Playing the FUD game
Earlier today, a report from an Orlando sports talk show cast doubt on the Seattle Hansen-Ballmer bid, because according to the report, the $30 million nonrefundable deposit was never paid by the February 1 deadline. The “news” created a minor kerfuffle as fans and media in Seattle and Sacramento tried to make sense of it.
A few hours later, outgoing Kings co-owner Joe Maloof chimed in with his first statement to the media in months: The $30 million deposit was, in fact, paid.
The Orlando talk show host, David Baumann, hasn’t updated his story or tweeted any kind of response to this clarification. By the end of business Wednesday, the focus was on Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s State of the City speech on Thursday, during which he is expected to reveal names from the local ownership group (a.k.a “whales”).
Wednesday’s histrionics were a classic example of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt). Someone misreports something or leaks info that could prove damaging to a competitor. The same thing happened last week with Deanna Santana’s gaffe regarding Lew Wolff’s Coliseum extension letter. Misinformation grabs headlines and spreads throughout the country and industry quickly. Timed strategically in an ongoing campaign, FUD can generate enough negative attention to sink many projects and initiatives.
That brings us to Andy Dolich, who has taken on the role of Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s “Business Insider”. As an experienced executive in the NFL, NBA, and MLB, Dolich is well-positioned to speak authoritatively on such matters. He’s seen it all – teams thriving (80′s A’s) and floundering (49ers, Vancouver-Memphis Grizzlies), franchise moves (Grizzlies again), and new venue development (also Grizzlies). He’s extremely well-connected and is still well-networked in the Bay Area, where he maintains his office in Los Altos.
At CSN, Dolich has taken on the role of Doubting Thomas regarding two of his former employers that are seeking new homes in different cities. The Warriors are planning their San Francisco waterfront arena, going so far as to ask for state legislation to help ease some of the red tape they’ll inevitably face on the road to a new venue. The A’s continue to be stuck in Lew Wolff’s quest to move the team to San Jose, dogged by the Giants territorial rights and uncertainty regarding the team’s (and city’s) ability to take all of the necessary steps to make the move. Time and time again, Dolich trots out claims that both projects, just like the 49ers stadium, will be too expensive, too fraught with legal booby traps, too difficult to pull off. He’s probably not intentionally doing this under some unsaid agenda, but what he’s doing right now is spreading FUD. It’s FUD that provides a glimmer of hope to Oakland fans and politicians hoping to keep teams at the Coliseum. Absent any real details for Coliseum City, it’s not difficult to see why some would latch onto negative notions of competing visions as hope.
For years, Dolich has been upfront in his desire to see teams stay in their cities, whether we’re talking about the Bay Area teams or the Sacramento Kings. Strangely, while he willingly presents a case for why a move can’t happen due to various obstacles, he nearly glosses over reasons why a team could stay long-term. Sure, Cisco Field could cost $600 million or more when factoring in all of the prep work. But an Oakland ballpark won’t? Howard Terminal’s costs will be huge and could spiral out of control just like Victory Court. A ballpark at Coliseum City, even if it’s by itself with no other tenants, will have to factor in the $100 million albatross of Mt. Davis debt. That’s not FUD. That’s reality. FUD comes from a vacuum of information related to any particular situation. Dolich even makes the mistaken claim that Cisco Field would require an EIR, even though one has been certified twice by San Jose to cover different capacities and use cases. That heavy lifting is over, with only an addendum required to address the actual stadium in finished form.
Going back to the money issue, that’s where we on this site frequently bang the drum against Oakland. It’s no secret that Oakland itself is an economic weak link compared to the powerhouses in San Francisco and the South Bay. When we talk about the uphill battle Oakland faces, that can be interpreted as FUD. Even so, it’s a consensus view that has been confirmed by city staff as recently as last week. Locals know it, the national media knows it, everyone knows it. It’s incumbent upon Oakland and its supporters to change that perspective – not by talking up the city, but by taking real actions to make people believe in the city. In the end, team owners need to figure out how to pay for their privately funded facilities. To cast doubt on Oakland may seem unfair, but it’s not as if it comes from a position of naïveté. Down in San Jose, we’ve talked about the challenges for some time: redevelopment, lack of city funds for infrastructure, territorial rights, land remaining to be acquired. Daunting as those may seem, they can be overcome via procedural means and nominal investment. That’s different from Oakland, where economic concerns make investors skittish about the market. It all boils down to a simple question: If you’re going to spend $500+ million on a stadium and you can’t depend on a public subsidy, wouldn’t you want to put the stadium in a place where you can ensure you can pay it off? If MLB has concerns about Wolff hitting projections on a San Jose ballpark, what must they think about the prospects of a ballpark in Oakland?
As long as we don’t see ground broken on a ballpark for the A’s, the war of words and FUD will continue. When San Jose Arena was built, the FUD surrounding the project quickly died. Same thing for AT&T Park and now the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara. The only way to kill FUD is to prove that that it’s baseless. By working. By thriving. By building.