31 January 2006

Now, the TV side

A small blurb about Fox Sports Net ratings was in Monday's Merc. If nothing else, it shows that the Giants' hegemony over the Bay Area market continues. But a closer look reveals that the Giants' top ten games came at the beginning and end of the 2005 season, when the Giants were either contending or had Barry Bonds back, or both. I wonder what the ratings were like when the Gigantes were horrifically bad last June?

Nevertheless, the A's best numbers show that they pull in about half the audience of the Giants. Even the pennant race with the Angels in August and September didn't garner a 3 rating. But a look at other two-team markets shows that this pattern is repeated elsewhere. The Yanks often triple the Mets in cable ratings. The Mets have responded by starting up their own cable network, Sportsnet New York, in hopes of boosting ratings and revenue the way the YES network has helped the Yanks. The Cubs have dominated the Chicago market, though the White Sox World Series win should make them more competitive. LA is the notable exception. Arte Moreno's renaming move and aggressive LA marketing have paid off. Combine that with the Halos' on-field success, and the Angels have pulled even with the Dodgers on cable (and at times even pulled ahead).

Since the A's are locked into a cable deal with Fox Sports Net through at least 2010, the only chance the A's have to expand their audience is through its over-the-air contract, currently with KICU. It would make sense for the A's to leave KICU, which has limited range beyond the South Bay, for a San Francisco-based station such as KRON-4 or the soon-to-be-orphaned KBWB-20. Sooner or later all those Frasier reruns on KRON are going to get old and stale, right? Even if it meant getting slightly lower TV revenue for a couple years, it might be worth it because of the much larger potential audience.

30 January 2006

The New A's Radio World Order

The A's haven't yet officially announced which stations will carry games for the 2006 season. Based on A's-related programming emerging recently on KYCY-1550, and information fans are picking up from tickets, it looks like KTRB-860 will also carry the A's. Assuming this is correct, here's how the radio landscape will look like when the season starts.

KYCY-1550 (
KYOU-Radio) is the "Podcast" station out of Belmont. It has a directional signal which is aimed up the Peninsula towards San Francisco. That means the South Bay and non-Marin North Bay won't be covered well by KYCY's signal. KYCY previously had an application to relocate to the San Jose area, but the station's parent, radio giant CBS Infinity, pulled the request last fall. To understand your relationship to the station's transmitter, take a look at the two links below from

KTRB-860 is a little more complicated. For the last ten years, the Pappas-owned newstalk station was based out of the Modesto area with a 50,000-watt signal during the day and 10,000-watt signal at night. Last year Pappas announced its intention to invade the Bay Area, and so they did. When construction is complete, it will essentially be a 50,000-watt station day and night. However, it will have three different transmitter locations. During the day KTRB will transmit from the area just south of Sears Point/Infineon Raceway. At night, the transmitter will be in the hills south of Livermore. KTRB will also have a critical hours transmitter that operates only during the dawn and dusk hours at 40,000 watts. That transmitter will be located near Bethel Island.

I tried calling the KTRB offices to check on the status of transmitter construction, but all I get is a busy signal. E-mail is next. KTRB's construction permit expires on May 27, so there should be some urgency for them to build everything quickly. As for the old Modesto station, Pappas is planning to replace its old 860-Modesto station with KPMP-840, also based out of Modesto. Here's hoping that the A's managed to work a deal in which KPMP also becomes a station on the network so that at least a portion of the Central Valley is covered.

To see how these changes can affect listeners, I've created a table showing the start times for the 2006 season.

The twilight period (4-8 PM based on the season) could be tricky as the KTRB critical hours transmitter kicks in. I'm not sure if a 4:05 PM broadcast from the Eastern Time Zone will switch transmitters midstream or not until the after the game is completed; some clarification from radio technical folks would be appreciated.

Based on the footprint represented by combining the coverage maps, here's where I expect listeners to dial in based on the schedule:
  • East Bay 880 Corridor: KTRB-860 or KYCY-1550 for both day and night games
  • Tri-Valley, 680 Corridor, and further inland: KTRB-860 for both day and night games
  • Sonoma/Napa/Solano Counties: KTRB-860 for both day and night games
  • SF/Peninsula: KYCY-1550 for both day and night games
  • Marin: KTRB-860 for day games, KYCY-1550 or KTRB-860 for night games
  • South Bay: KTRB-860 for both day and night games
Of course, this is dependent on the new KTRB transmitters being operational before the start of the season, which AFAIK isn't the case yet. Who's left out? Portions of Santa Cruz County, all of Monterey and San Benito Counties, and southern Santa Clara County (south San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy). Sacramento's also in the dark at night, while it should be able to get day games on KTRB.

25 January 2006

Stadia news from elsewhere

There are other sites that chronicle the daily happenings in the stadia world, but to put the A's situation in perspective, here's a short recap of what other teams and cities are doing.
  • DC - The lease deal should have been done months ago, but MLB decided to get greedy and not announce the winning ownership group until after the lease agreement was completed. Meanwhile, cost estimates continued to escalate dangerously close to the approved limit even though major features were being stripped away. Stuck at an impasse, MLB decided to go through arbitration. A mediator was brought in and got MLB and the District on the same pages on many issues. Among the issues that remain: who pays for cost overruns. A new lease is due this Friday, after which the District council will deliberate and vote on it. The District is also asking for permission to exercise its eminent domain powers and push out current landowners on the ballpark site by February 7.
  • Florida - The David Samson Nationwide Tour continues. The Marlins president has already visited San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Portland, while keeping options open in Miami-Dade county. Hialeah has jumped into the fray with site candidates, including the now closed Hialeah Race Track. Hialeah is intriguing because it compares in size and stature/recognition with our own Fremont. Both cities would pursue their respective local teams to get on the map. After meeting with Hialeah, Charlotte is next.
  • St. Louis - The new Busch Stadium is scheduled to open April 10. Though no updates have been posted to the Cards' website in several months, the ballpark should be largely complete, with testing of things like plumbing (the "flush every toilet at the same time" test) and electrical (scoreboards) needed before the place opens up. Busch will not have trouble selling out any seats or any of its 60 luxury suites or 45 (!) party suites. The latter number has to be a record of sorts, and St. Louis native Lew Wolff and his committee almost certainly cribbed some ideas when they visited Busch last year. Based on the drawings that 360 architecture made for Wolff's August presentation, the party suite concept is merely one resplendent course of a lavish meal, with condos or a hotel being the dessert. My major critique from looking at the renderings - those upper (fourth) deck seats are both quite high and far away from the action. To be fair, it appears that HOK followed a new design convention by splitting a large upper deck into two smaller decks to accommodate more ADA/wheelchair spaces. Still, the place looks utterly enormous.
  • NY Yankees - The pinstripers continue to clash with neighborhood activists crying foul over the temporary and permanent loss of parkland at the site where the new, $800 million Yankee Stadium is to be built. The Yanks claim that the net result will be a gain in parkland in the area, but at least one park facility will be on top of a multilevel parking garage. Unfortunately for the community activists, they appear to be fighting an uphill battle, since the Yanks have all necessary political power behind the stadium effort, and even noted baseball economist Andrew Zimbalist has come out in favor of the new stadium.
  • NY Mets - That other New York team's plans have been overshadowed by the hullabaloo surrounding the Yankees. The Mets' new digs will cost around $444 million, and since there's a large parking lot surrounding Shea Stadium instead of existing parkland or residential/commercial buildings, the ballpark will cost far less to construct since it will be located right next to Shea.
  • Kansas City - The Royals, Chiefs, and Jackson County (MO) have announced a plan for renovations to Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium. Still refreshingly modern even after three decades, both stadia will get a single gigantic rolling roof which could cover either facility in the event of inclement weather. The roof structure resembles an oversized bus stop shelter or airplane hangar (thank goodness we live in California). Wider concourses and updated clubs/restaurants will be part of the package. Funding comes from two separate taxes that face an April referendum. Should the plan go forward after voter approval, Kansas City will be awarded a Super Bowl to occur sometime between 2012 and 2021.
  • San Diego - Little tweaks to Petco Park are due this season. Chief among them is the right-centerfield fence (a.k.a. "Death Valley"), which will be brought in 11 feet (to 400')and hopefully prevent Ryan Klesko from having early season nervous breakdowns.
  • Philadelphia - Homer-happy Citizens Bank Park is having its leftfield fences moved back a few feet with the wall extended to 10'6" high in hopes of cutting down on home runs.
  • Chicago Cubs - Expansion of the venerable bleacher section (1,702 seats) should be completed before the season starts. The most important feature is the fact that bleacher fans will be allowed to venture into the rest of the stadium, though fans in the grandstand won't be able to enter the bleacher sections.
  • Boston - The .406 Club at Fenway will finally have its hideous Plexiglas windows removed for the 2006 season, so that all of the wealthy people who can afford Red Sox tickets will have the pleasure of an open air game in Fenway. Roughly 1,100 seats will be added in all.
  • Tampa Bay - The D-Rays are spending $10 million on mostly cosmetic changes, such as cleaning and repainting of walls and seats. They're trying to do the seemingly impossible task of capturing an outdoor game feel in a dome.
Some changes are major, others incremental. Expect this cycle to continue as stadium operators continue to work to differentiate their game experience from other sports and entertainment.

23 January 2006

Vegas deadline is real

As mentioned in my post on the Vegas situation, Sin City Mayor Oscar Goodman has set a 12-month window in which 18 acres of Union Park development will be available for a sports facility. Goodman clearly wants a MLB team to relocate to Vegas, but this deadline makes it awfully inconvenient for MLB and other sports who want to use Vegas as a pawn in negotiations with other cities. Would a team suddenly announce a relocation in only a year? It doesn't sound likely given the often glacial pace of venue negotiations.

22 January 2006

Chronicle interview with Lew Wolff

Sunday's Chronicle has the most in-depth interview with Lew Wolff seen since Wolff officially became managing partner last April. I'm not going to recap it or attempt to read between the lines this time. Read it and if you feel the need to comment, the link is below.

19 January 2006

Oakland at a crossroads

Wednesday's Trib had an article on rezoning in Oakland. While the A's and Wolff's August plan weren't mentioned, it's possible that an A's ballpark and village concept could be developed with the help of the city's recent changes.

The proposed guidelines offer a new zone classification — CIX-2 — that allows some form of residential development along Mandela Parkway in West Oakland, the central estuary and large parcels straddling San Leandro Street near the Coliseum complex and San Leandro border.
All of those areas are currently zoned for industrial and commercial uses, but the city is under severe market pressures to convert large swaths of industrially zoned lands to housing.

Wolff's August plan would have pushed this change to occur much faster in East Oakland than current plans would dictate. Wolff's new proposal would involve a smaller amount of land, but it would also call for the City/County to acquire the land first. That would force the City/County to issue bonds to purchase the land, which at this point has to be considered a non-starter because of the past Raiders' shenanigans.
If Wolff is actually serious about building in Oakland, it may be possible with these zoning changes acting as a catalyst. That's probably the only entitlement he'd be able to get, however. Infrastructure - not likely. Below-market price land - nope. We're only two months away from Opening Day, and it looks like everyone's back to square one.

14 January 2006

As usual, Mayor Brown doesn't help

At a business forum in San Francisco yesterday, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown continued his hardline against public funding and stadia, while his counterpart across the bay, SF Mayor Gavin Newsom, talked up a stadium and development deal with the 49ers, who have looking for a replacement home for the better part of the last decade.

Brown went so far as to suggest that the 49ers and Raiders share the Coliseum instead of the City investing in the 49ers' stadium plans with homebuilding giant Lennar Corp. An excerpt from the Chronicle article about the forum:
"We've already got a stadium and we have a nice BART system, so why don't the people of San Francisco just come on over and the 49ers play at the Coliseum? ... Maybe we could call it the 49ers-Raiders Wonderland.''

Brown's suggestion wasn't really serious, but he wanted to make a point: The business of building ballparks and sports arenas, he said, is more wrapped up in ego and emotion than good business sense. Given that football teams play at home less than a dozen times a year each, sharing a site would be economically prudent, he said.

"I think the conversation about sports stadiums is one of the most strange and imaginary kind of thinking,'' Brown said at the South of Market forum sponsored by San Francisco Business Times. "Serious business people all of a sudden revert to some childish fantasizing.''
Of course, this bluster is easy to show when the mayor is a lame duck with no constituency to answer to regarding this issue in 11 months. Brown, however, has been very consistent with his stance, so he at least deserves credit for not bending to the political winds. If the A's leave Oakland, principles won't matter much, and Brown will be long gone from his uptown loft.

12 January 2006

Don't skimp on the seats

At the Reds' home, Great American Ball Park, some 20,000 seat pans (bottoms) will have to be replaced due to failing brackets. Since the ballpark opened in 2003, Hussey has had to replace seat hardware multiple times. Hamilton County (owner of the stadium) and Hussey have agreed to have any further issues resolved through nonbinding mediation.

This might not have been a problem at all if Hamilton County hadn't gone cheap on the seats in the first place. While $4.1 million was budgeted for the seating contract, Hussey submitted the lowest bid, $3.4 million. With the cheaper bid comes cheaper hardware. This is also not the first time Hussey has had issues. Hussey recently settled with the Tampa Stadium Authority over the fading color in the seats in Raymond James Stadium. The intense Florida sun had turned the seats pink in ionly 3 years, and a Hussey subcontractor failed to put proper UV protection in the seats. Hussey has its products installed at dozens of other stadiums nationwide without incident so it shouldn't be a reflection of Hussey seats as a whole. But the Cincinnati problem amounts to a black eye, something Hussey can't afford as the stadium-building boom slows down and opportunities become scarce.

SJ's Grand Prix Subsidy

In the midst of the chaos at San Jose City Hall, the City Council approved a $4 million subsidy for the San Jose Grand Prix. For those of you wondering how this was done, the explanation is quite simple. It was a backroom deal. Even with the mayor's censure and removal from four important committees, it would appear as though it was business as usual. The $4 million being granted to race organizers does not require a vote, as a stadium would, because it's for operational costs, not money being spent on venue development.

09 January 2006

Uh oh, now the Twins want out

Upset over the lack of progress in getting a new Minneapolis ballpark built, the Twins asked a Hennepin County judge to relieve them of their remaining lease at the Metrodome after the 2006 season. There are many issues at play including revenue sharing from new premium seats, but it really comes down to the Twins' new digs in the end. This promises to only get uglier.

What I don't understand is why Selig would allow both the Marlins and Twins to proceed in this manner simultaneously. If they want to get the most leverage out of negotiations with their existing home cities and their prospective relocation cities, it would make the most sense to let them work on different schedules so that they don't appear to be competing with each other.

Stone hints at SJ ballot measure?

In today's Merc, it was revealed that the Quakes' soccer stadium initiative will be pushed back a couple of weeks due to a heavy agenda. Later in the article is a quote from Baseball San Jose leader and Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone regarding a joint soccer/baseball facility initiative:
"I wouldn't mind frankly having them go jointly to ballot at the same time and capture two professional sports franchises,'' said Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone, a leader with Baseball San Jose. "But if the lower-priced soccer ballot measure preceded a baseball measure, it would doom major league baseball in this area for a long time."
The interesting thing about the separate soccer and baseball efforts is that they both have a smaller chance of passing if they remain separate than if they're combined. It's hard to conceive of voters approving funds for an expansion MLS team after one just skipped town. It's also difficult to understand why voters would vote for a ballpark when the A's haven't officially declared their interest.

The key, then, is Lew Wolff. Wolff is supposedly going to meet with MLS commissioner Don Garber sometime this month to discuss Wolff's interest in Earthquakes 4.0. Wolff isn't interested in building the soccer stadium on the Diridon South site; he wants to make the fire training site work. To refresh your memory as to how it would work, he's the graphic I drew up 3 weeks ago:

As much as Wolff isn't going to officially say that San Jose is a potential A's site, it would be crazy for him to interfere with the ballpark process and eliminate San Jose prematurely, especially if Oakland doesn't work out. I'm not going to say that it's been Wolff's grand plan all along - there are too many variables at play - but it's a potentially compelling option to explore for numerous reasons.

08 January 2006

Courting Vegas

I've put off writing much about Las Vegas since this blog's inception. This is not because of any opinion about whether Vegas is a viable relocation candidate or not. Instead, real information about Sin City's plans has been scarce. Now that the Marlins are in active discussions with potential relocation candidates including Vegas, some details are starting to come out that give a better picture of what's happening inside the head of flamboyant Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

Political Landscape
Before I get into the details, it's important to understand the relationship between the City of Las Vegas and Clark County. The City is the county seat and all of the county's administration offices are downtown. However, most of what visitors see when they visit Las Vegas isn't technically within Vegas city limits. The section of the Strip that holds all of the enormous new casinos is part of an unincorporated section of Clark County called Paradise. Despite this, all of the businesses within this section have Las Vegas addresses. This is due to rules set up decades ago to encourage development on the Strip without the taxation associated with setting up in the City. In return, Clark County funded and built some impressive amounts of infrastructure for that area and has tons of cash to build and maintain its schools and other services.

Goodman officially presides over the City's portion of the Strip, which includes older casinos such Binion's, where the World Series of Poker is played. This is considered downtown Las Vegas, and in the past it has suffered, living in the shadow of its glitzier neighbor to the south. Tens of millions have been poured into redevelopment over the past two decades to improve the image of downtown. The biggest project so far has been the Fremont Street Experience, a huge overhead light show that serves to visually connect numerous businesses along the street. The area has managed to lose its dingy reputation, but it's difficult to keep up with billions of private dollars being invested in the construction and renovation of the big casinos down the street.

Inside the city limits, downtown is basically defined by a redevelopment zone, first created in 1986 and expanded twice since then. The creation of such a zone is crucial to raising funds for various public works and public-private projects. Public funds for such projects can be raised without a referendum, and in some cases eminent domain can be used. Below are an aerial view of downtown and a map of the redevelopment zone (in tan/brown), with the dotted line at the bottom representing the southern city limit.

The green section above is a 61-acre parcel called Union Park. It isn't actually a park. Instead, it's an empty tract of land that fills Goodman's dreams. There are various models of what this blank slate will look like throughout City Hall. Plans currently call for an Alzheimer's research center, which will break ground in a month or so. City Hall may move there. High-rise condominium development is scheduled for the block in conjunction with ground-level retail, a performing arts center, and public space in a sort of self-contained village concept. The new World Market Center furniture showcase and exhibition space had its first phase opened last year to resounding success. It sits kitty corner to the southwest, and expansion is planned for the area just to the west of Union Park.

Goodman's vision wouldn't be complete without a ballpark. One variant of his plan has the ballpark on 18 acres of Union Park. Goodman hasn't revealed how exactly the ballpark would be financed except to say that it has to be done creatively. Some redevelopment funds can be made available, but probably not for an entire ballpark. Since Las Vegas is not known for its pleasant desert summers, any ballpark would have to have a retractable dome, adding $100 million to its cost. That could push the cost to $400-500 million even if the land were thrown in for free. It's possible that a ballpark could be an extension of the World Market Center or some other flexible convention space, now that technology is available to move a natural grass field either on rollers (Arizona Cardinals new Glendale, AZ stadium) or in pieces (Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales). A typical field covers nearly 4 acres (160,000 square feet), making it a potentially compelling, wide open (no columns) exhibition space with plenty of amenities attached (clubs, restaurants, suites). This is all speculation, of course, but it makes sense for a city bent on dominating the convention market. Having the space available would also help pay the bills during the baseball offseason.

In September a large national developer, Related Cos., backed out of a deal to build condos at Union Park. Related is focusing on the Las Ramblas project, which is fronted by George Clooney among others. Vegas is experiencing a high-rise condo-building boom, so it wasn't long before numerous other builders stepped to the plate. The eventual "winner" was Newland Communities of San Diego. Newland has an option to buy up to 7.6 acres of land at Union Park, with the ballpark's 18 acres potentially available for other development if a pro sports team is not negotiating with Vegas on a stadium deal in one year. This is all contingent upon Newland breaking ground in the next year on its development work. Other land in the area could be made available outside Union Park, but that may require more complex dealing, especially if casinos become directly involved by providing land near the Strip. This development is extremely important because it's the first time that Goodman has played the deadline card. Over the past several years MLB frequently used Vegas as its #1 relocation target. Vegas was considering a compelling candidate for the Expos until it became clear that moving to DC would provide MLB significantly more money than a move to Vegas or Portland. Goodman's tired of allowing Vegas to play the mistress; he evidently wants a real commitment from MLB. We'll see if MLB responds in kind or is a mere tease.

Casino Paradox
The table below shows Clark County's 35 largest employers as of Q2 2005. It should come as no surprise that casinos make up almost 70% of the list. Public entities cover almost all of the rest.

The State of Nevada has been pushing hard to bring in other industries with mixed degrees of success. Nevada has several advantages over California when it comes to taxes and incorporation, but so far the corporate exodus from California predicted when the dot-com crash and recession hit hasn't really happened. Southern Nevada's explosive growth means that it's just a matter of time before it starts to innovate and land other industries. Casinos still have the lion's share of potential corporate interest for a ballpark, and judging from the number of San Diego-area casinos that had suites at Petco Park (all of them), selling suites and club seats to casinos would be like shooting fish in a barrel. The casinos would in turn comp their high rollers and dignitaries in their suites, writing it off as the cost of doing business and adding it to their portfolio of available entertainment.

As interested as the casinos may be, some major gaming interests have expressed displeasure at the idea of a ballpark being built with public money. Their argument is that they invest their own money in their facilities without expecting handouts. They also pay taxes, an idea that has been lost in the recent era of stadium building, with PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) often used as a method to help finance construction. Goodman said in a recent USA Today article, "Major League Baseball needs us more than we need them." That's only half of the story. While the Marlins, A's, and Twins are less moneymaking franchises than some others with new ballparks, it's not as if MLB is hemorrhaging red ink by allowing them to operate. The other half of the Vegas story is this: The casinos don't need baseball, but baseball in Vegas definitely needs casinos. Goodman's posturing aside; it's obvious that he wants to get a MLB team to earn Vegas its Major League City merit badge.

Sports Betting
The argument about gambling poisoning pro sports may have made sense twenty years ago, but it doesn't today. Professional players and teams make such astronomical amounts of money that it doesn't make sense for them to risk their livelihoods to shave points or throw games. Still, MLB reeks of the stench of the nearly century-old Black Sox scandal and Pete Rose's addictions. It would make sense for MLB to distance itself as much as possible to avoid the appearance of impropriety. However, a gray area already exists by virtue of Indian casinos buying suites in states where they operate. Who actually operates those casinos? The big corporate gaming interests, of course. Sure, the jobs and some money go to the tribes, but it's the gaming industry that provides the know-how and capital. It wouldn't be too difficult to connect the dots.
Nevada is the only state in the union with legalized betting on sports. With all of the intertwined money and the encroachment of gaming interests closer to major metropolitan areas, at some point the bellyaching may all become moot. The pro sports each want the casinos to take their respective leagues off the sports books to eliminate any concern about impropriety. That's a hard sell considering that the industry makes billions every year on sports betting. Would they simply agree to kill a revenue source just to improve the image of their hometown? The casinos already provide image to spare and Vegas really doesn't need any help in that department.

Where are the fans?

We know that Oscar Goodman is a fan. An influential fan, too, as the recent visits by Marlins officials to Vegas indicate. But where are the prospective seat fillers - the hardcore and casual fans who are expected to regularly go to games by buying season tickets? The answer to this question isn't clear. Vegas's growth puts the metro at 1.8 million residents and climbing. That's not exactly huge since it's only as big as Santa Clara County and smaller than the combined East Bay (Alameda/Contra Costa Counties). Many of the area's transplants work in the gaming industry, which presents two problems. Many of the jobs are low-paying, leaving a large part of the population out of the preferred demographic. Since Vegas is a 24/7 city, one-third of the place is working at all times, further reducing the pool of potential fans. Sparse attendance at AAA Las Vegas 51’s games is cited as a negative, but the experience there is nothing compared to a game in an air-conditioned, retractable dome stadium.

Goodman's argument is that some percentage of his city's 40 million visitors will see a baseball game there. How much? One percent? Five? It sounds like a flawed premise, especially when you consider that the vast majority of visitors already come from markets with major league baseball. The argument may have worked a decade ago, when Vegas was still in its "family" phase and trying to attract everyone regardless of income level. These days, Vegas has decidedly gone with a more upmarket approach with the ultra-lux casinos like Wynn Las Vegas, with higher-class entertainment and restaurants. Many visitors come from Southern California (27% according to some estimates), the Bay Area, New York, and Chicago. Those markets are already saturated with major league baseball. There's a potential niche in Goodman's approach in that for instance, a Chicago-based businessman and lifelong Cubs fan might be attending a convention in Vegas while the Cubs are in town for the weekend, prompting him to grab tickets. Even that is a crapshoot because of schedule incompatibilities. Some stadium junkies like me would go just to check out the ballpark, but that's typically a one-shot deal and the novelty will fade very quickly.

My biggest concern for Vegas is that it lacks a grassroots organization, like the Oregon Stadium Campaign or Baseball San Jose. These groups are vital for many reasons, including the fact that they automatically gauge and foster support. By conducting petition drives and surveys, they can quickly assess the public's interest in baseball from hardcore and casual fans, families and corporations. They can raise money for pro-stadium ad campaigns should a stadium come to a vote. They often are comprised of numerous local civic and business leaders who can put their considerable weight behind a campaign by supporting it. Most importantly, these groups can keep the issue in the forefront of the region's consciousness. It could be argued that Goodman is filling this role now, but what if he runs for Nevada's available U.S. Senate seat or for the governorship this spring? Suddenly there will be a vacuum with little in place to fill it as Goodman spends much of his time campaigning for a different office. Perhaps Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson, who lives in Vegas and has long advocated bringing a team to Sin City, could become the face of the effort. That could work in terms of rallying public support, but it may backfire when dealing with MLB, whose club-like mentality may not have any interest in making room for an outspoken maverick like Reggie.

The clock is ticking for Vegas. If it's going to happen, MLB will have to do the proverbial "sh*t or get off the pot." The mayor isn't messing around anymore. He's playing for keeps. That should concern fans of the A's and Marlins, since both of their leases are going to end soon and there's no telling what Goodman will do to make a deal with MLB. There are major challenges with the MLB-to-Vegas effort, but as I've said before, it's all about the deal. Wolff's aborted baseball village concept may not be feasible in the Bay Area due to its size, but could it be done in Vegas? We can argue until we're blue in the face about one the viability of baseball in Las Vegas, but if something were to occur to give a team and MLB a sweetheart deal, it may be impossible for baseball to say no. That would prove that the more things change in Sin City, the more they stay the same, eh? Then again, there's little reason to believe that Vegas has a ton of cash lying around somewhere just waiting to be spent on a stadium. Once real financial details are available, look for an analysis here. Until then, the mayor has some pretty models to play with.

06 January 2006

Plan B: Two new sites and a different financing plan

From the Chronicle: Chip Johnson's Friday column substantiates the rumor from a couple of weeks ago in which Wolff scrapped his original vision for something smaller. That's the good news. The bad news? He's not funding the project entirely himself.

The City of Oakland came up with the two site alternatives, both of which amount to 30 acres each.

The sites:
  • Coliseum North Jr.: Between 50th and 66th Avenues along I-880/San Leandro St. I am coining it Coliseum North II because it essentially is a smaller version of Wolff's original site. It may be pieced together from land in which the City found willing sellers. What's not known is how the site is situated along that industrial stretch. Its proximity to Coliseum BART will be key. The site is in the lower right quadrant of the picture below.
  • Tidewater/Oakport/High St. Estuary: This is essentially across the Nimitz (I-880) from Coliseum North. It's an industrial area with one intriguing fact: 11 acres of it is owned by the East Bay Regional Parks District. PG&E has a 15-acre facility across the street. The site is obviously not very close to BART. The site is in the upper left quadrant of the picture below.

The financing:

Here's where it gets tricky. These two sites' size makes the idea of private development being used to completely foot the bill for stadium construction not feasible. Wolff has proposed that the City/County/Coliseum Authority acquire the land, while the A's would put at least $25 per square foot towards the cost. That equates to $1 million per acre, which is below market value for industrial land in the Bay Area. The hope is that surrounding development could help pay for land acquisition and construction, but there's no illusion that it will provide all of the necessary funds.

Wolff's new plan sounds reminiscent of the DC ballpark plan, in which the District acquired the site, designated a portion of it for the ballpark and the rest for developers. In its haste the District controversially went the eminent domain route, which I wouldn't expect for this effort, especially during an election year. The hard part is figuring out how much public money has to be raised for it, which someone at the City Center will have to figure out. Having local pols back the plan is another issue altogether.

Of the two sites, the Tidewater site looks the most intriguing. It's waterfront, there are fewer property owners, and one large piece is already owned by a public agency. The EBParks land won't be free - Oakland/Alameda County/Coliseum Authority would have to buy it - but if a deal could be worked out that provides open space or parkland, it could be beneficial to all parties. The PG&E site's a different story. It's not a substation like the situation in San Jose. It's a local operations center, complete with a vehicle yard, dispatch, and customer service. If the City can find a large, suitable piece of land on which PG&E can relocate, it could work, but the costs associated with that land acquisition/swap and relocation costs have to be factored into the total cost of the plan.

One last interesting factoid: Coliseum North is in Larry Reid's district, while Tidewater is in Ignacio De La Fuente's district.

03 January 2006

Oakland: Let's try Plan B

Not surprisingly, the City of Oakland and Coliseum Authority officials have admitted that efforts to get the land deal for Wolff's 100-acre Coliseum North development are going nowhere. And for the first time, Wolff has become upset over the process.

So what's Plan B? Building on the existing Coliseum parking lot, of course. As indicated in Trib reporter Paul Rosynsky's article, there are several issues with that arrangement, starting with the elimination of parking for the other tenants (Raiders, Warriors). The kind of aggressive development strategy that Wolff is considering to finance the stadium may not be feasible with a Coliseum-based ballpark. Coliseum South appears to be available, if anyone's interested, though it's not nearly as large as Wolff's plan.

Wolff has made comments to the effect that he is willing to consider other sites. If it comes down to the Coliseum parking lot being the only alternative, someone's going to have to get extremely creative about the financing plan. Since the Raiders are able to leave cleanly after 2010, Oakland/Alameda County may find themselves in the extremely uncomfortable position of being forced to choose between the Raiders and A's.

As for Wolff's request for a three-year extension to the existing Coliseum lease? Don't be surprised if it comes with a price tag - perhaps a MOU or letter of intent, something that indicates that "everyone's on the same page." Same goes for the Raiders.
The Fremont Argus is also backing a Fremont site should efforts in Oakland fail. Fremont has started up a stadium task force, of which I am a member.

MLB explains why DC isn't progressing

MLB COO Bob DuPuy wrote an opinion piece in today's Washington Post. In it he describes the trials and tribulations that the DC government has gone through in getting the Navy Yard/Anacostia ballpark project off the ground. Since it is his piece and he is representing MLB, one can assume a certain amount of bias. Once one gets past the bias, it starts to appear like DuPuy is arguing for a new deal. Take this excerpt:
Because the Nationals will generate $250 million for the District in sales taxes and rent payments generated at the stadium (large businesses pay the rest of construction costs), baseball has input into the new stadium's design and construction, but government officials make the decisions. D.C. planners chose the stadium's architect. The city government, not baseball or the Nationals, decided what the Nationals' new stadium will look like and what material will go into it, from the type of concrete used to the types of seats in the suites. Government workers selected the stadium's construction companies, and these same governmental employees will oversee the construction work.

But now, some members of the D.C. Council have asked baseball to pay for any stadium cost overruns, even though city personnel will control the variables that cause the stadium to be built on budget or run over cost. Asking baseball to pay for overruns when D.C. government officials are in charge of the stadium's design and construction is like MasterCard telling you to pay your credit card bill even though MasterCard gets to do all your shopping. No consumer would agree to such a provision, and neither will Major League Baseball.
Then juxtapose that with this (from earlier in the piece):
When teams are in charge of design and construction, any savings go to them and any cost overruns are borne by them. That's what was done with new ballparks for the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants. That's also how MCI Center was built. On the other hand, when a government agency is in charge of design and construction, the benefits and risks are covered by the city. That's what happened in Baltimore at Camden Yards and in Cleveland and Pittsburgh as well.
It's obvious that MLB is blaming DC for its inability to properly manage the project and its stakeholders. But it also appears as if MLB is suggesting that if the current agreement were torn up and one were drawn up where the District stepped aside, things would be moving along much more smoothly. The ballpark matter is bound for arbitration in the near future, and it is unlikely that an arbitrator will give MLB that kind of control. Stranger things have happened, however, and as the tide continues to turn against the existing project and its escalating costs, just about anything's possible.

We can only hope that Wolff maintains his position of privately building the ballpark, thereby controlling costs and employing more efficient methods, such as design-build.

On a related note, a DC contractor group wrote to the Post as well, arguing that cost overruns at many ballparks are to be blamed on bad labor (read: union) contracts. I'm not touching that argument.