Sometimes it’s easier to ramble on a podcast than to write and edit a couple thousand words on a topic. Actually it’s a lot easier. If you’re wondering how all the stadium business with the A’s and Raiders is going to work out, head over to today’s Swingin’ A’s Podcast at Hardly Serious. I talked for nearly an hour with host Tony Frye about the fallout from the SCOTUS decision, how the Raiders are holding everything up, and what I think is going to happen over the next few months. I even explain how a ballpark deal could get done. Take a listen, and try not to focus on how many times I pause while delivering an answer. It’s a podcast, I’m allowed.
Look, there’s little point to writing about San Jose. Other than the antitrust lawsuit, San Jose hasn’t been a player in the A’s stadium discussions for at least a year. I haven’t written about it much, yet I’m supposed to be San Jose’s greatest champion. Mayor Sam Liccardo appears ready to move on. The A’s may control some of the land into the future in case Oakland somehow screws the pooch. Absent that, all eyes should be focused on Oakland, the A’s, and unfortunately, the Raiders. We’ll know more about how the Raiders actions affect the A’s in due course.
No, I wanted to wait until I heard from the person who’s eventually going to drive this effort, if for no other reason than pent-up frustration. That man would be Commissioner Rob Manfred, courtesy of the LA Times’ Bill Shaikin. Shaikin got an A’s question in with the Commish today, and Manfred put it in no uncertain terms.
Shaikin: On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear San Jose’s appeal of its lawsuit against MLB. You had said you would not hold any discussions with San Jose about its interest in building a ballpark for the Athletics so long as the city was suing the league. Now that the suit is done, would you talk with San Jose, or do you want the A’s to stay in Oakland?
Manfred: I want the A’s to stay in Oakland. It’s a very fundamental policy of baseball. We favor franchise stability. I think it is possible to get a stadium done in Oakland, and that remains my preference.
That’s the most public support Oakland has gotten from a pro sports commissioner in 25 years. It’s meaningful. Most importantly, it’s a message to both the A’s and Oakland to git er done. Manfred has already mentioned pushing the A’s to do more on their own. This very visible support for Oakland is a way for Manfred to say to Oakland, I believe in you, now take this goodwill and do something with it.
Okay, but When? you ask. Well, if I’m going by how the A’s and the City of Oakland operate, I suspect things can start to go public in either November or December. The A’s have done past stadium presentations and info releases in November, clear of the World Series and around the busy fall/winter meetings timeframe. The City of Oakland seems to prefer dropping info in December, right before City Hall goes on recess.
The road to getting a stadium deal done is a long one. Thankfully, many of the process steps have already been done. There’s no need for a new EIR if, as Lew Wolff desires, a new A’s ballpark eventually replaces the Coliseum as the only stadium in the complex. The one tangible benefit from the Coliseum City debacle is a certified plan for the land in and around the Coliseum, which should streamline the process for a third venue. The only thing holding up matters, much to Manfred’s chagrin, is the Raiders.
Manfred would love for the A’s to be more proactive in making a deal. He’d also love for Oakland to kick the Raiders to the curb, but we all know the City is not going to do that first. Oakland would much rather let the NFL make a decision for them. Since that decision could come in only four months, there’s no real harm in waiting. The A’s have a lease for several more years, so they don’t have to rush.
And if I’m Lew Wolff, I want to have some idea what the future holds for the A’s via the collective bargaining agreement, the current version of which is set to expire after next season. It would behoove Wolff to show enough progress on the stadium front to convince Manfred and the Lodge to support some form of financial backstop for the team, whether via extended revenue sharing or a stadium loan. While there is no NFL-style G-4 stadium loan infrastructure for MLB teams, there is a league credit facility that can provide up to $100 million for various operating costs. As for a cap on revenue sharing, there is this entry I keep forgetting to cite from the current CBA:
(10) The “Base Plan” shall be a 34% straight pool plan… For purposes of the Base Plan in the 2012 Revenue Sharing Year only, the Miami Marlins’ Net Local Revenue will be $100 million.
Basically, local revenue above that $100 million mark would’ve been exempt from revenue sharing (paying 34% of it into the pool), though I’m not sure that the Marlins actually reached $100 million local revenue that year. In any case, the language and mechanism are there to support such a request. That’s important, though not so much for the initial years of the stadium and the expected honeymoon effect, but for later years when the effect wears off. Look at the two teams with the newest ballparks, the Marlins and Twins. Neither became huge successes when their parks opened, allowing revenue sharing to be a welcome safety net for both despite heavy public subsidies. The A’s should be given the same treatment from MLB, provided that it sunsets in a reasonably short period, say, for the length of the next CBA. After all, the A’s were given a sunset provision for revenue sharing in the current CBA, which would’ve kicked in if they opened a ballpark between 2011 and 2016.
People tend to remember stadium drives for groundbreaking ceremonies and impactful city council votes. But it’s all about the process, having a good working relationship, and the team and city presenting a united front. We know that Oakland is where the commish wants the ballpark to be. We know that the current atmosphere in City Hall is more hospitable to the A’s than it has been in previous administrations. It’s going to take a while to settle the land issues, to get the various details right. There is a recipe for a successful ballpark deal. It won’t happen overnight. If you have any hang-ups about Oakland or Lew Wolff and John Fisher, best to leave them at the door. They’re the dealmakers, like it or not.
Today was supposed to be doomsday for San Jose’s Supreme Court case against MLB. Now we know for sure:
The U.S. S.Ct. just granted a number of appeals considered during its conference on Monday. San Jose v. MLB was not on the list.
— Nathaniel Grow (@NathanielGrow) October 1, 2015
Here’s the list of which petitions were granted certiorari (PDF).
The Supreme Court started going through petitions Monday, with the expectation that we’d know the fate of the case sometime towards the end of the week. (SCOTUSblog details the process here.) While the case is still pending, it is being left to wither and die as there are no plans for the Court to take it up.
Now that this chapter is effectively over, MLB, the A’s, and San Jose can move on, which means watching Oakland try to get a ballpark deal in place for the A’s. That’s where the attention has been for the last 18 months, anyway. San Jose doesn’t re-enter the picture unless the A’s and Oakland aren’t able to work something out.
Reactions to be added to this post as they come.
Update 1:30 PM – Professor Nathaniel Grow chimed in further:
@newballpark The Court could be planning to ask the Solicitor General to weigh in, for instance, which it wouldn't have announced today.
— Nathaniel Grow (@NathanielGrow) October 1, 2015
Word came Friday that Floyd Kephart is out from the Coliseum City project, which, you might think, should lead to the demise of Coliseum City.
With Kephart’s negotiating rights set to expire on Thursday, the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors agreed in separate closed door meetings this week to cut ties and send him a letter outlining deficiencies in his latest proposal, said several officials who asked not to be named because the talks were private.
So that’s that. The deficiencies were largely financial, as we’ve discussed ad nauseum. Having three separate groups try and fail at making Coliseum City work is a clear indicator that there’s really nothing that will make it work, at least the way Oakland wants it to. Part of that is the Raiders’ and A’s insistence on maintaining surface parking instead of allowing for a bunch of development surrounding the stadia. Another factor is the extremely limited public resources on hand, especially in the face of outstanding debt on both the old stadium and arena. The stadium debt is not only an obstacle, it is a potential showstopper. Nine figures of debt doesn’t simply get written off if you’re a municipality.
Oakland and Alameda County continue to talk to the teams, while also exploring a buyout of the County. Alright, before any proposals are made or any substantive talks are to begin with either team, the buyout situation absolutely has to be sussed out. The uncertainty regarding the County’s involvement, which lingered in the background for over a year before becoming a front-and-center in January and remains an unresolved issue to this day, cannot be allowed to complicate any future stadium talks. Either the County is fully out or it will be a partner. There is no in-between. If it comes up again, it will show the NFL and MLB that the East Bay can’t get its act together and can’t be taken seriously. It’s that important.
The buyout is not going to be easy. Normally these types of deals are worked out through swaps of real estate, since municipalities tend to be cash-strapped. Whether that’s workable for the County is another matter, since there is actual cash to be paid out on an annual basis by both parties. If both parties decide to follow through on the County’s wishes, I would expect the deal to be wrapped up in the next six months.
Next, all of the important players are going to have to step it up to a degree that they haven’t displayed so far. That includes:
- Lew Wolff and/or Mark Davis
- Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
- Scott Haggerty, Alameda County Supervisor and President of the BoS (if County continues to be involved)
Wolff and Davis will have to provide detailed plans for whatever they want to build at and around the Coliseum. That’s not a problem for Wolff, since he already has HOK working on it. On the other hand, Davis has no such experience and will have to rely heavily on a third party to work out the details. That is, if the Raiders are still staying in Oakland past January. Davis is actively involved in the Carson stadium project. If the NFL puts off the LA decision for a year, or tells Davis to stay put for a while, Oakland will have no choice but to work with him on whatever stadium idea he’s thinking of. Schaaf will have to become a much more visible champion of the project, similar to what Quan did for Coliseum City. Haggerty, who was a leading public figure for the Fremont stadium project, would likely do the same here, with the possibility of fellow supe Nate Miley partnering or taking the lead. Basically, both the public and private sector will need champions, willing to bear the scrutiny and spend money/assign resources to get the project(s) through the planning process.
There’s no timetable for any of this to happen thus far. We may hear more towards the end of the year. I sort of expect the A’s to release renderings and initial plans sometime after the season ends, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t happen. Procedurally, everyone’s still at the mercy of the NFL, since it actually has its a timetable – one subject to delay – but a timetable nevertheless. Sure, the path towards a new stadium at the Coliseum is less complex with Coliseum City out of the way. Don’t mistake that as being close to a deal. There’s still an extremely long way to go, and many complications to resolve.
P.S. – I neglected to mention the status of the Coliseum land. Ten or twenty years ago, the notion of giving away or highly discounting public land in order to ink a stadium deal was considered a mere cost of doing business. It was the much more politically expedient concept to giving away both the land and a heavy construction subsidy, which most cities were and still are doing. Over the last year groups have protested giving away the 120+ acres at the Coliseum because it represents a giveaway to billionaires, while also not properly addressing the growing housing crunch and concerns about gentrification in East Oakland. What was once practically a given (as it was for the SF Giants in 1997) is now shaping up to be political land mine if not handled properly. As Schaaf and the City Council work out the land DDA (development and disposition agreement), they’ll have to be mindful of how the deal looks to the public. That’s sometimes what happens when parties (cities, teams) don’t act quickly enough. It only gets harder.
The A’s got a look at the 2016 schedule a while back, and they were concerned enough to lobby MLB in an attempt to make the travel a little easier. They being the A’s, of course, their concerns fell on deaf ears. Now you may be thinking, These guys fly chartered jets and stay in five star hotels, what are they complaining about? True, big time pro athletes travel quite well. The media and fans that follow them don’t. It’s still a grind, and in 2016 the grind is palpably worse than it has been in recent memory.
What stands out for 2016 compared to previous years is the number of lengthy road trips and homestands. In baseball, fans are used to the idea of the team being home for a week, then leaving for a week, cycle repeating for six months. For the A’s scheduling is a bit extreme, with three homestands of 9 games or longer and a separate stretch consisting of 13 of 16 dates at home.
On the road the A’s scheduling woes are marked by a particularly horrific final two weeks in August, in which they go on the road to Arlington and Chicago, come home for a short series with Seattle, then go back out to the Central time zone to face St. Louis and Houston. Worse, the Texas and Houston series aren’t coupled, which would allow for short trips between the cities (made popular by the NBA’s Texas Triangle of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio). Instead the team will have to go on six separate trips to the state of Texas, none earlier than June. All three trips to visit the Rangers will occur after the All Star break, when the ballpark will be at its least hospitable.
The AL West is slated to play the NL Central this year, with the A’s at home vs. the Cubs and Pirates, on the road vs. the Reds and Cardinals, plus a 2+2 home-and-home set against the Brewers. Another 2+2 is scheduled against the Giants, ending for now the separate 3-game sets against the cross-bay rivals.
Last time the A’s played the NL Central in 2013 the schedule makers were much kinder to the A’s. One of the road trips had the A’s knocking out series against the Rangers and Astros in one week. Another involving interleague play had the A’s in Milwaukee before busing it down to Chicago. I took in part of that trip, watching a four game A’s-White Sox series on the South Side while also catching a game at Wrigley, plus a game at Miller Park. Nothing like that is available for fans in 2016. Arguably the best trip features Toronto and Detroit early in the season, and only because the two cities are about five hours apart. The more doable, stress-free trip involves the A’s visiting Baltimore and Boston in the same week (May 6-11). That’s easily covered by Amtrak, with the option of stopping in Philadelphia and New York along the way. The O’s are going to make some changes to Camden Yards in the offseason, so even if you’ve been to OPaCY in the past, it may be worth another visit next spring.
Speaking of spring, the A’s also released their home schedule at Hohokam for 2016. It was a nice surprise. For Bay Area A’s fans the schedule is much more flexible than the regular season ordeal. There are home games scheduled at Hohokam every weekend. The second weekend looks especially good, as it includes a home date vs. the Cubs on Sunday with a road game on Saturday.
As usual, I’ll compile the complete MLB schedule and work out a full travel grid for the ballpark junkies out there. Look for that towards the end of the week.
One of the questions I’ve been fielding over the last few years, especially now that the Warriors are trying to move to San Francisco, is Can a ballpark fit in the space occupied by the arena? The idea is that if the Raiders could somehow find a way to stay in Oakland at a rebuilt (new on the existing site, not renovated) Coliseum, the arena could be torn down to make way for a ballpark. In doing so, none of the capacious parking would be affected except during the construction phases.
The short answer to this is: No. If I’m being generous, I’ll say barely.
To understand why, you need to look at the way the complex was laid out in the first place. Remember the old sewer interceptor? It runs in an easement through the Coliseum complex, splitting the stadium and the arena. EBMUD, which maintains the interceptor, needs to have 24/7 access to the interceptor for maintenance.
Combine that with the power lines and other utilities that run through the complex, and suddenly the choices for siting the venues were reduced. If the interceptor had not been there, or had been rerouted around the edge of the complex, the venues probably might have been placed in line with 880, allowing for more of a buffer around both instead of pushing the arena up against the freeway. Such an arrangement would’ve been better for fans going to the arena from the then-years-from-completion BART station, since they would’ve had a more direct route there instead of always having to walk around the stadium.
Nevertheless, here we are. The arena is situated within its own 8 acre parcel in the complex. The fit is tight thanks to the multi-lane 66th Avenue off-ramp.
Last month I suggested the HomeBase site, which has 50 feet more width than the arena site yet is also less than 600 feet wide. This is obviously narrower. A tight fit equates to two specific limitations. First, there’s little flexibility in terms of orienting the field. If the A’s wanted to orient the field the same way as the existing field, they would need:
400 feet (home plate to center) + 50 feet (backstop) + 110 feet (lower deck) + 40 feet (concourse) + 30 feet (concessions and restrooms) + 60 feet (staging and infrastructure) + 50 feet (street side buffer) = 740 feet. For reference, the diameter of the Coliseum from the club entrance behind the plate to the back wall of Mt. Davis is 100 feet longer.
To further illustrate the squeeze, let’s drop everyone’s favorite ballpark, PNC Park, where the arena is. I’ll include the approximate location of the sewer interceptor so you can see the problem.
The resulting dimension down the right field line would be around 275 feet. Talk about a short porch.
Compromises could be made to make the fit better, like reducing the size of seating decks, concourses, and buffer areas, all of which would negatively affect fan experience. The field orientation could also be rotated 15 degrees north (counter-clockwise), opening up space down the RF line while reducing space in the opposite corner.
Of course, we can’t discuss this option without considering the circumstances and ramifications. Should the Warriors leave by the summer of 2018, there would still be nearly $60 million of debt remaining on the arena. It’s likely the City and County will have to swallow the debt while the A’s paid for a will construction costs, perhaps including demolition of the arena. Combine that demolition and site prep time with a two-year build, and the A’s would be in a new ballpark there by the start of the 2021 season. If the Raiders were also staying, Mark Davis could get his stadium on the current site, also by the 2021 NFL season. Where the Raiders would play during the construction period is anyone’s guess. Same goes for the remaining Coliseum debt.
Back to the ongoing Coliseum City saga. Chris Dobbins of the JPA and Save Oakland Sports announced that the public is welcome to attend Floyd Kephart’s presentation at Lungomare on Tuesday morning (unclear on the time of the event).
I’m interested to see if any activists showed up.
Before I begin, let me preface this post by stating that I have no information that says definitively that the Raiders are leaving Oakland. This is mainly a thought exercise. The Raiders could conceivably leave for a new football stadium next to the existing Coliseum. They could go to Santa Clara or San Antonio for a few years before returning permanently. They could leave for Inglewood or Carson for good. In any case, this is meant to be a discussion about benefits for the A’s, nothing more. What happens to the Raiders is not under the A’s, A’s ownership’s, or fans’ control. There’s little East Bay politicians can do save for writing enormous checks to Mark Davis. So for the purposes of this post, let’s leave what the NFL and the Raiders may or may not do out of it.
Should the Raiders leave for God-knows-where after the 2015 or 2016 football seasons, the A’s and the Coliseum JPA will have some serious choices to make regarding the old venue. The main goal would be to make the Coliseum a more pleasing baseball environment for players and fans alike, while not costing an arm and a leg to do so. The cost issue comes into play because, if we’re assuming that the A’s would pay some amount for this transformation, there’s a question of how much they’d be willing to put into this project as opposed to funneling more money towards a ballpark on the same grounds. That’s the tension at play, and when considering the various decisions that have to made cost-benefit should be at the forefront.
The immediate change we can safely assume the A’s will make is to take control of the Raiders’ locker room, one floor above the A’s current leak and sewage-plagued clubhouse. The Raiders got control of the old, 50,000-square foot exhibit hall space when the came back, turning it into spacious locker rooms for themselves and visiting teams. The A’s will occasionally use the area for hosting groups, since the Coliseum lacks proper breakout spaces at any level except for the East Side Club. Once the A’s commandeer the exhibit hall, the old clubhouse problems should go away. The old clubhouses could themselves be remodeled into memorabilia-filled bunker suites or other premium accommodations that are currently lacking at the Coli. It might cost $10-20 million to renovate the space properly, which might include moving the workout room, trainer’s room, and offices at the clubhouse level. Since all of the benefits would go to the A’s, it would make sense for them to foot the bill for the remodel.
Beyond that, changing the Coliseum could go in any number of directions.
Option A: Return to the pre-Mt. Davis Coliseum (cost estimate: $35-50 million). The frequent refrain I’ve heard so far is a call to transform the Coliseum into the pre-1995 version, with the old bleachers in the outfield and the ice plant above it. Doing so would require the demolition of most if not all of the Mt. Davis structure, plus the construction of replacement seating and landscaping. While that would be perfectly acceptable to the A’s and A’s fans, the City and County are still on the hook for the Mt. Davis debt, so the idea of spending more money on demolition and additional seats that would not generate anywhere near the requisite revenue to pay for them doesn’t sound promising in the slightest. Besides, how many years would this configuration be used? Five? I would expect all parties to pass on this plan if it were ever proposed.
Option B: Lop off the top part of Mt. Davis ($10 million). The best way to bring back the view of the Oakland hills, without incurring the cost of completely demolishing and rebuilding the Coliseum, is to take down the upper part. What’s the upper part, you ask? Well, that depends. It could be as little as the upper deck, which practically starts as high as the rim of the original upper deck. Or it could include removing the upper two suite levels, making the total struck roughly as tall as the original upper deck’s lower rim. The BART plaza, East Side Club and associated seats (Plaza Reserved) could be kept around, though with the large number of obstructed view seats they’d serve a better purpose as an outfield restaurant bar, much like the kind many ballparks are instituting these days. On the downside, there would be a lot of expense just to open up the views. Again, it’s a high-cost/low-benefit situation.
Option C: Leave Mt. Davis as is, fill in foul territory with seats ($25 million). Given the $100 million lower deck renovation at Dodger Stadium, this seems like I’m undershooting things quite a bit. But most of the money at Dodger Stadium went towards extremely well outfitted clubhouses and a large, swanky club restaurant behind the plate. There are some structural things to address, such as dugout expansion and realignment. The bullpens might have to be moved. One way to go would be to scrap the existing lower bowl and make it more like one of the original cookie cutters, like Shea or Riverfront. Chief benefits would be more seating at improved angles, plus additional concourse space in theory. However, it would be expensive to implement and would eliminate most of the views from concourse, at least down the lines. Plus the way the concrete beams that support the Plaza level are only 4 feet above the lower concourse floor, so a concourse expansion would have to be another 4 feet lower than the existing lower concourse in order to allow for proper circulation.
Option D: Move home plate back eight feet, bringing every seat on average 6 feet closer to fair territory ($5-10 million). Also known as the Ken Arneson plan, this proposal would sacrifice views from the Value (upper) deck in order to bring everyone else several feet closer. I like the idea of the Monster-type seats in the outfield, though I would also like to see a wholesale rework of the bleachers with steeper pitched seats if they’re going to add a premium option. That way the first row could be as little as 8-10 feet above the field, instead of the 15-foot high scoreboard wall that exists in the power alleys. While they’re at it, the metal “notch” sections that fill in either down the lines for baseball (sideline for football) should be replaced. They have a nasty tendency to pool water when it rains, and they’re more weathered than the permanent concrete sections. Changes like these certainly won’t be eye popping or easy to spell out in an offseason ticket sales pitch, but they can certainly help the vast majority of fans without incurring great expense.
The Giants and Cardinals both made changes to their venues as they waited for their purpose-built ballparks to materialize. In both cases, they built fan goodwill that was cashed in when their ballparks opened. Just as the A’s built new training facilities and rebuilt a ballpark in Mesa, a similar investment could pay off in Oakland. It couldn’t come until everyone knew the Raiders were leaving, so we wait. And wait.