The Big Lew Wolff Interview, Part 4

Part 4 of 5 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

ML: Now lets move onto everyone’s favorite topic – tarps. They’ve been a bone of contention ever since they’ve been up there. What have you learned from having them up there, whether they were an experiment or another initiative, do they help? Hurt? Does it even matter?

Actually, I want to go to your site. The doubleheader the other day. It was interesting. Somebody caught me the other day at the soccer game, he said, “Oh, I went to the doubleheader, I’m a Giant fan but it was so much fun.” But in your own blog, there were a whole lot of comments saying, “Gee the (Coliseum crowd) looked great because the tarps were there.”

ML: A lot of people said that.

There you are, I win, they (the critics) lose. Move on.

ML: [laughs] And it wasn’t even a sellout. 27,000.

I know, but it would be better if the seats weren’t there. Look, we have $2 Wednesday and a $1 hot dog. You personally have a problem with that. There’s a limit of ten (hot dogs). [laughs]

ML: It’s true. [Ed.: Years ago I once ate six dollar dogs in one sitting. I am no Joey Chestnut.]

I want to see the person who eats that. All kidding aside. Everybody’s saying you have to open this or do that, make it cheaper and cheaper. We need revenue, yet nobody says, “Look how reasonable the A’s game is compared to the Giants.” Which is fine, they have a better environment to go to. You should pay more there.

ML: That actually gets me to something I’ve been thinking about for a while. All the discounts that are available. They’re great and they allow families to come in (more frequently), but sometimes I wonder if there are too many discounts, that it devalues the product.

It definitely does. If everything is product – I’m not saying gouge people – but everything is product. I sort of get a kick out of Groupon. It’s a big problem all sports and concerts, Stubhub and others. Somebody wrote an article in the LA Times where the people went to a Dodgers game for $2.95, they got three seats. It’s also in the hotel business – you’ve got all these sites like Expedia. I don’t know where it’s going but a lot of people go on StubHub. Sometimes they’ll buy seats for triple. Sometimes they’ll buy seats for a third. It’s a very good point. Baseball’s looking at it. The hotel is looking at it in a different way. Who owns the content and controls the price? We own the content. I’m not sure we control the price.

ML: The Tuesday free parking promotion that you’ve had for couple years. Monday’s attendance was 11,000. Tuesday’s was 12,000. 

In the house Monday was 5,500. Tuesday was 8,000. I don’t know if the parking was a factor.

ML: It doesn’t seem like it has a lot of traction.

One of the problems is that we don’t have (much to work with). I think our marketing group may be one of the best in baseball because they have such a challenge. It’s fun to be at the Coliseum, but I don’t know (beyond that). We try everything. The critics say, “Lew’s trying to discourage fans.” That’s really not true. If they want to believe that it’s fine.

Our revenues are around $140-150 million. Our payroll is $75 million. That’s about right. I could name another team or two teams whose payroll is around $40 million. We’d make a lot of money if we did that. I will not do that.

ML: The team you’re playing right now (Tampa Bay).

They run pretty well. I was thinking of a different team.

[Ed. - Wolff demurred on naming the team.]

Over a time period, because of where they were in the standings, all of a sudden they got some terrific young players through the minors. Billy has kept us competitive, and he doesn’t get as much credit as he should, but that leaves us in the middle of the draft. So where other teams get higher picks -

ML: Top ten pick.

That’s never been my goal. I’m convinced that we will have a new stadium in 4-5 years. I hope it’s here. I can’t keep asking Billy and his guys to (deal with being a low revenue, low payroll team).

ML: In the past two years regarding player development, it seems you have gone in a different direction of going after international players, whether it’s Michael Ynoa or Hisashi Iwakuma. Outside the draft. Is that some sort of new targeted strategy?

It’s a strategy but it’s not new. The big money teams. I don’t have the exact figure, but in the last few months the Rangers have spent some $20+ million in the Dominican Republic. [Ed. - Technically this was $23 million for three players, two from D.R. and one from Cuba.]

If the new CBA has draft pick slotting and an international draft it’ll be better for us. We can’t go after free agents and pay somebody six years [trails off]. Last year we thought we had the makings of a pretty good team. We sat down with – and I personally was involved with Billy and David and Scott Boras – and we sat down with Adrian Beltre. We went down to Orange County and met with him. At the end of the day we offered somewhere over $70 million for however many years, pretty much equal to what the Angels offered. Scott said, “No he’s gonna get $90 million.” And Adrian was wonderful. We left and thought, “That’s not what he’s getting.” And then Texas paid him.

We went after Lance Berkman, the (National) league leader in home runs. I didn’t do that. Billy literally flew to his home and talked to him. We offered him 2 years at $8 million (per year), I don’t remember the exact figure. St. Louis only offered him one year at that. I don’t like to blame on Oakland. For reasons of his own choosing, he decided to go to St. Louis. Those two players would’ve been very important to us. We went out and got other terrific players, free agents – DeJesus, Willingham, and so forth. It’s a little disappointing that the hitting (hasn’t panned out). We’re starting to look at our air conditioning (the marine layer). Why do they hit .280 (somewhere else) and then come here (and not hit)? We’re starting to hit now, hitting’s a little contagious.

So when fans say that we’re trying to discourage and we’re trying to make the product bad, they’re wrong. We’re doing the best we can. We send in a report every year about how we use revenue sharing. We don’t put it in our pocket. Our best approach is to build through the minor leagues, drafting, and (hopefully) the international draft.  That’s our best chance of competing.

ML: Do you think that slotting and the international draft will be part of the next CBA?

I don’t know. I hope so, I think it’s good for everybody.

ML: I sure hope so. It’s crazy that given all the reporting about big money payrolls being 2x, 3x, 4x the A’s, it’s sort of underreported how much development budgets make expenditures that much higher.

Well, we have no choice. So we have to use our money efficiently. So it isn’t a matter of lowering your payroll for a major league team. In fact you have to use that extra money in the minor leagues – on the draft and so on.

ML: Could the A’s to land a top tier free agent – say a slugger – next year or the year after that regardless of the ballpark situation? Would you take a shot at it?

We took a shot at Beltre. That was a six or five year deal. The answer is yes, but that isn’t where we’re going to get (that productivity). First of all, the probabilities of our being successful are limited. Boston, Texas, the Yankees – they can just offer another this or another that. We will not intentionally lose money because it’s not good for baseball. It’s not good for the team. We’ve tried everything. We got lucky once with Frank Thomas (in 2006).

The year we went to the playoffs, this is what scared me the most. My people told me, “Just you watch.” Going into 2007, after we got to the ALCS, all we needed was another this or that (player). We had less season ticket sales going into 2007 (than in 2006). How is that possible? It’s just a function of our market is shared. When all of these columnists report this and remember that, when we were playing in the Coliseum and the Giants were playing in Candlestick. That’s a lot different today than it was then. They’ve got a beautiful new ballpark. We don’t.

ML: That’s really what it comes down to, doesn’t it?

It’s not totally that. I think our management talent is as good as anybody’s. I tell you I’ve got owners all over the place who laughed I when I gave Billy and Mike (Crowley) long term contracts and shares of ownership. Now they’re saying how smart (the deals) are. I don’t know two other people, plus David (Forst) and Farhan (Zaidi), who could operate under the conditions that we have – which I’m not complaining about, they’re just what they are – any better than those guys.

ML: Yeah. I’m not sure what else you can do other than hoping a lot of high draft picks all of sudden drop in your lap. That’s not happening.

We’ll be okay. We’ve got the trade deadline coming up. We’re not looking to acquire anybody. We’re not going to give away people just to reduce salary. We want to get something for that. I don’t know how many teams are – so many teams have $100+ million payroll that even if they’re on the cusp of getting to the playoffs they may not be that interested. All of that accelerates from now until Sunday.

ML: If you get a really great offer that you can’t refuse…

We’ll look at it, but I like the way the team is playing now. Plus we’ll get draft choices if we don’t keep certain players. We’re not in a panic position.

ML: No fire sale.

No fire sale. The nice thing about us, and you have to give Billy a lot of credit, one of my favorite all time keepers, not just a player, a keeper, is Mark Ellis. We have a young guy in Jemile Weeks who we hope to be our future. The only thing that we did was – Billy did this, I didn’t even think about it – we wanted Mark to be in a position where he was playing all the time. [Ed. - Ellis to Colorado trade]

ML: Which he is now.

So that was sort of a below market deal, but it was good for him and we owed it to him.

ML: I think it had near universal praise for the way it was handled.

Selig told me never to fall in love with a player because they always move.

ML: Naw, we all loved Ellie.

That guy is so sweet and so decent. We’ve got quite a few but he’s special.

ML: It’s the great legacy of A’s second basemen from Rapid City, SD. Like this stadium business, the radio saga dragged on much longer than it should have? What did you learn from that experience?

Again, the Giants have a better situation (because of KNBR). We didn’t learn much. We learned that sometimes the people who administer bankruptcy, sometimes they get fees for that. Sometimes they don’t operate in the best interest of the very people they’re working for. The situation that came along in the middle of that (95.7 KBWF) was fine and we did it. It’s not perfect but it’s working out better than we thought. I was getting tired of listening to country music, and then the ballgame, and then a religious channel.

ML: Those were trying times. Let’s go back to territorial rights. What is the best way you think this should be resolved?

Good. I always say that if I had a magic wand, we should share the territory.

ML: Flat out.

Just like all the other two-team markets. Your article is right. Santa Clara County was nobody’s territory at one point. That’s good information, it’s true. I have seen the minutes of those meetings, and the Haases were complemented for being cooperative. The reason that happened was to build a ballpark in San Jose. I was even active in that as a businessman. I had no thoughts in ever being involved in baseball. For the Giants to say they have the territory but they didn’t mean to – I just think we should share the market like the other teams. Theoretically the Angels could move right next to the Dodgers if they want.

ML: They could but it’d be crazy.

The Mets could move next to Yankee Stadium. The White Sox could move across town. They’re not going to but it’s allowed. And we’re further from the other team than any other. [Ed. - Again, not including DC/BAL] The whole thing in an academic sense, I can’t imagine the debate.

ML: Do you think the owners understand this? Do you have to talk to them or lobby them about this?

I made up my mind not to lobby them. Over this long period of time they’ll tease me a little bit about it. In fact several have told me, “I’ll talk to Bud for you.” I say no. It’s being done the way it’s supposed to be and let’s just see what happens. Running around and lobbying, I just don’t do that. It’s just not worth it. First of all, everyone’s going to go along pretty much with the commissioner’s decision.

ML: What’s your confidence level right now that this will get done by the end of the year?

In your lifetime? I have a lot of confidence that it’ll be done this year, but I said that last year too.

ML: Right.

Who knew that baseball would explode in two or three other areas? I still have a high degree of confidence that we’ll get an answer one way or the other. That’s all I’m asking for. I mean, I want a yes for sharing. In lieu of that I’ll take a no.

ML: Do you have a hard stop or a deadline for getting this done?

Yes. We missed it by two years. [laughs]

ML: There you go.

The answer is no, not now I don’t. As I say, I’ll pass the baton to those who are working on it. We’re working on this everyday. We’re talking about sight lines and everything. We just haven’t pulled the trigger to spend because we want to know it’s there (first).

ML: Okay.

21 Responses to The Big Lew Wolff Interview, Part 4

  1. jk-usa says:

    The A’s do a decent job at marketing, but it’s not translating to as big a crowds as they should get. The $2 dollar Wed./$1 dog day use to get 30-40k, now it’s under 20k. The uncertainty of the team’s future and the success of the G’s has hurt us the last 2 years no doubt. You also don;’t have as colorful players like in the past to market on TV/radio. Jemile Weeks may be are next Rickey, so we’ll see how that translates. The Billy Ball commercials were great back in the day. No manager comes even close to him in personality..

  2. Anon says:

    @ jk – I’m very surprised that you actually said that (A’s do decent job at marketing). I also agree (gulp) with you that not having as colorful (or some continuity) in the players the fans can associate with isn’t helping a bit either; seriously i’m tired of 1 year rentals already!
    @ ML – Interesting that LW noted : “Our revenues are around $140-150 million.”…Forbes estimate was $161 million. When you asked him about when he thought the BRC would come with a decision, did he sound resigned and exasperated with his answers? Or somewhat enthusiastic, as if he knew something that he just couldn’t share?!

  3. Marine Layer says:

    @Anon – Exasperated.

  4. jk-usa says:

    @Anon–yup, one year rent a players suck. I keep harping back to the Haas days when they kept the fan faves as long as they could, even though it cost them big time when the salaries kept climbing. The Canseco trade was a shocker. He was fun to watch coming up, the brash knucklehead. I was never a Big Mac fan (the player or the burger for that matter), and loved Steinbach and Dave Henderson during that era. My first A’s game I went to when I was 9, Bert Campaneris had 4 hits and stole 3 bases. I was hooked on him and the A’s ever since. I love base stealers like Campy, Rickey, Coco and Weeks. Kind of a lost art now. Homers are fine and all, but small ball, good pitching, and good D is my thing, and that’s what this team has, but they can’t put it all together in the same game!

  5. jk-usa says:

    @ML–exasperated? Interesting.
    On my previous post, i must correct it and saying this team’s D has been very Disappointing. It’s cost us our share of games.

  6. Zonis says:

    I disagree with Wolff that the A’s have good marketing. Quite the contrary. I think they should go out and find a new marketing guru, like the guy who turned the Cubs around a few years back. They need to change the atmosphere around the team and the stadium.

  7. fc says:

    “First of all, everyone is going to go along pretty much with the commissioner’s decision”.
    .
    I wonder how much truth there is in this statement? Another interesting comment in Part 3…
    .
    “I don’t think the voting will be an issue. He even has the power to go beyond that if it’s for the good of baseball”.
    .
    Both comments seem to indicate that the TR issue is truly in Selig’s hands. Perhaps Selig is leaning towards SJ, but (as suggested by ML) is delaying his decision to assist the Giants in paying off their ballpark.

  8. jeff-athletic says:

    I think A’s marketing is very good. I love the Green Collar Baseball commercials – especially the one where Gio is in a water dunk cage at 2nd base, and Suzuki is trying to hit to target from home plate to dunk Gio, while Gio is totally mouthing off, until Zuk finally hits the target, and, SPLASH!. Also, the one where Willingham is looking at the shapes with the psychologist and keeps seeing different types of pitches.

    I also think the promotions and deals they run are good. I took my wife, kids, and father in law to the Value deck, at $12 a pop, and each ticket had a $6 credit towards concessions. What an awesome deal for a family.

    But the bottom line is the A’s don’t really have marquis players, they’re a mediocre team, they have an old, bad stadium – there’s only so much a marketing department can do to overcome those deficiencies.

    On another note, it sounds like probably most owners are on Lew’s side regarding T-rights and SJ – all other two team markets are completely shared and not divided.

    Earlier this year an interview with Peter Gammons, who talks with these people all the time, revealed that he thinks Selig is going to eventually decide in favor of the A’s in SJ, just a matter of time. The fact that Wolff seems totally not stressed about it, and is cooperating completely and not making any waves whatsoever, also is an indicator.

    The theory that Selig is delaying it long enough for the Giants to pay off the loans for AT&T (or get close to it) sounds logical. I hear they’re pretty close to that.

  9. Tony D. says:

    @Jeff-Athletic,
    AT&T Park will be paid off in 2017. Giants $20 million annual mortgage payment will be over! As I mentioned in a previous thread, when Cisco Field opens in 2015, Giants will either have $40 or 60 million left to pay mortgage (not sure when the payment actually goes out in the year). The particulars of the last years of payments are probably what’s being worked on behind the scenes.

  10. Tony D. says:

    Also, funny how the other owners “tease” LW about the ever-pending decision from Selig. Teasing, at this point in the game, from the other owners is a good thing IMHO. But let’s be serious; I’m 100% confident that Selig has told “Lewie” many times how this will all end up. Who thinks otherwise?

  11. Jeffrey says:

    Zonis, I think he was sticking up for his folks who have a rough job. The marketing and sales folks at the team this year that I have dealt with are enthusiastic and want to do whatever they can to get us all down to the yard.
    .
    Expecting him giving a harsh review of their performance to a blog is unrealistic. Even if the reality s a bit harsher than what he states, and there could be changes… But let’s look at what they ahve done to influence attendance (which is trending up!)…
    .
    Yellow Jerseys (a big hit)
    80′s Day, and the ilk (Rickey day, etc.). I had a blast at a couple of these.
    The DOUBLEHEADER! Freaking sick kids made me miss this one (but they are worth it). It looked like a huge hit on TV.
    .
    There is more they could be doing, or at least different things that may move the needle a little bit. But really, besides a several years long contention streak and a new ballpark it will all be marginal improvement at best.

  12. fc says:

    @Tony – Hard to believe Wolff doesn’t know how this will turn out. He’s known Selig for over 50 years, and Selig is the one who brought him in to “The Lodge”. My only guess is that the Giants will receive a buyout for the TR to SCC. In Selig’s mind, the price for those TR gets less the closer we get to 2017. The delay in issuing a decision is sort of a compromise between the A’s and Giants. The delay prevents the A’s from moving for a few more years, but at the same time, lessens the amount the A’s will have to pay the Giants.

  13. jeff-athletic says:

    @Tony D.

    The Giant’s loan payoff is longer than I thought. But considering they sell out every game, servicing the $20 million /yr mortgage is no big deal. And considering Cisco opens in 2015, and that leaves $40 to $60 to pay off the loan, maybe that’s the amount the A’s pay for T-rights (which Lew Wolff is already willing to pay). Also, once the A’s are in SJ, they are no longer receiving revenue sharing (which, as I understand it, they get about $20-30 million a year), and in fact paying into it, and the amount the Giants pay into it goes down. Plus, they no longer have their $20 loan payment.

    And the debt the A’s incur with the building of Cisco is offset by both the huge bump in revenue they get from big attendance boost and huge corporate support in SJ, but also from Wolff’s development of adjacent condos (part of his private financing plan all along). Meanwhile, the Giants still sell out every game (they’re a rich, good team with one of the best ballparks in MLB – there’s no way A’s in SJ will hurt that).

    It’s a win-win situation. Except the city of Oakland kinda looses (but Oakland residents can still easily go to A’s games). But then, the city of Oakland made it’s choice by doing next to nothing for the A’s, and simultaneously kissing the Raider’s posteriors.

  14. Sid says:

    @Tony- Your right Wolff knows the outcome from Selig….Its San Jose or the Dodgers.

    Hence why he doesn’t lobby other owners and sits around waiting. There are several moving parts to this and Selig is hiding his hand…..The Dodgers issues delay the A’s as you will see in the next year.

    I want the A’s in San Jose but lets face it….Selig didn’t like the A’s moving to the Bay Area in 1968 and he still hates them now.

    He has something else he is trying for the A’s or he would respond to Mayor Reed, SVLG, and/or let them proceed with the vote that he promised to pay for if he deemed “San Jose viable”.

    872 days tells you something “big” is going to happen and it probably will not be the simple solution.

    San Jose is last ditch for Selig as he will “exhaust” all other options before revoking the Giants T-rights….Do not get me wrong, it could still happen. But I don’t believe it as things would have moved forward already….872 days is inexcusable unless something “bigger” is in the works.

    At this point I just wish Oakland would pay for the damn stadium 100% and get this over with. But that is all wishful thinking.

  15. jeff-athletic says:

    @Sid

    872 days is ridiculously long, and your logic somewhat sound. But I think you come up with an overly pessimistic conclusion, and it’s really just an assumption.

    Let’s look at the other possible options outside of a new A’s stadium in the Bay Area (and in particular, SJ), and look at it from Selig’s perspective:

    1) Contraction – MLB has to fork out $400 million plus to ownership group. Then there is the lost revenue from having one less team. Also, expect huge fight from players union (i.e. they’ll never let it happen). Thus, contraction means huge money loss, and possible players union lawsuits, and possible strike. No matter how much this would benefit the Giants (largest one team market in baseball), this absolutely cannot look even remotely like an attractive, feasible option for Bud Selig. Besides, Selig has repeatedly said that contraction is off the table.

    2) Relocation outside bay area – well possibilities would include Portland, San Antonio, and Sacramento.

    For starters, none of these have an MLB ready facility, nor have any likelihood of getting public financing for a new facility, nor have a super rich ownership group ready to both purchase the A’s and to privately finance a new stadium. And Lew Wolff has no interest whatsoever in going through what he’s had to already go through with Oakland, Fremont, and San Jose, again with another city.

    Two, none of those markets are quite MLB viable. Not enough population base or corporate base to fully support an 81 home game schedule, or generate enough corporate money to keep the team competitive. At best, it would be equal to what the A’s get now, at worst, less.

    Three, if there was even a hint of someone stepping up in those markets, it would be in the media or internet somehow. There would be trace evidence, no matter how hard Selig tried to keep it under wraps (under the premise that he’s in the midst of some clandestine negotiation with some white knight investor and city). In other words, we’d hear about it.

    Fourth, the economy sucks. City, county, and state budgets everywhere are in the red, and willing multi-billionaire investors (a white knight type that is willing and able to fork out upwards of a billion to buy the team and then build a stadium) are few and far between.

    Finally, each of the other cities, save for Sacramento, has issues with T-rights and/or TV rights. San Antonio is in Rangers and Astros TV territory. Portland is in Mariner’s territory.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that Bud Selig has looked at possible relocation scenarios very very thoroughly. But I doubt he’s found anything attractive or viable.

    Yes, we all know Bud Selig has said that the A’s going to the bay area was a bad idea. Back in the day, it probably was. Both teams over the years have struggled to draw off and on, that is until the Giants got AT&T.

    And looking at the Bay Area’s ever increasing population and wealth, and looking at it’s huge, huge, huge corporate base, and huge Northern California media market, it’s obvious that the Bay Area is more than capable of supporting two MLB teams, with both being fully competitive and profitable (without being on the dole). It’s just that they both need good stadiums, in good locations. One down (Giants), one to go (A’s).

    Now, with the SJ option, Selig has a shovel ready solution, with private financing in line by the current owner, a willing local city government, the land ready to go (with tow parcels yet to be purchased, but that is academic).

    Just looking at the big picture, and from Selig’s perspective, the A’s having a new stadium in SJ is by far the most attractive option. It’s only downside, and I mean only downside, is the Giants T-rights situation. But Selig knows this is not normal T-rights. This is just another team already in the same market, and again, all other two team markets are fully shared. This is not ordinary T-rights, where a team moves from one market into another team’s market. That’s only one negative, as opposed to multiple, huge negatives associated with the other options (contraction or relocation).

    Really, it’s a no brainer.

  16. Anon says:

    ML – you brought up an interesting fact in the other thread: SF’s service debt will be gone in a couple of years. Do you think somehow this is the final conclusion reached by the BRC? Oakland can’t / won’t accomodate a publicly funded site, so just wait out the Gnats or pay up the remaining balance (your call Lew).

  17. Jesse says:

    how much does it cost for someone to make a hot dog at home?

  18. Jesse says:

    I dont eat hot dogs, but I’ve seen entire packs of hot dogs a Grocery Outlet for a dollar. Buns don’t cost much either. I can eat at least 8 hot dogs for like 2 or 3 dollars. Plus I don’t have to drive to Oakland and waste gas money. However, a good baseball team and a winning atmosphere can’t be dupicated.

  19. Jesse says:

    I can get a 12 pack of soda for like 2 dollars at Food Maxx.

  20. Jesse says:

    My couch is the ultimate value deck.

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