Category Archives: Editorial
If you’re Oakland or San Jose, things could be worse. Much worse. Take the state capital. It has only one major league team whose ownership would have left already except that they’re too broke to do it. The arena is falling apart due to cheapness. And the market is a government town, among the hardest hit by the recession. Fan groups have been more energized and organized than any in the Bay Area in their efforts to keep the Kings in town, to no avail. The City spent money on studies, and business leaders spent and pledged money towards a new arena. It all nearly went away after the 2010-11 season and could go away again next April. It’s bad times all around.
When we last left off with the Maloof family, they were being lured to Virginia Beach with the promise of a new arena all to themselves, with taxes and a state subsidy paying for the Kings relocation costs. Those plans got a big stop from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R), who didn’t allocate $150 million in requested money to the arena in the 2012-13 state budget. McDonnell isn’t completely shutting down the arena effort, he just wants a firmer plan on how the financing is going to work.
That didn’t stop the City of Virginia Beach from moving forward, as its City Council today approved the arena plan without the $150 million state funding, expecting that a future budget amendment will take care of the need as additional studies and prep work are done.
Seattle also looms, as it has a temporary arena and plans for a future arena (which has critics in the Mariners and Amtrak). The problem is there that point man Chris Hansen would prefer to buy the team from the Maloofs instead of just being a landlord. The Maloofs, as handcuffed as they are, have shown no intention of selling the Kings.
What’s Sacramento to do? It can sue the Maloofs for defaulting on loans once the team skips town, but not before that happens. Even then, that can’t really stop the team from moving. It’ll just force the family to give up Sleep Train Arena and the surrounding land along with some sort of cash settlement. The team itself is under control of a limited partnership, which makes it more-or-less out of reach unless the family declares bankruptcy.
Arena land has some development value, though not much. Meanwhile, Sleep Train Arena remains decrepit and the market remains small. A hockey team from the south might be a good candidate (as well as a new regional rival for the Sharks), STA is not built for hockey. Yet I think hockey may be the best chance for major pro sports if the Kings leave. Fans have shown they’ll support a team 41 times a year in a 17,000-seat arena even with high ticket prices (the Kings are among the top half in the NBA). Sacramento could also get in line for an expansion NBA franchise, but it’s hard to see the city getting in front of Seattle for the next franchise unless a fully-subsidized arena is offered.
Selling old ARCO’s development rights isn’t as feasible as it was a few years ago because the death of redevelopment has removed a key financing method for new public infrastructure: tax increment. It’s a shame that if the Kings are lost to another city, the forces that will need to be marshaled to sell the public on a new arena with a large amount of public money will be an order of magnitude more difficult than what they’ve had to do the last few years. Maybe it’ll be enough that the Maloofs aren’t involved to sabotage anything.
Then again, maybe David Stern can pull one last power play to keep the team in Sacramento. Or a white knight like the Ron Burkle could come in, even though he’s proven to be not much of an activist champion type when it comes to his sports properties. It seems more likely that the team will leave, karma be damned, and life will have to go on without the Kings. It’s just as familiar as it is tragic.
Then wait some more.
Bud Selig. The State of California. The San Francisco Giants. Irwin Raij. Bob Starkey. Corey Busch. AT&T.
It’s a terrible feeling being helpless. Unable to control one’s destiny. At the mercy of other governments and governing bodies. That’s San Jose’s lot when it comes to bringing in the A’s. There isn’t much they can do about it. Sue MLB or the Giants and it would take years to resolve. Suing the state over the ballpark land deal would also take time. The best and most San Jose can do now is make sure the Earthquakes stadium gets built on time. The City needs to a productive example to the community that it can in turn use to sell to the public prior to a referendum. Consider it a feather in the City’s cap than a must-have.
One thing that could become a factor is the status of the A’s at the Coliseum past 2013. Though it’s expected that the A’s will sign some kind of short-term lease extension (likely brokered by MLB), San Jose should be ready to act if the A’s/MLB/Coliseum Authority can’t come to a deal. That may mean pulling some strings to make way for a temporary facility. If that’s what it takes, so be it. Aces Ballpark in Reno took a year to build. West Sacramento’s Raley Field took less than nine months and was planned to take only six months. San Jose should be prepared to act quickly on an MLB ruling, not the City’s strong suit.
When the NFL instituted a new stadium loan program concurrent with its new CBA in 2011, a horserace was implied. Enshrined in the CBA is an earmark of 1.5% of the league’s annual revenue for stadium construction and renovation. This includes anything from planned stadia to ongoing debt for stadia built during previous CBAs. The league’s 2011 revenue was around $9.5 billion, putting that earmark at $142.5 million per year and rising. With the 10-year CBA in place, banks and lenders can feel secure knowing that the funding mechanism for whatever loans that make to teams and municipalities are practically the gold standard in pro sports. That paved the way for the following projects:
- 49ers stadium in Santa Clara: $200 million in G-4 program loans, plus $500 million in additional loans from Bank of America, US Bank, and Goldman Sachs
- Vikings stadium in Minneapolis: Up to $200 million (possibly $163 million) in G-4 funding out of a total of $477 million team contribution, though public share is somewhat shaky
- Lambeau Field expansion: $58 million in G-4 money for $143 million expansion project allotted earlier in the fall
Discussions continue for G-4 funds to help with renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo ($200 million project), along with the new stadia being requested by the Raiders and Chargers. And this week, the Atlanta Falcons announced a framework for a new, $1 billion stadium. The framework is really quite simple.
- $300 million from hotel taxes in the Atlanta area (public share)
- $700 million from the Falcons, which would presumably include up to $200 million in G-4 loans.
While the Falcons fanbase has recently been solid (above 95% sold the last 6 years), it’s not expected that PSL revenue yields will be as high as for the 49ers, Cowboys, or Giants. A vaguely modest $100-200 million chunk from PSL sales is part of the equation. But it’s that top line item that is worth studying further.
The Atlanta metro area has a whopping 94,000 hotel rooms, 15,000 in downtown Atlanta alone. That enormous inventory allows Atlanta to host large events on a regular basis, whether it’s the Super Bowl or large conventions. The City of Atlanta even has the power to levy an occupancy tax on hotels in neighboring College Park, next to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. So if Atlanta and Fulton County want to raise money through a hotel or car rental tax, it can raise a lot of money.
- 40,000 rooms (<50% occupancy) x $1.25 (1% occupancy tax increase) x 365 days = $18,250,000
$18 million per year would go a long way towards funding a new stadium. Could Oakland and Alameda County pull off something like this?
According to visit Oakland, the entire city of Oakland has a little over 3,500 hotel rooms. There are probably 10,000 or less rooms throughout all of Alameda County. Even with a higher occupancy rate, Oakland/Alameda County would be lucky to pull in a sixth of what Atlanta gets, or $3 million/year. It’s not horrible, but it’s definitely a secondary funding source. Worse, Oakland already hiked its bed tax from 11% to 14% in 2009 (Measure C), in order to help fund the Oakland Zoo, Chabot Space Center, and visit Oakland. Citizens who approved the previous hike in a landslide may be less inclined to go to the same well a second time.
Yet there needs to be a clear definition of what the public share is going to be. The Coliseum JPA might be able to get away with pledging only $100-150 million as Santa Clara did. Of course, Santa Clara’s Stadium Authority (the Coliseum JPA counterpart) is technically liable for up to $800 million. At least they negotiated protections that everyone hopes never gets tested.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan may be pushing for EB-5 funding to help. The controversial program has had allegations of fraud, but could provide a sort of triple-threat with the Coliseum City project. Hotel projects are reportedly a popular project for EB-5 funds. Should a â€œpackageâ€ of 100 applicants put in their $500k-$1M and get approved, Coliseum City would have $25-100 million available for a hotel and/or stadium. That would not only help defray the cost, it would also provide additional hotel rooms (and tax revenue) to further pay off the project. Another potential federal program threatens to undercut EB-5: a visa to any foreign investor who buys a house worth $500k or more. Now, if I’m a Chinese national who wants to put my kid through Stanford, would I rather go with the EB-5 and be forced to invest in some other business, or buy a house in Palo Alto/Menlo Park for my kid to stay in and flip it for a profit when he went off to grad school? The latter seems a lot cleaner to me.
Then there’s the prospect of a sales tax hike similar to the failed Measure B1 campaign. Yes, sales tax-funded stadia are anathema in California and should be considered nonstarters. Yet if Oakland really were in a hurry to get things like Coliseum City and OAB funded, they could go it alone and impose a citywide tax. Again, it’s not going to provide a ton of sales tax revenue since Oakland is not that big a city (400k population) and is severely underretailed. Plus Alameda County would not be happy with Oakland levying its own tax hike because it would complicate any Measure B1-like planned hikes.
Oakland has a lot of ways to put together a Coliseum City deal. While I talked exclusively Raiders here, the same public options would be available for an A’s ballpark nearby. It’s up to Mayor Quan and the City Council to start having that adult conversation that I’ve been harping on them to have for at least a year. If December 17th’s presentation occurs without any talk of how to fund Coliseum City, it will show that Oakland isn’t ready to have that discussion. It’ll be hard to take Oakland seriously. At some point, you have to decide to stop kicking the can down the road. The Raiders and A’s have leases that end in 2013. Time to stop talking about a deal, and start making a deal.
Athletics Nation honcho Tyler Bleszinski (a.k.a. Blez) put up his annual Billy Beane interview yesterday, and as usual it’s a treat. Fortunately, this offseason’s conversation was more occupied by what the team did instead of looking to the future. It’s a good read.
Once you’re done with that, contrast that conversation with one held with Mark “not Rincon” Shapiro and conducted by Fox Sports Ohio’s Pat McManaman. The 2012 edition of the Indians spent the first half of the season at or a few games within first place, only to sink like they wore cement shoes after the All Star Break. Their last winning season was in 2007, when the team went to the ALCS and squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Red Sox. Back then the team was well-stocked with quality youth in the field (Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko, Franklin Gutierrez) and studs on the mound (C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez, Jake Westbrook). If the team could get over the hump, the malaise of the early 2000′s would give way to a resurgence, perhaps reminiscent of the mid-90′s clubs that dominated the AL Central. Instead, the team traded both Sabathia and Lee as they neared free agency, later traded Gutierrez, Martinez and Peralta while Sizemore and Hernandez were beset with injuries. It’s not a unique script. The A’s fortunes during that period played out much the same way, with Eric Chavez and Justin Duchscherer constantly rotating between the DL and the active roster, and Bobby Crosby simply not panning out after a RoY season. Poor yields on trades kept both teams from successfully rebuilding. It’s a script all revenue-poor teams have to follow, often with a boom season being illusory instead of trendsetting. Poor teams can afford to make fewer mistakes. Rich teams can afford to have Barry Zito suck for more than half of his contract until he redeems himself as a 4th starter. In Cleveland or Oakland, Zito’s contract is a pair of cement shoes.
That the Indians haven’t won the Series since the Truman administration is well-known. Not even a successful movie franchise has lifted the curse or healed the Cleveland fan’s psyche. No, it’s not as long as the Cubs’ endless suffering, but at least Chicago’s had other teams win in the meantime. The annual disappointment properly frames a snippet of the discussion between McManaman and Shapiro, as they talk about lagging attendance and the business side of the Indians. Shapiro was promoted to Indians president after the 2010 season, so he has his hands in more than just personnel work, now the task of GM Mark Antonetti.
Q: Is there a perception problem in town?
A: The biggest perception issue is probably the simplest one, which is we’re still to some extent always viewed in the backdrop of those ‘90s teams, when in reality that was a completely different business model. Those (Indians) teams were literally the Red Sox, the Cubs, the Dodgers. We were top five in payroll, as high as three. And our revenues generated that.
So I think there’s that general public sentiment that, ‘Hey if you win enough people will come.’ But that’s not necessarily true. We had a unique set of circumstances.
There was a new ballpark. That’s a huge multiplier. We hadn’t won in 40 years. That’s a multiplier. There was no football team in town. That magnified our revenues. The one that gets overlooked a lot is the industry was coming off a strike, so all of our revenues were amplified because all the other teams’ revenues were significantly tamped down at that point. So ours were amplified. Our spending power was amplified on the free agent market. And the city was economically in a better place. There were four Fortune 500 companies that were here that are no longer here.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? While the A’s didn’t have a new ballpark, they and the Coliseum Commission teamed up to make improvements to the Coliseum that made it arguably the best ballpark in the majors in the late 80′s. They were able to do this because the Raiders fled the stadium for Los Angeles. Wally Haas had the immediately competitive BillyBall teams of the early 80′s, then a rebuilding period, followed by the powerhouse Bash Brothers teams, during which Haas was a profligate spender. Dick Jacobs didn’t time the Indians’ rise to occur with Art Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore, but he sure took advantage of it. The Indians cashed in big by not having a major sport competitor in their midst other than the somewhat interesting Cavaliers. Like the A’s Moneyball era, the Indians’ run lasted about seven years. Among the Once the Browns were reconstituted via expansion, the novelty at Jacobs Field started to wear off and the more Clevelanders could turn their attention to an expansion team that, by nature of expansion, was doomed to struggle for several years. Like Haas, Jacobs and his brother David sold the Indians as the era was ending, and as a football team returned. In the twelve years since, the Indians have been above .500 three times and went to the playoffs once, that 2007 season. As long as Mike Ilitch and Jerry Reinsdorf own rivals in the division, they’ll always have more revenue and spend more than the Indians, just as the Rangers and Angels will in the West.
Shapiro then delved into what it means to spend more.
Q: That was a decade and a half ago, really. Fifteen years. Do you think people, the general populace still judges in those terms?
A: I think it frames that very guttural reaction, like, “Hey, if you win it’s already been shown people will come.” That’s what you hear all the time.
Q: Do you believe that?
A: I think more people will come. But the challenge is 2.2 million instead of 1.6 million doesn’t change the way we operate. Even that extra 500,000, 600,000 people, even if that’s $10-to-15 more million in revenue a year . . . one win in free agency is $9 million. So you’re not going to change the context. Again, I don’t think people want to intellectualize baseball, and I don’t believe you should have to intellectualize baseball . . . and we’ve made a conscious decision in most of our interviews not to get into these topics and just stay positive and talk about what our aspirations are.
But that revenue swing between 1.5 million in attendance and 2.2 million in attendance . . . meaningful dollars but not dollars that will have us plan dramatically different.
Q: It wouldn’t change the amount of money spent?
A: It would change the amount of spent to 15 million dollars a year. What does that buy you in free agency? Very little. One and a half wins.
The A’s pulled in 1.6 million in attendance in 2012. At $25 per head, a rise to 2.2 million puts the A’s at an extra $15 million in revenue, the top range of Shapiro’s estimate – and that doesn’t account for costs so it will surely be lower than $15 million. While Shapiro doesn’t want to go too deep into the numbers, he knows what every front office knows: that the poor teams are hurt doubly by the current economic system. Aspiring to an $80 million payroll is great, yet it provides zero guarantees, enormous risk, and the cost per win in free agency (at least with WAR as the leading statistic) is so out of scale that it’s absolutely prudent to spend wisely in the short and long-term. It also puts the lie to the idea that if the A’s just win fans will come out, and that will save the team in Oakland. Something more fundamental has to change for the A’s to get to the point that they are no longer poor. As much as many in the pro-Oakland group want to believe that can happen in Oakland, I remain skeptical that it can. Just look at Bud Selig’s throwaway line when he was questioned by Bill Shaikin the other day.
Q: Do you believe a new ballpark in Oakland is feasible?
A: I don’t know. That is one of the things we are checking.
Oakland boosters have had three years to make the case that Oakland is feasible. I know the obstacles facing San Jose: the Giants’ territorial rights and a referendum. In Oakland, the challenge is much deeper and just as impossible to ignore. How much can revenues be expected to rise? $40 million? $60 million? What will make the franchise turn the corner in that city? How much is enough to compete regularly? After three years, Selig remains as unsure about Oakland as ever. After three years, you’d think he’d have the confidence to hammer out a deal the way David Stern did with Sacramento by bypassing ownership, or by having Bob DuPuy deal directly with a municipality as was done in Miami. The fact that Selig hasn’t should tell you something, and that something is not good. Selig claims that he’ll be guided by the “best interests in baseball”. From an emotional standpoint that should mean saving baseball in Oakland. Unfortunately, emotion and business generally aren’t compatible.
The A’s 2013 doesn’t look like the Indians’ 2008. They don’t have a bunch of pitchers that are about hit their sixth year. The roster is pretty well cost-controlled through 2015, allowing for flexibility in terms of offseason and midseason trades along with free agent signings. For the collective A’s fans’ sake, I hope that the team doesn’t regress as so many others have done. Otherwise Beane’s interview this time next year won’t read like this year’s, it’ll read like Shapiro’s.
At once insane and tantalizingly possible, the Oakland Athletics are buyers this offseason. Any questions about Billy Beane’s M.O. were answered swiftly when word came this afternoon of the first big winter trade (Winter? I was wearing shorts on a 71 degree sunny day today.). Middle infielder Cliff Pennington and prospect Yordy Cabrera were traded to Arizona for former All Star CF Chris Young and $500,000 cash. Cabrera was later sent to Miami for reliever Heath Bell, but we’ll ignore that for the time being.
Young will earn $8.5 million this year and $10 million in 2014 if the A’s pick up his option. If not, the buyout price is $1.5 million. Coco Crisp, the A’s current CF, makes $7 million in 2013 with a $7.5 million 2014 option ($1 million buyout). That puts the A’s investment in four outfielders – Crisp, Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick – at $24 million, nearly half the 2012 payroll. Even with that kind of money, the four players combined for 13.6 WAR in 2012, making the 2013 expenditure pretty good value any way you slice it.
When the news was first released, the most prominent immediate fan reaction was to wonder what would happen to Crisp. It was Crisp who was re-signed only nine months ago, and many fans wondered if that was a wise decision considering the number of nearly ready young outfielders in the A’s farm system. Once Cespedes signed with Oakland in February, it seemed as though Crisp’s days were numbered. When the A’s had their nine-game losing streak at the end of May, Crisp’s name surfaced as trade bait, despite his struggles throughout the first two months of the season. Yet Crisp got himself right in June, perhaps because he got the starting CF job back. His energy and skill at the top of the order made him arguably the most dangerous weapon in the A’s lineup by the All Star Break. Now Crisp seems almost indispensable among many fans, at least judging from reactions on Twitter. It’s a remarkable story that stands among many on the A’s squad. Crisp does have a lengthy injury history, though this year he was out at times because of illness (flu, pinkeye) rather than a muscle or joint problem.
If anyone is likely to be moved or non-tendered, it’s Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, or both. Both contributed nicely in a DH+occasional OF platoon situation. Smith will hit his second arbitration year, and his value is strictly in that platoon role vs. RHP. Gomes is the opposite, mashing against lefties and coming in very cheap with a $1 million salary for 2013. Both players will command around $3.5 million, and both will want multiyear deals if possible and more plate appearances – which may be few and far between if the “Four Horsemen” stay healthy and get their 550-600 PAs. Young assumes Gomes’ role, which is a shame because Gomes is such a likable guy and a local, but that’s how the business works. Beane has already said on a conference call Saturday that Gomes would be affected by the Young acquisition.
I’ve put together a spreadsheet showing the A’s projected 2013 payroll. It makes certain key assumptions about the makeup of the A’s roster:
- Stephen Drew’s $10 million mutual option is picked up. Drew showed improvement late in the season and appears healed from his ankle injury troubles. That’s not going to make the A’s or anyone commit to a really rich deal, no matter how much Scott Boras pushes for one.
- Seth Smith is retained. I don’t think this is a given because of the reasons previously defined. If he stays it’s probably for $3.5 million. If he is replaced by someone in the A’s system like Collin Cowgill or Shane Peterson, the A’s will save $3 million in the process. Keep that in mind for future payroll projections.
- Brandon McCarthy is re-signed. The elder statesman of the pitching staff, he’ll never reach 35 starts in a season because of lingering shoulder problems. But he is very effective when healthy and is a great clubhouse leader and spokesman for the club, and his (and his wife’s) media presence helps put a face to a team that might otherwise go relatively anonymous. He should be affordable to keep, and worth it.
- Brett Anderson is not traded. If Anderson had not suffered elbow trouble that resulted in Tommy John surgery, Anderson might already be elsewhere. Having come back late in the season, he looked very good in limited action. He has ace-quality stuff, which as we’ve seen in the playoffs, can be pretty important.
- No other big trades or free agents signings are done. This is the A’s we’re talking about, so nothing’s for certain when it comes to personnel. I’m keeping it like this to illustrate what the the payroll looks like now and to show how much headroom remains.
All told, the payroll is as much as $65 million. Brandon Moss should have Super Two status, so he may earn more than what is listed. Without Smith (and Gomes), the payroll is only $62 million. The pattern for the A’s has been to respond to an encouraging season (2006, 2010) by bumping up payroll. In 2007 the A’s came off an ALCS appearance and boosted payroll to $79 million, with $46 million devoted to five players: Jason Kendall, Eric Chavez, Mike Piazza, Mark Kotsay, and Esteban Loaiza. None of those five produced in any meaningful way for various reasons, and all except Chavez were off the team during or shortly after the end of the 2007 season.
The 2008 season showed promise, with a solid young core and a .500 record. Payroll was bumped for 2009 from $48 million to $62 million. We know how 2009 went: Matt Holliday produced well but not like a superstar he was advertised to be, and Jason Giambi proved that you can’t go home again. So we know how this could play out if the team flames out. The A’s could easily spend another $10-15 million without much trouble, but if the team is 10 games back by July trading deadline, we could very well see another selloff. The Marlins tailed off in the NL East by the end of June, resulting in the trades of Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Gaby Sanchez, Edward Mujica, and Heath Bell. Not even a new ballpark could keep the fans from leaving in droves, forcing the directive for Larry Beinfest to cut costs posthaste.
It’s not by accident. This is a script all low-revenue teams have to work with. The A’s pulled in 1.6 million fans this season. Say they brought another 400,000 fans in to bring the 2013 total to a cool 2 million. At $30 a person, that translates to $12 million in extra revenue, about half of that going to payroll. The annual winter revenue sharing payment should also help. Success has cascading effects, as there’s also a lower percentage of no-shows and greater revenues from media and sponsorships. It’s a snowball effect. We’ve seen it run positively in the last few weeks, and negatively in recent years.
That makes a $62-65 million payroll something of a jumping off point. The A’s could support an $80 million payroll if things continue to go well. $80 million isn’t still in the bottom third of MLB, but it’s a good deal of extra budget to play with. However, we know that free agent spending has yielded mixed results, and that cost per win can be very difficult to pin down at times from a GM standpoint. Fortunately the team is strong in the outfield and pitching staff, making the weak spots easier to live with. How should Beane and Forst use $15-18 million of headroom? They could stand pat. They could make another trade or pick up a free agent (or two). They could go into the international market as they have in the past (Cespedes, Iwakuma, Ynoa) to bid on a young arm like Japanese high school phenom Shohei Otani. They could save it for some midseason deadline deals. Whatever way the front office chooses to go, the possibilities are practically endless. The future is bright, it’s ahead of schedule, and the A’s world – from owner to fan and everything in between – can’t be anything but happy about it.
If you read this blog, the chances are good that you hate the Yankees. I know I do. I enjoy watching them lose. I enjoy how they constantly overpay for talent (Raul Ibanez excepted). I enjoy the fact that Yankees fans have to endure John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman on the radio. And I enjoy watching the scene at the Yankees’ overpriced stadium, with its overpriced, empty seats and empty atmosphere.
But I look a recent article by CSN’s Ray Ratto with bemusement. He compared Yankee Stadium’s current atmosphere to the Coliseum’s last week during the ALDS. Ratto proclaimed the great Oakland fanbase, as it magnanimously came back for the last week of the season and the playoffs to create the kind of 10th-man crowd rarely seen in baseball.
The fact is, the fans in Oakland made Oakland a cool place to play the last few weeks, not out of obligation, but because the players taught them how to overcome their annoyance at the people who run the franchise. And it certainly wasn’t out of anticipation for a new stadium somewhere, either.
It was the moment that made the ballpark, and the comparisons with Yankee Stadium have never been more apt.
As A’s fans, we’ll always have that moment, the 2012 season (July-October, anyways), and the improbable tally of 15 walkoff victories to hold in our hearts forever and to keep us hopeful for the future. Maybe someone will write a book or make a movie about it. If moments were enough to sustain the A’s, we’d have no worries about the future of the franchise. The harsh reality of the situation is this:
- All four teams in the LCS have payrolls over $110 million, and have been at or above that level for several years.
- Three of the four teams have won the last three World Series.
- The exception, the Tigers, went to the ALCS last year and the World Series in 2006.
The teams that are left in the postseason, they aren’t satisfied with disparate moments. They want success. They demand it regularly. They have the revenue to pay for that success, and that’s exactly what they do: pay for it. With that comes raised expectations, such as winning the World Series every year in the Yankees case. They aren’t the A’s, who are famously beneath 50 feet of crap. Sustained success is not something A’s fans can realistically demand every year because the franchise doesn’t pay for it, and neither do the fans. So Ratto can smugly claim superiority, but the real story is that A’s fans had zero expectations going in, making the whole season feel like we were playing with house money. Yankees fans, well, they are the house. They expect returns. Should they not be entitled to the same kind of disaffection many A’s fans have felt? We all vote with our wallets, right?
Disaffection means people walk. For the A’s, it means people don’t pay for cheap tickets. For the Yankees, it means people don’t pay for expensive tickets, whether on the primary or secondary market. Going into 2012, Yankees regular season tickets were 238% the cost of A’s tickets, according to FCI. Nosebleed seats for the ALCS, which start at $41 and escalate quickly up to $1,500, remain available for potential Games 3 and 4. StubHub has an enormous inventory of available ALCS tickets. Sure, the Yankees are gouging their fans. But even in the old Yankee Stadium, where tickets are generally cheaper, the Yankees choked plenty of times in the playoffs. Did the 10th man have any measurable effect there? It certainly didn’t get them over the hump. In Game 5 of the A’s-Tigers ALDS, Justin Verlander quieted the crowd with strikeout after strikeout. The fans’ only release came after the final out, when a long and deserved standing ovation greeted the fallen heroes. What the Yankees are experiencing now and the A’s did from 2007 to 2011 are not fundamentally different. The only real difference was the level of expectations for both teams.
This great postseason we’ve witnessed so far this year has reminded me a lot of a really good NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. You have your major conference powers like Duke, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Kentucky (Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals). They’re the teams that constantly make the Sweet Sixteen (third and fourth rounds), even the Final Four (semis/finals). Then you have your Cinderella teams, the mid-major schools like Belmont or George Mason. Frequently overlooked, and with a fraction of the resources the big schools have, no one expects these teams to win. When they do win it becomes a big story. That’s what the A’s and Orioles represented this year, along with the Moneyball A’s and recent Tampa Bay teams of the past.
Sometimes those Cinderella teams get to the Final Four. Almost invariably, they don’t win it all. The last Cinderella team to win the NCAA basketball championship was Rollie Massimino’s 1985 Villanova squad, and they’re arguably a Cinderella because Villanova was perennially competitive in the hoops-crazy, big money Big East. The last win-it-all Cinderella story in MLB was the 2003 Florida Marlins ($49 million payroll), and unlike Villanova, they sank into mediocrity shortly after the World Series. It’s great to revel in these stories, but let’s remember that they’re exceptions, not the rule. The Yankees and Tigers beat the Orioles and A’s, respectively, because they can afford $20 million/year aces like C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. More than ever, it seems as though premium pitching comes at a premium – and is worth the investment. Try as everyone can – and Billy Beane does – to beat the house, the house usually wins. And that’s nothing to be smug about.
Update 7:28 PM – This Grantland post and mine came to similar conclusions.
Last night I gave myself until midnight to mourn the end of the A’s 2012 season. At midnight I realized that I hadn’t eaten since lunch, too nervous to do so during or before the game. So I took an hour and took care of my hunger pangs before settling in to start this post.
The memories of this season will remain fresh throughout the winter, through the inevitable rumors about roster shuffling. Which starting pitchers will be kept? Can Billy Beane find a real solution at second? And most importantly, what expectations will we have for the A’s in 2012, after they came out of nowhere to take the division from two teams (Rangers & Angels) whose combined payroll was five times that of the A’s?
That’s what it comes down to. Going into 2012, no one had any expectations of the roster, the fans, ownership, or anything else associated with the Oakland Athletics. All that has changed starting October 12, 2012. The bar has been raised. Everyone from fans to the media to the rest of baseball will expect more out of the A’s. The element of surprise that fueled much of the euphoria this year will have evaporated. That childlike joy, that sense that no one has anything to lose, will have to give way for a more consistent, more professional franchise. New expectations come with a weight for a team to bear, and in our case, the fans also have to bear it. It’s not enough to look at two weeks or a month and call Oakland “saved” for baseball. That would be like looking at Brandon Inge’s first week in an Oakland uniform and declaring him the third baseman of the future. It’s asinine and completely absurd. No, the test starts now: of ownership to cultivate this success, of the front office to sustain it, and of the fans to respond in kind.
Nothing gets a pro sports team’s sales organization going like a playoff run. In September the A’s sales group started to push hard for season ticket deposits, fueled by renewed fan enthusiasm. They got me on board for 2013, my yearlong experiment with walkup and online ticketing over. I’m an easy sell. I don’t have a grudge against ownership, and my worldview isn’t inextricably tied to the word “Oakland”, keeping me from investing my fandom. Many longtime A’s fans have stayed away because of ownership. They are naturally going to be tough sells. Has this fresh, exciting team brought those fans back into the fold, or will they look for more from ownership to convince them?
Yesterday’s pregame announcement of tarp removal for the ALCS/World Series elicited some positive reaction, but that isn’t enough going forward. Those same tarps for the original upper deck (West Side) should be removed forever, just as I had outlined as an option last week. Close down the Plaza Reserved seats to dial back the capacity somewhat, and simply sell sections of the upper deck on an as-needed basis as the Dodgers have done in the past. That should bring the capacity back to 43,000 or so, with 36,000 in play most of the time until high-demand or premium games comes around.
As for the roster, the front office is fortunate that there is only one high-priced free agent on whom to make a decision, Stephen Drew. While Drew played solidly since his trade from Arizona, $10 million is a high price and from a pure value perspective, not worth it. There’s a chance that Drew is bought out and a new deal done, but that would also put him on the open market, where there could be a premium for a someone who is ostensibly an average-to-good shortstop.
Then there’s Brandon McCarthy. Take away the horrendous line drive incident, because McCarthy’s already throwing and all parties were looking to clear him for the World Series. He even took time to write a back-page article for SI. No, McCarthy’s issue has, and always will be, the health of his right shoulder. Prior to September, McCarthy had to be put on the disabled list twice in 2012 and frequently had extra days between starts as his shoulder issues kept creeping. That may sound like a good opening for the team to let him go as many young starters are waiting in the wings, but I go back to what Farhan Zaidi said on Blog Day: “We try to build a set of options – 8, 9, 10, 11-deep of starting pitchers.” In that context, McCarthy should be a fairly easy guy to make a case for, since his injury history has depressed his value somewhat. His effectiveness when he’s there, his presence in the clubhouse, and the outsize positive attention both he and his wife Amanda have brought to the team are all reasons to bring him back for 2 years/$14 million.
Jonny Gomes was a major force, even though he saw only one at bat during the ALDS due to matchups. He should be back, also for 2 years at maybe $6-7 million. Bartolo Colon, who was practically forgotten as A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily were brought up, may not be too easy to dismiss. His PED suspension should’ve driven him out of baseball completely. Yet there’s something appealing about a guy who can simply eat innings. That helped the A’s staff in no small measure in 2012. Maybe he gets signed to a minor league deal and is stashed in Sacramento if he’s willing to be there. Then there’s the case of Dallas Braden, who’s as snakebit now as Justin Duchscherer was a few years back. Again, there’s a limited market for Braden’s services, so non-tender him, sign him to a minor league deal, and let him work out his shoulder problems in the spring and extended spring training.
The second base dilemma is the most puzzling, because none of the options are great. Five or six guys could play the position. Cliff Pennington’s the best defensively because of his arm. Jemile Weeks has the speed and potential leadoff ability but regressed badly in 2012. Adam Rosales is all heart and arm and little else. Scott Sizemore is an unknown because of his lost year. Eric Sogard may have disappeared down the depth chart for good. Grant Green, a organizational fan favorite, has a bat and no glove. Chances are that some guys will be non-tendered, at least one will be traded, and someone else will be stuck in Sacramento for another year, blocked by someone else in Oakland with marginally greater ability. The organization should expect more from second base in the future. It’s up to these players to break through and take the starting job for themselves.
Will the front office attempt another international free agent splash signing? Which Josh Donaldson and Chris Carter will we see to start 2013? How much can the catchers improve defensively? All of these questions have much of the internet fanbase already going through that yearly phase called rosterbation, what has classically been called the Hot Stove League. People in general are talking about the A’s again. There’s real interest and the non-hardcore fanbase may have been aroused enough to commit.
That’s where it gets difficult. The A’s fanbase won’t be judged solely on the last two weeks, as much as people would like to see it. The media liked to characterize this pennant chase as “rekindling Oakland’s love affair with baseball”. It’s romantic and hits all the right notes. But you know what often happens with affairs, right? They wither. They end. What starts as grand and limitless in May can be consigned to the dustbin in December. This is where the fans come in. Fans have to commit. Whatever anyone thinks of ownership, they have produced a winning team. Now it’s time for fans to respond by buying season tickets. Last I heard, season ticket subscriptions added up to 7-8,000 full-season equivalents when accounting for all of the partial plans. If you want this team to stay in Oakland, you need to do your part. Get that number to 10,000. Aim for 2 million in total attendance. Both are modest figures when compared to what happens regularly across the bay, but it’s a start. MLB may be struggling with its Oakland/San Jose decision because it needs to see real numbers like these to justify whatever decision it makes. In Oakland, MLB needs to see that even without a new ballpark, enough fan interest can be generated to avoid a Miami-like situation where attendance dropped off a cliff after the team started to disappoint in their new digs. In San Jose, MLB needs to see that enough of the existing East Bay fanbase can come along even after being alienated to help support the fans in the South Bay. Fan interest, or an apparent lack thereof, is a problem that affects both cities, whether the booster groups and ownership want to admit it or not. If you live in the Bay Area and you love the A’s, now’s the time to show it. Time to stop the posturing. Time to end the excuses. All of the goodwill built up over the last four months will evaporate if next May there’s another run of 10k crowds at the Coliseum. If fans deserve a winning team, they got it. The players have earned our support. The least we can do is provide support en masse. The bar has been raised for us fans too, as it should. If we can’t step up, then we’ll be back to the same old questions about viability and ownership and disaffection. And no one will care outside of the Bay Area, including MLB.
A popular refrain is emerging from the Oakland-only camp, in which the A’s should stay in Oakland because the team’s playoff run, thereby proving that the team can be competitive in Oakland. During the Wheelhouse today, Greg Papa and John Lund mentioned Chris Townsend’s argument that Wolff could go to Selig and the owners and claim, “This is as good as it gets, now let me move the team.” Both arguments are guilty of the most shallow, gut-reaction analysis and are as strong as a wet paper bag. In fact it was Papa who, when Lund asked him if the A’s resurgence changes the equation in any way, correctly pronounced that this season is meaningless in terms of the Oakland/San Jose debate because it doesn’t take into account the big picture.
The fatal flaw with the Oakland-only argument is that they’re arguing against something that wasn’t ownership’s argument to begin with. One season is an outlier, an anomaly. It may start a trend of great success, which would in turn engender greater fan support, which would be great if that happened. If the team can continue to be successful, if it can get season ticket subscriptions past 10,000 for next season, then there’s a very good argument that the fanbase can not only support the team by the loudness of their voices, but also by their sheer numbers. The success may also be a blip, in the way that success couldn’t be sustained over multiple or even consecutive years. No owner, no matter how much he spends on payroll, can guarantee playoff appearances let alone championships, every single year. To expect that of any owner is wholly unrealistic.
Ownership’s argument about moving to Silicon Valley’s better economic environment has always been about being able to sustain a competitive team. Any team can be successful for a year – Oakland and Baltimore this season are testaments to that kind of randomness. It takes incredible skill, luck, and just as important, money to sustain success. Anyone who has been a lifelong fan of A’s baseball has seen this play out several times. Over their 45 years in Oakland, the A’s have lost Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson (twice), Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, the Big Three, and most recently Gio Gonzalez because of ostensibly economic reasons. No ownership group was immune from this inevitability, including the great Walter Haas. If the A’s don’t have a ballpark deal in place the next couple of years, guess who’s going to join that illustrious list? Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, they of the nearly 8 fWAR combined this season. They’re both young, cost-controlled, and will net significant young assets in trade.
Now maybe there’s a legitimate economic argument to keep the A’s in Oakland. If there is, it needs to involve vastly improving season tickets and FTEs (full-season equivalents) past that 10k figure. The Giants are flirting with 30k season tickets thanks to their ballpark and World Series win. The A’s don’t need to match that number, but they need to get to something approaching 20k if anyone wants to take them seriously, whether they’re talking Oakland or San Jose. The thing that is killing the A’s right now is the major swings in attendance. Sure, we can pull in a full house for a Star Wars fireworks night, or what appeared to be 27k for last night’s wild card game clincher. The problem is that the baseline attendance is that season ticket/advance sales figure, which absent of promotions or giveaways hovers around the 10k level. Last night the paid attendance was 21k, including 5,000 walkups. The crowd looked fuller, which can be explained several ways:
- $10 Plaza Level/Outfield seats from the night’s Dynamic Deal
- Much of the Field Level outfield seats taken by season ticket holders who redeemed unused tickets for the last available, designated home date for exchanges. Those tickets count as comps, not as new paid admissions. (thanks to Lone Stranger for that observation)
- Great weather inviting more people out to the yard on a warm, indian summer night
- A meaningful game against a division rival
That said, the 27k I cite is just an estimate based on previous observations of crowds. The Coliseum’s capacity is 35,077. So why wasn’t it completely full? Well, you can’t count on 15k walkups for an A’s game at the Coliseum, no matter how good the team is. Where were all the empty seats, then? Take a look…
No discounts were available for the Plaza Reserved tier, though the A’s will frequently fill the deck when discounts are made. Tonight a similar Dynamic Deal to last night’s was made available. Couple that with the ritual free parking on Tuesdays, and it’s easy to see the announced attendance tonight being 28-30k. These loud, and potentially sizable crowds don’t prove anything other than that people will come out to see a good A’s team when the conditions and price are right. To prove that the market is viable will take a much greater commitment among the fanbase. Don’t call a blip a trend, Start a trend. Without that measurable improvement, that greater commitment, there’s really no discussion to be had.
P.S. – Tomorrow I’ll discuss a way to make improve attendance and renew fan goodwill. Yes, it will involve removing tarps.
Imagine that you’re Raiders owner Mark Davis. It’s December and your team is already out of the playoff hunt, headed towards a losing season and a top 10 draft pick. The team has one more season on its lease at the Oakland Coliseum, and while negotiations and studies are ongoing with Oakland and Alameda County, it’s not like you’re not taking calls from interested parties in LA. The 49ers are progressing quickly on their own stadium, which could be a decent temporary landing spot.
In other words, you have options. Prudent financial planning on your parents’ part appears to have kept the controlling interest of the team within the family, though there isn’t the money to put up a huge share towards construction of a new stadium. You could work a two or three-year deal to keep the team in Oakland while things are worked out, or experiment in Santa Clara for a few years.
At the same time, government handouts for stadia have all but dried up, at least in California. The growing number of minority partners will want their piece of whatever deal is made. The Raiders are currently the third least valuable team in the NFL, mostly due to the lack of revenue generated at O.co Coliseum. The 49ers, who were in similar straits a few years ago, are now worth $1.2 billion thanks to their coming stadium and a deep playoff run that generated enough interest and upfront sales to help pay for the stadium. Those upfront sales, which include an alleged $500k/year for high end suite leases, are the replacement for the big government handout.
That’s all well and good when you’re the 49ers and can tap into wealthy San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and have first-mover advantage to boot. When you’re Mark Davis, only a fraction of that kind of money is available to you – at least in the Bay Area. The 49ers are sucking much of the air out of the market. In Los Angeles that money’s there in spades. And with Phil Anschutz exiting stage left, negotiations with a stadium operator may not be as difficult as they were with Anschutz on board.
Problem for you, Mark, is that if you want to be a first mover on LA, you might want to act when the NFL opens its six-week relocation application window on New Year’s Day, 2013 (or if no one applies in 2013, 1/1/2014). Acting first could provide distinct advantages, such as better lease terms and preferred scheduling if a second team (Chargers, Rams) were to come in. Of course, other teams will be thinking the same thing so that may want to move early too. There’s also the problem of playing one or two years at an interim facility like the LA Coliseum. If you apply for an LA move, it’s almost a certainty that Oakland officials will cease work on Coliseum City, at least the football-centered version of it.
Better to keep your cards close to the vest. Good job on that, for now.
While hanging out in the lower concourse after the epic 7th inning of last night’s game, I got word that the San Jose State Spartans had tied Stanford. Knowing that the game probably wasn’t showing in the West Side Club because of the Pac-12 Network’s carriage problems, I found myself wanting to head across the Bay to watch the finish of the football game. Then I realized that I was already doing another doubleheader on Saturday, starting with Cal reopening Memorial Stadium followed by the Saturday night A’s-Red Sox tilt.
Here in the Bay Area, we are practically drowning in spectator sports. I talk about it once in a while. The local and national media don’t. It’s a thoroughly impressive list of teams and events when you list it all:
- 2 NFL teams
- 2 MLB teams
- 1 NBA team
- 1 NHL team
- 1 MLS team
- Seasonal international soccer friendlies
- 3 FBS/D-I football programs
- 6 D-I baseball and men’s basketball programs
- 6 D-I women’s softball, volleyball, and basketball programs
- Prominent college men’s and women’s soccer programs
- Nation’s most dominant rugby union college program
- AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tourney
- US Open @ Olympic Club or Pebble Beach (roughly twice every seven years)
- Tour stops for ATP and WTA tennis tours
- NASCAR, IndyCar, and other racing circuits @ Sonoma/Sears Point and Laguna Seca
- Multiple stages of the Tour of California cycling race
- 1 arena football team
- 5 minor league or independent league baseball teams
- 2 minor league hockey teams
- 1 minor league basketball team
- 1 perennial high school football state champion/national powerhouse
- A hotbed for MMA training and events
- 3 highly-ranked, world champion boxers
- Mavericks surfing contest
- America’s Cup sailing
Not even New York or Los Angeles can match that wide variety and frequency of teams and events, pro and amateur. There’s almost always something to watch. It takes me away from my non-sports fan friends and makes them wonder about my sanity sometimes. I don’t care. I love it, I cherish it, and I try to take as much advantage of it as I can. Or as Captain Comeback says: