I was born in Oakland. This simple fact means that I will always have a fascination with the city. It also means that I will always root for good things to come Oakland’s way.
I regularly visit Oakland. My favorite thing to do in Oakland is impossible to say because there are so many things I love to do in Oakland. I love to see my daughters laugh and have fun at the Oakland Zoo, for example. I enjoy strolling up and down College Avenue and eating at the Crepevine. It goes without saying that I really enjoy spending time at the Coliseum Complex (be it A’s, Raiders or Warriors games). And Rudy’s Can’t Fail‘s $5 shot and PBR isn’t all that bad either (except the whiskey tastes like gasoline, but what should I expect for $5?).
So folks who prefer Oakland stay the home of the Athletics long term, let’s start from a position here of “We agree, Oakland is a nice place.”
There are other things we agree on, as well. One is that Oakland some times gets short shrift in the local papers. Some times the headlines get a little gratuitous (when was the last time you noticed a positive headline?). We all know that Oakland, being the 46th largest city in the country and like many other medium sized and large cities, has certain neighborhoods with crime problems. That has nothing to do with whether the A’s should continue to play in Oakland, it has little to do with quality of life for the city as a whole and repeatedly pointing it out is tantamount to taking “pot shots” at the city.
So, let’s set that aside too. We agree that Oakland sometimes gets pot shots lobbed in its direction and they aren’t always fair.
Now can we have an honest discussion about the things we don’t really agree on? Let’s keep in mind that there is a difference between legitimate critiques and having “a bias against Oakland.” There is a difference between asking fair questions and casting aspersions toward the Bright Side of the Bay. In short, pointing out obvious challenges is not that same as leveling baseless attacks at Oakland or its citizens.
In the early part of this season I read a letter written/signed by some fans dedicated to keeping the team in Oakland and I had to shake my head. The very first point they made about off the field issues (the East Bay has traditionally supported the team by regularly drawing in excess of 2M fans) was an intellectually dishonest statement and symptomatic of the spin campaign that has been waged by Oakland advocates. This is not to say I don’t appreciate their passion, or that I have a personal hatred for them.
“Intellectually dishonest” can come off as fighting words, I agree. So let me clarify. First, by being imprecise with the English language and using a qualifier such as “regularly,” the Oakland boosters allow themselves wiggle room. How do you quantify “regularly?” For me, and I’d argue for most people, that word means “usually.” Which is to say, “often.” How many times have the A’s drawn in excess of 2M fans? If it’s regularly, it has to be at least more than half right? The A’s have been in Oakland for 44 seasons. They have drawn in excess of 2M fans 11 times. I don’t think it is a stretch to call it “intellectually dishonest” to tout something that has happened 1/4 of the time as “regularly.”
And further, who decided that 2M fans was the threshold for “strong support?” That is an arbitrary number. I have been consistent in arguing that the real measure of successful attendance is “How did a given team perform against the MLB median in a given year?” I’ll agree, this is also imperfect. It doesn’t directly account for how wins and losses impact attendance. It doesn’t account for the fact that baseball stadiums come in various shapes and sizes. However, it is a heck of a lot more objective and accurate than picking an arbitrary number. For the record, 2M fans in the current day and age is in the bottom third of all of MLB attendance, below the MLB median. How does that equate to “strong support?”
Many folks in the pro San Jose camp point to things that happened when Jerry Brown was Mayor, or that didn’t happen when Ron Dellums was Mayor, as evidence of historical failures. I agree with you Oakland boosters that these failures are ancient history and irrelevant to the current state of stadium hunting affairs. However, the “slam dunk” you were all heralding at Victory Court turned out to be vaporware without a single peep about how you had been bamboozled. The grand “plan” of Coliseum City worked to convince the Warriors to leave Oakland (“We’ve met with Mayor Quan on numerous occasions,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said. “We’ve not gotten any definitive proposals from her.”). Next up is the many times visited, and previously rejected, Howard Terminal.
And let me be clear… It is not unfair to point out that Victory Court, once heralded as a viable site, turned out not to be. It isn’t a pot shot at Oakland to point out that Coliseum City (touted as the mega development that would convince the A’s, Raiders and Warriors to stay) is reportedly supported by a single sports franchise, provided the excuse for one to leave and was considered and rejected by the other long ago. It is also not a shot at Oakland to point out that Howard Terminal was the most expensive proposition in 2001 (which means it is still expensive) and has numerous hurdles before it can be built. Pointing these things out doesn’t mean that Howard Terminal couldn’t house an aesthetically pleasing ballpark. Pointing these things out is accepting reality. And really, that’s my biggest gripe with the “Keep the A’s in Oakland” movement, in general.
When is the “look in the mirror” moment? When do the people who want to keep the A’s in Oakland stop with the PR and start with the doing? Where is the outrage and indignation towards the Oakland City Leaders over the whole kabuki theater around an EIR for Victory Court that never happened? How does whole group of people get so invested in a potential site and then not even make a peep when it comes home to roost that the site was as unrealistic as many critics pointed out? When do the Oakland proponents start pushing the City to begin an EIR for Howard Terminal? When do folks start to actually question if Howard Terminal isn’t just another Victory Court? Why is it the City leaders get a free pass?
Let’s get real. When folks point out that there are many more corporate/business customers available in Santa Clara County, in San Jose or within 21 miles of the proposed Cisco Fields site… Those aren’t attacks at Oakland. Cisco pledged $120M over 30 Years for a Ballpark in Fremont. Are we really supposed to believe they wouldn’t offer something similar in the heart of their base of operation? No company has made a similar proposal publicly for a stadium in Oakland. Are we just supposed to believe that there is some mythical company that has this covered? 75 CEO’s signed a letter of support for the A’s potential move South and sent it to Bud Selig. Those 75 CEOs were writing on behalf of an organization that represents $3 Trillion to the world’s economy. Conversely, Don Knauss had 11 other companies (some of which are huge and some which haven’t turned a profit) with him at his press conference. It isn’t just a matter of perception. The business customers in San Jose are far more plentiful than in Oakland. Ditto the South Bay as compared to the East Bay.
Combine this difference in corporate sponsorship opportunities, with the paltry attendance numbers and there are legitimate concerns about privately financing a stadium. That isn’t an attack on Oakland. It is a legitimate concern. There has been one fully, privately financed stadium built in MLB since the influx of stadiums began in the 1990′s: AT&T Park. 48% of that private financing depended on advanced ticket purchases and naming rights. To get more granular, 20% of AT&T Park was financed by PSL’s and 28% was financed by a lucrative naming rights deal. Another ~48% was provided in the form of a loan by Chase Bank.
What I am saying is that if you want to get something done, you need to address the actual challenges, not fight perception. Making statements about how great attendance has always been, in the face of evidence to the contrary, won’t get a stadium built. Getting commitments from guys like me, or the 51,000 folks on the LGO Facebook group, to buy season tickets for a brand new Oakland ballpark will.
Arguing with folks that Cisco won’t sponsor a stadium in San Jose, when we all know they will, won’t get a new stadium built in Oakland. Getting Chevron, or Clorox, or some other very large company to agree to a naming rights deal that pays $4M a year over 30 years (and having them shout it out publicly) will.
These things won’t get you all the way there, Oakland proponents. But they can get you 48% of the way to paying for it and that’s a whole lot closer than you have come to date.