Pay no attention to that stuff behind the curtain

The recent issue of Silicon Valley Metro had a blurb about the A’s/Earthquakes new South Bay office, which is due to open in downtown San Jose soon. The location? The ground floor of the Fairmont San Jose, of course. I wonder if the employees get free vouchers to eat at one of Lew Wolff’s restaurants nearby?

The office is located in the middle of a pedestrian mall called Paseo de San Antonio, which acts as a “bridge” between SJSU and Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The Fairmont actually occupies both sides of an entire block of Paseo de San Antonio thanks to an annex built a few years back. (I imagine that Lew once had dreams about holding victory rallies out on the Plaza’s stage. Maybe he still does?)

When the announcement was first made about the new Earthquakes group setting up shop downtown, there was no mention of the A’s involvement. These days, however, it seems like everything is co-branded (ESPN on ABC? What?) so it only makes sense for the A’s to have a presence.

From looking at the picture above, the missing piece appears to be the Earthquakes logo. That must be tied up in licensing somehow, and since the A’s technically don’t own the Quakes yet, they don’t have rights to the logo. The A’s logo is quite striking, and given the frequent talk of territorial rights, seems like… an invasion of sorts.

But wait, there’s more!

The vinyl window coverings shield anything that’s inside from view, but the office’s location next to an entrance to the hotel must mean there’s another entrance to the office somewhere… Eureka!

And it would appear that there’s just a little crack of light coming the edge of the curtain on the left door. Let’s take a look at what’s in there.

As the Metro blurb noted, it’s a wall-sized matte photo of a crowd. I couldn’t get a good picture of the other stuff I saw: maple cabinetry, halogen lamps. It’s starting to feel like a condominium sales center (physical stadium models and video flythroughs included) with a hint of boutique retail.

Historical footnote: For those wondering if this is some sort of territorial rights violation, remember that the A’s once had multiple “A’s Clubhouse” team stores. IIRC, there were locations at malls throughout the East Bay. There was one other location: the Great Mall in Milpitas. The stores closed sometime in the late 90’s or a few years ago.

How to build a nice stadium on the cheap

The old adage, “Good, Fast, and Cheap – Pick Two!” applies to nearly everything from soup to software. In no way is stadium building spared. Design, materials, labor – all of these things cost time and money, and to get a distinctive, quality product usually requires a couple of years and a few hundred million dollars for starters. Which makes the Stanford Stadium renovation particularly interesting. Done in only nine months and for $100 million dollars, Stanford now has a first-class facility that it can proudly use to showcase to recruits and alumni alike. So did John Arrillaga’s baby somehow escape the old maxim? Well…. sort of.

Built in 1921, the old Stanford Stadium was the oldest large venue in the Bay Area. It’s had a good history, hosting a Super Bowl and filling in nicely as an understudy for Candlestick Park when the latter was damaged in Loma Prieta. Despite this, the structure itself was very simply built, with bleachers anchored to a man-made oval-shaped hill. The listed capacity of 86,000 made Stanford Stadium appear much larger than it was in person – even though the LA Coliseum held only 20,000 more people, it seemed twice as immense. Stanford Stadium’s large stated capacity ended up being a curse. As a small school (in terms of enrollment and alumni) compared to its Pac-10 rivals, the football program had a difficult time selling tickets for a football program whose rollercoaster fortunes made it difficult to sustain a following among the picky Bay Area sports consumer. For years, alumni and the athletics department wanted to redo the stadium to become more like the Oregon’s Autzen Stadium: a 54,000-seat venue whose intimacy made it one of the toughest places to play in the country.

In 2005, construction finally began following Stanford’s last game versus Notre Dame on November 26, 2005. The project was originally slated to be complete by the team’s scheduled first home game against San Jose State this past September 9. Delays forced the opening date to be pushed back one week until the next home game against Navy. Other than that, there were no considerable delays. Crews worked 16 hours a day, every day to get the job done. A design-build approach was used to reduce development time and make decision-making quick. Longtime Stanford booster and alum John Arrillaga, who also seemingly built half the Silicon Valley, took the reins of the project.

So what does $100 million and nine months get you? Let’s take a look.

The Upper Deck

As the cheap seats, the upper deck is usually considered a design afterthought, or a method to squeeze in the required number of seats after you’ve taken care of the rich folks with the suites in club seats. In this case, it’s a testament to cost-cutting. Over half of Stanford Stadium’s seats (29,000) are in the upper deck, and unlike the previous version, the seats aren’t anchored to a hill. Instead, they’re supported using steel beams and concrete columns. The secret is in the aluminum risers that hold the seats. Lightweight and quick to fabricate, the risers were undoubtedly the best choice to keep costs down, especially with the rising cost of concrete. Nearly every large stadium in the Bay Area has aluminum risers in use somewhere, including the Coliseum, where the portable field level Mt. Davis seats are moved in and out of the stadium depending on the A’s and Raiders’ schedules. It’s unusual to see aluminum used so broadly, but here it makes sense. Such a technique could be difficult to duplicate at a ballpark due to the irregular shape of a baseball grandstand. I could see all of the outfield seats treated in this manner, which has one particular benefit: stomping on aluminum is a lot noisier than stomping on concrete.

Not only are the risers aluminum, they are the same size throughout the upper deck. A typical baseball or football stadium will have a combination of bleachers and regular seats, and this one is no different. However, in this case the row treads (row depths) are the same regardless of the type of seating. At 30 inches, the treads are better than your garden variety bleachers (24″) but not as good as typical chairback seat treads (33″). If you happen to be taller than average height, you’ll feel the lack of leg room immediately. The universal nature of the row tread allowed the design to include a maximum number of seats while eliminating quirks that can come up when dealing with different tread widths, such as different aisles for each seating type. 3 inches may not sound that significant, but in this case it means an extra 4 rows in the east grandstand, translating to 1,000 seats.

Consolidate!

In the picture above, you see a short lower deck, the lower concourse immediately above it, then the upper deck and press box. Surprisingly, this is not a common configuration for football. Unlike baseball, where current design trends dictate open concourses that have views of the field, football stadia architects are not bound by such an aesthetic. Instead, they’re told to use all available space for seats and suites. The open concourse shown here isn’t just for a pretty view, it has a practical purpose as well. New ADA requirements demand that 1% of all seating be wheelchair accessible, with at least the same amount of companion seats. Upper deck seating is inaccessible for wheelchairs from the tunnels/vomitories because they all use stairs or have no landings for wheelchairs. To allocate enough wheelchair seating for both the upper and lower levels, the lower concourse was created. There’s also some accessible seating at the top of the upper deck along each corner and end zone. Sidebar: as part of the Coliseum’s renovation to bring the Raiders back, the formerly open lower concourse had concrete walls or slatted fences placed in back of many of the seating sections. Nowadays, the only places where you can get a good view behind a seating section are – that’s right – in some places where there is wheelchair seating.

The press box is also a place where money was saved. They started by incorporating a pre-existing elevator for the old press box (nice reuse!). The three level structure appears fancy enough, with two separate stadium club areas: one enclosed on the first floor and one on the roof. In between are the “print media” level and the TV/radio level. The building only has seven luxury suites, which is a low number that reflects how college football is sold. While the big program schools have lots of suites (though not nearly as many as NFL stadia), the real money is in those enclosed club areas, where high powered alumni and boosters can mingle and network. By placing all of these facilities in a single structure, assuredly much money was saved as opposed to the usual alternative: spreading thousands of square feet of luxury suites around the ring of the stadium.

Cutting corners
A few other little touches show signs of cost-cutting while not appearing cheap:

  • The beams and railings weren’t painted, giving them an “industrial chic” look.
  • An entire scoreboard/video board from the old stadium was saved and reused.
  • The set of arches in the north end aren’t adorned with engravings of latin phrases or marble gargoyles. They’re clean and simple.
  • I went into one of the men’s restrooms on the lower concourse and noticed that it didn’t have a ceiling. No big deal there, it was well lit. If you’re worried about a stench wafting into the concourse, it shouldn’t be a problem. The stadium will get used perhaps a couple dozen times a year (at most?).
  • The landscaped hill that forms the outer façade appears relatively unchanged, except for some new bushes here and there. The stairs that take you up to the upper concourse (much like the Coliseum) are still there.

Spending money where it counts
There are two places where there was no evidence of skimping. First is the fantastic distributed sound system, made of numerous clusters of JBL Pro speakers. It had, to my somewhat trained ear, a nice flat response that was clear from everywhere in the stadium. Best of all, there was little leakage outside the stadium that I could detect – an all-important aspect for a stadium that is close to some well-heeled residential neighborhoods. The reduced footprint of the seating bowl contributes to this effect as it takes less power to provide the PA to everyone in the stadium.
“Hi-Def Football” has been a recent tagline in selling the new Stanford Stadium. The video screens spread throughout don’t disappoint. The video/matrix boards (Daktronics, I believe) in both end zones are excellent, even though they aren’t needed to broadcast the game since the sightlines are so good from anywhere in the seating bowl. I can’t leave out the numerous HD LCD screens throughout the lower concourse (HP provided, of course), though at first glance it looks like they weren’t set up properly. The colors appeared a bit washed out, as if they were using simple analog coax when they should’ve been using some kind of digital or composite connection.

Grading the experience
While just about any change would’ve been a vast improvement over the old Stanford Stadium, this renovation went beyond what I had expected. The new stadium is not only modern with this millenium’s creature comforts, it has legs. If they needed to expand it by 10,000 seats it could be done fairly easily. They preserved the character of the old structure while improving it seismically, giving fans the best views of any Bay Area football stadium to boot. It’s possible that the package could start to look dated in a decade or two, but college football is a far less demanding market than the pro sports. That said, I’m not certain that many of the lessons here can be applied to a new A’s ballpark. There are too many different and segmented markets that have to be catered to at a MLB facility. MLB is not simply about the game anymore. It’s about having as many avenues as possible to take a fan’s hard-earned cash. Stanford Stadium doesn’t speak to that, at least not with $3 hot dogs and one-size-fits-all treads. Now if the Cardinal can only field a decent team…

New Coliseum lease in the works

The Trib’s Paul T. Rosynsky gets the scoop on a new Coliseum lease extension, but in addition he sheds light on the weirdly complicated political machine that exists within and around the Coliseum Authority.

Consider the fact that the guy getting the deal done, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, isn’t even on the current Coliseum Authority board. He was kicked out as part of a power play when, several years ago, Haggerty pushed for Fremont as an option in the HOK study. According to the article, Haggerty is scheduled to rejoin the board soon. As a supe, he’ll also have the chance to rubber stamp the very deal he put together as part of its final approval process. Who asked him to make the deal? Authority President Gail Steele, who is also a supe – and just as important, in whose district the Pacific Commons land lies. Why? Probably because Haggerty has a good working relationship with Wolff – as far as we know.

With Nate Miley soon leaving the Authority board, the only real holdout left is IDLF. If IDLF is really committed to keeping the team in Oakland, it will soon become his time to show his hand.

A’s won’t hit 2 million but will make more money?

The final totals aren’t in yet, but with one week left in the A’s home schedule, the A’s have pulled in slightly less than 1.8 million fans. According to Attendance Watch (sidebar on the right), the team has averaged 24,251 per game over 74 dates. The projected total for the full 81-game season is 1,964,352. That makes them over one game’s attendance short of 2 million.

That may sound disappointing, but based on comments by Lew Wolff and Michael Crowley, they’re satisfied with the turnout. I’ve noticed that many critics of the third deck closure have claimed the strategy would fail, but they didn’t exactly say what failure meant. If it meant that the A’s wouldn’t boost attendance, there’s no news there because at no point did the front office indicate that total attendance would rise. Instead, they pointed to increases in season ticket and advance sales, which appears to have happened. All of this came at a price – the reduction in walk-up makes the A’s far less accessible for younger or less wealthy fans. As I posited at the beginning of the season, sections 315-319 were perhaps too good for their price. By eliminating those sections, $10 seats (other than the regular bleachers) are what they are in most other MLB stadia: cheap seats with compromised views.

Even with the dropoff, ticket prices were raised 25%. Ticket prices have risen steadily since the start of the A’s recent run of success. The A’s average ticket price is now in line with the league average.

So really it’s a matter of matching or surpassing revenue targets by not dropping attendance 25%. No team readily releases its finances to the public, so the following chart is just a guess. It’s the product of the past two charts’ data while factoring in a 15% discount. That should cover the inherent discounts in season ticket packages, promotional discounts such as BART Double Play Wednesdays, and other changes. It does not take into account revenue from suites or special premium seats like the Diamond Level.

If my assumptions are correct, that’s a 17% increase over 2005, and over double (121%) the revenue of the year 2000. Talk about beating the recession. At the same time, payroll is up 12% over 2005 and almost double (94%) over 2000, so it’s not as if it’s all going to the owners. With the incentives that Frank Thomas will earn this season, the numbers will line up much more evenly (payroll up 17% over 2005 and slightly over double 2000’s payroll).

What can we glean from this? All we can say at this point is that the A’s are able to pay the bills and make some money for themselves, assuming that revenue sharing receipts are similar to what the A’s have received over the past two CBA’s. Looking at the trend from 2001 through 2005, the A’s would’ve been hard pressed to fund the payroll by continuing with the previous pricing scheme. But what would’ve happened had they kept the third deck open and simply raised ticket prices 9% (the trend) across the board? Unless they had an enormous (20% or more) spike in attendance, they would’ve been short. Sure, they could’ve had other revenue coming from other sources such as the MLB national media deals, but come on – these people aren’t in business to lose money, at least not on a regular basis. If you’re looking for a nefarious scheme to swindle fans, it’s not here. It’s my sincere hope that in the new venue there will be creative methods of getting affordable tickets for the small, but vocal group of disenfranchised fans affected by the third deck closure. I’ve come up with a couple of ideas on this blog, and I think I’ve got a few more up my sleeve.

BTW, the A’s have an outside chance of surpassing the 2 million mark. However, they’d have to average 30,000 per game for the rest of the homestand to do it. Considering the next four games will be against an out-of-contention, Travis Hafner-less Cleveland Indians squad, I can’t see it happening.

Coliseum extension talks die

Any time it takes several months to essentially repeat a pre-existing financial arrangement, something must be amiss. And so tonight it’s being reported that talks between the A’s and Coliseum JPA over a three-year lease extension have broken down. This obviously sets the stage for the A’s last season in Oakland to be 2010. Here are some links:

This puts the A’s in a little bit of a bind. Wolff admitted in the Aguirre interview (worthwhile read – Wolff explains the funding mechanism) that it would take at least a year for environmental and other studies to be completed. That’s an indicator that the previous EIR’s for the original Pacific Commons wouldn’t simply be accepted with addenda or other changes that reflected the modified scope of the project. Assuming everything went smoothly from this point forward, it’s possible construction could start either in the spring or summer of 2007, but any number of things could delay the project. 48 months is plenty of time to build a ballpark – especially are smaller-than-MLB-normal park. The A’s will be helped by the fact that there’s no demolition involved.

Should the delay push the groundbreaking out, the team could still get started by the end of the 2007 season without significant impact. If it goes beyond the end of the 2008 season, the A’s would be faced with a number of options, none of which are terribly palatable:

  • Ask for a short-term extension of the Coliseum lease for 3 months or so. They’ll likely pay through the nose for such an option, and it’s possible that it wouldn’t even be on the table if the JPA and the Raiders are already talking about a Coliseum renovation that makes the bowl even more of a football-specific venue (don’t expect the Raiders to bolt for LA). Precedent: the Seattle Mariners used the Kingdome for the first part of the 1999 season when delays pushed the opening of Safeco Field until July 15.
  • Use Raley Field as a temporary home for the first half of the season. This would be similar to the how the A’s were forced to play at Las Vegas’ Cashman Field for the first few weeks of the 1996 season. At least the facilities at Raley are in significantly better shape than utilitarian Cashman. Raley could conceivably be expanded by some 5-10,000 seats, but that would have to be negotiated since the A’s-River Cats deal ends in 2010. Impact to the River Cats’ schedule is unknown.
  • Ask the Giants to use SBC Park temporarily. While there is precedent to crosstown rivals using each others’ parks (Precedent: the Yanks used the Mets’ Shea Stadium in 1975-76 while the House that Ruth Built was getting modernized), don’t count on it happening.

My guess is that the greatest opposition will come from environmental and land use advocates, as well as Fremont residents who either don’t want a large project like a ballpark in town and/or don’t support any potential subsidies for the A’s – regardless of what shape those subsidies take. There promises to be an outcry from the stay-in-Oakland crowd, but it remains to be seen exactly strong it will stay or how it will evolve over the next year or so.

One other thing – Lew put a price tag on the stadium without land: $400 million (thanks James).

Hope for Sacramento?

The A’s recently signed a four-year extension to their development agreement with the Sacramento River Cats. The key here is that the agreement runs through 2010. That’s pretty much the same year that the A’s other agreements – leases, radio, television – run out.

From a strategic standpoint, it puts the A’s in an extremely flexible position once the current arrangements end, whether it’s in the Bay Area or beyond. But does that mean a potential exodus to Sacramento? Bee columnist Marcus Bretón, who has been championing the A’s moving to Sac for several years, says it’s possible but isn’t counting on such a development.

Any talk about Sacramento has been complicated by joint efforts of downtown Sacramento business leaders and the Kings to build a downtown arena. The arena would be located on the site of a 240-acre, abandoned Union Pacific railyard. Two measures are on the November ballot for a 1/4-cent sales tax hike in Sacramento county as well as a plan to develop the railyard, which would conceivably include the arena. However, yesterday the Maloofs broke off talks with the city/county over the size and scope of the arena piece. Supposedly the plan is short on parking for the arena, among other things.

Does this provide an opening for the A’s? It’s possible, but it would be a long shot. First off, a ballpark alone could have double the physical footprint of an arena (in this plan the arena is 8.5 acres, a ballpark could be 12-18 acres). While parking requirements in the area adjacent to a ballpark may not be as large as what the Kings are looking for, there’d still be a requirement of some 1,200 spaces or more. That would stretch the ballpark’s scope to around 20 acres, which is exactly the amount of land being allocated for the entire arena/entertainment district area.

For Sacramento to even be able to entertain the A’s in this regard, several things would have to happen:

  • Measures Q (authorizes usage of funds from Measure R) & R (1/4-cent sales tax hike over 15 years) must pass
  • The Kings choose not to go with a downtown arena (possible, given a recent statement by Joe Maloof)
  • Downtown interests redo their redevelopment plan to include a ballpark instead of an arena
  • City/county allow the Kings to build elsewhere without being required to provide public funds – this could mean in or out of Sacramento

Supposedly the tax would generate some $1 billion or more over the 15 years of the tax hike. Keep in mind that this money would not just go towards a ballpark. It would go towards the development of the remaining 220 acres, and that means large amounts of infrastructure. Cleanup of the land is expected to be costly. The land purchase is still under negotiation. I would be surprised if the various parties would be able to turn around and get something done in a year. My guess is that it won’t.

Bretón misreads the A’s situation in his article. He writes that the A’s have been faithful to the East Bay by virtue of the talks with Fremont, but based on Lew Wolff’s speech for the San Jose Chamber last week, it’s only true if “East Bay” were replaced by “Greater Bay Area.”

News from around the land

One more “Choose or Lose the A’s” event is slated for this Friday at 5:00 in the Coliseum B-Lot. More info can be found at the Green Stampede and A’s Fan Radio myspace pages.

In SI’s annual Fan Value Index (ratings based on surveyed attendees at various games), McAfee Coliseum came in 20th out of the 30 MLB parks. As usual, there’s a cheap shot at the idea of the A’s moving to Vegas or Louisville (???), but these days that comes with the territory. The Coliseum scores high in terms of Accessibility (public transportation, parking) and Team (of course) but low in Neighborhood. Wrigley Field, of all places, scores lower – but that’s due to the Cubs being so awful this season. One thing that deserves reading further: the Accessibility section of each ballpark is quite telling. Compare the two Bay Area ballparks’ results to the LA parks. If Fremont is the place, the challenge will be in convincing the public that the experience will be more like the former than the latter.

There are a slough of articles (Merc, Chron, Ratto) about the opening of the new Stanford Stadium this weekend. The privately-financed project, which has taken just over 9 months and $100 million, is considered a minor miracle in stadium development parlance. I’ll go into why next week after I check the place out during its inaugural game on Saturday night.

In St. Louis, the Cardinals have stretched out their hands for what could be $100 million in subsidies to fund their updated version of a ballpark village. This project is one to watch for it could provide a blueprint as to how an A’s ballpark village might look, even if the funding methods aren’t the same.