31 October 2005

A's radio up in the air

The Chron's radio reporter, Steve Kroner, wrote in Friday's edition about the many issues that the A's face in their broadcasting future. Not only does A's VP Ken Pries have the impossible task of filling the seat of the late, irreplaceable Bill King, but he also has to to broker a deal to get the A's on some kind of flagship station (AM-preferred) prior to the start of the 2006 season. Among the other open issues:
  • Who will be the A's television play-by-play guy(s)?
  • Will Hank Greenwald return? If so, how diminished will his schedule be?
  • What will happen to fill-in radio play-by-play man Steve Bitker?
Based on various media reports, there are a few quality "free agent" broadcasters out there, including Ted Robinson (most recently of the Mets) and John Rooney (White Sox). Rooney would be my choice just because of his smooth baritone, but Robinson is perfectly competent - he's even worked for the A's in the past. Another possibility is Doug Greenwald, Hank's son, who has spent the last couple of years broadcasting for the Giants' Fresno (AAA) team. Greenwald has worked for nearly every California minor league team, and he at least deserves a shot at the gig. He previously auditioned for the open Giants radio position that eventually went to Dave Flemming, another young upstart.

Not to be lost in all of this is the news that after initial discussions, neither KQKE-960 nor KNEW-910 will broadcast the A's next season. That eliminates two more candidates from the already short list of potential radio homes for the A's. November is usually negotiation time for such matters, so we should hear more then.

Following up on initial reports in early October, the Bay Area Radio Digest confirmed that Cumulus Media is buying Susquehanna's radio properties, which include KNBR-680 and 1050.

Thanks Rob for the heads-up on the A's radio article.

27 October 2005

CoCo Times: The nascent bidding war

The headline may be a bit too sensationalistic, but we may find that in a year it's right on target. The Contra Costa Times editorial page acknowledged the interest by Fremont and San Jose, even Sacramento and Las Vegas. Wolff's Oakland plan has both merit and challenges. Should Opening Day 2006 pass with little progress on the Oakland front, there's a good chance that multiple suitors will emerge with formal proposals, perhaps including cities in Alameda County that have been silent so far. Portland, OR remains a possibility just because the financial plan there remained in place even after they lost out in the Expos bidding war.

26 October 2005

Exit car dealerships, enter... ballpark?

Update (10/26, 3:05 PM): Today I pitched the idea to Ignacio De La Fuente and Nancy Nadel. Councilwoman Nadel, in whose district the site resides, has been receptive so far. She's passing the idea along to Redevelopment. We'll see what happens from there.

According to an article in Sunday's Trib, some of the dealerships on Broadway Auto Row have expressed interest in relocating to a new "auto mall" concept at the old Oakland Army Base. Reasons given are the location's proximity and visibility from I-880, the fact that it's a little closer to San Francisco, and lower land costs/leases.

There are already plans to build various types of housing in the area based on available zoning and planning resources, but even with those plans, there exists at least one site where a ballpark could be built. The site is at the intersection of 27th Street and Broadway. It's roughly the shape of a triangle, and is just about the perfect site to shoehorn a ballpark in. Broadway Ford, a used car lot, and some other auto-related businesses currently occupy the area. I counted 2-3 houses and small apartment buildings as well.

These residents and businesses would obviously have to be relocated, and other land in the area would have to be acquired to fulfill Wolff's concept of surrounding development paying for the ballpark costs, but the site has several advantages, including its ideal downtown/uptown location and access to BART. There would also be neat views of the Oakland skyline and Lake Merritt (presumably from the upper deck). It even has a slight downward slope that's conducive to building a ballpark. Keep in mind that the idea of a building a ballpark on the site isn't mentioned in the article, but if Wolff's looking for an appropriate site, this one may just work.

What would it look like? Compare the image above - the land as it currently exists - with the image below, which has a conceptual design on it. (Please note that the images were created with the wonderful Google Earth application.)

That's Lake Merritt and Adams Point in the upper left hand corner. The nearest BART station is the 19th Street Station, about 5 blocks away from the right field corner. The entry to the BART station is actually at 20th and Broadway. It wouldn't be possible to build a closer station because BART's tunnel makes a westerly (left) turn just past 20th Street before it aligns with I-980/CA-24.

25 October 2005

San Jose looks to acquire PG&E substation

Barry Witt's report in today's Merc covers San Jose's efforts to get PG&E to study moving a substation located on the Diridon South site. The substation could either be reconfigured or moved. A potential site is the fire training center on the other side of Park Avenue.

The substation is wedged between the old Stephens Meat plant (which closed down last month) and the Union Pacific/Amtrak/Caltrain tracks, towards the northern end of the trapezoid-shaped lot. I have been told that substation, which is roughly the shape of a square that juts into adjacent properties, could be reconfigured to run parallel to the tracks. If that's the case, it would be the most cost-efficient option since it may be possible to move without rerouting the high-tension transmission lines that run above the property.

One more property acquisition may be required for the ballpark to work properly. A small parking lot just north of the substation is used as long term parking for Amtrak riders. If the ballpark were to have a southeast orientation, there might not be enough space put in a proper field without this space. That is, unless the designers want yet another bandbox.

Update (10/26, 10:44): Another article which quotes Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone is on the CBS-5/KPIX website.

24 October 2005

San Jose - Renovate Muni or Pursue A's?

San Jose has, for lack of a better term, found itself in a bit of a pickle. The city's oft-forgotten Class A San Jose Giants play in the historically rich but otherwise decrepit Municipal Stadium. An article in this week's San Jose Business Journal reports on the Giants' parent team, the San Francisco Giants, giving a 2007 deadline to renovate the stadium or the S.J. Giants will move. Towards the end of the article are a few nuggets about MLB's territorial rights issue.

Of course, many of the San Jose politicos are focused on "bigger" things like their downtown ballpark site, which is being bought by the city's Redevelopment Agency in hopes of prepping the site for the A's. Still, there's a vocal group of S.J. Giants supporters and preservationists that want to get Muni up to par with the rest of the California League. Considering the resounding success of Stockton's Banner Island Ballpark, Muni pales in comparison.

Complicating matters is a plan to redevelop much of the area, which also contains Spartan Stadium, Logitech Ice (where the Sharks practice), Spartan Village to the north, and Kelley Park to the east. The plan would convert the area, which I've at times called a "black hole," into a large mixed-development concept with new retail and medium-density housing. The plan also calls for changes to Spartan Stadium, which the San Jose Earthquakes are looking to upgrade if they don't relocate first. City Council member Cindy Chavez, who is considered the frontrunner in the 2006 mayoral race, supports this plan. The biggest issues with the plan are the costs associated with rebuilding two stadiums (which have to be voter-approved) and other ancillary costs, which may include cleanup of a Superfund site south of Spartan Stadium. There's also the problem of light rail, which is a prohibitive mile west of the area along CA-87.

Where would the S.J. Giants go if they left San Jose? Try Napa or Sonoma, or maybe Contra Costa County.

In the end, it may come down to a debate about getting a major league team at the expense of losing a piece of history (Muni and the Giants - though the Giants have only been around since 1988). As the campaign moves forward, the candidates, including Chavez, Chuck Reed, and pro-major league candidate Dave Cortese will have plenty of opportunities to convince San Jose voters why their respective vision is best.

18 October 2005

R.I.P. Bill King

I remember this routine I had as a child. As a typical latchkey kid, I'd come home with my twin brother to an empty house. During baseball season, my brother and I would have time to watch the dynamic duo of G.I. Joe and Transformers. After the cartoons ended, my brother would head to a neighbor's house. I'd stay home and go straight to the radio. If the A's were playing on the East Coast, the cartoons would lead up to an East Coast 4:35 start.

I'd move from the family room to the living room, where the old Sears console stereo sat in corner. The console was multi-functional, as it served as a real piece of furniture that happened to have speakers and an analog dial. I had long ago broken the record player after repeatedly playing an old floppy red Sweet Pickles record one too many times. As part of the routine, I pulled out my homework, math first, and laid it out on the console's table area. I didn't realize it then, but this was my first experience with multitasking, and it would serve me well in later years.

Bill and Lon often alternated responsibilities to keep things fresh. One would do the lineups and the first half-inning, the other would do the next two innings. Both did TV back then, so it wasn't uncommon to hear only one of them during the broadcast at times while the other did TV, but it was pure magic when both were in the radio booth trading barbs and stories. Bill's feisty nature was a perfect foil for Lon's laid-back, dry humor. Sometimes I felt as if I had this set of invisible grandfathers in the console, teaching me about the game, about the meaning of a word donnybrook (which they only used for high-scoring games). I remember:
  • John Shulock's enormous ego and hot temper
  • How Dave Kingman was virtually useless in the field but was still entertaining just because of his swing
  • The optimism in their voices about the 1986-87 teams, which were young and talent-rich
  • The explanation of TLR's "Village Idiot" comment
  • Exasperation at Luis Polonia's glove size and his Byrnes-like routes to the ball
  • Bill deferring to Lon in the 9th inning of Game 4
  • Not knowing about Bill's brilliance in working basketball play-by-play until I heard archived broadcasts some years later
  • How Bill cherished the challenge that broadcasting baseball brought. Not to belittle hoops, but the action on the court was plentiful enough to get a rhythm going and coast it all the way through. Baseball required a different skillset, one of frequent metaphors and similes and the occasional bit of alliteration. It's why he stopped doing TV.
  • Bill's complete dissatisfaction with interleague play, Bud Selig (who was sardonically coined "our brilliant leader" once, IIRC), and The Ballpark in Arlington
  • Bill's love of New York, Boston, and Seattle
  • How on more than one occasion, another broadcaster recounted (Lon, Ray, or Ken) picking Bill up from his hotel room, only to be greeted by either the smell of raw onions or thick cigar smoke.
  • Bill's recent attempts to inject his "street" knowledge, especially of hip-hop music, into some broadcasts.
  • Bill phoning into Gary Radnich's show a few weeks ago to tell a story about the first spike he saw in the NFL (the Raiders' Hewritt Dixon) and how Bill's trademark handlebar moustache was non-conformist, forcing the TV network to hire two schmos to do pre and postgame work while Bill, unseen, did the play-by-play telecast.
Wikipedia has already acknowledged Bill King's passing today.

I'll miss Bill more than anything. Three years ago, longtime colleague Chick Hearn passed away, ironically while recovering after hip surgery. Maybe they've already donned their headsets to work play-by-play in heaven. But not before Bill stopped to have a chat and a drink with Wilt Chamberlain and Billy Martin.

An attendance comparison

Below is a table showing seasonal attendance totals for the 2000-2005 seasons. By representing the data in this manner, certain conclusions can be drawn about the nature of baseball attendance. But before I get to that, here's the table:

First, I should point out the reasoning behind picking the selected five teams. All are California teams, which after looking at different demographic data from all 30 MLB teams, provide the best direct comparisons because of similar climate, economies, commute/travel issues, and similar availability of substitutes (other forms of entertainment).

The figures in red indicate a watershed event. For the 2000 Giants, it was their inaugural season at their new ballpark. The 2003 Angels had a huge attendance boost after they won World Series. The Padres opened their new venue in 2004. At first it may not seem like much in terms of commonality, but each instance provided a catalyst for substantial attendance growth.

The Dodgers have been almost guaranteed of 3 million each season over the last decade. Dodger Stadium has managed to retain much of its luster despite being 43 years old. Recent renovation has been done in steps, starting with the addition of club sections and more field level seats. The next phase involves redoing the bleacher pavilion sections and changes to concourse circulation. No change is expected to affect attendance much, except perhaps to retain fans instead of losing them to the Angels.

That other L.A. team did not experience a huge attendance boost when Anaheim Stadium was reborn as a baseball-only facility in 1996. The team had just come off a dismal 70-91 season, and fans weren't buying into a repackaged "Big A." The Angels turned it around to have a 84-78 record in 1997. Fans rewarded the Angels in the 1998 season, as the new bandwagon netted a whopping 42% seasonal gain. This was maintained until two straight 3rd place finishes kept them at the 2 million mark. The bandwagon was slow to get involved in 2002, resulting in a 15% rise to 2.3 million. After the World Championship, however, attendance has been steadily above 3 million and continues to rise as fans responded to investments in superstars such as Vladimir Guerrero, as well as a successful marketing campaign in the entire L.A. area. It's a credit to owner Arte Moreno that he hasn't chosen to rest on his laurels after buying the team in 2003. He used that inherited goodwill as capital to expand the fanbase. He may have alienated Orange County fans with the adoption of the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" moniker, but so far there hasn't been any visible backlash. Though the Angels are expected to be contenders next year and have plenty of young talent stashed away in the minors, they also face difficult payroll decisions in the next two years that could quickly escalate their payroll beyond tenable levels.

Near the border, Petco Park gave the Padres a 50% increase in attendance from 2003 to 2004. Seasonal attendance exhibited a gradual decline until the opening of the park, as if fans waited until the park opened to attend games. In 2005, the novelty effect of Petco wore off slightly, resulting in a 7% dip even though the team won the division - albeit while posting a worse record. The venue has shown itself to be a pitcher's park, which may make it difficult to sign a free agent slugger, which could then translate into lower fan interest and attendance. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of years, as the Padres run into the upper limits of the revenue the ballpark provides towards payroll, the talented young core emerges from team-controlled and arbitration years into free agency, and the at times chilly Petco weather becomes a detractor. It is for these reasons that I think the Padres' situation most parallels the A's - if the A's were to get a new ballpark in the next few years.

SBC (soon to be AT&T?) Park has been an unquestionable success for the Giants. Over 3 million each year have gone through the turnstiles since the place opened, so it's hard to argue with the effect the ballpark has had on the team's fortunes and the city itself. It is important to point out the incremental effect other factors have had on the attendance mark. The Giants have remained in contention throughout throughout all six years and have a World Series appearance to go with it. Barry Bonds's home run theatrics have turned the ballpark into an almost transcendent setting with the heightened drama his at bats bring. The weather has at times been better, though the wind and fog has not been mitigated as well as hoped. Lastly, SBC Park's superior accessibility from multiple modes of public transit have not only brought fans more easily from the existing fanbase in the outer reaches of S.F., Marin County, and the Peninsula (via Caltrain), it has also pulled fans more easily from the East Bay, which happens to be the A's stronghold. It's difficult to say how big an effect SBC Park has had on the A's attendance. It's doubtful that it could translate into anything more than 1-2% of A's seasonal totals.

There has been talk that the A's may have reached an attendance ceiling given the circumstances. Let's look at the different factors (excuses?):
  • Second team in the smallest two-team market
  • Inferior venue with too many seats to restrict supply
  • No "nightlife" around Coliseum
  • Cold night games due to marine layer-influenced bay microclimate
  • Loss of identifiable stars to free agency (Giambi, Tejada, Damon) and trades (Mulder, Hudson)
  • Uncertainty regarding the team's future in Oakland
  • Promotions like bobblehead giveaways and "Double Play Wednesdays" ($2 tickets) drawing fans away from non-promotion games
  • The Giants and SBC Park "stealing" fans away from the A's
  • The reputation of the California or Bay Area sports fan - not as rabid or passionate as an East Coast fan
  • Competition among other teams and forms of entertainment
Winning a World Series could provide a sizable boost in season ticket sales, but if the next season the A's had one of their historically poor starts, the reduced walk-up sales and rising no-shows could quickly cancel them out. The Florida Marlins are a classic example of this. Sustained success with real improvements (AL pennant, World Series) are the only way to keep the fans. The Marlins are the extreme due to unusual circumstances. The Twins and Braves are more similar to the A's - since all three teams are perceived to be unable to advance past a certain point in the playoffs, fan interest has not improved beyond a certain ceiling level.

While a ballpark can help improve many of these areas, it isn't a total solution. Siting the ballpark at the Coliseum won't help with the weather, though it may be compelling enough that fans cease to use the weather as yet another excuse. An extra $20-40 million per year will help retain one or two stars, but Billy Beane's not going to start spending like Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein. It's clear that for the A's to add and subsequently retain fan interest, they'll have to:
  • Get the ballpark built
  • Maintain a modicum of success to ensure good walk-up crowds after the novelty wears off
  • Achieve either a pennant or World Series win to counter poor perception and create a "halo effect"
  • Market aggressively through multiple forms of media (TV, radio, print, net)
  • Sign or re-sign one or more marquee players
  • Create partnerships through long-term deals with the flagship radio affiliate
It's a tall order, and it doesn't all have to be done, nor does it all have to be done at once. It doesn't venture into an even more ideal situation, such as the creation of a regional sports network. But if those six steps above aren't attempted, the A's won't maximize the potential of the sophisticated and fickle Bay Area market.

14 October 2005

Contra Costa Times supports Fremont

A newly penned editorial in today's Contra Costa Times welcomes Fremont's attempts to get the A's. Since it's early in the game, there are no detailed specifics to criticize, such as public funding. The editorial qualifies the notion by emphasizing that the paper doesn't necessarily want the A's to leave Oakland, but if this is what it takes to stay in the Bay Area, so be it.

12 October 2005

HomeBase (Coliseum South) fire

Local evening newscasts all have reported a seven alarm fire tonight burning at the old HomeBase (Coliseum South) site immediately to the south of the Coliseum complex. I took pictures of the site several months ago and compiled them into an overview (PDF format). The site has been vacant for several years and though it is fenced off, there are several openings in the fence for people to enter. I never saw anyone there when I walked around the place to take pictures, but it's probably a very inviting place for anyone that needs a roof and cover from police. The EDD building next door appeared to be threatened earlier, but reports as of 11:30 indicate that the fire is now under control. I sincerely hope no one was hurt or killed, though I have to wonder if this is somehow related to the displacement of a large homeless camp along the Lake Merritt inlet, next to the Oak-to-Ninth site. There weren't many places the affected homeless persons to go after the camp was broken up, and the HomeBase building certainly could have functioned as shelter. Posted below are the old picture montage of the site and an aerial view.

The flood control channel that surrounds the site may act as a buffer, but some of the peripheral structures at the Coliseum may be in jeopardy, such as a cell phone tower and the football seats (which may be installed in the Coliseum right now).

News from other projects

Some good reading from other cities where ballparks are in various planning stages:
  • Backers of a downtown Kansas City ballpark launched a new website yesterday promoting the concept. A Powerpoint presentation in PDF format is available on the site. The presentation goes over downtown resurgence in other cities: San Francisco, Cleveland, Denver, and Pittsburgh. Obviously, the numbers are spun to give as favorable a view as possible, and I've read as many articles that say the Cleveland redevelopment plan has failed as I have that it has succeeded. I also can't agree with the design, which looks too reminiscent of SBC Park and doesn't address SBC's main flaw: the left field corner seating on the second and third tiers. If you've sat there before, you know what I mean.
  • There's a great article in the Washington City Paper (weekly) about the me-too style and lack of innovation in the DC Navy Yard ballpark concept. If you want a primer on how to design a fan-unfriendly park, this is it. If you want something that makes much more sense for the suits, bleacher bums, and families, check back here in a few weeks. Note: the writer bases much of his judgments on the DC ballpark terms, which were published several months ago.
  • It appears that any hope for a Twins' stadium to be approved this year has evaporated, as state legislators have shown no interest in a special session to vote on non-emergency issues.
  • A key big development project that was planned for Las Vegas has collapsed, leaving it unclear where a future ballpark fits in. The news may be good or bad for Vegas depending on which new developer steps in for The Related Cos. Still no word on the cost of building a ballpark (domed or not?) and the unknown method of funding it, let alone what Mayor Oscar Goodman will do about addressing the gambling issue.

11 October 2005

Fremont City Council approves study

The preliminary feasibility study was unanimously approved (5-0) tonight in what could be viewed as a formality. City Manager Fred Diaz plans to spend $30-50,000 on the study, which will cover land use, transportation, and costs for future services for the planned development. The study will take 90 days or more to complete, and there is no hurry since it should dovetail with Wolff's announcement prior to or at the beginning of the 2006 season.

There were some interesting comments from the mayor and council members:
  • Mayor Bob Wasserman said that he was first contacted by Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. Wasserman isn't operating under any delusions regarding the concept. There is huge potential, but there are also downsides. The effort is rooted in the idea of keeping the team in Alameda County. Whatever plan comes out of it will be a joint effort between the city and county.
  • Council member Dominick Dutra asked what kinds of communications the city has had with Wolff. The answer was that they were basically "outreach"-type discussions, but nothing of any real substance since the A's are still negotiating with Oakland.
  • The study isn't just for a ballpark. Another idea is a regional sports facility, which could mean any number of things: sports complex, soccer stadium and fields, almost anything. The facility could be built alongside or instead of the ballpark.
  • There was no mention of public or private financing. It's too early in the process to start discussing such specifics.
Probably the most interesting thing about the session was what happened before the council approved the study. The council acknowledged several police officers who had reached 20-25 years of service with the Fremont Police Department. Most of them had either been born in Fremont or spent the majority of their lives there. It was rather refreshing to see that in an area that is known for its large transplant and transient population, that these officers had been home for so long. It also speaks to the "smallness" of Fremont, that this city of 200,000 has a sense of community and security that belies its physical size: 93 square miles, the second largest in terms of area in the Bay Area. Council member Anu Natarajan mentioned that local writer Jaime Richards felt that Fremont was "on the verge of greatness," and Fremont's suburban nature will always keep it in a struggle between its near-small town character and its cosmopolitan desires. It's the same issue that has dogged San Jose for much of the last 25 years, though San Jose's sheer population size makes it far too big for anyone to feel that sense of intimacy there.

One more thing - council member Bob Wieckowski donned an A's cap while calling for the motion to approve the study. Natarajan seconded the motion, and the vote was taken. The session was adjourned shortly thereafter.

p.s. (10:03 pm) - Where do people get the idea that "Oakland" will remain with the team name if it moves to Fremont? Fremont also wants to get on the map with this move. It's not entirely altruistic. If Fremont's going to make the large investment (land, money), they should get the team name. It was part of the two Santa Clara deals. I hate to bring it up, but there's no glamour in the name "Oakland." There's a better chance of the team being named "The San Francisco Athletics of Fremont" than the retention of the name "Oakland Athletics." Leave your emotional attachments at the door, folks. To the victors go the spoils.

Fremont City Council meeting tonight

Fremont's City Council is considering conducting a ballpark preliminary feasibility study tonight. Here are the specifics:


    Consideration of a Preliminary Study and the Possibility of a Proposal to the Oakland Athletics Baseball Team to Locate in Fremont

    Contact Person:

    Name: Fred Diaz Christine S. Daniel

    Title: City Manager Deputy City Manager

    Dept.: City Manager’s Office City Manager’s Office

    Phone: 510-284-4002 510-284-4008


    RECOMMENDATION: Authorize staff to retain a consultant and conduct a preliminary feasibility study or studies to enable the Council to determine whether to make a proposal to the Oakland Athletics baseball team to locate in Fremont, should their ongoing negotiations with the City of Oakland not prove successful.

If you're interested, the meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Council Chambers is at 3300 Capitol Avenue in Fremont, within walking distance of the Fremont BART station and the Fremont Hub shopping center. I'll be there, and I should have a follow-up post later tonight.

07 October 2005

Susquehanna Media finds a buyer

To cap a fairly news-heavy end of the week, Reuters reports that Susquehanna Media is about to be sold to a group of investors including Cumulus Media. Cumulus has around 300 stations in mostly mid-market areas, and acquiring the Susquehanna portfolio of stations expands its reach into bigger markets like the San Francisco Bay Area. Cumulus does not currently have a presence in the Bay Area, so they won't be forced to divest other stations to run newly acquired ones.

It's unlikely that there will be any serious changes to KNBR. KTCT remains a question mark, but since it will probably remain part of the parent company, any opportunity for A's to acquire it appears to have passed. Next up is the sale of Disney's ABC Radio properties, which constitutes an even bigger portfolio than Susquehanna. Expect Disney to sell the radio business whole, not piecemeal (individual stations).

Dellums to run for Oakland mayor.

Former US representative Ron Dellums has announced his candidacy for the Oakland mayoral position at a press conference held at Laney College at noon today. He will be running against the previously mentioned city council president Ignacio De La Fuente, councilmember Nancy Nadel, school board members Greg Hodge and Dan Siegel, Alameda County treasurer Donald White, and Glynn Washington, whose Council for Responsible Public Investment is a sort of CALPERS investment watchdog. Now that the slate has been set, we should soon see what their official public positions are on the Coliseum North project, and on a ballpark in general.

The mayoral election is scheduled for June 2006.

Lew & Billy on Ronn Owens show

Ronn Owens had Lew Wolff and Billy Beane in the last hour of Owens's show on KGO yesterday. In between Owens's efforts to get Beane to admit that he dislikes Ken Macha (which didn't work) and goodnatured barbs about Billy's "8-track"-like monochrome Blackberry (I have one, it's from work so it's free and it works so I can't complain), Wolff answered all manner of ballpark-related questions.

Caller: What's wrong with the Coliseum?
Wolff: We have 140 deficiencies relative to our baseball operation alone in that facility. But more important, MLB wants all the teams to have a baseball-only facility, and we're one of the last ones around that needs to fit to that criteria.
  • I hadn't heard of the "140 deficiencies" before. I'd like to see that list. I can think of a dozen, but those mainly deal with the fan experience, not baseball itself.
Owens: Can the market (East Bay-San Francisco) really support two teams?
Wolff: The answer to that with some clarification is "No it can't," in the sense that if there were only no team in Oakland or no team in San Francisco, MLB would only allow one team in the area. So we have to sort of force feed a ballpark to work in Oakland or Alameda County which we're trying to do by finding a site, first of all, and also trying to measure (which we'll do in the next couple of months) the depth of interest in our special suites and boxes.
  • It's very important to not take this answer out of context, or to not exclude the qualifier. What Wolff is saying is probably true from the sense that if one team were in place and MLB were looking for an expansion or relocation franchise, the East Bay market would not immediately be a candidate for a second team. And if MLB were to start over from scratch, it probably wouldn't automatically place two teams in the area. Now since a second team is already present, they'll do what they can to support the second team. One could glean from the response that it's a sort of veiled threat - that if the A's were to move out, no one should expect a second team to replace it anytime soon. Sounds like a shot across the bows of Oakland, Alameda County, San Jose, etc.
  • The second part of the answer, gauging the interest in the suites/boxes, should not be disregarded. It's almost as important as getting a site, because it's a measure of whether the market can economically support the team. Wolff is not about to get himself into a situation where he has a bunch of unsold suites, as many teams are starting to find out with their new ballparks. It's a challenge to what I wrote a couple of days ago about Oakland not being a small market team. If the sales of these suites don't pass this litmus test, the Oakland is a small - and thereby incapable - market, at least by Wolff's and baseball's standards. There is probably some amount of grey area with this issue, at least.
Owens: What if it isn't up to what you'll expect?
Wolff: Our next choice would be to find a location somewhere in Alameda County. After that, I really don't know what to do.
Owens: But the odds are that you guys will stay at least in Alameda County?
Wolff: We're trying to.
Owens (turns to Beane): Try to drive a truck through that answer too, huh Billy?

Owens: How about going to San Jose? Do you know the way there?
Wolff: I know the way there. I'm very active in San Jose, it's a great city. First of all, baseball does have a formal area - districts as they call them
or territories, and the Giants have that territory. So the only way that would be changed is if there was an agreement with the Giants or with MLB. It's not a legal issue that some people would like to pursue. And the other thing is San Jose - and I was party to it, I think - has a requirement of having a vote, a public vote, for any expenditure for sports - I think it's over $20,000 or some de minimis amount - and that vote would require some team to say "We'll come subject to a vote," whether it's baseball, football, whatever it is. And that's a big inhibitor even if the territorial thing was available.
  • The important thing here is that Wolff hasn't changed his stance since the last time he spoke about San Jose. Back then, he said wouldn't challenge territorial rights, and he has remained consistent. He did bring up the concept of MLB changing rights, but Selig was in San Jose only a few weeks ago and said that that to do so would create anarchy - though he did not dismiss the idea altogether.
  • It's interesting that Wolff brought up the San Jose's vote-expenditure law. He's right, but it appears that San Jose may have effectively evaded the law by acquiring the Diridon South properties and claiming that they are for housing or mixed-use without actually specifying a particular purpose. Sneaky - yes. The revealing thing is that he's following the recent trend of proponents trying to get a ballpark through without a public vote - a tactic which has worked in DC and is being tried in Minneapolis - as though any kind of vote were a non-starter. There may be some wiggle room, since SF and SJ voted down publicly-funded parks while SF approved the Pac Bell Park deal, but getting an owner to commit to announcing anything as significant as a move would be like pulling teeth, since the owner would lose some negotiating leverage and encounter backlash.
Owens: How's the project (Coliseum North) going?
Wolff: The progress is basically getting our ducks in a row to see if we can privately convince the property owners - and there's quite a few of them - that this might be to their advantage to be bought out, perhaps relocate in other places in Oakland. So it's a challenge but our problem is that no one has offered or presented us any other sites, and there's a logic to being in that location because it's adjacent to the Coliseum, it has BART, which is critical to us, and the freeway system. So it's quite a challenge. Some people think we've teed up something that can't happen. That's possible to think that way, but we're gonna give it a real shot before we look at other alternates.
  • This may be the most troubling part of the interview to me. Wolff hasn't dismissed the idea of other sites which may be more or less feasible, but the fact that no one has formally presented any is disturbing. It's as if all of the ballpark eggs are being put in this one basket. Wolff has acknowledged from the beginning that the Coliseum North project is going to be difficult. It would be nice to know that there was a reasonable detailed concept of a Plan B floating around the Oakland Civic Center somewhere.
The whole interview is subject to some broad interpretation, but unless someone wants to spend a lot of time reading between the lines, the substance of what was being said is pretty much the status quo: Coliseum is inadequate, project is challenging but is moving along, San Jose isn't in our territory, etc.

05 October 2005

Tribune: Progress internally, but externally?

According to a new article in the Tribune, there is some good and bad news about the ballpark. The good news is that Oakland has assigned a staffer to work on the project, and that IDLF said that the city should have a detailed report (feasibility study?) done this winter. The bad news is that apparently none of the area landowners have yet been contacted by the city. That's not entirely bad since the city is still trying to figure out proper market values of the properties, along with relocation costs. It would behoove Oakland to make sure they were armed with the proper information before they start knocking on doors. Then again, the "...consensus around here is that the A's are doing this as a posturing move," according to one of the landowners who runs a soapmaking business. Perhaps the operative rule is, "You do not talk about ballpark."

02 October 2005

Dellums delays announcement

According to the Chronicle, Ron Dellums will not announce his decision whether or not to run for Mayor of Oakland until Friday. The announcement was originally thought to be scheduled for this weekend. Don't look for Dellums to be a stadium proponent.