the enormous economic benefits that will flow to the city and its residents in years to come will demonstrate the wisdom of this investment.

City Administrator
District of Columbia
Robert Bobb used to work for the City of Oakland. He left for the District in 2003 to head up their ballpark efforts, among other duties. He's exactly the guy Oakland needs for Wolff's project. Now I know that there are plenty of issues with Bobb's work in Oakland and his letter above has seriously flawed arguments (the large businesses are going to pass the taxes on to consumers, hello!), but I've pointed this out before and I'll say it again: these projects don't get done without a champion. That champion isn't a politician or a person from the private sector. It has to be a bureaucrat who can pull the strings and work the phones to get things done. Considering what may have to be done to get a new A's ballpark built, I wonder how it will get done in any Bay Area city without someone locally filling a similar role.

18 December 2005

The San Jose plan becomes clearer, or does it?

Ray Ratto has an excellent column in today's Chronicle in which he tries to understand what the crux of the deal is in the A's pursuit of the "Earthquakes IV." Much of it has to do with land, but his issue is with the Wolff-Fisher group investing in a historically money-losing MLS franchise. Ratto's conclusion is that it's all part of a leverage deal, with the soccer part of it a necessary pill for the investment group to swallow to get it done.

What Ratto didn't bring up is Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment (SVS+E), the Sharks' owners who run HP Pavilion, promote other events in San Jose and recently failed as 11th-hour saviors of the Quakes. What is SVS+E's potential role in all of this? SVS+E stands to have a major role managing operations of facilities and parking. If Wolff/Fisher partner with SVS+E, SVS+E will have control of promotions and management of two or three venues and virtually all parking around the area. Wolff/Fisher can infuse SVS+E with new capital to get a piece of the action and move things along more quickly. At the same time, new development will occur around the arena and ballpark that can provide a huge payoff (market rate condos, Santana Row-like mixed development). Does that last sentence sound eerily like Wolff's Coliseum North development plan? I don't believe it's a coincidence.

If one looks at the San Jose ballpark-arena area, it is quite obvious that it is just waiting for an enormous amount of redevelopment to occur. To understand how this can take shape, it's important to first recap other Downtown San Jose development-related news from the past several months:
  • March - Wolff and partners sell a large portion of Park Center Plaza to a group headed by the sons of frequent business partner Phil DiNapoli. SJ Mayor Ron Gonzales stages a little rally in Phoenix outside the A's spring training facility. Meanwhile, the city goes forward with the KB Homes development at Del Monte Plant #51 (Auzerais), making Diridon South the ballpark site by default.
  • March/April - MLB approves the purchase of the A's by the Wolff/Fisher group.
  • August - Wolff unveils the Coliseum North development plan. Ballpark designs are released, which are not site-specific.
  • September - MLB commish Bud Selig visits San Jose to speak at Commonwealth Club, meets with SJ officials prior to speech, repeats the "We are focusing on Oakland, we don't like changing territorial rights" position.
  • October - San Jose Water Company gets entitlements from the City of San Jose to start development of the SJWC parking lots (east of the arena/ballpark). Plans call for mid-rise residential and a high-rise office tower. Once construction starts, parking in the immediate area around the arena for arena events will be significantly reduced, which means that new parking will need to be built nearby to replenish supply. One of the SJWC board members happens to be Phil DiNapoli. SJWC is looking for an experienced development partner for the site instead of developing the site by themselves. (I'll give two guesses as to who might emerge as the likeliest development partner.)
  • November - SJ City Council approves the ballpark study for Diridon South, moves ahead on site acquisition efforts.
  • December - Last minute efforts are launched to save Quakes from moving to Houston. The effort fails, but Wolff/Fisher/the A's emerge as a leading candidate for a new Quakes MLS franchise. Wolff indicates that the Quakes should be in San Jose. Speculation begins on the San Jose ballpark site holding a stadium or stadia for both the Quakes and A's.
The beauty of what Wolff is doing is that the plan is portable. Whether the stadium plan is based on a shared facility or separate facilities, it is portable and could be applied anywhere: San Jose, Fremont, or Oakland. It could be split between cities (where the Quakes stay in San Jose while the A's stay in Oakland), but that would reduce or eliminate potential cost savings and investment value. From a practical standpoint, it's excellent "neutral" positioning. Yet there's a lot of evidence that points directly to San Jose. When looking from the historical perspective at the events that transpired above and the lack of progress in Oakland, everything seems to conveniently dovetail together, no?

16 December 2005

Notes from the SJ ballpark scoping session

I showed up a few minutes late for the EIR scoping session, but I think I got most of the pertinent points. The schedule is as follows:
  • Public comments for this scoping phase are due January 3, 2006.
  • The Draft EIR will be released sometime in late February, with a 45-day public review period to follow.
  • The final EIR will be up for Planning Commission certification around May 31.
  • June 20 is the deadline for any appeals.
  • The plan will then be placed before the City Council for a vote. If successful, it will become a ballot measure in the November 7, 2006 General Election.
Other things of note:
  • Several residents from local neighborhoods expressed concern about noise and traffic abatement. There is a distinct possibility that some streets in the Delmas Park area would be closed on game days/nights to better manage traffic. Soundproofing may have to be done on nearby houses and the ballpark would have to be built in a way that best mitigates noise and light pollution.
  • Parking is going to be a problem, especially when the SJ Water lots are developed. Something will have to replace lost parking.
  • The redone street grid will have some unknown impact. The Autumn Parkway development being planned for the area north of the arena is not budgeted at this time.
  • Various ballpark configurations will be studied for their potential impacts and fitness.
  • Alternate sites will be included as part of the EIR.
  • District 6 councilman (and county supervisor candidate) Ken Yeager was present.
  • I asked a question about PG&E's willingness to reconfigure the substation on the site. This does not appear to be a feasible option, which means the substation would have to either stay intact or relocate.
  • An option to dig a bowl for the stadium and place the field 15-25 feet below street level will be studied. I brought it up because I think it could help mitigate light, noise, and vertical (FAA) clearance.
  • Initial drawings continue to have the ballpark in the northeast orientation. It also has the ballpark jutting into what is now Autumn Street. That would force Autumn Street further east, next to Los Gatos Creek. One of the drawings showed a park on the creek's west bank.
We'll see how it goes from here. No news on this expected until after the end of the year.

15 December 2005

Adios, Quakes

Several news outlets reported today that the Quakes are on their way out of town. To Houston, no less. There has been a lot of fingerpointing in recent weeks about who's most to blame. It's well known that ownership group AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group) had no interest in holding onto the team in the long term. The City of San Jose had done little over the last several years to improve the Quakes' lease situation with SJSU. And SJSU wasn't budging over the terms. Attendance wasn't a big complaint driver because a well-developed fanbase and winning seasons. Revenue was.

That brings us to today, when MLS commissioner Don Garber thanked local fans and talked about a new team coming to roost in San Jose as early as 2007. The city signed a letter of intent with MLS to get a stadium financing plan in place. Judging from the message boards at, it's no consolation.

Which brings me to an interesting A's related bit of news. Quakes announcer and longtime South Bay sports media guy John Shrader mentioned on KNBR that one of the local investor groups thought to potentially save the Quakes or invest in a new team was led by none other than Lew Wolff and the A's. No details were revealed beyond that, which is enough to start some wild speculation:
  • How serious was Wolff about investing in the Quakes?
  • Did he make any kind of proposal?
  • Did the proposal involve a new soccer specific stadium?
  • Or was it more along the lines of a shared stadium situation?
  • If so, where? San Jose? Oakland? Elsewhere in the Bay Area?
  • Does this mean he actually has designs on the A's moving to San Jose?
Obviously, any number of conclusions can be drawn from this tiny bit of information. Garber mentioned that talks with Wolff and the A's will continue into the new year. It can't be denied: Wolff's connections to San Jose and the Bay Area are as strong as ever, as evidenced by his willingness to entertain Quakes talks. And that should come as a relief to A's fans who fear a move to Vegas or Portland.

09 December 2005

VTA pulls BART federal funding request - effect on SJ ballpark

Spiraling costs and debates about the direction and financial stability of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority caused VTA to pull its request for $750 million in federal funds today. While this isn't directly related to the ballpark, it at least for the time being kills one of the arguments for a San Jose ballpark: BART access from the East Bay. That news will come into play with the upcoming environmental impact report, which will have to take not having BART into account.

That isn't to say that BART coming to the South Bay in the future isn't completely dead, but it will push the expected operation date of 2017-2018 out several more years. It's possible that VTA will move to an alternative, one that doesn't involve the expensive downtown San Jose subway that would run underneath Santa Clara Street. Since feasibility of the Fremont/Warm Springs extension is dependent on the South Bay extension, it's quite possible that Warm Springs (which did not receive federal funding earlier this year) is not happening anytime soon either. That could create a similar albeit lesser negative effect on a Fremont ballpark.

No go on Auto Row, Progress on Wolff's plan

Remember this?

Well, I just received word that the site's slated for some new construction along with new construction already present (perhaps the Acura dealership?). So a ballpark is not going to happen along Auto Row. That's one less option.

As far as Wolff's Coliseum North plan goes, apparently the analysis is still in progress. I'm trying to find more detailed info on that analysis. Stay tuned.

08 December 2005

Wolff's trial balloon

There are some mighty eyebrow-raising quotes from Lew Wolff in John Shea's Chronicle report on Barry Zito's status:
The payroll is increasing about 10 percent, Beane said, and Wolff, whose focus is building a new ballpark, confirmed it'll go deep into the $60 million range after the A's signed Esteban Loaiza to a three-year, $21 million contract.

"I'm just hoping we get positive fan reaction with our attendance," Wolff said. "Billy continues to field a fabulous team, and I hope fans who didn't support us in the past will start to. It's a very big goal for me. I've got to find out how strong we are in the local market.

"We're trying to put the most quality team on the field. We just don't want to go to the playoffs."
That sounds like a challenge to the A's fanbase. Not that signing Esteban Loaiza is going to equate to 2,000 extra season tickets, but it looks like Wolff is trying in earnest to get more momentum behind the team before the season begins. Signing Loaiza, keeping Zito (which many don't think will happen), and bringing in a name free agent slugger such as Frank Thomas should create some buzz around the team.

Wolff hasn't shown any Jeffrey Loria-like tendencies, so there's no valid reason to believe that he'll conduct a fire sale if fans don't come or if he doesn't get a ballpark deal. There's always the possibility, and A's fans know too well how good Charlie Finley was at ripping his team apart.

The Marlins' Road Show Begins: Vegas Time

Buried in a article about Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria's economic justifications for conducting a fire sale of his roster is a tasty little nugget about Las Vegas. The quote comes straight from MLB COO Bob DuPuy.

Las Vegas is ripe for relocation, but there are concerns from the league regarding betting on baseball. When Las Vegas officials made their pitch to the Montreal Expos, who eventually became the Washington Nationals, the issue of betting wasn't resolved.

"Las Vegas made a very attractive proposal," said DuPuy about the city's efforts to attract the Expos. "There are issues with regards to Vegas indicated during that proposal. [There was] no willingness to take baseball off the books. I know that's a very, very serious issue with the Commissioner."

Taking gambling off the books isn't a complete dealkiller, but it has to be pretty close. As much as the major sports would love to be the first to get a share of the big money that comes to Vegas (and stays there, as the ad says), none of the leagues wants to be remotely associated with gambling. That goes double for baseball, which still has the stench of the steroids scandal all over it. Though I wouldn't be surprised with the notion that if one league were brave enough to enter Las Vegas despite the sport still being on the books, the others would be falling all over themselves to be next.

07 December 2005

San Jose starts environmental review

Merc reporter Barry Witt corrected an assumption I made on an earlier post's comments page, and he was also nice enough to alert me to some preliminary environmental review efforts that San Jose is undertaking regarding the ballpark. So far the city has published a "Notice of Preparation" and a "Scoping Meeting Notice". The latter document has maps and a graphic depicting a ballpark on the Diridon South site with the PG&E substation moved to the fire training facility. Since the city just proposed the fire training site for a soccer stadium, the inconsistency here is baffling.

The scoping meeting, at which the public can comment on how the environmental review should proceed, is scheduled for Thursday, December 15 at 6 p.m. The location will be the new City Hall, Room W118-119.

06 December 2005

How baseball and soccer can co-exist in San Jose

I'll start off with the graphic. To help you with your bearings, south and I-280 are to the top. Downtown and CA-87 are to the left.

The ballpark is on the now familiar Diridon South site. Across Park Avenue is the fire training center, which is should be converted into a public park, perhaps with parking for some 600 cars underneath. The park could have a small playground and playing fields for soccer/football and baseball/softball. To top my wish list for the park, it should be named after the late Pat Tillman. I have to admit a bias regarding Tillman because though I didn't know him personally he was a contemporary of mine, but regardless it's hard to find a more fitting, interesting former San Jose resident for whom a park could be named than Tillman.

The soccer stadium is located on what is currently an equipment rental facility. The company owns several parcels spread among two blocks of Dupont and McEvoy Streets south of Park Ave. I've gone by there several times while checking out the Del Monte site, and I noticed that it's really underutilized. One parcel at the entry to the site is for sale. An office building in the middle of the facility is empty and has a for lease sign on it. There's a good amount of open space there. Neighbors include a couple of auto repair shops and a welding company. The area is rectangular in shape, and could accommodate a 22-25,000 seat soccer stadium with little trouble. If the street grid were realigned, a compact but spacious soccer stadium could work very well there. A partial roof would be required to help mitigate noise. Of course, there would be issues with acquiring the land and moving the equipment rental company, but that comes with the territory.

One small note: the PG&E substation has been realigned next to the ballpark (in grey). If this can be done (the amount of land is the same if not the shape), it would cut down on the potential costs associated with moving the substation.

I spoke at tonight City Council Open Forum about this site. We'll see if, like my suggestion to Oakland about the Broadway Auto Row site, anything comes of it.

SJ City Council meeting tonight

Numerous San Jose Earthquakes fans are expected to attend tonight's San Jose City Council session. Towards the end of the proceedings will be an open hearing, when Quakes proponents will make their desire to keep the team in town loud and clear. Today, reports emerged that the fire training was too small to hold a stadium, and I'm sad to say there's a lot of truth to this.

I visited the fire training site over the weekend, and yes, it is small. I was able to get a couple of mockups going that got stadium capacity to the 16-17,500 range, but that's too small for a SSS (soccer-specific stadium) these days. The preferred capacity for a SSS is 20-25,000, with some 20-30 suites, a stage at one end for concerts, and amenities one would typically find at a new ballpark or football stadium such as club seats and wide concourses.

It wouldn't be so bad if the site were square, but since it's more or less an isosceles triangle, shoehorning a field and stands into the space is quite an effort. Instead of 5 acres of available space, it's really less than 4. There's a possibility that a portion of a grandstand could be built over Los Gatos Greek, but that would trigger a potentially lengthy environmental review process because of the removal of some portion of the riparian corridor.

Unfortunately, we may be getting into a situation where soccer fans and baseball proponents end up fighting over the Diridon South site. Worse, the city may put together a proposal where the two teams share a stadium, an idea that goes against both MLS and MLB guidelines.

Interestingly enough, there is a piece (or pieces) of land nearby which, if the city invested in them the same way the are with the ballpark site, would make an excellent site for a 20-25,000 seat SSS. It would leave the fire training site open for the public park originally planned for the area. Where is this site, you ask? I will probably reveal it at the city council session tonight.

29 November 2005

Further analyzing the "other" 360 model

I pulled this graphic off the 360 press release. Take a good look at it.

  1. First, take a look at the the foul territory. It's definitely not like the Coliseum - much more shallow - so any comparison to the Coliseum can be dismissed.
  2. Next, the lower deck is split into two regions. Normally this would appear to be done with an aisle plus tunnels or vomitories, but that's probably not the case here. It appears that the upper portion is elevated slightly above the lower region, making the upper region a sort of mezzanine. The lower region may very well be the club seats. If this area has separate admission, it could translate into an unfriendly environment for autograph seekers.
  3. The yellow divider between the two regions? That could be the layer of minisuites that Wolff discussed in his presentation. The attractive thing about them is that they probably aren't more than 8 rows from the field. Each minisuite would also have direct access to the club concourse.
  4. Down the lines a bit, the upper portion of the mezzanine is interrupted by what look like party suites. It accomplishes two goals: it keeps the party suites separated from the luxury suite concourse, and it occupies space that would normally be occupied by seats that are difficult to sell (take a look at sections 100-104 and 130-134 during any non-sellout at the Coliseum for proof).
  5. The luxury suites are the least surprising element, since they follow the design used at PNC Park, where they were low-profile and tucked underneath the upper deck.
  6. The upper deck contains no surprises either. Tapering the bowl down towards the outfield helps create the scarcity Wolff is trying to achieve and will also limit the number of Uecker seats in the house.
  7. The bowl is symmetrical, and neither side wraps around the foul pole as it does in the Coliseum North design.
  8. The outfield isn't adorned with a hotel or overhanging suites, but that may be a perspective issue, because the view comes from beyond right field.
  9. The bullpens are now well-defined in the corners due to the breaks in the seating areas. Notice that there's no Fenway-like right field corner with the Pesky Pole.
This model answers the one obvious question that came from the Wolff presentation: Where are the suites? This "two"-deck design addresses it and then some. My guess at this point is that these are the main elements within the seating bowl, which makes sense because it's how the A's are going to make most of their money. The outfield elements are possible based on site constraints and cost factors. They're really the icing, to show what can be innovated in fair territory. Rest assured that most of the revenue will come from people in foul territory. Replace the plain grandstand in the presentation with this concept, and you may have most of the final design in place.

SJ City Council approves Quakes land plan

In a move tangentially related to San Jose's downtown ballpark pursuit, the City Council allowed city staff and the Sharks' owners, Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, to enter negotiations on a deal that would put a soccer stadium immediately south of the Diridon South ballpark site. This was done through a closed session, which is becoming an increasingly routine part of the City's modus operandi. It doesn't reflect the spirit of open government that the R2D2-like City Hall rotunda represents.

The land isn't part of the ballpark site, and it also happens to be city-owned, so there are no acquisition issues. As you can see from the graphic above, the soccer stadium site (in blue) is much smaller than the ballpark site. A 25,000-seat soccer stadium requires a smaller footprint than a ballpark due to the smaller field and less buildout. At roughly 5 acres in size, the lot is not the best shape for a 75 yd. x 115 yd. soccer field and grandstand, but the stadium could be wedged in without too much difficulty. The grove of trees that cuts diagonally across the block marks Los Gatos Creek.

The wedge-shaped lot currently holds a San Jose Fire Department training facility, which would have to be relocated. The lot was originally set aside for a future park, and it unclear if any land will be available to replace it. The immediate neighborhood lacks a large park area, though the newly developed Cahill Park near Diridon Station is nearby.

Parking is a concern, since the site is somewhat removed from the Arena and all of its parking. Should someone want to invest the money, it may be possible to have parking underneath the stadium, as was done in small scale at St. John's University in New York and at Amsterdam Arena in the Netherlands.

So after reading all of this, you're probably asking what all of this has to do with the A's. Well, it really comes down to a vote. Building any kind of stadium on the site, even if it's privately funded, will require a vote in San Jose. If this project gets fast-tracked, it could very well end up on the November 2006 ballot, where it will sit alongside a ballpark measure. The substance of a ballpark measure is not known, so it's difficult to speculate on how it would be pitched. Putting both measures side-by-side might cause confusion and even create a situation where one measure takes votes from another, so there's a possibility that both will be put together into a single ballot item. Since there are different players in each project, it could make for some interesting dealmaking. The county may be involved to some degree in the soccer stadium.

Another soccer stadium site under discussion was the block defined by 4th, 5th, and Santa Clara Streets. That site isn't big enough for a soccer field, let alone a stadium.

360 architecture opens SF office

It only makes sense that Wolff's preferred architecture firm, 360, is opening a location in San Francisco. The office will be devoted to all types of work, not just the ballpark. On a sports-related tangent, if SF Mayor Gavin Newsom ever wanted to get serious again about building an arena in the Mission Bay area or thereabouts, 360 has plenty of experience doing arenas.

If you're interested in a job at 360 architecture, check out the website (Flash-based), go to About Us, then Careers.

One interesting little tidbit: one of the press releases in the Press Room area of the site has a depiction of a ballpark that's not like the concept Wolff presented in August. I'll let you hunt for it.

Gwen Knapp: Trade Zito for San Jose?

Today's column by the Chronicle's Gwen Knapp posits an unusual trade idea: Barry Zito to the Giants for the territorial rights to San Jose. There would be numerous issues associated with such a deal, but let's put them aside for a second.

The current consensus is that although A's GM Billy Beane signed free agent Esteban Loaiza because "you can never have enough pitching," Beane made the move in part to set up the eventual departure of Zito, who will be a free agent after the 2006 season (and will command upwards of $11 million per year in salary). The presumption is that Zito would be traded for a right-handed slugger, though the player would likely be a young hitter who could be signed cheaply for several years, not a superstar like Manny Ramirez. Targets frequently mentioned include emerging Tampa Bay star (and Bay Area native) Johnny Gomes, or the Arizona Diamondbacks' Conor Jackson (who attended Cal).

Replace the righty slugger with territorial rights? Is that even possible?

Zito, of course, is the AL's 2002 Cy Young award winner who had a somewhat underwhelming 2004 but bounced back to have a solid 2005 season, plagued only by terrible run support. A sign of growth has been his enhanced repertoire, which now includes a slider to go with his 12-to-6 curveball (er, 11-to-5) and well-disguised changeup. Durability has never been a question for Zito as it has with former aces (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson) or current studs (Rich Harden, Joe Blanton). Zito's fastball has never topped 90 mph, and it can usually be tracked at 88-89 mph. That said, Zito is still considered among the top three among AL lefties, alongside the Twins' Johan Santana and the White Sox' Mark Buerhle.

However, Zito is an upcoming free agent. There are precedents that show Beane's tendency to either move such a player (last year's Mulder and Hudson trades) or keep him, only to let him go to free agency (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon). What can be certain is that if a trade of Zito happens, it probably won't go down during the season since Beane won't get maximum value.

But is Zito worth the rights to the South Bay? Even if the Giants were to entertain the notion of such a trade? Zito's value can be mapped out pretty well over the next several years. Territorial rights are much more difficult to quantify, as Peter Magowan has been reluctant to do. Should Zito be traded for the South Bay, the transaction would simply be a reversal of Wally Haas' conveyance of the territory to the Giants 15 years ago. No money changed hands then, and no money would probably change hands this time on account of Zito's relatively low salary. The Giants would still need to extend Zito for at least 5-6 years, so that's money out of pocket, but at least it's a bona fide ace locked up for several years in a place well-suited to Zito's hook. With the late season emergence of Matt Cain and Noah Lowry (and to a lesser extent Brad Hennessey), the Giants should have a decent rotation in shape even with the eventual departure of Jason Schmidt.

The problem for the A's here is that the Giants could simply wait until Zito became a free agent in 2006, in which case the A's would get little more than a couple of first-round picks for Zito as compensation. But considering the Giants' predicament, where the window for which Barry Bonds can continue his run for a WS and the career HR crown is coming to a close, the Giants may need to strike while the iron is hot. There's also the issue of what would happen to the A's in the short term. The only pitcher not considered a serious health risk is Danny Haren. And it doesn't solve the A's search for a righty slugger. The downsides:
  • Depending on health, the A's rotation will be worse in 2006 than in 2004 and 2005.
  • Trading for the South Bay will be a clear indicator that the A's intend to leave Oakland for San Jose. That could translate into backlash and lower attendance in the near term.
  • While Zito would provide the Giants a marquee attraction, it still doesn't answer how much the South Bay means monetarily to the Giants, who could certainly lose a number of casual fans to a San Jose-based team.
Then there's also the part MLB, the commish, and the owners play in this kind of deal. Since all deals have to be approved by the commish's office, the gating mechanism is already in place. But it would create an unusual precedent - though one that's unlikely to be revisited. Would the owners feel that such a trade carries a general threat to the concept of territorial rights, as if they were simply one more negotiating tool? Perhaps. At this point, I'd consider this kind of trade an extremely remote possibility, but considering the fact that Beane's role as a part-owner blurs the line between the business side and the baseball side, I wouldn't dismiss it entirely.

23 November 2005

Marlins get permission to move from Florida

I'm wrapping all Marlilns-related items into a single post.
New Jersey has stepped into the fray with a plan to attract the Marlins. The plans would call for "retrofitting Giants Stadium into a ballpark," whatever that means. The Meadowlands lies in Bergen County, so if Jersey officials are able to work an agreement between the baseball team, the Giants, and the Jets, there'd still be a nasty little territorial rights problem to figure out. It's somewhat similar to the Giants-A's situation in that on paper, the Marlins would be invading the Yankees and Mets market. The Giants-A's relationship is much more nuanced, but should Jersey's very unlikely scenario go deeper into actual negotiations facilitated by the commissioner's office, it could make for some very interesting fireworks. Again, it's very unlikely.

Unable (or unwilling?) to bridge the funding gap for a new ballpark adjacent to the Orange Bowl, the Florida Marlins
received permission from MLB to talk to other cities. Among the likely candidates: Portland and Las Vegas.

This is, of course, straight of the stadium negotiation playbook. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria declared, "No longer can baseball in South Florida be assured." The Marlins lease at Dolphins Stadium ends after the 2007 season, at which point they could move free and clear with MLB's blessing.

Since that 2007 date coincides with the end of the A's lease (the A's have year-to-year options in 2008-10), it sets up an unusual scenario. The A's and Marlins could both move after 2007. Should that be the situation at that point, it sets up an strange dilemma for the teams and MLB: How can they extract the greatest number of concessions from bidding cities and original cities in an inherently less competitive environment? This isn't like the DC situation, where the principals decided to take care of the details after the team moved. MLB's motivations were a big payoff (which they'll get in the $450+ million franchise price) and a virtually free stadium (which they also got).

This time around, the proposal from Portland will be well-prepared (just as it was before) and Vegas will most certainly roll out the red carpet (though the funding as of now is still a mystery). MLB may not be able to execute the complicated buyout/exchange/contraction operation that facilitated the Expos move to DC, and there won't be a big difference in the Marlins' franchise value if they moved to either Vegas or Portland.

We in the Bay Area can only hope that the A's search for a ballpark doesn't devolve into the bidding war that the Marlins and Miami are entering. If the A's do, you'd probably have the A's dealing exclusively with Portland (vs. the Bay Area) and the Marlins dealing exclusively with Vegas (vs. South Florida). Not having another city from which a proposal could be sent means having one fewer bargaining chip. Could San Antonio or Charlotte enter the picture? I imagine that the Norfolk-Hampton Roads market is now out because of the Nats being in DC.

20 November 2005

Oh, the sticker shock!

An eye-opening report from the Washington Post confirms the fears of many: the DC Ballpark project is significantly budget and its total, true cost continues to rise. Among the points:
  • The construction cost (labor, materials) rose from $244 million to $337 million. Since then various items have been taken out of the design to drop the cost to $300 million.
  • $55 million earmarked for infrastructure costs (roads, utilities) had to be shifted to the ballpark itself.
  • Of the infrastructure budget, $25 million was meant for an upgraded Metro station. Only $250,000 remains for what will amount to a few extra gates.
  • The higher construction cost is partly due to more expensive materials to be used for the moden, state-of-the-art design, though the exact amount is not known.
  • Total cost of the land is $98 million, $21 million more than originally budgeted.
Those of us who keep track of the stadium industry were waiting for some hard numbers on the costs for the DC ballpark. While cost overruns should never come as a shock to even the least cynical of us, this is the first time we've seen numbers based on estimates in the current economy, which is beset with higher concrete, steel, and transportation costs.

Lesson? Get your ducks in a row. Get the land part wrapped up first, and as much of the infrastructure as possible. That way when costs rise on the construction end, you'll (hopefully) have budgeted correctly for the project and you won't have to rob Peter to pay Paul. This "on-the-fly" costing only leads to trouble. That's not to say that it will happen with Wolff's ballpark plan, but should he not be able to execute completely on ancillary development, you can guess who'll be asked to foot the bill.

18 November 2005

Modern it is for DC

HOK Sport, the 900-lb. gorilla of stadium design, won the bid for the Nats' new home. Thankfully, it won't be the same retro/faux brick design we've seen in so many other ballparks. DC's new ballpark will have a glass, steel, and stone facade. Though drawings have not yet been released to the public, a recent HOK presentation with renderings was met with aproval by key DC officials.

While HOK is not expected to be architect for the A's future ballpark (360 architecture appears to have gotten the nod), it will still be interesting to see how HOK successful this new design is, since it's a drastic departure from the retro theme, of which they've been somewhat unfairly criticized (much of what they've done has been at someone's request). With the retro shackles off, I look forward to an exterior that complements and showcases the neat engineering inside.

17 November 2005 article

I just finished a summary of the A's current ballpark situation for ( They've also posted the piece on Yahoo! Sports. Oh dear, I really need to proofread my pieces a little more thoroughly...

16 November 2005


Since I live within a 20 minute walk of Diridon South, I decided to do a fairly in-depth amateur study of the site. One distinctive aspect of the site its shape: it's not a typical square or rectangular city block. The site was formed by city planners who, decades ago, decided that parallel one-way streets were needed in the area. The streets, Autumn and Montgomery, converge just north of Park Avenue. Los Gatos Creek also comes in from the northeast to encroach on available thoroughfare space.

It occurred to me that I had seen a shape similar to this near-trapezoid before. Then it hit me. When Wolff announced his Oakland plan (drawn up by 360 architecture) there were many comparisons to Fenway Park, from its simple two-deck design to the eerie similarities to Fenway's right field corner. So I did a little playing around with Google Earth and came up with the following photos:

Fenway Park

Diridon South Concept
(click picture for larger version)

It just so happened that I was trying to figure out how the PG&E substation at Diridon South could be reconfigured to stay on site, and the picture above has in my opinion the most likely scenario, at least when we're talking about raw land requirements (nearly two acres for the substation). At the same time, I tried to incorporate as much as I could of what I interpreted was in 360's model. It's a fairly tight fit, but it seems to work. It is quite a coincidence that Diridon South is shaped similarly to Fenway. The only other urban ballpark that bears a passing resemblance to Fenway is Jacobs Field in Cleveland, and Jacobs was shoehorned into its 12 acres in a different manner and into a more aggreable lot shape for a ballpark. China Basin has the arcade/promenade act like a mirror image of the Green Monster, but the rest of the park has little in common with Fenway.

Wolff/360 Architecture/Gensler concept

Obviously, some modifications would need to be made to adapt 360's non-site-specific model to Diridon South, but they aren't major. The left field building is cribbed from Petco Park, but it's simply an element that can be easily moved. I find it curious that 360's concept evokes images of Fenway so strongly. Yes, it is in all likelihood a coincidence. But if they wanted to create one that could fit pretty easily into the Diridon South footprint, they're probably 90% of the way there.

12 November 2005

Sharks owners look into buying Earthquakes

Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns the Sharks and manages HP Pavilion, has entered talks with San Jose and Santa Clara about building a 27,000-seat soccer stadium somewhere in either Santa Clara or San Jose. What does this have to do with the A's? One of the sites mentioned as a possible home is Diridon South, though it appears to be down the list a bit.

San Jose City Council member and mayoral candidate Dave Cortese brought up Diridon South as a backup plan if a ballpark doesn't materialize. Considering the cost of acquiring the land - which could be more than the cost of constructing a soccer stadium - it may be a tough sell. The Quakes have only 20 home games per year, which makes it a more difficult anchor for downtown restaurant/bar businesses.

The preferred sites for the stadium are in Santa Clara, all near Great America. They include the overflow parking lot across the street from the 49ers headquarters. Ironically enough, this was once considered the prime site for the A's when Steve Schott tried to move them to Santa Clara a few years ago. The site is also close to a new youth soccer park, making it a prime candidate. Another site is on another existing parking lot at Great America, which was also a ballpark site at one time. Yet one more possibility is land near Mission College. Though the exact land wasn't specified, it may very well be a small part of the college property between the athletic fields/tennis courts and the Mercado shopping center. As a person who grew up in the neighborhood just to the west of Mission College, I can say that this site would bad because of the noise coming from night games and scarce parking.

The upshot here is that if San Jose/Santa Clara can put together a deal to keep the Quakes in the area permanently, it would eliminate one group of potential ballpark non-supporters: those would want to keep the Quakes in San Jose above any attempt to lure a baseball team. Depending on what the proposal looks like, San Jose will need as many supporters of its ballpark plan as it can get.

11 November 2005

Chron confirms View level policy

The Chronicle's A's beat writer Susan Slusser confirmed the drop of View level season tickets, exactly for the reasons I cited in Tuesday's post. What was not clarified was the status of the View level for single game tickets, to which A's VP of marketing David Alioto said, "It would be premature to talk about it."

It was revealed that "Double Play Wednesdays" would still remain in effect for 2006, though it's unclear what that means. Is that for tickets? Hot dogs? A possible BART fare discount?

Ironically, the closing of the View level probably wouldn't be necessary if the 1995 improvements hadn't taken place, because the Coliseum would still have only two concourses (instead of 2 1/2) and few of the staffing issues they currently face.

Here's an idea that might work: tarp the first 2-3 rows of the View level. It would ease circulation since the patrons walking along the aisle at the front of the deck won't have to compete for space with fans in seats, who already have a miserable experience because they're constantly getting their view blocked by the walking patrons. That should cut some 1200-1800 seats out of the total, contributing to ticket scarcity and enhancing the View level experience. View level regulars know that the best view comes above the vomitory (access tunnel), though that changed when the place was rebuilt. Get above the 4th row and you're usually okay.

10 November 2005

Purdy lauds San Jose's vision

Merc sports columnist Mark Purdy weighed in on the San Jose plan. Like his employer, he endorses it, though he uses a different rationale:
From the day I moved to San Jose in 1984, I was mystified about one thing. I could never understand why city officials had never set aside land for future big projects -- a stadium, an arena, a convention center, museums, a world-class park, whatever.
What San Jose is doing is an effort to not only control the land for a future proposal, but also to rein in acquisition costs and required time that can easily spin out of control in this era of stadium-building.

09 November 2005

Merc: Go for it San Jose!

Not surprisingly, the San Jose Mercury News came out in favor of the Stephens Meat site acquisition and other preparatory work being undertaken to secure the Diridon South site for an offer. In the op-ed is a mention of the progress brought on by the Arena project. The paper argues that it is of utmost importance that the city keep the public involved in the planning process and debate, which the city hasn't done so far.

08 November 2005

SJ City Council approves site acquisition

The San Jose City Council approved the purchase of the former Stephens Meat plant and a $600,000 environmental impact study to be done by HOK on the Diridon South site. This is expected to be one of many steps that need to be taken for San Jose to secure the entire site.

Let's not panic, people

All of the posts at Athletics Nation and other boards reek of overreaction. There's a lot of information going around, and it's important to keep everything in perspective.

First, the only ticket prices that have been posted and verified are those for which season tickets will be sold. This is largely a marketing decision that aims at the parts of the Coliseum that will have the most consistent service. The problem with the previous situation is that for games where you could expect 25,000 or less, it was difficult to determine the proper staffing levels. In fact, it was common on Monday and Tuesday nights to see no concesssion stands open on the View concourse and the outer reaches of the Plaza concourse. That may not mean much to fans who are, well, used to the situation, but it makes for a pretty time-consuming affair just to get a hot dog if you were unfortunate enough to sit in the affected sections. Since those concession stands will only be open for high-attendance games, it makes sense to only sell season tickets for sections whose level of service will be relatively consistent and homogenous regardless of the game date, time, or attendance scenario. Season ticket holders should feel that they are getting some kind of value-added aspect to their commitment, and this pricing scheme moves things in that direction. Remember that Wolff is a hotelier and fully understands basic and advanced concepts of customer service. There's plenty to criticize in the handling of this matter, but I'll get to that later.

Second, the A's needed to establish greater price differentiation among their tickets. The pre-2006 pricing structure was probably the simplest in the major leagues. That made it easy for walk-up fans, but it made it difficult for the A's to sell value among the pricing tiers. Even low-revenue teams like Kansas City and Minnesota had more sophisticated pricing structures than Oakland, where the entire upper deck is a single price. The new pricing structure is much more graduated than in years past. The obvious holes in the structure are at the $12, $16, and $24 levels (based on single game prices). $12 or $16 can be filled by the View level seats. Before you start screaming in a comments post, keep in mind that similar seats at the Metrodome cost $18. At Kauffman Stadium they're $12, and across the bay at China Basin they're $19 or $24 depending on whether the games are on weekdays or weekends. View level seats are usually subject to heavy discounting, and that probably won't change if the View level seats are sold. We can probably say goodbye to the Double Play Wednesday promotion, since it may have hurt the A's seasonal ticket revenue in the long run. Think more along the lines of more frequent newspaper family packs or half-price nights for students (wishful thinking? I'm not a student).

The argument above assumes that the View level seats are sold, which is not a given. The A's are in a tough position regarding the View level. There's no way to cut corners on service without completely eliminating concessions and security to parts of the View level. The split-level concourse design prevents the A's from easily closing off sections of seats while providing service to those that are open, as the Dodgers do with the Pavilion bleachers in their outfield. The A's could go with a two or three-tiered pricing scheme with the View level, say $16, $12, and $8 or $6, but they'd have to keep the facilities open on the upper concourse to justify the price hike along the infield.

There is an interesting potential benefit to this. Since the big-ticket games (Giants, Yankees, BoSox, fireworks) usually have high advance sales, pushing season ticket holders (A's fans) to the lower decks relegates more of the opposing team's fans to the View level.

Whatever happens with the View level, the A's have a few months and much initial feedback upon which they can put together a viable single-game pricing strategy. In doing that, they can do the one thing that would help clear up a lot of the confusion: FIX THE WEBSITE! It looks like they just pasted the new table of prices without updating the seating map or the interactive pricing map guide. Fans looked at the site and saw two different prices for seats along with no explanation for the missing View level in the table. Bad information begets FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). Get the graphics fixed and post a message about the View level that explains it once and for all, and you'll put the nervous nellies' minds at ease. The sooner it gets done, the better. I have the feeling that the calls and e-mails from early Monday afternoon elicited responses from the ticket sales staff that weren't properly prepared or informed. By the time I called just before 5 p.m. on Monday, it sounded like the ship was in order. Still, there's still a good amount of confusion (and perhaps misconceptions) among some of the most faithful fans, so there should be some sort of release that addresses their concerns.

07 November 2005

Upper deck not for sale in 2006?

Update: The A's ticket office has told me that there are no plans to sell any season tickets in the View level, because they say it is difficult to provide the same level of service there as they do in the lower two levels. No decision has been made on whether single-game seats will be sold in the View level. It's possible they might open the View level for select games (Yankees, Giants, fireworks). They might leave it open all season as the "walk up deck." They might leave it closed for the entire season. I can say that as a season ticket fence-sitter, the likelihood of me going for season tickets has increased. It appears that this move is meant partly to motivate fans like me. We'll find out if they get people like me in enough numbers to counter any backlash they may get in the coming months.

Posters on Athletics Nation
are reporting that the View level (euphemism for upper deck) will not be sold next season. I've confirmed that as of now, this only affects season ticket sales. There is no set policy with regard to regular single-game tickets, but if the A's choose not to sell the View level at all, there are serious ramifications:
  • The upper deck held around 12,000. That should knock capacity down to 34-35,000
  • No more View level promotions like "BART Double Play Wednesdays" or "Pepsi can weeknights"
  • No need to staff the upper-upper concourse behind sections 310-325.
  • Far fewer walkup seats for every date
Consider this a trial balloon for Lew Wolff's ballpark plan. If the ticket supply can be constrained enough to force fans to buy season tickets, then a good business model will be in place for the new ballpark with the demand far less elastic than before. There are definite risks with this new pricing plan. Depending on what promotions are planned for 2006, there will be no tickets priced below $10, and the only tickets at $10 will be the bleachers and plaza bleachers.

There is the risk of backlash. Fans may not respond well to the disappearance of cheap walkup seats in the View level. The walkup situation has become something of an institution, and if A's marketing doesn't properly inform fans of this change, they may find fans either confused by the new ticket offerings or even turned away for certain games. The task for the A's is to handle this with as much diplomacy as possible. There are plenty of fans that think the seats in sections 315-320 are perfectly fine (including me). How do the A's convince them that those seats aren't good?

The upshot of all of this is to find out if the season ticket base can expand. If it does, the A's will have a good subscription base from which they can start marketing a new ballpark. If not, it becomes a reason to leave Oakland, since the lack of season ticket sales will "prove" that Oakland is not a ripe market. It's not fair to Oakland, since the Coliseum is not the same as a new ballpark, but Wolff needs some data upon which he can create a business case for a new ballpark, and that makes us guinea pigs.

Diridon South site cost = $80-100 million

A new report in the San Jose Business Journal estimates that the cost to acquire the 14-acre, 12-parcel site could reach the $80-100 million range, based on a value of $125-130 per square foot. And for the first time, at least one property owner has expressed reluctance to sell his property.

The city has budgeted $60.5 million to acquire the land, which makes it well short of $70.8 million in pure real estate value and doesn't include relocation costs for the affected businesses. The businesses include:
  • A PG&E substation (northwest corner next to the railroad tracks)
  • A SBC work center and storage facility
  • One residence
  • A small bar at the corner of W. San Fernando and S. Montgomery
  • A welding supply company south of the bar
  • An imports wholesaler/retailer at the Autumn/Montgomery "fork"
  • A storage facility for Amtrak/Caltrain (northeast corner of the site)
The currently vacant parcels include the former Stephens Meat plant and the former KNTV (NBC-11) studio. The site is in green in the picture below:

All of the parcels are important, and it is unlikely that ballpark could be situated on the site without acquiring every parcel. It might be doable without the PG&E substation, but that would require reconfiguring the street grid by moving Autumn St to the east and acquiring additional land to compensate. Since the plan would eliminate Montgomery Street, Autumn Street would have to be reconfigured as a two-way thoroughfare. That reconfiguration is already in the Diridon/Arena General Plan because of a need to connect the area with the development occurring north of the Arena. That change could take up as much as 1/3 acre from the ballpark site.

Fortunately for the San Jose Redevelopment Agency, there's no talk of eminent domain, which proved to be an extremely divisive issue when the Arena (now HP Pavilion) was built. The parcels will be bought at market rate or at some negotiable rate, which should prevent any lengthy legal trouble. There would only be a problem if one of the owners refused to sell.

One way for the city to bridge that $10-20 million gap is to figure out a way for PG&E to reconfigure the substation. I don't have any knowledge of how this can be done, but when looking just at space, it would make sense to move the substation to the southwest corner of the site and realign it to run parallel with the railroad tracks. That should minimize the impact on available ballpark area. There would undoubtedly be safety and clearance/setback regulations that would have to be addressed, but it would be a way to give PG&E nearly 2 acres of land at the site without forcing them to move power lines. By doing this, the city would save money since it wouldn't have to purchase land from PG&E, only exchange it. That could cut some $5-10 million off the final price tag, depending on how much it costs to move the existing equipment. The $25,000 the city approved last week for PG&E is being used to study this option.

As for SBC/AT&T, they're sitting on some valuable land there, though I'm pretty sure the facility is strictly a work center with no line services coming from it. It has a small maintenance garage and building for storage, but the local central office is downtown on Market and San Fernando, not at this site. The big issue there is vehicle parking, which is scarce downtown. My guess is that in selling the land, SBC will try to work in some deal for parking in the downtown area.

If I were a real estate speculator, I'd look into buying land east of Autumn St next to the ballpark site. Why? Someone could build some nice, expensive condos there, complete with views into the ballpark a la Wrigley Field.

One thing is fairly certain: Diridon South is the most feasible, best-situated ballpark site in San Jose. All others have either been acquired for other development (Del Monte, Coleman Ave) or have infrastructure issues (Spartan/Muni, Reed & Graham).

06 November 2005

San Jose's Chicken-and-Egg Problem

The Merc's Barry Witt describes the problem facing San Jose: How exactly does it go about attracting the A's when the team hasn't wavered in it's position that it's not looking in San Jose? Witt lays out two options:
  • San Jose puts out a speculative ballpark plan based on the idea that a "Yes" vote will prove appealing to the A's - The egg.
  • San Jose waits for the all efforts in Oakland to be exhausted, which will force the A's to look south, preferably to San Jose - The chicken.
There are obvious problems with both strategies. No ballpark has been built on a speculative basis since the Florida Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg, which waited eight years until it finally became the home of a MLB franchise. The first option above does not call for a ballpark to be built, only a plan. With today's skyrocketing costs, no public entity could actually build a new ballpark without it team; it would be tantamount to political suicide. Still, putting together a plan isn't too costly, and since San Jose has a fallback plan with the site land, the risk isn't too high. If approved, the next plan could set the bar high for any competing cities and give San Jose a leg up on them - territorial rights not withstanding.

The second strategy is the least risky, since it delays any action until it is abundantly clear that the A's have no future in Oakland. However, it puts San Jose on equal footing with other cities should the A's express interest in leaving, which would turn the pursuit of the A's into a bidding war. It is important to note that the A's have expressed the idea that if efforts in Oakland run their course without a suitable solution, they will first turn to greater Alameda County, which would presumably put Fremont in an enviable position. Fremont's strategy would no doubt be to position itself as the gateway to Silicon Valley's corporate customer base, while remaining beyond the reach of the Giants' territorial rights. Fremont may also have a large amount of land on which a ballpark could be built, though no site is without its issues (Warm Springs is still mostly owned by NUMMI, and Pacific Commons is not near BART). Portland, Las Vegas, and perhaps Sacramento could also get into the mix. Each of the three have distinct advantages and disadvantages.

The City Council will vote on Tuesday to approve the purchase of the Stephens Meat plant and a feasibility study to be undertaken by leading sports architecture firm HOK Sport + Venue + Event. HOK is no stranger to this type of study, since it did the same for Oakland in 2001, to no avail.

04 November 2005

Radio news

Reports from both the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times indicate that no decisions on the A's broadcast team will be made until after Thanksgiving. Negotiations will start on a new contract for long-time broadcaster Ken Korach, who would presumably fill the late Bill King's #1 spot. I remember King also holding a "Director of Broadcasting" title at one time, and I wonder if Korach will be gunning for that as well (I need to check a recent media guide). Hank Greenwald is officially re-retired, and he may help his son Doug move from the Fresno Grizzlies' booth to Oakland. Other local notable candidates include Steve Bitker (KCBS and part-time radio with the A's), Ted Robinson (Stanford football, recently of the Mets and Giants) and Roxy Bernstein (Cal sports, Florida Marlins). A decision regarding the makeup of the TV booth should be made in the same timeframe.

House eminent domain bill passes

In a rebuke of this past June's Supreme Court decision ruling eminent domain for private entities legal, the House just passed a bill (H.R. 4128) that would deal out severe penalties to states and municipalities that would choose to use eminent domain in that highly controversial fashion.

The bill passed with astounding 376-38 tally, which meant that it received significant bipartisan support. The big penalty here is that the federal government would be able to withhold economic development funds for two years from local and state governments that used eminent domain for private projects. There are limitations in the law: private property owners have up to seven years after their property was seized or condemned to lodge a complaint, and the law will not apply to seizure or condemnation completed or in progress prior to the enactment of the law. If the constitutionality of the law becomes a question, it'll be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court upholds its previous decision or not. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was not the swing vote in the Kelo vs. City of New London case, so appointing a conservative successor wouldn't make a difference. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a bit of a surprise, was the swing vote in favor of the city and its developer partners, though given the chance to rule based on a broader law than a single case, there's a good chance he'd swing the other way.

Among the projects that in all likelihood won't be affected: the new Washington Nationals ballpark along the Anacostia River in D.C., and the new Arlington, TX football stadium being built for the Cowboys. For a new project like an A's ballpark, eminent domain would not be an option - at least not without severe consequences.

The bill is bound for the Senate, where it will probably pass. President Bush will probably sign it as well, though he actually supported eminent domain to seize property that eventually was used to build The Ballpark in Arlington.

02 November 2005

Sometimes it pays to read...

Surprisingly, there is a blurb in the terms of the agreement between the Raiders and Oakland/Alameda County that has something to do with the A's. The Trib posted a three-page excerpt alongside their story. Here's the text (verbatim):
2g. Subject to the Authority reaching a mutually agreeable agreement with the Oakland Athletics, the Raiders may sell and retain all revenues from specified fixed advertising inventory in the Stadium on a year-round basis. The parties acknowledge that the Authority has made a good faith representation that the Athletics are agreeable to such an arrangement and the Authority will use its best efforts to finalize such an agreement with the Athletics. Additionally, Raiders shall be permitted to sell and retain all revenues from temporary advertising (banners) during football games provided that sponsors do not conflict with current Athletics exclusivity arrangements. The Raiders do not share any advertising revenue received by the EBEs.
In short, the A's won't be receiving revenue from much of, if not most of, the advertising in the Coliseum. From the looks of things, the only revenue they'll get is from the baseball-specific signage: the rotating board behind the plate, tarp covers, dugouts, and the outfield fence. The Coliseum has no dazzling ribbon board on the plaza level facade, and the signage panels next to the scoreboard are smaller than those at other parks. Why would the A's agree to this deal? There are a few possibilities:
  • The revenue the A's realized was fairly inconsequential, and to help the public entities out (and to curry favor with them as well for a future ballpark), they decided to forego the revenue.
  • The A's want to be able to point to the limited advertising revenue as another one of the Coliseum's "deficiencies."
  • Tha A's want to limit revenue, which could mean a lower payment into the revenue sharing structure and higher revenue sharing receipt.
  • The A's were simply being magnanimous.
Since there are no charity cases in these kinds of deals, I think we can dismiss #4 out of hand. #3 is unlikely because the amount probably is inconsequential. So the truth probably lies in both #1 and #2, though there may be other motives at work. In the end, whatever money they don't get can't be blamed on the A's not signing Paul Konerko or Brian Giles. However, it does look like the deal greases the skids for a clean Raiders' departure in 2010. Imagine that scenario: It's 2011, and there are no tenants at the Oakland Coliseum. The thought gives me shivers.

Update (11/3, 11:03 AM): A little historical context is in order. A three-year-old article from the East Bay Business Times covers a lawsuit brought by the Raiders (of course) against the A's for allegedly withholding advertising revenue. Though I haven't seen any news items related to the suit after it was filed, it appears that the A's giving the Raiders the ad money may settle the matter. The baseline revenue the A's had received was $3.9 million per year, with the Raiders and A's splitting money above that amount. It's definitely nothing to sneeze at, but it's also not enough for the A's to score a big-time righty slugger, either.