26 November 2009

And now for something new

Many of you provided lots of healthy feedback when the blog underwent a reskinning several months ago. Despite the excellent response, I've felt that the Blogger platform was somehow holding the site back. The Thanksgiving weekend seemed like an good time to make another move, and so I'm moving the blog to the WordPress platform. In addition, I finally got a proper domain. The new site is It's live and it looks slightly different, but just about everything's there. I've added a discussion forum (under construction) so it'll be easier to have discussions away from the regular posts. I'll also add photo galleries and other types of content in the coming months. won't be in some extended beta period. It's where I'll be posting from now on, so update your bookmarks and favorites and get the word out. The old site will stay up indefinitely, but there won't be any new posts and I will be closing out comments on existing posts in short order. Of course, feedback is always welcome, and I appreciate all of the kind words and encouragement you have sent over the years.

Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving weekend,

- ML

25 November 2009

More media reaction

Joe Stiglich has a follow-up from yesterday's article, consisting of a sitdown with Lew Wolff. Wolff still puts out the 32,000 ballpark capacity (though I have heard otherwise). He refutes much of the criticism he has received:
"It isn't like, if we had a winning team, we would have had double the attendance," Wolff said. "If you trace it back for a long time, we're in a market that's difficult to tap. We're close to the Giants, who have a beautiful ballpark. I don't think the fact that we traded some guys "... When you look back at what we sent out, I think the balance sheet is in our favor, thanks to Billy and his guys."
Whether you buy into that line of thinking depends on your "worldview."

Gary Peterson wants an answer from the ever indecisive Bud Selig, and tries to break down the three possible outcomes.

Last but not least, Zennie Abraham never fails to pimp his software/bona fides every chance he gets, especially at his SFGate blog.

24 November 2009

San Francisco Magazine article on Wolff/Fisher

The media blitz has begun. The Trib's Joe Stiglich references a feature piece in the December issue of San Francisco Magazine (not online). In it, writer Steve Kettmann, a San Jose native who spent a few years as the A's beat writer, gets the clearest statements yet from Wolff and more surprisingly, "silent" partner John Fisher. One of the Fisher quotes takes another prominent sports media personality to task:
Fisher and Wolff are a generation apart, but Fisher told me that he considers Wolff "a tremendous partner and friend, who, while he values my input, is the final decision-maker and has been from the beginning-despite what [Chronicle columnist] Ray Ratto may write.
Later, Wolff describes how he came to be involved with (and later own) the A's:
So 40-plus years later, during the 2002 World Series, (Selig) tracked down Wolff in Paris and asked him to one of the Giants-Angels games. To get there, Wolff enjoyed the first of many police-escorted trips with the commissioner. They traveled from the Mark Hopkins Hotel to PacBell Park. Then, during the game, Selig asked Wolff if he had any interest in talking to the A's owners, Hofmann and Schott.

"Lewie, would you be interested in buying the interest of one of the partners in the A's?" Selig asked.

"I thought my role, if I bought in, might be to work on the venue and have a little fun," Wolff told me.

Soon enough, while investigating the idea, Wolff got a call from John Fisher, with whom he had been a co-investor in hotels such as the Carlyle in New York, the San Jose Fairmont, and the San Francisco Fairmont. Fisher and his father had been part owners of the Giants before largely dropping out in 1995, so Wolff asked about the idea of crossing the bay to buy out the A's owners. "I think it was around $180 million for all of it, which required about $100 million in cash," Wolff told me. That was too rich for Wolff's blood, so "I said to John, 'I'll just take a small piece, and I'll run it. Whatever you want.' So John called back and said, 'If you'll buy 10 percent now and commit to buying another 15 percent, I'll join you.'

"I said, 'You know, once you ask someone to run a team, they can't be removed easily, unless I kill someone or something. So are you sure?' And John said, 'Oh yeah, we've known you a long time.' "

Wolff told me he now has $15 million invested. "This is a significant investment for me, and it's not chump change. I think my ownership position is as large as Peter Magowan's was in the Giants."
While it may seem like the backstory is the focus of the article, it is just backstory. Still, I put it out there for emphasis. The idea that the ownership situation was ever in flux since the Wolff/Fisher group took control was and is patently absurd. The real thrust of the piece is San Jose, San Jose, San Jose. And no, the fact that it's in San Francisco magazine is not accidental.

There's a lot more, including a sadly humorous anecdote about the Coliseum from Billy Beane and Sandy Alderson commenting on territorial rights. It's definitely a worthwhile read, so head out to your local newsstand/bookstore/library to check it out.

River Cats owner Art Savage dies

Yesterday, the Sacramento Bee reported that River Cats owner Art Savage, who successfully brought pro baseball back to Sactown after a long absence, suddenly died over the weekend. Savage, who was a non-smoker who had successfully fought off lung cancer, was consistently hailed throughout the Central Valley and the baseball world for running the River Cats so well and for providing an excellent product year-in, year-out. The comments to the article bear this out, as there is nary a bad word in Savage's memory. The article traces his life, from college at Texas Tech to tax accountant to CEO of the Sharks and then the move to get the River Cats started.

In his stint in San Jose, Savage befriended many of the political players who are now aiming to bring the A's to San Jose, including Lew Wolff. Savage, who was 58, will apparently leave the team to this sons.

23 November 2009

San Jose puts out the word on new EIR

Just got this from the City of San Jose:
In February 2007, the City certified an EIR for the Baseball Stadium in the Diridon/Arena Area Project (2006 Stadium Proposal), which included a maximum seating capacity of 45,000 and a maximum height of 165 feet, with scoreboards up to approximately 200 feet and lights approximately 235 feet above finished grade. However, due to an error in the traffic data that were used in the previous traffic study for the 2006 Stadium Proposal the City has determined that it is necessary to update the traffic analysis for the modified project using corrected traffic data to disclose a new significant impact to freeways. In early 2009, the City began exploring the development of a modified stadium project. Key components of the modified project proposal that differ from the 2006 Stadium Proposal include: a smaller maximum seating capacity of 36,000; relocation of the parking structure; an option to reposition the stadium to the south; and the realignment of South Autumn Street and South Montgomery Street near their intersection with Park Avenue.
Obviously, people will quickly pick up on the new figure of 36,000. I don't know where it comes from exactly, but it probably works when gauging impacts since it's exactly 20% less capacity than before. Beyond that, the repositioning of the stadium looks interesting since we've discussed that here many times before. It's good to have options.

The Notice of Preparation has a few other gems, including the potential acquisition of other sites outside the known ballpark footprint. If the ballpark is repositioned to the south, it would be pushed to the southern edge of the property while Park Avenue would be narrowed from four to two lanes (this stretch is the only one in the immediate area where it is four lanes wide). The PG&E substation could remain intact or be reconfigured, though the former would be a really tight squeeze.

A scoping meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, December 16 at the usual bat-time/bat-channel.

Update 3:11 p.m.: 36,000 is not merely an estimate for EIR study purposes. It's quite possibly the new ballpark capacity. Rejoice!

20 November 2009

WNBA Monarchs fold, could be headed to Oakland

After a 12-year run as a charter franchise in the WNBA, the Maloof family suddenly closed up shop with the Sacramento Monarchs, citing financial concerns. This leaves the WNBA at least temporarily with 12 teams, and the Maloofs with one less loose end should they try to bolt from Sactown. At least one player learned of the team's ignominious fate via Twitter.

That doesn't mean that women's pro hoops are leaving the NorCal market. Apparently, Oakland city council member Rebecca Kaplan has been pushing hard to get a WNBA team at the Coliseum, and the exit of the Monarchs may provide such an opening. Similar talk has existed in the past regarding San Jose, but SVSE head honcho Greg Jamison denied any discussions. The Bay Area has been a great market for women's hoops in the past, but the lack of a WNBA franchise always seemed puzzling. Was it the NBA exacting penance for San Jose having the Lasers? Or was Chris Cohan simply disinterested in sponsoring a WNBA franchise? Whatever the case, it would be great to have a new team in Oakland to tap into the fanbase and help pay for rent at Oracle Arena to boot.

19 November 2009

A's sign 10-year deal with KTRB

In what can only be described as a major bid for stability, the A's extended their deal with upstart AM sports station KTRB through 2019. We've been crying out for some semblance of consistency since the KSFO days, so it's nice to know that we're getting it. The long-term deal should also propel KTRB towards broadcasting truly local shows, not just the pre/postgame sandwich. As I understand it, KTRB has been operating without a Bay Area studio, choosing instead to rent out other facilities as needs arise. This should get them going on a proper SF or Oakland studio with real local "talent." I'm happy.

However, not everything's wine and roses. Listeners in the Berkeley/Oakland hills were left feeling neglected, as KTRB's signal was noticeably poor throughout last season, day or night. When we last left off, KTRB was pursuing a second broadcast site in Sonoma County. Things have changed, and it's hard to say if it's for the better.

The FCC granted a new Class B transmitter construction permit to KTRB in July. As is often the case with radio stations, there's more than one transmitter location. In fact, there are three. All three won't be used at the same time, instead they'll be time-based. The nighttime transmitter location will remain at the current site near Sunol/Livermore, with no change in orientation. During the day, the transmitter will be at the eastern foot of the San Mateo Bridge. Then there's the "critical hours" phase, better known as dawn and dusk. During that period - two hours after sunrise and two before sunset - stations are often required to reduce power. In this case, that means dropping from 50,000 to 40,000 watts. That could have negative effects on A's broadcasts, since most weeknight games will have at least a portion of the game broadcast during critical hours. That's not the only critical hours change, as the transmitter in the application for that timeframe is not at either of the aforementioned sites. Instead, the critical hours transmitter is slated to be placed just west of Bethel Island. At this point, it's impossible to say if this will result in an improvement for the people of the Berkeley/Oakland hills. I'm crossing my fingers.

Note: I've looked further into the critical hours situation. The FCC defines sunrise and sunset on a monthly basis. Here's how they define sunset going forward:
Local Standard Time (Non-Advanced)
April - 6:45 PM
May - 7:15 PM
June - 7:30 PM
July - 7:30 PM
August - 7:00 PM
September - 6:15 PM
October - 5:30 PM
I'm not sure how Daylight Savings Time factors in.

18 November 2009

Raiders re-up at Coliseum through 2013

The Raiders' quarterback situation may be in flux, but their home for the next three seasons isn't. Officials from the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority and the team jointly announced an extension of the Raiders' lease through 2013, which puts the team in line to leave for newer digs at the same time as the A's, wherever those digs are.

Most interesting about the announcement is the unified front being displayed by the Authority. County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who was front-and-center in the public effort to bring the A's to Fremont. Haggerty rejoined the Authority's board recently after a few years off it. It'll take all of Alameda County's political will to put together a good, responsible deal for the Raiders, and that means having power brokers from the northern and southern ends of the county. With Oakland officials perhaps focused elsewhere in their efforts to retain the A's (OFD Training site, anyone?), it's a baby step forward - albeit a major baby step.

17 November 2009

SVSE negotiating with A's over Diridon

December's Forbes magazine has a feature piece on the Sharks and Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, the umbrella organization that owns the team and runs HP Pavilion. The magazine praises SVSE for keeping debt manageable while expanding its holdings, making the company not beholden to a single income source.
Of SVSE's revenue of $155 million, NHL hockey brings in $84 million. The rest comes from things like a chain of ice rinks, three professional tennis tournaments, a mixed martial arts circuit and an apparel company. Last year the team's hockey operations lost $5 million, but the profits from the other businesses cut that loss to an estimated $2 million. Gregory Jamison, a Sharks co-owner who's in charge of day-to-day operations, sees the combined businesses turning a profit in two to three years.
Much has been made over the NHL's floundering expansion ventures in the Sun Belt, especially the efforts in Phoenix, Atlanta, and the state of Florida. The Sharks/SVSE have defied the Sun Belt pattern of attendance and cash flow problems, partly by controlling its own venue. It has also stayed out of the scandal-ridden front pages, something that can't be said for ownership in Anaheim, Phoenix, and Nashville.

The article also touches briefly on SVSE's other major sports dealings:
The Sharks' owners have been pursuing a National Basketball Association franchise for years, too. San Jose Mayor Chuck R. Reed tells FORBES that the arena lease will be amended this month to outline contingencies in case their efforts are successful. The group is also in discussions with the owners of baseball's Oakland A's to find common ground on a proposed ballpark in the area and to possibly buy into their Major League Soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes. Even without these acquisitions SVSE officials expect the nonhockey side of the business to surpass the hockey side next year.
In the past I described the "common ground" as a deal to run an A's ballpark, creating a monopoly position for SVSE with regards to large venues in the South Bay. Considering how tight many of the SVSE players and members of A's ownership have been historically, the next logical step may be for the A's to sell a minority position to SVSE, say 10-20%. Such a deal could be consummated fairly easily and would make sense in the long run, since there's a precedent given that venue monster AEG operates in a similar fashion. For now, the discussions are probably more about how to figure out parking and develop the six blocks between the ballpark site and the arena, but it's not a stretch to think that the talks may be even deeper. It's a far cry from when the original ballpark EIR came out in 2006. At the time, the Sharks expressed disapproval over the concept due to parking concerns. Now that the team is no longer "hypothetical" and includes political and business friends, SVSE is looking for ways to take advantage of the situation.

All of this can be summed up in three simple words: Follow the money.

12 November 2009

Got eight figures lying around?

Today you may have the unique opportunity to buy a piece of history. Whether you're local or of a national bent, the opportunities await you - though you may have less than two hours to take advantage.

I've been following the saga of the Fox Theatre in Redwood City (not Oakland's Fox Theater) for a few months. A pair of real estate developers, John Anagnostou and Mike Monte, bought the 1400-seat Gothic Revival moviehouse and thoroughly renovated it, turning the place into an excellent live music venue. They also created a smaller 200-seat bar/cabaret within the same complex called the Little Fox. Rumors that Redwood City would buy the theatre were largely squashed as city officials indicated that budget woes would make such a purchase imprudent. Fox Theatre has additional office space and retail spaces along its Broadway frontage, making it a multifaceted venue. According to assessors, the place is worth $2.35 million, but the current owners took on a ton of debt to renovate it. While media reports don't have an exact figure, the total debt is said to be $10 million to multiple creditors. That amount has probably caused interested parties to balk at a purchase. A twice-delayed foreclosure auction is supposed to happen today, though it could be delayed again as the developers continue to try to work out some kind of refinancing plan with their creditors.

If your horizons aren't limited to the Bay Area or the Peninsula, you might want to set your sights on Pontiac, Michigan. The once-impressive Silverdome is also up for auction, with the city trying to fetch at least $13.2 million for the 80,000-seat indoor stadium. Once home to both for the Lions and Pistons, the Silverdome has also hosted several major events, including NCAA hoops regionals (though not the Final Four). The City of Pontiac wants the $1.5 million per year maintenance bill albatross off its back, and it's hoping that some smart developer will figure out a way to spur growth in the area. One unusual idea by an area citizen would turn the dome into a massive youth sports facility. The dome currently has no tenants. City police have been investigating thefts inside the stadium.

Update: The Fox Theatre auction was delayed yet again.
Update 2 (11/17): The Silverdome was sold for $583,000. No, I am not missing zeroes on that figure. The median home price of a home in San Jose is $566,000, in Alameda County it's $357,000, and in San Francisco it's $662,000.

05 November 2009

West Oakland murmurs

I'll start off with a brief chunk from Chip Johnson's Tuesday column.
And even though she is among the first 200 residents to live at Central Station, mere rumors about A's owner Lew Wolff sniffing around Middle Harbor for a new ballpark site have her already concerned about growth.
Area residents don't need me to point out where Middle Harbor is. For those who aren't familiar, it's the westernmost end of West Oakland. Geographically it's situated between the Bay Bridge to the north and the old Alameda Naval Air Station to the south.

I'm curious to see if a ballpark proposal has Middle Harbor as the site. Ever since the military closed up shop there, a combination of business (port expansion) and environmental efforts (wetlands regeneration) has been the ongoing concern. It's hard to say where a ballpark could go or what a plan would entail. West Oakland BART is over a mile 2 miles away and around Middle Harbor the train line descends before becoming the Transbay Tube, making a new station a tall order. And there's the worry that the area is in Nancy Nadel's district, and she's well known for not putting the A's anywhere on her priority list.

Still, I'd like to see if there's anything to this, if for no other reason than to see what opportunities are out there.

03 November 2009

As the ball turns

I encourage all of you to head on over to Dodger Divorce, a new blog run by Joshua Fisher dedicated to the messy financial status of the LA Dodgers. It's not salacious. Instead, it gives incredible insight into how a particular ownership group assumed control of one of the major name brand franchises in MLB, and how the whole thing isn't going to end well.

When the McCourts acquired the Dodgers in 2003, much was made about how Frank McCourt wasn't a big-money billionaire, derisively called the "parking lot attendant." The heavy leveraging used to acquire the team would've been fine as long as the family remained status quo. Unfortunately for Mr. McCourt (and John Moores), even the best laid plans go to waste.