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!

Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Ballpark Setting

The renderings in the Coliseum City Specific Plan (co-mingled with the EIR) date back to July 2013. So far, no announcements have been made about architecture firms winning the business for any of the Coliseum City venues. With that in mind, when looking at the renderings don’t worry too much about how they look. They’re effectively placeholders, there to show the mass and complete the layout of the buildings within the plan. If you’re asking about a dome on the stadium or how many seating decks are in the ballpark – don’t bother. It’s highly subject to change.

That said, we can look at a few aspects, such as how the ballpark is placed and oriented within the ballpark. That is the subject of this post.

First, let’s look a bird’s-eye view from the south, with the entire project built out.

birdseye-view_north

Coliseum City with new arena on the other side of the Nimitz

The BART bridge is to be replaced by a much wider pedestrian concourse, connecting a better-connected transit hub, residential development at the BART station parking lot, hotels lining the concourse, and the broader development with the venues. The concourse will be built at what is currently 73rd Avenue, the street connecting San Leandro Street to the Amtrak Station. Doing this moves the dividing line of the complex further south/east, with the bulk of the developable land on the north/west side of the concourse. Several high rise condominium buildings flank the concourse where the existing Coliseum currently sits.

birdseye-view_east

View east across Nimitz down pedestrian concourse

The concourse is widest outside the football stadium and at 880, where there are two (!) bridges spanning the Nimitz.

birdseye_closeup-view_north_ballpark

Above concourse, looking towards ballpark

The Plan describes two levels of circulation: the elevated concourse and street level, where most of the buildings and the ballpark will be situated. Fans would descend stairs to the plaza that leads to the ballpark. There could also be a trolley or streetcar station at this intersection. The plaza and the four blocks surrounding it are the focus of what is called the “Next Generation Sports and Retail District.” This area would be closed to cars on event days, allowing for a big party zone between the two venues.

cutaway-entry

Side view showing concourse and street level elevations, plus cutaways of venues

Should Coliseum City come to fruition, there won’t be anything like it in the country, with two or three venues anchoring a big district. It would also be huge for the City if the large swath of commercially-zoned property slated to be office/R&D could be put together as a potential campus for a large tech company. Right now all of that activity is focused on the Peninsula and the South Bay, with Google, Apple, and Facebook devouring huge tracts of land for future expansion. At the moment Oakland is a few degrees removed from such activity, but that’s where they should be thinking.

district-med

The Plaza between the ballpark and stadium

I’m still not a big fan of orienting the ballpark to the northeast. While that’s proper in terms of MLB guidelines, the orientation turns its back on the plaza and feels like a missed opportunity. It would be nice to have people walking along the plaza be able to see into the stadium, the way you can from much of the Gaslamp District in San Diego. The idea is to fully integrate all elements of the plan, and this is a miss.

There is a publicly-accessible area of the ballpark beyond centerfield, where a Park-at-the-Park like grassy knoll provides views. But getting there requires walking along the edge of the complex, along a perimeter road, past a hulking parking garage. It’s not the friendliest or most accessible approach. A nice side effect of this approach is the fans traveling south on BART will get a good look at the ballpark as they arrive at the Coliseum (City?) station.

View into ballpark with loop road and publicly accessible "knoll" in foreground

View into ballpark with loop road and publicly accessible “knoll” in foreground

Another thing that bothers me, though it’s entirely understandable, is this from the Project Description (page 3-39):

Operation and scheduling use of the Ballpark would be restricted from having major events (including baseball games) on the same day as football games at the adjacent Stadium. Since no large events could occur simultaneously, parking for the Ballpark would be accommodated within the same on‐site parking facilities as used by the Stadium including the 3,240 surface lot spaces and 7,500 dedicated event parking garage spaces.

The Plan calls for more than 18,000 parking spaces, an 8,000-space improvement over the current complex. 13,000 of those spaces would be in garages, and of those spaces 5,000 would be off limits because they would be slated for hotel and residential use. The net gain for event use, if some of the office parking is used, is an extra 3,000 spaces or 13,000 total. Despite the great reduction in available tailgating space (only possible 3 surface lots totaling 4,200 spaces), a parking restriction like the one described above would remain in effect. That would limit the ability of schedule makers to freely assign weekend home series for the A’s in August, September, and October. It also shuts out any possibility of going to both Raiders and A’s games in the same day within Coliseum City: an A’s game at 1 and a Sunday night Raiders game at 5, or vice-versa. It’s better than sharing a field, I suppose.

AAA Shuffle Begins with Guber’s Purchase of OKC RedHawks

Though we’re at least two weeks from MLB and AAA franchises from coming to new player development contracts (PDC), at least one team has gotten proactive to secure its future allegations early. A group led by Dodgers (and Warriors) co-owner Peter Guber is purchasing the Oklahoma City RedHawks, currently the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros. The franchise will fetch $22-28 million according to The Oklahoman. Currently, Mandalay Entertainment owns the team. That company is also headed by Guber, making the purchase largely a paperwork matter. Mandalay also recently sold the Dayton Dragons (A-Midwest League) for a whopping $40 million, reflective of the team’s incredible attendance record and financial success.

The purchase of the RedHawks means that the Dodgers will soon switch their AAA affiliation from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City, making ABQ another free agent in this fall’s affiliate shuffle. Historically the Dodgers have never cared too much about having their AAA affiliate within driving range, as Albuquerque has hosted their AAA team twice, as the Dukes and now the Isotopes for nearly 50 years combined. It appears that the Dodgers have been more concerned about developing pitchers at more than a mile above sea level, resorting to using a humidor last year.

Rumors remain strong that the Sacramento River Cats will drop the A’s and hook up with the Giants, leaving Fresno as another free agent. Las Vegas may be re-upping with the Mets despite the distance from New York. Nashville, which will open a new stadium next year, remains up in the air in terms of its continuing relationship with the Brewers. Colorado Springs may also be available depending on how talks with the Rockies go. The El Paso-Padres and Tacoma-Mariners deals also expire in a week, though those seem more secure than others; El Paso because of a brand new ballpark, Tacoma because it’s so close to Seattle.

Making affiliate deals is as much about the bottom line as any other factor. Fresno has looked increasingly unattractive in recent years because of unstable ownership and the Grizzlies’ habit of running in the red. Fresno’s biggest may be something it can’t control: the cost of airfare in and out of its smallish airport. Air travel costs may also explain why the Mets have few qualms about extending with the 51s, since NYC-Vegas flights are relatively cheap and plentiful.

Here’s a list of potential upcoming AAA affiliation changes:

  • Oklahoma City RedHawks (from Astros to Dodgers)
  • Sacramento River Cats (from A’s to Giants)
  • Fresno Grizzlies (from Giants to Brewers or A’s)
  • Nashville Sounds (from Brewers to A’s)
  • Albuquerque Isotopes (from Dodgers to Astros)

Other changes to look for in the future are the Round Rock Express (owned by the Ryan family) switching affiliations from the Rangers to the Astros after 2018, and the Reno Aces, whose relationship with the City of Reno and Washoe County has been strained at times. The Twins just announced an two-year extension of their PDC with the Rochester Red Wings, cutting off a potential switch candidate for the Mets. And the Angels extended with the Salt Lake City Bees earlier in the spring.

Newly HOK-acquired 360 Architecture to work with A’s on Coliseum ballpark

In the 60’s, a Kansas City architecture firm named Kivett and Myers worked on two venues at what would eventually be named the Truman Sports Complex. Those two stadia, Kauffman (née Royals) Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, bucked the trend of multipurpose stadia and stood out as great examples of sports architecture. Still considered excellent venues at over 40 years old, Arrowhead and Kauffman burnished the reputation of Kivett and Myers, leading to their acquisition by HNTB in 1978. Architects from HNTB’s new sports practice split off to form Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), whose sports group dominated the last 25 years of ballpark design. Then in 2009, the sports group (named HOK+SVE) broke off to form Populous, with the mutual non-competition agreements: HOK wouldn’t get into sports for 5 years, Populous wouldn’t go outside sports, conventions, and entertainment.

Now that non-compete has ended, and HOK is eager to get back into the sports game. Instead of starting up anew, they bought fellow Kansas City firm 360 Architecture, itself the product of the merger of two firms, CDFM2 Architecture Inc. and Heinlein Schrock Stearns. That’s enough mergers and buyouts to fill a season of Mad Men.

360 is the shingle responsible for the city’s Sprint Center, MetLife Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes’ new stadium, and two upcoming venues: the New Atlanta Falcons Stadium and the new Red Wings Arena in downtown Detroit. If, as an A’s fan, you’re looking for something different in terms of sports architecture, those last two examples should give you hope.

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The Falcons turned the football world on its ear with their replacement for the not-old-at-all Georgia Dome. The iris-like retractable roof has perspective-based video screens and scoreboards embedded in its rim. The building’s metal panels comes with slits that light up and cathedral-style glass entries. Its part of an effort by Falcons owner Arthur Blank to have an iconic piece of architecture in Atlanta, a city sorely lacking at least in terms of modern work. 360 took that and went back through history, finding the dome at the Pantheon to be their inspiration.

In Detroit the focus is different. There 360 is putting together a “deconstructed” arena, where the ancillary operations of the building (concessions, etc.) are pulled away from the seating bowl. A single glass-ceilinged concourse serves most fans and connects to restaurants and even housing on the perimeter. The idea is to have the venue be part of a new, several-block redevelopment plan in downtown Detroit, just a stone’s throw from Comerica Park and Ford Field.

The full development will cover 45 blocks on either side of I-75, an area slightly smaller than Coliseum City’s core 120 acres. If the images in the above video look familiar, that’s because they’re reminiscent of 360’s work on the Fremont vision for Cisco Field. Again, there was a plan to pull the ancillary development away from the ballpark. The idea was to allow fans to come an hour or two earlier, then either watch batting practice, or shop and hang out at a restaurant or bar on the premises.

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It would be somewhat poetic to see that 2005 Oakland/2006 Pacific Commons concept resurrected in Oakland, with the sales pitch coming from a similarly-sized and scaled Detroit development that will be breaking ground in a few months. It’s that sense of scale that to me makes such plans more achievable than something gargantuan like Coliseum City that is so dependent on externalities. 360 Architecture is on a bit of a roll, and it would be fitting for them to achieve their biggest success on one the very first projects they worked on, in various forms over a decade. That’s some serious sweat equity.

Selig’s Lamentations and the Law of Unintended Consequences

To hear outgoing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig explain it, he was stuck in the middle. Powerless. The issue was forever “complicated.” He wished he could’ve resolved it. So when he rolled through Oakland on his farewell tour, there was no staged ceremony near home plate, no televised gift of a rocking chair made of bats. The only real exchange was a series of questions from local media, asking him if he could’ve done more get the A’s to a new ballpark. All he could say was that a ballpark was needed. Acknowledging that the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission/Panel/Tribunal was effectively shut down, the only thing missing was a hook to pull him off the podium.

Anyone’s thoughts on how the A’s (and Giants) should be treated are largely colored by three views:

  1. Oakland’s standing as a major league host city
  2. How much power the Commissioner has over teams and whether he should wield that power
  3. The sanctity of territorial rights and baseball’s antitrust exemption

There was never a question of whether the Coliseum is decrepit enough to be replaced; of course it is. There’s also little question of whether San Jose is large enough or wealthy enough to host a team if not encumbered by territorial rights; of course it is. The three items listed above, however, are up for serious debate. And despite the A’s 11th-hour lease extension last year and the hurried extension talks this year (done to give Selig something to hang his hat on as much as anything else), those questions will continue to dominate the discussion moving forward. All we get for the next few years as A’s fans get is a brief respite. Frankly, that’s rather welcome at this point.

Selig touted the 22 parks built during his tenure as head cheese. Virtually all of those parks have a single thread in common that Oakland can’t give at this point: public funding. The notable exception is San Francisco, where the Giants were somewhat ostracized for daring to privately finance their yard. The Lodge thought that baseball was on a slippery slope to No-Subsidies-Ville, with noted baseball town St. Louis playing hardball with its beloved Cardinals enough that the team financed $290 million for Busch on their own. They didn’t need to worry, as the extortion game succeeded in Miami and Minneapolis, even through the recession.

Oakland doesn’t have cash to offer. Despite their repeated shows of incompetence, Oakland’s pols are not crazy enough to offer cash straight up (I think). But they’re showing signs of being willing to offer up a big swath of Coliseum land, which in the long run is nearly as good as cash. If the City/County hadn’t gotten so legally entangled with the Raiders, Oakland would’ve been in the position to offer a Coliseum City-like deal to the A’s. Selig would’ve acknowledged the skin that Oakland was willing to wager, and I’d be watching the game in a new ballpark right now instead of an old one. That’s not to say it would’ve been a good deal for Oakland. It would still be a big-time subsidy. But it wouldn’t have been as disastrous as Mount Davis, that’s for sure.

Selig took the acting commissioner job in September 1992, as Bob Lurie was finalizing a deal to sell the Giants to the Vincents (Naimoli and Piazza). Still carrying the scar from losing the Braves to Atlanta, he purportedly held off the deal long enough (enduring a lawsuit in the process) to allow San Francisco interests to pull an ownership group together. After failing to save the 1994 season, he worked hard to avoid further work stoppages, though he sacrificed the Montreal Expos to do it. After he screwed over the original TB Giants owners, he settled with another group to get them an expansion team in 1998, helping to infuse baseball with cash after the Lodge took it on the chin with the owners’ collusion lawsuit. In the process, he bound the Rays to practically unbreakable lease at a domed stadium. Plus he forgot that San Jose and Santa Clara County, which were gifted to the old Giants ownership when they pursued a ballpark in the South Bay, remained granted territories to the Giants after the new SF-only ownership group took over. All of that happened while he was acting commissioner.

As the elected, properly sworn-in permanent commissioner, Selig orchestrated the Expos contraction-then-expansion ownership swap among three teams that netted baseball a handsome expansion fee and brought baseball back to DC. To satiate O’s owner Peter Angelos, he and his executive team cobbled together a deal that made the O’s majority owner of a new regional sports network, MASN, which owned broadcast rights to the Nationals. Apparently Selig didn’t see the TV rights bubble coming or the conflict such an arrangement might create. The Nats, whose initial term on MASN is now up, want in on that bubble while the O’s are unwilling to pay market rates. Naturally, the teams are in court. Selig, who gave Angelos MASN to get him to stop a lawsuit against MLB, now sees two teams stuck in trench warfare, arguing over hundreds of millions of dollars. To mollify the Nats, Selig is giving the team money from his eight-figures-per-year iscretionary fund. These days $25 million or so is small potatoes compared to the riches Ted Lerner sees going forward, so the struggle continues.

It’s with that perspective that Selig has found himself stuck trying to satisfy both the A’s and the Giants. There’s Selig the legacy-protector, who would prefer to keep the team in Oakland if they could just pull out their checkbook. There’s Selig the Lodge-unity-protector, afraid to take the territorial rights issue head on for fear of reprisal from one faction of owners or owner. Then there’s Selig the procrastinator, whose blind eye towards many baseball issues (PEDs, inner city youth development, growing economic disparity among teams) made this particular outcome entirely predictable. Some want to give Selig credit for MLB Advanced Media or growing TV revenues, when really he just stood aside and let his underlings innovate for him. I mean, really, Selig and MLBAM? The guy doesn’t even have email.

Complete conjecture on my part: I suspect there was a plan at some point in which the Nats-O’s TV issue was resolved permanently and the under-the-table payments could be rerouted to either the A’s or Giants as part of another temporary deal. If the A’s were granted San Jose, the Giants would be given a “refund” of their revenue sharing payment. If the Giants kept the territory, the A’s would get the piece of the discretionary fund as financial ballast as they built in Oakland (remember, per the CBA revenue sharing goes away if the A’s build anew in the Bay Area). Over time such payments would taper off as the teams adjusted. With such funds indefinitely in use for another conflict, there was no solution to be had. Another consequence of the Nats-O’s dispute is that any thought of creating a new Bay Area RSN with the Giants in control in a similar arrangement to the O’s now has to be considered verboten.

So yes, Selig is right to an extent. The problem is complicated. Still, all it would’ve taken is better foresight to manage this and all of the other problems. They are merely ways of moving money around a table, out of one pocket and into another. Some have argued for MLB to establish a stadium loan program like the NFL’s G-3/G-4. That’s not happening soon because the NFL’s TV dollars used to establish G-4 dwarf baseball’s national TV revenue $6 billion to $1.5 billion. The big market owners see the new TV contracts, in which each team receives $50 million per year, as enough in terms of support when coupled with revenue sharing and the luxury tax. That’s enough to give the sense of competitive balance that Selig likes to tout. Then again, we all know that’s an illusion.

Competitive balance means allowing the poor teams to play as if they don’t see the glass ceiling. That’s your Oakland Athletics, now and into the foreseeable future.

Rob Manfred elected next MLB commissioner by owners

After a full day of deliberation and several trays of cookies, MLB’s owners finally approved MLB executive Rob Manfred as baseball’s next commissioner (NY Times/USA Today/LA Times/MLB/ESPN Sweetspot. Throughout the day, there were frequent reports that the vote was deadlocked at 22-8 or 21-9, 1 or 2 votes shy of the three-quarters of owners needed to approve Manfred. A late afternoon break preceded the final vote, which in true Bud Selig fashion, was tabulated at 30-0. Perhaps the so-called Reinsdorf block saw the writing on the wall and gave in knowing Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner didn’t have a chance, or they knew that Manfred, who has worked in the league offices for 15 years, was the more qualified candidate. Either way, in February Manfred stands to inherit a full plate of for now unresolved issues from Selig, who is now officially a lame duck.

Who was the swing vote that got Selig’s man, Manfred, over the top? It appears to have been Brewers owner Mark Attanasio,

Among the issues that need resolution sometime in the future:

  • Nats-O’s (MASN) television rights negotiations/lawsuit
  • The future of the Tampa Bay Rays
  • Negotiating terms of an Oakland ballpark, if it can come to fruition
  • The next collective bargaining agreement (current one expires after 2016 season)
  • Blackout rules for local broadcasts

Jerry Reinsdorf wanted to go hardline against the players’ union, despite MLB having one of the most favorable, cost-controlled deals in sports. He considered Selig to be too conciliatory in his dealings with the union. It’s hard to say how much more Reinsdorf would’ve gained in the next labor talks, though the obvious goal would’ve been a salary cap of some sort. Reinsdorf was considered the power behind Selig’s throne, the senior whip who got the votes Selig needed. Here’s to hoping that sanity, not greed, wins out in the next labor talks.

During Selig’s tenure, he sought to consolidate power, getting rid of the league president roles and the deputy commissioner, opting instead for a more vertical org chart with subordinates’ autonomy reduced. One of the rumored challenges for the owners in the upcoming CBA/Constitution talks is how to curtail the powers of the commissioner’s office, which now includes disbursements of a discretionary fund that runs into eight figures (see Nats-O’s).

Going in, it was thought that the Larry Baer and the Giants supported Manfred, while Lew Wolff and the A’s supported Werner. Early voting seemed to bear this out. They even had some discussions early in the day.

The official approval of Manfred would appear to confirm the status quo going forward: Giants not budging on T-rights, A’s forced to make a deal in Oakland. The recently approved Coliseum lease extension further keeps the A’s in Oakland at least for the next several years. After that, well, who knows? MLB has seen enough of the stadium saga to know that neither city is a slam dunk, so contingency plans are needed. And it was Manfred who affirmed the threat to move “out of Oakland” last month, supposedly going so far as to mention San Jose in the same breath. So if anyone’s thinking that any city has an ally in the MLB commissioner moving forward, they shouldn’t. Manfred’s on baseball’s side, not yours.