Category Archives: Coliseum
The costs of operating a minor league team in San Francisco have caught up to the San Francisco Bulls, according to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser (yes, our Susan Slusser). The Sharks ECHL affiliate Bulls, who have called the Cow Palace home for the last 1 1/2 seasons, may have a deal to sell the team to a new ownership group by next week. In turn, the team would move its home games to either Oracle Arena or Save Mart Center in Fresno.
The Bulls were always going to be an interesting test of viability in arguably the most expensive place to live and work in the nation. Sure, the Cow Palace is much closer to Visitacion Valley than Pacific Heights, but given the very low salaries for players and the high cost of living around SF, making the team work was going to be a struggle. Coach/GM/Owner Pat Curcio also cited the out-of-pocket improvements the team made at the arena, the big ticket item being a very nice center-hung scoreboard.
The view above comes from a free seat offer I received at an A’s game in 2012. Back then the Bulls were just launching, offering a cheaper hockey alternative to the Sharks. The seating bowl was practically the same as when the Sharks played their first two seasons in the NHL, or the short-lived SF Spiders. Ever the utilitarian venue, the Cow Palace was compact for hockey and prone to get fairly loud. Oddly enough, it’s perhaps too large for minor league hockey, which realistically is best served by a 5,000-7,000 seat venue in the Bay Area. The Bulls even removed at least a third of the Cow Palace’s seats by taking the “floor” seats shown above and converting them to a beer garden, right behind the two team benches. The beer garden had previously been located at one end of the rink.
Should the franchise move to Oakland or Fresno, they would be moving into even larger arenas. Save Mart Center seats 14,000 for hockey or ice shows, though it’s likely that the upper deck would be curtained off for hockey games. The same could be said for Oracle Arena, which due to its basketball-centric seating bowl layout, has thousands of obstructed view seats for hockey.
Last year’s A’s FanFest had the arena laid out in the way you’d expect a hockey game to be staged. At one end, retractable seats would be folded back to accommodate the rink’s 200′ x 85′ dimensions. Seats above the retracted sections would have obstructed views. This is a similar arrangement to what the NY Islanders will have when they move into Barclays Center. If the Bulls move to Oakland, it’ll be interesting to see what pricing the team will offer and the turnout in response. The last minor league team to call the arena home was the Oakland Skates, a roller hockey team that ceased operations when the arena renovation project started in 1996.
The Warriors would have to sign off on the Bulls’ move, and the Bulls would have to reschedule some home dates to defer to the Warriors. There’s also the matter of laying the basketball court on top of an ice sheet, which would have to be done on occasion. Typically, the Warriors’ schedule has avoided any conflicts. For instance, this year a six-game road trip coincides with a Disney ice show in late February. Condensation on hardwood basketball floors can be an issue even in the newest arenas, and Oracle doesn’t have a ton of experience doing these types of switchovers.
Fresno could end up being the best place in the long run, because of the lower cost of living for players and Save Mart Center’s hockey-friendly layout. In Fresno, the team would have instant Central Valley rivalries with the Stockton Thunder and Bakersfield Condors, both teams that play in smaller, newer arenas. Friend of the blog @wacchampions also noted that the team could play at Selland Arena, which underwent an AEG-funded renovation to better support ice shows and ice hockey.
If this is the end for the Bulls, it’ll be another brief stay for minor league team at the Cow Palace. The venue is run not by a city or county, but rather the State Department of Food and Agriculture, which also operates Cal Expo. There’s little local sentimentality to how they run the Cow Palace, making the arena fully a bottom-line-first affair. For the sake of NorCal hockey fans, I hope the team doesn’t shut down, and that it will resurface either in Oakland or Fresno, providing them an opportunity to thrive.
Colony Capital, the Santa Monica-based hedge fund, is in a rather enviable position. It is poised to save two NFL teams from leaving their hometowns: the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers. In 2013, Colony inserted itself into both teams’ respective stadium quests, directly working with the Chargers early last year on their downtown stadium proposal and then becoming part of the BayIG consortium for the Coliseum City project.
If you want to get an idea for what Colony and partner HayaH Holdings (Rashid Al Malik) intend to do in Oakland, there’s no need to look further than San Diego. Colony has been working slightly longer on the Chargers’ plans than they have the Coliseum’s. The timing has been seemingly fortuitous. As the dissolution of redevelopment has left cities scrambling for ever dwindling public funds, Colony has emerged as a potential source of funds to bridge major funding gaps for both stadium projects. Because of this, pro-stadium groups in both cities have pinned their hopes on Colony to make these stadium concepts work.
Last fall, the Chargers and Colony took an unusual approach in advocating for a downtown stadium. Together they came out against an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. Instead they proposed a facility within their planned stadium that could also hold smaller conventions up to 250,000 square feet. In the end the body that runs the Convention Center wrote off any plan that didn’t have an expansion adjacent to the current facility, so the downtown plan died in the process.
It made sense for the Chargers and Colony to look for public money for the stadium, in the form of a convention center expansion effort. It’s a good way to subsidize part of the stadium cost. Now that the option has evaporated, they’ll go back to their original plan of developing various publicly owned parcels to help pay for a new stadium. San Diego actually has two such properties in play, the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium land and the 38 (up to 95) acres at the old Sports Arena in the Midway neighborhood. Both bring in minimal revenues to San Diego: the arena brings in less than $500k per year, and the stadium is subsidized to the tune of $17 million per year – reminiscent of the Coliseum.
It’s difficult to blame the Chargers/Colony from looking for ways to potentially reduce their contributions. Any stadium in San Diego or Oakland will cost around $1 billion to construct, and the combined Chargers/NFL contribution is expected to be in the $300-400 million range. That leaves a major funding gap of $400-500 million for both stadia, which somehow Colony and its partners will have to cover. Effectively that’s $1 billion in private money for 2 new stadia.
Not including the acreage set aside for the stadia (or parking), the combined acreage in Oakland and San Diego is 300 acres. Let’s say that the land is given to the real estate firms for the purpose of building residential complexes near the stadia, in exchange for Colony covering the entire funding gap for both. A typical medium-density residential development has 20 units per acre, whereas a high-density development can have 100 units per acre. Medium density won’t cut it, because 300 acres X 20 units/acre = 6,000 units, translating into a $166,666 subsidy per unit, prohibitively high if a developer is trying to turn a profit. High density makes more sense as that translates to only $33,333 in per-unit subsidy by the developer. There are obvious issues with making high density work in those areas, mostly having to do with building the necessary infrastructure (access ramps, garages) to support those high rises, on top of replacement stadium parking that would be required.
Coliseum City’s development plans are a little more complex, as they include a mix of residential, office, and retail. That can help defray some of the costs, but in the end it’s still $1 billion that has to be covered by someone other than the team or the NFL. And that doesn’t include a funding gap for a new A’s ballpark or a replacement arena in San Diego. I’m not employed by a big real estate hedge fund, so I’m not smart enough to figure out how it’s all going to work. Thankfully, we should have some vision into this over the next six months, at least as far as the Raiders are concerned. At the moment, East Bay media is taking a wait-and-see stance peppered with a little hope, while the San Diego Union Tribune is in full cheerleader mode. I look forward to seeing what deals are made, and to serious public participation in the process.
The usually brief January owners meetings had one major item on the agenda: the approval of expanded replay. Reports coming into the meetings indicated that the discussions could be drawn out, even approaching the start of the regular season. Thankfully, all parties quickly approved the package of changes, including MLBPA and the World Umpires Association. For now the players’ union has agreed to one year of the new replay scheme, leaving the option for future replay arrangements to be collectively bargained or extended on an annual basis.
Basically, just about everything that happens when the ball is in play or batted is subject to replay. That includes the previously reviewable home run calls. Now the package includes fair/foul calls, catches and traps, timing plays, and even force plays (except for the “neighborhood” play on attempted double plays). Pitches that hit (or come close) batters are also up for debate. Like the NHL, all replays will be sent to review officials at MLB headquarters in New York, where they’ll need “clear and convincing” evidence to overturn a call. Unlike previous years, there will no longer be a monitor for use by field umpires to render or influence any decisions.
Perhaps the biggest benefit coming out of the replay plan is that all stadia now get to show all close plays on their video boards, including plays that aren’t under review. This change has been long in coming for ballparks, as it was always frustrating to be unable to see anything controversial. Now fans will be able to truly see how bad umpires blew calls or no-calls – well, most fans at least.
In Oakland, we’re still stuck with pretty old video technology dating back from the mid-90′s. The vintage Diamond Vision CRT displays aren’t the most crisp, and the boards’ size and distance from most fans will make viewing replays a frustrating affair. The Coliseum has by far the smallest video boards in the majors, and they located significantly further from the seats than anywhere else. The chart below illustrates how sad the state of affairs is:
Throughout the lease negotiations between the JPA, A’s, and Raiders in the fall, we held out slim hopes of improvements that would’ve included scoreboards. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. We and the tenant teams will have to make do with what’s in the Coliseum. Yet there’s a little hope for something better and more reliable to be installed at the Coli.
A little over a year ago, I suggested that the Coliseum buy used video boards off any team or stadium operator that was in the process of replacing their 5 or 10-year-old displays. Turns out that the A’s had checked in with the SF Recreation and Parks department about the displays at Candlestick Park. Now, you may think that the boards at the ‘Stick are awfully outdated and decrepit like the rest of the stadium, but you’d be wrong. The existing displays were only installed in 2008 as part of a suite of technology enhancements. The old Jumbotron in the northeast end was replaced by a 48-foot-wide Daktronics display, mirrored by a much smaller display in the south end. In addition, ribbon boards were added for score and advertising purposes. So there’s the opportunity for only 6-year-old technology to be installed at the Coliseum, right?
Well, maybe not. The A’s (not the JPA or Raiders as far as I know) inquired about the displays, and were told that the displays would be used at least through the spring for events. No chance of getting anything in time for the start of the season, then. SFPR also informed the A’s that the displays would probably be put up on craigslist for the highest bidder, with the idea of recouping whatever funds they could get. Nevermind that to properly use the Daktronics technology a buyer would also have to invest in the control system (hardware and software) to operate the boards. The A’s, in particular, would have to rip out the existing control room and replace it with Daktronics equipment – hopefully the stuff currently at the ‘Stick. To do that the A’s would at some point have to involve the JPA and the Raiders and amend the new leases to reflect the A’s investment – basically a leasehold improvement.
Then there’s also the issue of whether the boards fit. The ‘Stick’s big board is 26′ x 48′, much larger than either of the 20′ x 31.5′ boards at the Coliseum. However, Daktronics’ LED display technology is modular, broken down into 16 x 16 pixel panels that are each slightly larger than a foot square. In theory, it’s possible to reconfigure the boards to fit the scoreboard frames at the Coliseum or change the frames to accommodate larger displays. To illustrate how this might work, I put together a table that shows how these displays would be mixed and matched.
The key is that all of the displays – the big and small video boards and the ribbon boards – use the same underlying module size. The top lines show the Candlestick configuration, with different sized video boards and 4 ribbon boards elsewhere. The next scenario has a set number of modules replace each of the Diamond Vision displays, conforming to the current size and aspect ratio. The last group shows the boards reconfigured to support standard definition 16:9 video, with 2 of the ribbon boards used to expand the LF/RF scoreboards and the other 2 used to replace the Coli’s current boards. There would still be an issue of replacing the old matrix displays, but that’s a relatively cheap fix. The big non-video scoreboard in the ‘Stick’s north end zone is too football-centric to repurpose for baseball, though it might be useful for the Raiders. I joked earlier today that the JPA should take the displays and stick them on top of Mount Davis since no one’s sitting there, but was told that there’s no way make that work.
Assuming that some billionaire doesn’t snap up the ‘Stick displays for nostalgia or to build his own stadium somewhere, those boards should be available come spring for the Coliseum to buy. They should be relatively cheap to acquire and a no-brainer purchase for all parties to agree to. The relatively new technology would be a big enhancement for fans with little cash outlay, and would be a pretty responsible recycling of technology. If it can’t happen – well, can’t say someone didn’t try.
Well, this sure looks like news:
— O.co Coliseum (@OdotCoCOLISEUM) January 9, 2014
It isn’t news that the Coliseum is getting ready to do its seasonal hiring. The news is that the vendor isn’t Aramark. Instead it’s Ovations Food Services, an arm of venue management firm Comcast Spectacor. Ovations’ client list doesn’t have any current MLB regular season ballparks, making the Coliseum the first. However, they have plenty of local and Northern California experience, working at Raley Field, Banner Island Ballpark, and Chukchansi Park. They also handle food service at three Bay Area fairgrounds: Sonoma County, Santa Clara County, and Alameda County. In fact, Ovations’ California office is located at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, so if you have any complaints you can easily head to Pleasanton to speak your mind.
Part of the offseason is used to reevaluate any current vendor’s offerings in terms of successes and failures. With this offseason, Aramark’s contract was expiring so rival companies were bidding for the contract. It’s not as lucrative as it would be for a new ballpark, especially given the short lease extensions by both the A’s and Raiders. Nevertheless, the Coliseum remains a high profile venue, at least higher than what Ovations had in the baseball world. Chances are slim that any new offerings could be ready in time for FanFest – even though the Coliseum will be open this time around – because the turnaround is short. But it’d be nice if they had a booth to display a preview of their offerings.
When the latest Matier and Ross column featuring Coliseum City and the A’s dropped over the weekend, I wasn’t sure if I should follow-up right away or wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Drop it did, with a press release coming from the A’s early today. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of any of it. BayIG (the combined investor/developer group) was supposed to contact the A’s starting in mid-November. Now it’s all a bunch of he-said/she-said. It’s all meaningless in the grand scheme of things, so I won’t bother wasting anymore words on it.
Instead I’ll reference a nightmare scenario that happened almost 40 years ago. It involves a Charlie Finley anecdote that I hadn’t fully heard until I read his 2010 biography some time ago. In the late 70′s, Finley was fighting a personal two-front war, an acrimonious divorce on one side and skyrocketing salaries that threatened his ability to operate the A’s on the other. (He also had other feuds with MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the Coliseum Commission and numerous players and agents, but I digress.) Knowing his time in baseball was running out, Finley chose to put the team up for sale as soon as 1977. Numerous suitors surfaced, some offering to keep the team in Oakland and other looking to move the franchise out at the end of the 1977 season. The most famous buyer was oil billionaire Marvin Davis, whose family was said to be the model for the soap opera Dynasty. Davis also owned the 20th Century Fox studio for some time before selling it to some Australian named Rupert Murdoch.
The difficult part of the move was the generally ironclad lease the Coliseum had with the A’s. It was a 20-year term, with an expensive buyout if the A’s left. As the Coliseum filed a $35 million lawsuit against Finley, Finley worked with Kuhn and Giants owner Bob Lurie to figure out a solution. Wait, what did Bob Lurie have to do with this?
Kuhn had been convinced that, with both teams showing poor attendance, the Bay Area was only a one-team market. He spoke to pols in both San Francisco and Oakland to work on a compromise, but in the end the Bay Area would be left with only one team. Previously, Lurie had bought the team from Horace Stoneham, saving SF from the prospect of moving the Giants to Toronto. Lurie was brought into the talks to figure out what role the Giants would have in a one-team Bay Area.
The solution, as architected by Kuhn and others before the 1978 season, would’ve been to have the A’s sold to Marvin Davis, which would’ve gotten rid of Kuhn’s nemesis Finley. Then in order to compromise on the Coliseum lease, the Giants would’ve played some number of games at the Coliseum, 25-40 depending on how the final deal was drawn up. In San Francisco the team would’ve been called the San Francisco Giants, while in Oakland the team would’ve been called simply the Giants. Kuhn recalled:
For the next three weeks, the politicians, the baseball administration and the lawyers struggled to find solutions. At last, amazingly, parity was agreed to. The team name would be the San Francisco Giants except in Oakland, where it would be the Giants. Financial payments to the Oakland Coliseum were set at $3.25 million. The internal fight within baseball was difficult when Finley would put up no more than $1 million as his share of the Coliseum payment. Even that we were able to persuade the clubs to accept. But, when we asked him [Finley] to waive claims of any kind against baseball, he balked.
Even though Finley was leaving baseball – forever – he still wanted to keep his right to sue just in case he felt he got ripped off. Finley was no stranger to courtrooms, so this could be expected. Still, you’d think that after all that work (and his building desperation) he would’ve waived that one right in order to finish the deal. The sale fell apart and Finley went into full fire sale mode, finally selling the team to the Haas family in 1980.
Consider the ramifications:
- The Giants would’ve become the San Francisco Giants/Giants, probably playing most of the Oakland games before football season.
- The buyout would’ve funded improvements to the Coliseum that Al Davis was seeking, improvements that probably would’ve kept the Raiders in Oakland.
- From that point forward, the Bay Area would’ve been a one-team town, with a young, growing city like San Jose pursuing an expansion franchise.
- Eventually, the team-sharing situation would’ve created a race between SF and Oakland to build a permanent home when leases at both Candlestick Park and the Coliseum expired in the late 80′s. Territorial rights would’ve included the “BART counties” plus Marin County.
- Rickey Henderson, who was drafted in 1976, would’ve spent much of his career in Denver. The same could be said of Tony Armas and Dwayne Murphy, among others. Marvin Davis had the money to bolster the team’s payroll, so the chances of keeping a talented young team intact were very good.
So this Christmas, thank the ghost of Charlie Finley for being so selfish that he had to be able to sue – just in case. Without that, the Oakland Athletics would’ve been a 10 year experiment, a blip on the radar, an historical anomaly.
(h/t Rob Neyer, who referenced the near-sale when the A’s-to-China Basin reports surfaced. I didn’t see his post until after I finished this one.)
It would be silly to devote a post to every single new tidbit that comes out, so I’ll do one of those rare newswraps here.
- The East Bay Express’s Robert Gammon reported that the previous group showing interest in buying the A’s (Don Knauss, Doug Boxer, Mike Ghielmetti) is back again talking up buying the franchise. This time, they’re not alone. There could be up to three groups, including one fronted by Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. Lacob and Guber were previously associated with the Dolich-Piccinini group in 2001. Lew Wolff continues to maintain that the team is not for sale.
- Bill Shaikin of the LA Times partly shot down the Warriors connection when he contacted Guber, who said unequivocally that he’s not interested in the A’s. Lacob and others may be interested, though Lacob is not commenting at the moment.
- BANG’s Marcus Thompson wrote a quite stirring column asking Oakland to act now to save the A’s in Oakland. Thompson also asked many of the important questions about both Howard Terminal and Coliseum City that currently have no answers.
- SFGate has a new editorial imploring MLB to make a decision, once and for all. In the column is a quote from Wolff claiming that Howard Terminal’s cost would be more than $1 billion.
Pretty heavy news day, huh? Well, not according to KCBS’s Doug Sovern.
— Doug Sovern (@SovernNation) December 18, 2013
Is there actual news to report? Why yes there is!
- The FCC is moving forward with its proposal to eliminate TV blackouts of sports broadcasts. The proposal mainly targets NFL games, so naturally the NFL opposes it.
- The 49ers struck a partnership with fellow Santa Clara resident Intel for a major sponsorship & technology deal. Intel will provide a great deal of tech infrastructure while taking control of the big northwest gate.
Finally, Bizjournal’s Nate Donato-Weinstein has been tracking the iStar development and has an update. If you’re not aware, iStar is a developer and land owner tied to the Earthquakes stadium project. While the stadium is going up west of San Jose Airport, the iStar land is in South San Jose’s Edenvale neighborhood. The plan was to take some of the proceeds of various development activities at iStar and funnel them towards the stadium. The numbers:
- 260,000 square feet of office space
- 150,000 square feet of retail
- 720 housing units
- $10 million would be funneled to the stadium
Those numbers are important because they can provide a comparison to what is being proposed at Coliseum City.
- 837,000 square feet of office space
- 265,000 square feet of retail
- 837 housing units
- 2 hotels comprising 478 units
iStar went through numerous struggles and iterations as the recession ravaged the real estate market. Now that things are on the rebound, projects like iStar are picking up again. It’s surprising that despite the fairly large scope of the project, only $10 million is being made available. That’s
one-sixth one-seventh the $60 $70 million budget for the Earthquakes stadium. Now consider that Coliseum City, whose Area A phases cover comparable development plans (other than the much greater office space) over a very long timeline. How much could the development activity realistically provide? $50 million? $100 million? While revenue sharing formulas will probably be different, there is a practical limit before eating into profitability. The Raiders stadium will cost more than 15 times as much as the Earthquakes’ new digs. Bridging the gap is the foremost issue for these stadium initiatives. Without that puzzle solved, there really isn’t much else to talk about.