28 April 2005

New Site Photo Overviews

Just completed - three new site photo overviews. The finished overviews are:

  1. OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) - This site was mentioned in Peggy Stinnett's column in the Oakland Tribune. She offers her take on a visit by Naoko Ezawa, who helped design Pac Bell (SBC) Park and represented developer KUD. KUD may very well be the Santa Monica firm hired by Lewis Wolff to visit and assess Oakland sites. Based on KUD's portfolio, much of their experience is in developing waterfront properties. I visited the OUSD site several weeks ago, and while it has positives (mass transit, location), there are definitely issues in its shape, size, and the lack of parking (you can see this from the aerial photo in the file). The lot is shaped like an inverted "J", and unless other surrounding blocks are acquired to round it out, it can't properly accommodate a ballpark's footprint. Also, putting it in a decidedly residential neighborhood may turn a ballpark there into Wrigley Jr.
  2. Coliseum B-C Lot - This may or may not be the main option for building a ballpark. It's the least sexy option because it's the most difficult to foster other surrounding development, but it's also probably the cheapest to build because of zero land acquisition costs.
  3. Diridon South - The main San Jose site is just a block from the train station and two blocks from the HP Pavilion. San Jose's Redevelopment Agency has been given the green light to acquire the site. Funds are a bit tight but it is expected that money to buy the site will come from the sale of other properties. There exists an issue with the PG&E substation on the west side of the site which probably won't be easily overcome or circumvented.

Next up: the Laney College Athletic Fields, and the Uptown and Howard Terminal sites.

26 April 2005

Note to Lew: Buy a radio station

A small bit of news that flew under the radar last weekend was the announcement that Susquehanna, the parent company of KNBR (680 and 1050 AM), is putting their radio business up for sale. In the salad days of the late 90's KNBR and KTCT (1050, which later became co-branded as KNBR) were cash cows for Susquehanna. Lately they've become more of a liability to the parent company, as the 49ers' and Raiders' fortunes suffered, pulling away listeners and ratings. Susquehanna, based in York, PA, also owns the venerable KFOG and KSAN-The Bone rock stations in the Bay Area, and 20 more stations in 7 other markets.

It is unclear whether the stations will be sold as a group or as individual entities. Some, like KNBR-680, are the crown jewels and will fetch a pretty high price. 680 is one a handful of clear channel (not the company) stations throughout the country whose signal can be heard at night for hundreds of miles, in states as far as Utah and up and down the Pacific Coast. KNBR has had difficulty finding a good programming mix over the last few years for its lesser property (1050), sometimes going with edgier personalities such as Jim Rome and "J.T. The Brick." On the other hand, it would also simulcast some of its other shows, such as "The Razor and Mr. T." The morning drive-time slot has also been somewhat tricky, especially when KNBR brought a decidedly "morning-show" vibe to 680 in the "Not Just Sports Show," which was killed only last fall. The Raiders had been on 1050 for several years, but were not renewed last season and subsequently moved to KSFO-560. Most recently, KNBR announced a four-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers, who had seemingly been on KGO-810 forever, but were let go after KGO saw a ratings slide.

If 680 and 1050 were sold together, the buyer would be given a virtual monopoly on sportstalk radio in the Bay Area, but would also be saddled with having to program for two 50,000-watt stations, which can be expensive. Signing the 49ers when they did probably helped boost the asking price of KNBR, but it remains unclear how the sale would be handled. KNBR already has Giants baseball exclusively on 680 and Warriors basketball (which switches between the two stations). It's not unprecedented for a single station to carry three different teams, but that means that schedule conflicts could become a common occurrence.

This gives Lewis Wolff a potentially huge opportunity. As mentioned previously, the A's will be off KFRC-610 at the end of the 2005 season and their next radio home has not yet been determined. If Wolff were to buy KTCT-1050, he'd have a built-in sportstalk audience on a 50,000-watt station, along with immediate programming in the A's, who currently are relegated to vagabond replacement player status in local radio. Not only would the A's get more immediate exposure; they would also be able to do many of the same revenue-hiding tricks that only the big boys are able to get away with.

That's not to say that acquiring a station will be easy. Once any station goes on sale, literally hundreds of suitors line up for a shot. Existing behemoths such as Clear Channel (yes the company) and CBS/Infinity/Viacom have tons of cash to throw at any acquisitions. An open auction process could drive the price up for either or both stations. KNBR also has a 2% minority stake in the Giants, which further complicates things. Breaking the two stations apart and allowing them to compete would be good for the listening public and potentially reduce any conflict-of-interest issues. Buying KTCT would cost the Wolff/Fisher group millions of dollars, but it would guarantee the A's a stable home on local radio for years, if not decades to come. That can't help but raise the value of the franchise.

22 April 2005

Comcast to O's & Nats: "Not so fast my friend"

You probably know by now some details about MLB's payoff to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos over the Expos' move to DC. MLB allowed the O's to set up a new regional sports network (RSN) called Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. MASN is to be run by the O's, with Angelos having complete control over broadcasts of most O's and Nats home games. MLB has a stake in the venture that will grow annually, but the stake is capped at 33%. The Nats get a "market share" price for the rights to broadcast such games; estimates had the amount at $25 million.

That all sounds well and good for baseball (unless you're a Nats owner who wants a little more control over the situation), but it appears that baseball forgot to consult with a company that's normally a big player in such deals: Comcast. Comcast is the dominant cable operator in much of the country, and it considers the mid-Atlantic area its backyard (it's headquartered in Philadelphia). Comcast also runs regional sports networks throughout this area, and its position as both network (Comcast Sports Net) and distributor (Comcast Cable) gives it some unique power.

What happens when you don't consult Comcast on these things? It's America, so Comcast sued MLB, the O's, and MASN. In the meantime, Comcast is refusing to show Nats games that would normally appear on cable (those home games again). This hardball tactic has worked before when negotiating per-user fees for carrying the RSN, or even carrying it in the first place. The cable provider holds most of the cards in these battles, and they can wage the PR battle that normally hits the teams harder than the cable provider.

Comcast isn't happy about not being able to bid on the rights to carry the Nats. Since MASN is an O's venture, the O's would leave CSN once their contract was up in 2006, leaving CSN in the lurch. If it sounds familiar, you don't need to go far to find similar examples.

Comcast can go a number of ways with this. They could win the suit and have open bidding for the Nats. They could ask for a piece of MASN. They could also choose not to carry MASN at all, or carry it only on expanded basic cable instead of cheaper basic cable. This may also be simply a ploy to get a favorable deal to carry the RSN. But based on their recent expansion, I'm led to believe that they legitimately wanted a chance to broadcast the Nats. This may end up in the courts for quite a while since there's no obvious middle ground. The losers will be the fans, and the eventual Nats owner as well since broadcast rights fees factor into the Nats' final purchase price.

That's a long-winded rant just to get to how this affects the A's. It comes down to one suggestion for Lewis Wolff: Play nice with Comcast. CSN opened up shop in California last fall when they got the nod to carry Sacramento Kings games. They've positioned themselves as the Central Valley's RSN, and they're poised for a bigger advance throughout California. They are on digital cable throughout the Bay Area (channel 401 if you're interested). They don't have any of the Bay Area's major pro teams yet, but you can be sure that as each team's contracts expire, Comcast will swoop in for the kill. They have the built-in advantage over Fox Sports Net because of that distributor position. It could turn out good for viewers as it may cause a sort of bidding war, and FSN, which has a difficult time carrying 4 teams (Giants, A's, Warriors, Sharks), may step away a bit, allowing for better coverage for all teams. That is, unless you like hunting for FSN+.

Comcast will be the ultimate roadblock for the A's if Wolff were interested in setting up his own RSN. Comcast could use the same tactics they used with YES/Yankees, or even drive an RSN out of business, as they did in Minnesota.

21 April 2005

Coliseum South photo overview

I've posted the PDF for the next photo site overview, this time for Coliseum South. For some conjecture on how I think development might go, click here. Next up is the Coliseum Parking Lot overview, though it will have fewer pictures. Enjoy.

17 April 2005

Estuary Photo Overview

After the A's unusual 1-0 win over The O.C., I drove out to the Estuary to finish taking pictures of the site. For those that are curious about what the Estuary site is, I've compiled the pictures into a PDF presentation with captions and descriptions. For now, I've refrained from adding much of the information in my previous Estuary posts, but at some point I'll put it into a complete site analysis.

I intend to give all of the likely candidate sites this same treatment. The sites I will cover are:

  1. Estuary (Oak-to-9th)
  2. Oakland Coliseum South (Hegenberger/HomeBase)
  3. Oakland Coliseum Parking Lot (B & C lot)
  4. Oakland Uptown (Telegraph/San Pablo & 18th/20th St)
  5. Oakland Howard Terminal (west of Jack London Square)
  6. San Jose Diridon South
  7. San Jose Reed & Graham Plant
  8. Fremont Warm Springs
  9. other sites as they are publicized
Here's the link for the Estuary presentation. You'll need Adobe Acrobat or another PDF viewer to open the file.

Pointers or suggestions are appreciated.

14 April 2005

Diridon South update - KRON

KRON-4 profiled the Diridon South site on their 5 p.m. newscast earlier this evening. There is a news story and a video clip on that same page.

Important in the story is the following:

But the head of the redevelopment agency says that's simply not true because the money to purchase the 14-acre site is coming from the sale of several properties already owned by the city.

"In the last year, we have spent $20 million on neighborhoods, Mavrogenes said. "We have another $34 million this year and another $20 million next year, so this will not affect that at all."

I'm somewhat skeptical of this, but I suppose it's possible.

San Jose pursues ballpark site, other neighborhoods left out in the cold?

Barry Witt of the Merc writes that on Tuesday, San Jose mayor Ron Gonzales and the City Council held a closed-door session to approve the Redevelopment Agency's pursuit of the 13.9-acre Diridon South site, which has 10 separate property owners. This has leaders in other San Jose neighborhoods worried that funds used to purchase the properties, valued at $20-40 million, will be diverted from their projects.

Where does this money come from, you ask? SJRA has a large pool of money available to them tax increment funds, loans, and other sources. Most of this is reserved for other projects, but there's always some unreserved portion remaining. The unreserved portion usually gets allocated as well, but sometimes it's left to accrue interest.

The kicker is that analysts projected a $25 million operating surplus for SJRA in its five-year plan (2004-05 to 2008-09). A proposal had that surplus go into a Priority Future Projects list, on which such projects could be acted upon in the first two years of a revised budget, but it could just as easily be used for a ballpark site, since SJRA doesn't require any major discussions or hearings to change how unreserved funds are spent.

The mayor and city council argue that SJRA's budget will be big enough to handle all consituents' concerns, but if the price tag on Diridon South escalates to near the $40 million mark, SJRA might have a tough time figuring out where the rest of the money comes from. It's not expected that any funds would be diverted or extra loans taken out to secure the site, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.

The other question to ask is "Why doesn't SJRA send this money back into the general fund to offset the budget shortfall?" A good question that has a very simple answer - they don't have to.

13 April 2005

Brief comment about attendance

I didn't attend the night-after-Opening Night game for the first time in 4 years to attend the BART hearing. I listened to the game on the radio on the way home, but I didn't get an idea of how sparse the crowd was until I caught the rest of game later on TV. For those that don't know, here's the attendance of Tuesday night's game:


I realize that it was chilly, and many spent some good money on Opening Night, but that's still rather pathetic. The Brewers had a similar dropoff from Monday to Tuesday, and they're in a brand new, albeit lacking, stadium. The argument about attendance is not so much about seasonal attendance, it's about the wild fluctuations from game to game and the anemic revenue streams derived from the gate. Wednesday will be the first of many BART Double Play Wednesdays with $2 tickets and $1 hot dogs. It's a certainty that many stayed home Tuesday night to take advantage of Wednesday's promotion. It's good to have promotions for families and casual fans, but the A's are getting peanuts compared to other teams. And as long as large swaths of seats are shown empty on game telecasts, the media will continue to hammer the point.

What effect Warm Springs?

Why all the fuss about Warm Springs? Well, if you remember the HOK study, Fremont was considered as a potential site. In fact, it came in third behind the Uptown site and the Coliseum site. With the Warm Springs extension slated to come online around 2010, it may become a viable site if an Oakland site can't be worked out. Below is a picture of the area, with the ballpark site area in green:

The large road running down from left to right is I-880.

The Warm Springs Specific Plan (choose #4 for the Existing Conditions report) involves all manner of different development uses. The land right now is vacant, and is owned by many different parties, including GM, as part of the property is within the NUMMI plant. There is only a brief mention of a ballpark with no details.

A ballpark could be built here if the land was successfullly acquired for the ballpark effort. MLB has said that a Fremont site wouldn't violate the Giants' territorial rights because Warm Springs is just north of the Alameda-Santa Clara County border. It's plenty spacious and there would probably be few homeowner NIMBY issues because there aren't any homeowners there.

That's not to say it's without downsides. History of recent ballpark construction indicates that suburban sites are less successful in spurring development than urban sites. Because of the Bay Area's never relenting real estate market, it's not likely that a ballpark would become a white elephant, but it would still be difficult to convince voters of a ballpark's economic benefits over a bunch of housing or retail on the site, especially if much of it is taken up by parking as is shown in the HOK study. There's also the issue of traffic leading to the ballpark. If the intention is to get more Santa Clara County fans, the net effect would be 3,000 extra cars clogging up one of the Bay Area's most congested interchanges just south of the site, I-880 & Hwy 237. Extending BART all the way south to Milpitas and San Jose would help, but getting that built is another story. Lastly, if any money was required of Fremont, it would be difficult to come by, since they're making some serious cuts including the highly controversial "burglar alarm" police response cut.

12 April 2005

BART to Warm Springs - not a ballpark item

I attended the BART public hearing on the Warm Springs extension earlier tonight. The proceedings were mostly civil, except for when David Schonnbrunn of Transdef, who was the only opponent of the plan. Schonnbrunn criticized the plan for being wasteful and not smart-growth oriented. While I agreed with some of his points, I felt that I had to speak up to defend the plan, even though I was only there to observe and had no intention to speak.

My comments had to do with the fact that I live in San Jose and work in Fremont. This makes for a usually stress-free reverse commute, but during afternoons it isn't always pleasant. I would take public transit regularly to work, but public transit takes as many as 3 different transfers to get from door to door. Add to that some thoroughfares that are not bike-friendly, and it makes for a serious deterrent to going green. One of my quotes, which was played on the KTVU's 10 PM newscast, went like this (I'm paraphrasing myself):

I work in the Warm Springs area. The place is woefully underserved, and to make things worse, it's difficult to transfer from Santa Clara County's VTA to AC Transit (Alameda County). I would say that at least 1/4 of the workforce at my employer comes from Santa Clara County, and many of them would seriously consider using transit if it were easier. If I could take a single bus from downtown San Jose to Warm Springs, I could bike the rest of the way and abandon my car at home everyday. In fact, if the extension were already in place, I would already be doing this. The best part is that I would be encouraged to use BART more, but even if I didn't, the indirect benefit would be positive because it would motivate AC and VTA to better synchronize their service offerings. (AC runs many hub-based routes from BART stations, whereas VTA runs more point-to-point routes.)

I didn't stick around to see how much my comments resonated or to get interviewed by KTVU reporter Diane Guerazzi, but they did have enough affect that I caught a few smiles from the BART officials out of the corner of my eye, and there's the newsclip to boot. Even if BART doesn't come to San Jose as soon as Ron Gonzales wants it (or even never), the Warm Springs extension will help Valley travelers much just because it's closer. Having potentially one less transfer to make is a very big deal to public transit users.

My next post will cover the effect the Warm Springs extension could have on a new ballpark. The extension is due for a final decision in June.

News items galore

The AP article titled A's President Says Team May Build Own Stadium is a little misleading because the title could be easily misinterpreted. Take a look at the quote from A's President Michael Crowley:

"We're going to look at ourselves, take a look at the options, take a look at what can be done. And when we come up with something we feel comfortable with, then we'll talk to the city at that time."

There's nothing about how much the A's will pay (or conversely, what the city's share is). It's a given that regardless of the types funding sources, as long as the requirements are met, the A's will build it. That's Wolff's forte.

Also, a Merc editorial approves of San Jose's Diridon South site.

Wolff meets with Signature

Gwen Knapp writes about Wolff in her Opening Day column in the Chronicle. Several good nuggets were inside, including:

  1. Wolff met with Signature Properties' Jim Ghielmetti on Monday. They may have been discussing Signature's multiple Oakland developments, especially the Estuary plan. (See one of my previous entries for a mock-up.)
  2. Wolff stayed at his daughter's place in Los Gatos over the weekend. The daughter, Kari, has been a longtime A's fan. She helped put together a season-ticket package she could sell to friends and acquaintances, to get more of a following in the South Bay. 20 packages have been sold, and half were for full-season plans. Depending on whether you're exclusively an East Bay or South Bay supporter (or neither), you may interpret this differently.

It didn't appear that Knapp had any direct questions about the ballpark, which must have come as a relief to Wolff.

Opening Day notes

I was one of the 44,000-plus announced at the McAfee Coliseum last night. Kirk Sarloos's inability to get left-handed hitters out allowed me to look around and note some of the changes:

  1. The improvements made to the Meyer Sound PA system are noticeable. Not that Roy Steele's voice could ever sound tinny or weak, but the enhancements made him sound clearer and boomier than ever.
  2. The GM Friday night campaign should bring out a few new folks, though I am disappointed that they didn't have a Saturn Sky or Pontiac Solstice roadster up for grabs.
  3. More signage. I saw a few more advertisers in more locations. The outfield wall is saturated with ads. The two big signs that hung above the stairs in left and right now have a trivision-type display that features A's Brand and Verizon Wireless. I also saw a new sign for E-Loan and a couple more new advertisers. It looks like the team has been more aggressive in the offseason looking for stadium sponsors.
  4. The centerfield, plaza-level sign showing the names of previous A's greats is gone. There are two new signs on the plaza facade near the foul poles that show the years of the A's world championship teams.
  5. The historical video montage shown before games has changed. It now has more contemporary music and ends with a vintage 70's-era Swingin' A's graphic.
  6. The team has also produced a cheesy-looking "public service announcement" promoting proper fan behavior, also to be shown before every game.

KTVU interview with Lewis Wolff

Wolff was on Mornings on 2 Monday morning, interviewed by Ross McGowan. The archived video can be found here.

Here's a snippet from the interview:

McGowan: Considering that Oakland has no money, is this going to be privately financed?

Wolff: It (public funding) may not be in the traditional way in terms of issuing a bond issue or by guaranteeing seats and things like that, but there will be public participation. Just in the fact of getting entitlements and zoning, so there's value that cities can add without going broke.

I get the feeling that Wolff is going back to his old redevelopment roots, and the A's are the anchor of an ambitious development plan. Public financing for a ballpark without bonding or seat licenses? Pardon me for being skeptical, but I'm having a hard time seeing it. Then again, he may have something up his sleeve. That's why he's a billionaire and I'm just an observer.

Note: A small clip of the interview was shown during the 10 p.m. KTVU newcast as part of business editor Brian Banmiller's featured story. Banmiller also interview Councilman Ignacio de la Fuente, who reiterated his stance that Oakland doesn't have any public money to put up for a ballpark. He must be referring to Wolff's "traditional" methods as well.

10 April 2005

More San Jose articles

Undaunted by the collapse of the Del Monte-KB Home deal, the SJ City Council is moving forward on talks to purchase much of the Diridon South site. Diridon South has several advantages over the Del Monte site, including existing parking and transit links and its proximity to downtown San Jose. The biggest issue in acquiring the site is the challenge of acquiring property from multiple landowners. This includes PG&E, which has a substation that may be difficult to relocate.

Below is an aerial photo of the Arena/Diridon area. The Arena is to the north. The Diridon South site where the ballpark would be situated is in green. Red indicates the existing transit links in the Caltrain/Amtrak/ACE station just north of the ballpark, the VTA bus transfer center north of the train station, and the light rail station to the east. The train station is also the site of a proposed BART extension, though it's looking more and more like BART is getting scaled back.

If you're interested in what a ballpark may look like on the Diridon South site, here's a link for a conceptual aerial plan (warning: it's a large file to download - 300 kB).

Disappointingly, the Wave Mag article that promised "the lowdown" on the San Jose plan two weeks ago contains little new or revealing information. The print version also has a bizarre Photoshop-job picture of a mis-sized Shea Stadium (Shea? How about a stadium that isn't a cookie-cutter?) southwest of downtown San Jose, in the suddenly riparian Gardner neighborhood.

08 April 2005

Forbes 2005 MLB valuations + KFRC going bye-bye

As they have since 1998, Forbes has just published its yearly franchise values list. Not surprisingly, the Yanks and Red Sox are at the top of the list. An exploratory article accompanies the rankings.

The A's slipped in value $1 million to be worth an estimated $185 million, which is slightly higher than the Wolff/Fisher group's $180 million purchase price. Was this a hometown discount? We may never know.

The A's reportedly received $116 million in revenue in 2004, which when factoring in the $19 million revenue sharing payment they received, is probably correct. With revenue sharing, they pulled in a nearly $6 million profit. Without it, they'd run more than $13 million in the red, though it'd be more likely that they'd slash payroll enough to stay more-or-less in the black. It does make one wonder where the rest of the money goes. Every team claims $40 million or more every year in player development and other non-payroll operations-related costs, but it's not as if the A's draft players that demand huge signing bonuses. They don't have any stadium debt, and rarely do they venture into the expensive non-draftee foreign markets (Japan, Cuba). Perhaps there's a directive from the commish that teams who get large revenue sharing payments cannot extend their payroll as a result. That would make sense, but then what would the owners do with the extra cash? Well, it certainly does not suck to be them.

Then again, they may want to pocket that change, since KFRC will no longer broadcast A's games after this season. That makes one less high-power AM station available, thereby driving down the price of broadcast rights. On a related note, It's about time the A's and KNBR started getting along again. On and off for a few years, KNBR wouldn't broadcast A's highlights on radio because of a competitive situation between KNBR's parent, Susquehanna, and CBS/Infinity, which owned KFRC.

Rick Hurd's Q&A with Lewis Wolff

In the CoCo Times interview, Hurd inquires about Wolff's relationship with Selig:

CCT (Hurd): You mentioned at Friday's press conference that Mr. Selig approached you about buying into the A's. Would you have been as enthusiastic about it were it not for your friendship with him?
Wolff: Well, he helped me get involved because he knew me, and he knew Steve and Ken and what their situation was. What you have to remember is you can't really get involved in baseball unless the commissioner lets you. My friendship with him was not the big issue. The big issue was that with this particular team, the downside risk isn't that huge, but the upside potential is.

CCT: But it seems like without a ballpark solution, this franchise is stuck. Mr. Selig has expressed doubts in the past about whether this is a viable two-team market, and he's made his stance that the Giants own the territorial rights to Santa Clara County clear on numerous occasions. So how do you respond to those who might say your friendship with him and your choice to buy into the A's is a sign the franchise may be headed out of the Bay Area?
Wolff: Well, I've never heard him discuss the market, and the issue I think I made pretty clear at the press conference. We're going to focus on Oakland. We're not going to do what-ifs. If people want to focus on that, fine. There's 30 owners in this league, and I'm sure Bud is closer to a lot of them than he is to me. So I think that's a lot of hogwash really.

Then Hurd went further into the ballpark issue:

CCT: Clearly, finding a ballpark is the franchise's No. 1 issue. You've said you won't give daily updates, but for the record, can you tell us where you are in that process right now, and where you'd like to be a year from now?
Wolff: No. I want to be consistent on that statement, and I just don't think I need to do that. The real estate industry is the one area where I really know how to operate, and I just don't feel that's what I want to do. Otherwise, every real estate broker in the world will be lighting up my phone. I'm not trying to hide anything. It just wouldn't serve any purpose to comment on it at this time. That's not to say we won't have things to say as this process continues.

: The ballpark aside, you talked Friday about "thinking outside the box" with regard to operating this team. What other ways are there to grow revenue given the franchise's current state?
Wolff: We're exploring those things. I'm going to have a series of discussions with (Crowley). We think that there are, but we're not sure. We're only into this three days.

: In 1992, when Peter Magowan headed an ownership group that bought the Giants and kept them in San Francisco, his group faced many of the same problems the A's do now. How similar do you think your current situation is with their old one?
Wolff: I love the ballpark. I think times are different, and a lot of different things have changed since then. But they've been able to prove that a great ballpark in a downtown area does a lot for a community. At the same time, they tried to do it with 100 percent private money. That's very difficult, and I'm not sure you could get anything built today entirely on private money. But I was at that park on Opening Day a few years ago, and it was just wonderful. I think if we were able to do something like that in Oakland, it would have a very high impact.

CCT: What has changed?
Wolff: That's an entire discussion in itself. But the economic and political landscape are always changing.

Wolff's responses are carefully constructed as to not give the appearance of a commitment to any one idea (site, funding sources, timeline). The proposal(s) will come along soon enough. One refreshing thing I can see from Wolff's press conference and interviews is that he doesn't seem to be the type who will negotiate through the media. He's doing his necessary rounds with the media, then he'll go right back into silent mode. The quote confirming the lodge mentality of the commish and owners is unexpected, though not surprising.

06 April 2005

Dave Newhouse interviews Lewis Wolff

Small details have emerged. Tidbits from the interview:

Q (Newhouse). Are you encouraged that a ballpark can be built in Oakland?

A (Wolff). I always feel that way, but the biggest issue is pinning down a site, and we're working on that right now.

Q. You mentioned last week that you would be looking at alternative sites: Would that include something along the estuary?

A. First of all, we don't know how many alternatives there are. What we can't do is look at a site we can't use because it might take 10 years to get there. The answer is I'm going to do everything I can to find a site.

Q. The Coliseum parking lot, which you're focused on, offers BART and highway access, but no aesthetic qualities. Would you agree?

A. You haven't seen what we plan to build there yet.

Q. What has been your relationship with Alameda County's Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to date?

A. They have been very supportive, and I would like to thank both the county and the city of Oakland. A lot has gone on since our (Friday) press conference, and they're just terrific. When I call, they've responded right away. I see no problem dealing with them.

Newhouse did his best to pry some steak from Wolff, but all he got was sizzle. That's what makes Wolff the consummate professional he is. He's good.

Q. With the close proximity of sports teams to one another in this country, would "territorial rights" stand up in court?

A. I'll never know because I'll never test it.

It's nice to see that Newhouse didn't lob the typical San Jose or Vegas/Portland question that would've gotten the typical response. Wolff's response, as expected, leaves the territorial rights battle squarely within the San Jose civic and booster groups, making it a real uphill climb for them.

04 April 2005

San Jose, DC differences

Maury Brown of SABR's Business of Baseball committee and the Oregon Stadium Campaign wrote a brief op-ed in the Merc about the differences between the DC situation and the Santa Clara County situation. I agree with much of what he says in the piece, including the idea that San Jose proponents may have to go to court to get a remedy. There is one point I disagree with:

The other alternative would be taking MLB to court, in which case he would have solid footing, given San Jose being within Santa Clara County.

The "he" in the quote refers to Giants managing partner Peter Magowan, and the "footing" is a legal claim over the territory. I don't think this is necessarily the case. Brown implies that if it went to court and territorial rights were not to be challenged because of the anti-trust exemption, it would be an open-and-shut case. That would make sense if the A's were suing baseball, but I doubt that's how it's going to happen. If a party outside MLB such as a San Jose civic group were to sue the Giants/MLB over territorial rights (they'd be challenging the exemption), the Giants and MLB might have trouble explaining the following issues:
  1. Why three of the pre-existing two-team markets have identical territory sharing agreements, while the Bay Area is an exception, with the territory divided inequitably (4.2 million in 6 counties for the Giants, 2.8 million in 2 counties for the A's).
  2. Or the judge might ask why television rights are equitably shared, but stadium-building rights are not.
  3. What compensation the A's received for the Giants moving closer to the A's when SBC Park was built, to a location that could better serve and attract East Bay fans. If you've ever been on a BART train filled with Giants fans from Concord or an Alameda special ballpark ferry to SBC, you know what I'm talking about. The 'Stick was not a public-transit friendly venue. In fact, I'm surprised Steve Schott never raised a stink about this at all - or maybe he did and we just don't know about it.
  4. Then there's the issue regarding how the territorial rights were granted and retained in the first place. Some say they evaporated once the last ballot measure in Santa Clara County failed, Magowan says he bought the Giants based on having those rights. That makes sense now that Santa Clara County is the high-tech capital of the world, but when Magowan bought the Giants, Yahoo! was just a glimmer in two Stanford students eyes, and Google was only a number. The area was in the midst of the recession, and many here were worried about losing defense contractors who were shutting down daily, not thinking about an impending technological boom. Magowan would then argue that he wouldn't have built his privately-funded ballpark without those same rights, but then he'd have to actually show potential damages that would result from a San Jose ballpark. I don't think he really wants to do that, because A) He'd have to open up the books, and that would show how much revenue is being hidden because of the vested interest agreements between the Giants and KNBR and KTVU, B) If Giants fans knew how much was being hidden, it'd create a huge backlash (the cost-controlled $75 million payroll), and C) Bud Selig and MLB have no interest in actually showing anything truthful about how money flows into and throughout the league - in fact, history has shown that MLB has done everything it could to prevent litigation, including foolishly drawing up settlements.

The problem with all this legal posturing and wrangling is that it's expensive, and it takes a long time. Would a party that challenged the exemption try to tackle just the anomalous situation that affects the Bay Area (and by extension, Baltimore-Washington), or the entire exemption? Who'd foot the bill, and would that group see it through? No one's going to become this era's Clarence Darrow from challenging the exemption. Still, attracting interest locally might work, since San Jose will always be stuck with its inferiority complex when comparing itself to its cosmopolitan neighbor.

Push for a waterfront ballpark

Chip Johnson of the Chronicle writes in his column that building on...

the Coliseum parking lot -- would be the most expedient, but perhaps not the most desirable, choice of sites.

He notes that the Uptown site is due for groundbreaking later this month. The best site would be along the waterfront, anywhere from the Oakland Army Base to the Estuary. The Army Base does have some potential because it is city owned, but despite the waterfront feature, it's far from downtown and would require a BART station to be built there. All waterfront sites would also require environmental cleanup, which would cost in the tens of millions per site, and there's the issue that the City and Port may actually want to get some amount of money for these sites, since they have some value.

03 April 2005

Ballpark plans in motion

In addition to the quotes from Friday's post, it looks as exploration is full steam ahead, according to an article in the Contra Costa Times. The focus is mostly on the Coliseum parking lot, though there's no distinction between the existing lot and the 8.65 acre gravel auxiliary lot adjacent to the south lots.

"Now, we have to look at what's under the site," Wolff said. "Tenants (the Raiders and Warriors) share this site and we have to talk to them. We have to address the parking issue.

"There are difficulties with any venue of this nature," he added. "You will find that to be the case in any place. Elsewhere in the country, you will run into issues such as these, too."

In addition, the city got some news on how far the plan is progressing:

Last week, De La Fuente received an indication -- via a letter from Wolff -- that some advancement already has been made.

"It was official notice to the (Coliseum Authority) that he has engaged an architectural firm in Los Angeles to start exploring the possibility of building a stadium in Oakland," De La Fuente said. "They're taking the lead on it, and I see that as a reason to be optimistic."

If they focus on the existing south lot, a ballpark could remove 4,000 spaces. Someone would have to build a lot of garage parking to make up for the loss. Those parking garages could cost $6-8 million to build, plus there's the fact that garages don't make for quality tailgating.

01 April 2005

Friday Press Conference Notes

Quotes from Lewis Wolff at today's 11 AM press conference:

Regarding what would happen if a deal could not be struck with Oakland/Alameda County:

"I'm not going to get into 'what if' at all.. We need to put blinders on and look at where we're at today."

When asked if he was "optimistic" about the effort:

"I wouldn't use the word optimistic. I believe we can implement if we can balance the issues here."

About other sites:

"I think there's a possibility that there's more than one site... We're going to start looking at other sites starting next month."

Regarding how long it will take to put it together:

"It's going to take the bulk of the next 12 months. We may get lucky."

About the financing gap, around $250-300 million:

"There may be other ways to finance this than the (strategy) 'How many luxury suites can you sell?' ... If I recall, (this area) is not so hot on seat licensing."

When asked if the San Jose Redevelopment Agency was wasting their time in buying a site for a ballpark:

"You're going to have to talk to them about that."

LA Times article on ownership change

Most of the same information, but two new tidbits came up in the article:

Commissioner Bud Selig said he had no trouble with Wolff's wanting a deal done by season's end — "They've had enough conversations," Selig said — but added that Wolff should not look elsewhere.

"I want him to concentrate on getting something done in Oakland," Selig said.
... and...
Wolff said he could limit a ballpark to 35,000 seats, to minimize construction costs and maximize demand for tickets. He said the A's could not afford all of what is estimated to be a $400-million bill but would pay 25% and would consider involvement in real estate development — surrounding the park and elsewhere in Oakland — that could help the city and county recoup investment costs.

The first comment indicates that Wolff is sticking with the 6-month planning deadline. Oakland/Alameda County voters have to decide on a new ballpark, even if it's entirely privately funded. Since this year's election would be a
special election, it's not likely to be on that ballot. Look for the issue to come up next March.

Limiting the ballpark capacity to 35,000 will create the inelastic demand the owners want, but reducing square footage will cut construction costs a lot. It costs roughly $300 per square foot to build a ballpark, and cutting 100-200,000 s.f. or more would lower the cost $30-60 million. In today's era of large club areas and concourses, it's hard to know where the cuts would occur. Pittsburgh was able to control costs significantly by keeping the design limited to two decks.