12 November 2006

Wolff vs. York: The Battle for Santa Clara

Rumors about the A's-Cisco partnership and the team's possible move to Fremont took less than 48 hours to be overshadowed by another team's announcement: The 49ers were giving up on San Francisco and were leaning towards a Santa Clara home near their training facilities and Great America.

49ers owner John York and his staff hastily arranged a press conference for Thursday at the Santa Clara Hilton. During the press conference, York proceeded to bore the media to tears with explanations about why the Niners' plans for a huge football-retail-housing complex at Candlestick Point wouldn't work. He even used a slide presentation, which went over like gangbusters as I was listening to his spiel on KNBR. Not surprisingly, many members of the media accepted York's supposed trials and tribulations as a rationale for heading down the Peninsula. Shortly afterward, the media picked up on the fact that York failed to explain how the stadium was going to be financed.

Now that talks are back on with San Francisco, it's unclear whether the Santa Clara announcement was real or merely a threat to SF pols. It's probably a little of both, but elsewhere lies a third way for the Niners. And unlike the first two explanations, this one actually looks smart.

Wednesday also marked the opening of the A's/Quakes South Bay office on the ground floor of the Fairmont San Jose. Lew Wolff was there to exhort the amassed soccer fans, who so far are ecstatic about having truly local ownership that wants to build a proper home for Earthquakes 4.0. Sites being considered include Diridon South, the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, and SJSU South Campus near Spartan Stadium.

The dark horse candidate is Santa Clara. That site just happens to be the same one that the 49ers are targeting for their stadium.
  • Is it possible for separate football and soccer venues to exist on that land? No. There isn't enough land for both unless you want people to park in Sunnyvale.
  • Is it possible for football and soccer to share a venue? No. A typical NFL stadium seats 60-65,000, has 100-200 luxury suites, and 5-10,000 club seats. A model MLS soccer specific stadium (SSS) holds only 20-25,000 and has a fraction of a NFL stadium's suites and club seats. Wolff's three-year option with MLS calls for a SSS to be built for the Quakes. A shared situation with the A's or 49ers will not work, the Quakes have to be the marquee tenant.
I've heard that Wolff has had some pretty fruitful initial discussions with Santa Clara pols. For York, that's bad news because the Plan B (Candlestick Point is Plan A) is Santa Clara. What happens when Plan B gets eliminated? You lose leverage, that's what. On the other hand, Wolff has had well scoped Plans A, B, and C (which city you affix to A-C may be dictated by what you believe Wolff's motives are) and has so far come out looking pretty clean. That just goes to show how despite the similar situations (difficult cities to get a stadium deal done) it's all about execution. The main things going for York at this point are that his 49ers are a ton more valuable than the Quakes and the Niners (as long time residents) have a good relationship with Santa Clara. By making the announcement, York has effectively taken Santa Clara off the table for the Quakes indefinitely. It doesn't matter at this point whether or not it can be paid for. As long as attention is focused on the Niners he doesn't have to do anything else.

Where I come from they call that a cockblock. For once in your tenure as owner, Mr. York, well played. Well played indeed.


Anonymous said...

it was interesting at the Quakes party at the fairmont that Wolff mentioned a soccer stadium that would somehow include football. It seemed like Quakes momentum was towards a partnership with San Jose State. Wolff gives the impression that he knows how to get these stadiums done, York not so much.

Jeff P. said...

Is there any possibility of Wolfe and York working together and combining forces as it were? I wonder what a baseball/football village ballpark would look like. If they both built their stadia in PC or WS, would that add impetus for solving the mass transit problem? It would seem to provide the perk of giving a year round benefit to the "village" if one includes playoff possibilities. I realize that such a deal is highly unlikely, but it's worth contemplating.

Bleacher Dave said...

cockblock. too funy.

Marine Layer said...

Combining forces makes no sense. Wolff has the financing figured out. York doesn't outside of Candlestick Point. The Lennar project was 6000 homes. Wolff's project is 3000.

Giving up 20 acres for a football stadium makes it that much more difficult to make the ballpark village work. And what would be the fan reaction to having a SF team playing in the East Bay?

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Senator Feinstein and Pelosi are trying to keep the 49ers in SF. Whereas no politician gives a shit about keeping the A's in Oakland

bartleby66 said...

A far more logical partnership than Niners-A's would be Niners-Raiders. With only 10 or so home dates a year, it's pretty hard to make finances pencil out for one new football stadium, let alone two, in the same general area. The Giants and Jets seem to be making this work.

Personally, I'd love to see a new Raider-Niner stadium on Treasure Island, with a new BART station to service it. I'm sure someone will say a BART station there would cost $200 million and list a host of other reasons why it won't work. But if not there, why not a shared Raider-Niner stadium in Santa Clara?

Kevin said...

I gotta believe Wolff is not happy with the 49ers decision to move south. Just more competition for the South Bay's sports dollar.

Marine Layer said...

Good point. Sometime in the near future I'm going to write about how all of these moves may oversaturate the South Bay market.

jeeves said...

"Is it possible for football and soccer to share a venue? No. A typical NFL stadium seats 60-65,000, has 100-200 luxury suites, and 5-10,000 club seats. A model MLS soccer specific stadium (SSS) holds only 20-25,000 and has a fraction of a NFL stadium's suites and club seats."

Not true. Gillette Stadium was designed for both football and soccer because Robert Kraft owns both the Patriots and the Revolution. That's why the playing field at Gillette Stadium is wider than at almost every other new NFL stadium. See the photo on this page (the Revolution employ tarps to reduce seating capacity):

Marine Layer said...

MLS to seek proposals in New England for soccer specific sites

The link above is a press release from June. Over the past decade MLS has evolved its business model to include a mandate for smaller, soccer-specific venues. Both New England and Kansas City play in NFL stadia, but that's going to change sooner or later.

anthony dominguez said...

Guess who else isn't happy with the Niners proposed move to the South Bay...PETER MAGOWAN! Now he'll not only have to contend with the A's for Silicon Valley corporate support; he'll have to contend with a possible 150 luxury suite/15,000 club seat CORPORATE MONEY MONSTER. Today's (Sunday) Mercury News had an excellent article about the lure of the South Bay for sports franchises. An HP exec was even quoted as saying that he'd rather invest in a luxury suite 5 miles away vs. 30 miles away. Gee Peter, so much for those territorial rights protecting your Silicon Valley corporate base...PRETTY SOON THEY WON'T MEAN $hit!!

Kevin said...

Help me out here guys.

Just exactly how will the A's make money off of this baseball village? Will the A's be the developer, or will they sell the rights to a developer who will then responsible for finding suitable tenants?

Jeff P said...

I suppose I am off-base in wondering if there were a profitable angle in pursuing a Wolf/York partnership. It just doesn't seem to be that football and baseball compete with each other head to head for sports dollars. While there is a small overlap in their seasons, it's actually not that long. I was thinking that with both sports, there would be a year long draw to the new "village". Ah well, I'm sure it's unworkable for a host of reasons!

Marine Layer said...

They'll sell rights of pieces of the development to different companies. Some specialize in high or mid-rise condos or apartments, other do single family housing. There may be bidders who specialize in the retail component. And a separate firm will do the entire village plan. The A's will probably stay focused on their core competencies: ballpark, museum, hotel.

Marine Layer said...

All of the major sports teams in the Bay Area compete with each other for corporate dollars - luxury suites, club seats, sponsorships. As rich as the South Bay is, I don't think it can solely support both new stadia and HP Pavilion.

Anonymous said...

A couple of questions ML:

1. Do you really think York was even aware of the earthquakes, let alone that they were considering that spot as a plan C (or whatever)? You might be giving the guy too much credit. It seems to me he just up and decided one day that Candlestick Point wasn't going to work and called a press conference. The city of Santa Clara didn't even know about it until the night before.

2. How is the soccer league in a position to dictate stadium characteristics like that? I find it hard to believe most cities don't tell them to shove off if they don't like the stadium. What leverage do they have? Huge crowds? Nope. A major following as demonstrated through big TV ratings? Uhhh, no. The cachet of being associated...I can't even finish the set-up. Of course not! So why does any city support such a demand?

Marine Layer said...

1. I may be giving York too much credit. But it doesn't really matter whether he tells Santa Clara. The media is hanging on his word, whatever that's worth. One thing we can definitely take from all of this is that given the surprise of SC officials, the anger from BASOC/USOC, and the scrambling by SF, this is not the way to do business.

2. MLS has been targeting smaller suburbs in hopes of getting their stadia built. Some of them include a large soccer field complex to make it more community friendly. Some of them are managed by entertainment giant AEG. MLS may be small in the eyes of the regular American sports fan, but there is a lot of money behind it.

FreeSanJose said...

Can't SJSU and the Earthquakes work together on this one? I understand the roadblocks: SJSU wants control, the Earthquakes probably want something 5-10,000 seats smaller, and control; but this really seems to be the only viable way for both parties to get what they want.

With SJSU knowing they need to upgrade Spartan Stadium to draw more fans and the Earthquakes needing something that resembles a SSS, this is the only way I can see both parties getting what they want without asking for public money.

I would imagine Spartan Stadium can be reasonably renovated (adding a video scoreboard, pulling the seats back 10-15 yards to accomodate soccer, maybe redoing the east stands entirely to include more club seats, upgrading the current boxes) could be done for less than $50 million, considering there's no land to be purchased, and it could easily be done during the football offseason.

SJSU President Don Kassing seems very pramatic and reasonable; Wolff seems to understand that no one is going to just give him a SSS; tell me this can't get done.

Hell, they could probably even make one of their lots into some kind of hybrid housing that would satisfy whatever state laws might get in the way.