Selig’s Lamentations and the Law of Unintended Consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking Coliseum City with the A’s in mind

As summer drags on, the deadlines for Coliseum City continue to slip. Whether it’s the EIR or commitments from teams, the multi-billion dollar project moves further into the pipe-dream category than anything resembling real progress. Talks between Oakland, BayIG, and the Raiders (ostensibly) continue at least through October, with BayIG expected to produce real working agreements at that point.

A’s owner Lew Wolff has made himself into something of a foil of Coliseum City. He has never bought into the plans because of the enormous complexity and cost, not to mention the placement of the A’s as a Phase III addition off to the side, scheduled for 2022 or thereabouts. Now Wolff has been in talks with the JPA about an alternative to Coliseum City, which would pay off the Coliseum and Arena debt, which currently total $191 million. Presumably that would be in exchange for rights to free or discounted 120 acres of Coliseum complex land. Should Coliseum City meets in demise and Wolff be given the opportunity to develop at the Coliseum, there are numerous things that can be done to improve upon the ideas first explored with CC. The goal would be to make a more truly attractive, cohesive neighborhood, as opposed to a mega-development with every kind of building crammed into every conceivable open space.

jrdv-coli_city3_plaza_rail

Concourse Park as the “spine” of Coliseum City, football stadium to the left

When I first saw renderings for Coliseum City, I liked the idea of a spine running through the complex that connected the BART station to the venues and surrounding development. However, when I looked through the master plan released earlier in the spring, I noticed that the spine, or concourse, also acts as the only park in the entire complex. In the 120 acres, what you see above is the only open space. For some that’s fine given the urban context, but it’s also an odd choice given that the anchors are sports facilities. Shouldn’t there be a ballfield, basketball/tennis courts, or something else where residents (yes, there will be residents) can play? Or will everyone in Coliseum City have gym memberships? Not to mention the fact that the concourse will be 30 feet or so above the parking lot or street level. That makes accessibility tough for everyone except for people coming off BART.

Then there’s the placement of the ballpark. Off in the furthest corner of the A lot, fans would take a redone BART bridge from the station, then descend from the concourse and walk 2-3 blocks to the yard. That would miss a major opportunity to integrate the ballpark in a way that not only features the venue, but also invites people to visit.

Speaking of that redone BART bridge, that’s part of the opportunity. For decades now A’s, Raiders, and Warriors fans have gotten desensitized to the concrete-and-chainlink cage that takes them from the BART station to the venues. The biggest compliment anyone can make about the BART bridge is that it’s serviceable. Otherwise it’s generally a negative. It looks foreboding, especially the part over the railroad tracks where the chainlink completely covers you. At 20 feet wide, it’s subject to frequent foot traffic jams, usually caused by vendors taking up a third of the walkway on either side. And it ends with Joe Fan face-to-face with Mt. Davis’s hulking backside. It’s not particularly pleasant. The experience is conducive to simply walking as fast as possible. Rare is the leisurely stroll across.

The BART bridge, where the motto is "Just Keep Swimming"

The BART bridge, where the motto is “Just Keep Swimming”

Coliseum City’s infrastructure plan calls for up to $22 million to be spent on a redone BART bridge. The bridge is 800 feet long. At that length, $22 million can go a long way (hopefully not the way the Bay Bridge East Span went). The bridge will eventually be widened to prevent those large crowd traffic jams. There’s also an opportunity to make the plaza much friendlier, with places to stop along the way, see the ancillary development under construction, and appreciate the view. What view, you ask?

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Imagine this: You’re coming to your first game at a new A’s ballpark on BART. You see the familiar lights off to the side as the train stops. The lights are a little different, somehow less distant. You take new stairs that bring you directly to the bridge, instead of having to go down then back up. The stadium lights continue to guide your way. As you get closer bits of the ballpark are revealed. First it’s the RF grandstand in the distance, then the scoreboard. Then you get little peeks inside the ballpark. You arrive at a huge, 20,000 square-foot public plaza with monuments to Dennis Eckersley, Joe Rudi, and Chief Bender. The center field gate, to your right, beckons.

But you know better. You know the history of the Coliseum. You know to keep walking along the plaza to the smaller right field gate. Immediately outside that right field gate is a huge bronze statue of Rickey. You know the pose. 939. The statue is placed exactly where third base was in the old Coliseum, only 60 feet higher, maybe because it seemed like Rickey lifted that base 60 feet in the air. That’s the gate you use. That’s the gate you teach your children to use.

When you’re inside, one old friend has returned: the Oakland Hills in left. No longer blocked by a concrete wall of suites and football seats, Leona Quarry, now partly developed, comes back into view. There’s something in front of it, though.

Mary Avenue Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge in Cupertino. Photo by R.S. Shaw

$14 million Mary Avenue Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge in Cupertino. Photo by R.S. Shaw

Somehow you missed some pretty great architecture that you were walking on. You must’ve been really excited to the see the ballpark, eh? Well, you can take in the new view of the bridge and the hills from your seat. Life’s pretty good.

P.S. – I almost forgot – there’s a football stadium too. Like the Coliseum City plan, there’s space set aside for it just as there was for a ballpark. The stadium flanks the plaza the same way the ballpark does. Some fans in either stadium will have views into the opposite venue. I can’t say how it would be financed or what size it will be, whether it will have a retractable roof, or any other details. The point is, the space is there. It’s up to Mark Davis, the NFL, and other investors to figure the rest out.

Notice in the overlay I put together that the combination of the two stadia, even with the plaza in between, is only slightly larger than the old Coliseum, which covers 20 acres (Levi’s Stadium has a 17-acre footprint) . Despite placing two stadia there, only 1100-1200 parking spaces are lost. Those could be recaptured by reclaiming space after the arena is demolished, though I would prefer to keep the arena there if there’s a way to operate it without running deeply in the red after the Warriors leave.

P.P.S. – Now I’m sure you have a lot of questions. That’s good, because I left out a lot of details. Fire away.

Selig’s Tortures of Hell and Splitting the Baby

Update 8:50 PMJean Quan is trying to delay the vote, supposedly to get further concessions from Lew Wolff. Wolff’s comments today don’t sound like he’s giving any additional concessions. 

During today’s customary pre-All Star Game media session, Bud Selig addressed the A’s stadium situation for the umpteenth time. Not surprisingly, Selig’s answers yielded little for fans to be optimistic about. Selig answers that were actual answers were mainly confined to the ongoing lease negotiations at the Coliseum, with no hint as to what would occur in the future whether the lease was approved or not.

Somehow I doubt these were Selig’s personal tortures of hell. After all, he knowingly has created these conditions. It’s been much worse for A’s fans and even local media for being forced to report on this never-ending charade, not to mention little old bloggers who try to make sense of it all. Coupled with Selig’s imploring the Oakland City Council to get the deal done was the presence of Lew Wolff beside him at the Home Run Derby last night, as well as today during the session. It was a not-so-subtle reminder of who the commissioner will side with if Oakland can’t come to an agreement on Wednesday, when the City Council will hold a special session at 5:30 to consider the lease. Meanwhile, there continues to be an epic amount of finger pointing within the Council, as the mayoral candidates take stances for or against the lease and then pull 180’s days later. Those who aren’t running for mayor are sick of the politics. While MLB’s threats seemed to have cowed the Council enough to approve the deal, there’s no telling with could happen in the next 24 hours or so. Selig also acknowledged the success of the exhibition games held in Montreal in the spring, while shooting down Montreal as a potential A’s relocation target.

If anyone feels like they’re in hell, it has to be the members of the JPA board, the Oakland City Council, and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The mistrust and lack of communication all point to the JPA’s eventual demise, as the two City and County partners have differing visions for how to move forward. The City has been working with BayIG and Colony Capital, and for months has not expeditiously informed the JPA on the process. The JPA decided in recent weeks to figure out a potential deal with the A’s, which could threaten the Raiders’ future at the Coliseum as much as the Coliseum City deal threatens the A’s.

Last week I wondered if the idea of one party buying out the other would come up again from Nate Miley, and sure enough it has. About the only thing that the City and County can agree on is that there are too many cooks in the Coliseum’s kitchen. Miley even brought up a split-the-baby proposal.

“I would say if we could have one party responsible out at the Coliseum and the (Oracle) Arena, that would be the preference,” Miley said.

If there could be an easy way to break up the JPA, that’s it. The arena and stadium have separate financing and debt repayment structures. They’re even separate when it comes to the assessor’s rolls.

 

Most of area is the Coliseum complex, jointly owned by the City and County. Inset within is the arena land to the left. Not shown: additional land acquisitions to the east and north.

Most of area is the Coliseum complex, jointly owned by the City and County. Inset within is the arena land to the left. Not shown: additional land acquisitions to the east and north.

The County would probably be willing to take on the arena and let the City handle the rest of the complex and the development within. If Coliseum City or Wolff’s plan required the arena land, it would be a simple deal to pay off the estimated $70 million owed on the arena after the Warriors leave, assuming that the W’s aren’t liable for the remaining debt. All the County would require is a minimum amount of parking spaces (5,000 or so) to be available and continued access to the BART station via the bridge. That’s a much more manageable situation than the stadium’s $100 million owed after 2017 ($138 million after this year) and $100-400 million in infrastructure costs required to build out a complete development.

The downside of splitting the baby in this manner is that Oakland will find itself in a much riskier position. It alone will have to figure out what to do with the remaining Coliseum debt. It would also have to finance all the new infrastructure without the County’s help. Some state or federal grants could prove helpful, but are increasingly scarce. There’s very little hope of refinancing either the arena or stadium debt in the future if neither is going to have a tenant, so it’ll be up to the developer to pay it off, else the City & County eat it.

Let’s say that the County, as Miley suggests, wants out of this project altogether. Without knowing what the A’s are planning, it’s likely that their Coliseum redevelopment will be similar or smaller in scope than Coliseum City. The problem there is the mutual distrust between Wolff and the City. The City has only been working with the Raiders/BayIG, and would presumably have them as their preferred partner. But if the A’s lease extension is approved, it could jeopardize the existing Coliseum City relationship. Mayor Jean Quan and CM Kaplan can characterize this is not having to choose all they want. MLB and NFL (through proxies) are forcing that decision. Can’t dance with two partners the whole night, Oakland. Sooner or later, one of them’s gonna up and leave, or at least find a new partner.

Selig pulls out move threat card, Oakland folds like cheap tent, JPA approves lease

Today had me driving from Toledo to Pittsburgh, so much of the time I was out of pocket or unable to catch up on news. Fortunately, I arrived at my planned midpoint as the JPA was convening for a vote. This is the place I visited:

The Ohio State Reformatory

The Ohio State Reformatory

Look familiar? It’s not a college campus or an old hospital. It’s the old Ohio State Reformatory, located in Mansfield, Ohio. It’s better known as the site for the filming of The Shawshank Redemption, the great Stephen King-Frank Darabont picture that no one saw in the theaters but everyone saw on cable. I toured the prison, which would’ve been demolished if not for the film’s production and belated popularity. Like the Coliseum, much of OSR is in a steady state of decay. And like the film’s climactic scene, our own green-and-gold clad heroes at times have forded a river of sewage to escape the facility. I recognize that forcing a team of millionaires owned by billionaires to stay in mediocre conditions is nothing like actual prison. The point is that writing this blog at times is my own personal prison, one that I seemingly can never escape (especially the comments section or fools on Twitter). However, I made a promise to see this through, so it’s being done. Every so often I allow myself to feel a little hope, the dangerous concept that Red cautions Andy to squelch. Even after 9 years and with no end in sight, I still hope. I can’t allow myself to be completely consumed by cynicism. There’s already one Miserablist in the Bay Area, no need for two.

My own vacation activities aside, there is reason for hope to come out of today. First, let’s recap.

  • Yesterday, the prevailing sentiment was that the City representation on the JPA board would form a bloc and oppose proposed lease agreement, killing the deal and allowing the City to provide a counteroffer.
  • That tactic was quickly trumped by last night’s letter from Lew Wolff to the JPA, which was reported during the JPA session. Wolff indicated that if the JPA did not approve the lease, Bud Selig would grant Wolff immediate permission to move the team out of Oakland.
  • In fear of Selig’s threatened reprisal, the JPA board met in closed session to discuss the lease. Eventually the lease was approved 6-2, Rebecca Kaplan (who helped construct the lease terms) and Aaron Goodwin (who dissented on the current lease).

Now for the deal terms. The redone lease includes concessions made by both sides. Note: the deal must be ratified by the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors before August 1.

  1. The A’s will be in the Coliseum through at least the 2017 season, with opt-outs available to both the team and the JPA until the 2024 season.
  2. $5 million in back parking fees that were up for arbitration in the fall are now wiped away.
  3. The A’s will pay $1.25-1.75 million in annual rent. They will be obligated to pay this through the end of the lease, unless they are able to work a deal to build another stadium in Oakland.
  4. The A’s will pay at least $10 million for a new scoreboard/ribbon board package. They will keep all revenue from the boards during A’s games. The JPA/Raiders will get revenue for football games. If the new system costs less than $10 million, the remainder will be paid to the JPA.
  5. The JPA will put together a $1 million/year maintenance fund, for use when things break. The JPA is not obligated to spend $1 million every year if maintenance spending is not required.
  6. A’s will have good faith discussions about building a future ballpark at or near the Coliseum, depending largely on what the Raiders do.
  7. The Coliseum area is the only site under consideration for a ballpark, with Howard Terminal dropped.

However you feel about the parking matter, this is a large number of concessions from the A’s. As Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner pointed out, this won’t stop the big subsidy that the City and County have to pay to keep the Raiders and A’s at the Coliseum. Then again, the counteroffer wasn’t providing any relief for that subsidy either.

The A’s have also asked for any developer interested in the Coliseum to put up $20 million towards a redevelopment project. You can call this “earnest money.” It may sound like a lot, but it’s an important form of skin in the game for the developer, something that Colony Capital isn’t providing right now. Wolff certainly isn’t afraid of dropping that kind of coin, since he bought some Fremont land in advance and paid for the CEQA study work in advance. $10 million is a good amount to keep pretenders from engaging in talks.

This type of deal was available in November, before the last time the A’s and the JPA hit a stalemate. Selig and Rob Manfred then stepped in and negotiated the to-be-superseded short-term deal. For whatever reason, the City of Oakland hasn’t recognized that until now, Selig has treated the City with kid gloves. That explains their shock and outrage to Selig’s power play. Sorry Oakland, this is how Selig normally operates. It’s part of the standard commissioner’s playbook. At some point the hardass version of Selig was going to show up and back his owner. To expect different wouldn’t just be unrealistic, it would be downright delusional.

Things are not going to get better for Oakland. The other shoe to drop will be the reactions of Mark Davis and the NFL. Since the Raiders and A’s are effectively competing for the Coliseum, both leagues are likely to play tug-of-war with the City in order to get them to commit to either entity. That should provide Oakland with some amount of usable leverage, but that’s negated by the City’s lack of non-land resources and their concerns about the feelings of the other team/league. What you’re seeing right now is Oakland in paralysis. The NFL and MLB are only happy to shake Oakland out of it. Both leagues are gearing up their preferred and contingency plans. If Davis decides this is it and gives up on Coliseum City, the complex is all Wolff’s to negotiate. If Davis truly wants Coliseum City and sees a way to make it work, Oakland will have a tough decision to make. Which team, league and developer should they partner with? It’s a decision that no politician wants to make, especially during an election year. Yet that’s Oakland destiny. Get busy living? Andy Dufresne had to decide that he had enough of Warden Norton’s hijinks in order to plan his escape. Oakland has two Warden Nortons, and it will have to screw one of them. Otherwise Oakland could find its teams, like Norton’s money, all gone.

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.

Wolff reconsiders the Coliseum – to what end?

If you want to know what I thought immediately when I heard that Lew Wolff is reconsidering the idea of building a ballpark at the Coliseum, well, Ray Ratto beat me to it.

If, on the other hand, you want to entertain the idea that Wolff is being forthright and sees the Coliseum as a real option, I have some ideas about that too.

But first, let’s step back to June 2012, and the Save Oakland Sports meeting I attended. As we were wrapping up, one of the SOS principals (used to be “A’s observer” in the comments) asked me, Do you think Lew Wolff would consider building in Oakland? My response was, Yes, but you have to make it worth his while. He’s trying to pay for a ballpark and make it pencil out, so if Oakland has some mechanisms to make that happen, I think he would be interested.

At the time I figured people would interpret that to mean cash or free ballpark. What I was suggesting was that if Oakland can figure out a way to bridge the gap between what makes San Jose so attractive (corporate interest) and Oakland’s limitations, there could be a solution in Oakland. Can Coliseum City bridge that gap? That’s the billion-dollar question.

Remember that when Wolff was first hired as VP of venue development, he pushed for a ballpark on the Malibu & HomeBase lots, the latter of which was not owned by the JPA. The JPA nixed Wolff’s idea and later bought the HomeBase lot for Coliseum City and the Raiders. Steve Schott preferred a ballpark – if in Oakland – to be in the north parking lot of the Coliseum. That idea was a nonstarter due to potential conflicts with the other tenant teams (Warriors, Raiders) and the area still stinging politically from the Mt. Davis debacle. When Wolff took over as managing partner, he first offered up his Coliseum North vision. The light industrial area includes the old drive-in/swap meet, the now-shuttered Columbo bakery, and several other small businesses. This concept also died quickly, as the City didn’t want to entertain the prospect of buying out businesses and the limited amounts Wolff was willing to offer to seal the deal.

Now there is Coliseum City, which could bridge the gap via third party investor funds. In effect this is a substitute for the normal public subsidy we so often see in the stadium game. The idea is to have Colony Capital and HayaH Holdings take care of some amount of the gap on their own. How much they will be willing to fund for one or more new venues will depend largely on the what forthcoming market study recommends for the project.

BayIG, the combined group of developers and capital, is supposed to have reached out to both the A’s and Warriors in attempts to get them to agree to be involved in Coliseum City. Until now both teams’ ownership groups have shown little interest in partnering with BayIG and the Raiders on Coliseum City as they’re pursuing their own venue plans in San Jose and San Francisco, respectively. However, there is a way I could see Lew Wolff showing interest in CC, especially as a potential funding mechanism.

That way occurs if Coliseum City isn’t feasible for the Raiders. Even though the Raiders are the anchor tenant, there’s a great chance that they’ll have to back out, simply because the costs of building their own stadium are prohibitive. Recently there was talk of a $400-500 million funding gap for the stadium, and with typical football-related sources potentially maxed out, it’s difficult to see how development alone would pay for a large portion. For instance:

Three phases of Coliseum City have ballpark built out at the end of the project

Three phases of Coliseum City have ballpark built out at the end of the project

Phase I doesn’t address any new sources of revenue to fund the project, except the possibility of selling Coliseum land (Property Transfer). Given the remaining debt on the Coliseum of $100 million (and dropping each year by 7-8%) and the cost of infrastructure, it’s likely that any proceeds from land sales would be wiped out by that combination of costs. It’s likely that BayIG and the JPA would work together to create a Community Facilities District (Mello-Roos) or Infrastructure Finance District, whose purpose is to collect various taxes to fund the project. CFDs require majority votes, whereas IFDs require two-thirds supermajority votes. In the case of the 49ers’ stadium plan, a CFD was approved by the public. Historically IFDs are tougher to put together and approve, though some legislators including State Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) have been making headway on that front. It’s not quite the new redevelopment as it’s limited to infrastructure, but it’s an important step.

Phase II provides for limited ancillary development next to the football stadium. It could raise a $1-2 million per year, depending on how money is extracted from the condo developments. Hypothetically, if each condo provided $100,000 of its sales price towards stadium construction, that’s still only $83.7 million. Chances are that asking for more than that would either make the units not salable or eat significantly into the developer’s profits.

If the Raiders stadium proves too costly, the A’s could easily slot right in with a much less expensive stadium option that has a much smaller funding gap, say $200-300 million. Plus with only one stadium there instead of two, there would be additional land to develop or reassign as needed. Wolff’s in a good position to wait and see how the market analyses work out for them and the Raiders. Numerous outcomes could be put forth:

  • Coliseum City works financially for all three teams
  • Coliseum City works financially for two of the three teams
  • Coliseum City works financially for only the Raiders
  • Coliseum City works financially for only the A’s
  • Coliseum City doesn’t work financially for any team

I’m sure there are specific benchmarks for each of these outcomes, but we’ll have to wait until April to understand what those are. The Warriors component is even fuzzier than for the A’s and Raiders, since the replacement would be built in Area B of Coliseum City across I-880. To date the arena has not been part of the identified planning phases.

For now, Wolff gets to provide the most tacit support to Coliseum City, while letting the chips fall where they may. If the plan doesn’t pencil out, which I suspect he believes, he’ll have the numbers to prove himself right and to shut his critics up. If it does work out, he’ll be in a good bargaining position to ask for some piece of the pie. BayIG is being asked to get teams to sign on by no later than next summer, so we’ll see if this has legs.

Of course, the last 1,100 words are only believable if you endorse the idea that Wolff is actually considering Oakland in any way. If not, you’ve just wasted a few minutes of your time. Get back to your building your Wolff effigies and altars.

Cactus League Grid Schedule

Today I booked my flights to/from Phoenix for Spring Training. I’ll be there March 13-16, taking in at least 4 games. For your convenience, I’ve constructed a Cactus League grid, similar to the regular season grid that I construct every fall. The grid is laid out from Northwest to Southeast in the metropolitan area, so you can see which games are close to other games. Games typically start at 1 PM everyday, though some teams schedule 7 PM night games on occasion (noted in bold). The grid is also split into western and eastern sections relative to Downtown Phoenix. Nine teams cover five ballparks in the more spread out west, whereas six teams hold five ballparks in the more compact east.

Cactus League ballpark map

  • Camelback Ranch: White Sox & Dodgers
  • Goodyear: Reds & Indians
  • Cubs Park: Cubs
  • Maryvale: Brewers
  • Peoria: Mariners & Padres
  • Phoenix Muni: A’s
  • Scottsdale: Giants
  • Surprise: Royals & Rangers
  • Tempe Diablo: Angels
  • Salt River Fields @ Talking Stick: Diamondbacks & Rockies

And now the schedule (click image for PDF):

cactus_league_2014

If you plan to be in the Valley of the Sun around the same time I am, let me know and we can plan something. It’s the last hurrah at Muni, so get out there and enjoy  it if you can.