Manfred visits Oakland, stays on message – with a wrinkle

Before I get into today’s edict from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, let’s first sum up his position on the A’s with regard to a new ballpark.

  1. The A’s need a new ballpark.
  2. Oakland is the city for the A’s.
  3. The Coliseum is the only site under consideration in Oakland.

Okay, now let’s unpack what he said in today’s pregame press conference.

View from east towards Oakland Estuary. Image: JRDV

View from east towards Oakland Estuary. Image: JRDV

Via BANG’s John Hickey:

Speaking before the A’s played the Angels Friday night, Manfred said, ‘With respect to San Jose, all I can say is that we are still involved with really significant litigation, significant enough that it’s in the Supreme Court of the United States. I can’t foresee any movement until at least that litigation is resolved. That litigation has clearly been an impediment to things moving forward.’

At the same time, Manfred all but ruled out the A’s staying in Oakland if the Raiders attempt to build a stadium on the Coliseum site. The Raiders also are considering a move to Southern California, but Manfred suggested that if the NFL team stays, the A’s would have to go.

Another constant has been Manfred’s stance on San Jose. The South Bay city will not be in play as long as the antitrust lawsuit, which SJ city leaders are petitioning to have taken up by the Supreme Court, is still pending. MLB wants that little gnat gone, which should that happen by this fall, immediately brings up another question: What is MLB’s relationship with San Jose once the lawsuit is over? I’ve said all along that MLB is not going to kill San Jose while the A’s long-term fate remains unclear, especially in Oakland. That hunch certainly seems correct.

From the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Kawahara:

Manfred urged that the city of Oakland and Alameda County ‘focus on the need to get something done in respect to baseball — not to the detriment of football, but the need to get something done with baseball.’

‘I’ve said publicly I think it’s absolutely vital to the long-term health of this franchise that the A’s get a new facility,’ Manfred said. ‘It remains my goal, part of baseball’s long-standing policy, that we try to get that stadium built here in Oakland, where the A’s have been and have their fan base.’

There are some within the Oakland-only crowd who have been complaining endlessly about the A’s not providing a proposal to Oakland after the Coliseum City process was “opened up” last fall. Manfred knows this and is likely nudging Lew Wolff and John Fisher to get their ducks in a row. To me the idea of pushing Wolff has never made much sense. Wolff’s bargaining position will be best if the Raiders leave, and the lease gives him plenty of time to wait that out, plus there’s no indicator that he’ll get any financing help from MLB on an Oakland ballpark, so MLB can only dictate so much. Yet there’s a different suggestion that comes straight from Manfred himself, and it may come down to what Coliseum City has represented from the start.

Coliseum City was not originally conceived as a precise plan to keep all three current tenants in town. It was a mostly a plan to convince the Raiders to stay. It had a large, multipurpose domed stadium as its centerpiece. A ballpark was shuffled off to the northeast corner, a developmentally distant Phase B to the football stadium. The existing arena could stay – inadequate as the NBA sees it – or be replaced by a venue on the other side of the Nimitz. That new arena concept has practically disappeared as the scope of the project has shrunk, and while Floyd Kephart and CC proponents are still pitching separate venues for all teams, a distinct possibility is an either-or scenario, baseball or football. To that end Manfred has qualified his plea as “not to the detriment of football,” but he and his counterpart at the NFL, Roger Goodell, know full well what’s at stake. Neither league wants to share, or to put it more diplomatically, neither league wants to step on the other’s toes, which is exactly what would happen if both teams stay while a new venue is constructed.

If anything, Manfred seems to want the same kind of attention given to the A’s by Oakland as the City has given the Raiders. While Manfred strong-armed Oakland into signing the 10-year Coliseum lease last summer, he also did them a favor. Manfred kept the A’s in place for several years to come and enforced the territorial rights issue. If anything, Manfred wants Oakland to submit its own Coliseum-tailored-around-the-A’s plan. It may not be something that Wolff would sign on to, but it would likely curry favor with Manfred, and that tactic could be much more effective within the Lodge than keeping the A’s in their second banana status. Oakland tried to make this play before with Howard Terminal, but the difficulties there made it effectively infeasible, and OWB’s giving up on the site does nothing to discount that widely-held opinion.

From SFGate’s Lev Facher:

‘My information is that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to have two facilities on the current Coliseum site,’ Manfred said, indicating that a successful Raiders project could preclude the construction of an adjacent baseball stadium.

‘The A’s folks have been pretty clear that they believe the Coliseum site is the best site for a baseball stadium in Oakland,’ Manfred said.

Manfred’s in Oakland’s corner. That is, until Oakland starts to act in a way that displeases the Lodge. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that picking the Raiders over the A’s at the Coliseum is a sure fire way to get Manfred out of Oakland’s corner and into Wolff’s corner.

Oakland Mayor Schaaf to speak with MLB, NFL commissioners in NYC next week

BANG reported yesterday that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf will meet with the commissioners of MLB and NFL next week, as part of a trip to New York for the World Cities Summit Mayors Forum.

Chances are that she will provide an update on Coliseum City, while explaining to both commissioners that the project is the best chance to keep either team despite misgivings on the part of Lew Wolff and Mark Davis. What the commissioners will probably ask – and this is the challenge for Schaaf – was what happens after Coliseum City. Whether Floyd Kephart some or all of the deliverables expected on June 21 (he won’t be able to provide the biggest, a commitment from a team), Schaaf and the City Council will be under pressure from both leagues to cut bait and start looking at alternatives. Those options are expected to be proposals from Wolff and Davis, though neither has offered one yet.

Let’s be clear about one thing – Schaaf’s talks with Roger Goodell and Rob Manfred will not be negotiating sessions. Neither league is participating in the Coliseum City process, and no other proposals are on the table, so there are no points to negotiate. Schaaf has remained adamant that Oakland can’t incur additional debt in the effort to retain any teams. Council member Noel Gallo took that no-giveaway notion a step further, announcing earlier this week that he’s against selling public land.

The problem is that everyone involved is talking around the problem at this point. Goodall and Manfred should by now be well aware of Schaaf’s no-subsidy stance. The land giveaway idea is practically a moot point. Neither team wants to extensively develop the Coliseum complex, so there’s no point to selling the land or figuring out a way to fund costly infrastructure when none will be built. Coliseum City point man Floyd Kephart keeps plugging away, even though he’s close to achieving persona non grata status in some circles. Manfred indicates that the A’s shouldn’t worry about what’s happening with the Raiders, though the current arrangement has their fates in Oakland intertwined and he knows it. Neither commissioner is going to tell Schaaf to boot the other’s team off the Coliseum property, yet that’s exactly what it will take for something to move forward. And neither is currently offering a solution for any funding gaps (NFL G-4 funds are limited, keeping the A’s on baseball’s revenue sharing plan is a subject for the next CBA talks in 2016).

What can we expect, then? Some words of encouragement. Renewed talk of urgency, moreso on the NFL’s part. The City of Oakland will probably keep its June 21 and August 21 deadlines, since they have little to lose over the next three months. It will be in their best interest to start formulating an exit strategy and plans to accommodate both teams on different sites if they haven’t done so already. That may be why the BANG item mentioned Howard Terminal. Dismissed out of hand from the start and declared dead last year, Howard Terminal is the only available large patch of land outside the Coliseum complex. It remains a difficult site to pull off because of regulatory hurdles and major infrastructure costs, but it’s something. And if someone can figure out how to pay for all of it, it may be viable after all. But who’s going to do that? No one talking in NYC next week will. Neither will either team.

Again, where are we with all of this?

Mark Davis revises his Coliseum “vision”

In a fairly lengthy interview with ESPN’s John Clayton yesterday, Raiders owner Mark Davis held court on his team’s stadium issues. While much of it was a rehash for those who have been following this saga intensely, it was good for casual fans and observers to get even the tiniest bit clarity. In any case, the Raiders saw fit to republish it on their own website so it must have the boss’s approval.

What caught my attention was a change in how he saw the Coliseum being developed. While continuing to call for the Coliseum’s demolition, Davis dreamed out loud of a dual-stadium concept in the old venue’s place (emphasis mine).

One of the challenges we have with that is that we share the stadium with the Oakland A’s. The Oakland A’s have a 10-year lease to remain in the Coliseum. One of the plans that they’re talking about is, is us building the stadium in the corner of a parking lot and then once our new stadium is built, then they would rip down the stadium and build the new one for the A’s and build housing and all of that stuff. That just isn’t a situation that I want to get us into. I would like for, if possible, the Raiders and the A’s to stay on that site and that the Raiders and A’s vacate the Coliseum for the next two or three years. We build a brand new football stadium and a brand new baseball stadium on the site and then we’d come back and begin playing in two brand new stadiums without construction going on around us, in brand new stadiums.

The desire to avoid construction zone headaches remains steady for Davis. Plus in this concept Davis would preserve surface parking, a goal shared by A’s owner Lew Wolff. Wolff doesn’t think the place can properly support more than one stadium project, so how could something like this be done? It’s nothing like Coliseum City, which has planned phases. Both stadia would be done simultaneously, like Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Let’s imagine a timeline for Davis, assuming no legal, logistical, or financial obstacles (follow me on this).

  • End of 2015 – Coliseum City is scrapped. Raiders play their last game at the Coliseum in December. Raiders and A’s hammer out stadium development deals with Oakland/Alameda County. Partial demolition begins (ironically) with the newest part of the Coliseum, Mt. Davis, returning the venue to its 1995-96 state – but with the Oakland Hills back in full view. That occurs from November 2015 to March 2016.
  • 2016 – A’s play their last season in the old Coliseum in reduced facility. A’s lease is revised (with no penalty to anyone) to reflect this. Raiders and A’s finalize their financing plans for their respective venues.
  • November 2016 – Demolition of rest of the Coliseum begins, which should take 6 months to complete including grading for new venues (use drawn out Candlestick Park demolition for reference).
  • April 2017 – Construction starts on both stadia, with a planned completion of Spring 2019 for the A’s, Summer/Fall 2019 for the Raiders. Both teams use smaller footprint, simpler plans and Levi’s Stadium-style incentive/penalty system to execute those accelerated schedules (24 months for A’s, 28 months for Raiders).
  • 2018-2019 – Warriors vacate Oracle/Coliseum Arena for San Francisco. Decision is made on whether to keep arena or demolish it to make way for other development.
  • April 2019 – A’s ballpark opens
  • August 2019 – Raiders stadium opens

The finished product(s) would look like this:

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

The Raiders would have to play at a temporary facility for three seasons, the A’s for two. AT&T Park would have to be a considered a frontrunner for both, oddly enough. Memorial Stadium remains off limits to the Raiders thanks to a legal agreement between UC and the City of Berkeley, and Stanford Stadium is a nonstarter for both the university and City of Palo Alto. Davis doesn’t want to play at Levi’s Stadium for his stated reasons, though it must also have something to do with the 49ers’ desire to have a tenant for at least a decade in order to pay for the second home team locker room.

That brings me to the real problem in all of this, the financing. Tallying up all of the associated costs, we come to:

  • $900+ million – Raiders
  • $600+ million – A’s
  • $100 million – Remaining Coliseum debt including interest
  • $65 million – Remaining Arena debt in 2018

Final total, not including the planned work on the Coliseum transit hub, is $1.665 Billion. Obviously, much of that would be covered by the teams, the NFL, and perhaps third parties, but the gap for the Raiders remains, and the need to retire the legacy debt from project sources without hitting either Oakland’s or Alameda County’s general funds means that the public sector would have to give up something. For now it’s unclear what that is since the Coliseum’s land is not going to be that public contribution.

Price tag aside it’s a tantalizing vision for fans, and one that runs counter to planning and growth goals for Oakland and Alameda County. From a broad perspective, the public sector wants housing of different kinds and price ranges to ease the current crunch. Pols may see this as nothing more than doubling down on the stadium deals of 20 years ago, which brought only fiscal pain and little real security with regards to the teams staying in Oakland. The people who might like it the most are workers at the Coliseum complex and businesses west of the Nimitz who thought their livelihoods were being threatened by Oakland’s sweeping zoning change proposals. As for East Oakland residents, well, how much has this hulking pro sports complex improved their lives in nearly 50 years?

 

SC County Judge declares A’s-San Jose land option illegal

Just in from Santa Clara County Superior Court: Judge Joseph Huber, who has presided over the smaller Stand for San Jose-vs.-City of San Jose case for a few years now, has called the land option agreement between the City and the A’s against the law. Wrote Huber:

“The city is and has been in violation of (the law) for several years and it does not appear it will comply with the terms in the foreseeable future.”

Combine that with the blows that San Jose has received in federal court, and you have to think that any chance of a ballpark happening in the South Bay is toast, short of a miracle. Yet it all comes down to some serious strategic errors on San Jose’s part that could have strengthen their case, in this local venue and the federal one.

Remember that it was former mayor Chuck Reed who wanted to go to the ballot box in November 2009 (!), then March 2010. The deal would’ve set up the possibility of a voter-approved stadium deal in San Jose. Instead, he had a discussion with former MLB president Bob DuPuy, who relayed then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s desires to keep the deal on the shelf. Reed complied, there was never a referendum or initiative, and San Jose’s position has looked significantly worse ever since. All San Jose has right now is a prayer for SCOTUS to take the case, which isn’t likely. Throughout all of the various legal battles, at different levels, the weakness of the option agreement has been cited. The A’s have little vested interest in San Jose, and the City is no closer to putting together a deal than it was six years ago.

Now that even Lew Wolff has for all intents and purposes given up on San Jose, the spotlight is on Oakland, where that city faces an uphill battle at Coliseum City and could entertain an A’s proposal should the football stadium plan fizzle out. That brings to mind three scenarios.

  1. If Oakland can’t get Coliseum City done and the NFL doesn’t allow the Raiders to move to LA, the Raiders would either be forced to limp along at the Coliseum indefinitely or consider a move to either San Antonio or even St. Louis. The former would be a continuation of the awkward status quo, with no new venues in sight for either the Raiders or A’s.
  2. Should the Raiders vacate, they would clear the path for the A’s to build a new ballpark at the Coliseum, infrastructure or other public contributions to be up for significant debate. Or maybe no new infrastructure (no baseball village) because no one has figured out how to pay for it.
  3. If Oakland gets Coliseum City to work out with only a football stadium (the NFL’s and the Raiders’ preference – no one sane is buying into the multi-venue fantasy at this point, right?), the A’s are pushed out (per lease terms) and have no obvious backup plan. Would MLB direct the A’s to start looking in the East Bay and maybe the broader Bay Area for ever diminishing land opportunities, or start playing hardball and making threats as it does with so many other markets? How does a stifled San Jose factor in? And what of the Giants?

It’s just as well, we’re so overdue at this stage for a stadium that San Jose will soon have to deal with Sharks owner Hasso Plattner on his designs for a makeover at the 21-year-old arena that bears his company’s name. And if the goal is to get on par with the best new hockey arenas, it won’t be cheap. That discussion is for another day.

P.S. – The scant output over the last month was an intentional move on my part to see what would happen if I chose not to be swayed by every little gesticulation in the media over the A’s or Raiders. While readership was down a little, I felt it was the right move because there was no need to blog about mostly vague details or the rumor mill. Therefore I’m getting to stick to publishing 2-3 times a week while using Twitter to get out quick notes or retweets. If you haven’t already, follow the feed. Things should pick up again in June with the next set of Coliseum City deliverables is expected to be released.

Nashville’s new AAA ballpark opens

If you hadn’t heard, the A’s changed AAA affiliates this year, going with the Nashville Sounds after the Sacramento River Cats chose to pair up with the SF Giants. After 36 years at Herschel Greer Stadium and multiple failed attempts to find its replacement, the Sounds moved into shiny new First Tennessee Park. FTP is located downtown, steps from the Cumberland River and blocks from the State Capitol building and Bridgestone Arena, home of the NHL Predators. Poetically, FTP was built at Sulphur Dell, the site of Nashville’s first pro ballpark dating back to the 1850’s.

The Tennesseean has a nine-part series on the development of the ballpark and fan reactions to it. Despite the proximity to the river, the ballpark was oriented southeast by architect Populous towards the downtown skyline. Eventually development will fill in the blocks between the ballpark and the Capitol, creating a sort of walkable mini-district between the two.

The façade behind home plate doesn’t follow the bowl shape, allowing for a great deal of additional usable concourse and flexible space. Five 33-seat suites dominate the seating behind home plate, including bar tables and glass door access to the suites (instead of the normal bunker suite configuration seen this low). To me this is the most controversial element of the park since it removes around 200 prime seats in favor of suites.

Seating at First Tennessee Park

Seating at First Tennessee Park

Additional suites are located above a club level that goes completely around the infield, which tells me that Sounds ownership knew there was a market for a healthy number of luxury options. Nashville’s a city on the rise, and has seen some success with its NFL and NHL franchises, so much that some are talking about Nashville being a major league city in the future – though not anytime soon. Maybe if MLB decides to expand again?

The big distinctive feature of First Tennessee Park is its massive guitar-shaped scoreboard, inspired by the old scoreboard at Greer. A huge video display takes up the “body” of the guitar, while a traditional line score is displayed on the neck. Another small video panel sits within the headstock.

The terrible weather that plagued much of the Eastern part of the country during the winter threatened FTP’s short construction timeline. Nevertheless, the Sounds and Populous got it done, completing the stadium in 410 days. That’s about as long as it took to build Aces Ballpark in Reno, though much longer than the 332 days needed to finish Southwest University Park in El Paso. So far, FTP is starting off on a good note.

P.S. – In June Southwest Airlines will start a non-stop route between OAK and BNA (Nashville). That’s a good thing considering the number of relief pitchers that will probably be going back and forth as the A’s search for bullpen solutions.

The Five Story Makeover

Progressive Field reopened for business this week after a $25 million renovation, most of the focus on the outfield. I agree with this comparison:

It has everything to do with those terraces on the upper deck. Designed for groups of standing fans, the effect was supposed to be a series of patios leisurely overlooking the field. Instead there are these blocky mini-façades that are both overly busy and distracting. While some unifying paint work will soften the look, I can’t help but think that these terraces are little more than glorified seat coverings – not as bad as tarps, but not much better.

Unlike Coors Field, where much of the RF upper deck was ripped out to accommodate a lengthy outdoor bar, at Progressive Field the Indians choose not to remove the upper deck risers, which would’ve freed up space and eliminated the need to build around them. So while the capacity has dropped to around 37,000, it could go back up if team saw the need to “expand.”

Photo from “Did The Tribe Win Last Night?” blog

 

Much better conceived is the two-story “Corner Bar” along the main concourse. Several rows of seats in the RF corner were replaced with standing areas, the bar itself having its own patios. And the RF gate has been rearranged, allowing for direct views from the expanded entry plaza instead of the very broken up look it used to have.

As part of the redone outfield, the visiting bullpen has been moved to CF in a stacked configuration. The old bullpen bench and access to it remain, allowing fans to wander in and sit there for a spell. It’s a neat “new” feature to give to fans.

Coors Field in 2014, Rooftop Bar in RF upper deck

Coors Field in 2014, Rooftop Bar in RF upper deck

The Jake and Coors were well known in the 90’s for great attendance records, both teams surpassing 3.5 million in season attendance on multiple occasions. As the novelty wore off, both venues started to look cavernous. It took the better part of a decade for ownership to figure out how to adapt the parks to an evolving fanbase. The Coors project perhaps looks more appealing, but the work at Progressive is more comprehensive. Either way, it’s nice to see both parks keeping up with the times.

Opening Day success, Wolff says San Jose “Not worth nasty battle”

Well, that was nice. The A’s finally won on Opening Day for the first time in forever, Sonny Gray nearly pitched a no-no, the scoreboards were a huge success (with a few hiccups), and many new A’s made solid debuts.

Off the field, Lew Wolff broke his own news, courtesy of Phil Matier:

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said a possible move to San Jose is ‘not worth a nasty battle’ over territorial rights with the San Francisco Giants, and is hopeful the city’s new mayor can helpthem get a new stadium built in Oakland.

Wolff also fought back against the constant critics, while reserving praise for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. I’m not sure what’s going to convince the critics that Wolff is serious besides an actual groundbreaking ceremony. I’m glad that at the very least Schaaf doesn’t have the same combative tone as her predecessor.

Whether Wolff was told outright by The Lodge or not, San Jose is not in the plans anytime soon. And if Wolff actually wants to get this done while’s he still breathing (something he’s alluded to in jest more than once), Oakland’s the only path. The only way San Jose opens up is if a Raiders’ plan is approved, kicking the A’s out. Then you have to deal with the payout, the CBA, all these things that The Lodge has avoided like the plague over the last two CBA ratifications and would prefer to avoid again. Of course, many of the A’s brass are totally on board with building in Oakland. Broadcasting veep Ken Pries, from last July:

From our position, we just don’t think that (Raiders project) is going to happen – we are betting it doesn’t.

This isn’t hard to figure out. A’s ownership knows that the money is in San Jose. Anyone with a brain can figure that out. Wolff and Fisher also know that they are boxed in, try as they did to escape that box. With the Raiders’ future up in the air, the A’s should take advantage of a potential Raiders departure. As I mentioned Saturday, there are still issues to work out in terms of revenue sharing, but they’re minor compared to a T-rights fight, whatever that may entail.

Unlike Coliseum City, there’s no real timeline or framework for the A’s to do anything. So far their strategy is to wait the Coliseum City process out. If they, like MLB, are gambling on Coliseum City failing, the Coliseum should be delivered on a silver platter. Then again, Wolff did hedge a bit by re-signing that land option in San Jose.

Hey, Lew’s gotta have a Plan A and Plan B, right?