Category Archives: News
Lost in all the owners’ meetings, MVP awards and other sports news was a little story out of Sacramento. It involves a stadium for a second-tier soccer team – that will be built in five months.
That’s right, five months. And it was only announced today. The stadium will have a capacity of 8,000 and be constructed on a parking lot at Cal Expo for the Sacramento Republic soccer club. The Republic is aiming to become a future expansion team in MLS. By building this 8,000-seat facility (nearly the size of Buck Shaw Stadium), the hope is that MLS will be impressed enough to grant the franchise’s “promotion”, leading to a deal for a larger MLS stadium in a few years. The neat trick to the deal is that the club is partnering with Cal Expo’s concessionaire to build the stadium, a potential win-win for both parties.
How could all of this come together in only five months? The stadium is considered temporary. When we envision stadium projects, we usually see the dark side of environmental review because these structures are meant to last for 30-40 years or longer. However, if you build a temporary facility, you can largely sidestep CEQA law. After all, the point of CEQA is to understand and mitigate against long-term environmental impacts, so if you can prove that your project won’t have a huge impact, you may be able to get a CEQA exception. One of those exceptions is for temporary or seasonal structures. They’re planning to put in the stadium, which will only be used 15-20 times per year during a 6-7 month window, and take it apart when the new stadium is ready. Project proponents can argue that there’s little impact since the stadium site is already a parking lot. Stretching the definition of temporary to nine years in this case is a little suspect, but there isn’t a hard and fast definition to use. Here’s what the law says:
15304. Minor Alterations to Land
(e) Minor temporary use of land having negligible or no permanent effects on the environment, including carnivals, sales of Christmas trees, etc;
Similar exceptions are available for additions to existing structures, such as the musical chairs situation I described last month. It would involve temporary additions to Raley Field and San Jose Municipal Stadium. A tougher case could even be made for a larger, 20,000-seat ballpark in San Jose. Let’s say that there’s some currently undeveloped or underutilized but properly entitled land somewhere within San Jose city limits. It could be publicly or privately owned. If the A’s struck a deal with the landowner, they could get permitted to build a temporary ballpark on that land. Sites could include the Airport West site near the Earthquakes stadium (though we’ve seen the difficulty building there), the County Fairgrounds, or other privately owned land. There are even sites near downtown.
That said, we’re at a late enough stage that it’s practically impossible to pull off a temporary new ballpark in time for the 2014 season. Expanding Raley would make more sense in that timeframe. As transient the whole thing sounds, it’s definitely a path of relatively little bureaucratic resistance as long as you get willing partners. Since it wouldn’t involve public money, a referendum wouldn’t be required.
The Merc’s John Woolfolk (recently assigned the the City beat), tweeted this about the San Jose-MLB case less than an hour ago.
San Jose, MLB lawyers agree to put off mediation on remaining claims in city suit over A's move (tht MLB allegedly messed w/bpark land opt.)
— John Woolfolk (@JohnWoolfolk1) November 12, 2013
I’m not going to go so far as to say that there’s a deal in the works, but there has to be a reason for both sides to agree to postpone mediation. Certainly San Jose’s stance has been to get depositions and open the books to make MLB squirm a little. MLB’s desire is to get rid of the lawsuit altogether. Something’s up. The owners’ meetings are happening this week.
Woolfolk responded to this post with another tweet:
@newballpark my guess, both sides see greater potential in taking remaining case to trial at this point than settling.
— John Woolfolk (@JohnWoolfolk1) November 12, 2013
If true, well, thanks for trying to get the two sides to hash it out Judge Whyte.
UPDATE 11/13 1:55 PM – The Coliseum Authority cancelled a previously scheduled Friday meeting. It’s probably related to the ongoing lease negotiations.
In the meantime, San Jose lead attorney Joe Cotchett said this at a San Jose Rotary Club function (courtesy of Merc columnist Sal Pizarro):
Attorney Joe Cotchett makes bold prediction to San Jose Rotary that SJ will have an MLB team or a contract to get one within 2 years.
— Sal Pizarro (@spizarro) November 13, 2013
More bluster? Or something else?
I ended my review of Turner Field from two weeks ago saluting the innovative way it was designed and repurposed, plus its status as a permanent baseball-only home.
Turns out that today the Braves announced plans to move to suburban Cobb County, just on the outside of the Perimeter (I-285). Historically, the suburbs north of Atlanta are where most of the fan base is located, so the Braves are strategically making the move to be closer to them. Attendance at Turner Field started with four straight seasons with over 3 million fans. Since then attendance has hovered around 2.5 million. That’s good, but the Braves’ brass think they can do better.
According to the Braves’ new stadium website, Turner field has $150 million in infrastructure improvements that would be needed, yet aren’t enough to enhance the fan experience. Those additional improvements would make the project cost rise above $200 million.
On the other hand, the new stadium would cost $672 million to construct. The 60 acres of land on which the ballpark would sit has been “secured” according to the Braves. Cobb County would invest $450 million in the stadium, while the Braves would put in $200 million at the start and be responsible for cost overruns. The Braves would be the lead developer for the ancillary “ballpark village” adjacent to the stadium.
This announced move follows a string of other regional defections. Three performing arts organizations (Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta Opera, Atlanta Lyric Theatre) have already moved to or are in the process of moving to Cobb County, not far from the Braves’ planned stadium site.
White flight? Follow the money? Yes and yes. As outrageous as this announcement and the Falcons’ plans are to replace fairly new, modern stadia, if they can sucker partner with some municipality to foot the bill for a move, they’re going to do it every time.
Should the Braves be successful in their move, it would mark the first urban-to-suburban franchise move since 1973, when the Royals left temporary home Municipal Stadium for the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex, a similar distance away from Kansas City’s downtown core as the Braves’ site is from downtown Atlanta. The team plans to start play at the new ballpark in 2017. The current lease at Turner Field ends in 2016.
As the hubbub and posturing over the Coliseum lease subsides, today we got some good news: the A’s spring training schedule has been released! It’s a momentous spring, too, since it’ll be the last at venerable Phoenix Municipal Stadium before the A’s move 10 miles east to Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. Hohokam is vacant in 2014 as crews make changes to accommodate the A’s after the departure of the Cubs.
Speaking of the Cubs, they’re set to open their Wrigleyville West, also in Mesa, in 2014. That’ll be worth checking out. The A’s play only one split-squad game at the Cubs’ yet-unnamed ballpark on March 5. Even if you miss that, don’t fret because the great thing about the Cactus League is that all of the parks are within a reasonable driving distance of each other. While there’s no neat sideshow like the World Baseball Classic in 2014, there’s still plenty to watch.
If you’re interested in visiting, remember that the A’s work out at the ballfields at Papago Park, which is nearly 2 miles north on the other side of the park from Muni. One thing I’ve never done is walk from Papago (where minor league camp games are held) to Muni, so I might do that this year.
Looking to check out several Cactus League ballparks? Consider that the 10 parks are set up in two clusters of five, to the west and east of downtown Phoenix. The east cluster, which Phoenix Muni is part of, is less spread out than the west cluster. Best to divide and conquer.
I’m targeting the 4-day weekend of March 13 through 16. The A’s play a rare night game at Muni. If I get there in the morning I can take in a game nearby in the afternoon before heading to Muni. There’s also a split-squad opportunity on Sunday the 16th, starting with a game in Muni and ending with the A’s taking on the Giants in Scottsdale.
There’s no league wide schedule available yet, as the teams are given the responsibility to arrange their schedules among themselves and publish when they’re ready. At this early stage, only a handful of teams such as the A’s and Giants have published theirs. Soon I’ll get all of them and put together a grid, the same way I did for the regular season.
One last note – keep in mind that Daylight Savings Time goes into effect on March 9, about two weeks into the schedule. That means all games before March 9 are an hour ahead of the Pacific time zone. From March 9 forward, games in Arizona are at the same time as California because Arizona doesn’t observe DST. The schedule shown is in Pacific time. If you’re planning to attend a game before March 9 and are traveling the same day, remember the time change.
Last week I received a flyer from the A’s urging me to get my season ticket plans wrapped up soon, as early as mid-November. Thanks to a Sunday report from Matier & Ross about MLB’s entree into the Coliseum lease discussions, I expect the A’s Ticket Services department to get a lot of angry, misdirected phone calls starting tomorrow morning. And I feel bad for them for having to deal with it.
The fact is that until recently, MLB has stayed out of the lease negotiations at Lew Wolff’s behest. As the lease comes closer to expiring with the two sides still far apart on the terms, baseball has decided to start playing the heavy. As we’ve seen in Miami and many other cities, MLB doesn’t play nice. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to start asking for hundreds of millions for a ballpark. Instead they’re playing the leverage game, threatening to move the A’s across the bay to AT&T Park if the Coliseum Authority won’t relent.
We’re told MLB is also demanding that the Coliseum give the A’s just a two-year lease extension – not the five- to eight-year deal the authority has been pushing.
The short-term lease would give the A’s more flexibility should the team’s owners swing a deal to move to San Jose – or beyond.
Let’s be clear about one thing: this is not MLB’s preferred option. They’d rather have the A’s and Giants play in their own ballparks, because getting them to share is messy when it comes to logistics, scheduling, and revenue sharing. While sharing has happened in the past, it hasn’t happened in almost 40 years. Plus the last thing MLB would want is to have a situation where the experiment goes so well that the Bay Area populace is convinced that there’s no need for two parks, or that the A’s seriously eat into the Giants’ revenue. Just as in other stadium negotiations, MLB has never been afraid to rattle sabers when it feels it can work to the benefit of one of its franchises. From this point forward, don’t expect anything less. Chances are that the JPA will buckle, because they know that the A’s tentatively playing away from Oakland can easily transform into the A’s permanently playing away from Oakland. From MLB’s standpoint, this is a question of loyalty. Oakland and Alameda County shown repeatedly that they’re willing to spend money and make things work for the Raiders. They have also demonstrated that they’ve been willing to move the A’s (and MLB) to the back burner at the most inopportune times. If the JPA doesn’t make concessions for the A’s, that’s just more proof that they aren’t truly willing to make the A’s a priority, which would make MLB less motivated to back Oakland’s efforts to forge a long-term deal. Raiders owner Mark Davis seems to prefer that they start working on a replacement Coliseum on the site of a demolished Coliseum, which if granted would leave the A’s without a place to play. Without a lease extension tied to a well-developed stadium plan, the Raiders would prefer to go year-to-year. The A’s would like to do a five-year deal with early termination if they’re impacted by construction of a new Raiders stadium. The challenge for the JPA is to put together a deal that caters to MLB’s needs while not jeopardizing their relationship with the Raiders and the NFL.
For the time being, Giants chief Larry Baer has stayed silent, probably at Bud Selig’s request. To say they wouldn’t accommodate the A’s would torpedo baseball’s plans and leverage, the same way Wally Haas and then-AL President Bobby Brown rejected Bob Lurie’s plans to share the Coliseum while SF figured out a downtown ballpark plan. That occurred in 1985. Now that MLB is a singular governing body with less stated conflict between the two constituent leagues, the Commissioner has the ability and power to influence the Giants. However, Selig’s track record has been to stall regarding the A’s for nearly five years. Now that a “manufactured” crisis may arise, could Selig be more inclined to come up a with a solution? I’m not holding my breath.
Logistically, sharing the stadium could be difficult for the teams. Naturally there are only two clubhouses at AT&T Park, unlike the more flexible setups at many arenas and new football stadia. The visiting clubhouse would have to be converted into the A’s temporary home while the Giants’ clubhouse would be used for A’s home opponents. There are also 10 potential date conflicts (not 9 as M&R reported): May 12-14, May 26-28, June 13-15, and July 3. That last date is the end of a Giants homestand and the beginning of an A’s homestand. Offloading those conflicts to Raley Field would be difficult because the River Cats already have the first two series and July 3 already booked at home. Day/night doubleheaders would be difficult to make work because of game days can easily stretch beyond eight hours for players and personnel because of warmup/reporting times.
Then there’s also the appeal for AT&T and the various other sponsors in China Basin. AT&T would undoubtedly love double the home dates and exposure. So would Virgin America, Intel, and ironically, GAP competitor Levi Strauss. That and many more subjects (concessions shares, non-game event revenue, ticket pricing) would be up for debate. In the end, the A’s would pay a handsome rent payment and surrender a big chunk of non-ticket revenues. Both teams would deduct stadium expenses against their revenue sharing payments. One way to look at is that the A’s rent would effectively be a rebate against the Giants’ revenue sharing payment – assuming it was structured to fit within the CBA appropriately. Selig doesn’t seem inclined to force the Giants to share, but he can work with the rest of the owners to make it worth the Giants’ while.
Already I’ve seen a lot of anger from fans swearing that they’d never see an A’s home game in SF, or that they’ll cancel their season tickets posthaste. There’s another angle to consider if the A’s were given this two-year window at AT&T Park. The A’s have never called a modern ballpark home, so any serious revenue-generating potential at a new ballpark remains theoretical at best. What if the window was MLB’s opportunity to prove (or disprove) the A’s viability as the second team in the Bay Area? It’s not the same as having a new ballpark to themselves, but the better amenities and location should be attractive to many fans and companies that normally don’t attend A’s games en masse. After all, the city with the most ticket-buying A’s fans (number, not percentage) is San Francisco, not Oakland or San Jose. If the two-year window fails to positively affect the A’s bottom line, The Lodge may be more inclined to allow the team to move out of the Bay Area. While M&R hinted at a move as a product of failed stadium plans, I think this could be a bigger reason.
MLB has entered the fray, and they’re getting ready to lay down the hammer. For that we can thank A’s and Giants ownership for their stubbornness, Oakland and Alameda County politicians for their lack of urgency, and Bud Selig for not resolving this sooner when he had all the time to do so. Unless a Coliseum lease gets struck in the next month, this is only going to get uglier. A “silly” idea like sharing AT&T Park may turn into something quite sensible. The big issue looming is the endgame, which as Ray Ratto points out, is the can that gets kicked down the road for two years.
Don’t get your hopes up yet. Well, maybe a little. FCC Acting Chairperson Mignon L. Clyburn wants the agency to consider eliminating its sports blackout rules. This isn’t your typical Friday afternoon, sweep-it-under-the-rug type of press release.
ACTING FCC CHAIRWOMAN CLYBURN STATEMENT ON TAKING ACTION TO ADDRESS THE AGENCY’S SPORTS BLACKOUT RULES
“Today, I circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to eliminate the Commission’s nearly 40-year old sports blackout rules.
“Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games. Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events.
“Nevertheless, if the record in this proceeding shows that the rules are no longer justified, the Commission’s involvement in this area should end.”
The language in the release emphasizes that many sports leagues enter into their own blackout agreements that are often the cause of blackouts. However, it’s the NFL that most often comes under fire when local games incur blackouts, and it’s the FCC’s rules that govern those instances. MLB gets protection thanks to its antitrust exemption, which has resulted in the teams creating the Byzantine TV territories and rules that we all know and love. Both the NFL and MLB are facing a class action lawsuit over blackouts.
Mostly, it’s the leagues’ various exclusivity agreements with the national networks that have dictated blackouts. Asked to respond, the NFL stated that a change would “undermine the retransmission-consent regime and give cable and satellite operators excessive leverage in retransmission-consent negotiations.”
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), also discourages eliminating the rules:
“…However, we’re concerned that today’s proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports. Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community.”
Moreover, Clyburn made this move on her way out the door, as her tenure as acting chair ends Monday. It’ll be up to the next chair and Congressional muscle to push this through, which will be tough given the networks’ and leagues’ gargantuan lobbying efforts. Still, it’s a step forward for fan and viewer-oriented groups looking to fight back against the unwieldy beast that is TV.
The FCC last visited the rules in 2000. Naturally, nothing came of the inquiry, which helped get the ball rolling on TV mega-deals.