News for 8/30/11

There’s a little back-and-forth between the Chargers and a LA-based blogger who has concluded that AEG is buying 96% of the team from the Spanos family, with the intent of moving the franchise to a new downtown LA stadium. Chargers spokesperson Mark Fabiani has said unequivocally that the team will not be sold.

Tim Kawakami has done some back-of-the-envelope numbers on financing for the 49ers stadium and has come up with many of the same conclusions written here a year ago.

Chron sports editor Al Saracevic reports on a new parking study commissioned by a SF Planning Commissioner takes issue with the 49ers stadium EIR’s assessment that parking inventory will be “equal to or superior to any in the NFL.” Considering the way this new study was derived, the results have to be taken with a grain of salt. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t good points. I’m absolutely certain that tailgating, of the kind Niner fans currently experience at the ‘Stick, will be practically extinct. It’ll be largely replaced by team-sponsored fan zones and other tailgating facsimiles.

BANG is asking fans to submit suggestions as to how the Raiders can increase attendance in Oakland. Send responses to turn2@angnewspapers.com or ccnsports@bayareanewsgroup.com.

A fan fell down a stairwell at Rangers Ballpark on Saturday. The unidentified 24 year-old man was knocked unconscious by the fall and remains in a local hospital.

I want take this opportunity to address something discussed in the last comments thread. There’s an opinion – generally espoused by Rick Tittle – that the A’s should spend money on the Coliseum to make things a little more fan friendly. Tittle frequently cites the investment made by Peter Magowan when he assumed control of the Giants as a good example. It sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t explain how this would work. Let’s get a few facts out of the way regarding what the Giants did:

  • The Giants spent $5 million in 1994 to add new LF bleachers, field boxes, the outfield fence, and the out-of-town scoreboard above the RF pavilion.
  • The money also went toward replacing the dirt warning track with the rubberized “tartan” surface. After all, you can’t have high rollers in field boxes stepping on dirt to reach their seats, or have wind-blown dust in their eyes.
  • In 2011 dollars, the inflation-adjusted value would be $8 million or less.

We’ve talked a lot about what it would take to spruce up the Coli, even to the point of fans initiating the effort since we can’t expect the A’s, Raiders, or Coliseum Authority to do it. We’ve heard that the Coliseum Authority may be replacing the obsolete scoreboard system, which is a good and necessary move. However, there aren’t many other changes that could be made that wouldn’t adversely impact either the A’s or the Raiders. Consider this:

  • I’ve suggested in the past that the best way to expand the lower concourse is to take out the last 3-4 rows of the field level seats and make new platforms for wheelchair seating areas and standing room sections. Doing this would remove 3,000+ seats, which would drop the Coliseum’s capacity below 60,000, below NFL guidelines. I can’t imagine either the Raiders or the NFL going for that, even if the Raiders don’t routinely sell out the joint.
  • The A’s can’t add more seats on the field because space is taken by the dugouts, the existing field boxes, the rolled up field tarp, and the bullpens.
  • The A’s can’t reduce foul territory by reconfiguring the lower deck without major engineering and construction challenges.
  • The Coliseum does actually have some modern amenities, such as the West Side Club and the Diamond Level seats.
  • As much as people complain about the troughs in the men’s restrooms, the decision to keep those in place was made in 1995. Have you ever noticed that the troughs have those sensors above that can tell when you’re finished and then flush? That’s the extent of change in the original restrooms.
  • It’s possible that the A’s could invest in expanding the clubhouse facilities, but I don’t know what complexities lie in attempting that.

Now let’s say that you own the A’s, and like what Magowan did 17 years ago, you’d like to spend $8 million, no, up to $10 million on the Coliseum to improve the experience. Take the scoreboards off the table. What would you improve? Do you have any idea how much it would cost? Is there a decent chance you’d recoup that investment? One thing to keep in mind is that when Wally Haas sunk money into the Coliseum, he was eventually paid back by the Coliseum Commission. He eventually saw greater revenues during the Bash Brothers era, but was unable to sustain that in the long run. Many of the current deficiencies with the Coliseum can’t and won’t be addressed by quick fixes.

Before you chime in, read this ESPN article about the A’s and their relationship with the Coliseum by Mark Kreidler, one of the “Rise Guys” brought in from Sacramento a month ago. Then look at the date. Some things never change.

Rust Belt Ballpark Tour 2012

I have a news post in the hopper. It’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

During tonight’s A’s-Indians game, there was a brief shot of Heritage Park, an outdoor monument at Progressive Field. Heritage Field opened in 2007, long after the last and only time I visited then-Jacobs Field. I’d like to visit the Jake again in 2012, along with a number of other major and minor league ballparks, some of which I have visited in the past.

So far I have assembled the following list of cities and venues to visit over the span of roughly one week, in no particular order:

  • Detroit (Tiger Stadium)
  • Toledo (Fifth Third Ballpark, AAA)
  • Cleveland (Progressive Field)
  • Canton (Pro Football Hall of Fame)
  • Pittsburgh (PNC Park, Consol Energy Center)
  • Columbus (Huntington Park, AAA)
  • Cincinnati (Great American Ball Park)
  • Dayton (Fifth Third Field, A)

There are additional side trips that could be taken if I have the time:

  • Louisville (Louisville Slugger Field, Museum/Factory)
  • Indianapolis (Victory Field, AAA)
  • Buffalo (Coca-Cola Field, AAA)
  • Toronto (Rogers Centre)
  • Lima, OH (McKinley High)

What places or parks would you like for me to cover on the trip? So far the must-sees are the 4 MLB facilities, Huntington Park, and Canton. Everything else is up for grabs or depends on the game schedules, which won’t be available for a few months at the very least. Also, if there’s a particular route you think I should take, here’s your chance to suggest it. I’m shooting for May 2012 to take the trip. Thanks for your help.

Stirring the Beane pot

A few Bay Area writers are talking up Billy Beane possibly leaving for Chicago’s North Side, with the rationale being that Brad Pitt’s alter ego will exit stage right after having experienced too much frustration regarding the A’s low revenue status.

All this sounds fascinating given the A’s record and the lack of resolution on the stadium front. However, it falls apart once you scratch the surface.

First of all, while the story has created something of an echo chamber effect here, there are no media reports emanating from Chicago about Beane being a candidate, speculation or otherwise. There are several “hot” candidates who are either younger or easier to get contract-wise. Dozens of articles have been written about the purported frontrunner for the Cubs’ GM job, current White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn – who just happens to be a Chicago native and a lifelong Cubs fan. Then there’s the status of wunderkind Rays GM Andrew Friedman, who is currently working year-to-year with no contract. Ned Colletti and Brian Cashman have been discussed as well. On the other hand, Beane is signed through 2014, and even though Lew Wolff would let Beane go if he asked, figuring out how to properly terminate the contract (ending in 2014) and have Beane divest his 2.5% stake in the A’s/Quakes is another matter altogether.

Then there’s a simple matter of timing. Chances are that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts will want to get his new GM in place no later than October, so that his new hire will have a fighting chance in the free agent market (there are some first basemen who may catch Ricketts’ fancy). It’s highly unlikely that we’ll hear a decision on Santa Clara County territorial rights by that point, leaving Beane and the rest in ownership in limbo. Beane would effectively be basing his decision on a hunch, and as we all know, Billy’s a little more empirically driven than that.

For his part, Wolff has been pretty straightforward on this semi-issue (from Shea’s piece):

“I would never inhibit anybody from bettering themselves because of a contract,” said Wolff, who had lunch with Beane on Wednesday and said no team has called regarding his GM. “Billy is fantastic and, to me, indispensable. My hope is he will be here a long time. I did promise Billy and all the guys we would have a venue so they would be able to further execute their abilities, and I think that will happen.”

Sounds optimistic.

“I have to be,” Wolff said. “There is no choice for us, for the good of baseball. It’s sad it’s taking this long.”

He added, “I’m going to build a new stadium for the A’s, and if I’m not, someone will,” but he was quick to point out he didn’t mean he’d move the club or sell to out-of-town interests, instead mentioning his son, Keith (vice president of venue development) as a possible baton receiver. “We’re working every day. If it doesn’t happen, we’ll go to Plan B, which I don’t have.”

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that despite the A’s revenue problem, Beane likes his life. He oversees two franchises by day and pals around with venture capitalists at night. Not to say that he couldn’t get some of that in Chicago, but really, porkbellies aren’t as interesting as tech. And I have to think that as a particularly driven guy, he might not feel his work is done just yet. Just a hunch.

BANG goes BOOM!

As part of ongoing consolidation efforts, the disparate East Bay operation of San Jose-based Bay Area News Group (BANG) is effectively concentrating itself into two regional publications effective November 1:

  • The Contra Costa Times will take over all of the 680 corridor papers.
  • The rebranded East Bay Tribune will take the place of the Oakland Tribune, Alameda Times-Star, Argus, and others along the 880 corridor.

120 production and editorial jobs will be cut as part of the consolidation. In addition, the San Mateo County Times will now run under the Mercury News masthead. Separate local news sections will be inserted into “city editions” of each paper.

Of course, the big upshot is that Oakland will be one of the largest cities in the country without its own paper, which is tremendously sad. (The only other cities in the Top 50 with no city newspaper are Mesa, AZ and Arlington, TX.) There has already been criticism that with the previous consolidation push, whatever unique identity the Trib had was ebbing away. I wonder if Dave Newhouse will write about that?

A month ago, East Bay Citizen joked on Twitter that local newspapers may all meet their demise before the A’s ballpark issue is settled. He may be onto something.

Note: On Twitter there’s barely a peep about this. Maybe that says more about the change than anything else. RIP Oakland Tribune. You had a good 120 years.

America’s Cup Draft EIR available

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This view where Harrison Street ends at The Embarcadero could be blocked by huge yachts or a marina if the project is developed as planned.

In fact, not only is the America’s Cup environmental impact report out, the initial 45-day comment period is almost over (last day for comments: Thursday). Somehow I missed this among all of the other stuff going on. Thanks to Chronicle architecture writer John King’s article in protest of some of the waterfront changes, I finally got a look at it. I’ll have more to write about it later.

The EIR was made available on July 11, only 7 months after the deal was made between the America’s Cup and the City of San Francisco. It goes to show what can happen when there’s a real deadline and a real partnership in place. Contrast that to what’s happening with the Victory Court EIR, which is at least for now, nothing publicly. The America’s Cup project is leaps and bounds more expansive and impactful than Victory Court, covering huge swaths of SF waterfront with the potential to significantly reshape the area much the same way post-Loma Prieta planning did 20+ years ago.

So why isn’t there anything yet about Victory Court? Maybe Oakland no longer feels it’s in a rush. Maybe Oakland isn’t prioritizing the project at the moment. Maybe Oakland doesn’t want to have that big discussion with its citizens just yet. No one can say that it’s a matter of due diligence, since the scope of the America’s Cup project is so much more vast. Victory Court has impacts beyond the 12-block project area, but everyone knew that going in. All I can give to the VC project right now is a big shrug.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting

Actually, it isn’t.

Tim Kawakami, Gwen Knapp, and Scott Ostler have all written reaction pieces to the violence at the 49ers-Raiders game at the ‘Stick on Saturday night. They and national writers are waxing societal on the incident, yet they are all missing the forest for the trees in their analyses. It really all comes down to two things:

  • It was a Raiders-49ers game.
  • The game was played on Saturday night.

When the Raiders came back to Oakland, there would be occasional warnings about behavior and violence for Sunday or Monday night games, especially if they were “Broncos” or “Chiefs” week. Those 5 PM starts allow for full daydrinking sessions (which are hard work), which can lead to an unstable atmosphere once people are allowed into the stadium. A fully marinated jerk who can’t hold his liquor may be friendlier or more hostile. Everyone’s different. For Sunday and Monday night games, a guy has to think about the next day’s work. In my youth I’ve gone into work with a hangover a few times, but at least I had to consider the potential consequences. Usually it meant I held back on that extra beer or shot, and that was enough. Not everyone is going to have the conscience kick in at the right moment. Still, having that lingering in the back of one’s mind helps a lot of people.

By putting the game on Saturday night, the teams and the NFL gave the jerks carte blanche to act however they pleased. A full day of tailgating or partying (one assailant may have come on a party bus) with no consequences to think about for the next day is exactly the kind of atmosphere needed to set off what occurred at the ‘Stick. Maybe there was a gang-related factor. Or maybe it’s because both teams are mediocre. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt in my mind that a few assholes having a few extra beverages turned an already tense (even though it shouldn’t be) game into a powderkeg.

In the Midwest and on the East Coast, this problem doesn’t occur nearly as often. It could be because they can hold their liquor better. I’d like to think it has to do with the start times of the games. We are so used to 10 AM and 1 PM starts here that a 5 PM (or later) start is too much for the system to take. In Chicago or Dallas, the late game means a 3 PM start. In Philadelphia or New York, SNF/MNF starts after 8 PM locally. They’re used to it. They pace themselves. We in the Bay Area may have access to some of the greatest beer and wine on the face of the earth, but we sure can’t handle it correctly if this incident is any indicator.

Because of the actions a few there’s a good chance that the NFL, in its reactionary turn towards safety this season, will disallow future 49er-Raider preseason games. Why risk another PR nightmare? However, they can’t stop the two teams from playing each other once every four years during the regular season. They might be able to put in metal detectors in at the stadium gates, but they’re not going to be able to search every car for weapons. Police state measures are impractical, especially at the emergency management nightmare that is Candlestick Point (poor access).

Now let’s assume that the 49ers and Raiders share a Santa Clara stadium. This incident will only confirm misgivings by many locals in the immediate area – especially about Raiders fans even though it may be unfair. It’s likely that the tailgating scene will be limited due to a lack of space and facilities. That won’t stop an incident from occurring at the Bennigan’s down the road from the stadium, where idiots in party buses could come into conflict. A 1 PM start just might rein things in enough that the potential for a conflict is significantly less. The crazy thing to me is that both teams’ management should have seen this coming a mile away and didn’t adjust accordingly. Did they schedule the 5 PM start just to sell as many tickets as possible for a preseason game? The place was half-full. Whatever the motivation, both teams and the league have a lot of explaining to do, have had plenty of precedent to plan accordingly. No amount of defending fans against stereotyping is going to help. It happened. Fix it or it will happen again, and much sooner than can be imagined.

News for 8/20/11

Though this August may be unseasonably cool, there’s no doubt that it’s the dog days – for a team mired in third place and those of us looking for ballpark news. Nevertheless, there is plenty to discuss that happened this week.

First up is a very good assessment of where various football stadium efforts stand, courtesy of the Merc and Trib (BANG). Naturally, Santa Clara has emerged in the race due to its diligence in getting a deal done, despite the highly questionable finances of the plan. Oakland lags well behind, and potential funding sources has been identified in the process: $105 million in county transit funding, a Chinese investment group. Transit funding for the Raiders? Yikes.

You may have noticed some upheaval around Hegenberger Road this week when going to/from an A’s game. That’s because the infamous Oakland Airport Connector project started construction this week! The $484 million people mover will shuttle riders between the Coliseum/Airport BART station and Oakland International Airport, all for a more-than-reasonable $6 each way. That’s more expensive than it costs to ride from Coliseum/Airport to Millbrae. (To be fair, the enormous cost of the SFO BART extension has caused Millbrae-to-SFO to cost $4 each way thanks to a surcharge.) And it appears that the only reasons the project kept going all this time are that $95 million has already been spent and up to $250 million has already been committed, making it nearly as much of a boondoggle even if it were cancelled. Initially, the only two stations on the OAC will be the terminals at the airport and BART station. A third station could be built at Doolittle and Hegenberger if the funding surfaces. Double yikes.

Former Rangers owner Tom Hicks is being sued over allegations that he took tens of millions from the team to acquire parking lots around Rangers Ballpark. The lawsuit foreshadows future legal wrangling between MLB and Frank McCourt, who reorganized the Dodgers into so many holding companies and dummy corporations that it’s impossible to say how Dodger Stadium and its land could be extricated from McCourt at this point.

A preliminary report on Kings arena funding indicates that much of the burden will be addressed by user fees on everything from tickets to hot dogs. These fees could generate anywhere from $5 million to $20 million per year. While not fan-friendly, it is more general taxpayer-friendly than sales or parcel taxes. A more fleshed out proposal is due September 8.

Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Sharks, announced 19 layoffs from the business side of the company. Included in the layoffs was longtime director of communications Ken Arnold. Executive VP of business ops Malcolm Bordelon characterized this as “pruning for future growth”. He can’t just be talking about the parking garage the team will construct north of the arena as growth. There’s something else to this. That something may be related to former CEO Greg Jamison, who left a year ago and was never formally replaced, perhaps going after the Phoenix Coyotes as early as next week. Should Jamison pursue the Coyotes, he will have to sell his share of the Sharks. It’s not difficult to see Jamison bringing with him trusted lieutenants such as Arnold and sales/marketing head Kent Russell. It would also provide an opening for the A’s, if they were to be extended the opportunity. Lew Wolff (or a surrogate) could potentially get a stake in SVSE and reciprocate by providing a stake in the A’s/Quakes, making the two ownership groups virtually joined at the hip – and more importantly, fully aligned. That would be important in planning for the next 20-30 years around Diridon, as the two parties would be expected to have a major influence on how the area is planned and developed even if those plans are well down the road.

In tangentially related news, HP announced on Thursday that it will cease development of webOS devices such as the recently launched TouchPad tablet line and Pre smartphones. It may also spin off its Personal Systems Group, which includes webOS (Palm) and its industry market share leading computers operation. Should HP spin off PSG or divest it, there would be an interesting sports-related ripple effect down the line: what would happen to HP Pavilion at San Jose? The naming rights deal at the former San Jose Arena expires in 2016, and not coincidentally, the name reflects a line of personal computers HP makes. In between those two names, the name for a year or so was Compaq Center at San Jose. That deal was done by the final Compaq CEO, Michael Capellas, prior to the HP-Compaq merger (done by Carly Fiorina). It’s possible that HP will keep the name, given that enterprise competitor Oracle has the name on Oakland Arena. Then again, Oracle has a similar choice to make that same year because its naming rights deal ran only a decade. Chances are that both companies will drop the naming rights deals for different reasons: HP because it will no longer have the consumer focus to justify the deal, and Oracle because Larry Ellison lost out on owning the Warriors. Often naming rights deals are reflections of companies’ CEOs, and this is no different.

Capping off corporate talk is billionaire Carl Icahn threatening to perform a coup at Clorox (again). Icahn, who is worth $12.5 billion and has his tentacles seemingly everywhere, is the largest shareholder of CLX stock with a 9.4% stake in the company. Earlier in the summer, Icahn attempted a $10.2 billion buyout of Clorox, all in the name of achieving greater shareholder value (his M.O. for everything). Rebuffed in that attempt, Icahn is now trying to replace the company’s entire board of directors with himself and 11 of his own hand-picked people. Something on this front may happen in November, when the annual shareholders meeting will be held. Icahn doesn’t always win, but it is thought in some corners that his power influenced the sale of Motorola to Google for $12.5 billion (coincidence), which was reported on Monday. Why is this important? If Icahn gets his way, it’s likely that Clorox will eventually be sold to the highest bidder, perhaps one of its competitors such as Proctor and Gamble. P&G would be interesting in that they were forced to divest Clorox due to antitrust concerns around the time the A’s moved to Oakland. And if Clorox is bought and/or sold, CEO Donald Knauss, the former Coca-Cola exec who has shown interest in East Bay/Oakland sports to the extent that there are rumors of a possible naming rights deal, is also not long for Clorox either. If Knauss goes, so does that deal. Naming rights deals often reflect companies’ CEOs, remember?