Monthly Archives: March 2009

Let’s build two

First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price? – Billionaire S.R. Hadden in the film “Contact

In the past, Lew Wolff defended the now-dead move to Fremont as staying within the market, claiming “We’re not going to Omaha.” Funny that he brought up Omaha, as area fathers there are not merely trying to build one, but count ‘em, two ballparks.

Omaha, which I’m sure Wolff referenced as a fill-in-the-blank remote location, is home to the Royals’ AAA affiliate, the Omaha Royals. The team currently plays in Rosenblatt Stadium, which is better known as the long time home of the College World Series.

Last year, the NCAA put the squeeze on Omaha by promising to keep the CWS in town only if a new, updated ballpark were built. The squeeze worked, and groundbreaking occurred a couple of months ago on a downtown plot near Qwest Center. Currently unnamed, the ballpark is slated for completion in 2011 and will cost $140 million.
You might think the AAA Royals would jump at a chance to live in an updated home, but it turns out that the sleek, new, 24,000-seat ballpark is too big for their taste. The Royals’ attentions
turned towards suburban Sarpy County, where a 6,000-seat, $26 million ballpark may be built.

Net result? Two mostly publicly funded ballparks, totalling $166 million. One will be the largest non-MLB ballpark in the country, yet it will only be in use for about 10 days and 15 games per year. The other is a much more modest ballpark, with less capacity than many spring training venues. Add that to the publicly funded Qwest Center, and you have $457 million in venues with only one professional tenant among them. Well, at least the Qwest Center doubles as a convention center. Omaha, clearly the anchor of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro, is about the size of Oakland. What makes this even more amazing is that the metro itself is smaller than San Jose.

Guidelines for commenters

This was cribbed from the Christian Science Monitor:

Tip: Do not write a novel. Keep it short. We will not publish lengthy comments. Come up with your own statements. This is not a place to cut and paste an email you received. If we recognize it as such, we won’t post it.

Please do not post any comments that are commercial in nature or that violate copyrights.

Finally, we will not publish any comments that we regard as obscene, defamatory, or intended to incite violence.

I’ve generally moderated comments with guidelines similar to those above. Now that they’ve been published so clearly for a loftier publication, I feel I can at least apply those guidelines formally.

Winter/Spring 2009 Progress Report

It’s a “quiet period,” so you know what that means. It’s time for the seasonal ballpark progress report.

First up, the home team. All of the indicators have been reset back to zero, with the exception of funding. Cisco’s continued pledge to provide naming rights for a new ballpark in the Bay Area is the one factor here. One thing we don’t know is whether the substance of the naming rights agreement will change as the site changes from Fremont to somewhere else. The deal between the A’s and Cisco included a real estate component, and while Lew Wolff maintains interest in the Fremont land for future development, that component may be worth less than when the deal was originally struck.

San Jose is just getting started on much of the political stuff. Yes, the initial EIR is done, but I won’t nudge the Political Process indicator over until an updated EIR is certified. In addition, Site Acquisition won’t be moved until both the A’s and the City come to terms on the Diridon South site or an alternative.

Note: Good reading can be found in articles by Glenn Dickey and former NY Times baseball writer Murray Chass.

A crucial vote by the Miami city commission is scheduled for tomorrow. The last vote was deadlocked, as one of the commissioners was on maternity leave and the other four could not come to an agreement on certain financial terms and last minute requests. In the last week there’s been talk of a bill to make all publicly funded venues subject to a referendum. There’s also been a deal to guarantee a percentage of construction contracts to black contractors that was completed then rescinded. Last month’s drama-filled session was no snoozefest, so tomorrow’s vote might force me to stream it alongside tourney coverage. This vote won’t be the end of the line, though, as Miami-Dade County has its own commission that needs to vote on the deal next week. Update 3/19 11:30 AM: Miami City Commission has passed the ballpark plan 3-2, after a mountain of discussion large enough to kill my tourney buzz.

I’ve added Tampa Bay to the report, as they’ve been stepping up their efforts to leave Tropicana Field sooner than later. The plan proposed last year, which would have converted tiny Al Lang Field into a major league facility in downtown St. Pete, was scrapped in favor of something less polarizing. Now they are looking north along the I-275 corridor for vacant land, ancillary development, and better access to fans in Tampa. The Rays, like the A’s, have a long way to go. Unlike the A’s, the Rays’ lease at the Trop runs through the 2027 season.

Heavy lifting for the Twins has been already been done. They’ve gotten through a contentious battle over public financing (sales tax hike without a referendum), and everything is essentially built. The only remaining issue is a reconfiguration of the garbage burning facility across the street, to keep the stench that wafts over when the doors open from violating the sensitivities and appetites of fans who might want a hot dog or nachos.

Talk of Citigroup pulling back on its 20 year, $400 million naming rights deal with the Mets has died down as the feds have focused more on the budget and now, AIG. It could come up again in the future. Other than that, they’re good to go.

The pinstripers got a $105 million loan to cover the remaining construction costs at the new palace of opulence in the Bronx. Area residents are still waiting for NY to complete the public parks that were promised.

Another edition will come in May, as the San Jose thing starts to shake out.

I smell a soap opera coming

Update 3/17 8:30 AM: Chip Johnson rips both City of Oakland and Wolff, suggests keeping team colors and history in Oakland.

Update 3/16 10:30 PM: Wolff apologizes, acknowledges season ticket sales are down.

Or rather, the soap opera’s already here. Between the gamesmanship displayed by two somewhat grumpy old men over the weekend and reporters trying to figure out what the state of territorial rights is, there is no shortage of drama. That’s great for the blog as it gives me something to write about, but frankly it’s getting a bit tiresome. Not the blog, it’s the writing about the drama that’s tiresome. So you’ll have to forgive me if for the rest of the blog’s indeterminate life, I don’t write about every minor trial and tribulation. There will be major events and major issues to discuss. The stuff that happened the last few days? It doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Take Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. Some here and in the media have baselessly speculated about Lew Wolff’s future as A’s managing partner. What’s more likely is that in 18 months, Dellums will be gearing up to get out of Dodge. 6 weeks ago, Dellums’ approval rating hovered at a W-like 25%, with a 60% disapproval rate. That’s probably eked up a bit thanks to recent news about lower crime rates, but he can’t get rid of the stink from his first 18 months on the job that easily. Dellums hasn’t said anything about running for a second term, and it would appear that a bag of rocks could defeat him at this point. It’s more likely that the usual council suspects (IDLF, Nadel, Brunner) will be climbing over each other for the brass ring.

Just 3 months before Dellums leaves office, the A’s current lease will expire, and the team will be on a year-to-year lease through 2013. Wolff’s statement that Oakland was done effectively removes Dellums and the City Council from the process thanks to its timing. It’s callous, conniving, and quite final. In 2005, Wolff put out the Coliseum North plan, set his own clock to complete the deal, and ran out the clock before moving on to Fremont. The next two years will be spent running out the clock again. He managed to get a nice piece of insurance in the year-to-year lease extension, in case of a rainy day (or several hundred). Wolff has no reason to leave his perch when he can turn the corner in 2 years while setting his sights on his ultimate goal. If Wolff failed in his next endeavor and was forced to go back to Oakland, it’s likely that neither he nor Dellums would be around to make the deal. It would be up to their successors to repair the relationship.

Going back to T-rights, the Chronicle’s Giants beat writer Henry Schulman asked Larry Baer, who said “From what we could tell, there is no change in (Selig’s) position.” That’s exactly how I expect it to be for some time to come. That’s why Wolff asked San Jose pols to tone down their enthusiasm. If he had not intervened, at some point someone was going to ask MLB directly about T-rights, and whether they asked nicely or aggressively, it wasn’t going to curry favor with the Lodge. T-rights, whether stadium or broadcast, is MLB’s leverage over any city or market. There’s no point in asking unless you come to them unless you’re ready to talk turkey. San Jose is in no position to do that yet.

Threats from legislators about removing the antitrust exemption would be misplaced. The exemption, which allows MLB to wield its iron fist over franchise movement, has kept the team in Oakland. If it didn’t exist, the A’s might already be somewhere else. If it were removed, San Jose would have no restrictions against teams moving there, and that would make Wolff’s job easier. I’d love to see the exemption killed, but only because of the right motivations and principles, not something as misguided as what Dellums is considering.

It’s going to be a long slog for any ballpark effort for the next 1-2 years. Let’s not get distracted by the small stuff.

Dellums: I’m going to Congress

Update: Matier and Ross speculate further.

I do believe Ron Dellums just said, “IT’S ON.” We’ll see if he’s going to bring it.

Oakland’s mayor indicated that he will seek congressional help in an effort to keep the A’s in town. Immediately, that means Barbara Lee, Dellums’ protege and successor in the House of Representatives. What strategies could Dellums/Lee have at their disposal? Let’s take a look:

  • A challenge to the antitrust exemption. Not sure how that would actually help Oakland, as MLB’s use of the exemption is actually keeping Lew Wolff from moving to San Jose. Long term, it could help bring a third team to the Bay Area whether it’s in San Jose or Oakland, but MLB would still have to be a willing partner in such an endeavor. A move like this would also be incredibly expensive and it’s unclear where the money for a legal challenge would come from.
  • Suing the A’s. I’m not a legal expert and I don’t know the details of the lease, but I could see where Oakland could consider taking legal action against the team for misrepresenting their intentions when the last extension was signed. Problem is, I think this was already covered by the lease terms containing a penalty if the A’s were to leave the Coliseum early for a new home outside Alameda County.
  • Dellums/Lee create a coalition to broker a regional deal. A city-led effort of the kind mentioned in Thursday’s letter sounds good, but in the end Oakland still needs to leverage greater regional resources and business interests to put together something that Wolff might be interested in. We’ll see if that’s what happens, and more importantly, if Wolff has interest.

So much for a quiet period. Readers, do you have any ideas?

KJ wants the A’s

Last night, the office of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson released a statement confirming KJ’s interest in bringing the A’s to Sactown. The catch? He’s serious only if the A’s are too:

“Sacramento will only pursue a team like the A’s if the A’s are serious and not looking to negotiate one community off of another and we can develop a stadium facility that will represent a true economic benefit to Sacramento,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he would be making clear “the process and principles that we will adhere to when it comes to considering a Major League Baseball team” in the coming weeks.

Now we don’t know what KJ’s strategy is. Is he looking at an expanded Raley Field, which is not in Sacramento? Or is he hitching his wagon to a ballpark at Cal Expo to replace the arena if the Kings bolt? The latter sounds like a more palatable scenario for Lew Wolff and John Fisher.

The “process and principles” aspect piques my interest. It’s one thing when you’re San Jose and you don’t have to contend with another team’s interest in finite resources. It’s another when the Kings and A’s would most definitely compete with each other for political will, funding, etc. Would discussions start only after the Kings decided to leave? How long would that take?

Mayor KJ also touts his city’s positives

“A team in Sacramento would represent a home run for Major League Baseball,” Johnson said, though he really shouldn’t have. “Because Sacramento is a great sports town with a strong market in terms of fan interest, corporate support and the size of our media market.”

…while conveniently excluding any mention of the financial and social calamity that is growing under his nose – and in between downtown and Cal Expo to boot.

Now that’s an attractive adjacent neighborhood for developers. At least KJ got the fan interest part right. Corporate support and media market? Not so much.