Category Archives: Athletics
Added 1:00 PM – I’ve taken the liberty of posting the text of Mayor Reed’s letter to Commissioner Selig.
Mr. Bud Selig, Commissioner
Major League Baseball
777 E. Wisconsin Avenue, Ste. 3060
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Dear Commissioner Selig:
When will the A’s be moving to San Jose? That’s the question that is most often asked of me by CEOs of Silicon Valley companies competing to retain and attract global talent, by youngsters excited about competing in little league baseball, and by fans throughout San Jose.
The A’s ownership continues to express its desire to locate the team in San Jose and I strongly endorse that outcome. There should be no doubt of San Jose’s ability to be a great host city for the team and for Major League Baseball. There should also be no doubt that the stadium could have been under construction by now.
We respect your desire to examine fully all aspects of allowing the A’s to move to Northern California’s largest city. In 2011, former MLB President Bob Dupuy, speaking on behalf of your office, asked that our City Council delay approving a public vote to advance a planned stadium project in Downtown San Jose. We abided by that request. Mr. Dupuy also indicated that you would soon make a final decision and, if favorable towards San Jose, the MLB would assist the City with the costs of a future election. Two years have passed since. As you know, we have been contacted many times by the MLB’s Blue Ribbon Panel and we have responded promptly and thoroughly in every instance. Meanwhile, we continue to communicate with leaders in the community and are prepared to advance implementation actions to the City Council following your decision.
Direct communication between us will help resolve any lingering issues about our commitment to having the A’s home plate located in San Jose and could reduce the probability for additional litigation. I’d appreciate an opportunity to discuss this with you and have asked my Chief of Staff, Pete Furman, to contact your office regarding scheduling a meeting with you. I hope you will look favorably upon the request.
c: Lew Wolff
It’s probably not a coincidence that in the span of two hours, Lew Wolff spoke for the first time this regular season about the stadium situation on Chronicle Live!, followed by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed asking for a meeting with Bud Selig via a one-page letter sent to the Commissioner’s office.
Reed is positioning the requested meeting as something that could head off future litigation. Over the last year, San Jose has become more vocal about challenging MLB through the courts. So far MLB hasn’t budged. I can’t imagine that this will work either. Regardless of whether San Jose actually has standing in a case against baseball, the sport still has the lion’s share of leverage. If granted the meeting, maybe Reed will come with a phalanx of high-profile lawyers to shake down Selig. More likely is the idea that Reed will continue to pitch San Jose’s positives (of which there are many) and try to allay any fears that the A’s can be self-sustaining in the long run. Remember, they have to be off revenue sharing in a new Bay Area stadium.
As for Wolff, he was peppered with a lot of questions by ChronLive’s Jim Kozimor. Unfortunately, Wolff refused to talk about any progress on the decision-making front for a stadium location, citing the Selig-imposed gag order on both teams. He was able to comment on other matters. On the prospects of the five year lease Wolff requested last year:
The environment of getting a (lease extension) is very positive.
That’s encouraging. All A’s fans hope that the flying rhetoric stops and the team and the JPA can work out an extension that benefits both sides. That’s not going to be easy with the Raiders asking for more revenue control. We’ll see over the coming months if a proper agreement can be worked out for all sides.
Asked if Wolff and the Fisher family would consider selling the team if Wolff doesn’t get his wish to move the franchise to San Jose:
The answer is no… we want to keep this generational.
Following the 14-minute interview, in-studio guest Mark Purdy further elaborated on the “generational” aspect. Purdy indicated that Lew could cede more of the stadium effort in the coming years, as he approaches 80. Next in line is Lew’s son Keith Wolff, who has been working on plans for Cisco Field and the Earthquakes Stadium, where major site work started happening in the last week. Lew says that the Quakes stadium is on track, but process could slow it down. For now he says that the Quakes stadium should be open for the 2014 MLS season, conceding that there could be delays in completing the project. I figure that once that venue is up and running, Keith Wolff will assume his father’s place as the public face of the stadium effort, if not the franchise itself. With the recent trend of teams acting as investment vehicles and development anchors, this is naturally hard-to-believe. Considering how Wolff views his ownership of the franchise and how he attends games frequently with his grandson, it’s not necessarily that far-fetched. Wolff dismissed Kozimor’s suggestion that the team is just fine collecting revenue sharing checks, responding that he wanted to leave the team and the sport in a better place than he found it. As long as there continues to be an impasse vis-à-vis San Jose, that’s inconceivable.
For me, when the Forbes MLB valuations are published every March, it’s like Christmas nine months early. Forbes goes to the trouble of sleuthing around baseball even as team financials are meant to be heavily safeguarded. It provides this blog and others with that last bit of off-the-field news just before the season starts in earnest. Thanks to Mike Ozanian and Kurt Badenhausen for putting the 2013 edition and previous editions together (full list).
As expected, the combination of the Dodgers ($2.1 billion) and Padres ($600 million) sales plus new TV contracts on the horizon pushed franchise values up. Way up. No team has a valuation lower than $450 million. Credit also goes to MLB Advanced Media, whose expanding product line includes MLB.tv, the At Bat apps for phones and tablets, and Tickets.com. Forbes estimates that if it were public, MLB AM could be worth $6 billion on its own. Slow, deliberate baseball is not the kind of enterprise one thinks of when looking for examples of startup culture, yet the success of MLB AM is undeniable and felt in every owner’s pocketbook every year.
These new valuations result in an aggregate $3.5 billion rise over last year. The A’s, who were last in 2012 with a $321 million valuation, are now 28th with a $468 million valuation. That’s a whopping 45.8% gain, all without negotiating any lucrative new media deals or the benefit of new ballpark revenues. $468 million is reflective of the new national TV deals that MLB will receive starting with the 2014 season. Even with the increase, the A’s are $160 million below the media franchise value and $276 million below the average valuation. For reference, the big market Giants got a $143 million boost and moved from 9th to 7th place. As we observed last year, the bubble is real. Thanks to baseball’s solid, diverse revenues, the bubble is also not going to burst anytime soon.
Debt that the A’s are carrying appears to be unchanged at around $90 million. This is no surprise because haven’t signed any big contracts since Yoenis Cespedes. By staying put, the debt-to-value ratio has gone down from 28% to 19%. That’s important because if Lew Wolff is going to build a new stadium in the next several years, it’s best to keep debt relatively low and operating income high so that they can borrow big for a ballpark. The downside of that conservative approach is that much of the A’s young talent could be out the door sooner rather than later, as we’ve seen frequently over the years.
Forbes also explained a little of their methodology this go-around.
Our team valuations are enterprise values (equity plus debt) and are calculated using multiples of revenue. Thus while teams value MLBAM and BELP on their balance sheets on a “cost basis,” which understates their true value, we incorporate market value estimates for those assets. Two more significant ways our accounting differs from the P&L statements of many teams: we include revenue teams keep from concerts, soccer games and other events at their ballparks; and we deduct from revenue stadium debt payments that are paid with stadium revenue. In short, our team values are meant to reflect what a buyer would be willing to pay in an arms-length transaction and our operating income measures are meant to indicate how much cash is generated.
Basically, Forbes is making the distinction that their numbers are reflective of how each team is run as a business, as opposed to P&Ls reported to baseball which may be products of arrangements designed to hide or minimize secondary revenue sources and expenses. While commissioner Bud Selig and the owners will downplay or write off Forbes’ figures, we can feel a little more confident in their soundness based on what they’ve dug up and the new industry information that has come in over the last two years.
Wait, what’s that BELP thing? BELP stands for Baseball Endowment Limited Partners, a sort of internal baseball hedge fund. It was started when the owners collected the franchise fee for the Washington Nationals into another partnership called Baseball Expos Limited Partners. The owners and Selig decided to reinvest that $500 million instead of distributing it to each ownership group. The strategy has literally paid dividends for the owners, because once money from BELP I was rolled over into BELP II, baseball started getting major profits from the fund. BELP was first exposed a few years ago when Deadspin received leaked financials from several teams, but the kinds of investments BELP chose to venture into were kept under wraps. In the past, I’ve put BELP in the category of “Other” when accounting for Central Revenue. I’ll probably break it out going forward, though that will be based entirely on estimates since BELP isn’t public.
The main article ends with a few notes on the A’s, which is somewhat unusual. It’s pointed out that the A’s got another fat revenue sharing check of over $30 million, and an attendance boost coinciding with the team’s division crown. Local revenues continue to lag, so revenue sharing and central revenues are (more than) keeping the team afloat. That’s a double-edged sword, as it gives critics of Wolff and John Fisher ammo to say the team is again being “cheap” with regards to how it runs the team. Now that payroll is taking up less than 40% of revenues, it’s worth asking if the team is saving money – perhaps for a ballpark. If the marginal cost per win in terms of talent is difficult to justify (see: $11 million/year for Kyle Lohse), filling the piggy bank for a ballpark wouldn’t be a bad way to go.
Of course, there’s another side to the revenue-payroll debate. With all of the money that’s coming in, Wolff, Fisher, and the other partners would have to be absolutely nuts to sell the team. They’ll only get more money next year, which they can invest in one of their cornerstone players. The windfall also makes it even more difficult for interested East Bay parties such as Don Knauss to get the team. Last year, as the Dodgers and Padres sales happened, I predicted that the A’s value would hit at least $500 million. They haven’t that number yet, but they’re almost guaranteed to hit it in 2014. So again, that puts the cost to keep the A’s in Oakland at $1 billion: $500 million for the team + $500 million for the ballpark. Good luck with that.
Update 3/23 1:30 AM – Pillbury made its own motion in response. They’re aiming to “augment the administrative record; memo of p’s and a’s” (points and authorities), so they’re providing their defense of their behavior in the case. I’ll try to get a copy of the motion ASAP.
There’s a fairly new term being used in baseball talk on the internet these days: TOOTBLAN. It’s short for Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop. It’s very popular on Twitter, and its lineage dates back to some misadventures on the basepaths by Ryan Theriot, who naturally was on the Cubs when the term was coined. When it comes to baserunning, Theriot is the polar opposite of Coco Crisp, whose recent profile by Grantland’s Jonah Keri elevated Coco to ninja-like levels between the bags. Still, Theriot has two World Series rings in the past two years, so who’s the nincompoop now? Well, it’ll forever be Theriot. Sorry dude.
The City of San Jose committed its own TOOTBLAN in the Stand for San Jose lawsuit. During the suit’s discovery period, the City inadvertently released several documents that clearly should have been protected by attorney-client privilege. When City attorneys found out, they asked S4SJ’s attorneys at Pillsbury to return the documents. Instead, Pillsbury held onto the privileged docs and sought to augment their own case with the documents. That forced the City to file a temporary restraining order against Pillsbury, which was granted by a judge in January 2012. Suspecting that Pillsbury lawyers would use the information anyway, last week (3/11) the City filed its own motion to disqualify counsel (read the PDF for the blow-by-blow), saying that Pillsbury’s conduct during discovery should force them off the case. From the motion:
By this motion, respondents and real party in interest seek disqualification of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP (“Pillsbury”) from further involvement in this case. Pillsbury attorneys closely examined and attempted to use nine privileged documents inadvertently produced by the City of San Jose. Pillsbury was ethically obligated not to review these documents any more than necessary to determine they were privileged and to immediately notify the City of its possession of the documents. In derogation of these obligations, Pillsbury not only reviewed the privileged documents in their entirety and failed to notify the City that it possessed them, it refused to return the documents after the City discovered the inadvertent production and requested that the documents be returned. Instead, Pillsbury affirmatively sought to incorporate the documents into the administrative record in this case and use the information in them to support petitioners’ claims, threating a motion to augment the record if they were not included. The City was forced to bring a TRO and preliminary injunction proceeding, which resulted in an order requiring Pillsbury to return the privileged documents and all copies. The documents contained highly confidential attorney/client communications and attorney work product bearing directly on the issues in this case. Pillsbury’s possession of this information prejudices the defense of this case, and there is no effective remedy short of disqualification.
I consulted with some folks who have a better grasp of the legal issues here. Apparently the motion to disqualify counsel is not something that is successfully granted often, and any such claims have to pass a fairly stringent test to force such an action. At the same time, the inadvertent release of privileged or confidential information during discovery isn’t all that uncommon, given the reams and boxes of documents that have to be made available for a trial. Still, this is an embarrassing moment for the City and it seems like they want to be rewarded for making a pretty big mistake.
The documents in question include marked up versions of the EIR, analyses and comments from the City Attorney’s office, and to my surprise, a draft of a Disposition and Development Agreement – effectively the lease terms for the ballpark and/or land. Frankly, I want to see this information and the public should have the right to see it. For now, records requests may have to be filed to gain access, and that may not happen until after a trial ends. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how Judge Hubner rules on this next month. Just like last fall’s motion to compel, this is a long shot at best, but Pillsbury’s conduct could result in sanctions if not disqualification. If Pillsbury were thrown off the case, S4SJ would be forced to bring in new counsel and prepare a new case, creating considerable delay. Plus the new legal team wouldn’t be the Giants’ own firm. Considering how the Giants may have pressured the Controller’s office to take actions against San Jose in the ballpark land rollback, just about anything’s fair game at this point. The hearing will be at Santa Clara County Superior Court on April 12, 9 AM. I expect to be there for the proceedings.
Note: I spent a couple of fruitless hours at the Superior Court trying to get a copy of the motion, because it hadn’t been properly filed yet. I strolled a few blocks over to City Hall and went to the City Attorney’s office to request a copy. I received it via e-mail within an hour of the request.
Update 7:30 PM – Added link to Controller’s report.
Yesterday we got word that the 49ers and Santa Clara prevailed in its lawsuit to reclaim $40 million in redevelopment funds. Today comes the news that the State of California has ruled that land transfers from the City of San Jose to the Diridon Development Authority were ruled illegal.
The Controller’s ruling on the ballpark land seems to hinge entirely on the fact that the City/RDA didn’t enter into a sale agreement with A’s ownership until November 2011, after the June 28, 2011 cutoff when AB 1X 26 took effect.
The RDA made unallowable asset transfers of $29,137,727 to the San Jose Diridon Development Authority (Authority), a joint powers authority made up of the City and the RDA. All of the property transfers occurred during the period of January 1, 2011, through January 31, 2012 and the assets were not contractually committed to a third party prior to June 28, 2011.
The graf above comes from the 12-page report released today, a draft of which was sent to the City on November 15, 2012 to allow for a response. The City argued that “there is no statutory or legal support” for the 6/28/11 cutoff to no avail. The Controller disregarded this argument and directed the land be turned over to County-appointed Successor Agency, whose oversight board will make the final determination of what to do with the land. City has cutely shortened “Successor Agency” to SARA and for good reason. What does SARA stand for?
Successor Agency to the Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Jose
If the Diridon Development Authority is the “son” of revelopment, SARA is the daughter. What does SARA make of this mess?
Ordering the City to return the assets to the Successor Agency only to have the Oversight Board direct that they be returned to the City is simply form over substance and wastes valuable time, energy and resources to arrive at the same result.
Regardless of what happened with the Controller’s decision (which was expected) the City still feels that the land will end up with the A’s. If they had inked the sale agreement in March 2011 instead of November, the transfers would’ve been in the clear. Now they could sue the State the same way the 49ers did, but since that would be even more costly and the City and County are already working on a proper land disposition agreement, that seems like a terrible idea.
What will happen next? My guess is that the land won’t actually be sold. Instead, the parties will work on a lease agreement that would allow the A’s to build on the public portion of the ballpark site while the A’s buy the rest over time. The alternative is to sell the land for “market value”, with a yield large enough to be approved by the Controller. The purpose of this is two-fold: get a sale so that funds can be sent to the state, and ensure that the land is assessed at a value high enough to get adequate proceeds to the state, county, and schools. Mayor Chuck Reed, who is on the SARA oversight board, released a statement in response to the ruling just a few minutes ago.
I am disappointed in the findings made by the State Controller regarding certain properties transferred from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency to the City of San Jose, San Jose Diridon Development Authority, and City Housing Agency.
The properties transferred to the City include assets that serve a civic or government function, and likely will fall under the government use provisions of the new redevelopment dissolution law and my expectation is that the Oversight Board will make the same findings.
With respect to the Diridon Development Authority properties, the State Controller failed to recognize an Option Agreement validly entered into between the JPA and the Athletics Investment Group. Any transfer of these properties to the Successor Agency would be subject to the contractual rights of the Athletics Investment Group as required under state law.
The City Council and County Supervisors have both made their desire to have a ballpark built on the site known through formal resolutions in the past. My expectation is that we will continue to work together to bring the Athletics to San Jose regardless of the ultimate ownership of the JPA properties.
Coincidentally, an oversight board meeting is scheduled for tomorrow morning at City Hall. While this news came too late to make the meeting agenda, I would expect the matter to be discussed. I’ll attend and report back.
As part of the growing trend towards e-ticketing, the A’s will start accepting admissions through Apple’s Passbook app on most recent iPhones. Erica Ogg of the tech site GigaOm reported that the program has expanded from 3 MLB parks in 2012 to 13 for 2013, now including the Coliseum.
Redemption involves scanning a bar code much like the one shown above. Unlike my mostly positive experience with FanPass last year that involved scanning a credit card, the e-ticket should be sufficient and shouldn’t require a printed receipt for fans to have on hand in case an usher checks.
The SF Business Times’ Eric Young wrote yesterday that as part of this new wave of technology, for the first time the A’s will allow fans to purchase seat upgrades via MLB’s At The Ballpark app. Now that may sound like a joke considering the long history of “free” seat upgrades at the Coli, but really, Lew Wolff’s been planning for this since he unveiled the Coliseum North ballpark plan in 2006. During a game, fans can check in to the app and see an inventory of available seats. The inventory shown may not match what you see inside the seating bowl because it represents unpaid, available seats to purchase. When it’s really cold or there’s an unappealing opponent (or when the A’s suck), it’s common to have thousands of paid no-shows.
I look forward to using this several times this season just to see how dynamic it is. During some of the early April and May games when there are barely 10,000 fans in the house, it should show a ton of available seats. For Giants, Yankees, Cubs, and Angels games, the pickings should be much slimmer. Integration will be key. While scanning ticket will be done with Passbook (and presumably, Samsung Wallet on their Samsung phones), upgrades will be done through At the Ballpark. That lack of one stop shopping could be confusing for users at first. At the Ballpark is available for iPhone and iPad, as well as Android via the Google Play and Amazon Appstore.
As for the time-honored tradition of sneaking down? Well, when asked by Businessweek’s Brad Stone, MLB AM’s Bob Bowman had an answer for that:
“I think you’re harkening back to a slightly different day,” he says. “No matter what system you put in place, there will be people who do things like that. But increasingly in these stadiums that have opened in the last 15 years, you need to have tickets to get in there. This really isn’t for kids trying to sneak in on their own.”
It’s all part of the continuing drive for revenue, like it or not.
Update 2:00 PM – I purchased a ticket for the second World Baseball Classic semifinal (TBD vs. Netherlands). The ticket was delivered to my Passbook. I’ll give it a shot on Monday and report back.
When Comcast SportsNet released its A’s broadcast schedule for 2013, I took a brief glance at it and it looked similar to previous years so I didn’t pay much attention to it. This week I’ve had a chance to look at it in greater depth, and while it is not much of a departure from past years, there’s a quirky stretch in there that could throw fans for a loop. CSN California will show 144 regular season games and two spring training contests. The April 3 game vs. Seattle will be shown on KOFY-20 instead of CSN California, as both the Earthquakes and Kings have 7 or 7:30 scheduled games that night. As for the quirky stretch, it’s during the dog days of summer.
Thanks to a number of getaway day games both home and away, nine games in a month-long stretch will not be on CSNBA. This is something we’re used to, as the A’s prefer to have their “businessperson’s special” games not televised in order to get more fans out to the Coliseum (there are exceptions late in the season). Road games are more of a mystery, and seem like nothing more than cheapness or a product of a ratings cost/benefit analysis. In any case, it seems like there are a lot of holes in that stretch. Fortunately, three of the games during that month are Saturday day games that will be regionally broadcast on Fox (KTVU). In fact, the A’s will be on the big Fox network at least six times during the season, with the possibility of additional broadcasts coming at the end of the season if the A’s are in a pennant race. That’s a huge improvement over the mere two planned Fox broadcasts last season, one of which was a game against the Giants. Those six games with broadcast times are:
- May 25 – Oakland @ Houston, 4 PM
- June 15 – Seattle @ Oakland, 4 PM
- July 27 – LA Angels @ Oakland, 11:30 AM
- August 3 – Texas @ Oakland, 12:30 PM
- August 24 – Oakland @ Baltimore, 12:30 PM
- September 14 – Oakland @ Texas, 9:30 AM
There’s also the chance for games on ESPN, ESPN2, and TBS. Given those networks’ East Coast biases, I don’t expect any gaps to be filled in. ESPN and TBS haven’t filled out their season schedules yet, and TBS’s incomplete schedule is so heavily weighted towards the Eastern Time Zone that it’s worth asking why anyone from the West Coast would bother watching TBS.
Next year will be a little more complicated in terms of national broadcasts with the advent of Fox Sports 1. Fox will program frequent Saturday doubleheaders, with the day game on Fox and the night game on FS1 or both on the cable network. The deal calls for FS1 games to involve teams whose games are already carried and produced by Fox Sports regional networks. That could prove problematic for the two Bay Area teams, as they are under the Comcast SportsNet umbrella. Chances are that if we see the A’s and Giants on FS1, it will be with broadcasters from Fox Sports West/Prime, Southwest (Texas), and the YES Network, which Fox bought an interest in last year.
All told, the A’s will have 150 regular season games on TV, 144 on CSNCA and 6 on Fox. Get your radio out for the rest.
In case anyone was wondering if Lew Wolff was behind or approves of (tacitly) the recent antitrust lawsuit rumor (via the Chronicle’s John Shea):
Today’s Merc has a column by Mark Purdy which talks up the possibility of San Jose filing an antitrust lawsuit against the Giants (and perhaps by extension, MLB) to force the team to come to the table regarding territorial rights.
Leading the charge is San Jose District 3 Councilman Sam Liccardo, who also happens to be a leading candidate in the city’s 2014 mayoral race. Liccardo has sounded the alarm before and has now provided a peek into the City’s potential legal strategy. The question is one of whether San Jose has standing in a case against the Giants. Liccardo argues that it does based on taxes that can never be collected because the privately-financed ballpark wasn’t built. Assuming the City wins and is awarded treble damages, the City could be awarded $90 million.
The clever thing about this argument is that it’s essentially the same one the City of San Francisco has used in defense of the Giants’ territorial rights: the Port/SF are at fiscal risk in terms of reduced rent and tax payments if T-rights are given up. The difference is that the Giants-SF arrangement is contractual, while the A’s-San Jose arrangement is a projection based on its negotiating principles and a 2009 economic impact report. How seriously should a court take economic projections? When I dissected the report in 2009, I found that the projections of tax revenue were realistic, even conservative, whereas the projections of economic growth via multipliers were far less credible. That aside, if the tenets of the Giants’ and A’s arguments are essentially the same, and SF’s argument has merit because of a contractual obligation, should SJ’s argument also have merit due to restraint of trade? Again, I’m not a legal expert, and those I’ve talked to haven’t found a precedent for this kind of case, but on the surface there could be something to it. From what I’ve heard, the City has been exploring different avenues to pursue a lawsuit for over a year, so it’s not as if they haven’t done their homework.
This is different from attacking the sacrosanct nature of territorial rights, which is probably a more difficult task. If they’re using “direct economic impact” as a narrow framework for the case, MLB and the owners may be less inclined to worry about T-rights as an institution being threatened as opposed to the Giants having to fight their own battle. On the other hand, the case could set a precedent for other cities trying to lure teams, but in their case they’d also have to have the combination of a willing ownership group and a ballpark deal basically set, compared to a purely speculative matter. Besides, in many other cities’ cases they’re offering up large loans and other public funds, which upends the argument of a City making money from the deal.
Of course, the flipside of pursuing a case in this manner is that it more-or-less names the price for Santa Clara County: $30 million over 30 years or $40 million over 50 years. When you think about the financial impact to the Giants, that’s extremely cheap. If a hypothetical lawsuit were to proceed to trial, what’s to stop the Giants from whipping out their checkbook to simply pay for San Jose? For San Jose that would be a terrible outcome because then T-rights would become a matter contract between the Giants and the City for very little money. On the other hand, MLB owners might frown upon that because doing that would actually name a price for a territory, when the owners have thrived over the past few decades from not having a price named on any specific territory.
One of the frequent arguments against the lawsuit is that it would cost taxpayers money. If Liccardo’s right, a very prominent trial lawyer (not Skadden’s Allen Ruby, someone else) would take the case on contingency, in which case it wouldn’t cost the City anything unless the City won or forced a settlement. Such an arrangement would eliminate the concerns about taxpayer funds, though it should be pointed out that Mayor Chuck Reed, himself a lawyer, hasn’t been shy about going to court (Measure B pension reform, redevelopment, City vs. County) in the last year. I figure that Reed’s and Lew Wolff’s restraint in pushing the case with Bud Selig have prevailed over more aggressive maneuvers. If Liccardo won the 2014 Mayor’s race or if Reed suddenly felt less gunshy, this whispered threat could transform into a real threat very quickly, especially if MLB were named in the suit. Now, that’s no way to make friends in MLB, but forces in Tampa Bay sued and they eventually got a team out of it. Strange then, that all these legal problems were precipitated by a move by the Giants. They don’t call it hardball for nothing.
Bonus reading: While doing research for this post, I came across two old Chronicle articles about the development of AT&T Park. First is an article titled “How Will Team Pay Off Debt” by Edward Iwata and Lance Williams (yes, that Lance Williams) and “Giants’ Pricey New Park May Lower Team Quality” by Jon Swartz. The second article includes quotes from the late Walter Shorenstein, who split from the Giants’ ownership group when he felt that AT&T Park was considered too risky.
If someone – anyone – discovers a ballpark site is being discussed or presented, and he lets me know about it, I’ll take the time to cover it. Even though ownership is only focusing on one site and the City of Oakland has its own two sites in mind, it doesn’t hurt to be open-minded about others. We may find the best of breed or dismiss something entirely. Either way we’re getting educated and informed about it. I enjoy covering it, and I hope you enjoy reading about it.
That brings me to the Estuary Waterfront Project, a ballpark concept by Oaklander D’Sjon Dixon. Dixon, a native East Bay guy by way of the University of Wisconsin (as he pointed out, like Bud Selig and Lew Wolff), is an excellent artist and has some brought some fresh thinking to the often static world of stadia. During his segment on A’s Fan Radio, Dixon frequently talked about his ballpark’s goals of sustainability and its ability to enhance both the waterfront and the city.
Over the years Estuary Park has aroused curiosity about its ability to work as a ballpark site. It’s located east of Jack London Square, across the tracks from Victory Court. I’ve gone there multiple times and several people have asked me about it over the years. My immediate answer to them is that it’s too small. The park measures roughly 400′ x 240′ plus some estuary frontage of varying width. The Jack London Aquatic Center, which opened in 2001, is a somewhat triangular piece of land that’s also 400′ long and 300′ wide at its widest point. JLAC has a boathouse with a community room that can be rented out for events. Rounding out the landscape is the old Cash and Carry warehouse, which the City bought through its old redevelopment arm a few years ago. That parcel, including a parking lot, measures 440′ x 340′. In all, the land (which is all city-owned at this point) totals just over seven acres.
It’s not small just because of the acreage, it’s small because of a single dimension. In the picture above, the yellow line represents a reasonable buildable width including mandated setbacks and easements for the water and the apartment complex to the west of the land (top). 400 feet is simply not wide enough to hold a ballpark. A grandstand including the concourse will measure around 170 feet deep. Add to that 50 feet from the first row to home plate, and then at least 300 feet for a short porch to right field, and the ballpark becomes 520 feet wide. There simply isn’t room for that kind of structure on the land, unless you do something unorthodox.
To address this, Dixon took two unorthodox approaches. First, he disregarded the Estuary Park limitations and simply built more of the ballpark out into the water. I didn’t notice this until I saw more images on the project website. Notice the second pic’s taper from JLAC to the park, and how that no longer exists with the ballpark. Anyone who has spent any time reviewing CEQA knows that building anything new over what is currently water is for all intents and purposes forbidden in California. Even the Warriors arena is getting a great deal of static for aiming to build on piers, which of course aren’t land. Additional creation of land in the Bay, regardless of purpose, practically requires an act of god to make it happen. Remember the plan to extend SFO’s runways a decade ago? That would’ve required bay fill. It died on the vine. A similar effort for this ballpark, even if it required only a 100′ x 400′ slab (1/2 acre), would be laughed out of committee or ripped to shreds by Save the Bay, Waterfront Action, or the BCDC if it ever got that far. The Bay is what makes our region distinct, and people and groups have shown that they’re willing to defend it endlessly and to the death.
The other unusual step Dixon took that baseball fans noticed is that he oriented the ballpark west-southwest, so that it would face JLS, Alameda Point, and in the distance, San Francisco. As we’ve discussed several times, MLB prefers its ballparks to face east or northeast. In some instances such as domes it’s willing to have a ballpark aimed north or south. This is to ensure that the sun isn’t in the batter’s eyes during the day and to provide relatively predictable shadows during the season. Interestingly, Dixon tried to address this by placing an eight-story hotel tower in right field and a big scoreboard in center. Those measures will only work in certain sun-sky conditions. The ballpark could be re-oriented southeast to fix the sun problem, but it would take away from the view.
Dixon couldn’t say what the ballpark’s capacity was or explain how much onsite parking would be there. The size of the ballpark would be “up to the developer”, though he also claimed he knew three people who could fund the ballpark. It all adds up to someone who has some great ideas and understands LEED, but knows next to nothing about CEQA. CEQA is the set of regulations that forces environmental review and places restrictions on what kinds of projects can be built in sensitive places. CEQA has led rise to hyper-NIMBYism in California. On the flip side, it has allowed our coasts to remain mostly in the public interest and not full of high-rises and private development. If this ballpark concept ever got off the ground, it would immediately have Bay and waterfront activists, open space and parks preservationists, boating enthusiasts, residents of the nearby apartment complex, and many others lined up to take it down. That doesn’t include the normal anti-stadium types or additional complications such as the PUC and other governmental agency interactions.
This is the stuff that Lew Wolff talks about when he says that people can’t just point at a site and say that’s a site. There’s a ton of legwork that has to be done on each proposed site, and even more on the sites that actually get studied as alternatives. There are studies of noise and shade, seismicity and hydrology, cultural and paleontological resources, along with the more common traffic and transportation work. It’s a significant, seemingly endless amount of work, and the crazy thing is that a draft version of an EIR has not been finished for any ballpark site in Oakland: Victory Court, Howard Terminal, Coliseum City, this site or any other site. And it’s telling that Estuary Park, despite its rather prominent position where the Estuary meets Lake Merritt Channel, was never really considered a ballpark site in the past. That’s largely due to all of the issues identified in this post, and probably many more that I haven’t covered. Just a thousand feet across the Channel, HOK studied two sites at the Oak-to-Ninth (O29) site in 2001.
That’s not to say that Dixon’s in the wrong. He has some great ideas, and the fact that he put he put his visual skills to use in fleshing them out can help a lot in terms of creating a real vision for Oakland going forward. If the concept ultimately serves as a catalyst, it would be incredibly productive for fans who want an Oakland ballpark and need a unified rallying point. This idea can be moved and modified to work at other sites. Dixon seems to like Coliseum City nearly as much as his own plan, as long as the A’s stay in town. If Save Oakland Sports and other groups can come to a consensus on one site that has energy behind it and has been properly vetted, they have a shot. If they stand by the City’s current vision of multiple sites being equal with no real consensus, there’s nothing to rally behind. They’re just circles on a map.
Note: As I was writing this in the middle of the night, I did not ask Dixon for permission to use his images. I apologize for that in advance, though I also cite fair use as this is a review.