Category Archives: Feature
The middle game of a three-night set at Dodger Stadium had thousands of discounted tickets available on StubHub, a reminder that even for teams with $200 million payrolls and season attendance totals surpassing 3 million almost regularly, it’s still possible to find a deal. Or in Tuesday night’s case, an empty house.
I came because I happened to be in town for a week and I wanted to catch a game at either Chavez Ravine or Anaheim. I also wanted to take the Dodger Stadium Express, the bus that runs directly from Union Station to Dodger Stadium. This year there was also the added benefit of a bus-only lane going up Elysian Park Drive to help speed up the trip. I calculated that it took 15 minutes to get from Union Station to the intersection of Sunset and Elysian Park, then less than 5 minutes to get to the final destination behind centerfield. As you can see from the picture below, the buses get packed. It’s a good option for those who want to take Metro or a Metrolink train in. The $1.50 fare is waived if you show a ticket on the way in. The driver doesn’t bother to check for anything on the way back.
The Tuesday night game had no giveaway and was billed as Taiwan night. Pre-game festivities included a traditional band from Taiwan who played a mournful version of The Star Spangled Banner. Since this is Hollywood, there was also a purely commercial wrinkle as the American band Fall Out Boy was on hand to promote their new record. Pete Wentz threw the ceremonial first pitch. I entered the stadium greeted by this view.
There isn’t much else to say about the experience, other than that the scoreboards by ANC Sports are quite impressive. Circulation between the levels is still impossible, and since I got the $11 ticket near the RF foul pole, I couldn’t go any higher than the club concourse. The final crowd (announced 35,898) was not much better than what you see above. I assume that the events surrounding the Boston Marathon incident may have scared some people off. The Padres dropped a 4-spot on the Dodgers in the first inning off Chris Capuano, so the small crowd that showed up wasn’t tempted to stick around for long. Security didn’t seem heightened to a great degree.
The best way to describe the new scoreboards is to think of them as a set of three. The lower part along the outfield fence is an out-of-town board and a State Farm ad. When a Dodger comes up to bat it usually changes to an animated intro. This is mirrored on the small display underneath the diamond/hexagon large display. The strip is a great addition because it’s the perfect spot for a perpetual in-game line score. Unfortunately, the geniuses at Dodger Stadium don’t keep it perpetual at all, instead choosing to include the strip as part of the ongoing multimedia presentation. The big board is very impressive. Even the funky shape works to the team’s advantage, as there are little nooks for the clock, the on-base situation, even logos for the teams above the lineups. When a Dodger comes up to hit, the LF board shows a big picture (in keeping with the old setup) and on the bottom corner is the player’s Twitter handle. Statistical presentation is clean and modern, though it could use more advanced stats.
I was eventually able to sneak down to the field club seat area down the lines. By the 8th inning everyone wanted to go home. An attempt to sing Sweet Caroline in honor of Boston was met with a big SoCal “meh”. WiFi was supposed to be better, but I couldn’t tell. Who knows what would’ve happened if the game were better? We’ll never know. Maybe the next time I go to Dodger Stadium, someone will give a damn.
Earlier today, a report from an Orlando sports talk show cast doubt on the Seattle Hansen-Ballmer bid, because according to the report, the $30 million nonrefundable deposit was never paid by the February 1 deadline. The “news” created a minor kerfuffle as fans and media in Seattle and Sacramento tried to make sense of it.
A few hours later, outgoing Kings co-owner Joe Maloof chimed in with his first statement to the media in months: The $30 million deposit was, in fact, paid.
The Orlando talk show host, David Baumann, hasn’t updated his story or tweeted any kind of response to this clarification. By the end of business Wednesday, the focus was on Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s State of the City speech on Thursday, during which he is expected to reveal names from the local ownership group (a.k.a “whales”).
Wednesday’s histrionics were a classic example of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt). Someone misreports something or leaks info that could prove damaging to a competitor. The same thing happened last week with Deanna Santana’s gaffe regarding Lew Wolff’s Coliseum extension letter. Misinformation grabs headlines and spreads throughout the country and industry quickly. Timed strategically in an ongoing campaign, FUD can generate enough negative attention to sink many projects and initiatives.
That brings us to Andy Dolich, who has taken on the role of Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s “Business Insider”. As an experienced executive in the NFL, NBA, and MLB, Dolich is well-positioned to speak authoritatively on such matters. He’s seen it all – teams thriving (80′s A’s) and floundering (49ers, Vancouver-Memphis Grizzlies), franchise moves (Grizzlies again), and new venue development (also Grizzlies). He’s extremely well-connected and is still well-networked in the Bay Area, where he maintains his office in Los Altos.
At CSN, Dolich has taken on the role of Doubting Thomas regarding two of his former employers that are seeking new homes in different cities. The Warriors are planning their San Francisco waterfront arena, going so far as to ask for state legislation to help ease some of the red tape they’ll inevitably face on the road to a new venue. The A’s continue to be stuck in Lew Wolff’s quest to move the team to San Jose, dogged by the Giants territorial rights and uncertainty regarding the team’s (and city’s) ability to take all of the necessary steps to make the move. Time and time again, Dolich trots out claims that both projects, just like the 49ers stadium, will be too expensive, too fraught with legal booby traps, too difficult to pull off. He’s probably not intentionally doing this under some unsaid agenda, but what he’s doing right now is spreading FUD. It’s FUD that provides a glimmer of hope to Oakland fans and politicians hoping to keep teams at the Coliseum. Absent any real details for Coliseum City, it’s not difficult to see why some would latch onto negative notions of competing visions as hope.
For years, Dolich has been upfront in his desire to see teams stay in their cities, whether we’re talking about the Bay Area teams or the Sacramento Kings. Strangely, while he willingly presents a case for why a move can’t happen due to various obstacles, he nearly glosses over reasons why a team could stay long-term. Sure, Cisco Field could cost $600 million or more when factoring in all of the prep work. But an Oakland ballpark won’t? Howard Terminal’s costs will be huge and could spiral out of control just like Victory Court. A ballpark at Coliseum City, even if it’s by itself with no other tenants, will have to factor in the $100 million albatross of Mt. Davis debt. That’s not FUD. That’s reality. FUD comes from a vacuum of information related to any particular situation. Dolich even makes the mistaken claim that Cisco Field would require an EIR, even though one has been certified twice by San Jose to cover different capacities and use cases. That heavy lifting is over, with only an addendum required to address the actual stadium in finished form.
Going back to the money issue, that’s where we on this site frequently bang the drum against Oakland. It’s no secret that Oakland itself is an economic weak link compared to the powerhouses in San Francisco and the South Bay. When we talk about the uphill battle Oakland faces, that can be interpreted as FUD. Even so, it’s a consensus view that has been confirmed by city staff as recently as last week. Locals know it, the national media knows it, everyone knows it. It’s incumbent upon Oakland and its supporters to change that perspective – not by talking up the city, but by taking real actions to make people believe in the city. In the end, team owners need to figure out how to pay for their privately funded facilities. To cast doubt on Oakland may seem unfair, but it’s not as if it comes from a position of naïveté. Down in San Jose, we’ve talked about the challenges for some time: redevelopment, lack of city funds for infrastructure, territorial rights, land remaining to be acquired. Daunting as those may seem, they can be overcome via procedural means and nominal investment. That’s different from Oakland, where economic concerns make investors skittish about the market. It all boils down to a simple question: If you’re going to spend $500+ million on a stadium and you can’t depend on a public subsidy, wouldn’t you want to put the stadium in a place where you can ensure you can pay it off? If MLB has concerns about Wolff hitting projections on a San Jose ballpark, what must they think about the prospects of a ballpark in Oakland?
As long as we don’t see ground broken on a ballpark for the A’s, the war of words and FUD will continue. When San Jose Arena was built, the FUD surrounding the project quickly died. Same thing for AT&T Park and now the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara. The only way to kill FUD is to prove that that it’s baseless. By working. By thriving. By building.
Update 7:20 PM – Around 4:30 today, an article by the Trib’s Matthew Artz indicated that Oakland officials apologized to Lew Wolff for erroneously stating that the City and Mayor Jean Quan didn’t receive the letter. Wolff angrily replied (in ALL CAPS no less) that he did, in fact, send the letter, and later produced a letter of acknowledgment from Quan dated January 2. During the Bucher & Towny show on The Game, Townsend explained that his crew and Phoenix reporter Kevin Curran had launched their own inquiry into the status of this now mythical letter. Curran sent an email to the Mayor’s office asking for the letter since, by law, the City has to file all such communications. This afternoon the story from Artz broke, followed by an email reply from Quan spokesperson Sean Maher explaining the situation. Apparently the original email, which was also sent to numerous media, was buried in the “mountain of (holiday) furlough email” the City received. Because of this, news outlets reported on it first, giving City staff the impression that they didn’t receive it, when in fact, they did. The explanation was also a bit wishy-washy because the Mayor supposedly “eventually” received the letter, giving the impression that she didn’t receive it directly. Statements coming out of the Mayor’s office yesterday continued to press that they didn’t receive the letter. In any case, Oakland comes off highly incompetent at the very least and petty on top of it all, just because Santana decided to lash out at Wolff. That’s simply poor form. Obviously, that led to today’s apology.
Monday’s much-delayed Save Oakland Sports meeting was held at La Estrellita in downtown Oakland. Though host Chris Dobbins was keen to not put City Administrators Deanna Santana and (Asst. Admin.) Fred Blackwell on the hot seat, to their credit the staffers addressed several lingering issues with some degree of frankness and a general lack of spin.
Blackwell gave an update on the state of the Coliseum City studies and EIR. The study work should be awarded in the next month, and documents should be ready by the end of the year. Because of the broad scope of the project, there will be a master plan for the 750 acres on both side of 880 and a specific plan for each side, the big focus being on the sports complex. Blackwell called Coliseum City the most dynamic project in the state in terms of size and transit access.
Based on JRDV’s newest renderings, he has a point. Much of the area on either side of the Nimitz would undergo a drastic transformation. While there would be a new football stadium in Lot B and a ballpark pushed up to the corner of Lot A, almost everything else would get torn down and replaced. Chief among the changes is a new arena, which would be placed west of 880, where Coliseum Lexus and another empty car dealership are situated. Low and mid rise buildings would be tightly packed from Oakport to the Estuary and in between the two stadia. Two new pedestrian bridges would cross 880. The BART bridge would be transformed into a huge plaza over the Union Pacific tracks. The only two legacy structures that would remain intact in the vision are the 12-story high-rise office building that briefly housed the Tribune and the newer Zhone building.
Before your eyes roll completely into the back of your head, let’s look at the three venues, starting with the ballpark. Blackwell continued previous talk of Oakland giving Lew Wolff information on Coliseum City and Howard Terminal, repeating Wolff’s continued rejection of both sites on financial grounds. Blackwell flat out said that new ownership may be required to get something done in Oakland, and that a MLB could act on behalf of a team to get a deal done. Of course, Blackwell cited Miami as an example of that working. “Working” meant taxpayers putting up 2/3 of the cost and politicians who approved the deal being run out of office. MLB wouldn’t do that unless it felt it could get several pounds of flesh. In Oakland, there is no flesh to take. The only thing MLB has offered so far is to negotiate the short-term lease at the current Coliseum.
As for the Raiders, Santana mentioned upfront that it took four months to get all of the right people (City, County, Raiders) named and set to negotiate the future stadium deal. Four months? You’d figure an e-mail thread and a conference call or two would take care of that.
In a refreshing bit of candor, Santana and Blackwell talked about the challenges facing the Raiders’ stadium piece. Santana said twice that any new project would have to bake in the $100 million of remaining debt (Mt. Davis). As I’ve mentioned before, any advantages Oakland has because of “cheap land” are wiped away because of this albatross. It also makes financing somewhat unclean, though that would depend on how current and future debt are structured. Right now, Mt. Davis debt is tied to the general fund of both City and County and was refinanced last summer. I imagine it could be complicated to restructure the debt to be paid solely by stadium/project revenues and would drive up the cost of borrowing to boot. Santana also talked about how the defeat of Measure B1 in November negatively impacted funding for Coliseum City to the tune of $40 million.
Blackwell admitted that the NFL may have a hard time giving the $200 million that Mayor Jean Quan is looking for, citing fan and corporate support. Why? The G-3 and G-4 loan programs are dependent on two specific revenue streams: national TV money and club seats. TV money is not that big a deal since it’s highly distributed, but the NFL is wary of teams running into blackouts. The Raiders are a particular high-risk case because even though the stadium doesn’t have a large capacity among NFL stadia, it’s had its share of blackouts and has a relatively low season ticket base (30,000). The recent tarping and pricing moves done by the Raiders are being done to grow the season ticket figure and reduce the chance of blackouts. In future seasons, the Raiders could increase capacity as the roll grows and the team performs better. Corporate support is another matter. Blackwell said that the NFL considers corporate support more important than regular fan support. The 49ers have done exceedingly well selling to businesses, which allowed the NFL to release $200 million for the Santa Clara stadium. Corporate support is not great in the East Bay, and the 49ers may have taken some East Bay business from the Raiders, putting the Silver and Black in a very tough position. Blackwell didn’t offer any answers on this, other than to say that the East Bay will have to step up to show it can support the Raiders in a new stadium. It’s a sobering but realistic view, not one to go rah-rah about.
On the Warriors front, Blackwell laid out the City’s case very plainly: Oakland would wait until W’s ownership got frustrated with the process of building something at Piers 30/32, then welcome the team back with open arms. With the A’s, ownership is certainly frustrated (with MLB and the Giants), not enough to run back to make a deal with Oakland. While working in SF, Blackwell saw the same strategy in place for the 49ers, only to see the team start building in the South Bay.
Things got a little strange with Santana laid into the A’s. Santana accused the A’s of playing games, claiming that the letter Wolff wrote requesting a five-year lease extension was only sent to the media, not to City or County. That’s rather confusing, because as the Merc’s John Woolfork wrote on 12/21:
If Wolff’s letter was discouraging to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, she didn’t let on, saying in a statement that she was “pleased to receive Mr. Wolff’s letter stating his desire to stay in Oakland for five more years.”
Considering that it took four months to figure out who the players were in a negotiation, I wouldn’t be surprised if the letter was lost somewhere. One thing to keep in mind is that Wolff has already done two lease extensions at the Coliseum during his tenure. If there’s one real piece of stability here it’s Wolff, not the turnover in Oakland City Hall.
The tough part of all of this back-and-forth is that even if Oakland is resurgent as its supporters say it is, it’s not to the scale of SF and SJ. It may never be to the scale of SJ. That makes it easy to make a case against the future of pro sports in Oakland. Without some kind of miraculous public and/or private miracle to really boost Oakland, it’s hard to see how Oakland could get to its rivals’ level. Maybe the argument is that Coliseum City is that miracle. Oakland has had nearly 50 years to show that pro sports is an economic stimulator. There’s no reason to believe Coliseum City, even in its fully realized, pipe dream scenario, is the miracle Oakland is looking for. The track record – in and out of Oakland – doesn’t support it.
Note: Look at how different the two Tavares articles are. Editors rule!
When the 49ers rolled out the final cost estimate on their Santa Clara stadium, many including yours truly were incredulous. We thought that the 49ers would need help to pay it off, probably from a partnership with the Raiders. With a $80 million per year mortgage to pay off, the challenge to bring in enough events to properly service the debt should bring the 49ers and Raiders together. Yet there’s plenty of reason to think that the two sides may have a difficult time making that pact.
It all started when the 49ers negotiated with the City of Santa Clara to control full rights to seek a second tenant. The 49ers can control the terms of the lease, covering rent payments and details, revenue sharing at the stadium, and coverage of costs to hold games at the stadium. The lease can go in any number of directions, making it difficult to determine what the lease might look like. If the Raiders had gotten in on the ground floor and committed to Santa Clara early, they might have been able to shape the discussion. However, they also might have been asked to shoulder half of that $80 million mortgage. Given the difficulty the team has in selling tickets and PSLs, that’s a huge gamble.
Instead, if the Raiders ask to be a tenant in Santa Clara, they could pay a flat rate per game or per season. Right now they only pay $1.5 million in rent at the Coliseum, but that masks the millions of dollars it costs to operate the stadium. The 49ers’ stadium lease has language that requires an additional $1 million annual payment if the Raiders move in. There are costs for utilities, insurance, hundreds of personnel for concessions, parking, and security, plus emergency services. It’s common for total operating expenses for a full season of NFL games to run in the $10 million range or more. So those costs could be factored into the rent payment, or they could be left for the Raiders to pay separately on top of a rent payment. Knowing that, $11 million should be the baseline for an all-inclusive lease for the Raiders.
Of course, we know that the 49ers aren’t going to allow the Raiders to merely cover operating costs. They need to pull their own weight. The Raiders may have to pay $20 million per year to play in Santa Clara, or alternately, $1 million per game while surrendering concessions revenue. If that were to happen, the Raiders could find themselves somewhat stifled in terms of maximizing revenue generation. Still, that could prove a better proposition than a brand new stadium in which the Raiders would have to cover all of the costs themselves.
Then there’s the issue of stadium capacity. With 68,500 seats, the Santa Clara stadium will sit in the middle of the pack among NFL stadia, and 1,500 seats less than Candlestick Park. The Raiders have been operating at the 63,000-seat Coliseum since they came back in 1995. Last week they decided to tarp 10,000 seats to create their own artificial scarcity. If the Raiders come to Santa Clara, they could artificially reduce capacity by adding their own tarps or move forward with 68,500. If they do the latter, it’ll be a tough sell given the team’s history of underwhelming ticket sales. It’s not a make-or-break scenario, but it wouldn’t look good if the Raiders had to immediately tarp sections of a new stadium once they moved in.
The Raiders are looking to hire a new executive, perhaps to assist Amy Trask and Mark Davis on what will surely be difficult review of the team’s future stadium options.
So there I was Tuesday night, home sick with the flu instead of at my weekly Pub Trivia night. I figured that I’d keep an eye on the Oakland City Council session, because the debate regarding the William Bratton hiring was expected to be thick and fierce. To my surprise, the discourse was more civil and less disruptive (measured in degrees) than many #oakmtg sessions, As I write this, the meeting is still going on and there remains a large number of speaker cards, meaning the session may easily run past 1:30 AM.
There was one item of tangential interest to the crowd that reads this blog on the meeting’s agenda. That was the appointment of two City Council members to the Coliseum JPA’s 8-person Board of Commissioners. Former Councilperson Ignacio De La Fuente was the Chair until last weekend, while the other seat representing the City Council on the board is currently held by Desley Brooks. Larry Reid, who has previously served on the Board, was appointed without a hitch. That was no big deal because Reid is replacing De La Fuente. Brooks, on the other hand, had expected to remain in her capacity on the Board but was cast aside in favor of Rebecca Kaplan. After a motion was made to nominate Kaplan, a full 30 people came up to speak in support of Brooks. Many spoke about Brooks’ record supporting the black community. The Twitterverse blew up with jokes about Brooks, her colleagues in the Council, and the rather personal, catty, tense nature that the proceedings transformed into.
Brooks has been out of favor with Council President Pat Kernighan, who has the power to make appointments such as this one. A major criticism of Brooks that emanated from the debate (though not from the Council members themselves) was that Brooks’ abrasiveness makes her difficult to work with. Being an outsider to Oakland politics, I can’t substantiate that claim, or the undercurrent of corruption taint that follows Brooks. But there is some level of agreement within that Brooks’ attitude was an issue despite her legion of supporters. As an alternative, Kaplan’s more congenial nature was meant to improve working conditions inside the board. I guess.
Eventually the Council voted 7-0 to approve Reid and 6-1 to approve Kaplan, with Brooks being the dissenter on the Kaplan vote and Reid absent for both votes. The discussion leading up to those votes shed some light on the struggles in the JPA and the problems the City has having the $20 million annual subsidy for the JPA as the City’s albatross. In defending herself, Brooks noted that she brought AEG in to replace SMG. She mentioned that her focus has been to reduce the drain that the sports complex has on the City, even if that means forgoing certain opportunities that might come its way. For instance, remember how there was talk about having a WNBA team play in Oakland, especially after the Sacramento Monarchs franchise folded? Brooks argued that hosting a team would’ve cost $35,000 per game that the City didn’t have. That translates to $600,000 for a full season of games, plus whatever nominal costs would be associated with prepping the arena to host a team. (Obviously there’s more to having a WNBA team in Oakland, but we’re focusing solely on hosting the games right now.)
Who was the Oakland politician most gung-ho about bringing in a WNBA team? Kaplan. Who’s pushing Coliseum City the hardest? Kaplan. When it was Kaplan’s turn to speak on her nomination, she didn’t hesitate to bring up Coliseum City’s potential, though she qualified her words a little by saying that it wasn’t solely “about the sports (teams)”, it was as much about redeveloping an area that long needs it. As we all know by now, redevelopment as an institution has been blown up by Governor Brown, with mostly small-scale efforts like affordable housing left as available project types for cities to work on.
Just like that, two of the councilmembers who could be considered more skeptical of the sports-as-savior strategy (IDLF, Brooks) were replaced by two who are all for it (Kaplan, Reid). None of this means that anything substantial will happen with Coliseum City anytime soon. It’s still going to cost billions of dollars to pull off and will require commitments from at the very least the Raiders to have any shot of happening. However, if developers or AEG wanted a sign that things could go more smoothly on the political front for them, this is it.
The WNBA team idea, which has receded from consciousness in the Bay Area over time, sounds like a very good project for Oakland and its business community to pick up. A franchise is worth somewhere in the $10 million range, less than MLS. Player salaries are affordable. The schedule runs during the NBA’s offseason, so there are no date conflicts at Oracle Arena. Plus there’s the advantage of the Bay Area as something of a hotbed for women’s basketball, thanks to the stalwart Stanford program and a recently powerful Cal program. It’s achievable, doesn’t require ridiculous amounts of resources from the business community, and as has been demonstrated in Seattle, a franchise can survive and even thrive when its NBA brother leaves town. That’s not to say that Oakland should give up on the A’s/Raiders or even the Warriors. Far from it. It would show that Oakland and the East Bay can coalesce to get a team that the community can rally around. Even Mayor Quan has referred to that possibility. It’s kind of hard to know if Oakland is capable of big successes if it doesn’t have small ones to build upon, and its biggest success were decades ago. If you want a test case, well, there it is. Seize it.
As much as I enjoy much of the drama in the Kings-Sacramento-Seattle love triangle, even I don’t want to bog down this blog with daily updates on the situation. If a deal is signed, the Maloofs apply for the move, or something happens in April when the NBA’s Board of Governors is set to meet, I’ll write about it. Until then, the Kings issue is best relegated to the weekly newswrap.
However, I’ll take this story in a different direction. There’s a solution on the horizon, one that can satisfy all parties: the Maloofs, Chris Hansen, Mayor KJ and Sacramento civic leaders alike. It all starts and ends with two old guys who spent a couple of years in St. Louis.
What’s that, you say? There’s no NBA team in St. Louis? Well, that’s absolutely correct. There hasn’t been a NBA franchise in St. Louis since the A’s moved to Oakland. The St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta and never looked back. The only other pro basketball team that has graced the city since is the ABA Spirits of St. Louis, whose two-year stint in the Gateway City was marked more by off-the-court actions than on-court.
That’s because when the ABA merged with the NBA, Spirits team owners Ozzie and Daniel Silna pulled off one of the greatest deals in the history of pro sports, one that continues to benefit the Silnas and haunt David Stern to this day. As several ABA franchises such as the Baltimore Claws and Virginia Squires sputtered to the end, other franchises that were in better financial shape were under consideration to be brought in as new NBA franchises. Eventually, the NBA decided it would accept only four teams into the league: Denver, Indiana, San Antonio, and the New York Nets. It was the culmination of several years of lawsuits, threats, and strife for both leagues as the NBA was struggling with huge image problems. Two teams remained to be dealt with, the Spirits and the Kentucky Colonels, long regarded as the most stable franchise in the ABA. The Chicago Bulls had NBA rights to Artis Gilmore, and they wanted him so badly that they blocked the Colonels from being included in the merger. The NBA paid $3.3 million to Colonels owner John Y. Brown, Jr. to fold the franchise. Soon after the merger, Brown, who owned KFC prior to getting into the pro hoops business, bought the Buffalo Braves and later swapped that for the Boston Celtics.
Ozzie and Daniel were a different story. Instead of taking the $3.3 million payout, they chose to take only $2.2 million and a 1/7th share of national TV revenues for the 4 merged teams in perpetuity. Back in the mid-70′s, no one knew how big the NBA would be. It was common for playoff games and even the finals to be broadcast on tape delay. The Silnas’ prescience became legendary as the league took off only a few years later with Magic-Bird and then soared to unimaginable heights with Michael Jordan. Ever since, the brothers have been getting a 4/7ths team share of national TV money, which has grown exponentially since 1976. In recent years that 4/7ths share has meant around $17 million every year for doing absolutely nothing. It’s the height of rent-seeking, and the crazy thing is that last September, they filed suit to get even more! Now they want cable and international TV dollars, claiming that they lost everything during the Bernie Madoff scandal. No settlement has yet been reached between the Silna brothers and the NBA.
This is where the Kings come in. We know that the franchise’s value has been inflated because of the sale talk and the Maloofs’ financial liabilities. It’s a situation in which one city will come out the winner of the franchise, while the loser may get a “promise” of an expansion team down the road. When it comes to expansion, leagues tend to be hazy on their promises, especially when the leagues don’t really need the cash (like the NBA) and owners naturally don’t want to slice off another piece if they can help it. Yet there’s an interest in getting rid of the Silnas, who have long been a thorn in Stern’s side. Some kind of buyout would also help the 4 former ABA teams, since they’d be on a level playing field in terms of national TV money. 3 of the 4 franchises are in small/mid-markets, so this is no joke.
While the Kings will be sold in a straightforward transaction, the “losing” city’s prospective ownership group can pay an expansion fee, which thanks to Kings-related inflation, should be $500 million. Take some of that money ($200-250 million) and give it to Silnas and their lawyer, while splitting the rest up 29 ways (new Kings owners not included). The other teams would get a one-time $8.6 million-$10.9 million infusion, and future TV money would be split 31 ways instead of 30.57 ways inequitably. The downside is that all other shared revenues would also be split 31 ways, but that’s limited to merchandise and other non-TV sources (not tickets). The Silna brothers walk away with a quarter billion dollars, Stern fixes that nagging legacy problem, and fanbases in Seattle and Sacramento are happy. The NBA would do well to solve this problem before TV contracts come up for renewal after the 2014-15 season. By acting now, owners will have complete cost controls and expanded revenue sharing throughout the life of the CBA.
Funny thing to point out – the total combined national TV revenue for the ESPN/ABC/TNT deals is $930 million annually. It’s quite a coincidence that the total splits into 31 neat, $30 million shares. The solution only works if the Silnas are interested in a big lump sum payout, which they have rebuffed twice already. A quarter billion dollars, however, may be an offer they can’t refuse.
No, we’re not talking about the BatCave or the Playboy Mansion, but it’s a grotto of a sort. The City of Mesa has approved a memorandum of understanding between the City and the A’s that outlines the terms of the A’s move to Hohokam Stadium starting in 2015. (If you haven’t been to Hohokam or would like a visual refresh, this photo blog is a good start.)
Per the terms in the MOU, the A’s would stay at a renovated Hohokam for 20 years initially, though they have the chance to break the lease after the 15th year as long as they pay $1 million for each year they don’t stay. There are also two 5-year options the team can exercise after the 20-year term is up. Hohokam Mesa was the A’s spring training home from 1969-78, much of the era spent at a place near downtown known as Rendezvous Park. After spending a few years in Scottsdale, the A’s moved to Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The 2013 season marks the 30th spring training spent at Muni, with only one more before the move 8 miles east to Mesa. The Cubs were granted major improvements to Hohokam/Fitch in 1997.
At 12,500 (or 13,000) seats, Hohokam has arguably the largest capacity of any spring training ballpark, Cactus or Grapefruit League. That stands to reason because the home team has long been the Cubs, whose large, multigenerational, national fanbase and eager snowbirds regularly put up league-leading attendance figures. For the A’s some of that capacity won’t be needed, so some of the seating sections will be removed or reduced in size, to be replaced by more premium, revenue-generating facilities.
The biggest major change will be in left field, where the expansive berm will be significantly reduced if not altogether eliminated. Instead there will be two standing tiers, the lower one containing a dugout-like “Grotto bar”. This bar will be at field level, which means that the solid fence in left will be replaced by chain link to provide fans views from the bar. The upper tier leading up to the scoreboard is a smaller standing platform. Behind the scoreboard is a terraced picnic area leading down to a staging area for numerous food trucks. Though it’s not mentioned, I imagine that the scoreboard itself will receive some upgrades.
Another bar will take the place of a freestanding bleacher stand near the left field corner. It will be part of a covered pavilion whose standing terrace will replace several rows of seats down the line. The setup is very reminiscent of Raley Field’s beer garden, which is also down the left field line.
The drawings above are preliminary and are subject to change. They were the only two from the City Council presentation, with another slide devoted to changes at the nearby training facility, Fitch Park. Even with the reduced seating, I figure the capacity will be at or around 10,000, which would put Hohokam in the middle of the pack as far as the Cactus League goes. Unless the A’s make other changes, it appears that the other berm areas in center and right field will remain intact. Altogether, it’s a nice set of improvements from not only PHX Muni, but also from the current Hohokam. There will still be inexpensive and family-friendly options, along with more swanky facilities for fans. Fitch Park will get a clubhouse expansion. Even with the fairly restrained upgrades the A’s are getting compared to other teams with new spring training complexes, the Hohokam/Fitch combo will be superior to the Coliseum. There’s all sorts of just not right in that.
The funding part is simple and straightforward. As we discussed two weeks ago, Mesa is paying for the first $15 million of the project. Mesa and the A’s split the cost from $15 million to $20 million, and the A’s will pay for the rest. What’s interesting about this is that the A’s aren’t paying any rent. For the three month period (January 15 to April 15) that the A’s occupy Hohokam/Fitch, they pull in and keep all revenues while paying for all costs. City controls revenue and pays for costs during the other nine months. Those costs include concessions, security, and parking personnel plus utilities. During spring training the A’s are responsible for repairs and maintenance inside the walls and fences so to speak, whereas City takes care of the surrounding grounds. Both sides are to contribute $25,000 annually to a capital improvements fund during the lease term, but that’s it as far as yearly obligations. Mesa has used a similar agreement for the Cubs for years.
Compare that to the now-dead lease extension agreement negotiated for PHX Muni. The A’s would’ve paid up to $500,000 per year plus a $50,000 capital improvements contribution through 2025. Assuming operating costs isn’t small potatoes, but it’s a preferable arrangement for any team since it has control over everything.
Why would the City of Mesa do the deal? City has been wanting to keep Hohokam/Fitch up-to-date even after the Cubs leave for nearby Riverview Park. They did a study to determine what the costs would be in three scenarios:
A: Do upgrades needed to make Hohokam/Fitch attractive for another team in the future, including teams currently in the Grapefruit League
B: Cease operating Hohokam/Fitch as a spring training facility and run it only as a public park
C: Do upgrades up to the A’s standards request
Turns out that the annual cost for Scenario C was $773,231, slightly more than half of Scenario B ($1,490,228) and slightly more than a third of the cost under Scenario A ($2,310,406). Those figures don’t include debt service on the $15-20 million of improvements. By that sort of limited perspective, having the A’s at Hohokam is better than the alternatives. It leaves one lingering question: Who’s paying for the $15-20 million?
Tourists and locals, that’s who. Funding for both Hohokam/Fitch and the Cubs’ $99 million Riverview Park (“Wrigleyvile West”) project will be covered by Mesa’s Enterprise Fund, which is essentially a big redevelopment fund bucket. Debt service is paid for by utility taxes on the 439,000 (bigger than Oakland) residents. Last year Mesa was able to refinance the existing fund debt, which could save Mesa up to $72 million over the next five years. Some money may also come from the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, the state-authorized body that boosted hotel and car rental taxes to help pay for numerous Cactus League ballparks and the market’s crown jewel, University of Phoenix Stadium.
While it’s not apples to apples, there may be some comparisons between the Hohokam/Fitch deal and whatever may be negotiated for the A’s at the Coliseum. Short of the Coliseum Authority giving the A’s an extension of the current deal and throwing in some improvements on top of that (fat chance), I can’t see how the A’s could get a better deal than what the team is getting in Mesa. Unless you’re the Cubs, that is. The Cubs are getting this:
Lew Wolff and Flip Maritz own a hotel in Mesa. Unfortunately for A’s fans, it’s 3.5 circuitous miles away from Hohokam. Luckily for Cubs fans and Maritz Wolff, the Hyatt Place is only a mile from Wrigleyville West, just off the top of the rendering above. I guess if Cubs fans are stuck with an eternally heartbreaking team, nice surroundings can provide some consolation.
P.S. – If you’re going to the Valley of the Sun to catch some spring training action and you’re headed to Hohokam, you might want to check out the Mesa Historical Museum, which has an exhibition called “Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience“. The museum is located in downtown Mesa, 2 miles from Hohokam. Exhibits will include items and photos of the A’s first stay in Mesa.
The area between downtown Santa Cruz and the Boardwalk is mostly defined by Beach Hill, upon which numerous old Victorians sit shoulder-to-shoulder with low-slung motels and newer condos. Between Beach Hill and Laurel Street, the area is much less defined. What was once light industrial is now an odd mix of commercial, adapted warehouses, and motels (of course). It’s within that context that Kaiser Permanente Arena, the new home of the D-League Santa Cruz Warriors, fits reasonably well. It’s not a particularly handsome building as from far away it appears slab-sided and unadorned. Few windows puncture the steel cladded exterior, and upon a closer look the walls’ corrugated look is just an update on the old steel building built in the area 50 years ago. And the white roof lacks distinction. Not that anyone was expecting serious architectural character – it is, after all, a $5.6 million, temporary structure. At that price, maybe the best thing to do would be to get some volunteers to put up a mural on the Front Street side during the offseason.
The temporary basketball arena used in the London Olympics proved to be a good venue, which should’ve reduced doubts on the viability of a similar project in Santa Cruz. What raised eyebrows was the extremely aggressive timeframe to develop the arena, including fewer than three months of construction. (This picture of the arena site was taken during the summer.) It’s that operative word, temporary, that made it all possible. You see, temporary facilities can (up to a point) be built without undergoing the very time-consuming CEQA or EIR process. As a result, there were no 18 months of planning commission and city council meetings or study sessions. The public feedback process was truncated and not formalized. No new infrastructure was required. It just… happened. For good and ill, that’s how it went down. The hope here is that the team is popular enough during that time to justify a new permanent home. Such a facility will be much more expensive and require the CEQA process, but by that time it may be worth it. And while a 3,000-person arena is one or two orders of magnitude less impactful than a 25,000-seat temporary ballpark, what the Warriors and the City of Santa Cruz have successfully executed is a great example for the A’s if Lew Wolff were to consider building his own temporary facility.
While this is a temporary building, it was built to last as long as 10 years. The “tent” portion is limited to the roof, a tensile fabric supported by a lightweight truss system. The steel walls extend 25 feet high and are anchored to concrete footings. Three concession stands are located in the corners, while restrooms and team locker rooms are located outside in modular buildings (trailers). The main scoreboard has a small video board attached, and the scorers’ table is one of those fancy ones with electronic signage. Lighting is simple and optimized for basketball. The court is parquet and is the minimum size required. There are suites or a big fancy club. It’s bare bones. There’s a cautionary tale in doing things cheaply and quickly with the Kings and the two ARCO Arenas, but the expectations for KP Arena and the Santa Cruz Warriors are much lower. KP Arena’s capacity is half of most of the arenas in the D-League, though with average leaguewide attendance of 3,000 per game in previous seasons, a 3,000-seat arena may be just right. If anything, KP Arena may have the most in common with the Maine Red Claws’ home, the Portland Expo Building. Coincidentally, the Expo was built almost a century before KP Arena.
I didn’t sample concessions, so I can’t say anything about those. There were no fountain drinks, so everything was served in a container. That included cans of beer, which were not opened and poured but rather served on their own. Even more unusual, there was an actual beer vendor walking around in the stands, ready to sell thirsty fans $7 cans of Coors Light or Blue Moon. I was so pleasantly surprised that I tweeted out this observation, promptly followed by this response:
@newballpark In CA, vendors have to place the drink in the hand of the buyer. That’s why there aren’t roving vendors here.
— Bob Timmermann(@bobtimmermann) January 1, 2013
I looked into ABC regulations and this appears to be correct. There isn’t really a law on the books that prohibits beer vendors in the stands, it’s just that operators are VERY afraid of losing their liquor licenses. Better to make it a little more inconvenient than to risk losing a license over some guy buying a bunch of beers and handing them to minors in plain view. An element of plausible deniability has to be assumed.
The game itself was better than your average D-League competition, as the Surf Dubs are a pretty athletic and cohesive unit. They dominated the first three quarters, with the lead surpassing 20 at times. Only during a typical letdown during the fourth did the Sioux Falls Skyforce climb back to within single digits. If you haven’t watched a D-League game, the best way to characterize it is that the majority of the players are 2-3 inches shorter than the optimal height for their respective positions in the NBA. That means a lot of 6’7″ power forwards and 6’1″ shooting guards. All teams have the option to take a 1st or 2nd-year player and stash him on their affiliate’s roster to give him some run. Not many fouls were called, so stoppages were kept to a minimum. Time of the game was well short of the NBA typical 2:30 running time. My game ticket, which was the cheapest tier, was $15. Better tickets were priced at $25 and $35. Courtside and the first several rows (seatbacks) were not available.
Pre- and postgame traffic was bad in the immediate area (Front and Laurel), attributable to much of the crowd staying until the end and dispersing to numerous parking lots spread throughout downtown. Most of the nearby parking cost $10. Remote lots (a mile away) had $5 parking, including the County Government Center. A trolley operated between the arena and County. I came in via the Hwy 17 Express bus, a commuter express route that runs between the Metro Center bus terminal and Diridon Station in San Jose ($5 each way, including WiFi). To gauge how bad the situation was, I went to the wharf and circled back around 45 minutes after the game ended. Traffic appeared to be at normal levels. Noise is a problem. The PA system wasn’t terribly loud inside, but when the doors are open the crowd and music get blasted out into the neighborhood. This is largely because there’s no foyer in KP Arena to act as a buffer. Once a fan gets through security, he’s practically on the court.
Presentation was solid. The ninja-turtle-like mascot spent less time than I expected in the crowd. There was a troupe of Warrior Girls. Lowlight of the game was the anthem singer, who started off in the wrong key, phrased the first verse in a bizarre manner, and completely forgot the second verse, forcing a nearby official to come in and get her back on track after she begged, “Help me out” into the mic. To their credit, the crowd didn’t boo her and treated her respectfully.
Twenty years ago I enrolled as a freshman at UC-Santa Cruz. Even three years after Loma Prieta, the city was still struggling to rebuild. Pacific Avenue (then known as the Pacific Garden Mall) was decimated. As one of those “weird” cities akin to Austin and Portland, Santa Cruz struggled with its need to rebuild, its counterculture element struggling against the desire of big corporate interests to enter the fray after local business were displaced, and the general lack of major amenities. Back then, if you told me that in 2012 a pro basketball team would be playing in a brand new arena near the place I got a pair of woofers for a rebuilt speaker project, I would’ve asked if you were high. Eventually, that’s what progress looks like. Bookshop Santa Cruz and other bookstores were threatened by Borders, which itself was driven into the ground by Amazon. No major department or retail chain stores came in, but there now is a Starbucks on Pacific and a Trader Joe’s on Front. The city and university have been linked more politically than fully integrated, and the D-III status of the sports program at UCSC didn’t help that. I was curious to see how the community would respond. They’ve sold out the first four home games and have sold 1,000 season tickets. Naturally, some of the fans came from out of the town, an assumption reinforced by questions I was asked by others asking for directions. It’s encouraging to see such a great response by Santa Cruz fans, who have been craving some kind of steady entertainment during the winter months. Now they’ve got it, and the team is actually pretty good. Who could ask for more?
Following up Monday’s post about Mt. Davis, here are the specifications for the Coliseum if the Raiders did not come back in 1995. The ballpark boom had begun, but the Coliseum hadn’t yet been completely overshadowed by the retro mallpark. In 1993, the Coliseum complex won a statewide architectural award. Improvements conceived by both the Coliseum and the A’s were feasible and small in scale. Compared to the $80 million $100 million $200 million renovation for the Raiders, the changes for the A’s would have been fairly modest at the outset.
4. PLANNED STADIUM MODIFICATIONS
4.1 Stadium Improvement Plan. Licensor (Coliseum JPA) and Licensee (A’s) have approved a scope of improvements to the Stadium as set forth in Exhibit C. In the event the Raiders have not entered into or agreed to enter into an agreement for more than ten years with Licensor for the Raiders’ use of the Stadium on or before September 30, 1995, Licensee shall have the right in its sole discretion by notice given not later than September 30, 1995, to cause Licensor to complete Stadium improvements as follows:
[a] Construction of up to 5,000 club seats and a related club lounge, for completion by March 31, 1996, and as more particularly described in Exhibit C. The total cost of the stadium improvements plan will not exceed $10 million. Licensee’s representatives will be included in all design, planning and construction meetings.
[b] Stadium improvements described in [a] above will be financed through the issuance of bonds. The bonds will be authorized in 1995 and sold as construction is implemented. It is understood that Licensor’s existing bonds will be deceased.
[c] Licensee shall have the right, at Licensee’s sole cost and obligation, to finance and cause Lincesor to construct such additional Stadium improvements as Licensor and Licensee shall mutually agree in connection with the construction of the Stadium improvements and finance plan described above.
[d] On or after November 1, 1995, either Licensor or Licensee may request the other to negotiate in good faith to approve, in the sole discretion of both parties, respectively, a Stadium improvements and finance plan to provide for the construction of improvements in addition to those set forth in Section 4.1[a] and [c] above, in an amount not to exceed $60 million and under financing terms mutually agreeable to Licensor and Licensee, provided however, to the extent permitted by such financing, Licensee shall recover the actual cost of additional Stadium improvements financed by it under Section 4.1[c] above. Licensee’s sole remedy for the parties failure to approve such a plan shall be the early termination rights described in Section 7.3 below.
[e] In order to provide amortization of the existing bonds issued by Licensor and new improvement bonds, Licensor’s revenue from the Stadium naming rights, club seat premium, together with ticket surcharge revenues would be deposited into an improvements construction fund beginning in 1995.
[f] In addition to stadium improvements, a stadium maintenance fund shall be established and funded by Licensor in the amount of $500,000 annually beginning in 1996 and escalated at 5% per year thereafter. Stadium major maintenance would be paid for from this fund annually. In the event that the transfer in any year is less than the required annual contribution, then Licensor shall deposit the shortfall. Surpluses in the improvements construction fund which are available for the transfer shall be used to offset prior years deficits.
Effectively, the renovation project would have only consisted of what is now known as the West Side Club, for $10 million ($1.2 million/year). Another $50 million could have been available over time, which would’ve been used to replace all of the orange seats and bleachers, redo the clubhouses (maybe the A’s would’ve taken the old Exhibit Hall space instead of the Raiders) while adding a batting cage, build more field boxes, maybe even remove the outfield stairs and move the bullpens there. New scoreboards would’ve required a new agreement and new funding.
All of that would’ve been nice for the 10-year lease that was under consideration. By the end of that lease, December 2004, the pressure would’ve been on to replace the Coliseum. Why? At the time, all of the old cookie-cutter stadia were in the process of being replaced. While Three Rivers and Veterans didn’t get any improvements prior to their replacement, Busch Stadium was made more baseball friendly after the football Cardinals left for Arizona and the Rams played half of the 1995 season at Busch. That arrangement lasted a decade, setting up a transition period until the current Busch was funded and built.
What we don’t know is whether or not Oakland and Alameda County would’ve given up on trying to get the Raiders back. My guess is that the various forces working to bring the team back (Don Perata, Elilu Harris, George Vukasin Sr., Scott Haggerty) would’ve kept trying, at least until Harris gave way to anti-stadium Jerry Brown. Who knows? Oakland by now may have completely established its identity as a baseball town, instead of dealing with two unsatisfied teams in, what Monte Poole called, “a house without distinction”.
Update 4:52 PM – Twitter follower @edwardjohnCA pointed out Peter King’s recent Monday Morning QB column, in which he rules out any team moving to LA in 2013 due to the short time required to make progress on the temporary and permanent stadium deals.
That big city to the south has all of its ducks in a row.
- A draft EIR that was completed in April.
- Project approval by the LA City Council.
- A temporary stadium deal (up to five years) at the Rose Bowl that includes up to $195 million in renovations.
- Legislation passed in the last two years to speed the development process.
- No big money opposition to the project.
The company trying to build Farmers Field, AEG, also has substantial holdings in Downtown LA, so they have a vested interest in making the project work. The biggest obstacles are the NFL (and one or two teams) and the fate of AEG, which could be sold for upwards of $8 billion. It’s expected that AEG will be sold whole instead of piecemeal, the better to maintain the integration and cross-promotion among its various groups.
A 45-day window for NFL teams to apply to move to LA starts on New Year’s Day. The NFL is in no hurry to approve any moves, and the new CBA ensures that no team will lose money thanks to nearly $10 billion in annual revenue and extensive revenue sharing. The league may want to wait for the AEG sale process to shake out before deciding what to do next, which may mean that no team will be granted a move (and could be discouraged from applying) in 2013. Should a team like the Chargers or Raiders decide they want to be a first mover, the opportunity is there.
2013 will mark a full decade since the Super Bowl has been held in Southern California, and 20 years since the game was hosted in LA. Much of the renewed effort in Atlanta, and Miami is to maintain those cities’ slots in the Super Bowl rotation. AEG’s LA bid shows its interest in entering the fray. It’s a major risk/reward proposition, but considering the ungodly amounts of private capital that are showing interest, there are a lot of rich folks who feel it’s worth it.
The election of Bob Filner as the next mayor could end up being the death knell of pro football in SD. Filner has shown no interest in opening the city’s wallet for the NFL, even using that stance as part of his election platform. Chargers brass has shown patience so far, but they may be relegated to working with Chula Vista or another suburb. San Diego needs champions in both the public and private sectors to pull off a stadium deal. So far there’s no indicator who those champions are.
Baseball stalking horses
For now, all of the major relocation candidate cities (Portland, San Antonio, Charlotte, Las Vegas) are busy attending to other things.
- Portland has a mayor uninterested in pulling the necessary strings, and the city allowed its MLS franchise to displace its PCL team, probably not a feather in the city’s cap when dealing with The Lodge.
- San Antonio is focused on bringing its Texas League (AA) team closer to downtown. Meanwhile, ticket sales for the two exhibition games at the Alamodome are said to be brisk. San Antonio is clearly a market that’s too big for AA, yet is small for MLB.
- Charlotte broke ground on its AAA ballpark, which will bring the IL Knights back across the border from Fort Mill, SC to uptown Charlotte. In committing to the Knights, the city appears to have accepted its stature as a AAA, not MLB, market.
- Las Vegas gets a sports facility plan every 4-6 months, so watch this space. Recently, all of the pitches have been focused on everything except baseball. UNLV has a football stadium plan. There was a private multi-stadium plan. Now that Oscar Goodman has retired from his prominent Vegas mayoral post (replaced by his wife, no less), active pursuit of pro franchises has practically dropped to nothing. A 10-year lease extension for the PCL 51′s to stay at Cashman Field was signed in October. Like Charlotte, Vegas too may have accepted its fate for now.
The last decade has taught cities and observers one valuable lesson about MLB: they have to pay (big) to play. Most of the small and mid markets were shown little interest outside of providing competition. The cost to build a venue and the lack of public funding for venues have become the biggest obstacles to bringing in teams. Who could’ve predicted that 20 years ago?