27 August 2007

Realignment and scheduling

In the previous installment, I made an argument for why realignment and expansion should be done by the 2015 season. In the end it all comes down to balance. That means balance for both leagues, for all divisions, and also for scheduling reasons as well. It would stand to reason that having even numbers of teams throughout the table makes a certain symmetry possible.

Well, I had no idea how bad the scheduling system was until I started to really take a look at it. Anyone looking at a standings table with a rudimentary knowledge of how MLB games are played could easily ascribe a certain level of messiness to the task of scheduling. But when you dig deep the ugliness really starts to show.

In the
CBA there are only a few pages devoted to scheduling. Much of the language is meant to dissuade teams from scheduling splot or day-night doubleheaders, which means the language has been largely successful. Regular doubleheaders are not discouraged, but every team has financial reasons to keep games separate. (Yes, I dearly miss the Sunday A's-Indians double dips too.) There's little of interest until you get to the section regarding interleague play:
Each Club may be scheduled to play up to 18 Interleague games during each championship season.
"Up to 18?" That didn't make much sense to me. So I looked at this season's MLB standings with interleague records. Sure enough, most teams played 18 interleague games including all AL teams. Some NL teams, however, played only 15. In previous seasons, some played as few as 12. What gives?

Look at the tables above. There's little rhyme or reason to it. There is a sort of "make good" that occurs in following years but it's just a band-aid to the overall lameness of the system. The unbalanced leagues created this situation. I'm all for interleague play, but there's something seriously wrong with it if some teams play a full interleague schedule - 18 games - while others don't. Then you start getting into which league is more dominant (AL recently) and how many games against specific competition are being played with uneven splits (home/road/intraleague/interleague). These factors contribute to strength of schedule, so every effort should be made to make scheduling as equitable as possible. Unfortunately, as long as the 16-14 scenario continues to exist, the schedules will continue to be unbalanced.

Compare the A's and Giants' scheduling above with the next graphic. It's much simpler and straightforward, and only possible with an 8-division MLB.

In this iteration, the A's would play each of the other three AL West teams 16 times, 8 at home and 8 on the road. 16 isn't a common number for games played between two teams. Normally you'll see a team play a division foe 18-19 times per season, whereas the old pre-expansion balanced schedule had two division rivals play 12-14 times. 16 strikes a good balance between the two, but scheduling it can be a bit tricky. A series is 2-4 games long, so the likely formats would be 3-2-3/3-2-3 or 4-4/4-4 (home/road). A prototype April 2008 schedule would look like this:
  • LAA @ OAK, 4 games (Apr 7-10)
  • OAK @ SEA, 3 games (Apr 11-13)
  • OAK @ POR, 3 games (Apr 14-16)
  • SEA @ OAK, 3 games (Apr 18-20)
  • POR @ OAK, 3 games (Apr 21-23)
  • OAK @ LAA, 4 games (Apr 24-27)
That takes care of the first stretch of division games. SEA and POR have the 3-game sets, so they would also have 2-game home/road sets with the A's just before and after the All Star Break. The A's wouldn't see the Angels until September, when sequence above would be repeated the final 3 weeks of the season. Why spread things out this way? 7-day weeks make it difficult to fit completely uniform scheduling such as 3-game series unless every week has an off day. That format wouldn't work because MLB requires that a regular season be wrapped up in at most 183 days. Running counter to that is a rule that dictates that teams can play at most 20 days in a row without an off day.

When it comes to playing the other AL divisions, it's pretty simple there too. One division's teams (in this case the AL North) would play the A's 12 times, while the other two divisions' teams would face the A's 6 times apiece. There's an alternative below in which the A's would face two divisions' teams 9 times, but it's really all a matter of choice. The nice thing about formatting the schedule this way is that it's easy to segment the play. In-division play is generally reserved for April and September. The other divisions would generally get 2-week stretches. Interleague play would be kept around same timeframe as it currently is: 3 weeks from late May through the middle of June.

If you're interested in further studying the scheduling model, you can
download an Excel sample. It has one odd patch in that there's a Friday-Monday 4-game series in September, but everything else works reasonably well. And that's a draft I put together in only a few hours (my adding it delayed this post), so it could certainly use some refinement.

Does scheduling really make that much of a difference? It's hard to say. The nice thing about this type of schedule is its modularity. The components can be moved around so that they can fit in different ways. Are the Twins and Indians continually having trouble in their outdoor ballparks with a late winter in April? Move the in-division block back a week and put them on the road in the Sun Belt first. Need to guarantee that the BoSox and Yanks meet on Patriots' Day? No problem - stick with the normal configuration. Want to reduce the number of interleague games from 18 to 12? Sure thing, and now that makes 6 extra games available for your division rivals.

There's a better way of doing things on the horizon, and it comes with expansion and realignment. Some critics have pointed to dilution of talent, and I say "quantify it." Just as there are crappy 5th starters now, there were crappy 4th starters 30 years ago. Is the current Washington Nationals' roster appreciably worse than the '71 Washington Senators? Of all the controversies that have marked baseball, which is most responsible for the supposed decline in play: out-of-scale economics, juiced balls, bandboxes, performance enhancing drugs, the rise of basketball and football as major competitors for athletes, etc...? I would argue any of those issues is more responsible that a dilution of talent. Major league baseball belongs in as many places as can reasonably support it. Let's see it happen.

24 August 2007

Realignment Redux

Last November I posted my thoughts on the future and legacy of Bud Selig. Selig's staying on as commish through 2009. His tenure will have been marked by controversy and polarization. Like him or not, no one will be able to say that nothing happened under Selig.

Towards the end of that post I segued to the topics of expansion and realignment. Expansion won't happen again under Selig's watch, so those in cities without a major league franchise will have to look to his successor for hope. I pitched a two-part proposal which, judging from the comments, generated a good deal of intelligent discussion. I've since tweaked the concept a bit and will now present it again - and this time there are visual aids.

The map above (click map to enlarge, click here for a PDF) shows all existing team cities plus two new ones, Portland and Monterrey. Portland could be switched out with Las Vegas, and Monterrey could be replaced by San Juan, Mexico City, or any number of southern cities such as Charlotte or New Orleans. I'm not going to debate the economic or market merits of a particular city at this point, because I'm projecting that the earliest point at which expansion could occur would probably be 2015. It's likely that by that point most candidate cities will have grown sufficiently large enough to be considered solid mid-markets. The two target cities are placeholders, with Portland representing the AL West and Monterrey the AL South.

Before I explain the plan, it's important to understand how MLB has evolved over time. Team success, regional strengths, and savvy business decisions have come together to turn the National League into a de facto "Southern League" (no, not that one). Consider these facts:
  • 11 NL teams reside south of the Mason-Dixon line (extended from the original to the West Coast), whereas 8 out of 14 AL teams are north of the line.
  • Atlanta's isolation, its status as one of only major league cities in the South when the Braves moved there in 1966, and the cultivation of a huge audience through TBS gave the team an unique regional hegemony.
  • The St Louis Cardinals also experienced domination through the Midwest and parts of the South thanks to the strength of its former flagship radio station, KMOX. And 10 World Series championships.
  • The Astros started play 7 years before the Senators 2.0 moved to the DFW Metroplex.
  • The last two rounds of expansion netted three NL teams, one in Miami and two in the Southwest.
  • The Expos became the Nationals and are tapping into Virginia and the Carolinas.
  • The Mets, who replaced the California-bound Giants and Dodgers, were an expansion team whose crosstown rival has had a 60-year head start and libraries of history to boot.

Meanwhile, the American League has the one remaining Canadian team, the only team in the Pacific Northwest, and an overhyped but still compelling rivalry in the Northeast that FOX and ESPN are only happy to exploit at every possible juncture. That makes them the "Northern League," no? Mind you, this is not meant to extract from these observations that the NL is more Southern culture or that the AL is more effete. It's purely geographical, and based on the many different types of changes made to get to this point, purely coincidental as well.

It's this distribution that creates a basis for realignment. If the teams are already grouped a certain way, why not take advantage of those regional strengths? The AL East is already an AL "Northeast" with Tampa Bay paying the price by frequently flying north. The NL West is actually the NL "Southwest" when you consider how the five teams there are situated. So why not acknowledge American/North American growth and realign in a way that effectively recognizes our regions?

As I posited in November, four divisions in each league is the way to go. It solidifies regional strengths while reducing travel costs for teams. It keeps teams a two-hour (or less) flight away from their divisional foes and at worst one time zone away. It also simplifies scheduling, which I'll explain further on Sunday.

A look at the tables above reveals that no National League teams were moved to the other league. This is extremely important since two of the newest NL teams, Arizona and Colorado, have expressed no interest in moving to the AL. During the last realignment, Milwaukee was moved to the NL Central partly at Selig's behest since he's always thought of it as an NL city. The West stays the same except for Colorado, which should benefit from its division road night games starting at 6:05 instead of 8:05. In a rather bizarre twist, three pre-expansion NL West teams - Cincinnati, Atlanta, Houston - would be united in the new NL South.

Over in the junior circuit, changes are more dramatic. Not so much in the East, which becomes the "Northeast." The AL North is really the AL Central minus Kansas City. The new AL South is the most radical change. Kansas City and Texas reunite from their old AL West days, which works well since they're less than 500 miles apart. Tampa Bay gets the opposite effect from Colorado in that all of their division opponents are a time zone earlier, putting road night games at 8:05. However, they would benefit from slightly less travel time/distance and more importantly, a better shot of winning the division. Unless revenue sharing is significantly altered, it's difficult not to see the deep-pocketed Yanks and Red Sox battle it out for the AL East crown, even in 2015. Both the O's and Blue Jays have better financial resources at hand than the Rays, so why not move to a place where you have a better shot? On the left coast the division would consist of two California teams and two Northwest teams. The recent combined success of the Angels and A's have created a sleeper rivalry that at times is just as intense as the better known Giants-Dodgers rivalry. By putting an AL team in Portland, the Northwest can develop its own great I-5 rivalry. While it would be nice to have a senior circuit team in the Northwest, there should be plenty of chances to appreciate NL ball via interleague play. The difficulty there would be determining who could be natural rivals - is Seattle-San Diego not a manufactured matchup?

The playoff system would still field 4 teams from each league, except that the wild card berth would be replaced by a 4th division winner. That's where a potential negative lies. The AL South would consist of 3 recent cellar-dwellers and an expansion team. Teams that come in 2nd in the other division races could look at the AL South and consider it weak and unworthy of a guaranteed playoff berth. But honestly, that criticism could be leveled at virtually every season, just look at the '06 NL Central. Texas could have a run to dominance because they financially outstrip KC and Tampa Bay and would presumably do the same to Monterrey. Eliminating the wild card removes the restriction that two teams can't play each other in the divisional round. A simple comparison of overall records would determine seeding.

In the previous realignment discussion, several alternatives were mentioned.
  • A 3rd New York team. Some suggested Brooklyn or northern New Jersey. I could entertain this possibility if the commissioner's office were less owner-oriented. I just don't see the Yanks and Mets giving up their territorial and broadcast rights very easily. TV rights/networks make up at least 25% of each franchise's value, and their collective control over the market translates into another large share. For a 3rd team to work in practice, the next commish would have to be courageous enough to take on the two NY teams - and by extension, all of the other big market teams. A 3rd team would also require a willing ownership group, something that shouldn't be too difficult to find in the area. Cablevision/MSG would be a likely bidder. By 2015, the franchise fee for such a team could fetch $1 billion, netting each team $31 million. In addition to that, how much of a payoff would it take for either existing team to allow a new kid on their block?
  • Other locales. Vegas is always a popular mention, but as we've seen from current events the perception problem that gambling represents is a difficult odor to remove. Southern cities such as San Antonio, Charlotte, Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans may be overextended to varying degrees with their existing teams. The short and long-term viability of Portland and Monterrey have to be questioned as well before a team could be awarded to either city. It really comes down to choosing one team in the West and one in the South.
  • A return to the 154-game schedule. Yes, the season is too long, especially when you include the postseason. A reduction of 8 games would shorten the season 8-10 days, which would perfectly fit the divisional round. Unfortunately, the revenues are too great for the owners to go along with it. A quick computation of gate revenue (128 games x $22 per ticket x 32,000 seats) shows that the teams would lose $90 million alone at the turnstiles. That's more gate than the average team pulls in for an entire season.
  • 2 divisions of 8 teams per league. There are two reasons given for this type of alignment. The chief rationale is that the pennant races would have meaning again as only two teams in each league would qualify for the postseason. We've passed a point of no return on that front. The money's too great with expanded playoffs and many fans like the wild card for the hope it represents. The other rationale is that teams could be realigned into divisions based solely on geography, eliminating the AL/NL relationship altogether, as suggested in the Radical Realignment concept. I'm no purist, but MLB is not like the other three major sports. The DH is the obvious difference. How does that get addressed? It wasn't too long ago that the two leagues had different umpiring crews. The aforementioned D-Backs and Rockies don't want to move to the AL. Why would a solely geographical distribution fly with the owners? It's been said that Peter Magowan would sue MLB if they tried to realign in this manner.
Coming Sunday: Scheduling.

23 August 2007

Fremont Chamber to host ballpark forum

After the big city council session last month, I had mentioned in a comment that we were entering a silent period. Now that we're a week away from September, everything's starting to crank up again. The first event of note is a luncheon being held by the Fremont Chamber of Commerce on September 10 at the Fremont Marriott. The luncheon will serve as a public forum for discussion of Cisco Field and related development. According to the event description, the long-awaited development application will have been filed by that date. You can, of course, register online.

Public Policy Forum: Cisco Field
Sponsored by The Fremont Chamber of Commerce
Monday, September 10, 2007 (reg.11:30) noon-2pm

The Fremont Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a public policy forum on Monday, September 10th beginning at Noon at the Fremont Marriott. The guest speakers will be Lew Wolff, co-owner and managing partner of the Oakland Athletics and Keith Wolff, vice president of venue development for the Oakland Athletics. They will be presenting the plans for Cisco Field, talking about the application process/progress (they will have filed an application with the City by this date) and answering questions from the audience.

$30 person for Chamber members
$40 for non members
Lunch is included.
$400 - table sponsorship
$600 - event sponsorship

Registration begins at 11:30 am
Forum begins at noon

This promises to be the first of many public forums and community outreach events throughout the next several months.

21 August 2007

Keeping up with the Joneses - Summer '07

It's been six months since the last progress report. This is a snapshot of where four teams are as of today.

Nothing's changed here on the progress bars since February. The development app hasn't been submitted yet, and recent presentations have been good on the conceptual level but have been short on details. The unique funding method is dependent on rezoning industrial land to commercial/residential, so you'll see the top two bars move together or not at all.

Last week, Marlins President David Samson and Bud Selig
both let loose the veiled threat of relocation, saying that there hasn't been much progress on either the site-finding or financing fronts. Magically, today the University of Miami announced that its football team is relocating to Dolphin Stadium starting in the 2008 season. The "U" will vacate the 70-year-old Orange Bowl for at least $1.5 million more in annual revenue and a better parking situation, though they will lose the tradition and intimacy that came with the "OB." According to this link the City of Miami-owned 31-acre site is worth $19-22 million for both the land and stadium. The team prefers the 9-acre Government Center site downtown, but acquisition is considered far more difficult. Now that the 'Canes are locked into a 25-year deal at Joe Robbie/Blockbuster/Pro Player/Dolphin(s) Stadium, there's extra pressure on both the city and the Marlins to complete the deal. The Marlins' existing lease at DS expires after the 2010 season, and it's unlikely that the two resident football teams will tolerate a baseball infield beyond that. For the Marlins, there are still problems bridging the remaining $30 million that needs to be financed. Additional parking in the form of garages will probably need to be built to placate nearby residents' concerns.

Yesterday an
arbitration panel ruled in a split decision that the downtown ballpark site, which was taken via eminent domain, is worth $24.8 million, or over $10 million more than the deposit plunked down by Hennepin County to take the land. The original owners of the site had pegged the land to be worth $65 million. The decision is non-binding and both sides can appeal after a 48-hour cooling off period. Complicating matters is the dissenting member of the three-person panel, who filed a separate report that appraised the land to be worth $33.8 million. While the land is already being cleared for construction, the groundbreaking ceremony hasn't actually happened yet. Originally targeted for August 2, the ceremony was postponed in the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse. If one starts the clock on September 1, the Twins will have 32 months to get everything ready for Opening Day 2010 - a huge improvement over the stadium's prospects last February.

The Nat's ballpark appears to be progressing nicely, even as it zooms way past budget and DC pols are looking under every couch cushion to fund it. There remain issues involving parking and transportation planning, but as far as the ballpark goes, it's on track.

I can't forget to mention the New York stadia. There are six new venues either in planning or construction stages in the New York metropolitan area. The combined value of the two baseball stadia, one football stadium, one soccer stadium, and two new arenas? Nearly $5 billion. The venues:
  • Prudential Center (2007) - NJ Devils, $400 million
  • New Yankee Stadium (2009) - $1.3 billion (including park relocation and transit costs)
  • Citi Field (2009) - $610 million
  • Giants/Jets Stadium (2010?) - $1.3 billion
  • Barclays Center (2009?) - Brooklyn Nets, $1 billion (exclusive of ancillary development)
  • Red Bull Park (2008) - Red Bull New York, $100 million
Now that's out of everyone else's league.

17 August 2007

Welcome to Comcast Country

The title of this post comes from a sign in Philadelphia's Wachovia Center, home of both the 76ers and Flyers. Might as well hang it from every venue in the Bay Area, since it's just as valid a description here as it is back east.

Comcast quietly took majority control of FSN Bay Area at the end of June, and knowing their history they're going to put their stamp on the channel sooner rather than later. FSNBA hasn't shown signs of change yet, but expect rebranding to occur this fall as the baseball season ends and the new Sharks' and Warriors' preseasons begin.

What else should we as the viewing public expect? First off, the SportsNite program shown on Comcast SportsNet West (Central Valley) should become a staple here. CSN also tends to have pre and postgame shows more frequently than FSNBA, so that should be expected too. FOX will still own 40% of the channel, but it remains to be seen whether they will contribute FOX-sourced content or become a silent partner. I for one would not be saddened to be rid of the litany of failed generic highlight shows proffered by FOX Sports Net.

On most Comcast digital systems one can find Channel 400, or Comcast SportsNet West. There's already a discontinuity between the Central Valley version and the Bay Area version due to the channel's focus on the Kings and other Sacramento-area teams. It would make sense for 400 in the Bay Area to become the overflow channel that is currently FSN+ (410). Channel 400 could be renamed CSN2. That would free up capacity for some other niche channel in Comcast's "Digital Sports Tier." The likeliest possibility would be Johnny-come-lately MLB network, which is slated to launch prior to the 2009 baseball season. Comcast owns an equity share of MLB Network, which gives both parties incentive to feature the channel prominently.

In the Central Valley the situation is a little more complex since both FSN and CSN occupy expanded basic cable channels. Blackouts would still be in effect for certain properties such as Warriors telecasts. Comcast may find it hard to combine programming, so my guess is that they'll keep them separate as CSNBA and CSNW. There is no Channel 400 in the Central Valley so they would have to create one if they wanted to have a CSN2 offering.

An opening also exists for an A's-branded network should they be interested. While Comcast bared its teeth when MLB along with the Nats and O's started MASN, the cable provider has shown a willingness to entertain additional regional sports networks. The catch? They want a cut, of course. A prime example of this is the Mets' SportsNet New York, of which Comcast and Time Warner have equity shares. Should the A's decide they want in on this party, an equity share appears to be the admission fee for placement within a cable system. There is a potential for the A's as Comcast may help defray some startup and operational costs. For the A's, caveat emptor applies as despite the success of many RSNs success is not guaranteed. This deal would be open to the Giants as well - they may be even more interested since their ratings are consistently higher than the A's.

There are other forces at work for Comcast. Recently they won a lawsuit filed against them by the NFL. Comcast wanted to move the ever-growing NFL Network to their Digital Sports Tier and charge a little extra to boot in order to make up the cost. The NFL wanted the channel to stay in the regular digital lineup with no separate premium, so they sued (and lost). Now that NFL Network is on the separate tier, viewers are forced to consider more thoroughly the $5 per month package. What's in the Digital Sports Tier? Depends on where you are. It is supposed to include most of the following:
  • NFL Network
  • NBA TV (in some markets)
  • College Sports TV
  • FOX Soccer Channel
  • Speed Channel
  • TVG Horseracing Network
  • FOX College Sports (multiple regional channels)

All of these channels take up residence in the 400-420 zone. The peripheral ESPN channels such as ESPN Classic and ESPNEWS are not in the list above even though they are usually in this range because of the exclusivity of ESPN's multichannel package deal with the cable providers. I don't think it would be easy to move a CSN2-type channel to the extra-cost tier. It would make sense for them to push other new RSN's such as an A's or Giants channel to that tier - and it would give Comcast justification to charge extra for that tier.

As for satellite? DirecTV pioneered the concept of a special sports tier years ago. So it's pretty much business as usual. Dish has their own as well.

14 August 2007

Tumbleweeds at JLS

East Bay Express writers Robert Gammon and John Birdsall have put together a nice exposé on the not-so-goings-on at Jack London Square. Gammon, as you may recall, co-wrote a well-constructed recent history of the A's in Oakland and their southerly overtures.

Developers Jim Falaschi and Hal Ellis Jr. bought the property for a song in 2001, thanks to connections with bossman Don Perata. They pitched a retail and residential concept around the Slow Food movement, with a fancy farmers market and organic food restaurants that would purportedly put the development at the SF Ferry Terminal to shame. Six years later, previous tenant restaurants have been driven out amid rising rents and concerns about gentrification. The Harvest Hall remains unbuilt. Worst of all, the developers are moving to create office space within JLS, a use completely at odds with the original project intent.

Jack London Square was not originally considered a candidate site for a future Oakland ballpark, instead the
nearby Howard Terminal was. Not that JLS alone is big enough (other surrounding parcels would've been required), but it would've been interesting to see what would've happened if JLS was a candidate site. It's hard to find too much fault with the JLS developers given the volatility of the real estate market, especially in Oakland. Still, there's a sense of major miscalculation at very least, if not complete misdirection on their part.

10 August 2007

How to have your pinstriped cake and eat it too

A Fortune article shows that the $1.2 billion new Yankee Stadium could bring in a whopping $253 million per year in revenue to the pinstripers.

Think about that. $253 million. They're not even selling stadium naming rights or seat licenses. That's enough to fit the Yankees' current payroll including Roger Clemens plus the inevitable $25 million in luxury tax they'll pay at the end of the year, and still leave enough for a couple of Scott Boras clients and a little profit. All that makes the Yanks' ginormous radio and TV money pure gravy. Scary, isn't it?

Worst of all, the $51 million mortgage will be at least partly deductible, probably 40%. Since they get to hold that revenue back, the other 29 teams get to indirectly pay for the new Yankee Stadium. Of course, the same goes for the Mets and their new digs. And everyone else that has new stadia or renovations on their dockets, including the A's.

Back to the Bombers. Like all teams, they'll pay one-third of their stadium revenues into the big revenue sharing pool. That doesn't mean they'll pay 1/3 of $253 million, they'll probably have some slick holding company/vertical arrangement that allows them to hide some of it. After they've hidden some of that away, they can take the stadium expenses deduction. Only after those two methods of gaming the system do they pay into the pool, plus they get dinged by the luxury tax. But if the stadium expenses deduction effectively or largely cancels out the luxury tax, it's really no skin off Steinbrenner's ass, is it?

Think of it like filling out a long form 1040. You've got your mortgage interest deduction (akin to stadium expenses), charitable contributions, and perhaps other deductions. Then you pay in and because you're in the higher tax bracket, you're supposed to pay more. The poor teams get their own version of tax credits (like our EIC) and head right for the check cashing place. It's not altogether that different from MLB, except in terms of scale.

Cisco Field is a third way, using non-baseball revenues such as housing development rights sales and commercial leases as an outside revenue stream to pay for the ballpark. I can't think of a proper analogy at the moment, can you?

06 August 2007

Column conundrum

Remember this?

It's from the original animation pack the A's released in November. I guessed (correctly) that the comparison showed Cisco Field (yellow/red) against AT&T Park (gray). To me, this has always been the most impressive part of the presentation. Unfortunately, it's not easy to visualize the advantage, and for two decades now fans in other cities have been accepting extremely set back second and third levels despite being told the experience was better just because, well, they were no longer sitting in a multi-purpose stadium. Or some rickety joint with 16-inch seats.

The 3-D nature of the graphic above sort of detracts from the message, as all of the visual elements make the comparison fade into the background. There is a better one shown recently, and it makes the contrast stark, as it should be. This came from the city council preso a couple of weeks ago:

That's better. Ah, but now there's a wrinkle, and it's smack dab in the middle of the pic above. A big, purposeful, and truly retro - column. Unlike any other recently built ballpark's main grandstand, this one dives right into the lower deck.

Before you react, I'm already ahead of you. The dreaded words obstructed view immediately come to mind. There's nothing about an obstructed view seat that says modern. A seat behind a column promises to be pretty crappy. There may be some back-and-forth about what fans consider an obstructed view and what the team considers an obstructed view. It may not even have a discount, although it most certainly should be cheaper. So I'm not going to make excuses for the A's out of respect for the poor souls who make be shocked when, upon getting to the seating bowl for the first time, are treated to a nice view of green painted steel. Yes, it is that bad.

Then again, it isn't really that bad. Why not? Consider this:
  • Look at the cross-section, dammit! Upper deck folks will be twice as close as anything built since WWII. Translated into an A's fan's current experience, it's the difference between sitting in 317 and sitting in 326. What, you say those sections don't exist? Ummm...
  • The not-so-ultimate sacrifice. Those 10,000 upper deck fans don't sit as close if not for the sacrifice of a few lower deck patrons. I'll make a rough estimate that less than 1% of seats qualify as obstructed view - defined as those with the hitter and catcher blocked. That's about 300 seats, or about 10 seats per lower deck section, which may be overestimating things a bit. The best way to deal with this would be to never sell these as advance seats - no season tickets, no phone/web/package sales. Instead, sell them as "day of game" only seats at an appreciable discount, say 20-25%. Chances are those fans won't spend too much time in those seats anyway, as they'll migrate over to one of the many standing room areas, or if the place is far less than packed, they'll "keep someone else's seat warm."
  • Intimacy invites noise. Having fans closer to the action should make the place more naturally noisy. That effect will be counteracted by the increased number of cell phone squawking, gameplay ignoring attendees. Still, the potential's there.
  • It's cheaper to build and run. Pulling the main grandstand about 25 feet conserves nearly 1/2 acre in terms of the ballpark's footprint. That should also translate into reduced overall use of concrete and steel, plus more efficient systems from field lighting to air conditioning. Best of all, the saved space could be used for other uses, such as landscaping or ancillary buildings such as a museum or some of the village structures.
  • Ready for expansion. Should the ballpark prove so popular that an extra 3,000 seats (4-5 rows) are needed, it shouldn't be too difficult to add to the back of the upper deck. All the designers have to do is build sufficient load bearing capacity into the skeleton and devise a method for adding rows. They could even use an aluminum upper deck (Stanford Stadium) that could be quickly torn down and replaced by a larger structure.
This doesn't mean that columns are guaranteed. In fact, I haven't seen a drawing that actually shows columns. However, that column isn't in the cross-section for show, so there must be something to it.

That brings us to this week's poll question. It's a pretty simple one, and there are only three choices. The question is: What do you think about columns at Cisco Field?
  • Works for me
  • Whatever
  • They suck
I was going to use "Panther" as the first option, but I realized over the weekend that the team that's supposed to use "Panther" should be using "Rat" instead.
Last week's poll question shows an overwhelming number of fans want more than 32,000 seats. I didn't vote myself, but I'd like to see at least 35,000.

03 August 2007

Swisher Suites

Note: I had planned to post this last weekend in honor of the awakening of Nick Swisher's then-slumbering bat.

While the A's were in Anaheim last week, Lew Wolff spent an inning in the TV booth with broadcasters Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse. The exercise was a effectively a shameless, 15-minute plug for Cisco Field, with a few words for critics who've been grousing about the plan. During the discussion, Wolff alluded to Nick Swisher's interest in one of the condos that will overlook the park. While I'm sure Swish can afford a sure-to-be $1 million-plus party pad, he might want to consider looking elsewhere in the ballpark for options.

One of those options probably won't be a bunker suite, a swanky, hidden burrow underneath the seating bowl and supposedly first conceived for the Bushes at what was then The Ballpark in Arlington. I wouldn't be surprised if current veep Dick Cheney had a command center running out of Rangers Ballpark with the way that stadium ran right over public process, but I digress. Cisco Field will most certainly have at least one bunker suite and perhaps more, space permitting.

Players often get suites on a per-game or annual basis for friends and family. For the inaugural season of Qwest Field, three Seattle Seahawks
each grabbed a field-level "Red Zone" suite. At Cisco Field, a new seating option will be introduced that could prove extremely flexible: the minisuite. Wolff originally described the concept as a 4 or 6-person box with separate restrooms and other facilities. However, it's a little more than that, as you can see from the pic below.

Yes, there are four seats facing the field with a two stools on a rail and a wetbar behind them. The french doors are a nice touch, giving the boxes a very cute look. But it's what's behind the doors that makes it interesting.

As you can see, the four boxes share a common lounge area. There's a buffet, additional seating areas, flat screen TV's, even a fireplace (!). I'm sure there'll be neat Cisco-conceived technological touches. Not sure where the restrooms are.

The A's are going to offer 40 of these boxes at Cisco Field just above the field club level, 15 rows from the backstop. Supposedly they'll be sold to medium and small businesses that wouldn't normally consider getting a large 12-person suite. Minisuites should serve as a niche between club seats and large suites.

Something tells me these will really take off, and not just for the initial audience. A group of players (and their wives) may want to pool resources to get a block of four minisuites. The same could apply for various professional groups such as law firms. In this era of consumers seeking out VIP treatment and ultralounges, this concept fits extremely well. I wonder if it will end up eating into sales of other premium seating options. During the 90's, baseball purists bemoaned the emergence of suites, envisioning future stadia with virtually all seats replaced by air-conditioned, sealed boxes. The minisuite concept and its successors will give the purists more grist for the mill, that's for certain.

02 August 2007

StubHub: Official scalper of MLB

MLB Advanced Media won't do everything after all. Or at least it seems that way after MLBAM and ticket reseller StubHub partnered up on a 5-year revenue sharing agreement. StubHub, a subsidiary of eBay, is already the big player in this market with a handful of upstarts and megaseller Ticketmaster nipping at its heels. The deal isn't exclusive as some teams already have existing technology at their disposal, but that should change gradually as those agreements expire.

The secondary ticket market isn't one frequented by A's fans due to the normally plentiful supply of regularly priced and discount seats, even for walkups. As the team moves into new digs, this should change somewhat - though the A's aren't predicting constant sellouts. I personally have only bought tickets using the Giants' Double Play system once, and I liked the experience.

If you had free time to head to Detroit next Friday, you could catch the A's-Tigers tilt in a lower level suite for $2700. Or a single mezzanine seat for $26. I've seen drawings of the minisuite feature that will be introduced at Cisco Field, and I have zero doubt it'll be seriously popular, especially from a resale standpoint (if the A's allow it). But that's for tomorrow...