25 July 2006

Third Deck Closure Revisited (again)

Articles from both the Contra Costa Times and the Sacramento Bee attempt to assess at midseason the effects of the third deck closure. In both pieces, A's President Michael Crowley explains that the decrease in average attendance is what was expected, as long as the customer experience was enhanced - which according to them, it has. The Bee's article has quotes from a Vacaville fan who misses the ability to walkup on gameday to get third deck seats - as do I. The net effect - increased advanced ticket sales - was alluded to but not expounded upon.

There's a sense of overstatement when looking at the numbers, especially because anyone who looks at them will have a particular perspective - that of a lamenting, displaced fan, or that of a fan who likes the crowd feel more, or even a person like me who dispassionately views the change. With that in mind, here are a couple of (uh-oh, here it comes) graphs that might give you a better understanding.

The graph above (click the pic for a larger version) shows the volatility of the A's attendance over the last 1 1/2 seasons. Also included is the Giants' 2005 trend, which thanks to high numbers of season ticket holders is not nearly as volatile as the A's. I wrote in April that one of the big points was to make the demand curve less elastic, and while that's happened in part due to the artificial capping of the Coliseum's capacity, I imagine that the effect may not be as good as desired. Excuses abound from the wet, cold spring to the A's usual May slide to the lack of a big time, in-his-prime slugger. Frankly, if Eric Chavez had 25 HR and 75 RBI by now the A's attendance would be better, since their record would probably be better as well.

This graph shows the change in average attendance over the season. In this case, it's much easier to see how the May doldrums affect the A's and how things trend up as the weather heats up. Normally, the A's go on a tear in June and July that translates into increased interest for August. Injuries resurface towards the end of August, and despite the team usually being in a pennant race, performance and attendance both tend to peter out by the end of September. The occasional blip or uptick comes from one of the big series with the Giants, Yankees, or BoSox, or from a promotional night such as a fireworks show or bobblehead giveaway.

From the average attendance graph, the picture doesn't look as bad since the difference between the A's attendance this season and last season at the 47-game mark is less than 1,800 per game, or a whopping 7%. However, the A's would have to average 31,000 per game from now until the end of the season to eclipse last season's total - though that's not the goal. The problem is now the same as always: will the A's turn on the jets in the second half and pull away, or will the injuries and generally poor hitting bite them come the last two weeks of the season? That will be the true deciding factor. This is the Bay Area, after all. We are a fickle bunch (Sharks fans aside) and we don't suffer mediocre play gladly. And with the BoSox offering retribution for the A's surprising performance last week at Fenway, it's just more reason for fans to scratch their heads and sit on the fence. Fencesitters don't always head out to ballgames, not even during a heatwave.

24 July 2006

SJ Bizjournal articles

I've had a chance to read the articles (thanks to all who have helped) so I can now give me take on them:

  • The NUMMI article introduces a new factor that I hadn't been aware of - the building of a hybrid car plant. If Toyota's smart they'll move forward with the hybrid plant, despite the high costs of doing business here. The fact that a Prius or Highlander hybrid is actually built here in California is pure PR gold for Toyota and should increase sales volumes, especially within the state. They'd also finally be able to do something constructive with the land without worrying about encroaching development. If NUMMI is still concerned about residential development next to the plant, having another plant running 24/7 next door should eliminate the threat. Whatever their plans are, a plant sounds better than having a parts distribution center, which was under consideration when I called NUMMI last year.
  • Still, the NUMMI site has to look attractive just for the potential to a future BART, even if there's no timeframe for BART to come to Warm Springs right now. As I understand it, Santa Clara County leaders are redoing their plan to scale the Santa Clara extension back to Milpitas or Berryessa. That would impact ridership estimates, but at least this time they could look realistic. Since VTA's light rail ridership is up and should continue to rise, it might be a good time to explore and emphasize a LRT-to-BART link at the Great Mall. Fremont Mayor Wasserman seems to have his preference of sites - Pacific Commons.
  • Some of you have asked me if there's a possible that both sites (or portions thereof) could be used - one for the ballpark and village (NUMMI) and the other for housing (PacCom). I suppose it could be done, but it would require two new and completely different environmental impact reports, marketing changes and new infrastructure requirements. I won't rule it out, but it looks prohibitively expensive unless someone can figure out a way to divvy up the land appropriately.
  • As for Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone, he's always been the head cheerleader. As one of the leaders of Baseball San Jose he's always been out in front, despite the political machinations that have occurred within. Notice that he stops short of outright slamming Fremont, other than to say that downtown (San Jose, that is) is preferable to suburban. There's a reason why...

As I am not a print subscriber, I don't have access to the new articles from today's edition of the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal. And considering the fact that I am nearly 7,500 miles away from a local newstand or vending machine that carries the paper, I'm pretty much S.O.L. on the articles. In fact, last week I was asked if they could use one of my overhead graphics. Alas, I was "in the bush" so to speak. If one of you gentle readers would be nice enough to recap the articles and send me your thoughts, it would be much appreciated.

Here are the links:
Absent the actual text, I'll refrain from commenting on the articles, except that the headlines are rather salacious.

17 July 2006

Two words: UGH. LEE.

I just got a look at HNTB's concept for the new 49ers stadium:

How uninspiring. It doesn't help that the gold seats appear beige in the picture. Gone are the sweeping lines of the HOK design. So is the Mills mall, and with it, probably the $100 million that was promised for the project by the city (because of the jobs that come with the mall). The boxy layout is eerily reminiscent of work done by HNTB across the bay, otherwise known as Mount Davis. In fact, take the entire sideline section in shadow. Does it not look just a little like the Coliseum outfield?

It should be pointed out that like the A's ballpark concept by 360, there's no exterior treatment on this stadium, so it can't be judged by a face that doesn't exist. Still, while stacking the suites and boxes on one side of the field is commendable for cost-cutting and better sightlines for fans, the whole package can't help but look a bit like a bloated SEC college football stadium. The concept works well for Ford Field, where it's wrapped in a neat gimmick - the use of an office building in the stadium bowl covered by a dome - but it doesn't look right in this case. That big structure behind the suites looks like a retaining wall to prevent the nearby hill from collapsing onto it.

Supposedly the design is flexible enough to work as an Olympic stadium should the time come in 2016. I can see where the use of large numbers of portable seats (also like Mt. Davis) could make such a concept work. The open north end should facilitate this as well. But does anyone remember what Atlanta's Olympic Stadium looked like prior to its conversion to Turner Field? Thought so. This design just deadpans "bland."

12 July 2006

Fox/TBS ink new national TV deal

In case you missed it in the past couple of days (I did while I was flying back to Australia - again), MLB sewed up its national broadcasting rights for the next seven years by inking deals with Fox and TBS. The actual money being doled out to MLB by the networks is actually going to be about the same if not less than the previous Fox-only contract. Let's tally up the national TV money:
  • Fox - ~$250 million per year for 7 years. Includes World Series, All Star Game, national Saturday broadcasts, and alternating ALCS and NLCS based on the year.
  • TBS - ~$150 million per year for 7 years. Includes ALDS and NLDS, and whichever LCS Fox does not pick up. Deal includes 26 Sunday afternoon games (new schedule, not the ESPN Sunday night game) per season. Atlanta Braves broadcasts will be reduced, which probably means Turner South will take over many of the Braves' games.
  • ESPN - $296 million per year for 7 more years (new deal started this season). Includes Sunday night and Wednesday night broadcasts along with certain marquee and late season matchups (usually Yankees-Red Sox). Does not include playoff games.
Combined, it comes to upwards of $700 million per year through 2013 ($5 billion total), not including money gotten from the Japanese TV deals, internet streaming through MLB Advanced Media, and various other rights fees. Still, this pales in comparison to the NFL's whopping $3.7 billion per year in national TV rights. Of course, that's comparing apples with oranges since MLB makes up the difference with tremendous amounts of locally generated revenue, including local TV rights.

The news sets the table for the upcoming CBA negotiations, which as mentioned before, are more a battle between big and small market owners than between owners and labor.

07 July 2006

Alioto named Quakes Exec VP

In a move that foretells the A's acquisition of Earthquakes v. 3.0, the team's sales and marketing veep, David Alioto, has accepted the newly created position of Executive VP of Earthquakes Soccer, LLC. According to the press release, Alioto "will oversee business operations, sponsorship opportunities, develop sponsorship opportunities and assist in venue development surrounding A's ownership's attempt at securing a soccer specific stadium in the Bay Area for a Major League Soccer franchise."

Basically, it means Alioto will be doing for the Quakes what Michael Crowley currently does as President of the A's - except there's no team yet, of course. Good luck to Alioto on negotiating the extremely murky waters that define San Jose politics. Alioto may end up leaning a bit on both Crowley's and Lew Wolff's South Bay local status to get the SSS deal done. I'd like to see the Quakes get the benefit of some clever McCann-Erickson ad campaigns, the same kinds used for the A's the last couple of years.

From a strategic standpoint, there's something attractive about being able to pool certain parts of operations for the two teams. The seasons run concurrently, so some stadium operations can be consolidated. Sponsorship opportunities can be pitched to cater to the different audiences. Packages of club seats and suites may look attractive if they're for two teams (and all related venues' events) instead of just one. The ballpark financing concept is already out-of-the-box, why not sales as well? (Trivia note: According to Andrew Zimbalist's splendid book In the Best Interests of Baseball?, MLB Advanced Media runs the MLS website.)

06 July 2006

Coliseum BART lot mockup

I promised this a couple weeks ago, so here it is:

According to city records the combined parcels that make up the BART lot make up some 8-9 acres, 10-11 acres including some the extra streets that run through the lot. The neighborhood northeast of the ballpark has no real buffer separating it from the lot aside from some small auto shop/garage-type buildings. Residents there would be impacted by noise and possibly light pollution. The only ways to orient the field are north (shown), east (similar to the Coliseum's field orientation), or south/southeast (field facing Hegenberger Road).

02 July 2006

Purdy puts Wolff at top of power player list

The Merc's newest edition of their "Bay Area's Most Powerful Sports Figures" is due, and columnist Mark Purdy has placed Lew Wolff at the very top. That's not surprising. Wolff currently controls the fates of two sports franchises - the A's and the future Quakes - and his deals may indirectly affect revenues for all other major pro sports teams in the region due to club/suite and ad revenues.

While A's ownership including Wolff (and family, I'm sure), President Michael Crowley, and GM Billy Beane have been living it up in Germany recently while attending the World Cup. Undoubtedly, they've gotten pointers looking at new and refurbished stadia, many of which hold a baseball-friendly capacity of 40,000. Before soccer fans get their hopes up, costs will prohibit a European-style fully-enclosed, mostly roofed stadium from being constructed here (unless someone other than the A's is willing to foot the bill). In the meantime, putting out a shingle for an Earthquakes office and retail store could help salve the wound created when the team Mayflowered its way to Houston.

Purdy takes a position that is a definite shift from what he has argued in the past. Instead of pitching Fremont as a diversionary tactic while the A's deal with San Jose, Fremont is meriting real consideration. As the greatest media flagwaver for the San Jose effort, this is almost downright earthshattering.

Back to the list. Bay Area sports history has had a huge range of personalities and styles among its power brokers, whether they were brilliant (Wally Haas, Peter Magowan, Eddie DeBartolo), inept (John York, Chris Cohan, Steve Schott), or somewhere in between (Al Davis, Bob Lurie). Superstar players and coaches also inhabit the list, as do some non-print media types. Wolff's ascent to the top of the list is a testament to how Wolff understands and plays the media game. Other than Trib columnist Art Spander, Wolff has Bay Area media eating out of his hand. He's skillfully given bits and pieces of his vision, never giving too much away and always leaving the curious (like me) wanting more.

Purdy ends the piece with could be interpreted as a bit of foreshadowing:

"A year from now,'' Wolff says, "I'd like to be deep into the process of getting environmental approvals for a baseball park. And for soccer, I'd like a place we can play for the following season, even if it is just temporary.''

To me that sounds like a Fremont ballpark and Spartan Stadium (temporarily for the Quakes). Even if Ron Dellums' staff starting work on a proposal the minute Ignacio De La Fuente conceded the mayoral election, an EIR/study couldn't get fast-tracked to start in Oakland before the end of 2007.