31 March 2009

Opinions to feed your nightmares

For the 4th and hopefully final post today, we have several opinion pieces. Let's start off with Monte Poole's feeling that Oakland fans have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray:

Selig, then, is here to take some of the heat off his buddy. With Uncle Lew playing "bad cop," Bud sees an opportunity to pose as "good cop." He is piecing together the shredded letter and handing it back to Wolff for further consideration.

"Selig's office called us (Monday) to inform us about the committee," Dellums chief of staff David Chai said Tuesday via e-mail. "In addition, Lew reached out to us and would like to set up a meeting."

In other words, what three weeks ago was perceived by Wolff as pointless has, just like that, become a priority. Wow. Is anything in sports more impressive than mighty Bud Selig swinging into action?

The problem, of course, is that this sounds better than it really is. We know where Bud stands. In general, he stands wherever he must to avoid the bright light of accountability. In regards to baseball in Oakland, he has made clear he stands against the Coliseum and against the A's moving to San Jose.

Next, we have something from the Merc's editorial page:
And while the city has a great site in mind — 14 acres near downtown's Diridon Station — the details need more work. An environmental study for a 32,000-seat stadium was done several years ago, but it did not get close public scrutiny because there was no immediate prospect of landing a team. Nor did it take into account the new plans for high-speed rail stopping at Diridon, which will add to the complexity of the area — but also to its appeal for baseball.
Finally, Mark Purdy's a bit tardy in chiming in:

But why would Selig go to all that trouble and ruffle so many feathers if, in the end, no ballpark is built in San Jose? Answer: He wouldn't.

Of course, the flip side is that the movers and shakers of San Jose and the South Bay — not just the politicos, but also business people and corporate sponsors who will pay for luxury boxes and scoreboard ads — are never going to give maximum effort and dollars toward a ballpark unless they are certain that the territorial-rights issue is moot.

In other words, a classic Catch-22. Wolff always has sought a way to unlock that catch and thread the needle — to create a negotiating window where he could promise San Jose that if voters approve a ballpark proposal, the territorial-rights issue wouldn't matter.

All this activity almost has me thinking that next week's media coverage and events will strike an anticlimactic tone in light of what's happened the last two weeks. Fool me once...

Sleep well, children.

Boxer appeals to Selig

Senator Barbara Boxer, who is an Oakland resident, wrote the commish to bolster efforts to keep the A's in Oakland. Here's the full letter for your perusal:

March 31, 2009

Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Commissioner
Major League Baseball
245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10167

Dear Commissioner Selig:

I appreciate the announcement you made yesterday that you are forming a committee to review the various proposals regarding the future of the Oakland Athletics. As your committee does its work, I urge you to do everything possible to keep the team in Oakland.

As you may know, Oakland has recently gone through some difficult times and families there deserve some good news. As someone who splits her time between Washington, DC, southern California and Oakland’s Jack London Square neighborhood, I have seen first hand that Oakland is teeming with new young families and major developments that present endless possibilities. My children learned to love baseball through the Oakland A’s and our family was so fortunate to develop that common bond. We must give a new generation of families that same chance.

Oakland is witnessing a downtown renaissance, with new residences, restaurants, art galleries and entertainment venues opening weekly. Two new office towers are in development and the Port of Oakland recently announced a private investment of close to $1 billion. Major League Baseball can play a key role in continuing this momentum by working to keep the A’s in Oakland.

Through their rich history and shared experiences, the identities of the City of Oakland and the Athletics are forever linked. For more than 40 years, the people of Oakland have backed the Athletics during good times and bad. In the 1970s, Oakland celebrated the Athletics’ glorious run of three consecutive World Series victories. And, together, the city of Oakland and the Athletics mourned the devastation caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake that took place during the team’s 1989 championship run.

Now that the team has ended its consideration of Fremont as a possible home, the time is right to renew the focus on keeping the Athletics in Oakland.

It is critical that Major League Baseball and the A’s ownership do everything possible to keep the A’s in Oakland and I stand ready to help in any way possible, including attending and setting up meetings for you and the Committee. Please do not hesitate to call me at 202-XXX-XXXX to discuss this issue.

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

No threats, no harsh words. It's the right type of letter to start. We'll see what happens beyond that.

Neukom responds

The Merc's Andrew Baggarly had a chance to ask Giants owner William Neukom about the newly formed committee.

MLB spokesperson Rich Levin told the Mercury News that territorial rights would be discussed by the commission, but Neukom said he did not believe Commissioner Bud Selig intends to challenge the Giants’ claim to the Silicon Valley.

“Read the statement,” Neukom said. “It says Major League Baseball wants to help them find a home in their territory. Alameda and Contra Costa county is their territory, full stop. And we support that and hope it’s successful.”

Neukom also believes any talk of territorial rights changing is premature at best.
Asked if he felt he had the support of other owners, Neukom said, “You’re way ahead of the state of play. The question is, and I think it’s very sensible by the commissioner, that they have territorial rights and we have territorial rights. They need a better home. That’s fine, we agree with that, we support them in that, and the commissioner is saying, `Let’s find them a home in their territory.’ We hope they will do that.”
I almost forgot how good at lawyer-speak this guy is.

Perata to run for Oakland Mayor

Chip Johnson has the scoop. Don Perata can't stands it no more, so he's throwing his hat into the ring to become the next mayor of Oakland. From an outsider's perspective, Perata would have to be considered a favorite against Dellums (if he runs again) and anyone else in the City Council.

The fascinating thing about this news is that Oakland could go from a lofty, anti-details mayor to a guy who built the most powerful political machine in the East Bay. Perata's tenure as State Senator has been filled with controversy, as a seemingly endless FBI investigation is well into its fourth year. It looks increasingly like Perata will emerge from the ordeal poorer but politically unscathed.

Would this longtime power broker be able to get a ballpark deal done in Oakland? Absolutely. His organizing and fundraising skills are legendary. Perata's critics would be quick to point out that he was one of the initiators of the deal to bring the Raiders back to Oakland, and that could make anyone leery of supporting a new ballpark plan. Of course, if you're Oakland partisan who would support Perata in any efforts to retain the A's, you're gonna have to wait until 2011 to truly get going on a deal. It was Perata who, during the Jerry Brown administration, said the mayor's support is critical to a ballpark getting built. Then he threw his political weight behind Forest City and the Uptown development was approved.

How deliciously ironic that a man who, through his actions, helped push the A's out of town, yet could end up being the only guy in Oakland who could save them from moving.

30 March 2009

Diridon South - No PG&E move required?

Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal's Katherine Conrad has an update on the Diridon South site acquisition process. Apparently redevelopment head Harry Mavrogenes and others within City Hall have been talking about squeezing a ballpark in without either moving or reconfiguring the PG&E substation on its northwest corner.

In the past, I had said that doing this would be unlikely and impractical based on a ballpark's typical footprint and size requirements. However, if turns out to be a change to which the A's are amenable, a much smaller footprint (8-acre) stadium could be placed on the northeast section. This should be doable without altering current plans for Autumn Parkway. The remaining land could be used for parking, administrative offices, and other ballpark-related uses.

Conrad's report mentions a savings of $20 million if the PG&E substation is not acquired. The savings could actually approach $50 million because the costs associated with moving the substation across Park Avenue would not be incurred. The best part is that by moving the parking facility next to the ballpark instead of across the street from it, the land south of Park Avenue could be used for a park. It's a major concession I expect to be made to get some amount of neighborhood buy-in.

Note: In a previous post I mistakenly had marked the AT&T site as "acquired." SJRA has not acquired the site but has an offer out. I don't expect this to be a problem as there are plenty of sites nearby for this type of facility to be relocated.

One more thing: the Merc's John Ryan nailed it.

MLB to create ballpark committee

The commissioner has signed off on the creation of a committee to "thoroughly analyze all of the ballpark proposals that have been made to date, the current situation in Oakland, and the prospects of obtaining a ballpark in any of the communities located in Oakland's territory." Names are named, and the table is being set:
"Lew Wolff and the Oakland ownership group and management have worked very hard to obtain a facility that will allow them to compete into the 21st Century," Commissioner Selig said. "To date they, like the two ownership groups in Oakland before them, have been unsuccessful in those efforts, despite having the significant support of their corporate partner Cisco. The time has come for a thorough analysis of why a stadium deal has not been reached. The A's cannot and will not continue indefinitely in their current situation."
Now, if you really think that this is going to help Oakland, pass the bong please. As benign as the description sounds, this is actually an official "let's delineate all the ways Oakland no longer works" committee. The blockquote above, which comes at the end of the press release, is step #1 in the committee's mission.

Key within this initiative is the appointment of former Giants executive VP Corey Busch to the committee. Busch has been in numerous advising capacities in the years since his Giants tenure, and according to the Chronicle's Susan Slusser, who broke the story, Busch may not exactly be sympathetic to their interests (he left as the Magowan group took over). In the early part of the decade, Busch served as a consultant to MLB's relocation committee (PDF), the one that eventually presided over the complicated Expos-to-DC move. He's no stranger to the process, as he worked almost tirelessly to get the Giants out of the 'Stick and into new digs in San Francisco, Santa Clara, or San Jose. Busch even worked for SF in the 70's and as a consultant to San Jose several years ago as San Jose expressed interest in bringing in a NBA franchise - and the A's - to town.

If Oakland, per its request to Bud Selig, really wants to retain the A's, they're gonna have to get started with new site proposals quickly. I'm certain that the few remaining sites identified in the HOK study aren't going to be deemed sufficient, which will only rubberstamp Lew Wolff's complaints about the City's efforts. We're about two steps from Bob DuPuy flying in to negotiate with whatever City is deemed the future home of the A's.

28 March 2009

Lew better have a thick skin

Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.
- Warren Buffett
I reference the Oracle of Omaha not to bring up his home city again, though I once spent 10 minutes there over a decade ago during a brief stop on Amtrak's California Zephyr line. Rather, it's important to keep the nation's current economic malaise in perspective. Whether the recession ends at the end of this year or next year, it's unlikely that we'll see a shovel in the ground for a ballpark anywhere in the Bay Area by then. Which means that no one has to raise any funds or issue any bonds by then. Which makes all of the media's constant allusions to the wrecked economy moot. The next time I want financial advice on a personal or governmental scale, I won't be posting to a sports columnist's Facebook wall.

Yet that won't stop the critics from hammering away. This weekend, three columns have been devoted to Lew Wolff's various foibles, from Gary Peterson, Ray Ratto, and even Huffington Post contributor Stephen Kaus. I agree that Wolff should simply STFU on much of the San Jose talk until it's time to deal in earnest. After all, that's exactly what Wolff told San Jose, so it certainly wouldn't hurt for him to heed his own advice. It's hard for me to believe that Wolff isn't stung by some of these critiques, but if he's already picked out his media cheering squad, he simply may not care. Still, not everything has to be played through the media. If that's the way he wants to play, he'd be advised to don a suit of armor.

However, these owners, these rich guys all have something you and I have far less of based on the past 9 months: the ability and means to do long-range planning. Even though Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway lost a mindboggling $11.5 billion last year, the man is by no means destitute. Neither are Lew Wolff or John Fisher. They don't have to worry about their 401k accounts dwindling to peanuts while killing their retirement plans. They don't have to worry about their employer, say a newspaper, going bankrupt, thus forcing them to figure out a different way to freeload off the gameday spread at various sporting events. They can look ahead to a couple years from now when the environment is better for big stadium plans. We all think short term because we're forced to, because that's what the circumstances dictate for us. Them? Not so much.

So could we please stop it with the economy crap? No one's building anything right now, or even a year from now. When it's time to talk turkey we can see how the economy and market respond. Until then, it's a red herring.

27 March 2009

MLB projects 5-10% attendance drop in '09

A Reuters piece projects that this season, MLB attendance will drop 5-10% from 2008. In the article is some information from Lew Wolff, which indicates how well/poorly the A's may do at the gate:

The A's, who cut ticket prices by an average of 5 percent, are at 87 percent of their targeted budget for season-ticket revenue, where normally they would have finished by now, Wolf (sic) said. The club budgeted for a 9 percent decline in attendance.

Of the paid attendance, there will be additionally high numbers of no-shows due to already prevailing factors or the economy. If the A's are way out of contention at the ASB, the expected fire sale, Holliday and all, will drive attendance down even further.

Get nervous satellite users

The Merc's John Ryan has an update on the DirecTV-CSNCA stalemate: No news is not good gnus. It's not an unfamiliar tale, as illustrated by the previously mentioned KJZZ-DirecTV tussle. Dish Network is also in the same situation. Sadly, the broadcasters and the distributors often have seen fit to turn these situations in long, draw out staring contests, pissing off customers in the process. Earlier this week, Ryan reported that Comcast may stop carrying the NFL Network after May 1. That's not such a big deal during the offseason, but as the young network continues to expand its game offerings, tensions will heat up.

Bring on a la carte programming, I say!

Lew: San Jose deserves a MLB team

I'll let the text from David Goll's SV/SJ Business Journal article speak for itself:

Lew Wolff, co-owner and managing partner of the Oakland Athletics, said Thursday San Jose should have a professional baseball franchise, but stopped short of saying his team would fill that role.

At a breakfast reception for the media at The Fairmont San Francisco hotel, which is owned by Wolff, the A's owner said he thinks the Bay Area's largest city "deserves" a Major League Baseball team.

That, folks, is news. A bunch of grousing by the chattering class? Not really news. That said, what happened to your moratorium on speaking about the ballpark situation, Lew?
Update: More articles. First, from CoCoTimes' John Simerman:
"I'm not blaming the community. Even if the market was there, we don't feel there's a physical opportunity for us," Wolff said. "The effort we put into finding a spot in Oakland was tremendous. They're still talking about sites we were studying in 2001. "... We're asking for direction from Major League Baseball. We tried in Oakland, despite the sound bites. Now we need some help."
Next, Eric Young of SF Business Times:
“We’re sort of in the hands of baseball now,” Wolff said Thursday during a breakfast meeting with reporters in San Francisco. The A’s search for a new home “is a baseball issue now more than an A’s issue… Ultimately it has to be determined by baseball, not by me.”
The Lodge works in mysterious ways. Also, Rich "Big Vinny" Lieberman appears to be upset that no one's taking his Coliseum parking lot idea seriously. CoCoTimes' Gary Peterson piles on because of Wolff's "piling on" of Oakland:

You could characterize that as willful ignorance of the economy. You could also portray it as disingenuous posturing in advance of a serious play for San Jose.

It also could be construed as piling on Oakland. For this, Wolff should be ashamed of himself, especially in the wake of the horrific slaying of four police officers that has left Oakland looking for all the feel-good it can get.

I struggled with making any mention of the tragic death of the four OPD officers, two of whom worked at the Coliseum and helped make it a far safer place than the unfair reputation it garnered. (I really didn't want the resulting comments thread to turn into yet another city bashfest.) But for Peterson to link their deaths to the business dealings of a baseball team and try to build a guilt trip - well, not even Mayor Dellums did that.

The Merc's Denis C. Theriault has the last word for the moment, including Wolff apparently shooting down any thoughts of moving to Las Vegas or Sacramento:
"If we want to stay in Northern California," Wolff said, "we don't want to get on a plane and go to another city" to attend games. "I won't name that city."
Wolff goes on to entertain a potential referendum if required in San Jose, or a sale of the team if San Jose Northern California doesn't work out.

25 March 2009

Drip drip drip

Earlier today, A's GM/minority partner Billy Beane was interviewed by the Baseball Tonight crew on a range of topics, first being the state of the ballpark chase. When asked where Lew Wolff was going next, Beane kept the party line by saying Wolff was "looking at options." Ooooookay.

If you haven't been living under a rock, you've probably heard that San Jose is the most likely next option. And though Wolff broke and then kept his promise to wait until Opening Day to talk ballparks, that hasn't stopped him from sending others to work out some other details. According to Soccer Silicon Valley founder Colin McCarthy (via BigSoccer), Keith Wolff and Michael Crowley were both at a SJ City Council session tonight to discuss last year's Airport West land deal for an Earthquakes stadium. The 75-acre former FMC site is sandwiched between SJC and SCU. Parking and additional commercial development would flank the stadium. Public transit is good here as fans would be serviced by both Caltrain and a future BART terminus if/when that extension gets built.

Since the $132 million deal was negotiated, several things have changed. The world, for starters. Real estate values have dropped, and while a drop in median home prices doesn't translate into a similarly precipitous drop for commercial real estate, it's possible that the fair market value for the land is substantially below the initial price. With that in mind, Lew's seen fit to try to get a better price for the land. I've actually heard this has been a mutually agreeable situation on both sides for some time, so this isn't surprising.

In addition, the economic downturn has made the Edenvale/iStar housing development a poor financing route at this time. For now it's not being pursued, and the Earthquakes' planned stadium has been downsized in accordance with the lower than previously expected funds. The new stadium is expected to seat 15,000 and may have few luxury suites. Design-wise, it may also be difficult to expand, though I don't think this is as much of a problem as some fans think.

Now if you've ever had the feeling that in buying the Earthquakes, Lew got a nice back door into San Jose City Hall, you're not alone. I've felt that from the beginning. Yes, the entire ownership group may be nouveau soccer fans, but that only makes their work more enjoyable, I suppose. What we're seeing now are precedents that will set the tone for negotiations with the A's side of the business when the time comes. Consider that acquisition of both the Airport West and Diridon South sites started in 2005-06. A fair market 2009 land valuation would be applicable to both sites. Since Diridon South is worth more per acre and was "slated for housing," the potential discount could be greater than at Airport West. These days, every dollar saved is important, especially if the savings could be used elsewhere - say a relocated PG&E substation.

----------Begin speculative section of post----------

All this Earthquakes/A's talk allows me to segue into what I think the overall strategy is. I see this as a three-pronged, multiphase project in which some of the key steps have already been completed. Here's an informal timeline (per Dan's request, separated by team/sport activity - green for A's, blue for Quakes):
  • April 2005 - Wolff/Fisher group assumes ownership of the A's, Beane/Crowley given extensions and small slices of team
  • August 2005 - Coliseum North plan is unveiled
  • January 2006 - Oakland officials admit that Coliseum North plan is going nowhere
  • February 2007 - San Jose publishes Ballpark Draft EIR
  • May 2006 - Wolff/Fisher group and MLS announce plan to resurrect Earthquakes
  • November 2006 - Fremont plan is unveiled
  • March 2007 - San Jose certifies EIR
  • April 2007 - Talks between SJSU and Quakes break down
  • October 2007 - Earthquakes and SCU announce deal for renovated Buck Shaw Stadium
  • 2007-08 - A's and Fremont continue to work on Cisco Field/baseball village concept
  • July 2008 - Earthquakes and San Jose agree on terms for Airport West property
  • November 2008 - Santa Clara County Measure B passes
  • January 2009 - Sharks agree to purchase 15% of Quakes
  • February 2009 - Fremont deal falls apart
  • March 2009 - Lew quashes any hopes of staying in Oakland
Notice how all of these events had a tendency to dribble out over time? I don't think that's a coincidence. Part of that can be attributed to process (EIR, land acquisitions) and part of it appears to be by design. Assuming that Lew & Co. can navigate all of the remaining obstacles - and there are plenty - this is how I think all of this works out:
  • Quakes play at new stadium starting in 2010-11.
  • A's play at Diridon South ballpark in 2014.
  • SVS+E, owners of the Sharks and operators of HP Pavilion, make a deal with the A's/Quakes to operate both of their venues. Inherent in any deal is the understanding that neither stadium competes for certain events with the Pavilion. (I think this is one reason why no stage is planned for the Quakes' stadium.)
  • A's/Quakes work with San Jose to get development rights to the 8 blocks between Pavilion and ballpark. A's promise to build enough parking to handle demand at all venues, for transit use, etc.
As with the previous timeline, there is some sequencing of events. By building the Quakes' stadium first and the ballpark second, general contractor services can be bid in a "packaged deal." Such an extended development schedule would be amenable to contractors, labor, and the sports franchises. All of that would be completed in time for San Jose and the Sharks to figure what major renovations needed to be done for HP Pavilion or whatever it's called at that point. No wonder the City is trying to raise its Redevelopment Agency's debt ceiling from $7.5 billion to $15 billion.

The SJ Giants would be moved and its owners compensated (I'm thinking North Bay). That would leave the Quakes as the less expensive, family-friendly option and the A's as the bigger ticket with more in-house diversions.

23 March 2009

BREAKING: Miami-Dade County passes ballpark proposal

The proceedings started almost 10 hours ago. After a full day's worth of explanations and grandstanding (I didn't tune in until an hour ago), it appears that the Marlins ballpark plan at the Orange Bowl passed with a 10-3 9-4 vote. I say "appears" because the webcast was so prone to breaking up and losing audio that I can't be absolutely sure. Whether it passed 9-4 or 10-3 doesn't matter, 9 votes were needed and they got it. County officials could only say that the plan "shouldn't involve general funds" instead of guaranteeing it.

Insofar as the A's are concerned, the only indirect effect is that by July 1 the Marlins can be scrubbed off the potential contraction list. As we know, it takes two to dance the contraction tango.

Update: Story from Sun-Sentinel reporter Sarah Talalay's ongoing blog about the Marlins ballpark travails.

A different kind of dystopia

I'd like for you, gentle reader, to read the line below out loud for maximum effect:
San Francisco Athletics
No, this is not about Lew Wolff changing the name of the team in a brazen LAAoA way. It's about the team actually moving to San Francisco, which, had one particular event transpired with a different outcome, is a more likely scenario than any scribe has really deigned to write about.

To understand this, take a trip in the wayback machine to the summer of 1992. It was the last weeks before the San Jose election which would eventually deal Giants owner Bob Lurie a golden sombrero in the stadium-hunting game. San Jose mayor Susan Hammer pushed hard for a 2% utility tax hike in the city to help fund a ballpark for the Giants. Lurie asked MLB and A's owner Walter Haas, Jr. for territorial rights to Santa Clara County, which were up for "annexation." He got the T-rights, which at the time were granted based on the team's possible move south. While Lurie saw San Jose as an opportunity to keep the Giants in the Bay Area while not dealing with the difficult political climate in San Francisco, Haas saw SF and the entire North Bay opening up to him. Win-win, right?

Of course, Lurie did get the golden sombrero, losing 55%-45%, and his attentions quickly turned towards selling the team to Tampa-St. Petersburg interests. Only a Herculean effort among SF political, business, and civic leaders, coupled with some nefarious doings within MLB, kept the team from moving. A new group headed by Safeway CEO Peter Magowan swooped in to save the Giants from moving east, just as Lurie himself saved them from moving to Toronto in 1976. Magowan, a New York transplant and lifelong Giants fan, brought in Barry Bonds and came up with a plan to build a stadium without public money. Haas passed away in 1995, coinciding with the Raiders' return to ruin the Coliseum, and the rest is history.

Had the San Jose ballot initiative passed that summer, the Bay Area baseball landscape would have looked quite different. The Giants would maintain their rules-based territorial hegemony over the region, despite their being located in the southernmost city by 1995. The A's were experiencing their own salad days as they had the highest payroll in baseball in 1991. It would be a few years before the changing economic model caught up to the A's, though Haas was prescient enough to milk as much out of the old model as he could.

Fast forward to 1995. The Giants would have undoubtedly gotten sellouts for at least a few years in their new suburban digs. Oakland would have profited for a time from the Giants being less accessible to SF/Peninsula/North Bay fans, because the San Jose Giants' ballpark was not close to Caltrain. San Francisco would've been left without a baseball team for at least the forseeable future.

Or would it? Steve Schott immediately cried foul upon buying the A's when he saw the Coliseum renovation plans. Any new ownership group would have, including the oft-discussed and low-money Dolich/Piccinini group. Schott continued to whine throughout the rest of his ownership tenure. He'd still want a fancy new ballpark just like most other teams. Schott would still have issues with territorial rights, but this time he'd have an embarrassed SF political base to potentially exploit. Then-mayor Frank Jordan lobbied hard to keep the Giants in town after the San Jose deal fell apart. If it had succeeded, there's no reason to think Jordan wouldn't have worked just as hard to bring a team to town. If not Jordan, then his successor, Willie Brown.

Now think about how this would have played out. You'd have an ego-bruised SF, a soon-to-be chastened Oakland (for the Raiders debacle), and an owner in a position to take advantage of the situation. It's not hard to see SF interests going hard after baseball's antitrust exemption in an attempt to strip the city away from the T-rights of the team that abandoned them. Oakland and Alameda County would've been paralyzed from legal wrangling with the Raiders. By 2000, the climate would've been right for the A's to look for a new permanent home across the bay. SF partisans would use the same economic arguments the SJ partisans now use. It could've even escalated into a bidding war if Oakland were interested, further increasing the likelihood of a publicly-funded ballpark for the A's.

Then again, Jerry Brown was in his second year as Oakland mayor. It would be another three years before he fired City Manager Robert Bobb, who was the administration's biggest advocate for an urban Oakland ballpark. Brown, who had historically hung out in more SF-based circles than Oakland-based circles, wasn't going to lift a finger to keep the A's in town. The path would've been cleared for the A's own exodus, less than a decade after the Giants, to a new home 10 miles away from the old home. Brown probably would've gotten a pat on the back from his SF friends. A transparently moneymaking venture, the move would've been under the guise of "keeping the team in the Bay Area."

So there you have it. In this alternate reality, the net result is paradoxically, ironically similar. The A's leave Oakland, though under completely different circumstances than what has been pitched the last decade.

20 March 2009

Let's build two

First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price? - Billionaire S.R. Hadden in the film "Contact"
In the past, Lew Wolff defended the now-dead move to Fremont as staying within the market, claiming "We're not going to Omaha." Funny that he brought up Omaha, as area fathers there are not merely trying to build one, but count 'em, two ballparks.

Omaha, which I'm sure Wolff referenced as a fill-in-the-blank remote location, is home to the Royals' AAA affiliate, the Omaha Royals. The team currently plays in Rosenblatt Stadium, which is better known as the long time home of the College World Series.

Last year, the NCAA put the squeeze on Omaha by promising to keep the CWS in town only if a new, updated ballpark were built. The squeeze worked, and groundbreaking occurred a couple of months ago on a downtown plot near Qwest Center. Currently unnamed, the ballpark is slated for completion in 2011 and will cost $140 million.
You might think the AAA Royals would jump at a chance to live in an updated home, but it turns out that the sleek, new, 24,000-seat ballpark is too big for their taste. The Royals' attentions
turned towards suburban Sarpy County, where a 6,000-seat, $26 million ballpark may be built.

Net result? Two mostly publicly funded ballparks, totalling $166 million. One will be the largest non-MLB ballpark in the country, yet it will only be in use for about 10 days and 15 games per year. The other is a much more modest ballpark, with less capacity than many spring training venues. Add that to the publicly funded Qwest Center, and you have $457 million in venues with only one professional tenant among them. Well, at least the Qwest Center doubles as a convention center. Omaha, clearly the anchor of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro, is about the size of Oakland. What makes this even more amazing is that the metro itself is smaller than San Jose.

18 March 2009

Guidelines for commenters

This was cribbed from the Christian Science Monitor:

Tip: Do not write a novel. Keep it short. We will not publish lengthy comments. Come up with your own statements. This is not a place to cut and paste an email you received. If we recognize it as such, we won't post it.

Please do not post any comments that are commercial in nature or that violate copyrights.

Finally, we will not publish any comments that we regard as obscene, defamatory, or intended to incite violence.

I've generally moderated comments with guidelines similar to those above. Now that they've been published so clearly for a loftier publication, I feel I can at least apply those guidelines formally.

Winter/Spring 2009 Progress Report

It's a "quiet period," so you know what that means. It's time for the seasonal ballpark progress report.

First up, the home team. All of the indicators have been reset back to zero, with the exception of funding. Cisco's continued pledge to provide naming rights for a new ballpark in the Bay Area is the one factor here. One thing we don't know is whether the substance of the naming rights agreement will change as the site changes from Fremont to somewhere else. The deal between the A's and Cisco included a real estate component, and while Lew Wolff maintains interest in the Fremont land for future development, that component may be worth less than when the deal was originally struck.

San Jose is just getting started on much of the political stuff. Yes, the initial EIR is done, but I won't nudge the Political Process indicator over until an updated EIR is certified. In addition, Site Acquisition won't be moved until both the A's and the City come to terms on the Diridon South site or an alternative.

Note: Good reading can be found in articles by Glenn Dickey and former NY Times baseball writer Murray Chass.

A crucial vote by the Miami city commission is scheduled for tomorrow. The last vote was deadlocked, as one of the commissioners was on maternity leave and the other four could not come to an agreement on certain financial terms and last minute requests. In the last week there's been talk of a bill to make all publicly funded venues subject to a referendum. There's also been a deal to guarantee a percentage of construction contracts to black contractors that was completed then rescinded. Last month's drama-filled session was no snoozefest, so tomorrow's vote might force me to stream it alongside tourney coverage. This vote won't be the end of the line, though, as Miami-Dade County has its own commission that needs to vote on the deal next week. Update 3/19 11:30 AM: Miami City Commission has passed the ballpark plan 3-2, after a mountain of discussion large enough to kill my tourney buzz.

I've added Tampa Bay to the report, as they've been stepping up their efforts to leave Tropicana Field sooner than later. The plan proposed last year, which would have converted tiny Al Lang Field into a major league facility in downtown St. Pete, was scrapped in favor of something less polarizing. Now they are looking north along the I-275 corridor for vacant land, ancillary development, and better access to fans in Tampa. The Rays, like the A's, have a long way to go. Unlike the A's, the Rays' lease at the Trop runs through the 2027 season.

Heavy lifting for the Twins has been already been done. They've gotten through a contentious battle over public financing (sales tax hike without a referendum), and everything is essentially built. The only remaining issue is a reconfiguration of the garbage burning facility across the street, to keep the stench that wafts over when the doors open from violating the sensitivities and appetites of fans who might want a hot dog or nachos.

Talk of Citigroup pulling back on its 20 year, $400 million naming rights deal with the Mets has died down as the feds have focused more on the budget and now, AIG. It could come up again in the future. Other than that, they're good to go.

The pinstripers got a $105 million loan to cover the remaining construction costs at the new palace of opulence in the Bronx. Area residents are still waiting for NY to complete the public parks that were promised.

Another edition will come in May, as the San Jose thing starts to shake out.

17 March 2009

I smell a soap opera coming

Update 3/17 8:30 AM: Chip Johnson rips both City of Oakland and Wolff, suggests keeping team colors and history in Oakland.

Update 3/16 10:30 PM: Wolff apologizes, acknowledges season ticket sales are down.

Or rather, the soap opera's already here. Between the
gamesmanship displayed by two somewhat grumpy old men over the weekend and reporters trying to figure out what the state of territorial rights is, there is no shortage of drama. That's great for the blog as it gives me something to write about, but frankly it's getting a bit tiresome. Not the blog, it's the writing about the drama that's tiresome. So you'll have to forgive me if for the rest of the blog's indeterminate life, I don't write about every minor trial and tribulation. There will be major events and major issues to discuss. The stuff that happened the last few days? It doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Take Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. Some here and in the media have baselessly speculated about Lew Wolff's future as A's managing partner. What's more likely is that in 18 months, Dellums will be gearing up to get out of Dodge. 6 weeks ago, Dellums' approval rating hovered at a W-like 25%, with a 60% disapproval rate. That's probably eked up a bit thanks to recent news about lower crime rates, but he can't get rid of the stink from his first 18 months on the job that easily. Dellums hasn't said anything about running for a second term, and it would appear that a bag of rocks could defeat him at this point. It's more likely that the usual council suspects (IDLF, Nadel, Brunner) will be climbing over each other for the brass ring.

Just 3 months before Dellums leaves office, the A's current lease will expire, and the team will be on a year-to-year lease through 2013. Wolff's statement that Oakland was done effectively removes Dellums and the City Council from the process thanks to its timing. It's callous, conniving, and quite final. In 2005, Wolff put out the Coliseum North plan, set his own clock to complete the deal, and ran out the clock before moving on to Fremont. The next two years will be spent running out the clock again. He managed to get a nice piece of insurance in the year-to-year lease extension, in case of a rainy day (or several hundred). Wolff has no reason to leave his perch when he can turn the corner in 2 years while setting his sights on his ultimate goal. If Wolff failed in his next endeavor and was forced to go back to Oakland, it's likely that neither he nor Dellums would be around to make the deal. It would be up to their successors to repair the relationship.

Going back to T-rights, the Chronicle's Giants beat writer Henry Schulman asked Larry Baer, who said "From what we could tell, there is no change in (Selig's) position." That's exactly how I expect it to be for some time to come. That's why Wolff asked San Jose pols to tone down their enthusiasm. If he had not intervened, at some point someone was going to ask MLB directly about T-rights, and whether they asked nicely or aggressively, it wasn't going to curry favor with the Lodge. T-rights, whether stadium or broadcast, is MLB's leverage over any city or market. There's no point in asking unless you come to them unless you're ready to talk turkey. San Jose is in no position to do that yet.

Threats from legislators about removing the antitrust exemption would be misplaced. The exemption, which allows MLB to wield its iron fist over franchise movement, has kept the team in Oakland. If it didn't exist, the A's might already be somewhere else. If it were removed, San Jose would have no restrictions against teams moving there, and that would make Wolff's job easier. I'd love to see the exemption killed, but only because of the right motivations and principles, not something as misguided as what Dellums is considering.

It's going to be a long slog for any ballpark effort for the next 1-2 years. Let's not get distracted by the small stuff.

15 March 2009

Dellums: I'm going to Congress

Update: Matier and Ross speculate further.

I do believe Ron Dellums just said, "
IT'S ON." We'll see if he's going to bring it.

Oakland's mayor indicated that he will seek congressional help in an effort to keep the A's in town. Immediately, that means Barbara Lee, Dellums' protege and successor in the House of Representatives. What strategies could Dellums/Lee have at their disposal? Let's take a look:
  • A challenge to the antitrust exemption. Not sure how that would actually help Oakland, as MLB's use of the exemption is actually keeping Lew Wolff from moving to San Jose. Long term, it could help bring a third team to the Bay Area whether it's in San Jose or Oakland, but MLB would still have to be a willing partner in such an endeavor. A move like this would also be incredibly expensive and it's unclear where the money for a legal challenge would come from.
  • Suing the A's. I'm not a legal expert and I don't know the details of the lease, but I could see where Oakland could consider taking legal action against the team for misrepresenting their intentions when the last extension was signed. Problem is, I think this was already covered by the lease terms containing a penalty if the A's were to leave the Coliseum early for a new home outside Alameda County.
  • Dellums/Lee create a coalition to broker a regional deal. A city-led effort of the kind mentioned in Thursday's letter sounds good, but in the end Oakland still needs to leverage greater regional resources and business interests to put together something that Wolff might be interested in. We'll see if that's what happens, and more importantly, if Wolff has interest.
So much for a quiet period. Readers, do you have any ideas?

14 March 2009

KJ wants the A's

Last night, the office of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson released a statement confirming KJ's interest in bringing the A's to Sactown. The catch? He's serious only if the A's are too:
"Sacramento will only pursue a team like the A's if the A's are serious and not looking to negotiate one community off of another and we can develop a stadium facility that will represent a true economic benefit to Sacramento," Johnson said.

Johnson said he would be making clear "the process and principles that we will adhere to when it comes to considering a Major League Baseball team" in the coming weeks.
Now we don't know what KJ's strategy is. Is he looking at an expanded Raley Field, which is not in Sacramento? Or is he hitching his wagon to a ballpark at Cal Expo to replace the arena if the Kings bolt? The latter sounds like a more palatable scenario for Lew Wolff and John Fisher.

The "process and principles" aspect piques my interest. It's one thing when you're San Jose and you don't have to contend with another team's interest in finite resources. It's another when the Kings and A's would most definitely compete with each other for political will, funding, etc. Would discussions start only after the Kings decided to leave? How long would that take?

Mayor KJ also touts his city's positives...
"A team in Sacramento would represent a home run for Major League Baseball,” Johnson said, though he really shouldn’t have. “Because Sacramento is a great sports town with a strong market in terms of fan interest, corporate support and the size of our media market."
...while conveniently excluding any mention of the financial and social calamity that is growing under his nose - and in between downtown and Cal Expo to boot.

Now that's an attractive adjacent neighborhood for developers. At least KJ got the fan interest part right. Corporate support and media market? Not so much.

13 March 2009

Sorry Oakland, not interested

I take the dog for a long walk on a day off and something big happens. Go figure.

Credit to those who felt yesterday's letter from Oakland was a thinly veiled piece of CYA - that's exactly what it will end up being. I certainly didn't expect a response this quickly, but it happened and it was forceful. Any hope of retaining the team in the city that has been home for 40 years is all but lost. It's lame duck time.

You'd have to be in denial - or at least Ray Ratto - not to see what the next step is when reading the following paragraph from today's official press release from Lew Wolff:
We understand the facility continues to cost the city of Oakland and Alameda County millions of lost dollars per year. Sadly, the business and corporate base of the city of Oakland was very limited when we purchased the team and has eroded since. Our attendance and low number of season ticket holders (both one of the lowest in Major league Baseball) also continues to decline; even when our on-field performance produced play-off participation.
It's all about San Jose, which amazingly, Ratto does not mention in his blog post. It's about corporate dollars, suites and minisuites, club seats and advertising and sponsorships. It's about the demise of the classic, egalitarian form of fandom.

To make things completely cold and brutal, Wolff says this:
We recognize conditions have not changed. Letters to Major league Baseball offer nothing new or of any real substance. Outside stimulation to have us continue to play in an aging and shared facility may generate press and "sound-bite" opportunities, but do not provide any tangible alterations in the circumstances we face.
In other words, "Don't go over my head. I'm still the man here." Wolff goes on to thank Mayor Dellums and East Bay developer Sherman Balch, plus County Supes Gail Steele and Scott Haggerty, both of whom supported the Fremont plan. Not thanked are the other signatory to yesterday's letter, Jane Brunner, or previous Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. Hmmm, if I were Oakland I wouldn't expect much of a reply from the commish anytime soon.

I look forward to all of the namecalling that will commence shortly.

12 March 2009

Oakland reaches out to Selig

I have to say that I've found Oakland's letter to Bud Selig the most fascinating news of the week.
In it, Mayor Ron Dellums and Council President Jane Brunner implore Commissioner Bud Selig to appoint a point person to work with the City. They cite Oakland's great history of support for the A's. The letter evens ends with a request to renew urban America:
In these troubling times when everyone is putting their shoulder to the common wheel and President Barack Obama has called on all of us to put the public's interest first, I believe a professional sports league like MLB has an obligation to do the right thing and stand by a city and its people who have historically stood alongside baseball.
It's a bit of a stretch, but it's well phrased. Neither Oakland nor San Jose need baseball to be relevant or vital. Both want it to either maintain or raise their profiles (as did Fremont, or at least its pols).

The more interesting bit is on the first page:
For our efforts to succeed, though, we will need a commitment from MLB and the A's that they will work earnestly with us to design a ballpark plan that will be good for Oakland, good for the team, and good for baseball.

We are naming an A's Stadium Committee comprised of some of Oakland's leading civic leaders who will be tasked by the City to work hand-in-hand with you, the Fisher Family and Mr. Lew Wolff to develop a stadium in Oakland.

In particular, we graciously request that you name a point person from the Commissioner's Office who will work with the city to develop a ballpark strategy that will keep the A's in Oakland.
Those three paragraphs tell us everything we need to know about how Oakland wants to proceed. They want a commitment from MLB and they want to work directly with MLB. That tells me they're going over Lew Wolff's head. They even mention the Fishers, even though John Fisher has generally receded into the background.

Is this really the way they want to do this? Has the relationship with Lew deteriorated to the point of asking him not to be the lead negotiator? I understand how the Miami situation came about, as Jeff Loria and David Samson kept making demands of Miami and Dade County while entertaining an exodus. The end result was that Bob DuPuy came in, told them to stand in the corner, and brokered the deal, which also appears to be on the precipice thanks to hotel tax revenue shortfalls.

I would think that the best way to write a formal letter like this to Wolff. Next, on Opening Day, make a full court press on Wolff and the Fishers. If they don't respond, then you make a plea to Selig. No city is going to put up money for a ballpark these days. If you're aiming to have the A's invest in the community $500 million in a ballpark and possibly hundreds of millions more for ancillary development that your city wants, then sell them on it, don't try to guilt them into it. There's no rush to make a deal at the present and certainly no need to go over people's heads at this point.

Wow, just wow.

11 March 2009

Mark it down: April 7th

San José's Rules Committee just passed a motion to have the A's on the April 7 Council meeting agenda. The timing, as pointed out here and by Michael Mulcahy just a few minutes ago, coincides with the start of the regular season. The preliminary steps will look like this:
The Agenda language for a joint City and Redevelopment Agency item should read as follows:
1. Discuss actions that San José can take to prepare for the possibility that Major League Baseball (MLB) makes a decision allowing the Athletics (A’s) to consider relocating to San José.
2. Direct staff to prepare and return to Council with a Resolution indicating the desire of the City of San José to support the A’s if MLB favors a relocation of the A’s to San José; and, indicating that the City is willing to accommodate the A’s on the site at Park Avenue and Autumn/Montgomery Streets.
3. Direct a team of City and Redevelopment Agency staff to assess what steps may need to be taken to prepare the site at Park Avenue and Autumn/Montgomery Streets for potential consideration, and develop an outreach program to neighboring residents and businesses.
4. Direct staff to provide a status report and recommendations for additional actions that may need Council authorization to the Community and Economic Development Committee within two months of the April 7th Council hearing followed by a discussion at the City Council.
So there's your site and your initial timetable, including a report from CEDC due within two months of the 4/7 session.

The possibility of a public poll has been raised to gauge interest. Vice Mayor Judy Chirco wants no part in the City paying for such a poll, saying that it would be funded with OPM (other people's money). It appears that the poll would be well within the scope of the A's to San Jose Study Group's mission. Mulcahy mentioned that the group has already raised money, though he did not say which specific activities the money would be used for.

I wonder if the Study Group would also fund an economic impact report of the type Mark Purdy wanted last week. After all, outside of MLB, the Study Group would be well equipped as it has access to dozens, if not hundreds, of Valley business leaders. Plus, noted sports economist Roger Noll is up the street at Stanford for consulting purposes - though they may not eventually like what he has to say.

Mayor Chuck Reed, who gave San Jose a better than 50/50 chance to land the A's (I really hate enumerating odds in this manner) re-emphasized the one voice mantra he's been giving, going so far as to say this about territorial rights:
It's up to Mr. Wolff because it's truly a case of "inside baseball." It requires him to take the lead. There may be a role for us to play. He'll happily let us know if there is.
Several speakers were on hand. Most were positive, saying that they fully support the effort as long as no public money is involved. One speaker felt a better deal could be had at the Fairgrounds. Two members of the Shasta/Hanchett neighborhood voiced their disapproval and trepidation, especially when considering the combined effects from construction of a ballpark, underground BART, and overhead HSR. A member of the San José Downtown Residents Association spoke in support of the ballpark. So we may have the Shasta/Hanchett folks on side and the Downtown Residents on the other.

I believe the quiet period starts now at lasts through Opening Day. I'll have posts every few days, probably nothing major.

10 March 2009

SJ Rules Committee meeting + Study Group

San Jose's Rules and Open Government Committee will have its weekly meeting on Wednesday, March 11, at 2 p.m. The meeting will be held in City Hall's wing, rooms W118/119. The A's portion of the agenda is as follows:
10.1a A’s Stadium in San Jose (Campos/Pyle/Herrera)
Recommendation: (1) Add an agenda item to the March 24, 2009 City Council meeting to discuss the City’s strategy for pursuing negotiations with the A’s and Major League Baseball. (2) Direct the City Manager and the Chief Development Officer to lead the discussions with the A’s organization and Mayor League Baseball. (3) Direct staff to return to the Community and Economic Development Committee every two months with updates on status of the discussion, providing ample opportunity for residents to receive regular reports on the project and express concerns as it develops.

10.1b A’s Stadium in San José. (Mayor Reed)
Recommendation: That the Rules and Open Government Committee place this matter on the agenda for the April 7, 2009 evening Council meeting to allow for maximum public participation in the discussion.
Approval of these items is expected to be little more than a formality, as it will pave the way for future discussions. Note the last date, April 7, which is just after Opening Day. I will be in attendance tomorrow and all subsequent City Council sessions.

Not coincidentally, a public/private consortium called the A's to San José Study Group "have convened to discuss the political feasibility of bringing the Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball team to San Jose." The group will be co-chaired by former mayor Susan Hammer and recent mayoral candidate Michael Mulcahy. Hammer presided over the construction and opening of the San Jose Arena (now HP Pavilion) during her anti-flamboyant tenure during the 90's. Mulcahy, who was came in a distant 5th in the 2006 primary, was a pro-baseball guy from the beginning. The list of participants reads like a Baseball San Jose reunion. Unlike the last Baseball San Jose effort, which was old school/pound-the-pavement, the new one is decidedly electronic, including an almost 500-person strong Facebook group (I am not in the group).

09 March 2009

Indulge the fantasy

It's hard not to remember the late 80's fondly as an A's fan. Rickey in left, the Bash Brothers, Stew dominating Clemens, multiple ROY wins, Eck, the list goes on and on. While the team only went 1 for 3 in the World Series, the idea that the A's were at the top of the heap was inescapable.

We got a glimpse of what the Coliseum looked like when it brought in 35,000 a night. Now, that usually left 14,219 seats available, but who was really counting? Not the Haas family, evidently. The place was vibrant, pleasant, and most importantly, the team won. Who could complain? Not me. I was just entering the giant bag of awkwardness that was high school, and the A's were a great refuge from the social mores of adolescence.

In that context, it's difficult to dissociate the Coliseum, forlorn for much of its life, from the team. The team provided the stadium a halo effect, much the same way a new model sports car will improve the perception of a car brand or dealership. The Coliseum was at times mentioned in the same breath as Dodger Stadium, a comparison which now sounds ludicrous but was fairly apt back then. Of course, the halo effect is never permanent, and nearly all vestiges of those salad days disappeared when the Raiders came back to town.

I don't fault the end product, Mt. Davis, as much as I blame the circumstances that led to its construction. Unlike the 60's-80's era of multipurpose stadia, modern baseball and football diverged significantly in how the two leagues wanted their venues designed. Let's look at how the two sports diverged:
  • Starting with New Comiskey Park, new ballparks capped their capacities at 50,000, eventually downsizing to 40-45,000 as the comfort zone. Football stadia hold crowds of 60-70,000, with some designed to hold thousands more for college bowl games or the Super Bowl.
  • With few exceptions, ballparks had 40-60 suites. Football stadia had at least double that number. Texas Stadium and FedEx Field each contain an astounding 300 suites. That creates more verticality and reduces intimacy.
  • Football stadia generally eschewed the use of cantilevered or overhanging seating decks. In ballparks, cantilevering is encouraged, though short of the point at which columns would be needed.
  • The first row of a ballpark's lower deck is usually no more than 1 foot above the field. In football, it's customary to be 6-10 feet above the field when in the first row.
When considering this divergence, it's easy to see how Mt. Davis was constructed. Function ruled over form, with the mission being to stuff as many seats and suites into a small space as possible. The east side wing now sits as a massive concrete albatross, costing Oakland and Alameda County a combined $22 million in debt service and operating costs per year for the next 18 years. It's fine to want the thing demolished, but if one or both teams are going stay there, someone has to pay for it. The meager lease the A's pay hardly makes a dent. However, you're not going to get more out of the A's in the next lease than what you're getting now. Who knows what an extension for the Raiders might look like? The Coliseum JPA is truly stuck. They have to justify the debt service somehow, yet it only costs them more to keep the two tenants in the Coliseum. How ironic that one of the Coliseum's tenants has a white elephant as a mascot.

Still, let's posit that the Raiders do actually leave after the 2010 season, leaving the A's in the Coliseum for at least 3 years. Let's go with the idea of demolishing Mt. Davis, then remaking the outfield to look like the old Coliseum. There are several improvements that could be made cheaply that would make the old girl a better experience for fans. The changes wouldn't bring it up to par with a modern ballpark, but that's not the point. It's an interim step until the A's and Oakland/Alameda County figure something else out, whatever that is.
  • Get rid of the fences and concrete barriers. These "spite fences," erected when the Raiders moved back in, are the antithesis of fan friendliness. They prevent views of the field from the concourse and limit sunlight from filtering in. The barriers have managed to make the concourse more drab and claustrophobic than it was originally.
  • Remove the last 4 rows of the lower level. By removing these rows, the lower concourse can be expanded 11 feet all around (with the exception of the stairwells). Circulation would be improved. New standing room areas can be introduced, as well as new ADA wheelchair locations, which would be properly elevated above the row of seats in front of them. Net loss of 2,000 seats.
  • Remove the last 3 rows of the plaza level. If you've ever sat in these seats, you know what I mean. You're at eye level with the overhang. You half expect bats to hang from the ceiling. The wind whips through, making things uncomfortable. The seats themselves aren't the most accessible because you have to contend with the stairs leading to the upper deck. This change only affects the sections down the foul lines, because of suites and the West Side Club. Net loss of 1,000 seats.
  • Tear off the tarps and remove the first three rows of the view level. The seats themselves are useless as long as the first row is used for circulation. For years, the A's wouldn't sell many of these seats until the seats above them were sold because of this problem. Instead, convert some of these rows into group or party areas. Cordon them off the way the East Side sections are separated, and the circulation problem goes away. I've always thought it would be cool to have a bunch of recliners at the front of section 317. Net loss of 1,400 seats.
  • Bring back the bleachers, iceplant, and monuments.
  • Handrails, please. The view and plaza levels are not particularly steep compared to other stadia, but they could still use handrails, especially for those who've had a few either in or out of the ballpark.
  • Upgrade the restrooms. This means new fixtures and the removal of troughs. An additional women's restroom may be needed to properly address potty parity.
  • Reduce the number of suites by expanding them. It doesn't solve the problem of not having an exclusive concourse. However, reducing inventory introduces scarcity, plus the suites can be redone in a more attractive way by including bathrooms and increasing space inside each suite. Net loss of 20 suites.
  • Move the Stomper Fun Zone to the outfield. Yes, it reeks of Coke bottle slides and gigantic gloves, but it's a way to spiff up the look of the park. It advertises how family friendly the place is. Plus it's not tucked into some out-of-the-way location as the current Fun Zone is. May reduce bleacher capacity a several hundred seats.
  • Combine the two DiamondVision screens. They're old and obsolete, but if no one wants to pony up $5-10 million for a new LED board, combining the two screens would make for a decent sized screen. Or if they only used one, the other could be used for parts.
New capacity would be 44,500, down from the pre-Mt. Davis capacity of 49,219. Again, it doesn't solve all of the other problems the A's have with the stadium. It does create a more fan-friendly, intimate atmosphere, with needed upgrades to several locations within the Coliseum. I figure these modifications would cost $25 million, including the demolition and rebuilding of the outfield. I may be underestimating the cost, and I have no idea how it would be paid for. The Raiders could easily destroy the fantasy of so many A's fans by signing an extension at the Coliseum, which contrary to popular belief, is what they were seeking when they settled with the JPA over three years ago.

06 March 2009

How to expand a minor league ballpark

I'll start off with an excerpt of a post on the SkyscraperPage forum:

In response to your question regarding Raley Field, it was not built expressly to be easily expanded in the future. The stadium was designed specifically for its current tenant, Triple-A Baseball, and all of the comfort and intimacy that makes Triple-A Baseball so successful. That said, in the unlikely case that we would want to expand the ballpark to accommodate a larger capacity, the stadium would need significant adjustments but likely not need to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch.

I hope this helps. Take care, have a great holiday season and go River Cats!

Gabe Ross
Assistant GM, Director of Media Relations
Sacramento River Cats Baseball Club
"...not built expressly to be easily expanded in the future." So you can't simply slap an upper deck on top of Raley Field and then call it a day? Imagine that.

The operative question regarding Raley Field isn't, "Can it be expanded?" but rather "How expensive will it be to expand?" Any stadium, as long as there is space, can be expanded, whether it's a ballpark, football or soccer stadium (this means you, Quakes fans). The issue is whether or not it's cost effective to do so. In the last post about a Mt. Davis-oriented Coliseum remodel, I mentioned that $250 million has to be the baseline or minimum cost because that's how much is being spent on renovations to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Expansion could cost more, it most certainly won't cost less.

Raley Field was planned with the idea that it could eventually hold a major league team, and in an arguably easy manner to boot. What happened from conception to construction to change this?

Blame it on the rain

In Fall 1999/Winter 2000, Northern California was deluged with incredible amounts of rainfall. Raley Field had a short 9-month construction period, and the rain put the schedule severely in jeopardy. In addition, the team and West Sacramento wanted to adhere to a $40 million budget, which doesn't sound like much in terms of ballparks but at the time made Raley Field one of the most expensive minor league ballparks in history. Eventually, the ballpark opened over a month into the 2000 season. Coincidentally, the River Cats were forced to play home games at the Coliseum to high school basketball game sized crowds.

Rain made the construction period longer, which incurs additional labor cost. Precipitation also caused a rethink in the construction methods. Changes were made almost on the fly, including a major structural modification:
Because of the time restraints the initial design was changed from steel H-columns to poured-in-place reinforced concrete columns, and supporting the suite level with prefabricated steel trusses.
The structure ended up looking like this:

Up top is the view from the concourse, with the suites above. Below that is a picture of the underside of the Solon Club down the rightfield line, though the image is curiously flipped.

It's pretty clear to this untrained eye that the beams and girders above the concourse were not designed to handle to load of a level of suites and a massive upper deck, especially in earthquake country. The change is an important piece of value engineering that will make expansion more expensive, should a MLB team be interested in Sacramento. Assuming that the concrete columns are built to handle both suites and an upper deck (I have no reason to believe otherwise), new structural work would probably have to be in place above the columns. That means the entire existing upper level, which contains the Solon Club, suites and the press box, would have to be demolished. That's just as well, since these amenities probably aren't up to modern MLB standards, especially the small press box.

But wait there's more!

Every new ballpark has some 3,000 or more club seats. Seats are often disbursed between two different club levels: one at a mezzanine level, one at field level behind the plate. Nationals Park has taken this a step further by having three separate club areas, while designating all lower level seats behind the plate as club seats. If you want to sit behind the plate without paying through the nose, be prepared to have your nose bleed. I digress.

The Solon Club has 450 club seats, which is not sufficient. In a renovation they're going away, to be replaced by more luxury suites. There's also the Founders Club, the primo seats behind the plate which have at-your-seat food service but no club concourse of their own. Let's say that the area behind the plate gets ripped apart to accommodate such a transformation, a la the Scout seats at US Cellular Field. That's probably good for 500 seats.

Where do the other 2,500 go? The only place would be the front of the upper deck, above the luxury suites. It's not a premier spot for such seats, but it was done successfully at PNC Park, so there is a precedent. Go this route and you have to build two new concourses - one for the club and one for the regular upper deck. To understand the impact, take a look at some cross-sections. Before:


We're talking about triple, quadruple the amount of concrete that was used for the original ballpark. The new structure also requires greater amounts of high-strength steel, with enough concern for seismic safety that it's not out of reason to overbuild the structure (PETCO Park).

Getting to the minimum

Adding up the expansion looks like this:
  • Existing seating capacity: 11,093
  • New right field seating to replace berm: 5,000 (berm held 3,000)
  • New upper club: 2,500
  • New upper deck reserved: 12,000
  • New left field bleachers: 2,000
That brings the estimated new capacity to 32,500. Plus there are some not-so-miscellaneous items:
  • Additional construction work would be required, mainly the move of the clubhouses from left field to under the lower seating bowl.
  • Can't have a wraparound double deck grandstand in right because that would block the view of Tower Bridge and the Sacramento skyline.
  • The railroad track (inactive?) that wraps around the outfield limits space a bit.
  • New ramps, elevators, and escalators would be required and would be expensive.
  • Planners might have to figure out a way to include a third gate somewhere. Two gates as currently constructed aren't enough to handle nearly triple the crowd size.
  • New scoreboards and ribbon boards would be required. As a reference point, compare Kauffman Stadium's new "crown" HD video board in center, which was installed last year for $8.3 million.
Given all of that, I'm pretty sure that the whole thing would cost a lot more than $250 million. No, they wouldn't have to demolish Raley Field and start from scratch. But they'd have to demolish a lot of it.