The future of stadiums?

ESPN’s sports business reporter Darren Rovell penned a neat article on the use of technology and automation in enhancing the fan experience. A single smart card with RFID could one day act as a complete ticketing and purchasing system for parking, entry, concessions, and merchandise. Not only would the system speed up transactions, it could be used for security purposes as well. There are obviously issues to work out regarding data security and encryption. It will also be a challenge to change patrons’ thinking to the idea of prepaid or rechargeable smart cards instead of cash or credit/debit cards. Incentives can be given to those who subscribe, and it can be said that the “rewards card club” memberships many teams have introduced the past few years are a mere stepping stone to a more comprehensive approach. As a person who works for a company putting out leading edge technology, I wholeheartedly endorse the concept.

Petco Park tour

I’ve spent the last week in San Diego visiting family, and while I was there I took in a tour of Petco Park. It proved to be a highly educational experience, especially when trying to look at the venue from the perspective of a team owner such as Lew Wolff. Wolff likes several features of Petco including its “neighborhoods,” or areas of regular or season ticket holders. One potential positive in the concept is that the community feel created by neighborhoods could be a factor in subscription retention in years to come, particularly when the novelty effect wears off.

As the tour guide led us through and pointed out many of the unique design elements of Petco, I made some of my own observations:

  1. Revenue-generating opportunities are more diverse at Petco than at SBC Park. The Western Metal Supply building alone has a restaurant, bleachers, and several party suites. The only significant party area at SBC is the concourse behind center field, which is sometimes roped off when it’s reserveed for group gatherings.
  2. The Sony Dugout Club, which is reserved for the 150 or so ticketholders immediately behind home plate, is fantastic. It’s ostentatious with its huge leather booths, granite tables, and multiple plasma televisions, but if you’re a corporate guy looking to impress a client, it’s a can’t-miss venue. It also has a great view of the Padres’ batting cage.
  3. The bleacher concept is only flawed in the sense that the risers descend to the field with the fence partially obstructing some views. Other than that, it’s fantastic. The “beach” area will be expanded slightly when the fence is pulled in before the start of the season. BTW, the individual plastic seats on the concrete risers are the Colosseum-Two model made by Dant Clayton, a highly reputable bleacher manufacturer out of Louisville, KY.
  4. The standing room areas are brilliant, perhaps too brilliant. Since the standing room option ($5) has become so popular, seatholders immediately in front of the SRO drinkrails have gotten annoyed at the occasional spilled drink – so much that the Pads are taking out an entire row in front of the drink rail. A nice side effect for the team is that it will create a little more ticket scarcity since a couple hundred seats may be removed from inventory.
  5. The Toyota Terrace has separate club seating and suites. The tour guide pointed out the fact that several Indian gaming interests have suites. Sycuan even holds regular tribal meetings in their suite. I’ll expand on this in an article on Las Vegas that will be posted on Friday.
  6. With 17 acres to work with, HOK and architect Antoine Predock had a large space on which they could place buildings, plants, and architectural elements. With an A’s ballpark, 17 acres may not be available because of costly land acquisition (5 acres = $30+ million). The acreage was used effectively, as much of the ballpark is recessed from the street, minimizing visual impact.
  7. The use of differing sizes of squarish and rectangular sandstone was a nice touch. It really softens the facade while paying homage to Aztec architecture, albeit with a modern twist.
  8. Ramps are hidden while stairs leading up to the main concourse are prominently featured, which is reminiscent of an Aztec temple. There are 18 elevators and a few escalators, but they are also hidden away.
  9. The stadium appears to be built quite high when looking at it from the field, but that’s only because of the proximity of the mezzanine and upper decks, which are both cantilevered well over the lower deck. It would be lower if not for the two levels of suites and club lounges, which effectively add 25-30 feet to the height of the stadium. From the streets lining the outfield, the stadium facade is some 30 feet high when it meets the sidewalk. Look straight up and you’ll see the upper two decks. The field is not significantly below the street (~6 feet).
  10. The Park at the Park is a great concept. It’s one I think can be integrated into an A’s ballpark that could be a big community asset if executed well. It doesn’t beat McCovey Cove and the Promenade, however.
  11. The Giants went a little cheap on the video/scoreboard solution deployed at SBC Park. They signed a huge package deal with Panasonic, who not only provided the scoreboard and video board (dubbed Astrovision), but also the TV’s in the suites and concourses and the distributed audio system. At Petco, the Padres partnered with Cox Cable and Sony, which meant that HDTV and Sony widescreens are everywhere. There are also little scoreboards above each concourse that have static signage attached. Of course, the Pads had a nice little financial and political delay which allowed them to get the HD stuff in house, which the Giants didn’t a few years back. That just means that when it comes time for the Giants to do some upgrades, they won’t be cheap. Memo to Lew: 1080p LCD! And Meyer Sound – because nobody does it better!
  12. I counted four different Hussey Seating seat models in use at Petco. The exposed suite seats were covered with tarps. Leather rolling chairs were pulled into each suite. The first tier club seat holders got nice, wide chairs with padded inserts for both the back and seat. The high-roller Sony Dugout Club seats were a high-back variety with fold-out tablets, like those found in a university auditorium. The regular seats were the old-school looking Legend model.

For those who happen to be in San Diego in the near future, I fully recommend the tour. An adult ticket costs $9 with discounts for seniors and kids. The tour runs about 90 minutes.

Purdy connects the dots

Update 12/22 09:00 – David Pollak has a wrtiten an article on the complexity of the soccer-baseball relationship.


Ever the ballpark advocate, Mark Purdy’s new column in the Merc builds on the theory that a soccer stadium initiative will sprout into something containing both baseball and soccer facilities. From this there is one glaring question: Is the pursuit of a soccer stadium an end-around to a ballpark?

Yes and No. Yes in the sense that it’s an extremely clever way to get the facilities on the ballot. Separately, they’re much weaker than they are together. There’s no commitment from Wolff to bring the A’s to San Jose, but there is a pretty clear threat should a ballot initiative be approved. No because territorial rights are still a major problem, but the thinking may be that the offer is so good for Wolff (and by extension MLB) that it would be foolish for the commish to pass it up.

So what would it look like? Try this:

The key to the idea, as I’ve said before, is the inclusion of public park space. There is a lack of courts and playing fields in the Midtown-Downtown area, and by including them in the package, stadium proponents could get a crucial ally that may otherwise be a NIMBY foe.

The 22-25,000-seat soccer stadium sits on top of what is now Park Avenue. To get the right amount of space, Park Avenue would have to be closed down. It actually works out quite well, since any excavated ground can be used to fill in the underpass leading to the railroad tracks. Close down Park west of the tracks for about a block, and the neighborhood will have 4-5 acres of park facilities linked together by an underpass. There would be plenty of room for the following:

  1. A public park situated west of the ballpark with picnic areas and unique landscaping
  2. A multi-purpose playing surface for a youth soccer field or sandlot
  3. Basketball and tennis courts west of the ballpark
  4. A pedestrian-only plaza or paseo between the two stadiums
  5. A single vehicle access ramp for both facilities and other shared infrastructure

There’s more to the concept including ballpark specifics, but this is all I’ll release for now.

34,179

That’s the new capacity of the Network Associates Coliseum now that the A’s have announced that the upper deck won’t be sold at all in 2006. Since the initial news came out that View season tickets weren’t for sale a few weeks ago, it wasn’t certain if the seats would be sold at all, or only for certain high-demand games. The former is definitely the case. In the accompanying press release, A’s President Michael Crowley even confirmed that it’s part of the trial balloon to understand and transform demand for A’s season, advance, and walk-up tickets:

“Our goal is to create a more intimate ballpark atmosphere and bring our seating capacity in line to what we have proposed for our new venue.”

The team also makes a claim that the decrease in capacity is being done to improve the fan experience, citing a survey that indicated views from the ironically named View level seats were among the worst in baseball. One observation I have to make is that the A’s failed to explain exactly how they were going to improve the fan experience on than the closing of the upper deck. They should have explained how access to concessions and restrooms should or will be improved, which it almost certainly will be. Otherwise it won’t appear as more than an experiment.

One thing should be explained about this move: the A’s probably won’t get higher revenues this season as a result. Say the A’s sold 10,000 View level seats per game against the Yanks/Red Sox/Giants and account for $10 per person in concessions revenue, the gross revenue for those 12 games would be $2.4 million. That’s not that much in the grand scheme of things. Lost revenue from View tickets sold at other games would be made up by selling tickets for Plaza level seats. While it appears from the outside that the A’s are just interested in selling a bunch of higher-priced seats, it’s more about getting that predictable demand curve in place with season tickets and advance sales. Diminished walk-up sales should no doubt contribute to a flatter curve.

Oakland makes up with Raiders, rebuffs A’s

Following up on a story that surfaced last month, Oakland City Council approved the settlement that will kill once and for all the Raiders’ disastrous PSL system and hand full control of football ticket selling operations to the Raiders. Two articles have shown up so far on this:

What wasn’t known in November was the type of concessions the city and Coliseum Authority might need to make to get the A’s to go along with the deal. That was finally revealed last night as A’s officials and local pols said that the A’s wanted a three-year extension on the existing lease. That request, along with a similar extension request by the Raiders, was denied.

In light of the difficulty seen in getting the Coliseum North project off the ground, one would think it would behoove Oakland/Alameda County to sign the A’s for three more years. That time could be used to work on alternate sites or reshape Wolff’s proposal into something more feasible.

The only thing I can see that may have made Oakland balk at the concession was if the lease terms were merely three additional one-year extensions with the same buyout terms the A’s currently have in the 2008-10 years. That would not help Oakland in the least, since it would give the A’s a longer safety net as they pursued other options out of town.

If the lease extension was a lock-in, where the end of the long-term lease agreement was pushed out from 2007 to 2010, it doesn’t make much sense for Oakland to reject it. It’s possible that Oakland is calling the A’s bluff and holding a hard line so that the A’s can be forced to make a decision by 2010. It might also net better lease terms for Oakland. Still, those are tenuous supporting arguments for a decision that can only be termed as baffling. More to come on this.

This could be from your champion

A voice from the past wrote the following letter to the Washington Post:

Regarding the Dec. 18 front-page story “Beyond Washington, Most Teams Cover Stadium Overruns; District Agreed to Pay Costs Exceeding Ballpark Budget,” about the District’s lease deal with the Washington Nationals:

First, when comparing the District with other cities, it is important to keep in mind that stadiums in Seattle, Milwaukee and Phoenix included roofs, a complicated design feature that makes a project trickier. The District’s stadium will be simpler.

The Nationals are contributing $5.5 million a year on top of $20 million upfront. Over the 30-year lease, this amounts to $165 million. Almost no other U.S. city is receiving that much rent; some teams pay just $1 million a year in rent.

Also, Camden Yards in Baltimore was 95 percent funded by that city. By comparison, the District’s stadium is funded almost exclusively by large businesses, the federal government and ticket holders — sparing average taxpayers.

Further, many ballparks, such as Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, are isolated. In the District, we’ve spent a little more to locate the stadium just 10 blocks from the Capitol. We’re creating a new neighborhood out of parking lots and warehouses; in a few years a formerly gritty corner of the city will be lively and productive, bringing millions of dollars in sales, property and income tax revenue into the general fund each year.

Finally, most maintenance costs at the stadium are the responsibility of the Nationals, not the city.

Our hope is that the enormous economic benefits that will flow to the city and its residents in years to come will demonstrate the wisdom of this investment.

ROBERT BOBB
City Administrator
District of Columbia

Robert Bobb used to work for the City of Oakland. He left for the District in 2003 to head up their ballpark efforts, among other duties. He’s exactly the guy Oakland needs for Wolff’s project. Now I know that there are plenty of issues with Bobb’s work in Oakland and his letter above has seriously flawed arguments (the large businesses are going to pass the taxes on to consumers, hello!), but I’ve pointed this out before and I’ll say it again: these projects don’t get done without a champion. That champion isn’t a politician or a person from the private sector. It has to be a bureaucrat who can pull the strings and work the phones to get things done. Considering what may have to be done to get a new A’s ballpark built, I wonder how it will get done in any Bay Area city without someone locally filling a similar role.

The San Jose plan becomes clearer, or does it?

Ray Ratto has an excellent column in today’s Chronicle in which he tries to understand what the crux of the deal is in the A’s pursuit of the “Earthquakes IV.” Much of it has to do with land, but his issue is with the Wolff-Fisher group investing in a historically money-losing MLS franchise. Ratto’s conclusion is that it’s all part of a leverage deal, with the soccer part of it a necessary pill for the investment group to swallow to get it done.

What Ratto didn’t bring up is Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment (SVS+E), the Sharks’ owners who run HP Pavilion, promote other events in San Jose and recently failed as 11th-hour saviors of the Quakes. What is SVS+E’s potential role in all of this? SVS+E stands to have a major role managing operations of facilities and parking. If Wolff/Fisher partner with SVS+E, SVS+E will have control of promotions and management of two or three venues and virtually all parking around the area. Wolff/Fisher can infuse SVS+E with new capital to get a piece of the action and move things along more quickly. At the same time, new development will occur around the arena and ballpark that can provide a huge payoff (market rate condos, Santana Row-like mixed development). Does that last sentence sound eerily like Wolff’s Coliseum North development plan? I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

If one looks at the San Jose ballpark-arena area, it is quite obvious that it is just waiting for an enormous amount of redevelopment to occur. To understand how this can take shape, it’s important to first recap other Downtown San Jose development-related news from the past several months:

  • March – Wolff and partners sell a large portion of Park Center Plaza to a group headed by the sons of frequent business partner Phil DiNapoli. SJ Mayor Ron Gonzales stages a little rally in Phoenix outside the A’s spring training facility. Meanwhile, the city goes forward with the KB Homes development at Del Monte Plant #51 (Auzerais), making Diridon South the ballpark site by default.
  • March/April – MLB approves the purchase of the A’s by the Wolff/Fisher group.
  • August – Wolff unveils the Coliseum North development plan. Ballpark designs are released, which are not site-specific.
  • September – MLB commish Bud Selig visits San Jose to speak at Commonwealth Club, meets with SJ officials prior to speech, repeats the “We are focusing on Oakland, we don’t like changing territorial rights” position.
  • October – San Jose Water Company gets entitlements from the City of San Jose to start development of the SJWC parking lots (east of the arena/ballpark). Plans call for mid-rise residential and a high-rise office tower. Once construction starts, parking in the immediate area around the arena for arena events will be significantly reduced, which means that new parking will need to be built nearby to replenish supply. One of the SJWC board members happens to be Phil DiNapoli. SJWC is looking for an experienced development partner for the site instead of developing the site by themselves. (I’ll give two guesses as to who might emerge as the likeliest development partner.)
  • November – SJ City Council approves the ballpark study for Diridon South, moves ahead on site acquisition efforts.
  • December – Last minute efforts are launched to save Quakes from moving to Houston. The effort fails, but Wolff/Fisher/the A’s emerge as a leading candidate for a new Quakes MLS franchise. Wolff indicates that the Quakes should be in San Jose. Speculation begins on the San Jose ballpark site holding a stadium or stadia for both the Quakes and A’s.

The beauty of what Wolff is doing is that the plan is portable. Whether the stadium plan is based on a shared facility or separate facilities, it is portable and could be applied anywhere: San Jose, Fremont, or Oakland. It could be split between cities (where the Quakes stay in San Jose while the A’s stay in Oakland), but that would reduce or eliminate potential cost savings and investment value. From a practical standpoint, it’s excellent “neutral” positioning. Yet there’s a lot of evidence that points directly to San Jose. When looking from the historical perspective at the events that transpired above and the lack of progress in Oakland, everything seems to conveniently dovetail together, no?

Notes from the SJ ballpark scoping session

I showed up a few minutes late for the EIR scoping session, but I think I got most of the pertinent points. The schedule is as follows:

  • Public comments for this scoping phase are due January 3, 2006.
  • The Draft EIR will be released sometime in late February, with a 45-day public review period to follow.
  • The final EIR will be up for Planning Commission certification around May 31.
  • June 20 is the deadline for any appeals.
  • The plan will then be placed before the City Council for a vote. If successful, it will become a ballot measure in the November 7, 2006 General Election.

Other things of note:

  • Several residents from local neighborhoods expressed concern about noise and traffic abatement. There is a distinct possibility that some streets in the Delmas Park area would be closed on game days/nights to better manage traffic. Soundproofing may have to be done on nearby houses and the ballpark would have to be built in a way that best mitigates noise and light pollution.
  • Parking is going to be a problem, especially when the SJ Water lots are developed. Something will have to replace lost parking.
  • The redone street grid will have some unknown impact. The Autumn Parkway development being planned for the area north of the arena is not budgeted at this time.
  • Various ballpark configurations will be studied for their potential impacts and fitness.
  • Alternate sites will be included as part of the EIR.
  • District 6 councilman (and county supervisor candidate) Ken Yeager was present.
  • I asked a question about PG&E’s willingness to reconfigure the substation on the site. This does not appear to be a feasible option, which means the substation would have to either stay intact or relocate.
  • An option to dig a bowl for the stadium and place the field 15-25 feet below street level will be studied. I brought it up because I think it could help mitigate light, noise, and vertical (FAA) clearance.
  • Initial drawings continue to have the ballpark in the northeast orientation. It also has the ballpark jutting into what is now Autumn Street. That would force Autumn Street further east, next to Los Gatos Creek. One of the drawings showed a park on the creek’s west bank.

We’ll see how it goes from here. No news on this expected until after the end of the year.

Adios, Quakes

Several news outlets reported today that the Quakes are on their way out of town. To Houston, no less. There has been a lot of fingerpointing in recent weeks about who’s most to blame. It’s well known that ownership group AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group) had no interest in holding onto the team in the long term. The City of San Jose had done little over the last several years to improve the Quakes’ lease situation with SJSU. And SJSU wasn’t budging over the terms. Attendance wasn’t a big complaint driver because a well-developed fanbase and winning seasons. Revenue was.

That brings us to today, when MLS commissioner Don Garber thanked local fans and talked about a new team coming to roost in San Jose as early as 2007. The city signed a letter of intent with MLS to get a stadium financing plan in place. Judging from the message boards at bigsoccer.com, it’s no consolation.

Which brings me to an interesting A’s related bit of news. Quakes announcer and longtime South Bay sports media guy John Shrader mentioned on KNBR that one of the local investor groups thought to potentially save the Quakes or invest in a new team was led by none other than Lew Wolff and the A’s. No details were revealed beyond that, which is enough to start some wild speculation:

  • How serious was Wolff about investing in the Quakes?
  • Did he make any kind of proposal?
  • Did the proposal involve a new soccer specific stadium?
  • Or was it more along the lines of a shared stadium situation?
  • If so, where? San Jose? Oakland? Elsewhere in the Bay Area?
  • Does this mean he actually has designs on the A’s moving to San Jose?

Obviously, any number of conclusions can be drawn from this tiny bit of information. Garber mentioned that talks with Wolff and the A’s will continue into the new year. It can’t be denied: Wolff’s connections to San Jose and the Bay Area are as strong as ever, as evidenced by his willingness to entertain Quakes talks. And that should come as a relief to A’s fans who fear a move to Vegas or Portland.

VTA pulls BART federal funding request – effect on SJ ballpark

Spiraling costs and debates about the direction and financial stability of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority caused VTA to pull its request for $750 million in federal funds today. While this isn’t directly related to the ballpark, it at least for the time being kills one of the arguments for a San Jose ballpark: BART access from the East Bay. That news will come into play with the upcoming environmental impact report, which will have to take not having BART into account.

That isn’t to say that BART coming to the South Bay in the future isn’t completely dead, but it will push the expected operation date of 2017-2018 out several more years. It’s possible that VTA will move to an alternative, one that doesn’t involve the expensive downtown San Jose subway that would run underneath Santa Clara Street. Since feasibility of the Fremont/Warm Springs extension is dependent on the South Bay extension, it’s quite possible that Warm Springs (which did not receive federal funding earlier this year) is not happening anytime soon either. That could create a similar albeit lesser negative effect on a Fremont ballpark.