31 March 2006

You want hills? You got 'em.

I played around with Google Earth and put together a stadium overlay. The scale is pretty close though not exact. Here are three smaller images, and you can click on them to get the larger images.

First up is the overhead view. This is just to get a sense of scale. The line indicates the view from home plate through center field. Use the freeway interchange (Auto Mall/880) on the lower left as a reference point.

Next we have a "helicopter" view that's similar to the shots that I posted earlier. The ballpark's footprint looks deceptively small due to the perspective.

Finally, here's the piece de resistance, a near-ground level view looking east. Yes, Virginia, those are hills. The line terminates at the top of Mission Peak, which is 2,517 feet above sea level and makes for one of the more popular hikes in the area. The "crow flies" distance from Mission Peak to the site is 4.7 miles. Contrast this with McAfee Coliseum, which is 3 miles from the Chabot Park hills in East Oakland. That ridge rises to just over 1,100 feet at most. Leona Quarry is around 800 feet above sea level.

In a place that lacks skyscrapers, at least it's something to look at.

Assorted newsbites

Mayoral debates were held in Oakland and San Jose earlier tonight. I couldn't make it to the SJ debate but the Merc's Phil Yost ran a running commentary. Candidate/BBSJ member Dave Cortese (remember the Wave article from earlier in the week?) got the baseball question. His response sounded much like his stance during the 3/1 study session, but he also got a plug in there for soccer. That can't be a bad thing for the Quakes fans who felt like they got the shaft on Tuesday night.

It would be nice if the Oakland Tribune had a similar blog for the Oakland mayoral debate.

Got a few more bits of information on Pacific Commons. Real estate firm Colliers Parrish still has their Pacific Commons website up though it has some outdated information. It should give you a sense of the property's size and location. Here's a map I clipped from the site:

The building layout is reflective of the campus plan for Cisco. It's different from the typical Valley industrial park plan in that the buildings front the street. Most of the time these buildings are well-recessed from the street and act as islands surrounded by parking. On the map above, the areas on the left side are already developed. The bottom left has a planned park (green), a water treatment facility (blue), and an Amtrak/ACE station (orange). Surprisingly, that station is the same "crow flies" distance from the main street Pacific Commons as the planned BART station on the other side of 880. Tomorrow I'm lobbing a call into a local firm that designs and builds people-movers. Seriously.

As for the ballpark village, I found out that:
  • 1600-2200 housing units is the target depending on the amount of land acquired
  • A hotel and meeting facilities are planned
  • A baseball museum would be integrated into the footprint
Lastly, the Merc's poll has "Yes to Fremont" beating "No" 66% to 34%. More tomorrow.

30 March 2006

Fremont in the news

Last night Lew Wolff spoke at a Washington Township Men's Club function, which was held at the Fremont Elks Lodge. He was there rubbing elbows and selling the plan to Fremont business and civic leaders. Merc reporter Barry Witt has a must-read recap, including greater detail of what Wolff's vision is than what we've heard publicly. (For the record, I haven't heard that much privately.)

Wolff discussed a many-faceted plan:

  • Work with Cisco to get control of the parcel Cisco controls within Pacific Commons.
  • Get entitlements from Fremont to build the ballpark and the mixed-use ballpark village plan. This includes some 2,000 housing units, from which some portion of profits would provide $200 million towards a ballpark.
  • Scope out Fremont's requirements to provide services to this new area.
  • Figure out how to get 15,000 parking spaces on the property along with the ballpark and other development.
  • Work with city and transit officials to complete a usable mass transit infrastructure (shuttles from BART and buses at this point).

Here's an updated picture that shows the lay of the land (10:28 PM - changed to reflect land that can be developed and land that is protected):

Now let's address these issues one-by-one.

Cisco: Cisco currently has no way of pushing the conversion of its industrial-zoned land to residential or mixed-use. It also has an option to purchase the land and a long leasehold. They are interested in having land available for future expansion should it be required, so they may not be willing to simply sell without getting something back.

Limited land size: 143 acres sounds like a lot, but not when parking is factored in. A typical surface parking lot has around 125 parking spaces per acre (The Coliseum complex is roughly 100 acres) . To get 15,000 spaces, 120 acres would have to be devoted to parking - the typical endless sea suburban model. Since that's not likely, some garages will have to be built. The ballpark will take up 15 acres. Streets and parks may take up another 15-25 acres. Wolff may want to place a hotel on the site. There would be an undetermined amount of commercial activity as well, though the existing Pacific Commons shopping center would cover some of that. Given all of these space requirements, it's easy to see how difficult it could be put it all together. A previous news item points to land in Dublin that could be used for the housing requirement, though that's another issue altogether.

Transportation: Other than a planned Amtrak/ACE station to the west of Pacific Commons, there are no existing plans to bring rail-based mass transit to the area. BART isn't going to expand to the west. Event-based shuttles are probably the most feasible option at this point. If BART's Warm Springs Extension (WSX) gets funding, service could start by 2010 or shortly thereafter. MTC and BART are still trying to figure it out. WSX is also dependent on the San Jose BART extension being approved, so there's still a lot of stuff to figure out there.

Fremont's growth and land use: Having 2,000 new units built means introducing 5,000 new residents to an area that has little infrastructure. There will have to be a mixture of medium-density and high-density development, perhaps even towers. Fremont will have to assess the costs of provide the full range of city services, including fire and police. Housing is expected to be sold or rented at market rates, so there probably aren't any huge risks of increased crime. Environmental issues are bound to crop up. Original landowner Catellus (now part of warehousing giant ProLogis) ended up with a smaller development plan than what they initially wanted, including the protection of over 1,200 acres of wetlands - much of it offsite. The introduction of residential could cause that agreement to be reopened and may shape the final development plan. Traffic will also be a driving force since Pacific Commons is only a couple miles north of one of the largest bottlenecks in the Bay Area, the 880/Mission Blvd/680 interchanges. The revamped 880/Mission interchange is scheduled for completion in 2008, but there will be some negative impacts from ballpark-related traffic.

The good thing about this is that there are plenty of options to get this kind of development done. Conditions may dictate a compact, reduced-sprawl model. There are also smaller issues such as where to place the ballpark on the site to allow for paid parking when a large retail center with free parking is nearby. Just because the parties are moving quickly doesn't mean they won't be thorough. There's one more extremely important factor: the way it's shaping up, a public vote won't be required.

29 March 2006

No fireworks, but...

Tonight's session ran for two hours. The format was explained at the beginning:
  • Presentation of different Draft EIR findings
  • Break - during which the public could fill out comment forms
  • Q&A session based on responses to the comment forms
While the format allowed for most comments to be addressed, there was little room for any kind of debate or exchange. This didn't sit too well with the large contingent of Quakes supporters on hand, all of whom were looking for some indication that the City is still interested in bringing MLS back to San Jose in the next millenium. I'll go into more detail on that tomorrow in a commentary piece.

Any questions that were addressed were narrowly focused on the EIR. This meant that anything that might have been missed or glossed over in the Draft - well, there were no clear explanations other than the fact that comments would have to be noted, addressed, and inserted into the Final version. This included:
  • Little explanation of the TPMP (Traffic & Parking Management Program). Residents of the St. Leo's/Cahill Park and Delmas Park neighborhoods have not been impressed by the TPMP imposed when the Arena was built, so many eyes rolled. The City really needs to get this piece in place or else it risks severe backlash. I happen to live in the Horace Mann neighborhood just to the northeast of City Hall. Horace Mann has a daytime parking enforcement plan because of its proximity to San Jose State, and for the most part it works well. I imagine it's harder to make this work at night. Some combination of street closures and increased police/metermaid presence will be required.
  • The parking study may be significantly flawed and not reflective of downtown's typical parking usage patterns. Mark Morris submitted a seven-page document outlining his concerns over the parking data (I'll post that sometime tomorrow). Merc reporter Barry Witt also explained that the consulting group doing the traffic study was the same one that did Santana Row's traffic study. That study was also flawed as its sampling was not as "worst case" as it should've been. Anyone that drives in the Santana Row/Valley Fair area knows how much of a nightmare it presents on a normal day, let alone the holiday shopping period.
  • Dual stadia (baseball/soccer) is not looking good. It wasn't just merely shot down, it appears that that none of the concept that was floated regarding a soccer stadium in December had ever been considered. More on this later.
  • No study was done on the impact of weekday games (business person specials). The lots in the area tend to be used for transit-related parking, so scheduling games during a weekday at noon or 1 p.m. would severely impact available parking. This will be investigated and put into the study.
  • The concert sound contour was not considered realistic because of the way sound would propagate in the "amphitheater" configuration. Such a setup would use a single-point source at the stage instead of the ballpark's distributed sound/PA system, which is designed for efficiency. I have a feeling that should this get built, any concerts will be limited to the daytime hours, such as weekend music festivals. Night concerts could be off the table early.
Some good came out of the meeting, especially since my other ballpark-specific comments were addressed.
  • It was acknowledged that the environmental impacts presuppose a worst-case scenario featuring a 45,000-seat stadium. However, I had also asked Planning to include an alternative that featured a 35,000-seat stadium, since its advertised impacts should be less and may include built-in mitigation measures. I didn't get any assurance on that.
  • Planning will check into the field orientation change. I suggested 15-30 degrees (preferably to the north). I can't say how much impact it would have, but if such a change were combined with special site considerations in the ballpark design to absorb more noise and light pollution, mitigation could be significant.
  • There will be an alternative that includes "perimeter lighting," which places lighting on the rim of the ballpark's roof instead of on poles/standards. On a related note, there was an inquiry about the impact of a ballpark's light on Lick Observatory. UC-Berkeley looked into it and stated that it would have no negative impact.
The format doesn't lend itself to open discourse, so if you come to one, you probably don't need to come to the rest. When it came to the inevitable question about the "East Bay team that shall not be named," there was more awkward dancing than a typical junior high Sadie Hawkins. For the April 27th meeting, I might just show up dressed like Stomper. At least then everyone would have to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

One last thing - I saw around 20 Quakes/Soccer Silicon Valley supporters decked out in Quakes jerseys. I didn't see any A's apparel anywhere, which highlights a problem: since the Baseball San Jose site is no longer active, it's hard to get the word out locally to Valley baseball supporters. Then again EIR's tend to be pretty dry so I can hardly blame folks for not being interested if they don't live in the affected neighborhoods

28 March 2006

SJ Public Outreach Meeting tonight + Aramark

I'm not expecting fireworks, but tonight's first of four public outreach meetings for the Diridon South ballpark site should have some interesting and varied viewpoints. There should be representatives of the local neighborhood groups, some baseball supporters, the anti-tax watchdog group, and a contingent of Quakes supporters as well. The Soccer Silicon Valley folks are going to ask for the EIR to include a soccer stadium alternative.

Since the meeting is going to be focused on stadium environmental impact, I'm going to bring up a few topics/suggestions that could push things in a positive direction:

  • The A's have cited 35,000 as a likely capacity for their new ballpark. The EIR cites a 45,000-seat stadium, with an appreciable noise increase over the study sample - Qualcomm Stadium with 40,000 in attendance. Noise should be somewhat (though perhaps not proportionally) lower with a smaller stadium design.
  • A capacity of 35,000 should require a smaller footprint and less height. I'm going to recommend using PNC Park as a proper example since it's closer to the right size than any of the other HOK ballparks built over the last 20 years.
  • A roof with lights built in should help reduce light spill more than with typical light standards.
  • Is the dual-stadia concept possible or not? (I didn't think this was well-addressed at the study session)
If you're going to be there, I look forward to seeing you. I'll be the short Filipino guy with a shaved head, in a red sweater. We'll have a talk, no big whoop.

Aramark has put together a new website promoting the various types of concessions they will make available for this upcoming season. You might like the front page since it has a familiar look to it...

Among the new items available at McAfee Coliseum this season:
  • Bagel dog
  • Chili cheese dog
  • Crispy chicken sandwich

Now if they could only have a chili cheese "big dog" - and a gurney + EMT's to go with it.

27 March 2006

Staying on point

At this point Lew Wolff must be getting tired of giving the same unrevealing answers about the state of the A's. Here's another set of vague quotes, courtesy of SF Business Times scribe Eric Young. Young also wrote an article on how stadium enhancements are allowing both the A's and Giants to pull greater revenues during spring training. One interesting factoid: the A's pay the City of Phoenix $400,000/year on rent at Phoenix Muni. That's almost as much as what they pay at the Coliseum for far fewer dates.

The A's are playing a sold-out exhibition game on Thursday against the River Cats in Sacramento. If a reporter or columnist with the Sacramento Bee gets ahold of Wolff, we'll see how the inevitable "What about Sacramento?" is handled. We can almost be certain of another Marcus Breton love letter to the A's.

If for some reason you still had some hope for the A's new home to be at the Oakland Uptown site, the final nail has been pounded into your optimism's coffin. Forest City and Macfarlane Partners signed a 66-year ground lease on the Uptown land. Yes, construction has already started there.

24 March 2006

Uh-oh, break out the conspiracy theories

The Wave Magazine's "The Buzz" column captured the anger of neighborhood groups around the Diridon South ballpark site, since it appeared that San Jose officials were trying the ram EIR through. It doesn't note that there are four community outreach meetings scheduled over the next month for neighborhood groups to talk about the EIR:
  • Tuesday, March 28 @ 7 p.m. @ City Hall Council Chambers
  • Saturday, April 1 @ 10 a.m. @ City Hall Council Chambers
  • Wednesday, April 19 @ 7 p.m. @ City Hall Council Chambers
  • Thursday, April 27 @ 6 p.m. @ City Hall Council Chambers

At least this time it won't be a matter of sending out last minute flyers to notify residents.

The juicy bits in the column come in the form of quotes by city council member/mayoral candidate/Baseball San Jose member Dave Cortese. Here's an excerpt:

... a rumor has surfaced that the Oakland A’s could be moving to San Jose. In fact, mayoral candidate and councilman Dave Cortese told The Wave he’s personally confident it’ll all work out.


Assuming the team’s negotiations with Oakland collapse, and the A’s decide to move to Fremont, Cortese conjectures that the Giants could then be persuaded to let the A’s move to San Jose in return for some territorial rights compensation.

“They’re going to lose the market either way, so would they prefer it with or without money?” Cortese asks. “We know the stage is probably being set along those lines. As we speak, wheels may be in motion to set up that quid pro quo – and if that happens, ultimately that’s the kind of scenario that would quite possibly result in the territorial rights issue being resolved in one way or other, and we think MLB would rather, if they’re going to be the San Jose A’s, [be in] a stadium [on] Montgomery Street than anywhere else.”

What does that sound like to you? Something who is expressing hope out of desperation? Or someone who knows something that we don't? Hmmm...

I'm keeping firm on my stance: I'll believe it when I see it.

Thanks to Tony D. for alerting me to the article.

22 March 2006

Wolff responds + Matier & Ross write obit

Neil Hayes' new column in the CoCo Times has quotes from Lew Wolff. There's no doubt that Wolff pays attention to the media and fans, as seen from this quote:
"I didn't know we needed to stay within the city limits of Oakland to serve our market," Wolff said in a phone interview. "We haven't discussed anything outside of Oakland at this point, but we haven't come up with anything, either. It's not for lack of trying."
Wolff also sought to clarify the circumstances that surround the A's and Oakland:
"It's a priority (for Oakland), but if you list the priorities it's not a No. 1, 2 or 3 priority, and I agree with that," Wolff said. "They have school system issues, crime issues and limited resources. Nobody is at fault here."
Hayes, for his part, helps by painting Wolff as a tireless worker who has spent the last three years looking for a site within Oakland:
So, let's recap: Wolff is uniquely qualified to develop a new ballpark. He has spent three years trying to identify a potential site in Oakland, even promoting a plan for a new stadium near the current Coliseum location that would have cleaned up a blighted area, spurred much-needed economic activity and helped relieve the city and county's financial burden.
Wolff's final quote has me searching for a shrugged shoulder emoticon:
"I've been so pleased with my first year, with the fan base and the employees, that my decision is that if it's humanly possible, I want to stay in Alameda County," he said. "If someone doesn't believe that or sees it as treachery, well, what can I do about it?"
In light of this response, I'm not sure he'll now elicit more understanding or more venom. Only hindsight will provide any real clarity.

Chron's Matier & Ross throw a log on the premature funeral pyre at the end of their column today with a short chronology of recent Oakland tribulations.

To those that think Oakland is going to somehow come up with an 11th hour proposal, consider that the three of the most prominent pols that can positively influence the process are all vying for the mayoral job. They're all differentiating themselves and are rallying support. Who among De La Fuente, Nadel, and Dellums is going to risk adding the A's as a platform item? They're talking about a state of emergency in the city and a teacher strike. All things considered, focusing on the A's seems a bit trite.

SJ Water Company lot to Adobe?

In December I posted a chronology of events that have occurred in San Jose over the past year related to various developers and landowners who have property near the Diridon South site. One of the more important developments was the decision of San Jose Water Company to sell its downtown lots. A parcel on the 8-acre SJWC property may finally have a buyer. The Merc reported today that Adobe is interested in buying the eastern 5-acre parcel, for which there are entitlements for up to 1 million square feet of office space. Adobe would build a fourth tower to complement the three-tower complex Adobe currently occupies on the other side of Guadalupe Parkway (CA-87). The location would make the new tower smack dab in the center field view, with the other three towers in the right field view. Adobe would get so much free publicity from having those sites visible from the ballpark that they wouldn't have to bother with naming rights since having the buildings in plain view would be much more cost-effective for them.

The article didn't reveal any potential buyers for the 2.5-acre parcel to the west of the Adobe-coveted site. That site is zoned for 325 housing units and up to 15,000 square feet of retail. It'll be interesting to see who ends up with that parcel, since those entitlements could be key for a San Jose financing plan. To see how close it is, take a look at this map link. The residential parcel is the triangle defined by Delmas Ave to the east, Los Gatos Creek to the west, and light rail/W San Fernando St to the south. It's only a few hundred feet northeast of Diridon South.

The San Jose Sharks may have a say in the end about how the parcels are developed. The team has an agreement with the City of San Jose to have a minimum inventory of parking available for all events. If the property were to be developed without replacing parking the inventory would be reduced by 855 spaces, which is nothing to sneeze at since the lots get heavy use for all heavily attended HP Pavilion events.

20 March 2006

Oakland: A's not a priority, Wolff: Oakland isn't either

UPDATE: Trib columnist Art Spander fired off an angry column this morning in response to the news.

Out of today's Tribune comes the following quote from Lew Wolff:

"We've spent most of our time focused on Oakland; now the next goal is to stay in Alameda County," he said. "We haven't ruled out any place, but Oakland is difficult because it has lots of priorities that are very important to the community beyond sports."
Oakland officials were apparently taken by surprise (italics are my emphasis):

"He has not told us anything like that," said Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. "Until we are told something different, we are going to continue working. But Mr. Wolff is right, we have many other things on the front plate."

Among those are a rising crime rate, beleaguered public schools and a hot mayoral race in which De La Fuente, the city's lead negotiator in the baseball talks, is a candidate.

"It is very difficult. With all these campaigns going on, our plates are so full," said Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele, a member of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority.
There had been whispers that the A's haven't been a priority for Oakland pols, but this confirms it. It's hard to see a set of conditions under which the A's can stay in Oakland unless all other local alternatives fall apart, leaving the two parties to start from scratch. Perhaps it comes from a collective distrust of Wolff, but if it is, no one has said anything publicly about it.

19 March 2006

SJ Ballpark Study Session (3/1)

While I was travelling a few weeks ago, I completely missed out on a ballpark study session given for the San Jose City Council on March 1. Previously it was reported at this session that the EIR commenting period would have to be moved out a couple of weeks, but there was more to the session than that. Consultant HOK+Sport was on hand to present the details of their study. Even though the minutes were short, the session provided clarification on a few matters of debate. Excerpted from the Q&A discussion:
8. So we finish the EIR in June, what are possible next steps? Do we build a stadium for the Oakland A’ (sic) and they will come?
No, a development agreement with the A’s would be necessary. The San Francisco Giants territory would have to be resolved. Any team agreement would have to be approved by the major league team owners and the Commissioner of Baseball.
9. Why do we need to go to the voters? What percentage of the vote do we need to move forward?
The Municipal Code provides that the City may use tax dollars to participate in the building of any sports facility with a seating capacity of greater 5,000 only after obtaining approval of the majority of voters. If, however, the proposed source of the public funds is a special tax, a two thirds vote would be required for the tax.
10. OK, so you need a franchise and a developer. What might they bring to the negotiation table?
There is a broad range of possibilities under a development agreement. A developer could add a range of possibilities including development of adjacent properties (assuming they have site control) including residential, commercial and hotel development. They could also bring financing in the form of equity or debt to the project.
There are a total three files to check out: the agenda (posted prior to the session), a study update (also posted prior to the session), and the aforementioned Q&A notes. You can also view the session on the city's website. Take a look at list of archived meetings, then find the one titled "SJRA Ballpark Study Session." Considering the 9 a.m. timing of the session, it wasn't surprising to see the tiny smattering of attendees aside from the city council and presenters.

Some interesting nuggets culled from the session:
  • Excavating the site to have a below-grade field is considered the main option in order to reduce height.
  • The PG&E substation may not have to be moved, but if it isn't the ballpark design would be constrained. One option under consideration pushes the ballpark towards the northeast corner of the site and preserves the substation.
  • Council member Ken Yeager asked for an example of a similar ballpark/existing neighborhood development. HOK couldn't cite a recent development that closely resembled the Diridon/Arena/Delmas Park situation. Camden Yards was the only one with a neighborhood close by.
  • Council member Chuck Reed asked for a clarification on the legality of the pursuit of a ballpark. City attorney Rick Doyle addressed this previously in a memo, which he paraphrased during the session by saying that the money spent on the preliminary study and EIR process is required to get to the point of being able to present something to the voters. Reed expressed concern about the lack of a financing plan and asked "somebody, and it's not gonna be someone at this dais" to scope out the scheme. He then brought up the Baseball San Jose group and found County Assessor Larry Stone, who is a BBSJ leader, in the audience.
  • Council member Forrest Williams asked about territorial rights, since he has received numerous questions from his constituents. Economic Development Director Paul Krutko cited the need for a partnership with a team. Krutko also incorrectly cited the DC-Baltimore situation, which is not the same because the Orioles had TV market rights to DC, not exclusive stadium territorial rights. Mayor Gonzales then pointed out that the Arena was built on spec, which isn't realistic now or in the future regarding a baseball stadium. Williams followed up by saying that he's been echoing many of the same statements, but that the public is looking for something more solid, more substantial. Williams asked about an optimal size, and one of the HOK presenters noted that Coors Field was built too large (50,000) because the public was caught up in getting a team. Once the novelty of having a team and a new ballpark wore off, the Colorado Rockies, mired in a lack of on-field success, has had difficulty selling out the stadium.
  • Vice-Mayor Cindy Chavez wanted information on surrounding development and economic impact. Redevelopment head Harry Mavrogenes talked about development in the area between HP Pavilion and the ballpark site. Recently the Planning department submitted design guidelines for this area and other transit-close areas in and near downtown. Diridon/Arena, including Diridon South, is part of this newly expanded downtown area.
  • Council member Nanci Pyle brought up the concept of soccer as an alternative, a dual-use stadium, or a dual-stadia concept. HOK replied that dual-use stadium would be an option should the substation be moved to the south end of the fire training site.
  • Council member Dave Cortese brought up the idea of pushing the A's to make a decision. He also promoted a separate socioeconomic study, focused on the impact on the immediate area and surrounding neighborhoods, with research done on other cities who have done similar urban stadium projects. Cortese finished up by posing the issue of financing not as a future bridge to cross when a team comes, but as an issue that needs to be proactively addressed to avoid missing opportunities should they arise. He also called for laying out a detailed, real timeline that the public can view and assess. Mavrogenes replied that the timeline could be produced in the next 30-45 days. I'm looking forward to a non-fluff economic report, if they really have the cajones to commission one.
  • Representatives from Ballpark Tax Watchdogs, the Shasta/Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association (west of site) and the Burbank/Del Monte Neighborhood Advisory Committee (southwest of site) spoke during the public comment period. Word of advice to Ballpark Tax Watchdogs: if you're going to arm yourself with information, don't just refer to a book that's almost a decade old, especially when the plea's bound to fall on deaf ears (namely the Mayor's). Instead, check out the Field of Schemes website or an article published today in the Boston Globe. They're a little more up-to-date. S/HNPA and BDMNAC expressed their disgust over the lack of disclosure regarding the ballpark process and plans. Their outrage appears to have brought results, since the EIR commenting period was extended to April 20 and four public outreach meetings were scheduled shortly thereafter.
I was surprised at the lack of certainty within the city council. It wasn't just about the EIR - there was no real consensus on how San Jose should proceed. Cortese was right in calling the situation a Catch-22. It made the most sense to push the process out not just to accommodate a more comprehensive review of the EIR, but to allow the numerous variables in the situation to settle. If the A's really do move to San Jose, it will be a result of equal parts hard work and serendipity.

P.S. Read that Boston Globe article (registration required) I cited earlier if you get the chance. It's the most well-balanced treatment of the subject matter I've seen, perhaps, ever.

16 March 2006

Scarcity (AP/

An AP article I found on broadly covers the trend towards smaller stadia. The A's are mentioned first. Towards the end is an admission by A's officials that season ticket sales have increased "from 7,000 last year to about 8,000 so far this season." I'm assuming that's counting full season ticket packages or their equivalent, combined partial packages.

More DC Ballpark Images

The many-hatted Maury Brown got an interview with HOK Sport principal Earl Santee. The interview's not up yet, but in the interim Santee provided Brown with more drawings of the Nats' next home. The one I was most interested in was a cross-section, just to see how it compared with drawings I've worked up.

I properly scaled and overlaid one of my own cross-section images and here's what I got:

The DC cross-section is somewhat faded in the background for better contrast. Look at how high it is. The lights on my concept are lower than the middle row in the upper deck. My top row is only 83' above the field compared to 115' in DC. I'm no architect, but I have an understanding of space and sight lines, and the DC design would be offensive to me if I didn't already know that the extra height is a necessity borne of the premium facilities the building will contain. I also acknowledge that at 41,000 seats, it's a full 6,000 more than what I've put together, but it wouldn't be too hard to add a few thousand in the outfield or on a temporary basis within the seating bowl since there's plenty of space to do so.

The $611 million, triple-deck ballpark will actually have six circulation levels (not seating levels) whereas mine has four (four-and-one-half, really). That's a lot of extra concrete and steel. Building some 30-40 feet higher will necessitate more hefty structural work. Since the DC ballpark will have 78 luxury suites on two separate, unconnected levels, there will be additional costs associated with added concourse and lobby space. Like China Basin, there will be two club areas: one at field level behind the plate and another taking up the entire mezzanine. Extra amenities like the "innovative" conference center and the more familiar centerfield restaurant will both be decked out appropriately for both gameday and non-gameday use (think maple tables and cabinets).

The sad part of this is that it doesn't appear that there are many places to cut costs unless quality is sacrificed. The decision to use glass and limestone-colored concrete instead of glass and limestone is an indicator of this. The lack of escalators to the upper deck is another. The District will absorb the vast majority of the bill, and unless they can figure a way to make a private group (such as the team) pay for underground parking, there's a good chance that costs will only increase over time.

15 March 2006

Key Upcoming Dates

The next two weeks are going to be very interesting. Not just because of the prospects of a new season, but because Lew Wolff is set to make some sort of announcement around Opening Day about the ballpark effort. Beyond that, there are other key dates of which to make note, because they could have a definite impact on how each city moves forward.
  • April 3 - Opening Day is the "deadline" Wolff imposed last year. After this date, it is presumed that Wolff will formally expand discussions with other cities. Since Fremont is already in some talks with the A's, it could be said that Wolff is already ignoring his own deadline. Then again, he made the rules, no? The intrigue lies in how far the search will be expanded. Will it still be confined to Alameda County? What about Contra Costa County? And what of Santa Clara County, which seems to be putting a lot of pieces in place? Sacramento? Portland? Vegas? Will Wolff make a definite statement about the A's future in Oakland? Will he impose another deadline?
  • Spring '06 - Fremont's initial study should be available, as well as more advocacy-based information from Fremont.
  • May 4 - San Jose Ballpark EIR review and comment period ends. Community outreach meetings are scheduled for March 28 @ 7 pm, April 1 @ 10 am, April 19 @ 7 pm, and April 26 @ 6 pm. The first three are in SJ City Hall Council Chambers, the last meeting will be in City Hall room 1446. I'll probably be at most of them.
  • June 6 - Statewide primary elections. Mayoral offices in both Oakland and San Francisco will be up for grabs. Oakland has three candidates, San Jose has ten (!). Should either election result in a majority winner, there will be a run-off on November 7. Note: I plan to attend at least two San Jose and two Oakland debates.
  • July 12 - SJ Planning Commision public hearing to consider certification of Ballpark EIR. Previously submitted comments will be made available for review 10 days prior to the hearing.
  • September 30 - End of regular season.
  • November 1 - Estimated end of the season including postseason.
  • November 7 - General Election, including run-offs for Oakland/SJ mayors if necessary. SJ's ballpark ballot measure will not be on this ballot.
  • January 15, 2007 - Estimated end of one year deadline made by Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman over the availability of Union Park ballpark parcel.
You're probably wondering why the Fremont information is so vague. There's an effort to respect the delicacy of the ongoing discussions. That's all I can say about that for now.

Note: there was a problem with the previous version of this post as it caused errors in the publishing engine. Comments were lost.

Navy Yard: Likes and Dislikes

I've had more time to look at the drawings and the flyover (available at the Washington Post's website). I'll give you my amateur opinion on this HOK-penned design. I tend to concur with the mixed sentiment about the ballpark: it's not a cookie-cutter in either the retro or retro-futuristic mode, but it's not overwhelming either. Part of that has to do with the fact that there's nothing immediately outside the stadium that evokes a postcard-like photographic moment. The Washington skyline will only be visible from the seats in the right field upper deck. The Anacostia River is be somewhat removed from the site as it's a block south of the first base façade - no splash hits there (not that we need more of those).

The whole package feels a little too safe. Only a few elements struck me as bold, namely the triangle office building behind home plate and the circular restaurant in center field. Everything else looked like an amalgam of things I'd seen before - if not in a ballpark per se, in other recent architecture. The ballpark will no doubt serve its purpose well, but it remains to be seen if, in its final physical form, it inspires fans and passersby or just blends in harmlessly with the rest of the neighborhood.

Things I liked:
  • Lights tucked into the roof structure. The light standards used in most new ballparks are all variations on the same riff. It's about time that someone pulled the lights back onto the roof rim. I've always liked how it creates a special glow at night. See photos of Yankee Stadium for proof.
  • Sunken playing field. With the playing surface situated 24 feet below street grade, fans entering the stadium will be treated to fantastic views of the field.
  • Triangle building behind home plate. The team's administrative offices help define the large home plate plaza. It could be great if the ground floor is well integrated into the plaza design. It looks like that will occur since it will have transparent glass walls. The key is what's in between the walls. There might be a team store there, but the best use would be a museum dedicated to the legacy of District baseball.
  • The roof. I've seen some reports that it's a perforated metal roof (360?) or a louvered roof. Either way, it should make for a good accent.
... and the things I didn't like:
  • Played out seating bowl shape. It has a combination of features from Comerica Park and Great American Ball Park, both HOK-designed stadia. Maybe it's too much to ask for something bold, but there is a template they're following. Even the gap in right field, which contributes to the "neighborhood" concept in the seating bowl, is predictable and unsurprising.
  • Third base line façades. Look at the view from the northwest and you'll notice four separate structures instead of one continuous façade. It might look better in person, but right now it makes me think I'm looking at four small airport terminals.
  • The garages. This appears to be a necessary evil. 1,200 spaces are planned, which is the same as what HOK planned for the San Jose ballpark concept. I suppose that 1,200 spaces is a design guideline or requirement for new MLB stadia. The garages, located in left field and center field, are prettied up so that they don't look offensive. Make no mistake, however, they're still garages and there's little to hide the fact that they're obscuring either the view of the Mall from the ballpark or the view of the ballpark from the Metro station.
  • Materials. Red flags were raised when the District was forced to consider skimping on materials as cost estimate started to rise considerably. The biggest cutback will be the use of not limestone, but concrete painted to look like limestone. Perhaps they'll skimp on the glass curtain walls too? It doesn't sound good.
  • Height. There's a difference of 115 feet from the field to the top row of the upper deck. That makes that last row higher than the roof of Ameriquest Field, no low-slung stadium in its own right. The roof rim has to be at least 20 feet taller. I know I'm not buying upper deck seats there. BTW, if you're fortunate enough to have a seat in the upper deck, you'll be huffing and puffing in disgust up an endless series of ramps while the suite and club-seat folk luxuriate on private escalators. Hasn't anyone in DC learned from the JKC/FedEx Field debacle?
  • Press box location. I haven't visited a press box in years but I'm guessing that what I observed hasn't changed - that most of the people inhabiting the press box are well past the age of 30 and don't usually have the best vision. I remember a few years back when the late Bill King openly groused about the booth at PNC Park, which is similarly placed atop the upper deck. I wouldn't be surprised if that contributed to his policy of not doing interleague games.
  • Dimensions/fences. There are the usual "quirky" wall angles that obscure the fact that the dimensions are all too ordinary. Two wall heights, 12 feet and 8 feet, are being used. Boring and once again predictable.
I understood from reading the agreement the District signed with MLB that the Navy Yard ballpark wouldn't be a revolutionary design. I just didn't expect it to be so little of a departure. The façade, which the media has focused on, is only one part of the design. It's disappointing that fans in the cheap seats will have such inordinately poor views compared to the wealthy and well-connected. If there's any doubt what the purpose of the ballpark is, read this Post article and understand where that $611 million is going.

14 March 2006

DC ballpark design unveiled

Now that a lease has been signed and a date has been set to evict current landowners, it's time to show conceptual drawings of the new Washington Nationals' ballpark.

The 41,000-seat stadium will have:
  • 22,000 lower bowl seats
  • 2,500 regular club seats (mezzanine)
  • 12,100 upper level seats
  • 1,800 indoor club seats
  • 78 suites (1,112 seats) on three levels
  • 10,000 square-foot restaurant/bar
  • 6,000 square-foot conference center
  • 10,000 square-foot picnic area
  • 10,000 square-foot youth traning area
  • 28,000 square feet of concessions space
  • 7,700 square feet of souvenir/merchandise space
  • 1,100 restroom fixtures
What's your take on the design? Would you like to see the A's have something like this? Or perhaps something more retro? I'll say one thing: working media aren't going to like the high perch of that press box at the top of the stadium.

12 March 2006

Sacramento's Sound of Silence + SF Venue Plans

A report in this week's Sacramento Business Journal goes over the ongoing struggle to get the A's on the radio in the Sacramento area. Most of the article isn't revelatory, but it does point out that a Modesto station (probably KTRB) backed out of a deal with the A's in January. What's discouraging is that there still are no prospects on the horizon, making Sacramento A's fans SOL unless they get XM. One interesting tidbit: 5% of A's season ticket holders come from the Sacramento area.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the on-again, off-again discussions about a downtown arena have heated up, especially since the city lost a chance to bid on the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The 49ers, fresh off a newly signed CBA and a renewed G3 loan program, are stepping up their stadium plans by soliciting architecture firms for their 72,000-seat venue that will eventually replace Candlestick/3Com/Monster Park. The 49ers' stadium could have an indirect impact on the A's because it's likely that the new stadium will have at least twice the number of luxury suites that the 'Stick currently has (64). That could in turn further saturate the Bay Area market, making the sale of luxury suites at an A's ballpark a bit more difficult.

Purdy: San Jose A's of Fremont?

More grist for the mill: Give Mark Purdy some credit for not spending the entire week on the Bonds saga, not that he won't revisit it as the season goes on. In Sunday's column, Purdy writes about a discussion he had with Wolff, and throws out some conjecture to boot. It's no secret that Purdy has been the Bay Area media's biggest booster of the baseball-in-San Jose effort, even to the detriment of the San Jose Earthquakes, who are, of course, non-existent for the time being.

The concepts:
  • Even though the A's move to Fremont, they'll be called the San Jose Athletics of Fremont. Now that certainly won't go over well with the keep-em-in-Oakland crowd. I'm not even sure how it fits into Fremont's goal of getting on the map. Since I'm not privy to the different conversations being held by the dealmakers, I can't say how likely or unlikely it is. There are certain "currencies" that could be in play to make this happen, but I'll believe it when I see it.
  • Moving to Fremont is a leverage ploy to force the Giants to discuss territorial rights, with the idea that if the A's move to Fremont the Giants wouldn't get any compensation or indemnification even though the A's would be physically located in Silicon Valley. Purdy himself admits this is a bit "out there." It's an idea that has been around for some time in the South Bay, but it would require a chain of events to occur that currently shows few signs of happening. For good measure, he even links the A's pursuit of the Earthquakes 3.0 and a downtown soccer stadium.
Wolff, for his part, couched his words carefully, though there is definitely a pattern of him letting the words "South Bay" and "San Jose" to occur more frequently in his quotes. No one should be surprised by this, since the corporate interests in the Valley are the big prize when all is said and done.

This is all speculation. Purdy does nail one point right on the head, that "even though the A's ballpark issue has been around for years, the ride is really just starting." In all likelihood, April 3rd won't be the day everything is resolved. It'll be around that time that things get thrown wide open.

08 March 2006


The saddest thing about today's revelations about Barry Bonds is that a day that was supposed to be meant in remembrance of the late Kirby Puckett has been completely sidetracked by more steroid news. A few years back I was in San Francisco on a day off from work. I happened to be walking through Union Square when I saw a ceremony was being held in the little stage area. The event was for the Glaucoma Research Foundation, for whom Puckett had been a spokesperson. He was there, speaking and accepting a check on behalf of the foundation. Puckett was embarking on a new life as a public person living with glaucoma, as well as being the public face of glaucoma research. Until details emerged about his sordid divorce and other legal troubles, it was assumed that his transition to retirement was a smooth one. Sadly, Puckett's demise came all too soon as he apparently spent that last couple of years in seclusion, irreparably ruined both mentally and emotionally.

One can only guess how Barry Bonds' retirement will look. It's hard to imagine the man getting even more crusty than he's been in the past, but if he isn't voted into the Hall of Fame, it stands to reason that he'll only get more and more bitter as time passes. I'm in no place to judge Bonds - I was there for home runs 498 and 499 and several more. I sat and stood in numerous places in Pac Bell just to find the optimal place to watch a Bonds homer. I fell in love with the Field Level seats down the RF line, near the visiting bullpen. The ball came off his bat like fireworks - I half expected each ball to explode in mid-air. I'm an A's fan, but I appreciated the magnificence of Bonds' feats. I feel somewhat complicit, but I don't feel guilty. I understood what was probably happening. I wondered when looking at Bonds' transformation just as I did when I looked at Mark McGwire's neck or Jason Giambi's arms. In the end I voted with my wallet. I may not actually be complicit, but as a fan I at least tacitly approved of it. It was the nature of the game. I won't be a hypocrite about the issue. I'm not asking Bonds to retire and renounce his records just as I'm not asking the A's to forfeit the 1989 World Series. It's easy to get on a high horse. I won't do that.

The new, heavily detailed descriptions of the Bonds routine have already stirred up the media, which was supposed to be focused on Puckett's legacy and the World Baseball Classic. From here on out, it should be interesting to see if the drug testing program is once again reopened. Bud Selig thought he put the whole drug issue to bed. Now there's another cloud over the sport. Selig has said he won't erase or asterisk the records broken and made during the recent "juiced" era. Will he now revisit that stance?

06 March 2006

News from around the league

It's time for another round of baseball business news prior to Opening Day.
  • Sportstime Ohio is the new cable home of the Cleveland Indians. The network so far has only Indians broadcasts and related content such as pre and postgame shows. With less than a month to go before the season starts, only one major cable provider has inked a deal: Time Warner. Other cable companies such as Cox, Comcast, and Adelphia are balking at what is considered an exhorbitant cost to carry the channel, considering the limited content. This same problem plagued both the Twins and Yankees. The Twins ended up losing the battle and signed a long term deal with Fox Sports Net, while the Yanks persevered after over a year and got the YES network on Cablevision. STO will carry the lion's share of games, 138 in all including 8 spring training contests.
  • Not to be outdone, the New York Mets have created their own network, Sportsnet New York, in hopes of reaping in huge amounts of local TV money. GM Omar Minaya's rash of free agent signings in the offseason was largely in anticipation of the new revenue stream. Talk about saturation, NYC now has four separate, not quite independent RSN's: MSG, FSNY, SNY, and YES. MSG is owned by Cablevision. FSNY is partly owned by MSG. SNY is owned by a partnership of the Mets, Comcast, and Time Warner. And you thought these companies were supposed to be competitors.
  • Since the Florida Marlins aren't exactly sure where their new home will be, they can't start a RSN in the Miami area. That didn't stop them from pulling an unprecedented (for baseball) move. The Marlins are broadcasting the entire 2006 season on FSN Florida, 150 games in all. Some of you have asked why the A's don't simply do this given the weak signal from San Jose-based KICU. Frankly, I don't know why. Comcast has to twittle its thumbs for the next 4 years while the A's, Giants, Sharks, and Warriors deal with frequent scheduling conflicts.
  • Speaking of the Marlins' next home, San Antonio appears to be the frontrunner at this point, with a ballpark proposal being prepared by Judge Nelson Wolff, who apparently is a major sports fan. If San Antonio does get the Marlins, they'll be in the smallest TV market in the bigs - and they'll be sharing it with the Spurs to boot. Is San Antonio being used? Yes, but all cities that entertain these types of discussions are being used, and they should be fully aware of it.
  • MLB finally signed a lease with the District of Columbia, though they did not sign off on the idea that either MLB or the Nats' new owners would pay for cost overruns. Some DC pols didn't appear to be dismayed by this, but opponents of Mayor Anthony Williams' plan to use excess tax revenue to pay for overruns haven't wavered on their stance - and it's this plan that is a condition of MLB's lease. Evictions are supposed to start happening on the ballpark tomorrow, and the ballpark, which was originally supposed to be ready for Opening Day 2008, will probably slip to the 2008 All Star Break if not later. Having the Nats play in RFK Stadium for another half-season will only be more costly for DC. The District is not out of the woods yet, and they may never be.
  • The new Busch Stadium is still on schedule, with the season almost completely sold out.

One item not related to baseball - Did anyone see the Duke-UNC game Saturday night? ESPN utilized nearly all of their networks for this production, putting the main feed on ESPN, and alternate views on ESPN2 and ESPNU. I don't get ESPNU, which means I couldn't check out the "Cameron Crazies cam", but the "above the rim" cam on ESPN2 was addictive. You don't get the benefit of seeing what's happening immediately along the baseline, but if you like watching the rotation of a three pointer or the accuracy of a well executed outlet pass, "above the rim" was for you. The camera shook after dunks. The play seemed faster due to the more intimate angle, yet it was easier to see things develop, especially fast breaks. It was better than the SkyCam that ABC/ESPN has employed for some of its NBA broadcasts, as that view looked far too videogame-like. If this is the future of sports broadcasting through multicasting, sign me up. Oh yeah, it was an excellent game, too.

03 March 2006

A's 2006 TV Schedule

The A's have released their 2006 broadcast schedule. There's nothing surprising in here regarding the local coverage schedule. In total, 126 games will be carried on a combination of FSN/FSN+, KICU, FOX, and ESPN. The surprise is that only one game after opening day will be shown on ESPN. Typically that's subject to change as the playoff stretch begins in August. Some Sunday home broadcasts may be moved from their customary 1:05 start to 5:05. Should the A's be at or near the top of the division after the All Star Break, look for this to occur at least once or twice.

The per network breakdown:
  • FSN: 69 games
  • FSN+: 8 games (All in April)
  • KICU: 44 games
  • FOX Saturday: 4 games
  • ESPN: 1 (+1 additional on ESPN2/KICU)
Looking at the schedule by day of the week, the big hole is in day games held on Tuesday-Thursday. 19 games fall into that category (10 home, 9 road), all starting at 12:35 or earlier. The rest of the day/time breakdown:
  • Home Weekday Games (12:35 start): 10 games
  • Home Saturday Games - FOX pre-empted (1:05 start): 6 games
  • Home Sunday Games (1:05 start): 1 game
  • Home Weeknight Games (7:05 start): 1 game
  • Road Weekday Games (3:00 or earlier start): 12 games
  • Road Weeknight Games (4:00 or later start): 6 games
It isn't as comprehensive as the Giants' schedule. A's fans have dealt with not having weekday afternoon TV broadcasts. And there's one occasion when the A's get the short end when competing with the other FSN teams. On Wednesday, April 19, a Warriors@Jazz game is set for 6, while Giants@D-Backs is scheduled for 6:40. The A's are at home against Detroit, and the timing makes the Wednesday night game difficult to fit it into the FSN/FSN+ schedule.

There is one other new item. FSN+, which until now has been broadcast on 1 of 15 channels depending on what cable/satellite system you had, is now standardizing somewhat. If you're a Comcast Digital subscriber, you'll now be able to get FSN+ on channel 410. 410 is surrounded by several other second-tier sports networks including ESPN News, ESPN Classic, Comcast Sportsnet (CSN), and College Sports TV (CSTV), along with the NFL Network and NBATV.

Here's the kicker: I called FSN Bay Area, and they confirmed that after the end of April/May, FSN+ will be permanently moving to 410, which means it will be available for Comcast's digital subscribers only. Satellite subscribers and those outside the Comcast sphere of influence should not be affected. This shouldn't have any impact on this season's schedule, but it will definitely impact all viewers in the future through the end of the deal, since the A's, Giants, Sharks, and Warriors are all signed through 2010. It's actually a shrewd move on Comcast's part if their intention is to move everyone to digital ASAP (it has been for several years now). It also serves to minimize the difference between FSN's and CSN's availability.

BTW, did you know that in the Bay Area, FSN is not owned by FOX? It's owned by Rainbow Media, a subsidiary of Cablevision. Cablevision also owns the NY Knicks and Madison Square Garden, among numerous other holdings. They're also known for almost singlehandedly sinking the NYC 2012 Summer Olympics bid, because they successfully waged a campaign against the planned Jets/Olympic Stadium on Manhattan's West Side. The stadium and its retractable dome would have been serious competition for the Garden.

02 March 2006

SB 4 author & AEG quid pro quo?

Remember SB 4, the state bill that would have allowed the state to fund numerous ballparks, arenas, and concert halls? It appears that its author, State Senator Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), is under investigation for receiving $20,000 in December from AEG. Murray and AEG already have close ties going back 20 years, and AEG supported the bill as it went through the legislature. Since the bill didn't pass in its final, weakened form, it's hard to tell if this was just a "thank-you-for-trying" quid pro quo gift or an actual payment for legal services Murray did for AEG. A Chronicle article compares this case with Governor Schwarzenegger's dealings with fitness magazines.

If this was a case of graft, one can only imagine how much bigger a scandal this would be had the bill passed during the regular session. There's still a flicker of hope for it through reintroduction, but the process neutered SB 4 to the point that there's no advantage in using its funding/approval system over more familiar local funding methods.

Uncertainty could push SJ ballot measure back

Residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Diridon South have asked for an extension on the EIR's 45-day public comment period. San Jose's City Council agreed and moved the deadline out to April 20. According to the Merc's Barry Witt:
That two-week delay will mean the study probably won't be brought back to the council for final certification in time for a ballot measure to be written for this year's election, said Joe Horwedel, the planning department's acting director. He said that means giving up on a timeline the city had been pursuing.
The hopes were that everything would be ready for final certification in June, with the ballot measure happening in November. That plan's biggest proponent was lame duck mayor Ron Gonzales, who wanted to submit a proposal based on a successful measure in December. I suppose he wanted it then so that he could say it was approved on his watch as a legacy item.

Plenty of questions were raised about funding the stadium and the fact that the A's haven't focused on San Jose during their search to date. With this uncertainty hanging over the effort, it's likely that the ballpark itself will be a major issue in the upcoming mayoral election. The next mayor will have a say on whether the ballpark effort continues through June 2007, when the next election could be held.

In previous posts I've advocated moving the ballpark ballot measure back to June. Why?
  • The new mayor will be in place, and it will be clear whether the mayor's a supporter or not. If he/she is, the awkward Gonzales situation won't hamper the effort.
  • The East Bay picture should be pretty clear. Any remaining Oakland options will have been explored, as well as Fremont, which wants to fast track the process. If Fremont doesn't pan out, that could leave San Jose as the best site available, with the territorial rights issue remaining to be resolved. Remember that San Jose isn't an option unless all efforts in the East Bay have been exhausted.
  • The ballpark measure wouldn't be competing with the huge infrastructure bond measure slated for November. It'll also be further removed from the 1/2-cent sales tax (the stealth BART measure) that will be on the ballot this June.
  • It should be clear whether funding will be available to bring BART to San Jose via the aforementioned sales tax hike.
  • All site acquisition should be complete and any changes to the plan involving other development such as a soccer stadium could be accommodated with the given extra time.
  • Construction would have to be pushed back slightly, but it could still be done by Opening Day 2010 or worst-case, 2011. The A's have lease options through the 2010 season, which leaves a good deal of wiggle room in a possible construction schedule so there would be no need to rush, as is the case in DC.

01 March 2006

CBA talk: A salary cap that can help the players

In light of the recent news about the NFL's troubled CBA negotiations and the changes to come in the next MLB CBA, I've decided to write a blurb about bringing a salary cap to baseball. Throughout the negotiations for the last few CBA iterations, the players union has been steadfastly against a cap, while the owners have pushed it. Nowadays, both sides feel confident that a deal will be done with little to no heartache for either. Many of the potentially divisive issues, such as drug testing, have already been negotiated. Bud Selig hasn't even brought up the cap as a potential bargaining chip.

Yes, a salary cap can help the players. Inconceivable! you say. You believe that players and owners are diametrically opposed mortal enemies, like a snake and a mongoose. To that end, I'd say you're right. However, sports economics has evolved to the point that a cap could actually provide a better payday for the union as a whole than the status quo, while providing the cost certainty that the league and its franchise owners want and the minimum payroll investment the "have" teams want of the "have-nots."

Before I begin to describe the solution, first it's important to understand how MLB stacks up against other sports. MLB is the one major sport left in North America without a salary cap of any kind, and its revenue sharing system is not nearly as comprehensive as the other three leagues' methods.
  • MLB: Estimated 2005 revenue - $4.5 billion. All national revenue (broadcasting, merchandise, internet) is equally shared. Roughly one-third of each team's local revenue is paid into a pool along with luxury taxes when applicable. The pool is then split into thirty equal pieces and distributed to each team. Each team gets their piece while also getting to keep its two-thirds share. Stadium-related expenses such as rent or debt-service can be deducted from each team's declarable local revenue, potentially making the pool contribution smaller.
  • NFL: Estimated 2005 revenue - $5.2 billion. All national revenue is equally shared - $3.2 billion, also called designated gross revenues. Ticket sales are split 60% home, 40% visitors. Each team gets to keep all suite and club seat revenue, ad revenue including naming rights, and ancillary stuff like mascot and cheerleader appearance fees. All of that covers the remaining $2 billion. If combined, the new revenue formula would be called total gross revenues.
  • NBA: Estimated 2004-05 revenue - $3 billion. All national and local revenue is pooled and shared with exceptions for roughly half of all suite and ad/naming rights revenue, which each team gets to keep for themselves. The term for this is basketball related income, or BRI.
  • NHL: Project 2005-06 revenue - $2.2 billion. All league revenue is shared equally.
Take a look the NFL's numbers. Split the national revenue among 32 teams, and each team gets $100 million before counting a single ticket, which is enough to cover an entire team's payroll and then some. Now looking at the salary requirements per league:
  • MLB: No real payroll floor, but minimum salary requirements mean that a team of rookies could be fielded with a payroll of $8 million. The 2005 payroll total for all 30 teams was $2.2 billion.
  • NFL: 65% of total gross revenue ($2.08 billion out of $3.2 billion)
  • NBA: 57% of BRI ($1.7 billion out of $3 billion)
  • NHL: 55% of revenue if revenue is $2.2 to 2.4 billion. 54% if less than $2.2 billion. 56% if more $2.4 to 2.7 billion. 57% if more than $2.7 billion.
You can see that there's more than one way to skin a cat, but in the end it all comes down to a magical range: 50-60% of each league's revenues is a generally agreeable industry-wide figure. The NFL's trouble stems from growing disparities in local revenue (sounds familiar, no?). Teams like the Redskins and Cowboys are the big market teams since their stadia have 300+ luxury suites and higher local revenue streams, which leaves teams like the Vikings, Bills, and Saints in the dust. The players have a beef because they feel they should be allowed a greater share of the total revenue pool (the players want 60%, the owners are willing give 56.2%). That would mean that each team would be required to spend $95 million on salary every year, which is a huge difference from the current $95 million cap, which would certainly be higher under a new system.

Contrast this with MLB's situation. $2.2 billion in total salary out of $4.5 billion in revenue equals only 48.7%. So the question here is: How the heck is MLB paying less in player salaries than the other three major sports? Consider the problems MLB supposedly faces:
  • MLBPA is considered the strongest union in pro sports
  • There is no salary cap
  • A high percentage of costly, long-term guaranteed contracts
  • The have and have-not disparity is discussed more often in baseball than in the other three sports (though there are plenty of legitimate reasons to complain about this)
Shouldn't MLBPA push for a greater share of the pie? Shouldn't low revenue teams push for a cap? Shouldn't high revenue teams push for a real salary floor and team reinvestment minimums?

Yes on all counts. The problem is trust with a bit of pride sprinkled in. MLBPA loves to trumpet the fact that there's no cap in baseball, even though they're getting shafted relative to their other union counterparts. They also don't trust the owners with a cap, since it would be one more step towards the owners colluding to keep salaries artificially low. The have-nots won't fully trust the haves unless there's a fairly rigid cap with penalties (luxury tax) and extensive revenue sharing. The haves resent having to pay out revenue sharing at all and don't trust the have-nots to properly reinvest in their teams (Exhibit A: Twins), so they want a payroll floor of sorts. Yet the collective owners don't really want a minimum like a payroll floor because then they'd probably have to pay the going rate - 55%.

From Selig and Bob DuPuy's recent comments, MLB isn't expecting a contentious negotiation period this time around. Neither is MLBPA's Donald Fehr. Perhaps they aren't interested in fighting and want to take a break for the next four years. This works until the economies inevitably change again, bringing some other issue to light that wasn't properly planned for last time. This occurs in every sport - a decade of peace followed by tough bargaining sessions and, unfortunately, work stoppages.

This is baseball's chance to set the right course for the next decade and beyond. It's no coincidence that MLB's revenues have been skyrocketing since they avoided a work stoppage in 2002. MLB and the owners have a good grasp on existing revenue streams. They have most of their new stadia in place. They've done a bang-up job on the internet side with MLB Advanced Media and the acquisition of International outreach continues to grow. Why not take advantage of the relative state of good relations and put these issues to bed?

Here's what each group should do:
  • MLB - Bring up the player percentage issue before the union makes it a bargaining item. By doing this, MLB can have the upper hand early in negotiations. Say they start at a 50% position and the union counters with 60%. Split the difference and the players get 55%, far better than they had previously (good for the players) yet lower than the industry standard and kept steady for the life of the CBA (good for the owners). The players' main concession would be to...
  • MLBPA - Agree to a NBA-style soft cap with a higher luxury tax trigger amount and salary exceptions to allow teams to re-sign their own free agents. The cap could be $95 million with a moratorium on penalties for the first two years to allow for bad contracts to be grandfathered in and either expired, renegotiated, or bought out. In bad salary years, a portion of all salaries (5-10%) would go into an escrow fund with amounts going to teams or back to the players at the end of each season. By doing this, they can ensure that each franchise's star players have a decent shot of staying with their teams, which is great for fans, teams, and players alike. I don't think a maximum player salary scale should be instituted, as is the case in the NBA, but teams can get first refusal rights or a form of restricted free agency for several years, perhaps in exchange for quicker unrestricted free agency or fewer arbitration years for the players. Of course, this isn't going to work to raise competitiveness unless the low revenue teams...
  • Have-nots - Have a real minimum payroll floor. That means that Tampa Bay can't spend only $29 million, one-seventh the amount the Yankees did on payroll in 2005. This is an arbitrary figure, but I'll throw it out there anyway: $45-50 million. That would force the Rays to go after frontline pitching help and prevent the Marlins from engaging in fire sales just to spite the city of Miami. If you're wondering if there's enough shared money to make this work, consider this: each team currently gets $35-40 million each year through national sources. Local broadcasting and ad revenue should be able to cover the rest. If necessary, the remaining amount needed to fund the salary floor can be raised if the high revenue teams...
  • Haves - Agree to a more expansive revenue sharing policy. Here I don't think it should be as comprehensive as in the NFL or NBA. Local revenue is too large a factor to simply do a straight redistribution. It would severely impact franchise values and prevent big market teams from being able to go over the cap when they wanted to, and frankly they should. Teams could start by sharing 50% of all local revenue (up from 33%) and 100% of national revenue (the current scheme). An escalator could be included that inches the shared percentage up to 60% when as the remaining teams without new stadia got stadium deals done and/or started their own regional sports networks (RSN's). Even with the greater revenue sharing, the Yankees, due to lower luxury tax payments, would come out $25-30 million ahead of the next highest revenue team, Boston, which should ease the concerns of George and his investors. The best part about it is that the first-to-last revenue disparity would go down some 50% (at least $80 million) while giving each team at least $120 million in total annual revenue, leveling out the playing field considerably (each low revenue team would get $10-20 million more each year).
The plan is definitely not perfect. There would be plenty of issues to work out, like the grandfathering scheme, luxury tax triggers, escrow percentages, and factors such as deferred compensation and the stadium expenses deduction.

The point of all of this is to work out an effective compromise deal that gives all parties a real stake in the eventual outcome. It comes with greater financial security for all and the promise of better competitive balance into the future. It - get this - gets everyone working as partners, not individually-oriented special interests. The A's 2006 payroll is estimated to be $61 million. As great as the roster can be, it's really good only for 2006 before raises kick in and free agency drives prices up. Wouldn't you feel better knowing that the A's had another $12-15 million to play with each year for next couple of years until the new ballpark is built? I know I would.