31 October 2009

Owner vs. Pwner

The Merc's Tracy Seipel profiled the owners of the Bay Area's two MLB franchises, noting their differing personalities and careers. For the sake of brevity, I'll get down to nitty gritty:
Asked to characterize his negotiating style, he said, "I believe the best outcome is when everybody wins a little bit of something."
But some wonder whether Wolff, at 73, will have the endurance to find yet another location for the team if he can't move to San Jose.
"He's spent a lot of time and money in Fremont and time in Oakland" looking for a stadium site, noted one person who has worked with Wolff. "He's got to be thinking, 'How long do I have to wait for this?'"
Both Wolff and Neukom may know more in a few weeks when they attend an MLB owners' meeting in Chicago. League officials said it's unknown whether the territorial topic will be on the meeting's agenda.
But there is no rule against deal-making during breaks — or afterward. Both men say they're not lobbying their fellow owners.
It's been known for some time that Bill Neukom has made his name as an adversarial figure at times, while people who have met and dealt with Lew Wolff frequently mention how affable he is. Do those contrasting styles mean anything in the long run? Probably not. If there's an overarching principle that guides the owners and Bud Selig, it's "follow the money." Whatever the numbers say will dictate how this whole thing turns out.

Speaking of turning out, I've been told that the A's/Quakes are now members of the powerhouse Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Sure enough, they are. Then again, so are the San Jose Giants.

A new pro-move site has been launched called Pro Baseball for San Jose.

Finally, an update from Thursday's Good Neighbor Meeting. It was a healthy discussion of traffic, mostly pertaining to the ballpark use. Talk of specific numbers was impossible because of the botched traffic projections identified earlier. Many committee members were concerned about the City's arena parking permit program, which could be expanded once a ballpark was built. It isn't so much the on street protection, which was welcomed, it was the cost associated with obtaining a permit. They felt that affected residents shouldn't bear any of the cost to implement or maintain the program, which is fair. If anything, revenue from parking tickets should cover the entire cost. Some residents are able to get free permits at this time. The committee also accepted a "Framework for Implementation," a set of guidelines that govern how the committee arrives at a consensus on individual discussion topics and carries them forward to the City Council.

27 October 2009

SJ ballpark EIR to slip to January

Over at the SJ/SV Business Journal, Katherine Conrad reports that flawed traffic projections in the original 2006 environmental impact report will force a revisiting of that subject. Key to this is traffic on the stretch of 280 between 10th/11th streets and Guadalupe Pkwy (CA-87), an area that frequently sees congestion on Sharks game nights.
Dennis Korabiak, the city’s program manager for transportation, said the city had planned to release an addendum to the 2006 environmental report on the stadium in November. Now, however, the city must do a “focused” report using the new and correct information. The size of the stadium being considered now is considerably smaller — 32,000 seats compared to the earlier 45,000 seats — which could could mean a wash in terms of the potential difference between the flawed traffic impact estimate and what a new report will show.
The original EIR had its critics, chiefly Marc Morris of the Shasta/Hanchett Neighborhood Association. Morris felt the methodology was flawed and didn't include a large enough survey around the site, especially of surface streets. Given that 280 is the main artery downtown and especially for fans coming from outside San Jose, the best practice might be to capture data from 101/680 all the way to 880/Valley Fair, plus data from W San Carlos, Park, and Julian.

I'm curious to hear what the other traffic critic, HP Pavilion management, thinks of this. They've been rather silent so far.

Revising the report will mean it won't be released until January. That means two things. First, don't expect much news emanating from San Jose until then. Second, ballpark news on this site might be originating from Oakland.

FWIW, I'm trying to make the next Good Neighbor meeting on Thursday, in part to see how much coverage this issue gets.

22 October 2009

LA stadium bill passes, your move teams

The barn door is officially open. Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB X3 81 today, allowing Ed Roski's stadium project to sidestep environmental laws by negating a citizen-initiated legal challenge. While the process is often tedious and wasteful, the idea of legislating a legal maneuver for a single, entirely local project doesn't sit well with me. It's emblematic of what's wrong with the state.

Majestic Realty veep John Semcken has been making the rounds with numerous media outlets in the leadup to bill passage. In doing so, he's revealed bits and pieces of Roski's demands for what a team needs to provide in order to move to the Industry stadium.

During an interview with ESPN 710 (mp3) in LA, Semcken noted that Roski would be okay with 40% of the team and non-controlling interest, which was surprising to me. Roski currently owns minority, non-controlling shares of both the Kings and Lakers, and he built Staples Center. You could infer the successful precedent as saying that he's comfortable with a particular business model, and he's fine with duplicating it. But like any incredibly rich man, Roski must have an ego. So you'd figure he'd be interested in a controlling interest in the crown jewel franchise. That he apparently doesn't is a sign of his willingness to get 'er done. It could also be interpreted as an unwillingness to put up a ton of cash for a team.

Other tidbits from the interview (which I haven't noticed in the regular media coverage):
  • A team's move to LA is being pitched as an overall revenue generator for the league, much like an A's move from Oakland to San Jose. Supposedly, this new revenue would more than offset a TV revenue loss. The NFL has spent $14 million "studying" SoCal.
  • Six teams are on the potential candidate list: Jaguars, Bills, Rams, Vikings, Chargers, and Raiders. The 49ers are off the list for the time being because they're going through the development process in Santa Clara. Only the Rams are outwardly for sale, as most of you who follow this stuff closely already know.
  • The stadium will have two home locker rooms and two visitor locker rooms. Just in case.
Should one of the non-California teams move, it could set in motion an odd set of realignment moves which will probably make several owners unhappy.
  • Jaguars: Strangely, this might create little upheaval. The Jags could conceivably stay in the AFC South while the AFC West stays intact. They'd be the only team in their division on the West Coast, but at least none of their rivals would be on the East Coast (I won't get into Indiana's completely schizophrenic time zone mess). Kansas City and the Jags could switch places as an alternative.
  • Bills: This would probably create some kind of domino effect in which multiple teams moved to different divisions. It would make the most sense for the Bills to move to the AFC West, pushing the Chiefs to the AFC South. Indianapolis, which is north of AFC North team Cincinnati, would join them in the division. The Jags would join Florida big brother Miami in the AFC East.
  • Rams: Easily the most frictionless option. The Rams already have history in LA and they have spent their entire post-merger existence in the NFC West.
  • Vikings: Moving the Vikes out of what Chris Berman affectionately calls the "NFC Norris Division" seems downright blasphemous. Could they stay there? I suppose so, since Tampa Bay was long the long distance, warm weather outsider in the old NFC Central for over two decades. It would make more sense to move the Vikes to the NFC West and the Rams to the NFC North, however.
As for the Chargers and Raiders, they've been written about plenty already. Let the mating dance begin.

20 October 2009

If a Redwood falls in the forest...

Reader Mike Headley (a.k.a. LoneStranger) was one of the privileged 6,341 to see the inaugural home game for the UFL's California Redwoods franchise at AT&T Park. Below are his observations of the experience and my feedback (in italics). Enjoy.
Hey ML,

I went to the California Redwoods vs NY Sentinels UFL game at AT&T Park on Saturday, so I was doing a little reading up on the four teams. I noticed that the Florida Tuskers were owned by the Tampa Bay Rays. Could this be a way for them to get more muscle behind their new stadium plans? It would give them more guaranteed home dates, though admittedly just four-six more. The other issue this would bring up, if they do intend the Tuskers to play in the new stadium, is how that would change the design of the stadium. I find it a little weird that a baseball team would want to build a two-sport complex, but perhaps with the lower attendance rates than the NFL, the number of seats up against the field isn’t an issue. The field at AT&T ran along the 3B line and the end zone was right up against the outfield wall. I’m not sure how close it got to the dugouts on the other side. There was nothing on the opposite side of the field, except the fireworks mortars. The main TV camera was on a movable platform between the seats and the field. I didn’t see the game on TV, but I bet it didn’t look good showing the emptiness on the other side of the field. Or maybe it looked better than showing the empty stands.

As far as the Redwoods game went, it was fun. I’ve only ever been to one other football game (49ers vs Cin a couple years ago) and we had sat in the top deck. This game we sat in the lower area near the left field foul pole. While there were only a pitiful 6341 people in attendance (almost half of the next-highest game) it was neat to be able to get close to the field. I’ll probably go to another game in November. Their problem with attendance is probably fixed with better marketing. It seems like no one knows that they even exist. If it doesn’t get better, I wonder if they’d toy with the idea of playing some of their home games in San Jose, perhaps Spartan Stadium. The league wants to expand into Los Angeles next year, so I get the impression that the Redwoods will remain the Northern California franchise.

The Tuskers are meant to play their home games at the old Citrus Bowl in Orlando. They are splitting their home games between Orlando and Tampa. Tropicana Field has occasionally held bowl games so it sort of makes sense. I doubt that scheduling 2 or 3 games per season at the Trop will have any effect on future stadium talks. Having multiple homes is purely about exposure. The field orientation you describe is exactly the same as the one they use for the Emerald Bowl and the one season of the XFL. It sounds like you're saying that they aren't laying down the temporary stands in right field that they usually have for the bowl game. I'll have to check out one of the games later in the season.

I like that they're keeping costs low. They have a broadcast deal with Versus, a network that's always looking for new sports properties. They're even streaming the games live, which is refreshing. If they follow the pre-expansionist Arena Football League business model, they could keep costs manageable and stay afloat for a few years at least. Though I'm not so sure about having a fall schedule. There's just too much competition with ESPN broadcasting major college matchups on Thursday. And locally, there's a good reason why only 6,341 was the reported attendance. With two NFL teams and two major college teams in the Bay Area, we have more football here than any other market in the country. NY has no major [college] team. Chicago has bottom-feeding Northwestern, Notre Dame nearly 100 miles away, and Illinois even further away.

Yes, you are correct; the temporary bleachers were not put up. I agree, the lower cost of the games is what will help them survive. It was evident on Saturday. They didn’t open up the place until an hour before kickoff, the concession stands were only open on the 3B side and even then the non-essentials were closed. There were definitely less usher/security staff on hand. No one had any tickets checked by an usher that I saw. I get the feeling that the NFL is waiting to see how the whole thing goes down. If it fails, there is no financial loss for them. If it ends up successful, they’ve got a ‘minor league proving ground’ that they can either buy into or otherwise sign a deal with to get guys some playing time.
With the recently announced Arena Football 1 league being arranged with the original Arena League's ethos, UFL has a small opening from which it can gain a decent-sized niche audience. My guess is that the Redwoods were charged a minimal 4 or 6-hour facility rental fee for the game, which explains why the gates only opened an hour early.

What do you think? As poor as the initial attendance was, it's not like the NFL and NBA didn't have humble beginnings. Both leagues had to do their share of barnstorming and audience cultivation. Can UFL work?

13 October 2009

HSR routing effects on Diridon

The California High Speed Rail Authority has been workshopping route details all over the state. Especially sensitive are the Atherton/Menlo Park/Palo Alto areas and the area immediately to the south of Diridon Station, where numerous alternatives exist. In the picture below, you'll see a mix of working class residential and industrial buildings near the station. Further south is the well-heeled neighborhood of Willow Glen, and while the train wouldn't run through Willow Glen its residents are more than a bit concerned about HSR.

Unlike in the Peninsula, which the existing Caltrain corridor is the only available route, several route options exist south Diridon Station. CHSRA wants to use the most cost-effective route possible since they want to stretch the $10 billion in state bonds and whatever federal stimulus money comes their way, but every option has a cost/benefit component in both the short and long term.

The least expensive route is probably the green/white line above labeled SR87/I-280. It's an S-curve that would run in an aerial along the two area freeways. However, the S-curve makes it also the slowest option, and could adversely impact many of the express trains that would pass through San Jose without stopping at Diridon. The route also runs through the original Orchard Supply Hardware location's parking lot. Along with the other Caltrain-aligned routes, it would likely take some amount of land from the ballpark site. FWIW, that land wouldn't be for the ballpark anyway, it'd be used for parking.

The "Downtown Aerial/Tunnel" option is misleading because running an aerial isn't really an option. An aerial would require billions of dollars of eminent domain proceedings and would kill any chance of developing the six blocks between the ballpark site and the arena. A tunnel would be an enormous engineering challenge, since it would bore under both the existing light rail tunnel and the planned BART subway, plus a creek and a river. In either case, the route would have minimal impact on the ballpark site, clipping the northeast corner at worst.

However CHSRA and Diridon area residents proceed, it's good to know that the ballpark can be built without having to worry about the final route's impact.

A's TV ratings down in 2009

The move to CSN California may be good for the A's long-term financial security, but they sure have taken a major hit on TV to do it according to Sports Business Journal. Having moved from CSN Bay Area to the sister network, the A's posted a paltry 0.82 rating locally for the season, a drop from 1.72 in 2008. The Giants, having been in playoff contention until the last week of the season, scored major gains of 25,000 households, or roughly one full ratings point.

The drop can be traced to two major factors, team performance (poor for most of the season) and channel availability. Lew Wolff pointed to the lucrative dealed ink with Comcast as a source of financial stability. Both parties must have known about a possible drop in viewership and Comcast more or less subsidized the move, as it wants to beef up CSNCA in order to push other non-Comcast cable operators like Charter to add it into their systems. Comcast would then get subscriber fees from a competitor. The cable giant has been on a content grab over the last several years, potentially culminating in an acquisition of NBC-Universal (at least one game theory expert thinks it's going to happen). Comcast already has stakes in 11 regional sports networks including the aforementioned CSNBA/CSNCA, plus Versus, The Golf Channel, and an equity share of MLB Network. A merger with NBCU would give Comcast unprecedented control over content availability. Never mind that NBC has languished in last place among the four major networks for years. Content is king, and with content Comcast gets major leverage.

So if you're thinking that the A's are but a mere pawn in a much larger game, well yes they are. Comcast is in a position to seriously challenge ESPN and its networks, which bring in the heftiest subscriber fees thanks to bundling. Team performance notwithstanding, the A's need Comcast to win its battles for greater carriage. For most of you, it'll be difficult to root for a company like Comcast that's so often anti-consumer. Just don't think about it for now, and dream about IPTV being the technology that, once mature, will bring down the ridiculously archaic barriers (such as blackouts) that we deal with now.

11 October 2009

San Jose expresses interest in Sac Kings

In its quest to attract additional sports franchises to town, San Jose leaders revealed that they are pursuing a NBA team, probably the Sacramento Kings. They're far enough along to admit that they may soon have a MOU (memorandum of understanding) to guide future machinations, just as they've done regarding the A's.

As we all know, the Kings play in what has historically been a very good, loyal market for them. Only in recent years, with ARCO Arena aging noticeably and the talent level on the Kings dropping precipitously (Beno Udrih? Seriously?), has that support dropped. Political efforts to get an arena built anywhere in the area have largely failed, with the only real hope now being the Cal Expo project - which still has no developer willing to bankroll it and won't have one for years. As loud and intimate as ARCO is, it's hopelessly outdated compared to its newer peers and no amount of refurbishing is going to make up for the simple fact that it's not big enough anymore.

What would it take to bring the Kings from the Sacramento Valley to the Silicon Valley? Let's make a list.
  • Territorial "rights" - Like the Giants grip on Santa Clara County, the Warriors have control over a 75-mile radius from Oakland, which San Jose obviously falls within. Sacramento does too - just barely - but the team was grandfathered in, making the current location a non-factor. While there is very little competition for customers between the two teams as they are currently situated, a San Jose relocation would immediately create significant competition between the two teams in the Bay Area market. It would be on San Jose and the Kings to somehow prove that a two-NBA team market could be successful. There are only two such markets in existence now: New York and Los Angeles. As large as they are, they have not proven to be great successes. The Nets play in the dated, uninspiring Meadowlands, and may prove successful if their incoming ownership can actually get the Brooklyn arena built. The Clippers are the poster child for owner negligence, making money for Donald Sterling but rarely selling out unless it's for the Lakers (who treat the two scheduled games as two extra home games).
  • Improvements to HP Pavilion - In the past, I mentioned the improvement to Ford Center in Oklahoma City as a measuring stick. That may be overstating things a bit, as OKC chose to sort of "half-bake" the arena until a team committed. Once the Sonics made the announcement, OKC put in $121 million in luxury and technology improvements. That wouldn't be the case in San Jose, which has excellent club areas and plenty of suites that may only need a little spiffing up. Structurally, it's a different story. The lower seating bowl will need to be partly ripped out and rebuilt to properly accommodate basketball sight lines. LA's Staples Center, Portland's Rose Garden, and DC's Verizon Center all have dual-rise seating which makes the transition from hockey to basketball easy for staff and fans. With as many events as the arena puts on every year, this is an imperative. The deal would also have to include some number of so-called "bunker suites," groups of courtside seats with quick access to no-view suites under the lower bowl. Additionally, some of the newer arenas have also included small club lounges at event level. All of those things take up space and I'm not even including new locker rooms and other team facilities for the Kings. HP Pavilion has a very tight footprint, I don't know where where all of that stuff will go. My guess is that should they try to get all of these items addressed, it would take $100 million - all of it public funds, which would bring on a referendum. We're talking David Stern, folks. He twisted the knife in Seattle, he made demands of OKC, he'll look for a pound of flesh in SJ too.
  • New practice facility - The Kings have been using a $9.1 million practice facility jointly with the WNBA Monarchs since 2000. A new one would have to be found somewhere in the Valley, though that shouldn't be too difficult. I suspect the Maloofs won't be happy moving into a typical Class A office building meant for a tech company - that's just not their style. Still, sites for a practice facility are plentiful especially in North San Jose. In fact, I think some other local sports team may have some extra undeveloped land that would work well for this purpose. Cost: $10 million.
So that's $110 million coming from somewhere plus whatever compensation for the Warriors has to be whipped up. I have concerns that this talk will conflate with dealings regarding the A's, making efforts to bring either team down more difficult. There's also the internal ownership question: How much are the Maloofs willing to sell of the team to make this happen? Surely they aren't looking to give away controlling interest. They love owning the team way too much even in lean times. On the flip side, there is one fringe benefit. The Monarchs would likely move to San Jose as well, and this area is a much better natural fit for a WNBA franchise given the legacy of support for women's hoops in the area (Stanford, SJ Lasers).

Taking the 50,000-foot view, it appears that any of the obstacles described above are equally likely to trip up any deal to bring the Kings to San Jose. At this point, whatever the chances are of bringing the A's south, the prospects for doing the same for the Kings have to be somewhat less promising.

06 October 2009

What about Bobb?

Over at the East Bay Express, Robert Gammon reports that former Oakland City Administrator Robert Bobb will not seek the Oakland mayoral job, as he's looking to extend his gig as the emergency financial manager for the troubled Detroit Public Schools system. However, Bobb may not be as clearly off limits as he appears to be.

Bobb's carved out a little fiefdom for himself in Detroit, and an extension to his contract - which ends in March - may be what he needs to stay in Detroit. He and the DPS board have engaged in a power struggle for weeks over Bobb's hiring authority and seemingly absolute power. The two parties are expected to iron out their differences via a mediator next month.

That's not to say Bobb has only gained enemies. In August, he went door to door with Bill Cosby to promote Detroit schools and convince parents to bring their kids back to the public school system.

November's election may more fully determine Bobb's fate. He's pushing a bond measure called "Proposal S," which would provide construction bonds to rebuild Detroit's many aging schools. Today there was an interesting exchange between Bobb and the Detroit City Council:

But Councilwoman Joann Watson pressed Bobb, saying she was on a similar panel for the 1994 bond and members' input was "thrown out when they started to steal the money."

She said the state should be held accountable for today's deficit that accumulated during the state takeover, saying "they should be sent an invoice."

Councilwoman Barbara Rose Collins agreed, but said the city would be foolish not to pass the bond, dubbed Proposal S, because it is tied to federal stimulus money. She said Bobb needs to say whether he will stay on to oversee the construction bond.

"The community needs assurances you can finish what you started," she said.

"I will definitely be here until March 2," Bobb said.

Gone? Not so fast, my friends. We can connect the dots and see that if Proposal S passes and he can maintain his authority at DPS, he'll have little reason to leave. He has the backing of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (who happens to be a Bay Area native). Then again, what if Proposal S doesn't pass? He's left himself a convenient out. He could easily get a new residence in Oakland early next year while continuing to do his DPS job, allowing him to beat the election filing deadline.

01 October 2009

In other news... (End of 2009 season edition)

While the Yanks and visitors have set a team record for home runs hit in the Bronx, they have cooled off from their record-setting pace earlier in the season. As of this morning, New Yankee Stadium finished the season with 237 HR (2.93 HR/game). That's far from the 303 HR hit at Coors Field in 1999. The NY Daily News has some explanations for the dropoff, from wind changes to scared opposing pitchers going away from left-handed Yankee batters. Still, NYS hit a consistency record of sorts, being the first MLB stadium ever to have recorded at least 1 homer in 80 of 81 home dates. Attendance-wise, NYS was down 13 percent from its predecessor, averaging 45,918 per game (3.7 million for the season). New Yankee Stadium will also hold a FBS bowl game in 2010, featuring teams from the Big 12 and Big East (my extremely premature guess: West Virginia vs. Iowa State).

The Twins are only 6 months from the opening in Target Field. One of the finishing touches is a new HDTV screen deal with electronics retailer Best Buy, which happens to be a Minnesota-based company like Target. The deal will furnish the ballpark with 625 flat panel sets, including 400 of Best Buy's own Insignia brand. It's the first time in history I can think of such a deal occurring. Normally stadium operators partner directly with technology providers such as Sony, Panasonic, or Mitsubishi. In Target Field's case, much of the tech is being sourced locally or regionally. Scoreboards are being provided by heavyweight Daktronics, a firm only 4 hours away in Brookings, SD.

As speculated earlier, the Giants' AA franchise in Norwich, CT is moving to Richmond, VA. Why? Population. Richmond has a greater population base to draw from than Norwich, which is in a sort of no-man's land between the greater Hartford area (which has a team in New Britain) and Providence, RI (which has a AAA team in Pawtucket). Now Norwich is stuck with a fairly new (1995) stadium that's gone through $1 million in renovations over the past few years. The city's best chance to lure another team lies in hoping that some team in the short-season NY-Penn League has a wandering eye. You may recall that Richmond lost the AAA Braves to the Atlanta suburbs last year.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the passing of Tiger Stadium. After a lengthy legal battle to preserve and perhaps reuse parts the old girl, all that remained of her as of a week ago was this:

A few days after that picture (Detroit Free Press) was taken, that last section was also torn down. Goodbye, old friend.