Levi’s Stadium chosen for 2019 College Football Championship Game

Going into today we knew the first three host cities for the annual College Football Championship Game.

  • 2015: Dallas (Arlington)
  • 2016: Phoenix (Glendale)
  • 2017: Tampa

Today the host cities for the next three championship games were announced:

  • 2018: Atlanta
  • 2019: Bay Area (Santa Clara)
  • 2020: New Orleans

Cities that lost out for this next round included Minneapolis, Charlotte, and Miami. Those three, and the first three host cities, are expected to be considered for the next set of dates. The championship games are slated to be played at the most advanced NFL stadia. The semifinal games, which get a lengthier run-up due to their scheduling on New Year’s Eve, are to be rotated among six of the biggest bowl games (Rose, Fiesta, Cotton, Sugar, Peach, Orange).

Levi’s Stadium has done a good job hosting big events so far, including Wrestlemania and a heavy concert season. It may have excelled at these non-football events while not excelling at hosting the sport and team it was designed to support, 49ers football. The grass is still suspect while the fan exodus at halftime continues unabated. I would like to think that if the stadium weren’t built quite so large or opulently the 49ers would take a step back and focus more on the football, but who am I kidding?

NFL Town Halls: Three days of talking around a problem

They came, they saw, they empathized.

As part of NFL’s relocation evaluation process, the league is required to hold public meetings in the cities from where incumbent teams are threatening to move. Despite the fact none of the three teams considered part this discussion – Raiders, Chargers, Rams  – have actually filed a request for relocation (they aren’t allowed until January), the NFL decided to hold these meetings well in advance of all three teams’ expected applications to leave.

That left the NFL to announce three weeks ago that they would send a team of executives, fronted by Eric Grubman, to the threatened cities to hear from fans and discuss each city’s situation. Grubman was accompanied at each stop by fellow VPs Chris Hardart and Cynthia Hogan, plus league attorney Jay Bauman. All four sat in directors chairs on a blacked out stage, while fans sat in the lower auditorium levels, waiting to speak at podiums placed in each aisle. Politicians and team owners, even Raiders owner Mark Davis, sat among the riffraff.

St. Louis and San Diego share a common problem, in that their respective teams have not participated at all in recent stadium development efforts at home. Local sentiment reflected that, with fans lustily booing the Rams’ Kevin Demoff and the Chargers’ Marc Fabiani, both of whom have openly pooh-poohed those 11th-hour attempts in favor of stadium projects in the LA area. Feeling powerless, fans in both cities sang a common refrain: bring Stan Kroenke and Dean Spanos back to the table so that we can make stadium deals in STL/SD. And as each story about generational bonding or heartbreak was heard, the more it sounded like groveling. That’s what the owners and the NFL have reduced fans to doing: begging to keep the team in town. It’s a common story, at least in North American pro sports, and this won’t be the last time it happens. Some guy within NFL Films will be tasked with editing the combined nine hours of testimony down to probably 30 minutes that will be consumed by the collective 32 NFL owners at a future league meeting. I don’t envy that person one bit.

upintheair

George Clooney and Anna Kendrick in 2009 film “Up in the Air”

Grubman, who made most of the responses to fan questions, reminded me a lot of Ryan Bingham, the slick, well-compensated corporate hatchet man from the Walter Kirn novel Up in the Air. The film adaptation in 2009 starred George Clooney as Bingham, a man who lived a thoroughly hollow personal existence while obsessing over a quest to reach one ten million frequent flyer miles. That’s not to say that Grubman’s like Bingham personally. From all appearances Grubman is a family man. He even joked in Oakland that he was missing his wedding anniversary for that night’s hearing. Nevertheless, Grubman’s ability to empathize with every fan and speaker was amazing to watch. Veterans and government employees received laudatory Thank you for your service salutations. Several times he prefaced a remark with, I know what it’s like to be a fan. It was as breathtaking and sickening a performance as I’ve ever seen – including Clooney’s, which netted him an Oscar nomination. Then again, Grubman apparently gets paid at least $4.4 million a year as an executive VP in the NFL. Like Bingham with his delegating boss, Grubman is compensated well to, among other responsibilities, take Roger Goodell’s arrows.

Davis has also been an active participant in the joint stadium effort in Carson, though Raider fans and city officials have given him some credit for participating to a degree with the now shitcanned Coliseum City project. He received a largely warm reception from the roughly 400 Raiders fans at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. He made some opening remarks, stating that the Raiders wouldn’t answer questions at the session. Couple that with Grubman’s admission that the NFL had no solutions for Oakland, and you might think that the whole thing was a charade. You would be mostly right.

When challenged about the Raiders paying only $300 million (plus the NFL’s $200 million in G4 money) towards a $900 million stadium, Davis responded.

That’s basically what Davis has been saying for the last six months. He’s not willing to stake additional stadium revenues to make an Oakland stadium deal happen, as the 49ers did with Levi’s Stadium. Hard selling with ultra-expensive seat licenses and ticket prices works as long as the team is good, but as we’ve seen so far in the 49ers’ tenure in Santa Clara, fans will ditch the team in droves if the team isn’t competitive. Even the Raiders had trouble selling out until the upper deck of Mt. Davis was tapped off. No one wants to be left with the check at the end of the night, whether it’s Davis and his ownership partners, the City of Oakland and Alameda County, or stadium financiers. This is not a trivial amount of money – $400 million – that we’re talking about. Fans need to stop treating this issue like it is.

Yet there were calls for crowdfunding to help bridge the funding gap. Before anyone creates a Raiders stadium Kickstarter, you all should know that there already exists a sort of primitive form of stadium crowdfunding. It’s called a brick campaign. Fans buy custom engraved bricks that end up in a plaza or on a wall at the stadium. Even successful brick campaigns won’t pull in more than around $25 million, a relative pittance compared to the total project cost. The Green Bay Packers held a stock sale in 2011 to finance renovations at Lambeau Field. That effort raised $64 million, from sales of 280,000 shares costing $250 each. If the NFL allowed Raiders fans to make a similar effort (even though the Raiders are not a publicly-owned corporation), the effort would have to sell around 1.8 million shares at $250 apiece to raise $400 million (after overhead and fees). That’s simply an infeasible goal for any team, not just the Raiders.

NFL exec VP Eric Grubman stands on stage while answering a question at the Oakland Town Hall

NFL exec VP Eric Grubman stands on stage at the Paramount Theatre while answering a question at the Oakland Town Hall on Thursday

Last but not least, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was in the house. Schaaf thanked the NFL and fans for showing up. Yesterday, Matier and Ross led off their column with a note about yet another consultant being brought in to put together a package that might sway the Raiders and the NFL. That package could provide infrastructure and potential tax breaks for a stadium deal. While that might sound promising, it’s really just formalizing what Oakland’s willing to offer, which is limited help and no public money. That won’t work for the NFL because the league considers infrastructure and free land little more than table stakes. St. Louis and San Diego are providing real public money towards construction, just as every previous NFL stadium project has in the past. If public money isn’t on the table, there’s little reason to expect the NFL to respond positively. Grubman explained that every stadium deal has three financing parts: the team, the league, and the local piece. Historically that local piece has consisted of public loans or bonds. The NFL has already rejected the Coliseum City plan. The NFL has its script and it’s sticking to it. Oakland is no special case here. If Oakland really wants to keep the Raiders, they need to put some skin in the game. Given what happened with the Mt. Davis debacle, that skin may end up being Oakland’s scalp. Schaaf is right to be cautious and not desperate as her counterparts have been. How do those positions get reconciled? Someone will have to give in, and the NFL has not shown a track record of making concessions.

NFL to hold town hall meetings in St. Louis, San Diego, Oakland

Image from Barcroft Media

St. Louis on Tuesday, Peabody Opera House, 7 PM CT

San Diego on Wednesday, Spreckels Theatre, 7 PM PT

Oakland on Thursday, Paramount Theatre, 7 PM PT

Stream should be available at nfl.com/publichearings.

Commentary to come after final session in Oakland. Watch the Twitter feed for live coverage.

What to expect when you’re not expecting

Word came Friday that Floyd Kephart is out from the Coliseum City project, which, you might think, should lead to the demise of Coliseum City.

With Kephart’s negotiating rights set to expire on Thursday, the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors agreed in separate closed door meetings this week to cut ties and send him a letter outlining deficiencies in his latest proposal, said several officials who asked not to be named because the talks were private.

So that’s that. The deficiencies were largely financial, as we’ve discussed ad nauseum. Having three separate groups try and fail at making Coliseum City work is a clear indicator that there’s really nothing that will make it work, at least the way Oakland wants it to. Part of that is the Raiders’ and A’s insistence on maintaining surface parking instead of allowing for a bunch of development surrounding the stadia. Another factor is the extremely limited public resources on hand, especially in the face of outstanding debt on both the old stadium and arena. The stadium debt is not only an obstacle, it is a potential showstopper. Nine figures of debt doesn’t simply get written off if you’re a municipality.

coliseum-city2-sm

Add this rendering to the long and growing list of failed stadium projects

Oakland and Alameda County continue to talk to the teams, while also exploring a buyout of the County. Alright, before any proposals are made or any substantive talks are to begin with either team, the buyout situation absolutely has to be sussed out. The uncertainty regarding the County’s involvement, which lingered in the background for over a year before becoming a front-and-center in January and remains an unresolved issue to this day, cannot be allowed to complicate any future stadium talks. Either the County is fully out or it will be a partner. There is no in-between. If it comes up again, it will show the NFL and MLB that the East Bay can’t get its act together and can’t be taken seriously. It’s that important.

The buyout is not going to be easy. Normally these types of deals are worked out through swaps of real estate, since municipalities tend to be cash-strapped. Whether that’s workable for the County is another matter, since there is actual cash to be paid out on an annual basis by both parties. If both parties decide to follow through on the County’s wishes, I would expect the deal to be wrapped up in the next six months.

Next, all of the important players are going to have to step it up to a degree that they haven’t displayed so far. That includes:

  • Lew Wolff and/or Mark Davis
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
  • Scott Haggerty, Alameda County Supervisor and President of the BoS (if County continues to be involved)

Wolff and Davis will have to provide detailed plans for whatever they want to build at and around the Coliseum. That’s not a problem for Wolff, since he already has HOK working on it. On the other hand, Davis has no such experience and will have to rely heavily on a third party to work out the details. That is, if the Raiders are still staying in Oakland past January. Davis is actively involved in the Carson stadium project. If the NFL puts off the LA decision for a year, or tells Davis to stay put for a while, Oakland will have no choice but to work with him on whatever stadium idea he’s thinking of. Schaaf will have to become a much more visible champion of the project, similar to what Quan did for Coliseum City. Haggerty, who was a leading public figure for the Fremont stadium project, would likely do the same here, with the possibility of fellow supe Nate Miley partnering or taking the lead. Basically, both the public and private sector will need champions, willing to bear the scrutiny and spend money/assign resources to get the project(s) through the planning process.

There’s no timetable for any of this to happen thus far. We may hear more towards the end of the year. I sort of expect the A’s to release renderings and initial plans sometime after the season ends, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t happen. Procedurally, everyone’s still at the mercy of the NFL, since it actually has its a timetable – one subject to delay – but a timetable nevertheless. Sure, the path towards a new stadium at the Coliseum is less complex with Coliseum City out of the way. Don’t mistake that as being close to a deal. There’s still an extremely long way to go, and many complications to resolve.

P.S. – I neglected to mention the status of the Coliseum land. Ten or twenty years ago, the notion of giving away or highly discounting public land in order to ink a stadium deal was considered a mere cost of doing business. It was the much more politically expedient concept to giving away both the land and a heavy construction subsidy, which most cities were and still are doing. Over the last year groups have protested giving away the 120+ acres at the Coliseum because it represents a giveaway to billionaires, while also not properly addressing the growing housing crunch and concerns about gentrification in East Oakland. What was once practically a given (as it was for the SF Giants in 1997) is now shaping up to be political land mine if not handled properly. As Schaaf and the City Council work out the land DDA (development and disposition agreement), they’ll have to be mindful of how the deal looks to the public. That’s sometimes what happens when parties (cities, teams) don’t act quickly enough. It only gets harder.

Raiders gave Kephart and Oakland just enough rope

Last year the Raiders’ stadium funding gap was $400 million.

Today? Still $400 million.

And that may be the undoing of Coliseum City, just as was predicted many times since the start of the process.

BANG’s Matthew Artz got ahold of a letter written by Marc Badain to Floyd Kephart in April. Despite Kephart’s spin, the letter is incredibly damaging. The crux of it is this:

What is not clear is what the Developer, City, and County are willing to contribute. The Raiders’ $500,000,000 contribution leaves a funding gap of at least $400,000,000 required to build a new stadium. Simply put, the “terms required for the Raiders to commit to remaining in Oakland” are a plan that fills that funding gap without stripping revenues from the stadium and preserves the current level of surface parking. We have seen no progress toward understanding what the Developer, City, or County is willing to contribute and have received no proposals. As a result, there are no “terms” for the Raiders to evaluate nor are there “terms” for the Developer to communicate to the City and County.

You may come away from that thinking that the Raiders demands – all revenue, protected parking, capped contribution – are ridiculous, and in a sense you’d be right. The problem is that it is now abundantly clear that Badain and Mark Davis are comparing proposals, and whatever Oakland is putting forth is being compared to what is being offered in Carson. And Oakland so far is offering… nothing specific. Land? Not really anymore. Infrastructure? Depends on how much. Due to circumstance, Oakland has regressed in terms of what it can offer, a point that Eric Grubman famously made in the spring.

Ridiculous or not, Badain has a point that the G-4 loan money is tied to various team and stadium revenue streams. Fans tend to gloss over the reality. G-4 is a loan program, not a grant. With ties to luxury seating and TV money set in stone, any team receiving G-4 funds is naturally going to fight any attempt to repurpose any other stadium revenue for paying for the stadium, especially if the Raiders have their own projections. Thankfully for the Raiders, exploding league revenue has expanded G-4 to the point that a nearly $2 billion mega-stadium is more than merely plausible.

Chances are whatever gets built at the Coliseum won't look like this

Chances are whatever gets built at the Coliseum won’t look like this

Throughout the rest of the letter, Badain offered plenty of examples of how the Raiders have cooperated with the process. They met with developers. They laid out their demands wish list. They met with Kephart, and they continue to meet with Oakland on another track. They haven’t taken the lead on any specific stadium proposal. Then again they haven’t done that with Carson or San Antonio, and they surely won’t be leading the pack on Inglewood. Davis appears to be content to play second fiddle, as long as he gets a good deal for his team. That shouldn’t be too difficult since Davis isn’t going for quite as ostentatious a new home as what Stan Kroenke or Dean Spanos are trying to build. Yet since Davis isn’t driving the bus, he doesn’t get to say much about how nice it should be. FUD is emerging about Davis not being able to afford Carson just as he couldn’t afford to do more in Oakland, but remember, selling a piece of the team is his ace-in-the-hole. In the letter Badain admits that equity in the team is available, but only as a way to bridge the funding gap. Whatever the size of that limited stake, whether 10% or 20%, it’s worth perhaps twice as much in LA as it is in Oakland.

The parking situation also seems to be a nonstarter. It was during the spring that both Davis and Lew Wolff indicated that they wanted to preserve surface parking, even if that means severely curtailing development. Even the final proposal from Kephart does little to address the teams’ parking demands, filling half the space with garages and commercial buildout.

By the end of this project, some $5 million will have been spent on Coliseum City, only to find out that the Raiders’ and A’s stadium goals run counter to the broader planning objectives of Oakland pols. A stadium surrounded by parking is not the kind of high-density, constant-use plan envisioned for the Coliseum. Of course, so far we’ve barely scratched the surface of the other side of the debate: fear of gentrification. With so many bargaining chips taken away over the course of the last several months, how much is left to offer? More importantly, is that enough to get a football stadium deal done? My guess it’s not even close to enough. A ballpark is less expensive and gets used more. It’s getting close to the time when Oakland will need to shift the conversation. They’ve done a good job stalling so far. We can only hope that what remains isn’t scorched earth.

Hypothetical: Could a ballpark fit where the arena sits now?

One of the questions I’ve been fielding over the last few years, especially now that the Warriors are trying to move to San Francisco, is Can a ballpark fit in the space occupied by the arena? The idea is that if the Raiders could somehow find a way to stay in Oakland at a rebuilt (new on the existing site, not renovated) Coliseum, the arena could be torn down to make way for a ballpark. In doing so, none of the capacious parking would be affected except during the construction phases.

The short answer to this is: No. If I’m being generous, I’ll say barely

To understand why, you need to look at the way the complex was laid out in the first place. Remember the old sewer interceptor? It runs in an easement through the Coliseum complex, splitting the stadium and the arena. EBMUD, which maintains the interceptor, needs to have 24/7 access to the interceptor for maintenance.

CC-easements

EBMUD’s sewer interceptor is the green line that separates the stadium from the arena

Combine that with the power lines and other utilities that run through the complex, and suddenly the choices for siting the venues were reduced. If the interceptor had not been there, or had been rerouted around the edge of the complex, the venues probably might have been placed in line with 880, allowing for more of a buffer around both instead of pushing the arena up against the freeway. Such an arrangement would’ve been better for fans going to the arena from the then-years-from-completion BART station, since they would’ve had a more direct route there instead of always having to walk around the stadium.

Nevertheless, here we are. The arena is situated within its own 8 acre parcel in the complex. The fit is tight thanks to the multi-lane 66th Avenue off-ramp.

oracle_space

Ideally there should be a minimum of 600 feet in either direction

Last month I suggested the HomeBase site, which has 50 feet more width than the arena site yet is also less than 600 feet wide. This is obviously narrower. A tight fit equates to two specific limitations. First, there’s little flexibility in terms of orienting the field. If the A’s wanted to orient the field the same way as the existing field, they would need:

400 feet (home plate to center) + 50 feet (backstop) + 110 feet (lower deck) + 40 feet (concourse) + 30 feet (concessions and restrooms) + 60 feet (staging and infrastructure) + 50 feet (street side buffer) = 740 feet. For reference, the diameter of the Coliseum from the club entrance behind the plate to the back wall of Mt. Davis is 100 feet longer.

To further illustrate the squeeze, let’s drop everyone’s favorite ballpark, PNC Park, where the arena is. I’ll include the approximate location of the sewer interceptor so you can see the problem.

Yellow line represents sewer interceptor

Yellow line represents sewer interceptor easement

The resulting dimension down the right field line would be around 275 feet. Talk about a short porch.

Compromises could be made to make the fit better, like reducing the size of seating decks, concourses, and buffer areas, all of which would negatively affect fan experience. The field orientation could also be rotated 15 degrees north (counter-clockwise), opening up space down the RF line while reducing space in the opposite corner.

Of course, we can’t discuss this option without considering the circumstances and ramifications. Should the Warriors leave by the summer of 2018, there would still be nearly $60 million of debt remaining on the arena. It’s likely the City and County will have to swallow the debt while the A’s paid for a will construction costs, perhaps including demolition of the arena. Combine that demolition and site prep time with a two-year build, and the A’s would be in a new ballpark there by the start of the 2021 season. If the Raiders were also staying, Mark Davis could get his stadium on the current site, also by the 2021 NFL season. Where the Raiders would play during the construction period is anyone’s guess. Same goes for the remaining Coliseum debt.

Back to the ongoing Coliseum City saga. Chris Dobbins of the JPA and Save Oakland Sports announced that the public is welcome to attend Floyd Kephart’s presentation at Lungomare on Tuesday morning (unclear on the time of the event).

lungomare

I’m interested to see if any activists showed up.

Oakland, the non-entity

They didn’t come, they didn’t see, and they didn’t conquer.

That was Oakland’s vibe at the NFL owners meetings. St. Louis made its stadium presentation previously, while San Diego did theirs yesterday and Carson made their preso today. It’s even possible that, unless Oakland pulls a rabbit out of its hat, it may not be invited to make a presentation in October either.

One of the many versions of Coliseum City that didn't solidify into a proposal

One of the many versions of Coliseum City that didn’t solidify into a proposal

Look, the bad news was known weeks before this week’s meetings. Oakland was not invited to make a presentation in front of the owners in suburban Chicago this week, because, to put it mildly, the NFL didn’t believe Oakland had a presentation to make. Here’s how you know how bad it is – in April Mayor Libby Schaaf hired one-time planning director Claudia Cappio to be the new assistant city administrator in charge of development. Among other responsibilities, Cappio became the de facto spokesperson for the project. That’s never a good sign, because when the City puts out a staffer and not a single Oakland politician wants to lay claim to the project, you know it’s in bad shape. What happened to Fred Blackwell? Remember him? Is he no longer consulting for the project? Oh that’s right, he left for a private sector gig. Blackwell clearly saw the writing on the wall.

The most damning statement came from NFL point man-cum-hatchet man Eric Grubman, who said this about Oakland’s situation:

‘The Oakland Raiders have great fans in Oakland city and the county of Oakland and a lot broader territory, but the facts on the ground are that there’s been no viable proposal that’s been made to the Raiders,’ Grubman said. ‘We’ve said one thing consistently to any of the markets that have been engaged in trying to put forth a proposal and it really rests on a couple of pillars. One of them is that a proposal has to be specific. The second is that it has to be attractive to a team and the third is it has to be actionable.

‘What actionable means is it can’t just be an idea to the extent that there is enabling legislation or enabling financing activities or there are litigation threats or anything of that nature, anything that needs to be assembled in a time frame where a club can act on it. Thus far, those sorts of tests have not been made in Oakland so as of yet, there is no proposal for the Raiders to consider.’

The irony of this is if the words above were uttered by Lew Wolff he would be ripped in column after column by the usual lazy critics. Wolff’s statements about Oakland in the past have largely had a similar tone and verbiage. But since Grubman doesn’t represent a specific team, and is in fact an arbiter of sorts for the NFL, these words will be met with little debate by potential critics, and mostly resigned disappointment by others. Yet look at that second paragraph. It is on par with Wolff saying that people can’t just point to a site and hope it into becoming viable. It needs to pencil out. And for three years and counting, Oakland has not made Coliseum City pencil out, not to any appreciable degree.

Thing is, I agree to some extent with what Oakland’s doing. It tried, it found out that the NFL wasn’t interested in a complex developer-finance scheme, it looked for alternatives and found nothing but resistance. All that’s left is to give up or wait for the NFL to kill Oakland. The former provides some (though not much) political cover for pols regarding constituents who want to see the City move on from Coliseum City. The latter provides cover when facing Raiders fans. In the meantime Oakland can finish the process, since it won’t hurt to do so with 10 or 40 days left in the ENA. Two months until the next meetings is not enough to rally the resources to make Coliseum City or an alternative happen, especially if Mark Davis isn’t committed to the effort.

There also has to be some detached bemusement coming from Rob Manfred and the Lodge. Unless Manfred worked out some sort of wink-nudge deal with Oakland, Manfred has to be wondering what kind of effort and political will he can expect out of Oakland for a ballpark. Observers have been poking holes in Coliseum City for years, and Oakland has done little to prove them wrong. Consider that the main accomplishment at Coliseum City was the passage of a planning-oriented EIR. That’s a procedural step, not a truly major milestone. Manfred will certainly play nice with Oakland once a ballpark process begins, but if he doesn’t like what he hears, don’t be surprised if he turns the heat up on the City and even Wolff. Manfred’s previous job was to get the best deals out of everyone MLB worked with, from cities to media outlets.

For now, desperate Raiders fans are left to criticize other cities’ stadium proposals in hopes that their success or failure will “trap” the Raiders in Oakland. It’s hard to come up with a concept more absurd than that. The NFL wants results, and if Oakland can’t provide them, the league is not going to sympathize. It will move on.