Two groups express interest in A’s

UPDATE 6:40 PM – Lew Wolff responds, reiterating that team is not for sale. From the article, Andy Dolich was contacted and denied that he was one of the “suitors” interested in the A’s. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said that if the team were sold to a more Oakland-friendly group, the Victory Court site may be considered again. There may even be a third group interested.

The A’s are not for sale, at least from everything I’ve read and heard. That hasn’t stopped two groups from expressing interest in buying the club, according to Matier and Ross.

Let’s play this little hypothetical out: If Bud Selig can’t broker a deal to get the A’s territorial rights to San Jose, then it would seem that Lew Wolff’s next step may be to put the team up for sale. Such a sale probably couldn’t be completed until 2013 at the earliest, which coincidentally is the same year the A’s lease ends at the Coliseum.

Forbes valued the A’s at $307 million last year, and should have a similar valuation this year. The going trend for franchise sales would have the team sell for a significant premium over that valuation.

Recent MLB franchise sales prices compared with Forbes valuations

The environment during which a hypothetical sale of the A’s occurs is much different from 1995, when Wally Haas sold the A’s to Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann, or even 2003, when Schott sold the team to Wolff and John Fisher. Nowadays, Bud Selig is pushing hard to get the biggest possible sale price for outgoing owners, even rogues like Frank McCourt. Given the trend, I can’t see the A’s selling for less than $400 million on the open market, especially if there are competitive bids. This would happen even if the A’s low-revenue problems show few signs of improvement anytime soon.

Of course, after soon comes 2016, which is when the new CBA expires. There’s also that CBA provision in which teams in the largest markets become ineligible for revenue sharing. The Oakland situation is odd in that the A’s are supposed to be exempt from that rule as long as they’re stuck in the Coliseum. There’s still a little confusion on this which probably won’t be resolved until we actually see the document in final printed form, and that hasn’t happened yet. Here’s my guess as to why the A’s situation is so foggy:

  1. As long as the A’s only have Alameda and Contra Costa Counties as their defined stadium territory, MLB has an excuse to consider them a low-revenue franchise despite the broad NorCal TV territory.
  2. If the A’s go to San Jose, it’s likely that Wolff will have gotten his wish that the Bay Area will become a shared territory (though I would expect the City of San Francisco to remain strictly with the Giants). If that shared territory deal occurs, the A’s would become a large market team by CBA definition.

The trouble facing any prospective buyer is that he’d be paying for the team in situation #1, with limited opportunities for growth. $400 million for just the franchise, perhaps more given that Wolff will want something for all of the headaches he’s gotten in pursuing a ballpark deal. Unlike the Haas-Schott sale, there are no hometown discounts anymore. The obvious revenue growth prospect is a stadium at Coliseum City, which by the time it could actually happen would cost at least $500 million. But, as we hammered here repeatedly, there’s a lot of doubt about the ability for the A’s to pay for a ballpark in Oakland. If the A’s pre-sold $100 million of the $500 million ballpark thanks to naming rights and such, the remaining $400 million converts to a $30 million annual mortgage payment over 30 years. Matier and Ross indicate that the 1990 record of 2.9 million in attendance is proof of the support, but that’s not the concern. The concern is what happens when the A’s are losing and fans don’t show up? The A’s recent revenue sharing receipts have been in the $30 million range. If the revenue sharing receipt effectively gets transferred to a bank to pay for the ballpark, it doesn’t solve the A’s competitiveness problems since they’d remain a poor team, in this case “house poor”. That’s a terrible investment on the owner’s and league’s part. I’m also skeptical that, with Selig’s focus on incoming owners’ liquidity, such a plan to keep the A’s in Oakland would pass muster. Selig or his successor isn’t going to sign off on Oakland becoming another Pittsburgh: great stadium, poor team.

A few months ago, some pro-Oakland. keep-them-at-the-Coliseum interests called Wolff to see if he was interested in selling. He confirmed that he wasn’t. So it’s funny, though not surprising, that the interests mentioned by Matier and Ross are from Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, not Oakland or the East Bay. With the A’s ongoing presence in Oakland precarious, it would seem better to have some kind of homegrown ownership group, lest an incoming group be called carpetbaggers all over again. If either of those groups were to go in, they’d invest at least $400 million in the team and $500 million in the stadium, with no guarantee of a great sales price once they feel like selling. That’s a tough proposition for any prospective buyer, and just one of the endgame scenarios Selig has to consider when deciding the A’s fate.