The Big Lew Wolff Interview, Part 4
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.
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).