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.


Maury Brown said...

All good points.

The problem, as I mentioned, would be that Selig would never allow the vote to occur in the first place.

As Wolff said in the Q&A:

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.