Category Archives: Attendance
There’s fifty feet of crap. And then there’s us. – Billy Beane, Moneyball
Figurative turned literal on Sunday, as the A’s and Mariners (and umpires) were forced to vacate their respective clubhouses after the game because of a sewage backup. The backup caused sewage to seep out of the shower drains as players were trying to clean up. Both teams were forced to use the Raiders’ locker room showers, which are located a level up in the old Exhibit Hall.
As part of the 1995 Mt. Davis renovations, the Exhibit Hall was transformed into new football locker rooms, while the A’s clubhouse and visiting facilities remained mostly untouched. As a result, the plumbing in the clubhouses continues to deteriorate and requires constant repairs, which the A’s usually end up paying for during the season. Per the team’s lease, they can deduct the cost of the repairs against their annual rent payment. During the NFL offseason, the Raiders locker room often gets used as an extra staging area for VIPs. As a part of the stadium that was constructed less than 20 years ago, it’s in much better shape than the old baseball clubhouses.
In 2011, I asked Lew Wolff about the state of affairs at the Coliseum. Here’s an excerpt of our discussion:
Wolff: We’re constantly making repairs that are not our obligation.
ML: Really? Like what?
Wolff: Leaks and things. The scoreboard. There are two of them because of football. I think they’re finally going to replace them, but if they don’t there are no more parts. If a light goes out we borrow it from another one. It’s aggravating. But they basically say they don’t have any money. They still have bonds to pay off. The place is old and this is not the time for cities to write a check for sports.
Two years later the leaks have gotten worse and the scoreboard still needs replacement, with funds to make that happen siphoned away to study Coliseum City. It’s easy to make scoreboards a low priority at a decrepit place like the Coliseum since they don’t affect players or revenues. Functional clubhouses, however, are a different matter entirely. It’s one thing if the clubhouse flooding and contamination was confined solely to the A’s clubhouse. This time it affected both teams and the umpires. Now there’s the prospect of complaints being filed by the A’s, Mariners, and the players’ and umpires’ unions. (Susan Slusser noted that the Angels complained about a similar incident in 2001, citing a possible E. Coli threat.) Ultimately the responsibility falls on the Coliseum Authority, the body acting as the landlord for the three Coliseum tenant teams. A Herculean effort by an industrial cleanup company like ServPro should get the place up and running. The structural deficiencies will continue to linger.
I know next to nothing about engineering sewer systems, but I do know that having facilities below sea level (such as the clubhouses) can make it difficult to get a proper gravity-based flow going. The funny thing is that one of EBMUD’s huge sewer interceptors runs right through the Coliseum complex, so it should be easy to get wastewater and sewage out of the complex assuming that the sewer lines and pumps are working properly. Evidently at least one part of the stadium’s sewage infrastructure wasn’t working at all. Think about that. There is a river of shit running right through the Coliseum and somehow it couldn’t be utilized on Sunday.
Some are pointing to the possibility that the sewer system was taxed by large crowds. The A’s drew 171,756 total fans during this recent six-game homestand. Let’s put that in perspective. That’s 28,626 per game, or roughly half the originally designed 1966 capacity of the Coliseum. Even the Sunday sellout was only 57% of the 2012 football capacity. The system as a whole should not have been stressed in the slightest.
As the investigation into the cause of the incident continues, it will occur against the backdrop of ongoing lease negotiations. Previously it was assumed that the Authority would have a good deal of leverage because the A’s have nowhere else to play in the Bay Area post-2013. Now the tables have turned, as it can be argued by many parties that the Coliseum is unfit to host MLB games until the clubhouse sewage problem and other deficiencies are addressed. MLB could even step in to make preconditions on the JPA prior to further lease talks. That would put the JPA in quite the pickle. How can the JPA recover more money from the A’s towards Coliseum debt service if it has to fund additional, costly improvements at the Coliseum? If the JPA wants to lock the A’s into a deal longer than 5 years, how much money is the JPA willing to put up to make it worth the A’s and MLB’s while? And how does that coincide with any requests the Raiders are making for their lease extension?
Prior to this incident, Lew Wolff offered to continue on at the Coliseum for five years with the current use terms, rent TBD. He could and should demand infrastructure improvements, but he and Michael Crowley could be enticed to stand pat and maintain the status quo since it would be less complicated. It would be hard for the A’s to make any leasehold improvements without prior approval of the JPA, and since they’re not bound by the lease beyond December there’s no immediate incentive to do so. All they’ll probably do at the moment is make necessary repairs, clean and disinfect the place, lay down some new carpet in the affected areas, and hope for the best. While that should be enough to get through the rest of the season, imagine another sewage incident occurring during the postseason. What kind of PR disaster would that be for Oakland? And I can’t image naming rights sponsor O.co is thrilled to be associated with this debacle. It’s bad enough that from afar the stadium resembles a toilet.
Three weeks ago Jon Heyman incurred the wrath of A’s fans over his snide tweet comparing AT&T Park to the Coliseum. He mostly stayed away from any remarks this time around, except for a retweet of Slusser getting a David Rinetti (A’s VP of stadium operations) quote:
Vice president of stadium operations David Rinetti said the Coliseum has problems with sewage on a regular basis but this is worst ever.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) June 17, 2013
Smart move by Heyman to stay away from this mess, though I wouldn’t blame him if he gloated in private. Trololol.
The A’s, of course, have tried to bolt town for the last five years. The San Francisco Giants won’t share their territory and permit the Athletics to move to San Jose. Major League Baseball, which hoped the A’s and Giants would somehow reach an agreement on their own, finally got a resolution from their blue ribbon committee. The committee submitted a set of guidelines to Wolff in February, and if he agreed to meet the requirements, a move could soon be underway.
Wolff won’t talk about the guidelines. Neither will the Giants. Or even Major League Baseball.
Well, since the NSA isn’t sharing any of Wolff’s telephone conversations with Commissioner Bud Selig, it’s fair to say that if Wolff agreed to the parameters, he’d have a shovel in his hand today digging into the San Jose soil.
Wolff denied the February report in last week’s radio interview. Clearly something isn’t meshing here. The two short-term decisions at the moment are the lease and the S4SJ lawsuit. It would make sense to wait to announce something until both of those issues are resolved.
Update 2:30 PM – Amazingly, Lew Wolff is pulling his punches, at least according to a new Carl Steward article.
“What it says basically is that it’s a deteriorating facility,” he said. “I think everybody is aware of that, even the people who run it. We’re sort of all in this together, so it isn’t something I would use … we just have to solve it right now.”
Wolff downplayed that this might be the kind of incident that would give him extra ammunition to force the hand of Major League Baseball to act on the A’s situation, which has been stalled for several years under a panel appointed by Selig to assess the team’s options.
“Even if they said tomorrow, `OK, you can have a new stadium,’ we can’t do it in one day,” Wolff said. “We’re still going to have a plumbing issue.’”
Of course, Wolff isn’t going to stop the M’s, other teams, MLBPA, or WUA (umpires) from filing their own complaints. Those may have more bite. On the other hand, Billy Beane’s comments were a little more pointed.
“Today this is national news, but it happens here all the time,” Beane said. “Our employees are impacted by this. I was the first to see the manager’s office (Sunday), but we see it all the time, and this is not unusual. I don’t blame them (the Mariners) for reacting, but we have to live with it on a semi-regular basis.
“If we say anything, we’re told we’re being opportunist,” Beane added. “I wish these were working conditions we didn’t have to work with. When it affects somebody other than us, it becomes a story. I’m used to it. I deal with it.”
Doesn’t get more Oakland than that.
When the A’s converted the all-you-can-eat sections in the upper deck to the Value Deck in 2010, it marked a major change in how tickets and concessions were priced at the Coliseum. Prior to 2010, both offerings were steadily increasing. Team Marketing’s Fan Cost Index, which tracks the cost of a game for a family of four, had the A’s above the middle of the pack even though the venue itself was no great shakes. Since the introduction of the Value Deck and Menu, prices have dropped and stayed remarkably flat as the newest MLB edition of FCI shows.
FCI considers the cost of four tickets plus soft drinks, beers for the adults, parking, programs, and caps. The caveat here is that such a package is not usually purchased by a family that goes to the park regularly. It also doesn’t take into account that many fans will eschew value menu fare and go for something a little more upmarket. In any case, it’s a fairly honest representation of pricing and spending at every stadium, and as you can see from the table above, a game at AT&T Park is considerably more expensive to attend than one at the Coliseum. As a matter of practice, Team Marketing surveys each team prior to the beginning of each season.
The A’s have chosen to keep prices steadily, remarkably stable for four straight years despite last year’s AL West crown. In 2010, FCI for the team was nearly 9% below MLB average. Now it’s almost 21% below the league. Instead of raising prices throughout, the team has chosen to charge more for premium items found in the Westside Club, Round Table pizzas or craft brews. It’s a reasonable philosophy to have, though for me personally I choose to drink my craft brews in the parking lot when I have the chance.
It’s normal for teams to raise prices in proportion to payroll increases. A’s payroll, like FCI, has remained steady over the last four years. Revenue has risen, though not dramatically. Revenue sharing fills in the gaps, so even if the A’s boosted prices that revenue increase would be partly offset by decreased revenue sharing.
As we’ve seen during the first homestand, fans aren’t terribly responsive to price, or even success carried over from last year. Tuesday’s “free parking” crowd was identical in size to the BART $2 Wednesday crowd. “Inclement” morning weather scared away Thursday’s getaway game walkup crowd. A multitude of factors play into every fan’s and family’s decision making process when it comes to attending any one game. The numbers show that advance and season tickets have improved measurably, but it’s not enough to move the needle much in terms of revenue.
For now the A’s price things to what they think the market will support. There’s enough room for one or two extra salaries to come via trade at midseason or at the deadline. The system allows for that. If the A’s wanted to boost payroll to $80 million, revenue would have to be boosted at least another $20 million independent of revenue sharing. Would the fanbase support the increased prices and attendance that would be necessary to generate that extra revenue? I’d sure like to find out.
Tickets for the championship rounds of the World Baseball Classic at AT&T Park were priced quite heavily when they went on sale in December, often forcing fans to buy three-game strips for hundreds of dollars. That price gouging, in conjunction with Team USA getting eliminated last night by Puerto Rico, has caused the WBC to heavily discount numerous blocks of tickets in the last couple of days.
Prices for the two semifinal matchups were as low as $15 yesterday for nosebleed sections in left field and the back of the bleachers. Today the WBC dropped prices on better seats and locations for both games to just $8, a loss leader price if I ever heard of one. That is sure to upset folks who bought early, but it will delight casual fans and followers of the remaining teams (Japan, Netherlands, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico) who are in town or are willing to make the trip cross-country.
While premium sections are staying expensive, many areas that “fill out the bowl” have a good number of unsold seats, including groups of seats together. There’s a threat that AT&T Park will look empty without a contingent of US fans and the possibility that the DR/PR fans won’t be there in large numbers. The Bay Area doesn’t have a huge population of Dominicans or Puerto Ricans compared to the East Coast, so there’s reason for concern. A healthy number fans of Team Japan should be there, as we’d normally expect. Netherlands skipper and Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens appealed to his fellow Dutchmen in the Bay Area to come out and support the Oranje, though they’re not expected to be there en masse.
On Friday I got a $15 bleacher ticket for Monday’s game between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands. Today I snagged a $8 ticket for Sunday’s Japan-Puerto Rico matchup. A friend of mine who bought single game tickets in advance last month for Sunday’s game paid $72 for a View Box seat behind the plate. Yesterday those same seats were priced at $62, and now they’re $50. It’s possible that the prices could sink even further if there continues to be middling interest.
Running tournaments like the WBC can produce outcomes like this. Unlike the FIFA World Cup, which is assured of having the greatest players in the world playing for every participating country, the WBC is subservient to MLB, so fans aren’t treated to cream-of-the-crop competition due to pro clubs holding back players by rule or choice. Nevertheless, the competition has been excellent so far, with surprising pitching performances from the DR and an upstart club in the “Kingdom of the Netherlands” that threatens to be powerhouse for years to come.
If you have time and can spare a few bucks, the WBC semis are a steal on Sunday and Monday. And in the event that the final doesn’t sell that well, it may also be a good choice on Tuesday. Check it out.
Update 7:20 PM – Around 4:30 today, an article by the Trib’s Matthew Artz indicated that Oakland officials apologized to Lew Wolff for erroneously stating that the City and Mayor Jean Quan didn’t receive the letter. Wolff angrily replied (in ALL CAPS no less) that he did, in fact, send the letter, and later produced a letter of acknowledgment from Quan dated January 2. During the Bucher & Towny show on The Game, Townsend explained that his crew and Phoenix reporter Kevin Curran had launched their own inquiry into the status of this now mythical letter. Curran sent an email to the Mayor’s office asking for the letter since, by law, the City has to file all such communications. This afternoon the story from Artz broke, followed by an email reply from Quan spokesperson Sean Maher explaining the situation. Apparently the original email, which was also sent to numerous media, was buried in the “mountain of (holiday) furlough email” the City received. Because of this, news outlets reported on it first, giving City staff the impression that they didn’t receive it, when in fact, they did. The explanation was also a bit wishy-washy because the Mayor supposedly “eventually” received the letter, giving the impression that she didn’t receive it directly. Statements coming out of the Mayor’s office yesterday continued to press that they didn’t receive the letter. In any case, Oakland comes off highly incompetent at the very least and petty on top of it all, just because Santana decided to lash out at Wolff. That’s simply poor form. Obviously, that led to today’s apology.
Monday’s much-delayed Save Oakland Sports meeting was held at La Estrellita in downtown Oakland. Though host Chris Dobbins was keen to not put City Administrators Deanna Santana and (Asst. Admin.) Fred Blackwell on the hot seat, to their credit the staffers addressed several lingering issues with some degree of frankness and a general lack of spin.
Blackwell gave an update on the state of the Coliseum City studies and EIR. The study work should be awarded in the next month, and documents should be ready by the end of the year. Because of the broad scope of the project, there will be a master plan for the 750 acres on both side of 880 and a specific plan for each side, the big focus being on the sports complex. Blackwell called Coliseum City the most dynamic project in the state in terms of size and transit access.
Based on JRDV’s newest renderings, he has a point. Much of the area on either side of the Nimitz would undergo a drastic transformation. While there would be a new football stadium in Lot B and a ballpark pushed up to the corner of Lot A, almost everything else would get torn down and replaced. Chief among the changes is a new arena, which would be placed west of 880, where Coliseum Lexus and another empty car dealership are situated. Low and mid rise buildings would be tightly packed from Oakport to the Estuary and in between the two stadia. Two new pedestrian bridges would cross 880. The BART bridge would be transformed into a huge plaza over the Union Pacific tracks. The only two legacy structures that would remain intact in the vision are the 12-story high-rise office building that briefly housed the Tribune and the newer Zhone building.
Before your eyes roll completely into the back of your head, let’s look at the three venues, starting with the ballpark. Blackwell continued previous talk of Oakland giving Lew Wolff information on Coliseum City and Howard Terminal, repeating Wolff’s continued rejection of both sites on financial grounds. Blackwell flat out said that new ownership may be required to get something done in Oakland, and that a MLB could act on behalf of a team to get a deal done. Of course, Blackwell cited Miami as an example of that working. “Working” meant taxpayers putting up 2/3 of the cost and politicians who approved the deal being run out of office. MLB wouldn’t do that unless it felt it could get several pounds of flesh. In Oakland, there is no flesh to take. The only thing MLB has offered so far is to negotiate the short-term lease at the current Coliseum.
As for the Raiders, Santana mentioned upfront that it took four months to get all of the right people (City, County, Raiders) named and set to negotiate the future stadium deal. Four months? You’d figure an e-mail thread and a conference call or two would take care of that.
In a refreshing bit of candor, Santana and Blackwell talked about the challenges facing the Raiders’ stadium piece. Santana said twice that any new project would have to bake in the $100 million of remaining debt (Mt. Davis). As I’ve mentioned before, any advantages Oakland has because of “cheap land” are wiped away because of this albatross. It also makes financing somewhat unclean, though that would depend on how current and future debt are structured. Right now, Mt. Davis debt is tied to the general fund of both City and County and was refinanced last summer. I imagine it could be complicated to restructure the debt to be paid solely by stadium/project revenues and would drive up the cost of borrowing to boot. Santana also talked about how the defeat of Measure B1 in November negatively impacted funding for Coliseum City to the tune of $40 million.
Blackwell admitted that the NFL may have a hard time giving the $200 million that Mayor Jean Quan is looking for, citing fan and corporate support. Why? The G-3 and G-4 loan programs are dependent on two specific revenue streams: national TV money and club seats. TV money is not that big a deal since it’s highly distributed, but the NFL is wary of teams running into blackouts. The Raiders are a particular high-risk case because even though the stadium doesn’t have a large capacity among NFL stadia, it’s had its share of blackouts and has a relatively low season ticket base (30,000). The recent tarping and pricing moves done by the Raiders are being done to grow the season ticket figure and reduce the chance of blackouts. In future seasons, the Raiders could increase capacity as the roll grows and the team performs better. Corporate support is another matter. Blackwell said that the NFL considers corporate support more important than regular fan support. The 49ers have done exceedingly well selling to businesses, which allowed the NFL to release $200 million for the Santa Clara stadium. Corporate support is not great in the East Bay, and the 49ers may have taken some East Bay business from the Raiders, putting the Silver and Black in a very tough position. Blackwell didn’t offer any answers on this, other than to say that the East Bay will have to step up to show it can support the Raiders in a new stadium. It’s a sobering but realistic view, not one to go rah-rah about.
On the Warriors front, Blackwell laid out the City’s case very plainly: Oakland would wait until W’s ownership got frustrated with the process of building something at Piers 30/32, then welcome the team back with open arms. With the A’s, ownership is certainly frustrated (with MLB and the Giants), not enough to run back to make a deal with Oakland. While working in SF, Blackwell saw the same strategy in place for the 49ers, only to see the team start building in the South Bay.
Things got a little strange with Santana laid into the A’s. Santana accused the A’s of playing games, claiming that the letter Wolff wrote requesting a five-year lease extension was only sent to the media, not to City or County. That’s rather confusing, because as the Merc’s John Woolfork wrote on 12/21:
If Wolff’s letter was discouraging to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, she didn’t let on, saying in a statement that she was “pleased to receive Mr. Wolff’s letter stating his desire to stay in Oakland for five more years.”
Considering that it took four months to figure out who the players were in a negotiation, I wouldn’t be surprised if the letter was lost somewhere. One thing to keep in mind is that Wolff has already done two lease extensions at the Coliseum during his tenure. If there’s one real piece of stability here it’s Wolff, not the turnover in Oakland City Hall.
The tough part of all of this back-and-forth is that even if Oakland is resurgent as its supporters say it is, it’s not to the scale of SF and SJ. It may never be to the scale of SJ. That makes it easy to make a case against the future of pro sports in Oakland. Without some kind of miraculous public and/or private miracle to really boost Oakland, it’s hard to see how Oakland could get to its rivals’ level. Maybe the argument is that Coliseum City is that miracle. Oakland has had nearly 50 years to show that pro sports is an economic stimulator. There’s no reason to believe Coliseum City, even in its fully realized, pipe dream scenario, is the miracle Oakland is looking for. The track record – in and out of Oakland – doesn’t support it.
Note: Look at how different the two Tavares articles are. Editors rule!
At once insane and tantalizingly possible, the Oakland Athletics are buyers this offseason. Any questions about Billy Beane’s M.O. were answered swiftly when word came this afternoon of the first big winter trade (Winter? I was wearing shorts on a 71 degree sunny day today.). Middle infielder Cliff Pennington and prospect Yordy Cabrera were traded to Arizona for former All Star CF Chris Young and $500,000 cash. Cabrera was later sent to Miami for reliever Heath Bell, but we’ll ignore that for the time being.
Young will earn $8.5 million this year and $10 million in 2014 if the A’s pick up his option. If not, the buyout price is $1.5 million. Coco Crisp, the A’s current CF, makes $7 million in 2013 with a $7.5 million 2014 option ($1 million buyout). That puts the A’s investment in four outfielders – Crisp, Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick – at $24 million, nearly half the 2012 payroll. Even with that kind of money, the four players combined for 13.6 WAR in 2012, making the 2013 expenditure pretty good value any way you slice it.
When the news was first released, the most prominent immediate fan reaction was to wonder what would happen to Crisp. It was Crisp who was re-signed only nine months ago, and many fans wondered if that was a wise decision considering the number of nearly ready young outfielders in the A’s farm system. Once Cespedes signed with Oakland in February, it seemed as though Crisp’s days were numbered. When the A’s had their nine-game losing streak at the end of May, Crisp’s name surfaced as trade bait, despite his struggles throughout the first two months of the season. Yet Crisp got himself right in June, perhaps because he got the starting CF job back. His energy and skill at the top of the order made him arguably the most dangerous weapon in the A’s lineup by the All Star Break. Now Crisp seems almost indispensable among many fans, at least judging from reactions on Twitter. It’s a remarkable story that stands among many on the A’s squad. Crisp does have a lengthy injury history, though this year he was out at times because of illness (flu, pinkeye) rather than a muscle or joint problem.
If anyone is likely to be moved or non-tendered, it’s Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, or both. Both contributed nicely in a DH+occasional OF platoon situation. Smith will hit his second arbitration year, and his value is strictly in that platoon role vs. RHP. Gomes is the opposite, mashing against lefties and coming in very cheap with a $1 million salary for 2013. Both players will command around $3.5 million, and both will want multiyear deals if possible and more plate appearances – which may be few and far between if the “Four Horsemen” stay healthy and get their 550-600 PAs. Young assumes Gomes’ role, which is a shame because Gomes is such a likable guy and a local, but that’s how the business works. Beane has already said on a conference call Saturday that Gomes would be affected by the Young acquisition.
I’ve put together a spreadsheet showing the A’s projected 2013 payroll. It makes certain key assumptions about the makeup of the A’s roster:
- Stephen Drew’s $10 million mutual option is picked up. Drew showed improvement late in the season and appears healed from his ankle injury troubles. That’s not going to make the A’s or anyone commit to a really rich deal, no matter how much Scott Boras pushes for one.
- Seth Smith is retained. I don’t think this is a given because of the reasons previously defined. If he stays it’s probably for $3.5 million. If he is replaced by someone in the A’s system like Collin Cowgill or Shane Peterson, the A’s will save $3 million in the process. Keep that in mind for future payroll projections.
- Brandon McCarthy is re-signed. The elder statesman of the pitching staff, he’ll never reach 35 starts in a season because of lingering shoulder problems. But he is very effective when healthy and is a great clubhouse leader and spokesman for the club, and his (and his wife’s) media presence helps put a face to a team that might otherwise go relatively anonymous. He should be affordable to keep, and worth it.
- Brett Anderson is not traded. If Anderson had not suffered elbow trouble that resulted in Tommy John surgery, Anderson might already be elsewhere. Having come back late in the season, he looked very good in limited action. He has ace-quality stuff, which as we’ve seen in the playoffs, can be pretty important.
- No other big trades or free agents signings are done. This is the A’s we’re talking about, so nothing’s for certain when it comes to personnel. I’m keeping it like this to illustrate what the the payroll looks like now and to show how much headroom remains.
All told, the payroll is as much as $65 million. Brandon Moss should have Super Two status, so he may earn more than what is listed. Without Smith (and Gomes), the payroll is only $62 million. The pattern for the A’s has been to respond to an encouraging season (2006, 2010) by bumping up payroll. In 2007 the A’s came off an ALCS appearance and boosted payroll to $79 million, with $46 million devoted to five players: Jason Kendall, Eric Chavez, Mike Piazza, Mark Kotsay, and Esteban Loaiza. None of those five produced in any meaningful way for various reasons, and all except Chavez were off the team during or shortly after the end of the 2007 season.
The 2008 season showed promise, with a solid young core and a .500 record. Payroll was bumped for 2009 from $48 million to $62 million. We know how 2009 went: Matt Holliday produced well but not like a superstar he was advertised to be, and Jason Giambi proved that you can’t go home again. So we know how this could play out if the team flames out. The A’s could easily spend another $10-15 million without much trouble, but if the team is 10 games back by July trading deadline, we could very well see another selloff. The Marlins tailed off in the NL East by the end of June, resulting in the trades of Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Gaby Sanchez, Edward Mujica, and Heath Bell. Not even a new ballpark could keep the fans from leaving in droves, forcing the directive for Larry Beinfest to cut costs posthaste.
It’s not by accident. This is a script all low-revenue teams have to work with. The A’s pulled in 1.6 million fans this season. Say they brought another 400,000 fans in to bring the 2013 total to a cool 2 million. At $30 a person, that translates to $12 million in extra revenue, about half of that going to payroll. The annual winter revenue sharing payment should also help. Success has cascading effects, as there’s also a lower percentage of no-shows and greater revenues from media and sponsorships. It’s a snowball effect. We’ve seen it run positively in the last few weeks, and negatively in recent years.
That makes a $62-65 million payroll something of a jumping off point. The A’s could support an $80 million payroll if things continue to go well. $80 million isn’t still in the bottom third of MLB, but it’s a good deal of extra budget to play with. However, we know that free agent spending has yielded mixed results, and that cost per win can be very difficult to pin down at times from a GM standpoint. Fortunately the team is strong in the outfield and pitching staff, making the weak spots easier to live with. How should Beane and Forst use $15-18 million of headroom? They could stand pat. They could make another trade or pick up a free agent (or two). They could go into the international market as they have in the past (Cespedes, Iwakuma, Ynoa) to bid on a young arm like Japanese high school phenom Shohei Otani. They could save it for some midseason deadline deals. Whatever way the front office chooses to go, the possibilities are practically endless. The future is bright, it’s ahead of schedule, and the A’s world – from owner to fan and everything in between – can’t be anything but happy about it.
Last night I gave myself until midnight to mourn the end of the A’s 2012 season. At midnight I realized that I hadn’t eaten since lunch, too nervous to do so during or before the game. So I took an hour and took care of my hunger pangs before settling in to start this post.
The memories of this season will remain fresh throughout the winter, through the inevitable rumors about roster shuffling. Which starting pitchers will be kept? Can Billy Beane find a real solution at second? And most importantly, what expectations will we have for the A’s in 2012, after they came out of nowhere to take the division from two teams (Rangers & Angels) whose combined payroll was five times that of the A’s?
That’s what it comes down to. Going into 2012, no one had any expectations of the roster, the fans, ownership, or anything else associated with the Oakland Athletics. All that has changed starting October 12, 2012. The bar has been raised. Everyone from fans to the media to the rest of baseball will expect more out of the A’s. The element of surprise that fueled much of the euphoria this year will have evaporated. That childlike joy, that sense that no one has anything to lose, will have to give way for a more consistent, more professional franchise. New expectations come with a weight for a team to bear, and in our case, the fans also have to bear it. It’s not enough to look at two weeks or a month and call Oakland “saved” for baseball. That would be like looking at Brandon Inge’s first week in an Oakland uniform and declaring him the third baseman of the future. It’s asinine and completely absurd. No, the test starts now: of ownership to cultivate this success, of the front office to sustain it, and of the fans to respond in kind.
Nothing gets a pro sports team’s sales organization going like a playoff run. In September the A’s sales group started to push hard for season ticket deposits, fueled by renewed fan enthusiasm. They got me on board for 2013, my yearlong experiment with walkup and online ticketing over. I’m an easy sell. I don’t have a grudge against ownership, and my worldview isn’t inextricably tied to the word “Oakland”, keeping me from investing my fandom. Many longtime A’s fans have stayed away because of ownership. They are naturally going to be tough sells. Has this fresh, exciting team brought those fans back into the fold, or will they look for more from ownership to convince them?
Yesterday’s pregame announcement of tarp removal for the ALCS/World Series elicited some positive reaction, but that isn’t enough going forward. Those same tarps for the original upper deck (West Side) should be removed forever, just as I had outlined as an option last week. Close down the Plaza Reserved seats to dial back the capacity somewhat, and simply sell sections of the upper deck on an as-needed basis as the Dodgers have done in the past. That should bring the capacity back to 43,000 or so, with 36,000 in play most of the time until high-demand or premium games comes around.
As for the roster, the front office is fortunate that there is only one high-priced free agent on whom to make a decision, Stephen Drew. While Drew played solidly since his trade from Arizona, $10 million is a high price and from a pure value perspective, not worth it. There’s a chance that Drew is bought out and a new deal done, but that would also put him on the open market, where there could be a premium for a someone who is ostensibly an average-to-good shortstop.
Then there’s Brandon McCarthy. Take away the horrendous line drive incident, because McCarthy’s already throwing and all parties were looking to clear him for the World Series. He even took time to write a back-page article for SI. No, McCarthy’s issue has, and always will be, the health of his right shoulder. Prior to September, McCarthy had to be put on the disabled list twice in 2012 and frequently had extra days between starts as his shoulder issues kept creeping. That may sound like a good opening for the team to let him go as many young starters are waiting in the wings, but I go back to what Farhan Zaidi said on Blog Day: “We try to build a set of options – 8, 9, 10, 11-deep of starting pitchers.” In that context, McCarthy should be a fairly easy guy to make a case for, since his injury history has depressed his value somewhat. His effectiveness when he’s there, his presence in the clubhouse, and the outsize positive attention both he and his wife Amanda have brought to the team are all reasons to bring him back for 2 years/$14 million.
Jonny Gomes was a major force, even though he saw only one at bat during the ALDS due to matchups. He should be back, also for 2 years at maybe $6-7 million. Bartolo Colon, who was practically forgotten as A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily were brought up, may not be too easy to dismiss. His PED suspension should’ve driven him out of baseball completely. Yet there’s something appealing about a guy who can simply eat innings. That helped the A’s staff in no small measure in 2012. Maybe he gets signed to a minor league deal and is stashed in Sacramento if he’s willing to be there. Then there’s the case of Dallas Braden, who’s as snakebit now as Justin Duchscherer was a few years back. Again, there’s a limited market for Braden’s services, so non-tender him, sign him to a minor league deal, and let him work out his shoulder problems in the spring and extended spring training.
The second base dilemma is the most puzzling, because none of the options are great. Five or six guys could play the position. Cliff Pennington’s the best defensively because of his arm. Jemile Weeks has the speed and potential leadoff ability but regressed badly in 2012. Adam Rosales is all heart and arm and little else. Scott Sizemore is an unknown because of his lost year. Eric Sogard may have disappeared down the depth chart for good. Grant Green, a organizational fan favorite, has a bat and no glove. Chances are that some guys will be non-tendered, at least one will be traded, and someone else will be stuck in Sacramento for another year, blocked by someone else in Oakland with marginally greater ability. The organization should expect more from second base in the future. It’s up to these players to break through and take the starting job for themselves.
Will the front office attempt another international free agent splash signing? Which Josh Donaldson and Chris Carter will we see to start 2013? How much can the catchers improve defensively? All of these questions have much of the internet fanbase already going through that yearly phase called rosterbation, what has classically been called the Hot Stove League. People in general are talking about the A’s again. There’s real interest and the non-hardcore fanbase may have been aroused enough to commit.
That’s where it gets difficult. The A’s fanbase won’t be judged solely on the last two weeks, as much as people would like to see it. The media liked to characterize this pennant chase as “rekindling Oakland’s love affair with baseball”. It’s romantic and hits all the right notes. But you know what often happens with affairs, right? They wither. They end. What starts as grand and limitless in May can be consigned to the dustbin in December. This is where the fans come in. Fans have to commit. Whatever anyone thinks of ownership, they have produced a winning team. Now it’s time for fans to respond by buying season tickets. Last I heard, season ticket subscriptions added up to 7-8,000 full-season equivalents when accounting for all of the partial plans. If you want this team to stay in Oakland, you need to do your part. Get that number to 10,000. Aim for 2 million in total attendance. Both are modest figures when compared to what happens regularly across the bay, but it’s a start. MLB may be struggling with its Oakland/San Jose decision because it needs to see real numbers like these to justify whatever decision it makes. In Oakland, MLB needs to see that even without a new ballpark, enough fan interest can be generated to avoid a Miami-like situation where attendance dropped off a cliff after the team started to disappoint in their new digs. In San Jose, MLB needs to see that enough of the existing East Bay fanbase can come along even after being alienated to help support the fans in the South Bay. Fan interest, or an apparent lack thereof, is a problem that affects both cities, whether the booster groups and ownership want to admit it or not. If you live in the Bay Area and you love the A’s, now’s the time to show it. Time to stop the posturing. Time to end the excuses. All of the goodwill built up over the last four months will evaporate if next May there’s another run of 10k crowds at the Coliseum. If fans deserve a winning team, they got it. The players have earned our support. The least we can do is provide support en masse. The bar has been raised for us fans too, as it should. If we can’t step up, then we’ll be back to the same old questions about viability and ownership and disaffection. And no one will care outside of the Bay Area, including MLB.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve done one of these. Time to catch up.
- The A’s finished the season with a total attendance of 1,678,913, an average 20,727 per game. Not including the first two home games in Japan, the total attendance is 1,591,295 (20,143 average). That’s an increase of more than 200,000 fans over 2011, and the best number since 2007. MLB’s total attendance rose nearly 2% to 74,859,268, propelled largely by the opening of Marlins Park. If you assume that each ticket costs the FCI average of $27 and comes with $11 in additional spending (concessions, parking), MLB gets $2.84 billion in stadium revenue. If we project $7.7 billion for the 2012 season, then regular season stadium revenue accounts for 36.9% of total revenue. Wendy Thurm from Fangraphs/Hanging Sliders has more in-depth analysis. [MLB, Fangraphs]
- TV ratings are out too. While the A’s showed marginal improvement throughout the year on CSN California (1.27 rating, 32,000 households), Wednesday’s AL West title showdown pulled an incredible 4.72 rating in the Bay Area (172,000 households), the highest rating since 2008. If the A’s could pull in half that number on a regular basis, they’d be in much better shape financially. [Sports Business Journal/John Ourand & David Broughton, Comcast SportsNet California]
- Like the A’s and Giants, rivals Baltimore and Washington are also in the postseason. Their rivalry extends to off the field, as their ongoing battle over the Nats’ TV rights value on MASN continues. As part of the deal to move the Expos to DC, O’s owner Peter Angeles was allowed to set up MASN and own Nats’ broadcast rights, to which the O’s pay around $30 million per year. Angelos wants to raise the rights fee to $35 million, whereas Nats owner Ted Lerner is holding out for $100 million, which would put the team among the largest markets in terms of TV revenue. That number may not be feasible without a sizable bump in subscriber fees for MASN, which would get the channel into another battle with Comcast over carriage costs. ([Forbes/Mike Ozanian, Press Box/Tim Richardson]
- The website UFE (Urine Feces Everywhere) did its own annual study of ballpark cleanliness, surveying all 30 MLB ballparks throughout the year. The Coliseum came in 4th worst in baseball (F grade), thanks to those oh-so-charming trough urinals and an embarrassing 56% of men not washing their hands. You people are disgusting pigs. For shame. The best ballpark? Busch Stadium. The worst? Wrigley Field (maybe that’s symbolic). AT&T Park came in 8th best, its only demerit being the composite trough sinks it uses (didn’t realize those were a problem). [UFE]
- muppet151 sent a well-worded letter to City of Oakland and Alameda County officials asking about cleanup costs associated with the Howard Terminal site. I can’t say I have confidence it’ll be answered, considering how this week the City started limiting access to City Council sessions. We’ve discussed contamination and cleanup at Howard Terminal before. Furthermore, the Howard Terminal Land Use Covenant severely restricts what can be built on the site. Prohibited uses include residences, a hospital, a school or a day care center, or a park or open space (if the ground is uncapped). Here’s some relevant text from the request: [Twitter, TwitLonger, SFGate/Mattai Kuruvila]
A Removal Action Work plan (RAW) was drawn up, and the RAW leads to several questions that have yet to be discussed publically by officials who have spoken in favor of an A’s stadium at the Howard Terminal site, more specifically the role City and County governments would play in regards to the RAW.
The RAW states that should these asphalt concrete caps break, the removal of contamination would cost “in excess of $100 million. It would also require the terminal to shut down for a long period of time.” If the caps were to be broken during the building of a stadium, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say cost over runs could be in the neighborhood of $200 million (contamination removal and stadium building costs), and could delay the opening of a Howard Terminal stadium by at least a year and possibly longer. The worst case scenario being the project being permanently shut down causing the A’s to leave the Bay Area altogether. Such an accident would undoubtedly find its way into a court room as well.
- Arizona State University is in the middle of the Phoenix-Mesa spring training game of musical chairs. The school is looking for a much larger home than its on-campus facilities, so it is looking to either share the new Cubs’ ballpark in Mesa or move into Phoenix Municipal Stadium if the A’s vacate Muni and move to HoHoKam in Mesa. [Phoenix Business Journal/Mike Sunnucks]
- Before the end of September, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a series of bills meant to revive redevelopment in one form or another. Brown didn’t rule out some of the ideas completely, giving credence to the notion that some aspects of redevelopment could be restored once the state’s budget shortfalls are resolved after the old institutions of redevelopment are completely eliminated (good luck with that). Meanwhile, the League of California Cities filed a lawsuit challenging last summer’s redevelopment laws. [LA Times/Patrick McGreevy, AP/Bloomberg Businessweek]
- Tarps continue to be a sore spot, as the A’s refuse to remove tarps for the ALDS and will only consider removing them from the ALCS. Back in 2006 was when I had first heard of a MLB rule restricting capacity. If it’s entirely the domain of the team, then why not just take some or all the tarps off? Who is it going to hurt? Let’s Go Oakland has started an online petition, though that’s not going to actually get the tarps removed. The numbers on the petition will end up on some letter to the commissioner. Frankly, if people really want to get the tarps removed, they should show up outside the Coliseum Box Office/Ticket Services with news crews in tow. Get 2,000 people there who have been shut out of buying tickets. Protest. If you’re going to get ownership to budge or MLB to push ownership, the only way may be to put real pressure on them via the media. Otherwise this is little more than political fodder. [SFGate/Carolyn Jones, Let's Go Oakland]
- An rally for the A’s will be held outside Oakland City Hall on Monday at 5:30 PM. The rally will be held despite the fact that Monday is a city government furlough day.
Update 9/6 10:30 AM – Several items added.
Not much to celebrate on the field, so we’ll focus off it.
- Sure, the A’s didn’t draw well Tuesday and Wednesday. Neither did the White Sox, Nationals and Braves. Yet league attendance is up 3% over last year. Nothing changes overnight.
- Brodie Brazil wrote a goofy column about stuff that should carry over from the Coliseum to a new A’s ballpark. [CSN Bay Area]
- Good to see that the regular media (Merc, NBC BA, KQED) picked up on the recent S4SJ lawsuit activity. I’ve heard that S4SJ is expected to respond with its own motion by Monday 9/10, followed by another response by the City by 9/14. If nothing else it keeps the case in the news.
- Forbes NFL team valuations are in right on schedule. #1 is the Cowboys at a whopping $2.1 billion, followed by the Patriots and Redskins. The 49ers are at #9 with a $1.175 billion, thanks to the team’s playoff run and the start of stadium construction. The Raiders came in at #30 with a $785 million valuation, and were one of two teams to have an operating loss (according to Forbes). [Mike Ozanian]
- We’re 9 days from the NHL’s lockout deadline, and there’s no telling what will happen. The two sides are reportedly very far apart. [SB Nation DC/Ted Starkey]
- With ESPN’s TV deal signed, MLB may be looking for $800 million per year for the combined Fox/Turner schedules. Combined with ESPN, MLB would net $1.5 billion per year, translating to $50 million per team. Add other central revenue to that (merchandise, MLB AM, XM, etc.) teams should be able to get $70 million in national revenue every season starting in 2014. That figure doesn’t include revenue sharing (local redistribution). [Sports Business Journal/John Ourand]
- So I guessed wrong on 95.7 The Game getting the Warriors and switching to NBC Sports Radio. The station stayed with Houston-based Yahoo! Sports Radio, and the W’s chose to renew their deal with KNBR, apparently feeling that the signal coverage was worth the third-tier status on the stations. That’s a bad loss for Entercom, though it highlights the biggest problems with The Game: its ratings aren’t going to get much better until they get more local pro teams and boost the station’s signal. The new deal runs through the 2015-16 season.
- The good news for The Game is that the station posted a 1.1 rating for August, the highest since the programming change. The A’s haven’t moved the needle at The Game for well over a year. Perhaps this is a sign that now they are effecting change. [BA Sports Guy/Scott Willis]
- Legislators are attempting to bring back redevelopment through various bills that have just reached Governor Brown’s desk. I won’t give the bills much attention unless Brown signs them into law. In the meantime, some groups are applying for federal tax credits to help foot the bills for projects. [ABC 7/Kendall Taggart; 10 News San Diego]
- Save Oakland Sports has a profile in the Tribune. When talking about the upcoming fundraiser, co-founder Jim Zelinski said, “A cynic might laugh … but it all adds up.” Sure it does. Fundraisers like this, which has no set fundraising goal, can help – about 1 PSL’s worth at a time. [Oakland Tribune/Matthew Artz]
- The federal government will lose up $4 billion in tax revenue ($146 million annually) thanks to tax-exempt bonds used on many stadia, including the Coliseum and the new 49ers stadium. [Bloomberg Businessweek/Aaron Kuriloff and Darrell Preston]
More as it comes.
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.
My thanks to Marine Layer for lending me his space to expand on my post over at Athletics Nation. I didn’t expect it to get this long, but as I dove into the subject, I found it more fascinating. I hope you find something interesting as well.
“There is nothing worse for mortals than a wandering life.” -Homer
The A’s lease at the Coliseum runs out after the 2013 season. If they are unable to come to an agreement with the Coliseum Authority on an extension, or for some other reason are unable to play their home games at the Coliseum, what would they do? Where would they play?
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that as a result of not having a home after 2013, the A’s and any municipality you desire have come to an agreement to move forward with construction of a new baseball-only stadium. It doesn’t matter where it is, only that it will not be completed until Opening Day 2016. This leaves 2014 and 2015 up in the air.
To help guide us in the right direction, there are a few goals we’d like to meet. We don’t have to hit all of them exactly, but how close we come to meeting or exceeding them determines the level of promise of the plan.
- MLB would like to keep the A’s nearby or in the Bay Area, to keep the local fan base participating.
- One million in attendance is deemed sufficient for the seasons spent wandering, but one and a half million is better.
- There are eighty-one home dates to be determined.
- Temporary construction only, unless it is reasonable to expect permanent additions to be accepted by the landlord.
I expect that a solution will involve concessions from a few parties. Other teams will be asked to help the A’s in this predicament, and by extension, MLB. They would probably receive some sort of compensation, but would agree because it helps the entire league.
Before we can start looking, let’s define a required capacity range. Oakland Coliseum holds 35,067 at capacity. This year’s average is 21k a game so far, and the past few years have been around 17-20k. To get one million fans through the gates in 81 games, you need about 12k per game. (Actually, 12,345 per game. 1-2-3-4-5? That’s the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage!) For one and a half million, you need about 18.5K per game. I think if the A’s could pull in 18.5k per game in this situation, they’d be ecstatic. The best target stadium should have something around 20k seats, to take advantage of the larger draw for the big games and help pull up the total attendance and balance out the lower attendance games. Even though 20k is our target, we’ll still look at stadiums that can hold or be made to hold at least 12k, in the case that the A’s are ‘at home’ abroad.
We should eliminate some of the low hanging fruit. The largest of the college ball fields in the Bay Area, Stanford’s Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, can only hold 4k people.The rest of the collegiate baseball parks in the Bay Area are no larger than 2k. Looking at the aerials for Klein Field, I estimate about 3k in stadium seats with the rest being standing room or lawn seating. I just don’t see any way to add enough seats in temporary seating, so scratch that. The other big park, Cal Berkley’s Evans Diamond only holds 2500.
Minor league ballparks are usually one of the first places people mention as a temporary home. The only minor league ballpark in the Bay Area is San Jose Municipal, where the Single-A San Jose Giants and the San Jose State Spartans play. It holds 4.2k and could add temporary seating in the outfield at the cost of some parking, the scoreboard and lighting fixtures. There is probably enough room for about 4k bleachers. I estimate that there is enough parking, if you consider the parking lot on-site, the track across the street that is usually used for parking and the parking at Spartan Stadium a block over. Traffic might not be too much of a nightmare, since 880, 101 and 87 are all nearby, and in different directions. The room is there, but the work required to add the temporary seating wouldn’t be worth it unless the team was playing there for a majority of their home games. One advantage they might have is that the stadium is owned by the City of San Jose, and I expect they would enjoy hosting the A’s, maybe even bend over backward to make it happen. The problem is that you are still in the Bay Area with the potential to draw way more than 8k fans a game. This wouldn’t be a choice high on the list.
Outside of the Bay Area, we have another Single-A stadium, Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, home of the A’s Single-A affiliate Ports. It can hold 5.3k fans. I don’t think it could add more than 1k temporary seating on the grass, which still leaves us short. John Thurman Field in Modesto, home of the Single-A Modesto Nuts, holds 4k. Even if they could add at least 4k more seats, I don’t see how the parking problem is solved in that neighborhood. None of these local 8k possibilities are adequate for anything other than a series or two against teams with a low draw, and likely only if there was absolutely no other place to play.
Probably the most mentioned ballpark to host the A’s is Raley Field in West Sacramento, where the A’s Triple-A affiliate River Cats play. (Usually talk revolves around adding a second deck, but that’s impossible without a rebuild, and even if it were possible to just add on, it is out of bounds of our thought experiment.) It can currently hold 14k fans. That fact alone makes it start to look much better than any of the others we’ve looked at. Sacramento is a location that already has a decent A’s following, due to the relationship they have with the River Cats team (and the fact that many of the players wear both uniforms over the span of the season). It’s close enough that it allows existing fans in the Bay Area to go see games, even if it’s not the most convenient. As far as raising the number of seats, we have to actually take a step back. The capacity is 11k if you count only the fixed seats. The rest was lawn and standing room. Temporary seating is only possible in those lawn areas, and based on the size, you couldn’t add much more than you are taking away. We could probably conclude it’s not worth the effort, and the original capacity stands. While not a solution for every home game, Raley Field would likely be good for a couple weekday series or homestands scattered throughout the year.
From here we move to stadiums that are not as easily reached by the home fanbase, but are still within the A’s broadcast territory: Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Aces Ballpark in Reno, and Chukchansi Park in Fresno.
Cashman Field, home of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51′s, was previously a temporary home of the A’s in 1996 while the Coliseum was having the Raiders modifications done. It can hold 12.5k people if you include the berms and standing room, 9k counting just fixed. The outfield looks like it could manage some temporary seating, maybe 2k, bringing up the capacity to nearly 15k. We could consider that fans of both teams will fly out to piggy back baseball with their usual Vegas trip. The effect on parking could be mitigated with shuttles stops along the strip. While an argument against a permanent MLB club in Las Vegas is that there is not enough existing population, nor enough tourists to keep a club in business, I think the novelty could sustain it for a couple years as a second or third home.
Aces Ballpark, where the Reno Aces play, holds 9k fans, which includes 2.6k general admission. It sits along the Truckee river in downtown Reno. There is lawn in the outfield, but like Raley Field, probably isn’t worth converting into temporary fixed seating.
Downtown Fresno has Chukchansi Park, where the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate Grizzlies play. It can hold 12.5k at capacity, with about 2.5k additional standing room. There is room in the outfield for a few hundred temporary seats, but what I find interesting is the concourse along the third base outfield line. It’s flat, unlike the outfields of the previous stadiums we’ve looked at, which should make for easier installation and removal of seating. However, it’s still probably only an additional 1k seats, and would kill some of that standing room. I would probably rate Chukchansi as right below Raley Field if we’re looking for a baseball stadium to host a couple series.
I wanted to quickly mention another possibility, and that is the Spring Training facilities in Arizona. Phoenix Municipal, where the A’s currently play their March games, only holds 9k. The rest of the Spring Training field capacities range up to Camelback Ranch‘s 13k. The question is whether there is enough of a local following for the A’s and their opponents to cancel out the concern the Diamondbacks would have for the territorial invasion. I would guess there is probably not enough of a following to keep up attendance for more than a series or two. Still, it’s something to keep in mind should there be a real problem booking time in other locations.
None of these solutions are getting us close to the 20k target fan capacity.
Another problem with picking a baseball stadium is that it is already being used by a team to play games. Two different leagues with their own separate schedule patterns might be a difficult thing to manage for anything longer than a couple series. So what about rooming with another team in the same baseball league? That’s right, our neighbor across the Bay. That’s OK. I’ll wait. No, I don’t have a bucket. Ready? Oh, you still have a little spittle there… no right there. You got it.
AT&T Park is a perfectly acceptable park to host major league baseball, because that’s the reason it was built. Some would say it’s more than acceptable, but we won’t get into those details. For our purposes we’ll just consider it sufficient. It’s in the Bay Area so the existing fanbase has easy access. It can hold nearly 42k, not counting standing room. The main problem is that the Giants have their own game schedule, but a quick investigation shows it might not be much of a problem. On only a handful of dates each year are the two teams playing at home at the same time. The other problem is that there are only two locker rooms: one home, one away. Some kind of temporary locker room could be created, either within the bowels of the stadium by reallocating an existing room or by some portable structure on the outside. Another option is the magic of the equipment managers swapping everything when the homestands change. Is there another problem? Oh yea, the Giants might not be particularly impressed with this idea.
So what do we do? Let’s look at football stadiums.
The first one we should consider is Candlestick because it was built as a baseball stadium which later had football modifications. It’s last listed capacity for baseball is 58k. Since the Giants moved out, the retractable seating in right field stays in the football configuration all the time. I don’t know the last time they moved them back. It could be ten years or more. Does the mechanism still work? If the seating can be moved back into baseball configuration, then Candlestick could work really well. It won’t be as pretty or as fully featured in the off-the-field aspect, but it wouldn’t have any scheduling conflicts with another baseball team. The 49ers might complain a little, but I’m sure they could get some compensation for their troubles. The Giants may not like the idea either, as it would mean another MLB team is playing deep within their territory.
Baseball in genuine football stadiums has been going on for a long time. (There is a joke here that the A’s have been playing in a football stadium for at least 16 years, right?) When the Dodgers came out west in 1958, they played four seasons in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum while Dodger Stadium was under construction. The left field wall was a mere 251ft away! Commissioner Ford C. Frick ordered a wire screen be installed to stop simple pop flies from becoming home runs. The Dodgers put in a screen that went 42ft high. (For a comparison, Fenway Park’s Green Monster in left is 310ft away, and just over 37ft tall.) Frick wanted a second screen installed in the stands to again reduce the number of home runs. Balls that fell short of the second screen would be ground-rule doubles. However, California earthquake laws wouldn’t allow the second screen to be built. Not wanting to deal with this again elsewhere, the leagues passed a rule that new ballparks must be at least 325ft down the lines.
So could we consider Stanford Stadium (50k) and California Memorial Stadium (63k), or most any other football stadium in the Bay Area with enough seating? I did a little Photoshop investigation and discovered that there would be even less distance along the left field line than there was at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. All three would be just about 210ft if you pushed the first base line almost up to the wall, which is not even legal for an MLB park as they want 60ft or more from home to dugout. Even if it were, it would would still need one really tall screen. Only 160ft width is required for a football field and stadiums like to bring the fan close to the action so there isn’t much leeway on the sides in those stadiums. We’d have to find one with a multi-use field footprint or at least one with a wider, rounded interior. Or is there something else that is wider, you say? How about a soccer stadium?
FIFA recommends pitch dimensions of 105m by 68m, or translated into feet, about 344ft long and 223ft wide. (PDF, see chapter 4) They allow other sizes, but World Cup matches require the recommended size. They also prefer about 28ft on either side, putting the total width available at 279ft If we can find a stadium that fits this bill, we may be able to squeeze a baseball field onto it.
Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara was actually a baseball field up until 2005, when conversion began to turn it into a soccer-only stadium. It holds about 10.5k fans, so like many of the minor league baseball parks it’s on the small side, and parking could be horrible. You can see in my overlay (and in the others), the diamond would have to be up against the wall to get 273ft, so the line in reality would be shorter. It wouldn’t be good for more than a small series or two. If only there was another soccer stadium with more fixed seating and better facilities…
Planned for construction a few blocks away near San Jose International Airport, New Earthquakes Stadium will hold 18k people and replace Buck Shaw as the home of the San Jose Earthquakes. I wasn’t able to find a confirmation on the pitch size, but it is reasonable to expect it to comply with what FIFA recommends. We know the relationship that the A’s and Earthquakes have with common ownership, but the best part? It’s scheduled to be open in 2014, should all go as planned, and that means the A’s could move directly from the Coliseum and use it as their main home for the next two years. It would fall 46ft short of MLB’s minimum distance, so would they waive the 325ft requirement in this situation? Would a screen about 40 feet high and 50+ years of advanced screen hanging technology help? And would Earthquake fans be displeased with this turn of events after waiting so long for their own place? Would the NIMBYs allow it? Lots of questions, but it is near 880, 101 and 87, with plenty of parking.
Since it’s in the Bay Area, we can expect that baseball games there could easily draw more than 18k. Is there a way we can get the capacity up? The most obvious location is on the open end. The grass planned there could instead be built with fixed seating and the scoreboard repositioned higher or pushed further back. It might be possible to up the capacity by 2k, and even add some temporary suites for additional revenue. With the overhang built over the stands it should be easy to suspend the required screen at any height MLB wanted. Making design changes to a facility that has yet to be built is much easier than shoehorning in temporary seating to an existing park, but there are still limitations to what can be modified and you don’t want to make them too permanent, as I’m sure they would want to revert back to the original design.
(Just for fun, sit back, close your eyes, and imagine the show Cespedes and Carter would put on, knocking balls onto the roof beyond left field. I wouldn’t park over there.)
One caveat about playing in San Jose relates to the Expos. They were the last team to play home games outside of their regular park when they were auditioning San Juan for a potential permanent move. In 2003 and 2004 they played 22 game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It has a capacity of 18k and they only averaged 14k per game. While that is still 2k more than they were averaging in Montreal, it proved to MLB that the demand just wasn’t there on the island and killed any chance they had of earning the team. I think the chance of San Jose attendance faltering like this low, however it’s still something to be concerned with, and really could be an issue anywhere they play in the Bay Area. MLB is going to want to see sellouts often with such a low target capacity considering permanent major league stadiums hold at least 37k.
I think by this point we’ve run the gamut of stadia. It’s easy to dismiss most of them as not practical. While it would be fun to imagine a road trip where the A’s play in some interesting parks out of the Bay Area, there just isn’t enough seating to declare them more than “in case of emergency, break glass” locations. The larger stadiums have the most promise as long term temporary homes, and the most potential for revenue. I’m not sure how accepting the Giants would be of sharing their park or even allowing the A’s to play at Candlestick or the South Bay options, since they are technically in their territory. If, however, the territorial rights problem had been resolved in the A’s favor and they were granted San Jose, I could see MLB making cohabitation of AT&T part of the compensation package. Not only would the Giants receive some number of dollars, they would also have up to 78 extra events to sell where they could split the gates with the A’s but take all the concession revenue for themselves. If they really don’t like the idea, MLB could attempt to force them to be OK with Candlestick or the new Earthquakes stadium. None of these solutions would have to be one location only. Raley Field, Cashman or Chukchansi could handle a series or two if there were scheduling conflicts, and become a neat special event.
I’m not sure which idea I like the best for the A’s main temporary home out of AT&T Park, Candlestick Park or New Earthquakes Stadium. AT&T would draw a great crowd and is easy to get to, but the other two would put less money in the Giants pockets. Candlestick would be cold and harder to travel to, though easy to schedule. New Earthquakes Stadium could be an awesome way to jumpstart the SJ fanbase.
What do you think?