Newswrap 11/12/14

Liccardo is expected to carry out many of the same policies as Chuck Reed, which means the lawsuit against MLB won’t be dropped. We’ll see if that matters in the long run. For now it means little. The Ninth Circuit is expected to drop the hammer on the lawsuit sometime in the coming months, followed by a San Jose appeal to the Supreme Court.

Here’s a blast from the recent past: those blasted Maloof brothers are set to enter the pro sports ownership realm again, as part-owners of an expansion NHL franchise in Las Vegas. No date has been given for the establishment either the Vegas franchise or its companion. Both expansion franchises are expected to be in the Western Conference, which is currently two teams short of the Eastern Conference. Assuming that Seattle is the other franchise, realignment could get messy since both franchises should play in the Pacific Division. The most logical way of handling it would be to move the two Alberta teams (Calgary, Edmonton) to the Central, move Colorado to the Pacific, and add the two expansion teams to the Pacific. It would make the Western Conference look a bit different.

  • Pacific – Vancouver, Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Arizona, Colorado
  • Central – Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville

Yes, it still sucks that Quebec City doesn’t have a replacement team. The flights from Alberta to Texas and Tennessee for division games would be brutal. Expansion would put the tally at 32 NHL teams, which is a sort of magical number from a scheduling standpoint regardless of sport. I wouldn’t expect that to grow for many years after this expansion round.

The Las Vegas venue will probably be the MGM-AEG arena, under construction along the Strip near the New York-New York casino.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue reported that the sales tax impact from hosting the All Star Game this year was $21-55 million, well short of the projected $75 million windfall. (h/t Field of Schemes)

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The cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, which are rivals and neighbors the same way San Francisco and Oakland are on the West Coast, may be ready to work out a deal in which Rays ownership could scope out potential ballpark sites in Tampa. St. Pete’s Tropicana Field is the current home. There’s a long way to go before everyone’s satisfied, so don’t get your hopes up yet and follow Noah Pransky’s excellent Shadow of the Stadium blog for more details.

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A profile of Ron Gobbell is available at The Tennesseean. Who is Ron Gobbell? He’s the lead architect for the Nashville Sounds new AAA ballpark, First Tennessee Park. The article includes key milestones. FTP is slated to open next April 17.

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Jon Streeter, the attorney for Keker Van Nest who negotiated the A’s new lease agreement for the JPA, today was appointed judge of the State Appeals Court 1st District by Governor Jerry Brown.

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The bowl game scheduled for December 30 at Levi’s Stadium has a new name: Foster Farms Bowl.

fosterfarmsbowl

 

The interim name was San Francisco Bowl. When the game was hosted at AT&T it went by several names, including Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and Emerald Bowl. Foster Farms isn’t going anywhere, so maybe the name will stick around. As for the bridge iconography, well… I prefer a different logo.

chickenbowl

Mark it down: NHL Stadium Series coming to Levi’s on February 21

A Ticketmaster snafu last week probably spoiled the surprise, but it wasn’t much of a surprise anyway. The NHL today announced that Levi’s Stadium has been awarded one of the prime Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games on February 21, 2015. The game will feature the home Sharks and the much reviled, defending champion Kings.

When talks initially started about hosting a Bay Area version of the Stadium Series, the question was whether to hold the game at picturesque, touristy AT&T Park or at the newer, much larger Levi’s. In the end, size won out. Hopefully, what will also win out is the desire to curb needless theatrics.

The Valley isn’t San Francisco, and it definitely isn’t Los Angeles, though at its worst it aspires to be the latter at times. Last year’s game at Dodger Stadium had so peripheral things going on during and before the game (roller skating, beach volleyball) that it was perfectly – and perhaps ironically – emblematic of the California fan experience: easily distracted, ready to move on to something else if the weather’s good.

There’s a hockey rink behind there somewhere. Credit: Hans Gutknecht, LA Daily News

As the discussion was being had locally by the host Sharks, an uprising of support came from the South Bay to hold the game at Levi’s instead of AT&T, because the Sharks are a South Bay team, not just a Bay Area/Northern California representative of the NHL. While it’s unclear how many fans expressed this sentiment, since many of them are longtime season ticket holders, Sharks management had to hear them out and give their voices weight. It also doesn’t hurt that Levi’s Stadium is arguably considered the destination outdoor venue on the West Coast.

This time the game will be in a football stadium, which is set up to be congruent with hockey, so there will be less open space to worry about filling as there would be at AT&T. There should be enough casual interest to sell 68,500+ seats, though that will be borne out over time and with published ticket prices. The rich tech population should eat this novelty up just as they have 49ers seat licenses. Another huge sporting event, Wrestlemania 31, is scheduled for March 29.

Seating chart for Stadium Series game

Seating chart for Stadium Series game

With the announcement, all that’s left is to figure out how to theme it. I shudder to think of the marketing concepts. Nevertheless, I expect to be there with a bunch of friends. How about you?

Purdy cites Sharks’ TV deal as reason team could leave San Jose

It wasn’t that long ago that the Sharks were such a laggard in terms of TV ratings and revenue, they sold their own ads. With no competition to Fox Sports and its successor, Comcast Sportsnet, the Sharks always ended up the runt of the litter compared to the MLB and NFL teams, plus the Warriors. When CSN California was started in 2009, the Sharks gladly leaped to the fledgling network in hopes of better exposure and fewer time conflicts. While they got both of those goals realized, the actual contract terms severely favored Comcast, netting the Sharks only $7 million a year.

Mark Purdy mentions Sharks ownership’s exasperation with the deal, which was negotiated in 2010, years before Hasso Plattner assumed the throne at the Tank. The NHL hasn’t been affected as much by the TV rights bubble as the other three major sports, but there’s enough of a discrepancy that it’s problematic for the Sharks, who have the 4th highest payroll in the league. SoCal rivals, the Kings and Ducks, bring in $20+ million annually. Even the Florida Panthers rake in around $11 million per year. Toronto has the most lucrative deal at $41 million per year, which expires after next season. That said, Toronto’s deal is approximately the same as the middle-of-the-pack deal the A’s signed, ironically also with Comcast Sportsnet.

And it’s not like the A’s are a ratings powerhouse. Both the A’s and Sharks are in the 1.x ratings range on CSNCA. You’d think that would translate to similarly sized deals. Evidently not. Purdy speculates that former Sharks exec Greg Jamison lost his job after making the deal. Jamison had a long tenure dating back to George Gund’s time as the owner, so maybe Jamison was too fixated on how the deal compared in proportion to previous deals. Perhaps he didn’t see the bubble coming.

Current team CEO John Tortora is a former media lawyer, so renegotiating the contract should be right up his alley. Unfortunately, the team is locked in for another 14 years, and while Comcast may be accommodating to some degree, they’re not gonna give away the farm. I like the idea of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman getting involved and holding next winter’s Stadium Series game as a carrot, though I’m not convinced it’ll make that much of a difference. When Comcast files its annual financial statement, CSNBA and CSNCA are lumped with all of the other regional sports networks and non-sports properties like USA and Bravo. But it’s obvious that each network is its own unit and must perform up to par. Take CSN Houston, whose carriage situation outside its sister cable provider has been disastrous. CSN Houston is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, and the two teams who have partnered to start the network, the Rockets and Astros, are feeling the pinch because of that mess. For Comcast, CSN Houston may be the canary in the coal mine that signals the end to the bubble.

Trapped for now with a poor TV contract, the Sharks could look elsewhere locally for revenue. Santa Clara has harbored ambitions of a huge Coliseum City-like entertainment complex, with Levi’s Stadium and Great America acting as anchors. An arena – presumably on the current Golf & Tennis Club – would complement the existing options, with a Santana Row-like development bridging the area between the arena and the stadium. Since the City is tapped out because of obligations for the stadium and redevelopment dead, the Sharks would be on their own the same way the Warriors can’t expect help from San Francisco for their Mission Bay arena. Even with free or cheap land, the arena’s price tag would be $600-700 million. Most franchises can attempt such a move if they have ballast in other areas like TV. The Sharks do not, so it’s hard to see how they’d take on such a huge debt obligation.

Attendance has been great for all 20 years the Sharks have been at the Tank, so the only motivation to reach for more is the premium seating segment. SAP Center has plenty of suites and club seats. The suites could be better situated, and the newer segments in between suites and club seats haven’t been addressed, whether you’re referring to 4-6 person loge boxes or outlandish accommodations like the “bridges” under the ceiling at MSG. Even standing room only seats have been turned into something of a premium experience in some arenas.

The cheapest solution would be to make improvements to SAP Center to match what’s being offered. There are only two concourses, main and club. The upper suite level above the seating bowl is too narrow to serve anything besides the suites and penthouse area. The ceiling is among the lowest in the NHL, which limits expansion to an extent but also contributes to making the arena very loud (compared to Staples Center and Honda Center it’s no contest).

tank-seatingchart

Recent Sharks seating chart

Knowing the Tank’s limitations, I have a short list of improvements that could be made to keep the place competitive:

  • Install 40 loge boxes - As you can see from the chart above, the club seats begin where the club level vomitories (tunnels) provide access to the seats (near the 100-level numbers). The seats immediately next to the vomitories are non-club seats. If the Sharks want to add loge boxes, they can do so in those 4 rows. Doing so would displace a bunch of season ticket holders. Hopefully they can be relocated to comparable area.
  • Replace the wire/metal railings at the front of the upper deck – Currently the Sharks sell Ledge seats at a premium, as most teams do. If they remove the wires and replace them with glass, the views from the 2nd and 3rd rows won’t be as compromised, allowing the Sharks to sell those seats for more.
  • Redo the lower half seating bowl with dual-rise seating at the ends – Doing so will make the arena configuration more flexible and efficient. See this post for more.
  • Install rafters seats – Like the MSG bridges, these seats would be in the ceiling and would practically overlook the rink. The elaborate truss framework in the ceiling is designed to make various parts up there easily serviceable and accessible. Look up during a game and you’ll often see people scurrying along the catwalks. If the Sharks can figure out a way to properly provide fan access, there’s an obvious opportunity. The only question is whether the trusswork causes obstructed views.
SAP Center ceiling

SAP Center ceiling

All of this costs money. SJAA, the authority that manages the arena over the top of the Sharks, has a capital improvements budget that it negotiates with the City and the Sharks. Over time they’ve funded replacement scoreboards, the addition of new suites, and other changes. It’s through SJAA that future improvements will be funded, though the Sharks will have to pony up a lot of their own money to get it done. For the rights to operate the Tank and get a cut of concessions, parking and other revenues for all events at the arena (not just hockey), the Sharks pay San Jose $7-8 million a year – mostly for debt service. The Sharks have claimed paper losses for several years now, partly owing to that rent payment, the TV shortfall, and the team’s high payroll. Perhaps the Sharks will offer to make the improvements in exchange for lease concessions. Also, there’s still the deal struck in 2010 to build a garage north of the arena in case the A’s come to San Jose. The lease is up in a few short years, so both sides better get prepared.

Finally, there’s a much simpler market-related question to ask: Can the Bay Area support 4 arenas? With the W’s building their own in SF, Oracle Arena and SAP Center probably still standing for some time to come, how does a 4th arena (2nd in the South Bay) make any sense? Touring acts will play the 4 off each other, killing the arenas’ profitability in the process. LA and NY support 3 up-to-date major arenas, mostly because all the arenas have sports franchise tenants (the Forum is an outlier). In the Bay Area’s case, only 2 arenas would have sports franchises. Each arena would be specced out for their respective team, multipurpose being synonymous with compromise. From a demand standpoint it makes little sense. Plattner, Tortora, and their staff probably realize this and know how to move forward with the venue. But consider for a moment that the Bay Area could have 4 very nice arenas yet only 1 modern NFL stadium and 1 modern ballpark. Frankly, that looks more than a little skewed.

SF Bulls minor league hockey team could fold, move to Oakland or Fresno

The costs of operating a minor league team in San Francisco have caught up to the San Francisco Bulls, according to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser (yes, our Susan Slusser). The Sharks ECHL affiliate Bulls, who have called the Cow Palace home for the last 1 1/2 seasons, may have a deal to sell the team to a new ownership group by next week. In turn, the team would move its home games to either Oracle Arena or Save Mart Center in Fresno.

The Bulls were always going to be an interesting test of viability in arguably the most expensive place to live and work in the nation. Sure, the Cow Palace is much closer to Visitacion Valley than Pacific Heights, but given the very low salaries for players and the high cost of living around SF, making the team work was going to be a struggle. Coach/GM/Owner Pat Curcio also cited the out-of-pocket improvements the team made at the arena, the big ticket item being a very nice center-hung scoreboard.

Seats near ice level are not well pitched, creating some bad viewing angles

Seats near ice level are not well pitched at the Cow Palace, creating some bad viewing angles. These seats have been replaced by a beer garden.

The view above comes from a free seat offer I received at an A’s game in 2012. Back then the Bulls were just launching, offering a cheaper hockey alternative to the Sharks. The seating bowl was practically the same as when the Sharks played their first two seasons in the NHL, or the short-lived SF Spiders. Ever the utilitarian venue, the Cow Palace was compact for hockey and prone to get fairly loud. Oddly enough, it’s perhaps too large for minor league hockey, which realistically is best served by a 5,000-7,000 seat venue in the Bay Area. The Bulls even removed at least a third of the Cow Palace’s seats by taking the “floor” seats shown above and converting them to a beer garden, right behind the two team benches. The beer garden had previously been located at one end of the rink.

Should the franchise move to Oakland or Fresno, they would be moving into even larger arenas. Save Mart Center seats 14,000 for hockey or ice shows, though it’s likely that the upper deck would be curtained off for hockey games. The same could be said for Oracle Arena, which due to its basketball-centric seating bowl layout, has thousands of obstructed view seats for hockey.

oraclearena-rinkoutline

Panorama of Oracle Arena during FanFest, showing the outline of the ice rink

Last year’s A’s FanFest had the arena laid out in the way you’d expect a hockey game to be staged. At one end, retractable seats would be folded back to accommodate the rink’s 200′ x 85′ dimensions. Seats above the retracted sections would have obstructed views. This is a similar arrangement to what the NY Islanders will have when they move into Barclays Center. If the Bulls move to Oakland, it’ll be interesting to see what pricing the team will offer and the turnout in response. The last minor league team to call the arena home was the Oakland Skates, a roller hockey team that ceased operations when the arena renovation project started in 1996.

The Warriors would have to sign off on the Bulls’ move, and the Bulls would have to reschedule some home dates to defer to the Warriors. There’s also the matter of laying the basketball court on top of an ice sheet, which would have to be done on occasion. Typically, the Warriors’ schedule has avoided any conflicts. For instance, this year a six-game road trip coincides with a Disney ice show in late February. Condensation on hardwood basketball floors can be an issue even in the newest arenas, and Oracle doesn’t have a ton of experience doing these types of switchovers.

Fresno could end up being the best place in the long run, because of the lower cost of living for players and Save Mart Center’s hockey-friendly layout. In Fresno, the team would have instant Central Valley rivalries with the Stockton Thunder and Bakersfield Condors, both teams that play in smaller, newer arenas. Friend of the blog @wacchampions also noted that the team could play at Selland Arena, which underwent an AEG-funded renovation to better support ice shows and ice hockey.

cowpalace-history

Ice hockey history on display at the Cow Palace

If this is the end for the Bulls, it’ll be another brief stay for minor league team at the Cow Palace. The venue is run not by a city or county, but rather the State Department of Food and Agriculture, which also operates Cal Expo. There’s little local sentimentality to how they run the Cow Palace, making the arena fully a bottom-line-first affair. For the sake of NorCal hockey fans, I hope the team doesn’t shut down, and that it will resurface either in Oakland or Fresno, providing them an opportunity to thrive.

Happy Anniversary Shark Tank!

Saturday, September 7 was a fairly ho-hum day at the newly-renamed SAP Center, formerly HP Pavilion, Compaq Center, and San Jose Arena. There was an event, a mariachi festival called Vivafest. Preseason hockey wasn’t scheduled to start for two weeks, the regular season for a month.  It seemed like there wasn’t much to celebrate.

Shortly after the first puck drop on Saturday night at SAP Center

Shortly after the first puck drop on Saturday night vs. Ottawa at SAP Center

Oh, but there was. September 7, 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of the arena, affectionally known as the Shark Tank (the Sharks would play their first home game on 9/30/93). Though it’s 20 years old, the place still looks nearly new and spiffy, with Sharks ownership and the San Jose Arena Authority committed to maintaining the venue to ensure its place as a premier sports and concert venue, and to keep up with rival franchises. Even though the structure is mostly precast, poured and block concrete, the glass entries and color highlights make the place feel more friendly and inviting than a largely concrete structure should. The steel cladded façade proved to be an aesthetic mistake, though it shimmers nicely at night. I joked shortly after the arena opened to some friends that the City needed to figure out a way to keep the arena in the dark all the time.

Since its opening, the Tank has hosted multiple NCAA basketball men’s regionals, the women’s Final Four, the US Gymnastics and Figure Skating Championships, pro wrestling, boxing, and MMA, and countless concerts. While in my relative youth I had reservations about the publicly-funded nature of the arena, the fact that Sharks ownership (led by the late George Gund at the time) spent a good sum of money upfront to ensure the arena would an industry leader, and the venue has held its place as a highly competitive, well-run NHL arena ever since. Unlike most other arenas, the team ran the venue themselves, parlaying that experience into the acquisition and operation of other venues in the area.

Circulation was always simpler at the Tank than at Oracle Arena thanks to wider concourses.

Circulation was always simpler at the Tank than at Oracle Arena thanks to wider concourses and a simplified layout.

SAP Center didn’t mention the moment on either its Facebook page or Twitter timeline. There was no special event. Maybe this was because the Sharks franchise celebrated its own 20-year anniversary in 2011, which would’ve made this celebration a bit much. Perhaps it’s a mark of the Hasso Plattner’s ownership. Whatever the case, San Jose should’ve celebrated the anniversary. It’s the best thing San Jose’s now shuttered Redevelopment Agency has accomplished. It’s worthy of praise, so I’ll do it here, admittedly in belated manner.

Happy Anniversary, Shark Tank! Here’s to 20 more years of great events at the arena. San Jose wouldn’t be the same without you. Take a bow.

The new SAP Center sign, installed Friday, replaced the HP Pavilion moniker.

The new SAP Center sign, installed Friday, replaced the HP Pavilion moniker.

The Kid

I know we’re all hurting from Game 4. Let’s just take a minute to appreciate this.

Tomas Hertl is 19 years old from the Czech Republic. He scored 4 goals against the Rangers. He’s the youngest to score four goals since 1988. He’s already a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) candidate. Once in a while we’re blessed to see truly transcendent talents like Joe Montana, Rickey Henderson, or Barry Bonds. Like Yoenis Cespedes, Hertl speaks little English. Like the aforementioned legends, this kid can carry a team, sell tickets, do the unthinkable. He’s that good. Just drink it in, and know that he’s probably going to be a Shark for a long, long time.

News for 7/24/13

A lot of smaller items this week that I felt should go into a single post.

  • Added 7/25 1:48 PM – Cowboys Stadium will now be known as AT&T Stadium, at a rate of $17-19 million per year (length unknown). For reference, Levi’s bought the naming rights at the 49ers stadium for $11 million/year, while AT&T Park’s deal was for roughly $2 million/year through 2024. Oracle Arena and SAP Center have deals worth $3 million/year.
  • Added 7/25 1:40 PMReally good interview on Athletics Nation with A’s Sales & Marketing veep Jim Leahey about how hard it is to sell tickets for the A’s at the Coliseum.
  • Added 8:40 PM – Completely forgot that the A’s have changed the gate opening schedule on Fridays to 4:30. Normally the gates open 90 minutes before first pitch on weekdays, 2 hours before first pitch on weekends. This is to accommodate a request by many fans (including me) to observe home team batting practice, featuring Derby winner Yoenis Cespedes. Home BP is usually held a little over 2 hours before first pitch in most ballparks. For now the time change is only for Fridays. It could change, but remember that for day-after-night games many teams choose to cancel BP. As luck would have it, I’m flying into OAK from Salt Lake City at 3 on Friday, so I’ll have a chance to watch Cespy do his thing.
  • The Chicago City Council approved a controversial $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field, which will include a big electronic scoreboard, increased signage and advertising, and the development of a hotel and office complex across Clark St from the ballpark.
  • The Port of Oakland’s settlement with SSA was approved and accompanied by a celebratory press release by the terminal operator. Though there’s an interesting bit at the end:

The settlement agreement “has nothing to do with the baseball park,” (Port Board President Ces) Butner said. “We have not determined what we are going to do with Howard Terminal yet. We are going to have to figure out what it will be.”

Tim Kawakami also tweeted this:

Kawakami went on to talk about different uses and configurations for the land. Oakland wanted two downtowns with Coliseum City. I guess they can also explore two Coliseums (Colisea?). It’s all fun to think about until somebody has to pay the bill.

  • According to an annual Harris Poll, the A’s are tied for last (27th) in terms of team popularity in MLB. The poll was conducted in mid-June with 2,210 American fans. Predictably, the Yankees and Red Sox are at the top. The Giants rank 10th in the survey, though they’ve moved around a lot over the years.
  • The Giants played a rare doubleheader at AT&T Park, which occurred thanks to a prior rainout in Cincinnati. While the first game was played as a regularly scheduled home game, the second game had the Reds playing as the home team and batting last. A different type of doubleheader is scheduled for this weekend, with the A’s playing the Angels at 12:05 (national Fox TV game) and the Giants hosting the Cubs at 6:05. I’m seriously considering going to both as I’ve done this doubleheader the past two years.
  • SF State professor and longtime Oakland political scenester Joe Tuman is expected to announce that he is running for Mayor today. An announcement is coming at Oakland City Hall at noon. Earlier today I had said something about San Jose’s antitrust lawsuit and MLB’s leverage, which aroused this response from Tuman:
  • Not to be forgotten, Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid has been waiting for a “sign from God” to put him in the race, though his increasingly snarky commentary at public meetings suggests that this is a mere formality. Having both Reid and Tuman in there could make the race entertaining, to say the least.
  • Sacramento arena proponents have accused anti-arena petition gatherers of lies and dirty pool in making claims about the ESC plan. Neither side looks great, as the anti-arena group may have out-of-town support and the “facts” that the pro-arena group are citing are projections, not facts. Yeesh.
  • Despite the City of Detroit officially filing for bankruptcy, it’s likely that $283 million in TIF-based funding for a new downtown Red Wings arena will go through. All sorts of wrong with that.

More if it comes.