If You Got Any Money Left Over, Buy Yourself Something REAL Nice, Clark.
The headline is a quote from one of my favorite movies of all time, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It is spoken by Cousin Eddie as he loads up a shopping cart with dog food that his Cousin-in-Law, Clark Griswold, is expected to pay for. At this point in the movie, Clark is telling Eddie that he wants to make sure Eddie’s children have a nice Christmas and that he is willing to buy them some gifts if it will help. Eddie’s “gratitude” is clear when he pulls out a prepared list of things his children want for Christmas. What the heck does this have to do with the A’s and a new stadium?
The elephant in the room, the one everyone seems to be ignoring, is that the details of any financing plan for a new Bay Area stadium are murky, at best. We all hear “privately financed” bandied about in media reports. But what does that really mean? After all, with rare exceptions, MLB has played Cousin Eddie to just about every city that has seen a new stadium go up in the past 25 years.
The only real exception, though it was not entirely privately financed, is AT&T Park. Using this park as an example, 96% was privately financed, we can back into what “privately financed” actually means. Roughly half of that funding was provided through corporate support, or the combination of naming rights (Pac Bell) and Charter Seat sales. The other half was in the form of a loan provided by Chase Bank, secured with MLB’s help. It seems clearer and clearer that this is, mostly, the model that MLB has in mind for the A’s.
So what evidence do we have that a ballpark in either Oakland or San Jose will follow a similar model? For one, we have the report that MLB has discussed a loan of $150M with folks in Oakland. We have the letter from Ron Dellums and Jane Brunner talking up deposits from 35 companies (amongst other things). We also have a recent letter from Silicon Valley power players to Bud Selig supporting a move down 880. Now we have the follow up Op Ed in the Mercury News, authored by two of those power players (Mike Klayko of Brocade and Tom Werner of Sun Power) pretty much restating the original letter. The key line from the Op Ed is:
Along with other respected and diverse organizations, we stand ready to offer any support needed to move this important project forward.
And from the SVLG 75 CEO/Other Important People Open Letter (Fourth paragraph, first sentence):
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, along with other respected and diverse organizations, stands ready to offer any support needed to move this important project forward.
On the surface, these are clear statements meant to persuade Selig. In part, they are meant to show that the corporate support needed for both long term viability and a private financing scheme is there, in both cities. This is where the similarities end.
In the San Jose case, There are a few other Easter eggs that are not getting much mention.
I think MLB’s propensity for being Cousin Eddie, to (Insert City Name Here)’s Clark, is part of what the letters and Op Ed are about. Or, in other words, these messages are not only intended to allay Bud Selig’s fears (assuming he has them). They are also a signal to let citizens know that their “Corporate Citizens” are ready, willing and able to buy Charter Seats and sponsorships as part of any plan. We already know that Cisco is going to play Pac Bell’s role in a San Jose version of San Francisco’s funding scheme.
Another part of this message is, Miami is mad at you MLB for playing Cousin Eddie while the Marlins weren’t really living out of an RV, as they had claimed. If you come to San Jose, you don’t have to worry about that. We, the SVLG, will be Clark instead of the tax payers.
Additionally, there is the repeated mention of Giants fans within the SVLG communiques. This is meant to let Bud Selig know that there won’t be a mass exodus of Corporate support up in Baghdad by the Bay. That the Giants won’t become destitute, as Larry Baer wants us all to believe, provided the A’s move south. To undercut Bill Neukom’s argument for locking MLB out of San Jose.
There is one other thing hidden in the subtext. Watch this video, the important part comes up at 5:05. When you combine John Chambers’ message (We won’t put our name on a Stadium in New York because we are in San Jose) with the fact that the SVLG letter and the Brocade/Sun Power Op Ed go out of their way to avoid mentioning the word “Oakland” and “new stadium” in the same context, the message is pretty clear. Bud Selig, we want the A’s in San Jose and will buy sponsorships and ticket packages for both the Giants and A’s if it gets us a stadium in San Jose. Not so much in Oakland.
I think it is fair to say that this what the messages are, don’t you?
What we don’t know, what the letters don’t tell us, is how much of any new stadium will be financed by corporations/presales and how much by loans, exactly. In the San Jose case, if 60 of those 75 companies bought some bundle of seats and advertising, and Cisco maintained $130M in naming rights, they would each need to pledge $1.7M of their Selling, General and Administrative budgets to Cisco Field in order for the combination of naming rights and Corporate sponsorships to cover half of the projected construction costs. As a point of reference, Yahoo’s S, G and A budget last year was $1.8B, which means this overly simplified $1.7M number represents less than one tenth of a percent of the budget where it would need to come from. There is a similar situation with Cisco ($9B), Brocade ($500M), Ebay ($3.6B), and so on and so forth.
Of course, we know that SVLG has well over 75 members and more members might be willing to chip in (while others, like the San Jose Giants, won’t be). I am guessing Bud Selig knows this, too. This is the biggest thing going against the possibility of Clorox Coliseum. If Oakland isn’t pledging public dollars for construction, how does the thing get paid for? If Oakland really is pledging pubic dollars (as I have been told) for construction, how long before pitch fork wielding citizens show up at City Hall?
The answer to this question (How does stadium construction get paid for?), not Larry Ellison’s attempt to buy the Warriors, not Bill Neukom’s Anti-Trust case won/loss record, and not 15 years of back and forth between the A’s and Oakland is what will, ultimately, decide where the A’s will play.
In short, it is “tradition and history” v. “a clear source of funding.” We can handicap this however we want, but it is what it is. I don’t know which will win out.
****(I am adding a table that shows the split between private and public funding at the most recent 21 MLB ballparks built for all of our info. It originally came for the San Jose Economic Impact Analysis)