A’s renew land lease option with San Jose for 7 years

With Oakland’s Coliseum City dominating the news over the last few weeks, it’s a shock to see San Jose come out of nowhere with news of its own. According to the Merc’s Mike Rosenberg, the A’s and San Jose have agreed to a seven-year option on the Diridon ballpark site next to the main train station. The new deal is essentially an extension of the previous land option, which was due to expire next month. The A’s will pay $25,000 per year to retain the option, the same terms as in the previous agreement.

The other big reveal in the article was that last month, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed met with baseball’s Commissioner-elect (and current COO) Rob Manfred in New York. While Reed didn’t make any headway in getting Manfred to loosen the Giants’ grip on territorial rights, it’s a positive sign for San Jose that the two had a meeting, which could lead to more discussions. Reed’s mayoral successor – either County Supervisor Dave Cortese or SJ Councilman Sam Liccardo – would be the new point person, both willing to take Reed’s baton. Retiring commission Bud Selig created a 3-man panel to act as a buffer so that he wouldn’t have to be directly involved. The panel (BRC) was apparently disbanded earlier this year, leaving Manfred to handle any new talks. It’s no guarantee of future talks for sure, but it does have some weight.

More meaningful is the impact of the land option deal. Though the A’s couldn’t build there tomorrow or even next year, the very presence of the land option keeps San Jose in the game and gives MLB a card to play against Oakland in case they turn future ballpark talks with the A’s into yet another circus. After all, it was Manfred who purportedly threatened Oakland with the immediate approval of a move to San Jose if Oakland killed the A’s lease extension. At the time many called it a mere negotiating ploy, which it was. Oakland folded quickly then, so there’s little reason to think it wouldn’t work on some level again.

Complicating things for MLB is that other tenant in the Coliseum, the Raiders. Since Coliseum City is ostensibly a Raiders project, everyone has to wait for the Raiders’ eventual approval or rejection of the project before knowing what to do next. The list of outcomes is short and clear.

  • Oakland and Raiders sign Coliseum City deal, triggering clause for A’s to escape lease and look to San Jose
  • Coliseum City talks break down, allowing A’s to start up talks with the JPA and Oakland while the Raiders look elsewhere
  • Mark Davis becomes indecisive and signs a short-term lease at the Coliseum, status quo

Lew Wolff has been clear about his disinterest in Coliseum City, so his becoming a signatory over the next three months is just wishful thinking. The terms of the lease extension have kept Howard Terminal out of the discussion, with the focus on the Coliseum only. The Oakland crowd will consider this cagey and deceitful, whereas San Jose (or pan-Bay Area) partisans will call Wolff’s moves prudent and in the best interest of getting a ballpark built ASAP. There’s some truth to both views, and they’re inextricably linked. For some time Wolff’s priorities have been simply to build a ballpark and figure out a way to pay for it. If the Raiders’ fate can be determined, the A’s will be the next domino.

Timing is also interesting. For a while I’ve been of the opinion that San Jose could never be completely ruled out as a ballpark option as long as so many things in Oakland remained uncertain. MLB’s tacit approval – twice – of the A’s-San Jose land option affirms that. If MLB truly wanted to affirm T-rights as iron-clad and non-negotiable, they wouldn’t allow the land option. They know the value there. To be certain, MLB does not want to break that glass if an emergency occurs, but it’s there and it allows MLB and Wolff to maintain focus on the Bay Area, instead of playing the usual stalking horse game with another market outside NorCal. All this comes out just after the 90-day countdown on Coliseum City begins and the Raiders accelerate towards the NFL’s February relocation window. MLB and NFL have been careful to enter in the A’s and Raiders discussions only when they had to, and to let the process in Oakland work itself out. The JPA is readying itself by hiring Robert Bobb to work with either New City Development or Lew Wolff.

Is this the winter when resolution occurs? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The winter will arrive soon enough.

P.S. – As usual, much of the initial Oakland reaction is, Why doesn’t Wolff (and Fisher) sell the team? Because they have no interest, and no one can force them to sell. Next question.

P.P.S. – How long will it take for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s office to call up Rob Manfred, asking for a meeting?

P.P.P.S. – My initial draft didn’t include that third “Indecisive Mark Davis” option. It’s a distinct possibility, though it comes with its own permutations. Davis wants maximum flexibility in whatever he does over the next couple years. He has looked at various non-Coliseum stadia to temporarily host his team. You might think the leading candidate would be Santa Clara, but the terms don’t work for him because he’d have to sign a longer-term lease to cover the additional construction required at Levi’s Stadium. The leading candidate is, would you believe… AT&T Park? The Oakland Raiders at AT&T Park. You can always count on Larry Baer to always have Oakland sports’ best interests in mind.

P.P.P.P.S. – Wasn’t San Jose’s lawsuit vs. MLB supposed to make the city persona non grata in baseball’s eyes? Yet they have a meeting. Funny, that.

Avaya may become Earthquakes’ stadium naming rights sponsor

This was posted to the BigSoccer Earthquakes’ forum by Soccer Silicon Valley’s Colin McCarthy:

avayastadium

Until yesterday there hadn’t been much discussion about who would buy the naming rights to the stadium. Since the stadium is in the heart of Silicon Valley, it was figured that the Quakes would eventually find one prior their first match in 2015.

Avaya is a tech firm based in Santa Clara. They are a spinoff of Lucent/AT&T, specializing in digital phone (IP/PBX) systems. They also are make networking equipment such as switches and routers, and that’s where there may be a bit of a snag. Sunnyvale’s Ruckus Wireless signed a deal last March to be the stadium’s in-house WiFi provider. Ruckus and Avaya are competitors in at least the networking segment, and team president David Kaval has acknowledged the difficulty of working between competitors when trying to land sponsorship deals. Typically a sponsor wants to be known as the official ___ sponsor of the team, whether we’re talking networking, soda, or airlines. Ruckus does a small fraction of the business Avaya does, so there’s certainly the potential for one of the sponsors to be overshadowed by another.

Speaking of networking companies, what about Cisco? We haven’t heard from them in a few years, since discussions about a San Jose ballpark were in high gear. Both Ruckus and Avaya are competitors of Cisco Systems, and while the soccer stadium is quite separate from a ballpark, the ownership at the top for the A’s and Quakes is basically the same. Cisco has gone through a series of acquisitions and layoffs lately, and speculation has bubbled for some time about CEO John Chambers’ possible retirement. If he retires, there’s a good chance that any A’s ballpark naming rights deal would be subject to new bidding, as Chambers was a driving force behind it. Beyond that there’s some question about whether Cisco would sign on to sponsor an Oakland ballpark as opposed to the highly supported Fremont and San Jose sites. The Valley is big, rich, and ever evolving, perhaps too fast for MLB’s glacial pace.

Mesa, A’s show off Hohokam Stadium progress

With two months to go before completion, A’s ownership and the City of Mesa did a tour of Fitch Park and Hohokam Stadium today, emphasizing all the  improvements A’s players and fans will get to enjoy in a few months. I visited back in the summer. I should have a chance to check it out again in the coming weeks. Until then, take a look at tweets by local media showing the project’s progress. The new clubhouse isn’t quite finished yet, but the seats and scoreboard appear to be complete.

Think about that for a moment. Over the span of six months, the A’s are installing new scoreboards at Hohokam, the Earthquakes Stadium, and the Coliseum. That’s a lot of blinking lights!

As much as I loved the old school, laid back intimacy of Phoenix Muni, I’m looking forward to attending games at Hohokam, which is a fairly short bike ride from my brother’s house in Mesa. The spring pilgrimage looks to become an annual rite for me.

Lew Wolff and Mark Davis meet with Coliseum JPA

The second item in the most recent Matier and Ross column is short albeit promising one.

It was a rare sight indeed — A’s co-ownerLew Wolff, Raiders owner Mark Davis and their advisers in the same room with members of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, talking about building separate stadiums on the Coliseum site.

Not much was said beyond that, especially from anyone on the JPA. Still, it’s an encouraging sign that the JPA and the two teams are on the road to a viable Coliseum City alternative. Even with this rather small step, it’s better partnership than Coliseum City, which has at been given a lukewarm response from Davis and a decided nay from Wolff.

I don’t expect any plans soon, but the winter would be a good time for an unveiling. Oakland would be past the election craziness and its holiday recess. Barring a lengthy last-minute ENA extension, it’s also likely that we’ll know the fate of Coliseum City.

If you want to dream about an Oakland ballpark in earnest, now’s a good time to start.

AAA Affiliate shuffle: Love the one you’re (not) with

A flurry of PDC agreements came throughout the day. It seemed that the A’s kicked things off before 10 AM with their 4-year PDC with the Nashville Sounds. However, the Giants and Sacramento River Cats scheduled their own press conference, also at 10, to talk about their 2-year PDC. Then all the other affiliates and PDCs got in line, finishing with a hastily agreed upon agreement between the Brewers and Colorado Springs.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin even sounded like a spurned lover:

“Very disappointing. We gave them 10 years there. A number of times we had a chance to move and we were patient with (the Sounds). I’m just disappointed they wouldn’t have given us two [more] years for what we put up with there.”

There happens to be Greer Stadium, the aging, 36-year old ballpark south of downtown Nashville which is being replaced by shiny First Tennessee Park. The agreement’s only for 2 years, which may allow the Brewers to try another city, since Colorado Springs is only slightly above the seventh circle of hell when it comes to desirable affiliate cities because of park factors. That doesn’t explain why the Rockies were so eager to bolt for Albuquerque, a city that is more than a mile above sea level. The game of musical chairs, which was truly kicked off by the Dodgers when co-owner Peter Guber bought a 50% interest in the Oklahoma City Red Hawks last week. OKC will be the new AAA affiliate of the Dodgers, which left the Astros to hook up with the Fresno Grizzlies.

All of this was done in the last 24-48 hours

All of this was done in the last 24-48 hours

Sooooo…. Nashville? It’s nearly 2000 miles from Oakland with nary a direct flight link them together since neither city has a major hub airport. Nevertheless, the River Cats-turned-Sounds will be playing in a fabulous, Populous-architected ballpark next year. First Tennessee Park will be at Sulphur Dell, the site of an old ballpark (also named Sulphur Dell) that dates back to 1870. Like Sacramento pre-River Cats, Nashville had a lengthy gap in 60’s with no pro baseball in town after Sulphur Dell closed in the 60’s. Herschel Greer Stadium opened in 1978. The Brewers came calling in 2005 and have been there ever since. The Brewers, Sounds management, and civic leaders have been trying to get a new ballpark in Nashville since 2007 (sounds familiar), finally putting together a deal that raised $65 million in public bonds while tying Sounds ownership to some $37 million in private development surrounding the ballpark. It’s a deal similar in structure to Petco Park, though there is some fuzziness on whether that private investment truly has to come in and when. Construction only started in earnest in March, making the development time very short, much like El Paso, Reno, and Sacramento.

Certainly the A’s front office was attracted by a brand new ballpark, as it would make for an easy transition for players who don’t make the big club. Sounds owner Frank Ward was probably salivating at the prospect of a winning, contending team playing in his new digs, as the Brewers-affiliated Sounds haven’t gone to the postseason in eight years, a cumulative .504 winning percentage since becoming a AAA city in 1985. Coincidentally, the Sounds finished with a 77-67 record this season, good for second in the American Southern division, but the team has generally been inconsistent.

FTP is bounded by 5th Avenue N, 3rd Avenue N, Jackson and Harrison Streets. While a 1,000-space parking garage will be built next to the ballpark, the site is only three-quarters of a mile from Printer’s Alley, Nashville’s well known downtown nightlife area. Numerous hotels are located downtown, with several more located along Music Row to the southwest. Catch some live music, maybe a Predators game at Bridgestone Arena, or take a tour of legendary Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry.

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After going over several different design options, it was decided that the ballpark would be oriented south-southeast. The northern edge would have an entry gate behind home plate, but otherwise there wouldn’t be the usual contour following the seating bowl that you usually see at most minor league parks. The idea is that ancillary development would occur to the east and south, between the park and downtown. If done correctly, a “ballpark village” of sorts may emerge, capturing visitors and locals who may park downtown and walk to the park. Again, there are shades of Petco Park in the site plan, although at a much smaller scale.

The full Sounds 2015 schedule is not yet available on the team’s website. When it is I’ll put together some sample ballpark trips you may consider. Next summer I’d like to do a AAA trip consisting of Nashville, Memphis, Indianapolis, Louisville, and perhaps Columbus again. The closest cities (within a 4 hour drive) are Atlanta, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, so putting together trips that involve MLB teams, especially the A’s, will be tough. If you’re planning a trip, you may find yourself flying through ATL, so that may work to your advantage.

As for the River Cats? I wish them luck. Their PDC with the Giants is only 2 years, a somewhat surprisingly short term considering the fan cultivation effort that is obviously the goal of the affiliation switch. They should do fine in 2015 thanks to a honeymoon period of sorts. The River Cats have a good promotional machine that should crank up into high gear with the Giants involved. If they can regain some of the attendance losses they’ve suffered the last few years, the change will have been worth it.

SunTrust Park: The name is bland, the money is not

At some point during the 2017 baseball season, someone in the media is going to make a flub, calling the Braves’ new stadium “Sun Life Park.”

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Who could blame the person? “SunLife Stadium” and “SunTrust Park” sound so very generically close to each other. The Braves and Atlanta-based bank SunTrust are moving forward anyway, with a 25-year deal whispered to be worth a whopping $250 million. That’s twice as much as the value of the Cisco naming rights deal struck in 2006 for the Pacific Commons ballpark. It would also place among the top five in the nation on an annual basis.

$10 million a year would go a long way towards financing the new Home of the Braves, where $622 million in development cost translates into $50 million a year for those 25 years. SunTrust will become the sixth bank to have naming rights at a Major League Baseball facility. Banks tend to be more regional than most national consumer brands, so they tend to partner up with teams in their respective backyards.

  • Chase Field, Phoenix – acquired naming rights in merger with BankOne, originally from Cleveland
  • Comerica Park, Detroit – originally from Detroit
  • Citi Field, New York – based in New York
  • Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia – based in Providence, RI, claims Northeast as its region
  • PNC Park, Pittsburgh – based in Pittsburgh

Only one major bank is headquartered in the Bay Area, Wells Fargo. However, Wells Fargo already has naming rights deals with three arenas in Philadelphia, Des Moines, and Tempe (on the Arizona State University campus). There’s also one at a small arena in Dothan, Alabama, but who’s counting that? Wells Fargo could pursue naming rights at a new venue in the Bay Area, but with three already in place they may consider that enough.

As for the renderings? Looks a lot like the Braves’ current home from the outside.

MLB 2015 Travel Grid (Schedule) Now Available

Every year it happens like clockwork. MLB releases its tentative schedule for the next year in early September, and I cut it up and remix to make something suitable for planning ballpark trips. I call it a Travel Grid. The Travel Grid is table of all games based on each team’s home schedule. One variant places the teams in regional clusters, allowing users to connect the dots to plan trips.

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Want to do a 3-5 days seeing games from Washington to Boston? It’s possible. Want to catch games at both Chicago parks and Milwaukee? If it’s there you’ll see it. I started doing this a few years ago to help me plan my own trips. I hope it’ll help you plan yours.

The schedule starts a week later than what you’d usually expect, on April 6, and ends October 4. Every 5-6 years this reset has to occur, as we “lose” a day every year. The late start may help avoid more rain postponements that have seemed to be more frequent in recent years. The downside of that is the postseason running dangerously close to November. The All Star Break will be July 13-16. Much of the pain for the A’s will be frontloaded, as they’ll experience 2 of their 3 longest road trips (9-10 days) in April and May.

A’s interleague opponents will be the NL West, which will bring about a few changes. Instead of the 2+2 format the A’s and Giants series’ took on the last couple years, the teams will play 6 times, 3 in SF in the summer and 3 in Oakland as the last home series of the season. That sets up the possibility for some cool roadies. In mid-June the A’s will play 3 at the Angels and 2 at the Padres. If you’re looking for lengthy A’s East Coast trips, things don’t look as promising. Other than series at the Indians and Yankees to end the first half, there are few trips where you can stretch out and follow the team for a week unless you’re willing to take on multiple leg flight schedules. The team has a particularly brutal stretch next September when they visit the Rangers, then fly to Chicago to meet the White Sox, then back to Texas for a series against the Astros.

That said, if you’re looking to put together ballpark visits, the schedule’s pretty friendly. East Coast possibilities for 5-7 day trips (the length I like) are available pretty much every month. Similar length Midwest trips are ripe in June (Rust Belt) and July (Chi-StL).

The 2015 Travel Grid is available in two layouts: an alphabetically ordered (left-to-right) table and the aforementioned regional cluster layout. Both are available in Excel, CSV (comma delimited), and PDF (poster view) formats. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments or send me a tweet.

Regional

Alphabetical

Enjoy!