Think winning helps to get a new ballpark? Think again.

One of the emerging narratives I heard when the A’s started playing well in 2012 was

The A’s are playing well, they don’t need to move, they may not even need a new ballpark.

As the team continued to succeed through the 2013 season, the narrative changed to

The A’s are winning in Oakland, they have to build here. The fans are coming out!

…along with…

If the A’s win the World Series, they’ll get their new ballpark in Oakland.

That lingered with me for a while. Other than the bandwagon factor on attendance, what does winning have to do with getting a new ballpark built? Turns out that winning has very little to do with getting a ballpark built. One idea often thrown out there is the notion that a team can ride the momentum of winning seasons, pennants, and rings to build the public goodwill necessary to seal a stadium deal. Over the past 20+ years, that generally has not been the case. Most ballparks are built absent of significant on-field success, the deals forged by behind-the-scenes political planning, not so much the optics of celebrating fans.

I wasn’t aware of how little winning mattered until I did the math. I took a look at all of the ballparks (not multipurpose stadia) built in the modern era, starting with US Cellular Field (New Comiskey) in 1991. Then I added up their respective home teams’ records and attendance going back 7 years. Why 7? A ballpark usually takes 3 years to build, an additional 2 to plan and approve, plus another 1-2 years depending on political and economic climate, legal hurdles, or other obstacles.

Out of 22 new ballparks built and 138 seasons – 129 full seasons when accounting for strike-shortened 1994 – played prior to opening of those parks, teams have combined to accrue a grand total of 1 World Series championship, 7 league pennants, and 29 postseason appearances (division crowns or wild card spots).

A list of 22 new ballparks built in the modern era. Legacy ballparks that have undergone renovations are not included.

A list of 22 new ballparks built in the modern era. Legacy ballparks that have undergone renovations are not included.

The astounding thing about all this futility is that the sole World Series was won by the Braves, a team that didn’t need to win to build support for a ballpark because they were getting a free ballpark after the 1996 Summer Olympics ended. In the run-up to the Games, the Braves were folded into the venue scheme when the Centennial Olympic Stadium was conceived in such a way that it could be converted from a track-and-field stadium to a ballpark after the Games ended. Since the funding was provided entirely by sponsors, there was no need to sell the stadium to the public. The Yankees experienced 2 World Series losses in the years before the new Yankee Stadium. Only 2 other teams even made it to the Series during their pre-ballpark runs.

What happened more frequently was that teams were quite terrible leading up to their new digs. The Tigers were atrocious by design, as Mike Ilitch chose to use that period for rebuilding and to help pay for what would eventually be Comerica Park. The Marlins were built to tank until a park came, as were the Brewers. The Pirates chose to rebuild in their post-Bonds period, an era that lasted much longer than anyone envisioned. And Cleveland was continuing that great legacy of ineptitude that spawned a movie franchise. Two teams in the above list were expansion teams. The Rockies played at Mile High for two years while Coors Field was being completed, whereas the Diamondbacks were deferred until 1998 when Chase Field opened. A third team, the Nationals, effectively acted as an expansion team because they were sold by MLB to the highest bidder and Washington was granted the franchise move conditionally upon completion of a ballpark deal.

The Giants, whose new ownership made a big splash in 1993 by signing Barry Bonds, was often said to have started working on their downtown SF ballpark plan once they took the reins. Even so, the team split its time between being competitive but not good enough to win the division (late 90’s) and nearly unwatchable (mid 90’s). Winning didn’t build the park, Bonds did.

Some teams tried to follow the formula of building a team to coincide with the opening of a park. The Giants are certainly one of those. The Indians are a classic example, going to the postseason in 6 out of the first 7 full seasons at Jacobs Field (Progressive). The Twins tried to anticipate such a window by signing local superstar Joe Mauer to a long contract extension coinciding with opening of Target Field. Injuries to Mauer, Justin Morneau, and a slew of pitchers severely crippled the franchise, which is still trying to get back to relevance after its successful opening season outdoors. The blueprint worked for the Orioles and Rangers, and more recently the Phillies. In all of these cases the franchises anticipated major revenue growth upon moving to their new homes, which is exactly what happened.

Going into the recent winter meetings, Billy Beane talked about not having a “five year plan,” code for the kind of rebuilding phase we’d normally associate with the run-up to a new ballpark. That’s a very different stance than he had taken in 2007 or 2010, when he was more likely to speak in terms of planning for the future, with a ballpark in Fremont or San Jose in mind. Now that the competitive window is wide open and the future of the franchise is in flux, there’s no need to be in that mode. It’s as pure a win-now mentality as we’ve seen with Beane at the helm.

Some will look at this and talk correlation not implying causation. What I’m saying is that historically, winning isn’t associated with teams and new parks until after those parks open. My point is to drop any hint of causation in the run-up because there is no correlation. If you are looking for causation, consider that 5 World Series (and 10 pennants) have been won by teams in the first 7 years after a modern era ballpark opened (NYY 1, PHI 1, STL 2, ARI 1).

That said, could winning help make the case for the A’s? I suppose there’s a small chance, if winning gooses season ticket and premium sales sustainably to the point of funding the ballpark to a similar amount seen with other ballparks. That would mean hitting around 20,000 season ticket subscriptions or more (the A’s are under 10,000 currently). It might also mean PSL sales, or locking in several dozen businesses to sponsorships and suite contracts. But is that realistic? There’s a disconnect here, as the big corporate deals tend to run in the 5-10 year range if not longer. Winning is much more fleeting than that. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals can leverage winning tradition better than most because they’ve proven it repeatedly. It’s a form of currency for them. The A’s don’t have that. If the A’s aren’t competitive this year for whatever reasons, look for the attendance and sales gains seen in the past two years to quickly recede. By winning, I don’t mean getting to the LDS or even the LCS. I mean winning the last game of the season. That’s our legacy, whether we’re talking Finley, Haas, Schott, or Wolff. To look to winning as an elixir to solve the ballpark dilemma is to trivialize winning. Anyone who watched the A’s in the late 90’s, late 00’s, and late 70’s knows full well how difficult winning is. My advice to fans is to not worry about winning creating momentum. Enjoy the on field exploits as they occur, and let the ballpark business unfold on its own. You can’t count on winning being a big part of the solution.

The false horse race narrative

Mark Purdy has a new column. It’s designed to get San Jose supporters to buck up, keep a stiff upper lip, hang in there, what have you. It has a bunch of quotes from the likes of San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo and A’s managing partner Lew Wolff that trash Oakland. It’s a counterpoint to Marcus Thompson’s column from over the weekend that was meant to breathe life into the Keep-the-A’s-In-Oakland movement. Purdy laid odds, a generally weak tool to use for complicated situations like this:

Odds of the 2020 Athletics playing in a new Oakland ballpark: 25-1.

Odds of the 2020 Athletics playing in a new San Jose ballpark: 10-1.

Odds of the 2020 Athletics playing at AT&T Park: 50-1.

Odds of the 2020 Athletics playing in another part of the country: 80-1.

Odds of the 2020 Athletics still playing at decaying O.co Coliseum, with everybody still arguing about where they should move: 2-1.

Perhaps Steven Tavares from the East Bay Citizen spent too much time at Oakland’s City Council session tonight (the A’s lease extension was approved, BTW), but something in Purdy’s column flipped Tavares’s wig, leading to a litany of entertaining, rant-filled tweets. Among them:

 

 

You see, here is the problem. You have one guy laying odds, and another characterizing one party as in the lead. The brutal truth is that this type of narrative is completely useless. It’s bullshit. If you scratch the surface even a little bit, any oversimplified telling like this crumbles to dust. And there’s a simple reason for this.

There is no race.

We know what a horse race looks like. The showcasing of the Expos when MLB bought the team out from Jeff Loria is proof of that. Las Vegas and Portland were used in the process, and DC was taken. We’re not seeing that here. That’s not to say that MLB and either Commissioner Selig or his replacement will end up choosing between Oakland and San Jose at some point. They well could. The problem is that MLB doesn’t like either city’s plan, so it’s not going to choose either city. You can’t have a race when the judge thinks the two competitors don’t qualify. MLB would rather intervene only when it has to, say, when the A’s lease extension talks hit a snag. Then it can breath a sigh of relief, stretch it out a couple more years, and hope that a solution materializes.

Guess what? Oakland and San Jose pols are hoping for the same thing! Oakland is hoping that Wolff gives up and MLB kills off San Jose, so that they’re the only horse left. San Jose hopes that Oakland exposes itself as incapable of getting a deal done, forcing MLB to deal with San Jose. (At least San Jose is trying to force the issue with the lawsuit, but that’s a long shot at best.) None of these rather similar hope-based strategies are predicated on getting a site and pulling together financing.

Unless San Jose and Oakland provide something MLB wants ($$$ or an equivalent), MLB doesn’t have to listen to either one. When MLB negotiated the Coliseum extension, it didn’t set a deadline for Oakland to get a deal done. Selig didn’t tell Oakland to get Howard Terminal ready ASAP – hell, he didn’t do that for Victory Court either. If any substantive talks for a new ballpark are going to take place, MLB will have to be at the table brokering everything because of the intense mutual distrust between Oakland and A’s ownership. That’s exactly what happened in Miami (hello again, Loria!), and we know how badly that turned out. Yet do you hear about something like that happening in Oakland? Nope.

Now maybe MLB’s hand will be forced if Oakland decides to go with the Raiders’ preference of demolishing the Coliseum and leaving the A’s with no obvious place to play. Then it could support Wolff and say to Oakland, you made your choice. It could explore Howard Terminal further, though I suspect it has plenty of information on which to base a decision by now. It could go to San Jose, which would mean it would have to untangle the mess made by the Giants – who I hear have spent eight figures on legal work trying to derail the A’s and San Jose so far. As far as the A’s are concerned, MLB probably views them as an unstable Third World country on another continent. It would rather not get involved.

So until MLB actually decides to give a damn, let’s dispense with this horse race narrative. It’s not helpful and it only provides false hope to fans on either side of the divide, or even those who don’t particular care for a city and just want to keep the team in the Bay Area. It’s not fair to fans, and it’s a total distraction.

On Subsidies and Votes

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’re probably already familiar with my stance on public subsidies for sports teams. It has perhaps become more hardline over the years, as civic coffers have dried up and redevelopment died out. The ideas are pretty simple, and I don’t expect everyone to think the same way I do:

  1. Public money for stadia in the form of cash, loans, or bonds – whether or not secured by upfront taxes or fees – should never happen in this day and age.
  2. All new or renovated venues that do not require public money are generally good, as long as they don’t come with significant kickbacks for the team and developers.
  3. Any public assistance that goes beyond processing permits or planning work (providing land, money, or other benefits) should require a public vote over the terms of the deal.

Note that I haven’t specified dollar values for anything. That means that it doesn’t matter if a municipality provides $1 million or $1 billion in assistance – any assistance merits a referendum. There is no gray area at work.

As currently structured right now the Sacramento Kings’ new arena will not go to the ballot box. The City Council and Mayor Kevin Johnson have argued that a referendum isn’t necessary isn’t because no new general taxes are being levied. Councilman Steve Hansen (no relation to Seattle investor Chris Hansen – we’ll get to that in a bit) even argued in a forum earlier this week that because Sacramento’s airport received $1 billion in publicly-funded improvements without a vote, the arena shouldn’t either. That is utterly absurd. First of all, an airport in a major city is a pretty important piece of public infrastructure, incomparable to an arena, which is a luxury. Secondly, it’s foolish to use third grade-level reasoning to justify a political move such as this (“My friend’s parents let him stay out late, why can’t I?”). Not voting on airport improvements was arguably a bad move in the first place. Not voting on an arena would only compound that error.

An anti-arena group, STOP, emerged as the only entity with enough cash to fund a petition drive that would’ve put the arena on a ballot. STOP’s origins were murky, as it was connected to Loeb & Loeb, a Southern California law firm associated with the Maloof family (former Kings owners). Initially that led to accusations that the Maloofs funded STOP. It turns out that the aforementioned Chris Hansen had actually funded STOP to the tune of $100,000. The non-disclosure and solicitation of the contribution(s) were all state campaign-reporting violations. Hansen eventually admitted his part in the subterfuge and apologized, explaining that he wouldn’t fund the campaign further. Arena advocates are rightly incensed and not satisfied with Hansen’s apology, going as far as asking the hedge fund manager to pull back all gathered signatures. In addition, STOP pulled some shady tactics in misrepresenting aspects of the arena plan, which has caused several thousand petition signers to request their names be removed.

Messy, right? This brouhaha didn’t start with Hansen or pro-arena forces. It started with the need for a referendum. Since the City decided the arena didn’t need one, the anti-arena political machine geared up to get enough signatures to force one. That got another group going in defense of the plan, trying to head off the petition drive at the pass. All of it, and I mean all of it, is unsavory. There’s a very simple, easy way to resolve this once and for all: just allow the referendum to take place. Even if the delay counts for several months it shouldn’t materially impact the construction plan, which has numerous pieces to work out including a potential eminent domain land acquisition. If the pro-arena forces are as confident as they say they are about the plan, there’s no reason to skip this crucial civic step. Mayor KJ has called the arena the biggest project in the City’s history. Shouldn’t the biggest project in the City’s history be confirmed by plebiscite? Forget the dirty politics, the real and phony outrage. Let it all air out in a real campaign. Sacramento voters at least deserve that amount of respect.

Plus, let’s not forget that one famous Sacramentan was caught on the other side of this divide. Last year I wrote about Gregg Lukenbill’s plot to kill the original China Basin ballpark in 1989 with mailers targeting San Francisco voters, all part of a plan to coax the team northeast along I-80 to land next to ARCO (Sleep Train) Arena. (An even more revealing account can be found at The California Fix.) Why no outrage? Because that’s part of the game. It’s also part of the past. After all, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan certainly picked up a few votes after the revelation that Lew Wolff donated $25k to presumed frontrunner Dom Perata’s campaign in 2010. How’d that work out in the end for Oakland?

Eventually, San Francisco got new ownership in that were willing to spend their own money on a ballpark, with minimal city assistance (land, infrastructure). Even that plan ended up in a referendum, one that won in a landslide. Santa Clara’s 49ers stadium plans received legitimacy thanks to their victory at the ballot box, as did San Jose’s arena plans. Meanwhile, Oakland pushed Mt. Davis (and arena renovations) through without a city or county vote to disastrous effects, and pols are hinting at even more stadium plans that won’t require referenda. Are these people nuts? Have some respect for your citizens, politicians. Allow for campaigns. Allow the citizens and fans to be fully educated on the issues. You owe them that much. Sure, campaigns are expensive. The billionaires and millionaires who want these projects can afford campaign costs, they’ve seen and done it before. Chances are that they’ll outspend opponents 10:1. They have the resources. That’s fine. That’s the way the process works. The track record, at least in this state, is that allowing proper vetting of stadium projects is good for all concerned. If stadium and arena proponents aren’t willing to accede to a referendum request, it’s worth wondering what they’re hiding.

Coliseum City already running into financing problems

Last week, Zennie Abraham teased with one of his video blogs, this one about Coliseum City. In it, he claimed that a financing plan for Coliseum City fell apart recently.

Abraham, who is still connected with Oakland City Hall to an extent, made a few other points:

  • Mega-developer Forest City Enterprises (responsible for Uptown among other projects) was/is to be the master developer.
  • A businessman from Torrance wants to bring the Raiders south.
  • The Raiders pushed for a cheaper, open-air stadium ($900 million)

Last night Abraham elaborated on the story, filling in some of the gaps.

  • The “Torrance businessman” is in fact Ed Roski, he of the City of Industry stadium plan.
  • Roski attended a Clippers game in april with Raiders managing partner Mark Davis, who may be willing to split with 17% of the team to take care of some inheritance tax obligations after Al Davis passed away. In the past Roski has wanted a 30% share, large enough to be managing partner.
  • A big stumbling block is the potential of seat license sales, which continues to plague the original Mt. Davis project but is also considered a requirement for new NFL stadia due to the enormous cost.
  • Redevelopment funding alternatives are under consideration, such as the establishment of a Mello Roos or Community Facilities District (CFD). It’s not clear how that would work in the case of Coliseum City where a large swath of land is publicly owned. Normally, property owners all choose to vote to tax themselves to fund public improvements, such as infrastructure.

Here’s the thing about Roski’s plan: it’s about as sexy to the NFL as Coliseum City is to MLB. The main draw of Industry was Roski’s advertised low cost to implement, thanks to cheap land, a cheaper stadium design (built into a hillside), and redevelopment money that could’ve paid for new infrastructure. The state’s RDA raid claimed $180 million that was to be earmarked for the project. If, as expected, the funds go away, Roski might have to lobby local legislators to pass a bill that creates a carveout on his behalf, which is a step further than what the Warriors and AEG were seeking in their venue efforts. Regardless, you can’t blame Roski for trying. He waited until the Farmers Field deal fell apart. He can do the same for Coliseum City.

The interesting outside angle for Roski is that last week St. Louis declined to pay for $700 million in improvements for the Edward Jones Dome, setting the stage for negotiations on what would probably be a new outdoor stadium somewhere in the metro. Of course, a new NFL stadium is guaranteed to cost more than $700 million, so it’s hard to know what kind of deal the city/county/state could offer Rams owner Stan Kroenke. A situation involving the Rams and Raiders at Roski’s Industry with Roski getting smaller minority shares could be just the ticket. Now there’s no speculation of this deal happening, but it’s definitely an option, if remote.

Going back to Coliseum City, I’ve said for over a year now that the financing for the project, whatever the scale is, looks iffy at best. That’s expected to be borne out in a feasibility study that should come out latter this summer/fall. What we’ve been told so far has not made the financing picture any clearer:

  • City Administrator Fred Blackwell said in February that the Raiders stadium may not end up with a NFL G-4 loan because of difficulty getting the revenue backing for the loan (club seats). The G-4 money may not be an issue moving forward since the Falcons are getting the last full slice.
  • Contradicting Blackwell, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has said that she wants the NFL’s loan. She also said she wanted a retractable dome stadium, which appears to be a nonstarter at this point.
  • The “preferred” open air stadium will still cost $900 million, which isn’t chump change, and if the 49ers’ stadium is any guide, destined to grow in cost. In most current stadium development agreements the team is on the hook for cost overruns. How could the Raiders agree to that when Mark Davis doesn’t have the cash?
  • If it’s not a dome it can’t be used as a convention center or an otherwise flexible facility. What incentive is there for Oakland and Alameda County to invest limited resources for a limited use stadium? Is it just because the Raiders are playing nice right now?

Another interesting element about the financing piece is that investors are focused on the area currently known as the Coliseum complex, plus the Malibu/HomeBase lots. In the Coliseum City study, an alternative will include a ballpark in the northern corner of the complex. But what if Forest City recommends that additional commercial or retail development go there instead to help pay for the cost of the NFL stadium? That would be something. Forest City helps kill two Oakland ballpark plans (even if no one cares for Coliseum City for the A’s). Why not get them to develop Howard Terminal while you’re at it?

Speculation about who outside investors are or which country they come from is neither here nor there. The problem is that whoever it is, they need to be able to make money off this plan. We’re starting to see far more realistic discussion of the revenue generating capability at Coliseum City, not some pie-in-the-sky projections. This is a good thing, because it will eventually lead to the adult conversation about what it’ll take to keep one, two, or all three teams in town. Until now every party involved in Coliseum City has been looking to get someone else to pay for their stadium, their resurgence. Soon, we’ll finally find how much it’ll cost everyone, including the public. That’s a lot more honest than the discussion that led to Mt. Davis.

Settlement could move Howard Terminal forward

Previous posts about Howard Terminal:

Later today the Port of Oakland’s Board of Port Commissioners will hold a meeting, during which an important settlement with SSA Marine will be discussed. This settlement is important as it should resolve the biggest legal obstacle hanging over Howard Terminal. The settlement discussion is a closed session item, so the terms weren’t made publicly available. Still, there’s no reason to think that the terms won’t be approved as the parties apparently have been in discussion for some time, and would probably prefer to avoid further litigation (which could run through next year).

Howard Terminal overhead shot with Jack London Square nearby

During the Don Knauss interview, he mentioned that environmental concerns were overblown. To wit:

We’ve done the diligence there as well and been assured by experts that a ballpark can be built on that site without a substantial cost associated with cleanup. Basically we can build a ballpark on top of that site without having to scrape the site clean like AT&T was built on (China Basin).

Wait a minute. China Basin was built without having to scrape it clean? Actually, it was scraped clean. Site remediation was done by the Giants, not the City or Port, and reimbursed to some degree by the federal government via the Federal Brownfields Tax Initiative. Piles were driven deep into bay mud (fill) to provide a proper foundation. Knauss is suggesting that a Howard Terminal ballpark can be built without replacing the fill currently at the site or even piercing the asphalt cap designed to contain the site’s contamination. I’ve heard this claim before but not the plan behind it. Naturally I have to be skeptical of this claim. China Basin and Howard Terminal are similar enough that it’s hard to conceive of how this would work.

AT&T Park’s foundation was built the many expected: land was cleared, cleaned up, and piles were driven to support the stands and ancillary buildings. This was required because China Basin sits in an extreme liquefaction zone. Howard Terminal also sits in an extreme liquefaction zone, which would presumably mean similar measures to China Basin would have to be undertaken. The difference with Howard Terminal is that the State of California put the asphalt cap over the contamination over a decade ago instead of cleaning it up completely, a process which would’ve cost $100 million ($131 million in 2012). That cost has long been the biggest source of the site costs associated with Howard Terminal.

Then again, maybe Knauss and the Oakland backers have a clever, innovative plan that would not require piercing the asphalt cap, or at least minimizing the number of intrusions. That would probably require building a smaller number of larger sized footings at the site, then constructing an above grade podium on which the ballpark would be placed. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Bryan Grunwald proposed a similar approach at his 980 Park site. There’s no concrete estimate of the cost of such a podium, but I’d expect it to be at least $100 million given the the size and load it would have to carry. That could conceivably be cheaper than cleaning up Howard Terminal. Would it be that much cheaper? We’re talking about building a ballpark in a liquefaction zone. There’s no room to cut corners.

Another issue is the amount of planned infrastructure. Again, Knauss claims that costs are being overblown. But he also acknowledged that parking would need to be provided on site, which makes sense given the lack of parking in the immediate area (only 1,200 spaces within 1/3 mile). And if more parking is to be provided on the 50-acre Howard Terminal site, more infrastructure has to be built to bring cars into the site. I had previously suggested two overpasses, one for vehicle traffic and one for pedestrians. Add those to the podium, other site improvements, and additional improvements to the area north of HT, and we’re talking about an estimate north of $150 million. Maybe it’s less, maybe they’ve come up with something really innovative. The problem is that quality engineering is expensive and requires expensive materials. Heck, even bad engineering can be really expensive.

Finally, there’s the lingering question of Who will pay for it? The Giants paid for their site cleanup, got a tax credit from the Feds, and received a minimal amount of TIF funds for the surrounding area. If Knauss is suggesting the same kind of deal to Lew Wolff, it’s a nonstarter. That’s around $650 million worth of risk, 95% of it to be borne by the A’s, with little promise of the kinds of returns the Giants got at China Basin. (Note: Walter Shorenstein thought China Basin was so risky that he divested his share of the Giants, and many within The Lodge looked askance at the plan.)

Maybe, just maybe, Knauss and his people have this figured out. Maybe there’s a creative way to make this all work for everyone. Again, I’m skeptical. Many of the same claims were made about Victory Court, and that site was swept under the rug with barely a peep.

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P.S. – We haven’t even touched the transportation gap at Howard Terminal (BART or the mythical streetcar). Or whether the City, Port, and County would create yet another joint powers authority. Or lease terms. Or the lack of redevelopment funds for surrounding area improvements.

Is your city disrespected? Nobody cares.

After Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Bay Bridge Series, CBS Sports national baseball writer Jon Heyman jostled the hornets nest that is the Oakland faithful with this tweet:

That brought a furious wave of replies, including some by current A’s players such as reliever Sean Doolittle.

Of course, numerous fans came to the defense of the Coliseum, citing certain sightlines that are better than at AT&T Park (only a few) and the more raucous crowd. I tried to sum up the general sentiment with this tweet:

Now let’s set the table for the discussion to follow. This is Newballpark.org, after all.

  • The Coliseum is, in fact, outdated and a replacement is needed for the long-term viability and competitiveness of the franchise.
  • The long-time, hardcore fanbase has stayed loyal thanks to not being priced out of attending games, despite ownership’s general indifference towards them.
  • Attracting casual fans to games is difficult unless the team is playing extremely well (sometimes) or the opponent is a good draw (Yankees, Giants, Red Sox).
  • The experience of attending a game is not luxurious in the slightest, but it can be very energetic and entertaining.
  • Fans debating about the future of the Athletics mostly squabble over the site of the next A’s home, whether it’s in Oakland, San Jose, or elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Heyman’s uninformed opinion is sadly reflective of much of the East Coast (Northeast) media, which still holds onto the notion that in the Bay Area, San Francisco is “The City” and everything else is a satellite orbiting around it.

Nevermind that Oakland has undergone significant upheaval over the last several decades, or that San Jose has grown to become larger than SF. San Jose remains sleepy and banal, Oakland dangerous and difficult. It takes more than a generation or two to shake a reputation, especially when there are forces at work to maintain certain aspects of that rep (crime, politics, growth policies).

A look back at Frank Deford’s 1968 Sports Illustrated article shows that things haven’t changed that much in terms of perception from the outside. It was during that era that the other Bay Area cities started to puff out their own chests and brandish their own civic pride. That pride led to Bob Nahas getting the Coliseum complex built. It also fomented a backlash against SF, according to late Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli:

“Now, everybody’s thinking is reversed. People feel they must swallow local pride to come to San Francisco. Or they’re indignant. You know, ‘Why the hell should I have to go to San Francisco?’ People come from halfway around the world, breathless, to get to San Francisco, and the people around here are annoyed if they have to go 15 minutes.”

After 45 years, much of the country and the world doesn’t know about this, and more importantly, they don’t care. New York and Chicago have had more than a century to build rivalries among boroughs or along north-south divides, and there’s plenty of documented historical support to back them. Allowing the Warriors and Seals to carry the generic “California” or “Golden State” monikers only steeled Oakland’s collective resolve. Defenders of cities can scream to the high heavens about their town being disrespected. Most casual observers have little empathy when other issues take greater import. Outsiders don’t know that these days, the only true satellites of SF are the Peninsula and Marin County.

Yet the lion’s share of tourist attractions and cultural resources remain in SF. Since the 60’s Silicon Valley become America’s (and the world’s) tech capital, and Napa Valley became the American focal point of the wine industry. Tract homes replaced farms and fields. Ever-growing freeway systems and disorganized public transit systems were built to meet citizens’ needs.

During the decade from 1972 to 1981, Oakland teams won six championships: 3 by the A’s, 2 by the Raiders, and 1 by the Warriors. None really changed much for Oakland as a city, though it did solidify the teams’ fanbases to various degrees. Even when Al Davis took the Raiders to LA, Oakland officials plotted for years to lure him back – and they eventually did.

Oakland has garnered exactly one title since Al left and none since he returned. If the point of having teams winning championships is to build civic pride, the luck hasn’t been on Oakland’s side. Is there anything that can be done to correct long-held misconceptions? Probably not – at least not immediately. Civic leaders can try to build a ballpark or arena downtown, and most have used forms of redevelopment to remake rundown parts of their cities, often with mixed results. Sure, there’s a nice ballpark in Cleveland, but it’s still in Cleveland. The new ballpark in Miami has done little to change the prevailing notion that it isn’t a baseball town. Phoenix has both a ballpark and arena, but outside of events at those venues people would rather go to Scottsdale.

Al Davis, in the 60’s light years ahead of his peers and others in terms of strategizing football, proved sagelike when it came to thinking about cities in the Deford article.

“Haven’t we passed the point of who is Oakland and what is Oakland?” he asks. “Too many people are still living on local color. They can’t see past the Golden Gate. They keep telling me: ‘Hey, we showed those 49ers.’ I have to say, ‘Look, can we show Green Bay? They’re the epitome of football. Green Bay, not San Francisco.’ “

Then again, what happens when the champion IS San Francisco?

P.S. As for the Coliseum, I figure I’ve written about it ceaselessly for 8 years. The issue is really up to MLB at this point. Does the Lodge want to force “progress” via a new ballpark that will inevitably price out many of the fans who currently are a big part of the A’s image? Is the status quo fine for now until whatever form progress takes is fully formed? And who will foot the bill for the Coliseum’s replacement? The bitter truth is that MLB doesn’t care much for the $12 fan, preferring to kick them to the upper deck corners where The Lodge thinks they belong. If someone protests, The Lodge can simply point out that the A’s pull in $30+ million a year in welfare and that Oakland fans should be grateful they still have a team within city limits. Progress, however it comes, will satisfy some and alienate just as many. Unreserved bleachers will become $20 reserved seats. Tailgating opportunities will be reduced. Section 317 will be much higher. At the same time there will be myriad improvements. A beautiful field throughout the whole season. Less foul territory (the most spun thing among A’s fans ever). Facilities that will make marquee players want to stay or sign as free agents. Functional scoreboards. Better food on the concourses. I have seen these things, I have experienced them, and they are good. In the end, it’s as much a choice for fans as it is for MLB. If we’re priced out of the seats that we currently have, how do we react? Do we swallow the higher prices? Go to fewer games? Pick worse sections? There is a price for all cities to be major league. In one way or another, everyone pays for it.

Might as well dream big

Coliseum City strikes me as the City of Oakland’s equivalent of playing a big lottery like Mega Millions or Powerball. The chances are infinitesimal at best, yet they can’t win if they don’t play. So they’re putting in a few million dollars to get some studies done in hopes of a lot of circumstances falling very neatly for them to keep the three current tenants at the Coliseum complex.

Never was this more evident than in the Oakland Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, when the City gave more details on the plan. It’s expansive, to put it mildly.
  • 68 – 72,000 seat NFL stadium with 1.8-2.2 million square feet of space, covering 12.6 acres
  • 35 – 39,000 seat ballpark with 1.2 million square feet of space, covering 12.3 acres
  • 18 – 20,000 seat arena with 850,000 square feet space, covering 5 acres
  • 14 million square feet of office, R&D, commercial, and retail space
  • 6,370 housing units
  • 15,000 parking spaces at Coliseum site (mostly through garages, existing site has 10,000 spaces)
The word expansive is often trailed closely by the word expensive. At a conservative $150 per square foot, the non-parking buildout alone hits $2.1 billion, closer to $3 billion when including the additional stadium development costs. Either is an astounding figure, and for anyone who actually operates in the commercial real estate development world or has even basic knowledge of the Oakland market, a truly puzzling one. This is redevelopment era thinking in a post-redevelopment world.
Coliseum City Specific Plan

Coliseum City Specific Plan

The facilities described in the project summary would be among the largest and most expensive in the nation respectively. The football stadium would rival Cowboys Stadium in scope, and while there’s no mention of a dome, there’s no way to get the kind of flexibility the City is aiming for without a dome. Cowboys Stadium was built with a $300 million loan from the City of Arlington, yet City Administrator Fred Blackwell “defiantly” stated that the era of publicly financed stadia was over. All Mayor Jean Quan talks about so far is EB-5 funding or grants to provide infrastructure. Infrastructure will probably end up being 10% of the cost of the project in the end. From the looks of things that will include:
  • A new transit hub, including a widened, more pedestrian-friendly bridge from the BART station to the stadium complex
  • Two additional bridges that span I-880 to the arena and greater development west of the freeway
  • An elevated, landscaped public space that connects everything
  • A revitalized Damon Slough
  • A new water inlet leading from San Leandro Bay to the arena
  • Many new garages
Just this list of items is going to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a lot of new concrete construction – particularly the bridges, plus land acquisitions, and reshaping of waterfront areas. And let’s also consider the whopping 6,310 housing units. That’s twice as big as the finally reborn Brooklyn Basin project and nearly two-thirds of the way to Jerry Brown’s famed 10k plan, which was largely done under redevelopment. And note that in the map there’s a Ballpark District, which contains housing. Any chance of that getting built if the A’s aren’t there? Not likely.
Furthermore, how on earth is any of this going to be paid for? Something has to drive private development to gamble its own money on the other 90%, and it’s not clear what that is. East Bay Citizen noted that a meeting of East Bay business luminaries will be held to assess corporate capabilities in the region for the Raiders stadium. That’s a start. The stadium will be at least $1 billion to construct. Understand, however, that the East Bay alone isn’t going to cut it. Anyone without blinders on knows that the East Bay’s corporate strength is not a strong suit. Similar to what Kevin Johnson did in Sacramento, East Bay interests need to attract a lot of money from within the Greater Bay Area and outside it to convince anyone that the stadium is feasible. It’s going to be even tougher because the stadium will be twice as expensive as the planned arena.
Some on the Planning Commission rightly asked about how anything would be paid for, a question that went without a real response. Oakland officials can keep talking hope and pie-in-the-sky concepts as much as they want. They can only duck behind that for so long. Eventually they’ll need to reveal the price tag. When they do, they’ll have no place to hide.