04 August 2005

Gems from the AN Interview Part II

"Blez: At least you're getting a lot of walk-ups lately.

Wolff: That's the worst thing that could happen to us.

Blez: Really? Why?

Wolff: Well, let's think it through a little bit. We have the highest walk-ups in Major League Baseball. That is a big black mark against us with the league. Say you're trying to get the vendors ready for the game and you don't know if you're going to have 10,000 people or 20,000. The Giants have the luxury of knowing almost every game where they'll be. This is a serious problem. It's not a plus. Obviously we have a lot of seats because of the Raiders expansion and such. So when people say, "Gee whiz, can you spend more money?", we don't want to gouge anybody but we'd like to be closer to what the Giants are able to do just by way of a neighbor."
  • One of the things that tends to be forgotten in the appreciation of baseball is that there is a business model behind it. Or rather, several. Moneyball is a unique business model for developing and acquiring players. SBC Park and McAfee Coliseum have very different business models for their stadium operations. A team with its own cable network (Yankees, Red Sox) would have a separate business model for selling advertising. It may not be the most interesting thing to discuss, but it's the reality of the modern era.
  • This is not the first time Wolff has expressed his disdain for walk-up attendance. Expect the season ticket advertising push at the beginning of this season to be cranked into high gear in September and throughout the offseason.
"Blez: So, when you talk about 32-35 thousand capacity...

Wolff: That will create some scarcity. Not a lot. We still have some great ideas. We want to cater to families still and we aren't looking for the last dollar. But we'd like to be able to manage the dollars that we have. And we don't know sometimes whether to have 100 people working or 200. You need to probably talk to the people that do that to get more detail. But it's just not good. And by the way, even if the Raiders weren't there, it still wouldn't be good. Without the Raiders, we'd still be looking for a modern venue."
  • The challenge for Wolff will be to sell the added value in a new ballpark. Some of it is inherent: new amenities, better location. Other added value may not be so obvious, such as special perks for season ticket or suite holders. In the end, the best added value comes from a winning team. It is the ultimate end product, after all.
  • Mt. Davis has been almost universally hated by A's faithful, but it's provided some interesting benefits for them. The lease agreement is extremely favorable for the A's, as their yearly payment is slightly less than the cost of salaries for rookies Huston Street and Nick Swisher. They also have one-year options on the lease starting in 2008 and have a cheap buyout clause. Without Mt. Davis, the A's would arguably have less of a case to get a new ballpark. Opponents, including those who would have an emotional attachment to the Coliseum, might be more in favor of renovations to the Coliseum, perhaps similar to those undertaken in Anaheim. The Coliseum now is clearly not a good revenue-generating ballpark model because of the huge capacity and little scarcity.
  • Pricing is another matter altogether. Since a competitor resides in the same market, the A's couldn't make huge across-the-board price hikes without dealing with the ramifications of the demand curve. Wolff has said that the area isn't too keen on seat licences, but seat licenses are a very common part of stadium financing these days. Are seat licenses out of the question, or will they be offered in a limited form? If they are offered, how will they be pitched? What flexibility will be in the partial season ticket plans? What about ticket promotions such as newspaper family packs?
"Blez: Are you strictly focused on Oakland right now? I live in Sacramento, so I selfishly hope you'll come here, but have you explored any place like Sacramento or Las Vegas?

Wolff: We have time to look at Portland and Las Vegas and places that people keep hearing about. Our focus is in our territory, which is really a district. Our district includes, Alameda County, Contra Costa County and I think Monterey too (laughs), we're not moving down there. We don't have Santa Clara because that was somehow shifted over to the Giants. I am focused totally on our district. In order of priority, I would like to be in the city of Oakland, if we could. If not, something to do with the city and county through the JPA, and otherwise, the county."
  • This should get the Portland and Vegas folks talking, but they're just going to have to wait like vultures circling carrion (this goes for San Jose and Sacramento too) for talks in Oakland to collapse. However, Fremont or Dublin may be in play sooner than later. Wolff held firm on intent to not challenge territorial rights in Santa Clara County, which makes it all the more difficult for Baseball San Jose to sell their concept.
"Blez: Anything beyond that?

Wolff: I don't know where to go beyond that (laughing). That's all we have the right to do. Now, Sacramento could probably be an area. But I haven't discussed it in any detail with anybody. Right now, I'm not sure whether that's a good market or not.

Blez: Raley Field was actually built so you could build a second and I think third deck on it to make it into a major league ballpark.

Wolff: We want a ballpark without a third deck. I understand the park is great and a friend of mine owns the team. I haven't actually seen it yet but I'm going down with Billy soon to see it. When you're going to make this type of investment whether it's in Oakland or somewhere else in the area, and I'm talking $300-400 million, you should get the biggest bang out of it. San Diego's done a great job. They've benefitted a lot. But Oakland is a tough city. It's built up."
  • At first, I was surprised with Blez seemingly pimping Sactown. I don't really have an issue with it. Wolff, Fisher and other investors will choose a site and plan based on feasibility, cost, and potential. He's probably heard plenty about Sacramento already, so Blez isn't giving him anything new to think over.
  • As for bang-for-the-buck, there's potentially another issue regarding Sacramento. If a ballpark village were planned for the area around Raley Field, that would mean displacement of many business situated in the warehouse district there. That may not seem like much, but those businesses have a rail line, the river, and a major interstate only steps away from where they hang their shingles.
  • Built-up? This wasn't necessarily an issue only three years ago, when the relative futures of Howard Terminal, Uptown, and Oak-to-9th were in question and all three were open to different development plans. Howard Terminal is now sewn up for the next 30 years. Uptown is belatedly getting all of the pieces in place for the Forest City project, and Signature may have a plan in place for developing the Estuary. This brings up the question of timing. Wolff was brought on solely to work on venue development in 2003, then got an option to buy the team. Then he exercised the option in December, shortly after all three deals were well past initial planning stages. That leaves Oakland with fewer and fewer ideal sites. I'm probably reading too much into this, but it is curious.
I'll end on this note: Not only was it a brilliant interview "get" for Tyler Bleszinski, it was an excellent P.R. move by Wolff. He addressed much of the hardcore fanbase directly, giving them a few details to whet their appetites. Many are now clamoring for site plans, models, renderings, anything to push it forward. It's clear from most of the comments that there is a positive feeling about Wolff, one of guarded optimism. It's a crucial step in convincing the community at large that a ballpark is a good thing for the public.


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