Monthly Archives: April 2012

News for 4/29/12

Good stuff:

  • The Kings arena deal was officially declared dead on Friday. Perhaps they were waiting for rigor mortis to fully set in. The team will stay for another year, after that? Who knows? I’m not generally a fan of boycott efforts, but if Kings fans really wanted to stick it to the Maloofs with both a fiscal and PR nightmare, they should boycott ALL games. The family may be struggling enough that a loss of $30-50 million in revenue could really hurt them, and force them to sell the team. That’s what the fans want, right?
  • Many readers are getting a buzz off the news that Angels’ owner Arte Moreno met with AEG recently. As Bill Shaikin writes, they’d have a long way to go before they started doing anything. Moreno’s a good businessman, and as a good businessman should he has to at least hear AEG out and get some kind of dialogue going. It won’t force the City of Anaheim to do anything, so the leverage play isn’t there – at least not right now. I wrote last week about AEG’s business model and goals for the LACC expansion-cum-NFL stadium, and how baseball isn’t really on AEG’s map. AEG has its own somewhat weak leverage play in that they want to push the NFL to make a move on their behalf, but as recent discussions between the two parties have revealed, the league is not easy to budge. The NFL can at any time revive the Roski/City of Industry plan and favor it over AEG’s concept, and it would have every right to do so. The NFL doesn’t care about AEG’s desire to hold the Final Four or BCS championship game there, or about AEG’s interest in expanding LACC. All they want is a new, Super Bowl-ready venue. AEG, on the other hand, would have to strain to make a downtown ballpark work within its convention center plans. Since AEG wants an indoor convention hall, the ballpark would require a retractable dome instead of open air. The field would have to be moved out like University of Phoenix’s field, yet there’s no space for such a field-on-a-tray. Because of the rather bespoke nature of a ballpark, it would be difficult to put in the flexible seating system AEG would need to hold the Final Four. Plus there’s the issue of not having enough seats for large football events. Baseball may provide 81+ annual events, but you can bet that the revenue share for AEG will not be beneficial enough to cover the debt service on the venue. There are few compatibilities between what Moreno wants and AEG’s goals. That makes a downtown ballpark a non-starter.
  • Minnesota lawmakers continue to work throughout the weekend on the tenets of a Vikings stadium plan. The big obstacle may be rank and file Democrats, many of whom who appear to have pledged to vote down any stadium proposal. Financing would come from a appropriations (state) bond, which means that debt would be serviced by an annual appropriation, to be paid back by gambling tax revenues and other sources. It’s certainly a “creative” public financing solution, though one that would never leave the budget committee in California.
  • Barclays Center in Brooklyn putting on an exhibition in October between the Islanders and Devils to test out the hockey configuration, which is suboptimal.

Petco: Lessons Learned

As beautiful as the setting and architecture of Petco Park is, the ballpark is not without its faults. Like just about every ballpark built in the last 20 years, it could’ve benefited from a a few design changes and a better sense of scale. None of the criticisms I have are anything more than minor, but it’s something to think about when planning for a new A’s ballpark.

Petco trolley bridge

View from south across Harbor Drive and trolley tracks

Its capacity of 42,691 is at least 2k too much for the market, though that’s easy to say in hindsight. The Padres eclipsed the 3 million mark only once in their 8-year history at Petco. Attendance per game has dipped below 30,000 in the last couple of years. If the team were to do it again they might have dropped the capacity to 40,000. There may be a solid argument to reduce the capacity to 37-38,000, but let’s be serious about this – when many of these parks were planned out a decade ago a capacity less than 40k would’ve been considered defeatist. PNC Park was the only park of that sara with a 38k capacity, and it made sense considering the Pirates’ place as a small-market, third tier team in a football town.

Day night gap

Comparison of day and night pictures of gap in grandstand, looking out towards Western Metal Supply building

8 years is enough to establish Petco as the most pitcher-friendly in the majors. It was even worse when it first opened, when the right-center dimension was a fly ball-killing 411 feet. The only change was in bringing that fence in to 400 feet, which has had little effect. During Wednesday’s game I saw three balls that would’ve been out elsewhere that were caught on the warning track. There’s already talk of bringing in the fences again, though I expect that it’ll be another similar half-measure. To give hitters a chance, new fences will have to be drawn up for the entirety of lett field and right field. The corners can remain the same since they’re fair. The right field wall is around 382 feet in the power alleys, and the wall itself is 12 feet high. Both are much too large. If they Padres add four rows and lower the wall to 8-9 feet it’ll be a much more fair park. This can be done taking the notch of seats that juts out from the corner and even it out through the rest of the wall. The place is probably due to replace the incandescent scoreboard with a full color LED model like the video board to the left, so there’s an excuse to make the change. The four rows could come from cleaving the top rows from the second deck in RF. A similar treatment can be done in LF. Net effect: more fair ballpark, no change in capacity. While we’re at it, the top rows of third deck (grandstand) could also stand to be removed. Removing four rows would bring the capacity down to 40,000.

Rf fence med

The too tall right field wall and far too large dimensions beg for a fix

Even with those quibbles, Petco still has a great deal of positive attributes that I didn’t get to in the previous post:

  • The front rows of the second deck (Toyota Terrace) are uneven from the infield to the outfield. It looks strange from afar. When you’re standing along the field level concourse it makes all the sense in the world. An extra 2-3 feet of vertical clearance opens up the viewing angle so that fans down the LF and RF lines can see the scoreboard across the way and more of the stadium. Standing fans along the infield are closer to the action so they don’t need such a treatment. Instead they get small scoreboards of their own and a host of HDTVs to check out replays, all tucked under the second deck.
  • The Western Metal Supply building, which was to be demolished in the original plan, was preserved and integrated into the ballpark. It’s the perfect example of the burgeoning trend of party suites in ballparks, and a fantastic example of adaptive reuse.
  • Suites are tucked under cantilevered upper decks, which are something of a mixed bag. From a practical standpoint, that placement reduces the load and allows for greater seating capacity in the second deck, and to a lesser degree, the lower deck. These are definitely not the closest to the field among new ballparks, though that aspect may not matter much to the consumers of suites. It’s not like there’s much local competition for premium seating as there is back in the Bay Area.
  • The whole grandstand feels overbuilt, and that’s a show of strength. Massive trusses support the cantilevers and are confidence-inspiring. They also appears to be something of a tribute to the numerous large steel ships, including Navy vessels, in the nearby harbor.
  • The towers which hold suites don’t seem to be as much of signature pieces as I thought they would be when they were initially unveiled. Perhaps this because they hold suites and not more publicly accessible areas. Maybe it’s because the towers don’t continue all the way down the stadium to grade. Whatever the case, they’re striking but at this point, mostly a visual affectation.
  • There are still a lot of old standard definition CRT TVs scattered throughout. I suspect that a tech upgrade is due soon, with the scoreboards and TVs done in a package deal.
  • Under the outfield seating decks are two sets of tributes. In right is the military tribute, including a scale model of the USS Midway. In left, behind the Western Metal Supply building, are tributes to the history of baseball in San Diego, and the history of the Gaslamp Quarter. The latter is whitewashed to a Disney-esque sheen, but it’s still informative. There are also large photos and quotes from past Padres, including some guy you may be familiar with.
Rickey quote

'Nuff said.

If I have any say over it, someday Rickey will have a huge statue and a room in a museum dedicated to his exploits.

Petco: the ballpark has two faces

Do you remember the old adage about the mullet haircut, “business upfront, party in the back”? I knew you did. Thing is, as generally uncool as the mullet is, Petco is extraordinarily cool. And yet, Petco very much fits that two-part description. It’s that convergence of philosophies, of catering to different audiences, that makes Petco so unique and special. It’s why, regardless of how bad the team is (quite bad right now), Petco is easily in my Top 5 ballparks. It’s definitely the friendliest ballpark in the majors.

The ballpark is oriented north to capture the downtown San Diego skyline

Petco Park is often associated with the historic Gaslamp Quarter, the retail and entertainment district frequented by both locals and tourists. The stadium is technically in the East Village, a grittier and still largely undeveloped neighborhood east of the Gaslamp. I found out how gritty it was when I went looking for a parking space on Saturday while the Padres were hosting the Phillies. I only had to drive six blocks away to see homeless encampments leaning against dormant construction sites. As the Gaslamp and the adjacent parts of the East Village became gentrified over the last 20 years, the homeless were pushed further out. That left the area immediately around Petco quite clean, safe, even serene. The park and neighborhood are connected to the harbor/marina/convention center by a striking new pedestrian bridge, which is elevated above train tracks and the main thoroughfare Harbor Drive. Two trolley stations flank the ballpark, bringing in fans from throughout the city, south to Chula Vista and the San Ysidro/Tijuana border, and east to El Cajon and Santee. Northern suburbs are serviced by the Coaster commuter train, which transfers to the trolley at Union Station.

From the convention center end of the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge

My brother’s wedding ceremony was on Sunday. The wedding party stayed the weekend in a hotel in the Gaslamp only two blocks from Petco, so we felt the full brunt of humanity all over the neighborhood and downtown on Saturday night. Phillies fans came as early as Thursday and descended on the Gaslamp like a plague of locusts. I tweeted an observation over the weekend:

In the Bay Area we rave about how much AT&T Park improved the China Basin/South Beach area, or about the impact HP Pavilion has had on downtown San Jose. Neither can hold a candle to what Petco Park has done for the Gaslamp. Part of that is because outgoing Padres owner John Moores bought numerous plots of land around Petco and developed them. That included two hotels (Omni and Solamar), condos, and master planning for the blocks including and surrounding the ballpark. That’s not to say that such work is required for a downtown ballpark in either Oakland or San Jose – it just doesn’t hurt to have that kind of vision. That’s probably a good reason why Oakland is contracting with Moores’ firm JMI Sports for the Coliseum City project.

Concourse behind home plate. The use of numerous angles and textures breaks up the monotony. It also feels more open and airy than most ballparks.

Back to the mullet. No ballpark is going to work economically unless it has the stuff corporate interests will pay good money for, such as suites and clubs. All of that stuff is there and it appears to be sufficiently luxurious. Concourses go from wide to vast. Taking a page from recent mall design, there’s rarely a single long corridor. Instead the field concourse is broken up by informal plazas, a side concession court, numerous portable merchandise booths, and warm stucco along the many of the concourse walls. Every few feet the ballpark reveals something new, a different perspective or vantage point. The field is frequently within view, with spacious standing room areas everywhere. Yet there are always opportunities to walk a few feet and check out the harbor or downtown, making Petco feel wholly integrated with the neighborhood. If you’re walking in the Gaslamp and you go a block or two east to 8th Street, you can see the third base grandstand, beckoning you to come in with its arms open. The ballpark’s orientation (north towards downtown) is a choice I’m glad they made, because a waterfront ballpark wasn’t feasible and had already been done previously in San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

On Tuesday night, I checked out a pitcher’s duel between the Padres’ Clayton Richard and former Athletic, now Washington National Gio Gonzalez. Gio was his good self that night, firing a no-stress, two-hit, six-inning shutout on the way to a 3-1 win. My seat was in the upper deck, directly behind the plate (see top pic). I stayed for five innings, then moved around the ballpark to take pictures. The following day, I sat in the bleachers, which I had never done in previous games here. It’s not a perfect bleacher experience, but it is marvelous.

The "Beach" in the foreground, game in the background

First of all, the are numerous quirks. The bleachers are comfortable and spacious enough, with individual seat bottoms, plenty of leg room, and grass at your feet (all the better for flip-flops). As the bleachers are a fairly small seating section, they are subject to many obstructed views. My seat had one of the best views and I couldn’t see either LF or RF corner. If your seat is more towards CF, you stand to have a third of the field or worse obscured (a la Yankee Stadium). Plus if you’re below Row 7 and you’re trying to watch the game, you’re liable to get a great view of the chain link fence or worse, the padding on top of the fence. That said, maybe you’re coming to mostly hang out with friends, and for that it’s the best bleacher section in the majors. Plenty of concessions are always available behind you, and if you have kids with you they will take to the sandy “Beach” area like ducks to a pond. The hecklers have seen fit to get their seats in the RF corner where they can heckle the visiting pitching staff or right fielder.

In back of the bleachers is the “Park at the Park”, an open area and berm which is open to the public during non-game hours and is available for a $5 ticket during games. No matter how bad the attendance gets thanks to the Padres fielding one of the worst teams in MLB, the Park at the Park always has activity. This is even more of a case of a place where the casual fan can go, bring kids, and not worry too much about the cost. Fans with the $5 ticket still have access to the standing room areas within the grandstand, making a Park at the Park ticket effectively a cover charge. Now I have to wonder if this depresses the demand for non-premium tickets somewhat, but I figure that many of these people simply wouldn’t go at all if such an affordable ticket weren’t available. In the end it’s probably a wash in terms of revenue, with a positive PR boost to assist.

Panorama of the Park at the Park from the Tony Gwynn statue (click to enlarge)

If I worked in downtown San Diego, I’d make a lunch appointment everyday at the Park of the Park, no doubt about it. I hope we have the chance to celebrate something this lovely for the A’s, somewhere in the Bay Area. A boy can dream, right?

…..

Tomorrow: More technical and trivial information about Petco Park.

A’s not on May owners meeting agenda

Small item in John Shea’s report today:

Managing general partner Lew Wolff, who attended Tuesday’s game, conceded that the A’s stadium issue won’t be on the agenda at the May 16-17 owners’ meetings, and he wouldn’t guess whether it’ll be included at the next owners’ meetings in August.

As long as Bud Selig keeps leaving the A’s and Wolff twisting in the wind like this, he’s the one who’s going to have to fix it. The A’s lease runs out after 2013. Selig should have to be the one who negotiates any short or long-term Coliseum extension, not Wolff. The Coliseum Authority and Wolff aren’t exactly buddies these days. Then again, Wolff and Selig supposedly are. With friends like these…

AEG looks to add NorCal to its empire

A very clever strategy is emanating from facility operator Anschutz Entertainment Group. It’s a two-pronged affair based in Sacramento and Oakland. The movement draws upon what can be considered serious deficiencies in both markets in their inability to attract certain types of events and visitors. Most importantly, it offers hope to both cities, which are both in danger of losing their respective pro sports franchises.

For San Jose Earthquakes fans, AEG may as well be a four-letter word. The company owned the Quakes franchise as part of its initial MLS holdings. When AEG was unable to forge a new stadium deal in San Jose, the team was abruptly moved to Houston in 2006, making the parent company persona non grata in the South Bay. AEG came back in 2008 with a small move, taking over for Live Nation as the operator of The Warfield in SF.

In Sacramento, AEG is seen as the facilitator for the Railyards Entertainment and Sports Complex. The backing out by the Maloof family has for now killed the plan, though it’s possible that AEG could resurface as a key driver with or without the basketball Kings. Should Sacramento lose the Kings, they’d have the option of building an on-spec arena, similar to former Kings home Kansas City when it built the Sprint Center. That’s a far different scope from Oakland, which is looking to keep three franchises at home via at least two new venues plus a convention center and hotel. Oakland’s model is the AEG-run LA Live complex and LA Convention Center.

AEG is the premier arena operator in the country, with Staples Center as its crown jewel. It has the experience to make cities listen when they come calling, and the weight to make cities cower when threatening to attract a team, as evidenced by AEG’s NFL pursuits. While dangling its own success in front of potential suitors, it forges ahead with its plans to expand its SoCal empire by working on a football stadium-cum-convention hall. While not a short-term likelihood, the threat and possibility remains into the future, and would hugely benefit AEG in two key ways: it would make LACC more competitive with San Diego and Las Vegas for conventions, and it would create the ultimate flexibility for all of its LA venues, which happen to be within blocks of each other.

AEG's Downtown LA operations provide great flexibility and huge traffic

To understand what make LA Live unique, it’s important to look beyond Staples Center. LA Live has two venues of its own: the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre and 2,500-person Club Nokia, both of which are essentially auditoriums. They slot in below Staples Center for booking concerts, which is necessary because Staples is home to three pro teams and at least 126 home dates per year. In most other cities an arena operator would use a curtain system to reduce capacity at a large arena. AEG doesn’t need to do this sort of “half house” setup with Staples much, instead it can push a show to the Nokia Theatre. Staples famously hosts the Grammys every year, while Nokia hosts the Primtetime Emmys, MTV VMAs, and the finale of American Idol. Club Nokia mostly serves as a venue for up-and-coming and smaller acts. The Convention Center churns plenty of day business and drives demand to local hotels. Both convention and entertainment visitors benefit local restaurants and bars, some of which are in LA Live. It boils down to the equivalent of the population of the Bay Area visiting downtown LA every year, spread out among 2.5 events per day.

Oakland wants this kind of traffic, so they’re looking to drop SMG like a bad habit then partner up with AEG now and into the future. It’s going to be difficult to pull off. A third of AEG’s visitors come from the convention center. To build a competitive center in Oakland, the facility would have to surpass Moscone, San Jose, and Santa Clara in terms of space. It would require at least one, probably two anchor hotels attached to the convention center. A thriving commercial and retail district wouldn’t hurt attracting people and conventions. Oracle Arena is a good, modern arena thanks to the 1996 renovation, and AEG is promising to maximize utilization of the arena to its full potential and provide consulting for the Coliseum City concept.

The inherent risks are timing and cost. AEG built Staples Center prior to the 1999-2000 NBA and NHL seasons. The Nokia Theatre didn’t open until 2007, after Staples as AEG responded to market conditions. Club Nokia opened the following year. For AEG to be that involved and willing to invest in Oakland, it would have to recognize similar market potential and a chance to dominate the market the same way it does in LA. The arena part will be difficult to pull off as Sharks Entertainment will always be competitive with HP Pavilion. The Warriors could build an arena in SF, relegating Oracle Arena in the process. Another Planet Entertainment controls several smaller theaters throughout SF and the East Bay, providing natural competition in the process. There is no proper 7,000-seat auditorium in the Bay Area, pushing shows of that size to the arenas unless AEG sees fit to build one (the Bill Graham Civic, as historic as it is, is really a gym). Plus there is no shortage of 2,500-seat venues in the Bay Area: Fox Oakland, Paramount, Warfield, SF Masonic Auditorium, and the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. AEG isn’t going to bring a fully-formed Coliseum City on Day 1. It would have to be phased in over many years, with no guarantee that much of what’s being promised will be built.

For AEG, the best part is that in making these deals, it’s getting exclusivity for usually a year or more for a very small price while making a little money to boot. AEG has been willing to invest in venues to some degree as it did with Sprint Center. However, Phil Anschutz is not about giving away the farm, as witnessed by his hardball dealings with the NFL and the contribution cap AEG paid for Sprint Center. Maybe something will happen, maybe not. Either way AEG is the first one in and keeps competition out, while getting a better understanding of how to exploit a particular market. As great as LA Live is, it shouldn’t be considered easily repeatable. Sprint Center is a more realistic and perhaps cautionary example. The arena is the second busiest in America according to Pollstar and is highly profitable by AEG’s standards, though it’s a $13 million annual drain on the city’s coffers. Sprint Center is well integrated with KC’s $850 million Power and Light District development. There remains no major pro team. AEG appears to be happy with whatever business model works best for it whether it’s three teams or none, civic pride not being a great priority.

One other curiosity about AEG: as interested it is in the NFL and as extensive as its holdings are in hockey (LA Kings), basketball (Anchutz’s minority share of the Lakers), and soccer (LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo), there’s one glaring omission on its resume: baseball. Does AEG care about baseball at all? It doesn’t operate any ballparks, nor does it own a minor league team. It doesn’t seem to have any relevant experience with baseball. Its new AEG Sports division has no baseball interests at all. Judging from AEG’s track record, I have to think its priority list would look like this:

  • Concerts
  • Soccer
  • Conventions
  • Hockey
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Baseball?

Judging from that, maybe AEG would be more interested in bringing a MLS team to Oakland than in keeping the A’s there. In regards to the A’s, AEG’s presence is similar to Larry Ellison in that certain factions would love for either of them to be interested in the A’s, but neither has shown any sign of interest to date. A clause in the Coliseum management contract dictates that AEG can’t talk to teams about moving, which I suppose might have teeth if a team were bound to a long-term lease (only the Warriors are). It gives a new twist on the Coliseum City exercise being a feasibility study.

What the NFL wants, it gets

You have to hand it to Roger Goodell. He has a playbook for getting stadium deals moving, and by God it works. Goodell lets the team owner come up with a proposal, and if it stalls he comes in with Goldman Sachs in tow and/or a threat to move, implied or otherwise. As a result, Santa Clara put up $900 million in public loans and cash for the 49ers stadium project, while the Vikings – after much debate – are getting a deal crafted in the Minnesota legislature that could provide up to $800 million in public assistance for stay home.

In the Vikings’ case, all it required was a little open-ended discussion about Los Angeles and a sighting of owner Zygi Wilf’s private jet in SoCal. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has become the Oscar Goodman of football, an outsider but serious power player whose city’s existential threat to other cities forces them to the table. The Vikings deal is by no means complete, but it’s further along than any talks to date, so that has to be encouraging for both Vikes fans and Wilf.

On Thursday, the 49ers officially broke ground on their new home as of the 2014 season. The stadium will undoubtedly be impressive and significantly better than Candlestick Park in just about every way imaginable, except affordability. (I thought I was going to get some pictures of the event but that fell through, sorry.)  Now we can talk in earnest about the Bay Area hosting a future Super Bowl or World Cup matches. It’s pretty exciting, despite my misgivings about the finances.

And it’s with that news that I can sit back, somewhat detached from the plan and say that I’m jealous of the 49ers right now. I don’t want a major handout for the A’s or Goldman Sachs waiting in the wings. I don’t need a stadium that costs more than a billion dollars. I just want a new place where I can take friends, where it doesn’t feel like pulling teeth to ask them if they want to go. A place that celebrates baseball, not merely hosts it at best adequately. Despite what some readers think, I don’t care where it’s built. If that’s Oakland, great. If it’s San Jose, so be it. Even Sacramento I wouldn’t mind so much at this point. My stance has always remained steady all this time – as long as it’s privately financed and I can get to it locally, I’m all for it. On this blog and elsewhere we have these endless debates about what it will take, territorial rights, what resources specific cities can offer, and there will be plenty of time for that later. For now let’s simply look at the leagues.

Mostly, I’m jealous that the NFL can get its stuff together on stadia so much better than MLB. It doesn’t matter that on the whole NFL stadia cost twice as much. The projects should be far riskier because of the expense and the inherent lack of utilization. In the post-downturn, post-redevelopment California, the toughest market to build anything new, the NFL will have beaten MLB by at least two years, maybe more. In the time that Bud Selig has had his panel discussing what to do about the A’s, we could’ve had a fancy (or not) groundbreaking. We could be talking about the future. Instead, we’re treading water as usual. No one can tread water forever.