Splash hits in HD

The Giants unveiled their new scoreboard/video board just in time for the start of the season, and even on video it looks impressive. The new board is the centerpiece of several tweaks to AT&T Park, including the new ultra-premium Lexus Dugout Club. The new club has 108 padded seats with extra leg room and a dozen 17-inch LCD screens lining the backstop.

At 31′ high x 103′ long, the board is
four times the size of one of the current Diamond Vision boards at the Coliseum. Combine the Coliseum’s two video board and monochrome scoreboard sets, and you get about the same amount of display space. Boy has technology changed to make that display space more dramatic!

The lineup and defensive displays are decent, along with the designated video space above the line score. The line score itself looks quite small though I’m sure it’s quite legible. I’ll have to check it out in person to know for sure. The sponsorship nods on the lower corners are well-sized and out of the way. There are parts of the display that look a bit contrasty, so I imagine that colors and fonts will undergo tweaks to find a happy medium. I’d prefer to see a screen or two that looks like the front and back of a baseball card, if only for nostalgia’s sake. There should be a sponsorship available from Upper Deck or Topps if someone works the phones.


Update 12:00 AM: As I expected, there were complaints about the legibility of certain display items, such as statistics in the lineup. The tweaks may come early.

Show me the money, Niners

I was going to compare the San Francisco and Santa Clara 49ers stadium concepts in this space, but I’ll refrain because Ann Killion’s column in the Merc captures my thinking almost exactly. For the the Niners it all comes down to one question: How does it get financed? Very little of the information released about the two sites talks about who pays for what. I don’t think this is the 49ers hiding anything, I think they simply don’t know.

Maybe they’re looking for a ginormous loan from the NFL, such as the one approved on Tuesday by the owners for the $1.7 billion Giants/Jets stadium. The previous debt limit imposed on teams that applied for the league’s G-3 stadium loan program was $150 million. How much would the 49ers need above that initial amount? The $200 million being sought from Santa Clara’s utility reserve? More?

The San Francisco plan doesn’t shed anymore light, though to be fair it was conceived by the City and developer Lennar with little input from the team. In the proposal, there’s no mention of financing either, except that the City vows not to tap the General Fund to make the stadium alternative work.

There’s a good deal of optimism coming from 49er headquarters, but there isn’t much substance to back it up. Even though Lew Wolff hasn’t yet published the A’s plans, at least he’s given some indication as to what he plans to do, and has backed it up with land acquisitions and the Cisco partnership. In Santa Clara, the tide is already starting to turn against the stadium proposal with the release of data showing potential rate hikes if the Niners go with the reserve fund. They need to get control of the situation. Stat.

Glenn Dickey’s Examiner Column

So what we have here is your garden variety shoot first, ask questions later piece from a well-respected, longtime sports columnist. It does little to inform fans about the process, and frankly does a disservice to its readers. But what do I know? I’m a mere blogger.

Dickey takes a little swipe at Fremont for being “not really a city but a collection of small towns,” and attributes that characteristic to the lack of progress in extending BART south. Followers of the WSX and BART-to-SV extensions know that Fremont’s size has little to do with it. Both projects were packaged contingent upon funding happening in Santa Clara County. No one city has sufficient enough clout to extend BART, not San Francisco, Oakland, Antioch, Livermore, Fremont, or San Jose.

Then Dickey starts with the “bait-and-switch” possibility:

A’s managing partner Lew Wolff had made proximity to a BART line a condition for a new site in Oakland. When he announced his preferred Oakland site, across 66th Avenue from the Coliseum, he insisted that a new BART station must be built there.

Now, the official word from the A’s is that a BART station nearby is not a requirement for the new site.

What’s going on here?

It’s simple. The BART station condition was based on the idea that the ballpark would be in Oakland. Last time I checked, Fremont was not within Oakland city limits. As the stadium site moves south, it draws different demographics. Since much of the new demographic is going to be South Bay residents who don’t have the privilege of a having a nearby BART station, BART obviously won’t be a requirement for them. It’s the South Bay contingent that’s expected to make up for much of the lost BART-based fans.

Let’s take a look at Dickey’s primary argument:

Never forget that Wolff has made his money in real estate. His projects have included much of what has been built in downtown San Jose.

The projected baseball park in Fremont would be part of a much larger real estate project, including retail and housing. To build that, Wolff needs to get zoning changes. The lure of a new park will certainly be enough to get those changes.

I believe that, having got the zoning changes and started his real estate project, Wolff will then announce that it really isn’t feasible to build a new park there.

And then, the bidding will begin from cities eager to get the A’s.

I’ll keep bringing this up until I’m blue in the face: Fremont’s control of the zoning is their leverage. Why on earth would they approve the land development deal without the ballpark? They’re not interested in changing the city’s charter and adding residents without new revenue streams to go with it. Fremont’s angle is keeping the entertainment dollar in the city. Accepting separate plans for the housing and ballpark village kills their leverage. The entire project has to be submitted with all parts included, otherwise environmental and economic impact studies can’t be done properly. In the end Fremont has to certify the studies associated with the project to let it proceed. If it doesn’t, Wolff is stuck with a bunch of land in South Fremont that isn’t appreciating much.

If Wolff wanted to play the normal stadium extortion game, he’d have done what the Marlins have foolishly done in Miami, destroying all goodwill with the community even after two World Series titles in a decade. Or easier yet, he’d have simply announced the A’s were going to move to Vegas while mayor Oscar Goodman still was interested and not jaded from being used by other teams’ owners and Bud Selig. Portland had a better chance to be in play when Wolff first took over the team. San Antonio has felt the sting as much as Las Vegas. It’s only getting more expensive to build a ballpark anywhere with each passing year. And Wolff’s not getting any younger.

What about the Cisco angle? Why would Cisco sign its name so early to a plan that could become a PR nightmare if Wolff decides to pull a bait-and-switch job? Cisco could have easily waited until the A’s moved, began construction, and started taking bids for naming rights. That would’ve been pain-free. Instead, Cisco is a partner in this venture, and not just because the ballpark would be a tech showcase. Cisco wants to be cool like Valley cohorts Google and Apple, and it won’t get there backing something that isn’t substantive.

Still not convinced? Wolff submitted the Quakes/SJSU stadium proposal last week, and guess what – it looks similar in some ways to the Cisco Field concept. The financing plan involves rezoning of industrial land and turning profits from home development into funding for the stadium. Now if Wolff had the Giants’ territorial rights over turned it’s likely he’d have used the same rezoning plan as part of a downtown San Jose ballpark project. Since territorial rights aren’t getting changed anytime soon, it makes more sense to use try to pitch it for the Quakes’ stadium effort.

Sadly, there’ll be conspiracy theorists who’ll continue to shake their fists until the first fan walks through a Cisco Field turnstile. I can’t blame Wolff for not worrying about convincing them. There’s little he can do about it other than build the ballpark. Even then, many of them won’t come.

SJ Giants Exit, Enter SJ A’s?

Last November we discussed how the A’s move to Fremont might affect the San Jose Giants. The move would invoke baseball’s Rule 52, which requires consent by or compensation for a team whose territory has been encroached. Now it appears that a decision is about to be made. With no likelihood for the $8 million being sought by the Giants’ owners to renovate San Jose Municipal Stadium, the state of the ballpark forces their hand. Both the SJ and SF Giants have wanted Muni to be upgraded for some time, though neither wants to foot much of the bill for it.

The SJ Giants are approaching their 20th year in existence, the longest continuous tenure of any team in San Jose. Over those two decades they’ve cultivated a small, devoted fanbase while showcasing *ahem* a few future SF Giants. Should the team move there will be a void that a major league team can’t quite fill. Minor league baseball has an intimacy and pace that can’t be captured at a major league park.

Don’t cry too much for the SJ Giants’ owners. Even one of the majority owners, Dick Beahrs, admits that “If the team moved elsewhere, I think you can make an argument that economically it makes sense, but we wouldn’t be getting together on Thursdays in July to watch a game together.” The owners will certainly be well-compensated. There’s still a movement afoot for a team in the North Bay, which certainly sounds like a natural fit once the Bay Area baseball realignment has begun. The fans, however, won’t receive much solace.

As it stands, the A’s are still early in a relationship with new high-A affliate Stockton. The Ports play in a shiny new riverfront ballpark of their own, and it’s difficult to envision that arrangement changing. The A’s did operate two high-A franchises in early Beane era, so who’s to say that can’t happen again? Consider this:

The A’s could bring SJ Muni into the SJSU-Earthquakes project, which makes sense because it’s the same part of town. The A’s, Quakes, and San Jose partner on Muni renovation, which would benefit the A’s and San Jose (good PR), and SJSU (updated facility). While the Giants’ tradition would leave, a new one could start for the A’s. Stockton’s market isn’t threatened by a team in central San Jose. Bay Area fans would have an even greater opportunity to see A’s draftees matriculate through the farm system – which tends to pay more dividends than the Giants’.

If the concept sounds bizarre, keep this in mind: One of the first sports teams Lew Wolff invested in was the late 70’s San Jose Missions. Wolff has experience with the minors. The Mets and Yankees both have short-season teams in the five boroughs (Coney Island and Staten Island, respectively).

Of course, there are business reasons for not having a minor league club in San Jose. San Jose is already full of non-major league sports franchises that compete against each other (Sabercats, Stealth), and having a baseball team would dilute the market. A baseball team would also compete with the parent A’s to an extent, and certainly with the Quakes for the budget sports dollar. Also, how would pro-MLB San Jose partisans feel about such a move? Would they consider it patronizing? I’d like to see the A’s preserve minor league baseball for the multitude of reasons described above, but it requires some scratch and someone else to operate the team, and the economics may not allow such a situation to occur.

Is there room for another sports talk station?

Note: I’m picking this up from a previous post’s comments thread.

We can all agree that the KNBR is skewed towards the SF teams and covers the W’s mostly because they’re under contract. The Oakland teams get token coverage, while the Sharks get mentioned because the Razor loves them. You can’t fault KNBR for catering to their vested interests. Sports talk is not exactly high up on the journalistic integrity scale, so to hold them to task for this skew is laughable. To have another sports talk station makes sense for fans of those affected teams.

However, that’s not the issue here.

The real question is: “Is there room in the Bay Area for another sports talk station?” The two KNBR’s constitute 1 1/2 stations due to simulcasts (Razor & Mr. T), sloughing off W’s or 49ers games when they conflict with the Giants or the Razor & Mr. T, Giants midnight baseball replays, and much of the throwaway syndicated programming out there (late night ESPN radio, most FOX Sports radio). Programming a sports talk station is inherently expensive and risky. Before you answer the question above, consider the following:

  • How do you balance expensive, locally produced programming against cheaper (and less popular syndicated shows)?
  • What marketing strategy do you use? Is the station an anti-KNBR? An East Bay station? A “fair and balanced” station? A more edgy station?
  • Do you succumb to “partnering” with ESPN (Eternally Self-Promoting Network)?
  • How much specialized programming do you include? Examples: boxing, outdoors/fishing, extreme sports, fantasy sports, auto racing, horse racing
  • What kinds of partnerships do you strike with local universities to carry their events?
  • What kind of sports news operation do you run? Do you cover every local pro sports event or cover events selectively?
  • Is it worth it to pay for higher priced, big name radio talent?
  • Should the station have sports programming exclusively, or a mix of sports and other news/talk?
  • How much do you want shows to be content driven (interviews) as opposed to caller driven?
  • How much time do you spend on pre- and post-game shows?
  • How much do gimmicks factor in? Examples: scantilly-clad women, contests and giveaways

Next, let’s consider the market. The last published Arbitron ratings I’ve seen have KNBR at 2.3 for November ’06-January ’07 in the San Francisco market (14th) and 1.8 in the San Jose market (20th). KTCT (a.k.a. KNBR-1050) hit 0.6 (35th) in SF and 0.4 (40th) in SJ, which explains why they don’t spend much on local programming.

Let’s talk a look at the shares for sports talk stations in more sports-crazy markets (Arbitron ratings courtesy of Radio Daily News):

I threw in LA facetiously, of course. Other than LA, a market’s total sports radio share appears to typically hover between 3 and 5 (3-5% of the market). The combined share of the two KNBR’s is nearly 3, and in a place as diverse and segmented as the Bay Area, can you reasonably ask for more? Would the addition of another station take away a 1 share from someone else, whether it was KNBR or other types of programming? While the sports offerings may not be diverse, it could be argued that the market penetration for sportstalk is close to maxed out.

Then again, maybe it isn’t. A look at the dropoff from the SF market to the SJ market indicates that the further outside of SF, the less popular KNBR is in general. The SF market includes Oakland, so the pooling of both east and west sides of the bay presents an inaccurate picture in ratings. The East Bay must be weaker than SF and the Peninsula. Perhaps an opportunity is there for an East Bay/South Bay oriented station, one that caters to non-SF teams. There’s an obvious marketing angle in presenting the station as the opposite of the so-called effete, wine-sipping types to the west.

Wolff and A’s broadcasting veep Ken Pries are paying attention to the market. Pries has indicated that if a station were available locally, the A’s would be interested. There’s an element of timing to such an acquisition, because in the recent past most local radio station sales have been as part of huge corporate portfolios, such as the Susquehanna sale. It’s possible that the rumored sale of various Clear Channel stations may make one or more individual stations available locally, but it could lead to more of the same corporate horse trading.

Thankfully, other teams’ owners have already set the trend by buying their own radio properties. The following are two excellent case studies:

  • A year ago, Angels owner Arte Moreno paid $42 million for KMXE, a 50,000-watt AM outfit in LA. Formerly a Spanish-language news/talk/sports outlet, KMXE was transformed into the Angels’ spanish flagship. Over the last year, more English-language programming has been introduced, and Moreno changed the station’s call letters to KLAA. It is thought that once ESPN-710’s deal with the Angels elapses after this coming season, the English broadcast will move to KLAA. But what will happen to the Spanish broadcasts? Moreno has done a skillful job of marketing to that market, and he may be doing the team a disservice by not utilizing the station for Spanish. One way or another, the station promises to significantly boost Angels revenues.
  • A few months prior to Moreno’s purchase, a company called Red Zebra Broadcasting bought three low-power stations in the Washington, DC area. Red Zebra is run by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. The three stations form a virtual “flagship” by simulcasting the same programming (ESPN radio and Redskins games). Depending on where you are in the market, you may be best served by listening to either WWXT 92.7-FM in Prince Frederick, MD, WWXX 94.3-FM in Warrenton, VA, or WXTR 730-AM in Alexandria, Virginia. Plans to buy two additional stations in Maryland were scuttled in January. If this sounds familar, that’s it mimics what the A’s were doing last year with two low-powered stations – though the A’s didn’t own the stations. Should two or more low-power stations owned by the same conglomerate become available, it’s certainly within reason for Wolff to look into purchasing them, price being a major factor. Once purchased, an application can be filed to boost a station’s signal to 20,000 or even 50,000 watts if it’s AM, even more if FM.

Just as with the stadium situation, patience is required when looking at the radio market. The FCC isn’t granting new licenses to anyone, so this radio wait is like looking for a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan. It requires timing, skill, and a bit of luck. The industry may shake out even more over the next two years, so with that aforementioned luck the A’s may get themselves a station yet.

Cali’s a tough place, Noll: Fremont over Santa Clara

The Merc’s Mike Swift has two good pieces today. The first covers the generally anti-public funding attitude for stadia in California. The other article has noted sports economist Roger Noll’s skepticism over the 49ers’ Santa Clara stadium plans, while also saying that the Fremont site is “much more viable.”

The only thing missing from Swift’s article is SB 4, the 2005 bill that flew under the radar during the legislative session, only to be stillborn as it went through committee. We should be proud of the fact that we aren’t likely to get extorted as our counterparts are in Pennsylvania, Florida, and even New York. It doesn’t matter that California alone would be one the world’s top ten economies. Let’s remember who would be competing for public funding if it were allowed at the state level (which it hasn’t for decades):

  1. A’s ballpark in Oakland/Alameda County
  2. San Francisco 49ers stadium
  3. San Diego Chargers stadium
  4. Sacramento Kings arena
  5. New LA football stadium to attract an NFL team
  6. San Jose Earthquakes stadium

As for Noll, he’s right. While the $200 million being pursued is only 1/4 of the 49ers’ projected budget, it’s still a sizable chunk for any municipality, let alone Santa Clara. If a vote is required – which looks likely – I don’t know how well that’ll go over. A while back I spoke with one of the Santa Clara project’s proponents, and one of the advantages about Santa Clara being pitched – the city’s ownership of an electric utility allows it to control and lower prices – could be placed at risk if the money backing that price control is leveraged. Meanwhile, Lew Wolff continues to make appearances in Fremont, yesterday reading to kids at Niles Elementary.


One other nice blurb from China Basin: PG&E will install new solar panels in three different areas at AT&T Park, enough to generate 123 kW, or “enough juice to power the ballpark’s scoreboard for an entire season.” Applause to both the Giants and PG&E for doing what they can to take a small load off the power grid.

Update (3/21): PG&E somehow “forgot” to tell its ratepayers that they would end up footing the bill for the project. Oops. So much for the good PR.

Timeline

Lew Wolff sat down with long-time A’s beat man Mychael Urban to talk shop. There are a few quips here and there about the state of the baseball side of the team, soccer, and the talked-to-death tarp matter. There’s also a little insight into planning for the ballpark, though you shouldn’t expect me to get too much out of these tea leaves:

MLB.com: Obviously, the stadium issue is front and center with most A’s fans. Where does everything stand with the proposed park in Fremont?
Wolff:
It’s the most complicated transaction that I’ve ever seen. It’s a win-win-win for everybody involved, but one of the problems we have in baseball is that everyone thinks the baseball teams should underwrite everything. I’m not talking about the public. I’m talking about various constituencies we deal with. So I’m confident that we have a great program, but there’s a lot of constituencies we have to satisfy, and we’re trying to do that. So it’s hard to set a date for when it’s going to happen. If everything went great, it could be 36 months before we open it. But that’s if everybody was cooperating exactly the way I want them to, which I’m not expecting. On a fast-track basis, we could open in 36 months, but it’s probably going to be closer to 60 months. Right now we have a certain number of issues that we need to agree to, and we’re getting close. We’re trying to stay in Alameda County, because that’s our district, and we don’t have any leverage. We can’t say, “If you don’t do this, we’re moving to Omaha.” Every other team I know of [that’s tried to get a new stadium] has had an alternate site. We’re trying to do this without that. We just want to get it done here.

That’s about as pragmatic an approach as one could expect. Wolff’s feelings about the “leverage” situation are reflective of the realities of the East Bay market, and by extension, the South Bay as well. Honestly, what other owner have you heard or read recently that has said that he doesn’t have any leverage? Leverage is the name of the usual stadium-building game, folks, and it’s clear that a different game is being played here.

The window of 36 to 60 months is nothing new. Let’s establish these timeline scenarios, remembering that in general it takes 12-18 months to complete and approve an environmental impact report and 24-30 months to build a stadium. Even though the ballpark village and surrounding residential development are integral to the plan, for now we’ll focus solely on the ballpark itself. We’ll use a hypothetical date of April 1, 2007 for the development application submission.

First, Lew’s worst case:

  • There’s a clear line between the two major phases, but in a worst case scenario the line can turn into a messy gap. Delays could come in terms of getting financing (San Diego), legal problems such as court injunctions (Cal’s Memorial Stadium retrofit), or last-minute concessions that have to be made by the developer or city (Forest City Uptown in Oakland).
  • Even in this case, the A’s have some wiggle room since their last option year at the Coliseum is 2013. They would still be eager to get everything in place ASAP because by that point they’ll have invested their $500 million on the ballpark with nothing to show for it.

Next, Lew’s best case:

  • In previous posts I had more-or-less ruled out 2010 because the schedule would be too compressed. It’s not impossible as you can see from the timeline above, but far too many things would have to fall perfectly into place to make it happen. For instance:
  • Unless the EIR and planning pieces went through without significant review, one year is too short. An EIR for the Cisco campus project is already on the books, but it was heavily dependent on the land’s planned use. The ballpark village is a night-and-day contrast from an office park. Plus there’s no telling what concessions will have to be made regarding the 2900 townhomes, some of which could run really close to the wetlands preserve.
  • 24 months to build the ballpark may well be doable, since Cisco Field will be a smaller and less complex building it can’t be ruled out.

Finally, the likely scenario:

  • This scenario includes a full 18-month study period and 30-month construction window. There are 3 months or so of padding in the middle to accommodate any changes that may occur in the schedule. What’s important is that there’d be no need to rush – and rushing costs a lot of money.