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.