River Cats may change affiliation from A’s to Giants (Updated with River Cats statement)

Update 5/19 11:15 AM – The owners of the Fresno Grizzlies aren’t showing concern about the future of their affiliation with the Giants. They feel that the long history of Fresno being a Giants’ town, going back to the Cal League in the 40’s, will win out in the end. In addition, the Angels have renewed their PDC with the Salt Lake Bees through 2016.

Update 2:00 PM – The River Cats released a statement about their affiliation with the A’s.

“Though our player development contract with Oakland does expire after this year, we place the utmost value on our affiliation with the Athletics. This year, as in years past, we will perform an internal evaluation after the season has concluded. Our first priority has always been, and will continue to be, providing our fans with the best experience possible at Raley Field. This year is no different.”

That internal evaluation will probably include exchanging the more successful A’s-supplied rosters with the generally mediocre Giants-supplied Grizzlies rosters. While there would be a honeymoon effect, chances are it would be offset by fan response to bad play in the long term. Is it worth it? That’s for the Savage family to decide.

Art Savage and Lew Wolff were friends going back many years, when Savage was the CEO of the fledgling San Jose Sharks. Seeing an opportunity to the north, Savage decided to gamble on moving a AAA baseball club from Vancouver to Sacramento, where there hadn’t been any kind of pro baseball in decades.  There was much shock and sadness when Savage died in 2009, at 58. Since then, his wife Susan and his sons have taken the reins of the River Cats, which are effectively the family business.

Despite the River Cats’ constantly excellent attendance performance (1st or 2nd in the PCL annually), the River Cats may choose to drop the A’s affiliation and shack up with the Giants after the end of the 2014 season, according to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser. The River Cats-A’s Player Development Contract, which has been renewed with little rancor since the move from Vancouver, expires at the end of 2014. There is nothing stopping the River Cats from shopping around to hook up with a team that could provide maximum attendance and marketing opportunities, which in the NorCal market would clearly leave the Giants as the favorite, previous affiliations notwithstanding. 11 of the 16 Pacific Coast League clubs have their PDC’s ending this year, which will make the offseason a serious game of franchise musical chairs. A similar situation occurred in 2005 with few changes.

The simple fact of the matter is that attendance has dropped off from the 10k average crowds the Kitties experienced throughout much of their first decade at Raley Field, now at 8-9k per game. A trend of 10-15% drop off should be alarming for any club operator. If the move happens, it’ll be because Susan Savage felt that the best way to improve the bottom line was to work with the Giants. The orange and black fan base is extremely strong in Sacramento. Whether the team chose to keep the River Cats branding or switched to the Sacramento Giants, there would be more chances to leverage the Giants’ history and their greater ability (than the A’s) to keep stars. As Slusser noted, there’s also a chance for a more lucrative TV deal.

The Giants have every reason to pursue Sacramento if the Savage family is open to a new deal. Bringing Sacramento into the fold would further solidify the Giants’ hegemony in NorCal. It would provide a major obstacle to the A’s possibly moving to Sacramento, as the Giants could ask for unreasonable amounts of compensation if the A’s attempted such a move. The Giants would also have a better performing affiliate in a better market with a larger airport, a healthier financial outlook, and shorter driving distance for Giants farmhands.

Parent clubs pay for all player salaries and baseball operations, including coaches, for each of their affiliates. The minor league team’s responsibility is to cover marketing and ticket sales. Certainly the River Cats have been doing well, especially when compared to many of their PCL brethren. But there’s always the potential for more, so it would make sense for Susan Savage to at least take a cursory look. Sacramento is the belle of the PCL ball this offseason.

If the Giants got the River Cats and Sacramento market, that doesn’t mean that the A’s AAA affiliate could go to San Jose. While there’s no PDC for the San Jose Giants due to the team being owned by the SF Giants, there is a lease through 2018. Fresno would be the most natural alternative, although there’s a chance the Angels could also be interested as their PDC with Salt Lake City also ends this year.

One thing that could complicate matters would be if the Giants wanted to buy the River Cats from the Savage family. They already own the San Jose Giants, and they have the cash to buy any of their minor league affiliates outright if they chose to. If the Giants wanted to go that route and the Savages resisted, that would push them back into the A’s arms, since the A’s haven’t operated that way and probably won’t in the future. If the Savages wanted to cash out, there’d be no better time than this offseason. How chilling would that look? Giants surrounding the A’s on three sides: San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento. The A’s would have Oakland, Stockton, and Fresno. Talk about haves and have-nots.

Former Giants owner Lurie to be inducted into BASHOF

Bob Lurie spent much of his tenure as San Francisco Giants owner being vilified. After saving the team from moving to Toronto with his purchase of the franchise from Horace Stoneham in 1976, Lurie lost money nearly every year since then, declaring as early as 1984 that he was ready to sell the team. Despite having more competitive teams in the late 80’s, Lurie could not build enough goodwill to pass stadium proposals in San Francisco (twice failed), Santa Clara County and San Jose (once each). So when the 1992 season came and went and the Giants were headed towards a 90-loss season, a deal struck in the summer to sell the team to Tampa Bay interests appeared to seal the team’s fate. The $115 million sale price, which had the blessing of MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent, only required a vote of National League owners to move the team. When those winter meetings came around, the sale was rejected by a 9-4 vote, allowing SF interests one last chance to put together a local ownership group and creating a legal mess for MLB to untangle many years later.

During that ordeal, Lurie famously got the blessing of A’s owner Walter Haas to pursue the South Bay, which was during the late 80’s undesignated territory for MLB. After Lurie twice struck out in the South Bay and Peter Magowan’s group purchased the Giants for a lesser sum of $100 million (including $10 million of Lurie’s own money), the incoming group had South Bay territorial rights grandfathered. For years, the Giants have changed their rationale for keeping the territory, starting with the claimed inability to cover debt service payments on AT&T Park. Now the reasoning has settled with “half of the fan base” coming from the South Bay, or the Peninsula, or something else that sounds good. Lurie had something to say about that as well:

“It is the Giants’ territory, and they’ll certainly protect it. We used to draw at least half our attendance from the Peninsula, and I know the Giants don’t want to lose that association. At the same time, the A’s definitely deserve a much better stadium.”

In Lurie’s advanced age, he’s deserved the right to voice whatever opinion he likes about this and many other subjects, whether he sounds strident or diplomatic. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that he singled out the Peninsula, not the South Bay, which may sound like distinct areas but in terms of mindset have a tendency to blur.

Historically, the definition of the Peninsula begins with the northern limit of San Mateo County (Daly City, Brisbane) south along 101 and 280, past the Palo Alto-Menlo Park border (county line) and down to Mountain View. For many the Valley (somewhat synonymous with the South Bay) begins at Sunnyvale and Cupertino and covers the rest of Santa Clara County. Of course, Silicon Valley has an even more amorphous definition, with some saying it extends up to Redwood City, San Bruno, or even San Francisco. All of this confusion only adds to the sense of provinciality that pervades much of the Bay Area.

Lurie’s quote provides little insight into the inner workings of baseball, except that there’s something to be said for what may happen to your own initiative if MLB decides to wait a while. Perhaps someone at the BASHOF induction ceremony can ask Corey Busch about that. Busch, you may remember, is part of the three-man “Blue Ribbon” panel figuring out what to do with the A’s.

P.S. – Speaking of opinions, Murray Chass has his own about Bud Selig and the mess the A’s are in. (Thanks Tony)

Together We Are Giant-ly Ripping Fans Off

I was supposed to go to the A’s-Rangers game today. Delays at baggage claim forced me to consider a later game, the A’s-Giants tilt at Scottsdale. After a late lunch I headed over to Scottsdale Stadium. At the ticket window I was greeted with the grisly reality: no tickets for the near-sold-out game were available for less than $55. Just as bad, the cheapest ticket by face value was $30 for lawn or standing room, which is the Giants’ weekend pricing policy. $30 for lawn during an exhibition? No thanks. $16 for the same ticket during weekdays? Now that’s a lot more reasonable.


I’m upset enough that I may take Scottsdale Stadium out of my trip completely because of the price-gouging that the Giants are practicing. These are exhibition games, people. But I get it. The Giants are finding a market for these tickets. There are tons of Bay Area fans making the short flight to Phoenix to take in a weekend of games, so in the grand scheme of things $60-100 for two games is not that big a deal. If like me, you want to take in two weeks of games, the pricing is completely out of line. It violates the spirit of Spring Training, which is supposed to be a cheaper, more accessible alternative to regular season Major League Baseball.

Part of the problem is the enormous popularity of the Giants. Like it or not, A’s fans, down here Giants fans outnumber us significantly. I saw it on my plane, at Sky Harbor Airport, and around the stadium. As long as Giants fans are willing to make the trek and pay these prices, the Giants will continue to charge silly amounts. The franchise has always taken advantage of every opportunity to rake in the dollar, whether it was by pioneering dynamic pricing, overcharging to sit on top of the right field wall (Arcade), or their Cactus League pricing. It’s not only the American way. It’s the Giant way.

Why a temporary ballpark is a distinct possibility

Lew Wolff brought up the the idea of a temporary stadium to the SV/SJ Business Journal’s Greg Baumann this week. Wolff looks at the concept as potentially necessary if another extension at the Coliseum can’t work out. He had already expressed concern when MLB pushed the Coliseum Authority (JPA) into a two-year extension through 2015. The thinking in November was that no new permanent home could be built in that two-year span, and if Coliseum City’s phasing and the Raider owner Mark Davis’s preference of building on top of the current Coliseum footprint take hold, the A’s would no longer have a place to play. Combine that with Larry Baer’s comments about allowing the A’s to play at AT&T Park while an Oakland solution was being hammered out, and you can see all of the moving pieces and the complexity therein. Because of that complexity, let’s break the situation down into its basic components.

To start off, there’s the Raiders. The Raiders are the first domino here, because they are the team in some sort of negotiation with Oakland and the JPA. Even though Davis has labeled the talks as discouraging recently, reports coming out of the Coliseum City partnership should bring everyone back to the table in the next month or so. Then Davis can decide how to move forward: either partner in Coliseum City, or decide that CC doesn’t pencil out and look elsewhere. So far Davis has stuck with the idea that the Coliseum is the #1 site. That could change quickly as the numbers are released and parties have to make fiduciary commitments.

The A’s can’t do anything without the Raiders’ move. As much as Oakland waterfront ballpark proponents would love for Howard Terminal to become the apple of Wolff’s eye, the many questions and doubts that hang over the site continue to make HT a nonstarter for Wolff. Coliseum City had the A’s in a new ballpark no earlier than 2022, unacceptable terms for Wolff and MLB. However, if CC falls apart for the Raiders and Colony Capital, the Raiders could leave for Santa Clara, LA, or elsewhere. Wolff could easily call for CC to dissolve and put together a development plan of his own at the Coliseum, one that he would control. It could make room for the Raiders as well, but the football team would end up on the back burner, not the A’s. If Davis were to stay for several years at Levi’s Stadium while gathering up the resources to build anew in Oakland, such phasing could work out. Then again, the Jets spent nearly two decades “temporarily” at the Meadowlands while not working out any new stadium deal in the five boroughs of New York City.

Next, this idea isn’t new. Wolff floated the temporary venue concept in 2012, when he initially tried to get a lease extension. Wolff has reason not to go down such a path due to the expense and amount of upheaval. Should lease talks once again turn difficult, a temporary move becomes more a value proposition than a logistical problem.

If the JPA couldn’t come to an agreement on a new ballpark with Wolff – say, for instance, the JPA chose not to eat the $100 million left in Mt. Davis debt – Wolff would likely go back to MLB and again ask for a decision on San Jose. San Jose brings about one of two temporary ballpark scenarios. The first comes if the A’s are left homeless after 2015 and MLB somehow allows the move south. That’s a long shot at best, but can’t be completed discounted. In this case a temporary ballpark would have to be built somewhere in San Jose for 2-3 years minimum while Cisco Field was being built at Diridon. Besides the process of getting league approval, a temporary site would have to be found. In the Bizjournals article, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed claimed that multiple temporary sites were available. In all practicality, there are probably only two sites. Many of the previously studied permeant ballpark site candidates are either in the process of being redeveloped (Berryessa, North San Pedro) or face logistical hurdles that make it difficult to ensure that 20-30,000 people could make it in and out easily (SJ Fairgrounds, Reed & Graham cement plant).

Instead, there will probably two or three sites in play: the old San Jose Water Company site near SAP Center (site owned by Adobe), the spare parking lot south of SJ Police headquarters between Mission and Taylor Streets (a.k.a. the Cirque du Soleil lot), or the land adjacent to the under construction Earthquakes Stadium (under control by another developer). The SJWC/Adobe site would be the easiest to convert for a ballpark, is the right size, and has an existing building that could be leveraged for ballpark use. It’s also directly underneath a San Jose Airport landing approach, which could cause red flags by the FAA. The Cirque lot is smallish, though large enough for a small ballpark. There’s lots of parking nearby, and potential makeshift parking on the other side of the Guadalupe River. Light rail is only 2 blocks away. As for the Earthquakes Stadium-adjacent site, there were enough problems getting it prepped for that project that it should give pause to anyone considering even a temporary ballpark there.

That’s not to say that San Jose is the only place for a temporary ballpark. Wolff was quoted as looking at the entire Bay Area:

“I am hopeful of expanding our lease at the Oakland Coliseum for an extended term. If we cannot accomplish a lease extension, I hope to have an interim place to play in the Bay Area or in the area that reaches our television and radio fans — either in an existing venue or in the erection of a temporary venue that we have asked our soccer stadium architect (360 Architecture) to explore. Looking outside the Bay Area and our media market is an undesirable option to our ownership at this time.”

The East Bay is in play for both temporary (if needed) and permanent venues. MLB won’t hand over the South Bay to Wolff, yet MLB has also allowed Wolff to enter agreements with San Jose, so it’s clear that MLB is hedging big time. A temporary ballpark could be built on the old Malibu/HomeBase lots near the Coliseum, in Fremont, or even Dublin or Concord. Fremont’s Warm Springs location could enter the discussion again because the Warm Springs extension is scheduled to open in 2015.

It’s also possible to read into Wolff’s statement the possibility of the A’s playing at Raley Field on a temporary basis, since his description of “area that reaches our television and radio fans” covers CSN California and the A’s Radio Network.

Warm Springs could be in play because CEQA laws that govern environmental review largely don’t affect temporary facilities. Generally, seasonal installations such as carnivals or circuses that don’t create any permanent environmental impact are exempt from CEQA. The challenge, then, is to create a temporary ballpark that can also fit this model. That would be tough because of the large-scale consumption of water, food, and energy during a single game. Still, the A’s are already familiar with major recycling efforts, and if trash can be properly contained there should be little permanent impact. Just as important, Warm Springs remains within the established territory, so MLB wouldn’t have to negotiate anything with the Giants. Finally, if the experience is positive it could provide enough political goodwill to convince Fremont to again consider being a permanent home.

Strategically, the Baer vs. Wolff war of words (what happened to the gag order?) has only gotten more interesting. Baer’s statement is cajoling Oakland, not Wolff, to get its act together. Wolff’s response is to say that the A’s don’t need the Giants’ help, especially if he can get San Jose. Keep in mind that if Oakland fails, the East Bay as a territory loses value, hurting Baer’s argument and supporting Wolff’s. What’s left is for both rich guys to let the processes in Oakland and in the courts play out, and prepare for next steps. At some point, the leagues are going to ask Oakland to either step up or step out ($$$). While some local media types continue to believe that the teams can carry on indefinitely at the Coliseum, at some point the conflicts become too great to bear. For those of us who have been following this saga for so long, it’s good to know that actions are being taken to make new homes for the teams. Even if one of those homes is temporary.

Baer says he’s willing to let the A’s share AT&T with the Giants – with a catch

Giants President/CEO Larry Baer slipped a rather shocking note into the festivities surrounding the spring training opener, when he said that he’d be willing to allow the A’s to play temporarily at AT&T Park.

Of course, there are conditions. From Merc scribe Alex Pavlovic’s article:

“They’ve got to come up with a long-term plan. Once that’s arrived at, then maybe you’ll take a step back and say, ‘Is there something we can do to be helpful?’ As a neighborly thing.

“Obviously, they’ve got to come up with what their plan is and we’ll go from there.”

The A’s have a long-term plan, but that’s in San Jose, the city that Baer is loathe to give up. That means that Baer is perfectly willing to be neighborly, as long as the A’s stay in Oakland.

If you want to read between the lines, you can consider this a memo to Oakland ballpark backers to get off their asses and get something done. He’s willing to be neighborly, up to a point. He’s willing to appear magnanimous in his willingness to share the jewel at China Basin, up to a point. As long as there’s some motion towards a ballpark in Oakland, it helps Baer’s cause.

Strategically, it’s easy to see why Baer is going this route. Now that the Giants have practically paid off their ballpark, they need another rationale for preserving the split territorial rights regime currently in place. They can talk about protecting their fan base in the South Bay, but frankly, the issue is Oakland. Simply put, can a ballpark be built in Oakland? If it can – and it pencils out for the A’s financially – then the current T-rights scheme can remain in place, whether Lew Wolff and John Fisher are the owners or someone else takes their place. If Oakland can’t be done, which Wolff has been arguing, the East Bay itself is done, and MLB will be forced to consider an alternative method of drawing up territories. Immediately that means the South Bay is the only other place in the Bay Area, with Wolff preferring that as opposed to leaving altogether, which Baer has hinted in the past he’d be okay with.

Baer’s little nudge should provide motivation for Oakland boosters, though Baer can’t make it easier to build in Oakland. Nor is it likely that the Giants will help Oakland out monetarily. News coming out of Raiders camp can’t be encouraging, as Raiders owner Mark Davis indicates that nothing is happening with Coliseum City, at least as he sees it. Davis characterized Coliseum City as perhaps Oakland’s last chance to keep the Raiders. By NFL rules, Davis has to make a good faith effort to keep the team in its current market, and Davis has certainly done that so far. If Coliseum City breaks down, the Raiders could leave for LA as early as a year from now, and Roger Goodell can’t say much about it. Sure, the NFL holds the purse strings, but by that point they’ll know full well the challenges of building a stadium in Oakland as much as LA. Like the A’s situation, if it doesn’t pencil out in Oakland, there may not be an East Bay alternative. Already he’s backing away from the Concord Naval Weapons Station and Dublin’s Camp Parks, which makes me wonder if he’s only feigning interest in those sites in order to appear thorough.

Davis also referred to the impact of the Oakland mayoral race, indicating that developers wouldn’t get off the fence until after the election. That runs counter to the idea that the various mayoral candidates could make Coliseum City progress by stumping for it along the way. The project has its own schedule and milestones, with the next big one, the Market Data Analysis, due in March. By spring we’re supposed to find out how feasible Coliseum City is, and by summer teams are supposed to be signed on to be partners – at least according to Mayor Jean Quan. Movement will come from making the numbers work, not magic. Davis is not the only person to wonder what exactly is happening with Coliseum City. We’re going through these phases with CC, where some small amount of progress happens, followed by a huge informational vacuum, then a sobering dose of reality, and then another small step forward. Eventually that cycle will be replaced by real discussions, actual reports, and true political and financial support (or a lack of it).

Going back to the Giants and Baer, I suppose that since he’s offering his place as a 1-2 year airbnb stint for the A’s, we can start talking about what that would look like. That’s for another day. For now, it makes the most sense to focus on Oakland. In the near term, that’s where the only future for the Raiders and A’s lies.

The Solomonesque solution that thankfully never happened

When the latest Matier and Ross column featuring Coliseum City and the A’s dropped over the weekend, I wasn’t sure if I should follow-up right away or wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Drop it did, with a press release coming from the A’s early today. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of any of it. BayIG (the combined investor/developer group) was supposed to contact the A’s starting in mid-November. Now it’s all a bunch of he-said/she-said. It’s all meaningless in the grand scheme of things, so I won’t bother wasting anymore words on it.

Instead I’ll reference a nightmare scenario that happened almost 40 years ago. It involves a Charlie Finley anecdote that I hadn’t fully heard until I read his 2010 biography some time ago. In the late 70’s, Finley was fighting a personal two-front war, an acrimonious divorce on one side and skyrocketing salaries that threatened his ability to operate the A’s on the other. (He also had other feuds with MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the Coliseum Commission and numerous players and agents, but I digress.) Knowing his time in baseball was running out, Finley chose to put the team up for sale as soon as 1977. Numerous suitors surfaced, some offering to keep the team in Oakland and other looking to move the franchise out at the end of the 1977 season. The most famous buyer was oil billionaire Marvin Davis, whose family was said to be the model for the soap opera Dynasty. Davis also owned the 20th Century Fox studio for some time before selling it to some Australian named Rupert Murdoch.

The difficult part of the move was the generally ironclad lease the Coliseum had with the A’s. It was a 20-year term, with an expensive buyout if the A’s left. As the Coliseum filed a $35 million lawsuit against Finley, Finley worked with Kuhn and Giants owner Bob Lurie to figure out a solution. Wait, what did Bob Lurie have to do with this?

Kuhn had been convinced that, with both teams showing poor attendance, the Bay Area was only a one-team market. He spoke to pols in both San Francisco and Oakland to work on a compromise, but in the end the Bay Area would be left with only one team. Previously, Lurie had bought the team from Horace Stoneham, saving SF from the prospect of moving the Giants to Toronto. Lurie was brought into the talks to figure out what role the Giants would have in a one-team Bay Area.

The solution, as architected by Kuhn and others before the 1978 season, would’ve been to have the A’s sold to Marvin Davis, which would’ve gotten rid of Kuhn’s nemesis Finley. Then in order to compromise on the Coliseum lease, the Giants would’ve played some number of games at the Coliseum, 25-40 depending on how the final deal was drawn up. In San Francisco the team would’ve been called the San Francisco Giants, while in Oakland the team would’ve been called simply the Giants. Kuhn recalled:

For the next three weeks, the politicians, the baseball administration and the lawyers struggled to find solutions. At last, amazingly, parity was agreed to. The team name would be the San Francisco Giants except in Oakland, where it would be the Giants. Financial payments to the Oakland Coliseum were set at $3.25 million. The internal fight within baseball was difficult when Finley would put up no more than $1 million as his share of the Coliseum payment. Even that we were able to persuade the clubs to accept. But, when we asked him [Finley] to waive claims of any kind against baseball, he balked.

Even though Finley was leaving baseball – forever – he still wanted to keep his right to sue just in case he felt he got ripped off. Finley was no stranger to courtrooms, so this could be expected. Still, you’d think that after all that work (and his building desperation) he would’ve waived that one right in order to finish the deal. The sale fell apart and Finley went into full fire sale mode, finally selling the team to the Haas family in 1980.

Consider the ramifications:

  • The Giants would’ve become the San Francisco Giants/Giants, probably playing most of the Oakland games before football season.
  • The buyout would’ve funded improvements to the Coliseum that Al Davis was seeking, improvements that probably would’ve kept the Raiders in Oakland.
  • From that point forward, the Bay Area would’ve been a one-team town, with a young, growing city like San Jose pursuing an expansion franchise.
  • Eventually, the team-sharing situation would’ve created a race between SF and Oakland to build a permanent home when leases at both Candlestick Park and the Coliseum expired in the late 80’s. Territorial rights would’ve included the “BART counties” plus Marin County.
  • Rickey Henderson, who was drafted in 1976, would’ve spent much of his career in Denver. The same could be said of Tony Armas and Dwayne Murphy, among others. Marvin Davis had the money to bolster the team’s payroll, so the chances of keeping a talented young team intact were very good.

So this Christmas, thank the ghost of Charlie Finley for being so selfish that he had to be able to sue – just in case. Without that, the Oakland Athletics would’ve been a 10 year experiment, a blip on the radar, an historical anomaly.

(h/t Rob Neyer, who referenced the near-sale when the A’s-to-China Basin reports surfaced. I didn’t see his post until after I finished this one.)

How to negotiate a ballpark deal without giving away the farm

If you haven’t heard, the City of San Jose finalized a five-year lease extension with the San Jose Giants this week. Talks were somewhat contentious for several months, as it was Giants ownership (San Francisco Giants) that spearheaded the Stand For San Jose-vs.-City of San Jose lawsuit two years ago. The relationship was so sour that the SJ Giants had to remove themselves from the lawsuit in order to repair the relationship with the City. The Giants, usually at the tops of the California League in attendance, had things pretty good with a favorable lease and a vast array of corporate sponsors to choose from.

In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that the Giants took the City for granted. In 2007 they even played the old stadium ransom game, threatening to leave if they didn’t get as much as $8 million to renovate Municipal Stadium. City let the San Jose Arena Authority manage the situation, so renovations on an annual basis were kept reasonable, a little over $1 million from that point until now.

So when the time came for the two sides to talk, you can imagine how uninterested the City was with the Giants’ sales pitch. The S4SJ lawsuit involved the Giants’ law firm, Pillsbury, and from what I heard, City was happy to let the Giants twist in the wind a little. Eventually cooler heads prevailed, resulting in the five year extension through 2018.

The lease remains dirt cheap at about $25,000 per year. In addition, the City is for the first time granting the sale of naming rights to Muni. Money from any naming rights deal will go into a capital improvements fund. The important takeaway is that the City is no longer responsible for general upkeep at Muni, nor will it be pushed into funding other improvements at Muni as the Giants had previously requested. In a related move, a deal to share parking with Sharks Ice next door was also reached.

With the coffers running low to fund ongoing facilities improvements, City has used naming rights successfully to take care of various small projects. Most recently, the venerable Civic Auditorium received a name change to the awkward sounding City National Civic, after City National Bank. And of course, there’s also SAP Center, which changed from HP Pavilion in a rather quick manner after the CEOs of HP and SAP talked it over. City National Civic’s deal is worth $240,000 a year, within the range of single-A ballpark naming rights deals. It remains to be seen if Muni will fetch more because of the Giants’ name and the size of the market or less because Muni’s elderly condition. In either case, there should be a number of local sponsors who should be expected to bid, Adobe and Orchard Supply Hardware to name two.

Or, if the parent SF Giants wanted to get really snarky about it, they could rename it Giants Stadium. Talk about planting a flag. The Sharks took over the naming rights to their practice facility from Logitech, and have been expanding that brand ever since with rinks in Fremont and uptown Oakland.