Report from Modesto Bee suggests A’s could move AAA affiliate to Nashville

Here we go again. After May’s report about the River Cats looking to switch affiliations from the A’s to the Giants, we’ve got a new round of rumors to deal with. This time they come from Modesto Bee sports writer Brian VanderBeek, who has heard an even more sordid, complicated switch.

VanderBeek checked with “four sources within the Giants and A’s organizations” for his report. If it’s to be believed, the Giants and River Cats will hook up. However, he notes a huge difference from the May rumors in that the A’s would be pushing to leave the River Cats, not the other way around as was originally reported. In May, Susan Slusser reported that the River Cats were initiating the move, which would stop the renewal of the PDC (Player Development Contract) with the A’s.

There’s little the A’s can do if the River Cats want to drop the A’s (or vice-versa). Every couple years there’s something of a free-for-all in terms of PDC renewal. Most teams renew, but if major or minor league clubs find competitive or financial reasons to change affiliations, they’re well within their rights to do so. However they must make changes within a very narrow, specific window in September, and no earlier because discussions before September could be considered tampering. By rule MLB teams aren’t allowed to sweeten deals to provide more cash or assistance to affiliates other than the normal underwriting of baseball operations.

Currently there are 9 Pacific Coast League franchises and 4 International League teams whose PDC’s end this year. Teams that have a long-standing relationship or geographical convenience (Tacoma-Seattle, Colorado Springs-Colorado, Pawtucket-Boston) are likely renewal candidates. Other cities like Las Vegas or El Paso aren’t so steady. VanderBeek floated a three-way swap, which would have Sacramento pair with the Giants, Fresno with the Brewers, and Nashville with the A’s.

I’m at a loss to understand why such a swap would be helpful to the A’s or Brewers. Nashville, like Milwaukee, is in the Central time zone and the two cities are less than 500 miles apart. Shuttling players equates to a simple commuter flight, though that’s not as good as the 90-minute drive from Sacramento to Oakland. Nashville to Oakland is nearly 2,000 miles with few direct flights between the two. If anything, Nashville seems like a prime opportunity for the Mets to get their AAA affiliate out of Las Vegas. The Sounds are playing their last season at Nashville’s barebones Greer Stadium, home of the most uniquely shaped scoreboard in baseball. A controversial new ballpark is scheduled to open in 2015.

Should September turn into a game of AAA musical chairs, Fresno and Las Vegas would probably be the most up-in-the-air locales. Fresno’s ownership situation has not been stable, and the Grizzlies have frequently claimed losses and begged for enhanced stadium subsidies. Las Vegas is stuck for now with old, desert hot Cashman Field, which the A’s know a little too well as a temporary home. If the A’s are unable to willingly pair up with a minor league city/franchise, MLB and MiLB will step in and make a short-term assignment. The A’s Midland (AA-Texas League) and Beloit (A-Midwest League) PDC’s are also up for renewal in September. Historically, affiliations at the lower levels have been more volatile than at the AAA level.

Changing the affiliate to Nashville would make the team a little more difficult to follow for A’s fans, plus it would reduce the undersold, underappreciated convenience of having the MLB team and two affiliates within 60-90 minutes of one another. Anything’s possible, though this move doesn’t seem likely. It’s hard to see the A’s getting frozen out since the River Cats’ outstanding records throughout their tenure in Sacramento are something of a feather in the A’s cap. Yet if the A’s were to end up paired with Vegas, boy oh boy would that start the franchise move talk all over again. Former mayor Oscar Goodman may be retired, but he’s still alive and his wife is now mayor. The outspoken retired politician just had a new Vegas restaurant inside a casino named after himOscar’s Beef, Booze & Broads.

BayIG backs down on lease term, Quan endorses deal, Wolff denies move out of Bay Area

Ray Ratto has been giving the stadium situation a constant read this week. Wednesday’s piece may have been the best of all, though it can mostly be summed up by this:

halfass

Can we even give the City of Oakland credit for half-assing? May be generous.

Meanwhile, on the news front, the City received another letter Wednesday from BayIG’s lawyers, which indicated that the development mean could be onboard with a plan to provide the A’s 2 years’ notice if a replacement Raiders stadium came to fruition. That’s a backpedal from their original stance, which was to tear down the Coliseum immediately after the A’s 2015 season in order to make way for the new football venue. BayIG suffered a little blowback in the media and from fans, which may have led to this softening.

In that same article, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan continues to believe that the city can continue to host both teams, while endorsing the lease extension approved by the JPA last week. Quan doesn’t get to vote on the deal unless the 8-person City Council is deadlocked. Said Quan,

“I absolutely want the City Council to sign this agreement so that we can get on to negotiating a new stadium (with the A’s).”

We’ll see if she’s forced to break a tie. Several of the council members are undecided, perhaps hoping for concessions from the A’s that probably are not coming.

Word came yesterday morning from The Game’s Chris Townsend that the A’s could be willing to buy out the County’s portion of the JPA, which would allow the team to work on a new development plan for the Coliseum complex. I’m looking into the legality of such an arrangement. The bond issues are heavily tied into specific revenue streams and the property is jointly owned, not divided, so it’s unclear how a private developer could legally replace a public entity. It’s also important to note that BayIG has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the JPA for any Coliseum development. That agreement doesn’t expire until October, so any developer whether the A’s or a third party can’t formally engage in talks with the JPA until the ENA expires, assuming it’s not extended. Correction 5:37 PM – As was pointed out in the comments, the ENA is only between BayIG and the City of Oakland, not the JPA. Because of this, Miley or other JPA members could engage in discussions with the A’s over the future of the Coliseum complex.

—-

Once again, Lew Wolff had to speak publicly about someone else’s suggestion that the A’s could leave the Bay Area. CM Larry Reid suggested the team could go to Montreal or San Antonio, places that coincidentally had hosted exhibition games in March. As I’ve said before, MLB may wield the move threat, but it’s largely toothless without a deal for a new ballpark in a target city. No rumored candidate like Portland, Montreal, San Antonio, or Charlotte is close to having such a deal in place. In fact, Charlotte just opened its AAA ballpark, surviving numerous legal challenges by a local attorney who wanted to aim for MLB, not AAA. Sorry, no Timbuktu.

—–

A couple other blog posts are worth reading and come from completely different angles. The first is a piece by the Motley Fool advocating for a move to San Jose. It’s a skin-deep analysis, but may portend future San Jose articles in the media, especially if Oakland continues to be a circus. The other is from Death of the Press Box writer Andrew Pridgen, who calls Wolff the “last great owner in baseball.” Mind you, he sets the post up by calling Wolff a prick.

Miley and Reid stir up A’s relocation talk

If you’re Bud Selig or Lew Wolff, sometimes you don’t have to play your own cards when others play them for you. Case in point: Oakland CM Larry Reid and AlCo Supe Nate Miley both brought up the specter of the A’s leaving Oakland, perhaps for San Antonio or Montreal. Nevermind the likelihood of it happening, it’s part of the threat, and the City of Oakland should take it seriously. Even sports economist Andrew Zimbalist says so, though the relocation doesn’t have to be as far as Canada. Zimbalist:

“What they could do is make a short-term arrangement to share AT&T Park with the Giants, and you know that could go on for a couple years until they found an alternative stadium situation.”

MLB wielded the move-to-AT&T card last November and the Giants were mum about it. MLB could move the A’s there temporarily while something was worked out elsewhere. Over the last few weeks I saw some discussion about whether the Giants’s Charter Seat License program could muck things up because CSL holders may have first dibs on any regular season games at China Basin, not just the Giants. I’m not so sure about that, since the license agreement indicates that “Home Games” are specific to the Giants. There’s a gray area in how another home team’s games would be handled, but since there are already provisions for offering and distributing tickets for non-Giants game events (“Classic” events), I figure this isn’t a huge obstacle.

That aside, relocation outside of the Bay Area should be taken much less seriously. Field of Schemes’ Neil deMause lays out the difficult cases for each market and includes San Jose, which has the Giants’ territorial rights claim as its because hurdle. If MLB wants to go through the same charade for the A’s as it did for the Expos, there isn’t a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Oakland is in no position to give up a publicly financed stadium to the A’s. Portland, San Antonio, Charlotte, and Montreal can be best described as mid-level markets, and while some of those cities don’t have problematic stadium T-rights situations to deal with, a relocated team will still be invading existing TV territories, which are arguably just as valuable if not more so. Hell, it’s been a decade and MLB is still trying to unwind the O’s-Nats TV mess.

So for now, there’s nothing to see here. There’s little real action, only theatrics on the part of the JPA and Oakland. If the City calls the Wolff/Selig bluff and sends back a revised offer, then we’ll see the threats fly in earnest. Or not.

P.S. – Keep in mind that until November and last week, MLB has been playing nice with Oakland. They allowed Oakland to entertain the Howard Terminal concept. They didn’t nudge Oakland to choose the A’s over the Raiders. Now all of that has changed. Howard Terminal has been shut down via the lease talks. MLB is waiting for Oakland to partner with the A’s after the dissolution of Coliseum City. If that doesn’t happen, MLB will have a clear indicator of how Oakland wants to proceed.

 

Huntington Park, Columbus

After a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, I drove the 2+ hours southwest to Columbus to catch a game at Huntington Park. Traffic and a late start made it so that I didn’t get there until the 4th inning. Nevertheless, there was sufficient time to take the whole scene in.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Joe Mock wrote a particularly glowing, exhaustive review of Huntington Park back when it opened in 2009. If you want the full scoop, read that. I prefer to highlight a few things I saw during my brief visit.

First, it should be noted that Huntington Park (named after an Ohio bank) is one of the first ballparks done by 360 Architecture, the same firm working on the Earthquakes Stadium and Cisco Field. 360 is known more for its work on several indoor arenas, including Nationwide Arena across the street from the ballpark and Sprint Center in Kansas City. With 360 and not Populous (HOK) doing this venue, there was a question about how much the architects would stray from the script. While it doesn’t look all that different from a Populous design from the outside, on the inside there’s plenty of new and innovative thinking.

Like many urban parks, Huntington Park uses all available space within its city block. The brick facade along the right field fence runs up against into Nationwide Drive, a small street running through Columbus’s arena district. Instead of a complete wall, there are openings approximately every 20 feet, allowing for numerous places to view into the park. Near the right field corner this area is a short, double-deck walkway that’s also 20 feet wide. Beyond right-center the walkway ends. The sidewalk on Nationwide Drive ramps up to the concourse level and carries the theme further, providing “portholes” for spectators along the street. Many minor league parks have a Knothole Gang-type feature, but Huntington Park is perhaps the most innovative in how to design it. It’s very reminiscent of AT&T Park’s arcade/promenade feature, yet very unique on its own. Visually, the stadium’s two-story design means the colonnade has little impact. The impact would be much greater on a taller stadium such as Cisco Field.

The setup dictates that there’s no 360-degree concourse, which is ironic given the architecture firm’s name. This apparently was a conscious choice, since the team and architects figured that the wandering around the concourse novelty effect would wear off over time as fans got used to the venue. This was an apt decision, as fans seemed to have settled into spaces they like the most. A $7 ticket is good for the bleachers, berm, or standing areas, most of which have drink rails. Families may like the bleachers or the small berm in left. Fans wanting good views of the game might choose the drink rails down either line. And if you get there early enough, you and your friends can hang out in that right field colonnade, where there are stools and extra side rails that allow you to “claim” your own space. If there ever was an effective argument against the wraparound concourse, this is as close as it gets.

Along the main bowl, the benefit is an enormously wide concourse, which I estimated to be 66 feet not including the wheelchair row. That’s over twice the width of the Oakland Coliseum’s lower concourse. With all that space, 360 broke up the concourse, similar to the way part of the lower concourse at Jacobs Field* is split. They even took it a step further by including a completely open-air concession stand that serves from three sides. It’s a particular ingenious way of using the space while also providing views of the action. The concession stands are full service, with taps, soda fountains, grills, and deep fryers. It’s not a design that should ever be attempted if the concourse is not sufficiently wide enough since it could cause severe congestion. Even with the 66-foot width, congestion has been reported at Huntington Park, though I didn’t see it when I went and there should be easy ways to manage it when it happens. Restrooms and other services are set into buildings along the concourse.

Behind the plate in the seating bowl are the club seats and loge boxes. Loge boxes, while de rigueur in 2014, weren’t so commonplace in 2007 when Huntington Park was being built. With 4 chairs each, tables and full service, loges fit the gap between individual club seats and luxury suites. I can see why they were incorporated into the Cisco Field design and Dodger Stadium.

I had heard and read many recommendations about Huntington Park, and was pleased to find out that they were very much on target in their assessments. I haven’t even gone over several other features, or discussed the general niceness of the crowd. For now, it’s good enough that Huntington Park is a solid evolutionary step of ballpark design, and I hope that they’re allowed to evolve it even more at some point.

Selig pulls out move threat card, Oakland folds like cheap tent, JPA approves lease

Today had me driving from Toledo to Pittsburgh, so much of the time I was out of pocket or unable to catch up on news. Fortunately, I arrived at my planned midpoint as the JPA was convening for a vote. This is the place I visited:

The Ohio State Reformatory

The Ohio State Reformatory

Look familiar? It’s not a college campus or an old hospital. It’s the old Ohio State Reformatory, located in Mansfield, Ohio. It’s better known as the site for the filming of The Shawshank Redemption, the great Stephen King-Frank Darabont picture that no one saw in the theaters but everyone saw on cable. I toured the prison, which would’ve been demolished if not for the film’s production and belated popularity. Like the Coliseum, much of OSR is in a steady state of decay. And like the film’s climactic scene, our own green-and-gold clad heroes at times have forded a river of sewage to escape the facility. I recognize that forcing a team of millionaires owned by billionaires to stay in mediocre conditions is nothing like actual prison. The point is that writing this blog at times is my own personal prison, one that I seemingly can never escape (especially the comments section or fools on Twitter). However, I made a promise to see this through, so it’s being done. Every so often I allow myself to feel a little hope, the dangerous concept that Red cautions Andy to squelch. Even after 9 years and with no end in sight, I still hope. I can’t allow myself to be completely consumed by cynicism. There’s already one Miserablist in the Bay Area, no need for two.

My own vacation activities aside, there is reason for hope to come out of today. First, let’s recap.

  • Yesterday, the prevailing sentiment was that the City representation on the JPA board would form a bloc and oppose proposed lease agreement, killing the deal and allowing the City to provide a counteroffer.
  • That tactic was quickly trumped by last night’s letter from Lew Wolff to the JPA, which was reported during the JPA session. Wolff indicated that if the JPA did not approve the lease, Bud Selig would grant Wolff immediate permission to move the team out of Oakland.
  • In fear of Selig’s threatened reprisal, the JPA board met in closed session to discuss the lease. Eventually the lease was approved 6-2, Rebecca Kaplan (who helped construct the lease terms) and Aaron Goodwin (who dissented on the current lease).

Now for the deal terms. The redone lease includes concessions made by both sides. Note: the deal must be ratified by the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors before August 1.

  1. The A’s will be in the Coliseum through at least the 2017 season, with opt-outs available to both the team and the JPA until the 2024 season.
  2. $5 million in back parking fees that were up for arbitration in the fall are now wiped away.
  3. The A’s will pay $1.25-1.75 million in annual rent. They will be obligated to pay this through the end of the lease, unless they are able to work a deal to build another stadium in Oakland.
  4. The A’s will pay at least $10 million for a new scoreboard/ribbon board package. They will keep all revenue from the boards during A’s games. The JPA/Raiders will get revenue for football games. If the new system costs less than $10 million, the remainder will be paid to the JPA.
  5. The JPA will put together a $1 million/year maintenance fund, for use when things break. The JPA is not obligated to spend $1 million every year if maintenance spending is not required.
  6. A’s will have good faith discussions about building a future ballpark at or near the Coliseum, depending largely on what the Raiders do.
  7. The Coliseum area is the only site under consideration for a ballpark, with Howard Terminal dropped.

However you feel about the parking matter, this is a large number of concessions from the A’s. As Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner pointed out, this won’t stop the big subsidy that the City and County have to pay to keep the Raiders and A’s at the Coliseum. Then again, the counteroffer wasn’t providing any relief for that subsidy either.

The A’s have also asked for any developer interested in the Coliseum to put up $20 million towards a redevelopment project. You can call this “earnest money.” It may sound like a lot, but it’s an important form of skin in the game for the developer, something that Colony Capital isn’t providing right now. Wolff certainly isn’t afraid of dropping that kind of coin, since he bought some Fremont land in advance and paid for the CEQA study work in advance. $10 million is a good amount to keep pretenders from engaging in talks.

This type of deal was available in November, before the last time the A’s and the JPA hit a stalemate. Selig and Rob Manfred then stepped in and negotiated the to-be-superseded short-term deal. For whatever reason, the City of Oakland hasn’t recognized that until now, Selig has treated the City with kid gloves. That explains their shock and outrage to Selig’s power play. Sorry Oakland, this is how Selig normally operates. It’s part of the standard commissioner’s playbook. At some point the hardass version of Selig was going to show up and back his owner. To expect different wouldn’t just be unrealistic, it would be downright delusional.

Things are not going to get better for Oakland. The other shoe to drop will be the reactions of Mark Davis and the NFL. Since the Raiders and A’s are effectively competing for the Coliseum, both leagues are likely to play tug-of-war with the City in order to get them to commit to either entity. That should provide Oakland with some amount of usable leverage, but that’s negated by the City’s lack of non-land resources and their concerns about the feelings of the other team/league. What you’re seeing right now is Oakland in paralysis. The NFL and MLB are only happy to shake Oakland out of it. Both leagues are gearing up their preferred and contingency plans. If Davis decides this is it and gives up on Coliseum City, the complex is all Wolff’s to negotiate. If Davis truly wants Coliseum City and sees a way to make it work, Oakland will have a tough decision to make. Which team, league and developer should they partner with? It’s a decision that no politician wants to make, especially during an election year. Yet that’s Oakland destiny. Get busy living? Andy Dufresne had to decide that he had enough of Warden Norton’s hijinks in order to plan his escape. Oakland has two Warden Nortons, and it will have to screw one of them. Otherwise Oakland could find its teams, like Norton’s money, all gone.

Summary of 2014 Coliseum lease agreement

OAKLAND ALAMEDA COUNTY COLISEUM AUTHORITY

July 3, 2014

STAFF REPORT

6a. Resolution Approving and Authorizing the Execution of a Stadium License Agreement between the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum Authority and Athletics Investment Group LLC

Background. The Oakland Athletics (“A’s”) have been operating at the O.co Coliseum under the current License Agreement (the “License”) since October 31, 1995. It has been amended and extended a number of times. The last extension, in November 2013, extended the License through December 31, 2015. After the 2013 extension to the license was approved, the A’s requested that the Authority work with them to come up with a longer term License Agreement For a number of months, representatives of the A’s and the Authority have been negotiating terms of that License. In light of the desires of both parties to reach a longer term agreement and to begin to work on the possible replacement of 0.co as the home of the A’s, the negotiators are proposing to the Authority a Stadium License Agreement (the “2014 License”) which is attached to this report. The A’s have expressed willingness to sign this form of 2014 License.

Proposed Terms of the Amendment. The following is a brief summary of some of the proposed terms of the Amendment. The full form of the proposed form of the Amendment is attached for review.

Term. The term of the License would commence on the date the last approval is obtained and terminate on December 31, 2024.

License Fees. The A’s agree to pay license fees for use of the stadium of $1.75 million in 2014; $1.25 million in 2015, $1.5 million from 2016 through 2019, and $1.25 million from 2020 through 2024. The 2014 License explicitly prohibits the A’s from withholding license fees as a method for resolving disputes and provides strong protection against such withholding in the future.

Early Termination. The 2014 License provides for certain early termination rights.

  • Construction of new Raiders’ stadium. The Authority is permitted to terminate the 2014 License if certain criteria are met with respect to a plan to build a new stadium for use by the Raiders on the Coliseum site. This termination would take place 60 days after the end of the second baseball (sic) from the date the Authority give notice of an intent to terminate.. The clause permitting early termination by the Authority to accommodate a new Raiders’ stadium contemplates that the A’s would not have to leave the Coliseum Complex site, but could build their own new stadium on the site at a different location than the new Raiders’ stadium.
  • The A’s move from Coliseum site. The 2014 License also provides that, beginning in 2016, the A’s may give notice of an intent to terminate. Termination by the A’s would be effective December 31 of the second year following notice. At the earliest, any termination by the A’s could not take place until December 31, 2018. If the A’s terminate in order to relocate to any permanent stadium site outside of the City of Oakland, the A’s are required to pay in a lump sum the remaining license fees through the end of the term. This lump sum early termination payment by the A’s would not be required if the A’s were to move to a new stadium anywhere within the City of Oakland.

Improvements to Stadium. The A’s agree to spend not less than $10 million to install a new scoreboard system in the stadium by the 2015 baseball season. The Authority agrees to pay for any structural work that may be required to support the scoreboard installation. The A’s would pay to maintain and operate the scoreboard and retain all advertising generated from the scoreboard for A’s games and events. The Authority will control the revenues from advertising on the scoreboard for all other events in the Stadium, including Raider’s games. The Authority agrees to spend not more than $1.5 million to provide enhanced lighting to the parking lot and certain areas of the Stadium.

Stadium Maintenance and Repair. In connection with the Authority’s obligation to maintain and repair the Stadium, the Authority agrees to fund a Stadium Maintenance Fund by setting aside $1 million each year, increasing by 5% each year, to fund its ongoing maintenance and repair obligations. The A’s may designate $150,000 of this fund each year for a particular project. The Authority is required to maintain the stadium even if the amount required exceeds the amount available in this fund. The 2014 License provides for an expedited dispute resolution should the A’s and the Authority disagree on the necessity and cost of the maintenance and repair obligation.

Scoreboard caps. The Authority will pay $200,000 per year for the use of the scoreboard caps where the am name is currently displayed. The 2014 License contains provisions that delineate the rights of the parties should the caps be removed in connection with the installation of a new scoreboard.

Continued Stadium Discussions. The 2014 License provides that the A’s and the Authority will continue to engage in good faith discussions regarding the construction of a new permanent home for the A’s on or adjacent to the Coliseum property.

General Release of Claims. As a condition to entering into the 2014 License, the A’s and the Authority agree to release all claims against the other party, including the claims that are the subject of an arbitration proceeding.

Financial Impact to the Authority: The A’s have provided a financial analysis showing that, compared to the last 10 years of the 1995 License Agreement, the proposed 2014 License Agreement has the potential to return total cash value to the Authority of more than triple that provided by the 1995 License Agreement (and more than double the cash value on a present value basis).

Further Approvals. The Management Agreement, between the Authority, the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda, requires that each of the City and the County approve the 2014 License. In addition, Major League Baseball must approve the 2014 License before it becomes effective.

Recommendation. Staff recommends that the Board of Commissioners adopt the resolution approving and authorizing the execution of the 2014 License and requesting that the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda approve the 2014 License..

Deena P. McClain
Acting Executive Director

P.S. – This agreement, which is supported by Alameda County and the A’s, is to have a vote on July 3. If it passes, the matter would go to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the Oakland City Council, who each would have to approve separately. Oakland has indicated that it will vote against the lease and provide a counteroffer. The A’s have indicated that they will not entertain any such counteroffer.

Rust Belt trip and a giveaway

Yesterday was the first day of my eight-day, eight-game Rust Belt trip. I’m spending the first three days in Detroit for the A’s-Tigers series. Ninth inning collapse aside, it’s been good. The weather today is expected to be hot and humid, with thunderstorms at night and cooling through the rest of the week.

Some non-baseball locations not shown

Some non-baseball locations not shown

The rest of the trip is supposed to look like this (all times Eastern):

  • Today: Comerica Park tour, 11 AM; A’s @ Tigers, 7 PM
  • Wednesday: A’s @ Tigers, 1 PM; drive to Toledo; Columbus @ Toledo, 7 PM
  • Thursday: drive to Pittsburgh; Dbacks @ Pirates, 7 PM
  • Friday: drive to Canton; Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • Saturday: drive to Cleveland; Royals @ Indians, 7 PM
  • Sunday: drive to Columbus: Pawtucket @ Columbus, 6 PM
  • Monday: drive to Cincinnati: Cubs @ Reds, 7 PM
  • Tuesday 7/8: drive back to Chicago, fly home

Since I’ll be in Ohio on Sunday, I won’t be able to use my tickets to the final game of the Blue Jays series. If you’re interested, comment below with a brief explanation of why you should get the tickets. They’re free and I’ll have to email transfer them to you, no snail mail. I’ll weed out the poor entries and randomly pick among the best, just like last time. You can also reply to me on Twitter or via email. I’ll announce the winner after tomorrow’s A’s-Tigers game.

A rift opens between Oakland and Alameda County

In the aftermath of the PR disaster that was Friday’s JPA meeting, discord between the two halves of the JPA, the City of Oakland and Alameda County, was revealed. Tensions had been simmering under the surface for some time, most evidently on display during the all-hands joint meeting last December. In Friday afternoon’s Trib article, JPA Board Chair and AlCo Supe Nate Miley expressed his discontent with the City, calling the no-show a step towards dissolving the JPA. He again brought up the possibility of the City buying the County out of the JPA, which would allow Oakland to go it alone on Coliseum City.

Neither party has the available cash to buy the other out, but Miley seems bent on making it part of the discussion. The implications would be huge. Coliseum City talks have divided the JPA into Oakland as the more pro-Raiders group and Alameda County as more skeptical and perhaps leaning towards the A’s. There are major fundamental differences between how the two sides characterize the talks. The City is optimistic about BayIG and the Raiders, whereas the County is questioning where the money will come from and is already looking at alternatives. Should this divide stay intact, it’s difficult to see how the two sides could come together to approve a large-scale redevelopment scheme like Coliseum City. Maybe the rift can be healed as more information comes in that could build confidence with the County leaders. Coliseum City’s current trajectory makes such a kumbaya moment nearly inconceivable.

I’m starting to think that if the JPA had a quorum and took a vote, the lease extension would’ve been approved 5-3 or 6-2, which would’ve forced the City Council to vote on it. There are 2 CMs on the board and 2 Oakland appointees, Yui Hay Lee and Aaron Goodwin. Goodwin has frequently taken independent positions in the past, most recently being the lone dissenter on the short-term lease vote in November. At the time, Goodwin cited the lack of a long-term agreement with the A’s as the reason for his dissent. 10 years is a much longer commitment, even with the opt-outs (which have been standard practice at the Coliseum for years). When the JPA took $3 million out of the capital improvements fund to fund the Coliseum City studies, it was Goodwin who was concerned about the impact the siphoning would have on the relationship with the A’s.

Goodwin’s name should be familiar to those with some sports business knowledge because he’s been an agent to numerous NBA players for 20 years. His current client list includes Oakland native and Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, among others.

If Goodwin didn’t like the lease or chose to vote as a bloc with the rest of the City side, the results would’ve been 4-4, a stalemate. That probably would’ve forced the JPA to go back to the drawing board, which would’ve been fine in that everyone would be forced to be honest about where the JPA stood with regards to the lease.

With a 5-3 or better vote, the next course of action would’ve been for the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors to vote on the lease. Let’s assume that the Supes approved the lease. It would’ve been up to the City. There’s no telling what could’ve happened. There are several potential outcomes:

  1. Council draws up resolution in support, votes to approve lease
  2. Council draws up resolution in support, votes to kill lease
  3. Council draws up resolution against lease, sends their own version back to JPA
  4. Council never makes resolution, lease never comes up for vote

Any of the last three outcomes makes the City look bad in MLB’s eyes, especially after Bud Selig prematurely announced that a lease agreement had been made. Selig’s power play and not-so-subtle wording put Oakland on the defensive. Whether it’s a setup to force Oakland’s hand or Selig simply siding with Wolff, it’s a difficult decision for the City to make with the Council attempting to balance the A’s and Raiders’ interests. As symbolically good a lease would look to Wolff and Selig, it could look terrible to Mark Davis and Roger Goodell. But the City had to know that this day was coming, and that to keep stalling until a solution magically appeared for them was a pipe dream. Selig has discounted Howard Terminal in concurrence with Wolff. Davis considers Coliseum City the last shot for Oakland, and continually has been disappointed by the lack of progress on the deal front. Oakland’s time to tap-dance around the issue is coming to an end.

That leaves the one lingering question about the lease extension, Why now? The A’s lease is up in 2015, not this year, so the urgency feels out of place. Maybe Selig decided to get the first domino rolling, knowing that Coliseum City had a timetable for a decision later this year. Sports law expert Nathaniel Grow considers a new extension potentially damaging for San Jose’s antitrust lawsuit against MLB. That seems like a long shot, especially considering San Jose’s shaky legal standing in the first place. If that is the motivation, it’ll prove once and for all that MLB isn’t terribly concerned about local politics. They’re looking out for baseball. Everything else ends up collateral damage.

Oakland City Council members no-shows at JPA meeting, vote not taken

Oakland, and Oakland alone, chose Option #3.

Fans and media showed up at Oracle Arena to attend and speak at the JPA Board meeting. The Board was expected to take a vote on the A’s 10-year lease extension. Unfortunately, that vote was not taken because four Board members didn’t attend, including City Council members Rebecca Kaplan (who negotiated the lease) and Larry Reid. Without the City’s official participation, there could be no quorum, and thus no vote. Several attendees who were against the lease were nonetheless angry at the absentees for their apparent procedural gaffe.

It gets worse.

So the City Council made the decision to not send its Board members on Wednesday, but they neglected to inform anyone about it? Why not just cancel the meeting? Inevitably there will be blowback. Some of that has already started.

Perhaps some of that reaction is an overblown response to having to get up early only to be stood up. Still, however tenuous the relationship was between the County and City over the Coliseum and Coliseum City, this certainly hasn’t helped. Remember that it was the County that had the questions about the feasibility of Coliseum City. Here we are, nearly eight months after the last adult conversation, and we still haven’t had another. Someday. Maybe next week? Maybe not.

I suppose that yesterday’s comparison of the JPA to Congress was apt. There’s always hope, I guess.

When the JPA is as effective as Congress

This shouldn’t be this hard.

Both Lew Wolff and JPA characterize the lease extension talks as close. Wolff or Bud Selig may have jumped the gun yesterday. Then again, maybe Wolff made so few changes with his counteroffer that he felt he could consider the deal done. Some staunchly opposed claim that elements of the lease such as the way the parking tax matter is being addressed are showstoppers. Maybe those items really are showstoppers. If they are showstoppers, it should be easy to kill the deal. Conversely, if the sides really are close as they purportedly have been for the last few weeks, it should be fairly easy to close the gap.

These two ways of characterizing the talks shouldn’t both be true. Last week I said that if the JPA, City, and County are truly concerned about the parking taxes (or the opt-outs, or other language), put the whole thing off until after the fall arbitration hearing. That’s effectively the same thing as saying NO to the lease. There are really three options for the JPA here:

  1. Vote Yes and deal with the fallout (coming from the Raiders/NFL)
  2. Vote No and deal with the fallout (coming from the A’s/MLB)
  3. Postpone the vote and hope to delay the fallout indefinitely from either side.

We have no visibility into the talks or the offers and counteroffers, yet I get the feeling that there is very little movement that should properly bridge the gap. There are numerous ways of dealing with the $5 million:

  • Leave the $5 million out of the deal
  • Raise rent to compensate for including the $5 million (from $1.75 million to $2.5 million/year)
  • Have the A’s surrender control of some revenue streams such as concessions or advertising

Now maybe the JPA has provided such options, and Wolff has called those showstoppers, I don’t know. Whatever the case, there seems to be very little creativity that would bring about a solution. Strangely, they’ve been fine with allowing the Raiders to pay very little rent while getting the Harbor Bay headquarters for free (as long as they’re engaged in Coliseum City talks).

Worse, I’ve been hearing a lot of outrage from some about how the A’s are ripping the City and County off for the $5 million. Yet I’m not hearing anything about properly addressing the ongoing $20 million subsidy (debt and operating expenses) that the City and County have to pay for. Are we so numb to that debacle that we can’t consider ways to deal with it? Sure, grandstanding on a one-time $5 million payment is easy if you’re an Oakland or Alameda County pol. Better that than to remind everyone about the even worse deal that they themselves negotiated nearly 20 years ago. If you’re going to really get outraged, get mad about that and ask the pols to make a better deal. Last time I checked, one-time $5 million payments aren’t worth much compared to $20 million annual payments.

I figure the outrage or faux rage is borne more from two separate motivations: the fear of Mark Davis, and the desire to never compromise with Lew Wolff. I imagine that there are some on the JPA who are more realpolitik and don’t want to favor one owner over the other or understand that the best way to go may be with one team instead of two, but there will always be some who can’t give in, can’t make it look like Lew Wolff won. For them, I think the answer is quite simple and can be ratified by a simple No vote. Bud Selig’s comments may have complicated things a bit, but if these stridently principled Nays are that opposed, this should be a no-brainer.

Really, a vote either way would be the best thing for all parties. It would allow both teams to know where they stand and would allow them to plan next steps. If they can’t decide on this on account of $5 million, it makes me wonder how they’re going to make a decision on a project that could cost 500 times as much. If they can’t decide and keep trying to entertain lease discussions they’ll continue to be caught up in the media battle, which they are not winning. It won’t win over the Bud Selig or Roger Goodell. Fans will continue to be frustrated and the whole affair will continue to be a distraction. I doubt that’s what anyone wants.

So please, JPA, if it’s close to a reasonable deal, make the necessary changes and vote YES. If the deal sucks, vote NO. Then we can move on and focus not on short-term fixes, but rather a long-term home. And you’ll look decisive for once, instead of looking like Congress.