A way to Sacramento
A year ago, Giants CEO Larry Baer hinted that it would be good for the A’s to look somewhere outside the Bay Area for a new ballpark, if a deal for an East Bay park couldn’t be worked out. I wrote three years ago that an expansion to Raley Field would cost at least $250 million. It would be hard for the A’s to make a large contribution towards the expansion project because Sacramento’s government town status makes the corporate revenue pickings slim. If the A’s are going to pay for it, and MLB isn’t going to pay for it, who will?
The Giants, of course.
Now, I’m not actually suggesting that the Giants will pay for the stadium directly. They’re coming to the end of their own mortgage, so why would they saddle themselves with someone else’s? They wouldn’t. Yet if the A’s were forced to vacate the Bay Area, the Giants would likely pay the A’s to surrender the territorial rights to the East Bay. Such money which could be used to build or expand a stadium elsewhere. The Giants would end up indirectly funding the A’s stadium as a result.
We’d start with the MLB standard compensation package: $75 million, half coming from the commissioner and half coming from the paying team. That’s too small of compensation for the 2.5 million-strong East Bay, especially when you consider that the Giants’ franchise valuation could get a 2-3x boost from the A’s leaving. $150 million is probably a fairer package with the same 50/50 terms.
By the time the A’s were able to consider such a move in 2016-17, the $250 million cost could easily balloon to $300 million. That puts the Giants/MLB contribution at half. The A’s might be able to contribute $75 million on their own (via a new lease and revenue share), meaning the rest would have to come from a public source. This is absolutely important so that the A’s don’t get relegated to being another small market team. If the A’s move to Sacramento and have to pay a fat mortgage, that’s not an improvement upon staying in Oakland. The A’s best chance to thrive in Sacramento is if their stadium costs are as minimal as possible.
For Sacramento’s part, the plan only makes sense if the Kings are gone. The A’s still need corporate support to sell out premium offerings, and it’s expected that the Railyards Arena will suck up all of those customers. Involvement of AEG will only enhance that. The controversial parking revenue play won’t work because the plan is to expand Raley Field in West Sacramento, which is out of the Capitol City’s jurisdiction. A joint powers agreement between Yolo and Sacramento Counties sounds like a possibility.
At the actual stadium, the hard work includes taking down the press box and suites, ripping up the concourse to put in new columns, and putting in new facilities under the concourse such as modern, MLB-standard team clubhouses and a kitchen/commissary. Then the A’s could focus on putting in a club level, new suites, an MLB-standard press box, and a third deck to bring in those extra needed seats. The scope of work reminds me of this:
Would $300 million be enough in the end? It’s hard to say. It would be easy to argue that MLB wouldn’t want to skimp on amenities, or else Raley Field could be viewed as a cheap, temporary solution. Terms published for Nationals Park showed that MLB wasn’t interested in cost effectiveness – except in terms of external finishings. Marlins Ballpark is a testament to excess with its bizarre center field sculpture and aquarium behind the plate. The “wedge” in the Railyards dedicated for the arena isn’t large enough for a ballpark, so if MLB weren’t satisfied with Raley and wanted to look in Downtown Sacramento, it would have to use another plot within the project area for a completely new stadium, and a $500+ million price tag to go with it. Unless MLB was really desperate (which they usually aren’t), it seems iffy for baseball go along with the expansion plan when Sacramento was willing to foot a large part of the bill for a brand new arena.
There’s also at least one inside baseball consideration. MLB is fully aware of what Sacramento’s market limitations are. If the Railyards arena deal falls through, it won’t look good to MLB that the City couldn’t put together either a cohesive local or regional plan to retain a team. Sacramento wouldn’t show up on the top of anyone’s “viability” list, even though the resources to support a baseball team alone are there. Yet if the arena deal were successful, the market is too limited to exploit for a second major sports franchise, especially one whose economic requirements are much greater than those for a basketball or hockey team. It’s definitely a strange paradox.