A’s extend PDC with Midland, Sacramento remains unclear

The A’s AA-Texas League affiliate, the Midland Rockhounds, is playing for the league crown tonight in Game 3 of a 5-game series with the Tulsa Drillers. That didn’t stop the team from getting together with the A’s to announce an extension to their Player Development Contract, which was set to expire at the end of this season. The extension will run another 2 years, to 2016.

As a result, 4 of the A’s minor league affiliates will have PDCs through at least 2016: Vermont (A- – Penn League), Beloit (A – Midwest League), Stockton (A – Cal League), Midland (AA – Texas League). That leaves the Sacramento River Cats as the lone outlier. Murmurs have only gotten louder about an upcoming deal with the Cats and the San Francisco Giants, so much that Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton has come to River Cats’ ownership’s defense about the move. The change would force the A’s to affiliate with another Pacific Coast League city, likely Nashville or Fresno.

The “free agency” period for available affiliates starts next Monday, with announcements followed by a two week negotiation period. Consider it like the Winter Meetings, but for major and minor league teams instead of GMs and agents. If anything, as A’s fans we’d like to hear of an announcement early next week, which would mean that the A’s didn’t end up losing out on the biennial game of musical chairs that often occurs. While that’s somewhat rare among AAA teams, there may be numerous affiliates available, and some locales will be more popular than others (there seems to be a trend that disfavors high-altitude cities such as Albuquerque and Colorado Springs).

 

MLB 2015 Travel Grid (Schedule) Now Available

Every year it happens like clockwork. MLB releases its tentative schedule for the next year in early September, and I cut it up and remix to make something suitable for planning ballpark trips. I call it a Travel Grid. The Travel Grid is table of all games based on each team’s home schedule. One variant places the teams in regional clusters, allowing users to connect the dots to plan trips.

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Want to do a 3-5 days seeing games from Washington to Boston? It’s possible. Want to catch games at both Chicago parks and Milwaukee? If it’s there you’ll see it. I started doing this a few years ago to help me plan my own trips. I hope it’ll help you plan yours.

The schedule starts a week later than what you’d usually expect, on April 6, and ends October 4. Every 5-6 years this reset has to occur, as we “lose” a day every year. The late start may help avoid more rain postponements that have seemed to be more frequent in recent years. The downside of that is the postseason running dangerously close to November. The All Star Break will be July 13-16. Much of the pain for the A’s will be frontloaded, as they’ll experience 2 of their 3 longest road trips (9-10 days) in April and May.

A’s interleague opponents will be the NL West, which will bring about a few changes. Instead of the 2+2 format the A’s and Giants series’ took on the last couple years, the teams will play 6 times, 3 in SF in the summer and 3 in Oakland as the last home series of the season. That sets up the possibility for some cool roadies. In mid-June the A’s will play 3 at the Angels and 2 at the Padres. If you’re looking for lengthy A’s East Coast trips, things don’t look as promising. Other than series at the Indians and Yankees to end the first half, there are few trips where you can stretch out and follow the team for a week unless you’re willing to take on multiple leg flight schedules. The team has a particularly brutal stretch next September when they visit the Rangers, then fly to Chicago to meet the White Sox, then back to Texas for a series against the Astros.

That said, if you’re looking to put together ballpark visits, the schedule’s pretty friendly. East Coast possibilities for 5-7 day trips (the length I like) are available pretty much every month. Similar length Midwest trips are ripe in June (Rust Belt) and July (Chi-StL).

The 2015 Travel Grid is available in two layouts: an alphabetically ordered (left-to-right) table and the aforementioned regional cluster layout. Both are available in Excel, CSV (comma delimited), and PDF (poster view) formats. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments or send me a tweet.

Regional

Alphabetical

Enjoy!

Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Owning vs. Leasing

I’ve done my initial run through of the EIR (except for the traffic data) and have taken lots of notes along the way. Over the next few weeks, I’ll write up specific subjects, the first being the most germane to what we normally talk about, the ballpark at Coliseum City. Before I dive into that, I wanted to touch on something in the language of the EIR that had me curious, and frankly a little baffled.

From Project Description, page 3-34:

NFL Stadium and Multi‐purpose Event Center
…The Oakland‐Alameda County Coliseum Authority would control the use of the Stadium through a management agreement with a professional management association (currently AEG). The Stadium would be leased to the Oakland Raiders, a National Football League (NFL) franchise, for playing home games during the NFL pre‐season, regular season, and post‐season and for other NFL related events.

Page 3-38:
The Ballpark is expected to be developed by the Oakland A’s professional sports franchise on land owned by the City of Oakland and Alameda County. Like the Stadium, the Oakland‐Alameda County Coliseum Authority would control the use of the Ballpark through a management agreement with a professional management association.

The Ballpark would be leased to the Oakland A’s for playing its 81 home games during the MLB regular season6 and potential post‐season games,7 and for other MLB events.

Page 3-39:
The new Arena would be leased to the Golden State Warriors, a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, for playing home games during the NBA pre‐season, regular season, and post‐season.

Notice the common theme? All three venues would be owned by the City/County/JPA and leased to the teams. Since this is merely the Project Description of an EIR and not a DDA (Disposition and Development Agreement), it’s not exactly iron-clad. It’s a little strange that the City would continue to want to own and operate these venues, when it has shown frequently over the last 20 years that it’s not all that good at managing venues.

Currently, the structure is set up so that the JPA owns the venues and the land. They collect rents and other revenues and pay for expenses (except for the A’s gameday ops). The JPA is not a “professional management” group, so they hire another company to do that such as AEG or SMG previously. The various agreements with the teams have caused City and County to hemorrhage red ink, whether we’re talking about the ongoing subsidy for the Raiders, the Coliseum’s debt service, or the cloudy nature of the Arena’s debt once the Warriors leave for SF. It’s this difficulty and mismanagement that has caused Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors to be a lot less sanguine about Coliseum City’s prospects than Oakland. Supervisor Keith Carson has been upfront about wanting to get out of the stadium management game.

Now we’re looking at the JPA (or a successor public agency) absorbing billions of additional debt liabilities. Start with at least a half-billion that would cover the infrastructure costs at Coliseum City, plus the $120 million of remaining debt at the existing Coliseum. Add to that $1 billion for the football stadium, $600 million for the ballpark, and probably $700 million for the arena. That amounts to around $3 billion in debt load. Naturally, when dealing with such enormous figures, some questions will arise such as:

  1. How would that debt be structured?
  2. How would City and County taxpayers be protected from shortfalls or defaults, they way they weren’t with Mt. Davis and the redone Arena?
  3. How would the JPA balance out the lease agreements so that no one team benefited more than the others? (This plagued the JPA in the past)

If the City is willing to cover infrastructure costs and pay off the remaining stadium debt, should it also have to go the extra mile to finance these venues? That’s S.O.P. for the NFL (see Santa Clara), but it doesn’t have to be that way. The City & County could say, Look, we’re giving you enough help to get this started, you take it the rest of the way. And the biggest reason to have the JPA do the financing is to provide availability to tax-free bonds. The franchises don’t need that kind of help.

That’s not to say that all publicly-financed stadium deals are terrible. Some of them work out well, like SAP Center and Chase Field. However, the risk the City & County would have to take on is more than a bit much. There are actually multiple privately-financed venues completed over the last 15-20 years: AT&T Park, Gillette Stadium, Staples Center, American Airlines Center. They are also among the most successful venues in their respective sports.

At some point some within Oakland is gonna have to playing hardball and stop giving everything away. If not, maybe they should find new negotiators.

P.S. – Notice how, because all the talks with the Raiders are behind closed doors, there’s little hubbub about them? Contrast that with the very public lease extension talks with the A’s, which only grew more rancorous as they became more public – even though they were over a deal that cost less than $30 million total. No, it makes much more sense to keep quiet on a deal that is worth 100 times as much, right?

Quan, BayIG strike back with “basics” of Raiders deal

Matier and Ross reported today that the City of Oakland and BayIG, the group behind the Coliseum City project, have put together the “basics” of a deal that would include a ~$1 Billion stadium for the Raiders and development of up to 800 acres surrounding the stadium.

Now, Zach Wasserman, an attorney representing backers of a hoped-for sports, housing and retail complex called Coliseum City, says the “basic terms” of a financial deal have been worked out among his group, the city’s negotiators and the Raiders.

The big takeaway is that the City and County, which would be giving up land and paying for infrastructure costs as part of any deal, would also have to pay off the remaining $120 million in Coliseum debt. That is an enormous giveaway on Oakland’s part no matter how you slice it. Both City and County officials have insisted in the past that any large plan like Coliseum required the debt to be taken care of – preferably by the developers. If you can remember back to the “adult conversation” in December, County Supervisor Keith Carson practically hijacked the proceedings by having the first 10-15 minutes of the meeting spent on recounting the debt liability faced by the JPA.

Carson emphasized that there will be no future project if debt isn’t addressed first.

So, let’s tally up what we know are the costs of Coliseum City so far:

  • $344-425 million in infrastructure cost
  • $120 million in Coliseum debt

That’s up to $565 million in project costs, all without building a single stadium, hotel, or office building. And there’s more. Not included is the $80 million in arena debt, the responsibility for which is up in the air. In the EIR (you guys have been reading that, right?), the City states that of the 800 acres covering the entirety of the project, 535 are publicly owned. That includes the City, County, JPA, and EBMUD. The remaining 265 acres are privately owned, making those properties subject to negotiation. Most of that land is on the west side of 880, but some important pieces are right next to the Coliseum or in between the Coliseum and the BART station. Now let’s take a low market rate offer of $2 million per acre. That’s another $530 million that would be borne probably by developers, but could also be paid to some degree by the City since Oakland has eminent domain capability. No matter who pays for it, the total cost of land, infrastructure, and dealing with outstanding debt is $1.1 Billion. That’s the cost of the Raiders stadium right there, or two A’s ballparks.

The counter is that the Raiders, NFL, and BayIG are paying for the football stadium, which may or may not have a retractable roof, may have 56,000 or 68,000 seats, etc. The potential upside is 10,000 new residents, 21,000 jobs, and retaining all of the teams – though it still hasn’t been articulated how any sort of carveout for the A’s would work.

Now compare that to what Lew Wolff is offering, which is to pay off the debt on both the Coliseum and the Arena. While we haven’t seen plans, the planned development is not expected to be as expansive as Coliseum City, as Wolff has said that acquiring private property for this purpose is a bit sticky for his liking (Coliseum North being Exhibit A). Besides, even 120 or 200 acres is a lot of land.

We haven’t yet heard Alameda County’s side, and Carson is certain to raise questions about the giveaway. The City can come to terms on a deal, but without the County as a partner the deal isn’t sealed. I fully expect a sequel to the adult conversation, when all of the costs and liabilities are laid bare. If the A’s get it together in time, there may even be a sort of competitive situation with two bidders. Let the rich guys duke it out over what is purported to be high quality, valuable land. Chances are that such a discussion won’t happen until after the election. After all, there’s something fishy about the timing of this release, considering that last week Oakland mayoral candidate and CM Rebecca Kaplan took credit for “saving the A’s in Oakland” (h/t Zennie Abraham).

Raiders selling field suites at Coliseum by using baseball dugouts

Update 8 PM: This is how one of the field lounges was set up.

Eric Young of the SF Business Times reported on a series of changes the Raiders instituted during the football offseason. In addition to a CRM solution from Salesforce (can’t believe it took until 2014 for this to happen), the team has also repurposed the baseball dugouts in hopes of getting some extra revenue. Dallas-like field suites at the Coliseum? Kinda…

“The Raiders have begun selling field level lounges. These seating areas, which can accommodate about 30 people and cost $30,000, are in the dugouts used by the Athletics during baseball season. Outfitted with tables, HD TVs and other amenities, the seating is among the closest to the field offered in the NFL…”

oakland-oco-coliseum

Overhead shot of pre-2014 game without field lounges

The Black Hole and its counterpart on the north end of the Coliseum are arguably the closest, lowest seats to the field of any in the NFL. That proximity has been used to great effect. The new field lounges start at either 30 yard line and end at the 10, plenty of space for 30 people and hospitality. It also helps that the suites are located along the Raiders’ sideline, the better to get a glimpse of players and coaches only slightly more than a first down away.

The dugout floor is set a foot or so below the field, so views from the dugout will be compromised. NFL guidelines place each bench between the 30’s. Since most players will be standing during each game, the suite sitters will be hard pressed to see through or above each bench to midfield or the opposite end zone. Fans in the first 8 rows of the lower seating bowl already have to deal with this. The temporary field level seats on the Mt. Davis side are set to start 3 feet above the field, so they’re an improvement. Photographers, media, and other non-game personnel usually populate the field’s outer sidelines, though not to the level of congestion as the benches. Of course, the HDTV’s will help make up for the obstructions. In the end it probably won’t matter. As SBJ’s Don Muret says:

The full $30k experience will come with breakfast with the team and personal appearances from Raiders greats, which fans will undoubtedly eat up. For the Raiders, it’s a good opportunity to find out if field suites are worth the expense of building into a new stadium in Oakland or somewhere else. Somewhat surprisingly, the 49ers bucked the field suite trend by not installing any at Levi’s Stadium. The Raiders would be best off putting in seats above the suites like the Cowboys have, since there would be no compromises. Here’s the layout of one of the AT&T Stadium field suites.

Suites04

 

Good move? I think so. In the past the dugout was mostly used for access to the restroom and as a place for photographers to place their extra gear.

 

Now let’s let this spill over to baseball. Should the A’s incorporate suites like this (as in Texas, Cleveland, and Anaheim) at their new ballpark?

AAA Shuffle Begins with Guber’s Purchase of OKC RedHawks

Though we’re at least two weeks from MLB and AAA franchises from coming to new player development contracts (PDC), at least one team has gotten proactive to secure its future allegations early. A group led by Dodgers (and Warriors) co-owner Peter Guber is purchasing the Oklahoma City RedHawks, currently the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros. The franchise will fetch $22-28 million according to The Oklahoman. Currently, Mandalay Entertainment owns the team. That company is also headed by Guber, making the purchase largely a paperwork matter. Mandalay also recently sold the Dayton Dragons (A-Midwest League) for a whopping $40 million, reflective of the team’s incredible attendance record and financial success.

The purchase of the RedHawks means that the Dodgers will soon switch their AAA affiliation from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City, making ABQ another free agent in this fall’s affiliate shuffle. Historically the Dodgers have never cared too much about having their AAA affiliate within driving range, as Albuquerque has hosted their AAA team twice, as the Dukes and now the Isotopes for nearly 50 years combined. It appears that the Dodgers have been more concerned about developing pitchers at more than a mile above sea level, resorting to using a humidor last year.

Rumors remain strong that the Sacramento River Cats will drop the A’s and hook up with the Giants, leaving Fresno as another free agent. Las Vegas may be re-upping with the Mets despite the distance from New York. Nashville, which will open a new stadium next year, remains up in the air in terms of its continuing relationship with the Brewers. Colorado Springs may also be available depending on how talks with the Rockies go. The El Paso-Padres and Tacoma-Mariners deals also expire in a week, though those seem more secure than others; El Paso because of a brand new ballpark, Tacoma because it’s so close to Seattle.

Making affiliate deals is as much about the bottom line as any other factor. Fresno has looked increasingly unattractive in recent years because of unstable ownership and the Grizzlies’ habit of running in the red. Fresno’s biggest may be something it can’t control: the cost of airfare in and out of its smallish airport. Air travel costs may also explain why the Mets have few qualms about extending with the 51s, since NYC-Vegas flights are relatively cheap and plentiful.

Here’s a list of potential upcoming AAA affiliation changes:

  • Oklahoma City RedHawks (from Astros to Dodgers)
  • Sacramento River Cats (from A’s to Giants)
  • Fresno Grizzlies (from Giants to Brewers or A’s)
  • Nashville Sounds (from Brewers to A’s)
  • Albuquerque Isotopes (from Dodgers to Astros)

Other changes to look for in the future are the Round Rock Express (owned by the Ryan family) switching affiliations from the Rangers to the Astros after 2018, and the Reno Aces, whose relationship with the City of Reno and Washoe County has been strained at times. The Twins just announced an two-year extension of their PDC with the Rochester Red Wings, cutting off a potential switch candidate for the Mets. And the Angels extended with the Salt Lake City Bees earlier in the spring.

Newly HOK-acquired 360 Architecture to work with A’s on Coliseum ballpark

In the 60’s, a Kansas City architecture firm named Kivett and Myers worked on two venues at what would eventually be named the Truman Sports Complex. Those two stadia, Kauffman (née Royals) Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, bucked the trend of multipurpose stadia and stood out as great examples of sports architecture. Still considered excellent venues at over 40 years old, Arrowhead and Kauffman burnished the reputation of Kivett and Myers, leading to their acquisition by HNTB in 1978. Architects from HNTB’s new sports practice split off to form Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), whose sports group dominated the last 25 years of ballpark design. Then in 2009, the sports group (named HOK+SVE) broke off to form Populous, with the mutual non-competition agreements: HOK wouldn’t get into sports for 5 years, Populous wouldn’t go outside sports, conventions, and entertainment.

Now that non-compete has ended, and HOK is eager to get back into the sports game. Instead of starting up anew, they bought fellow Kansas City firm 360 Architecture, itself the product of the merger of two firms, CDFM2 Architecture Inc. and Heinlein Schrock Stearns. That’s enough mergers and buyouts to fill a season of Mad Men.

360 is the shingle responsible for the city’s Sprint Center, MetLife Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes’ new stadium, and two upcoming venues: the New Atlanta Falcons Stadium and the new Red Wings Arena in downtown Detroit. If, as an A’s fan, you’re looking for something different in terms of sports architecture, those last two examples should give you hope.

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The Falcons turned the football world on its ear with their replacement for the not-old-at-all Georgia Dome. The iris-like retractable roof has perspective-based video screens and scoreboards embedded in its rim. The building’s metal panels comes with slits that light up and cathedral-style glass entries. Its part of an effort by Falcons owner Arthur Blank to have an iconic piece of architecture in Atlanta, a city sorely lacking at least in terms of modern work. 360 took that and went back through history, finding the dome at the Pantheon to be their inspiration.

In Detroit the focus is different. There 360 is putting together a “deconstructed” arena, where the ancillary operations of the building (concessions, etc.) are pulled away from the seating bowl. A single glass-ceilinged concourse serves most fans and connects to restaurants and even housing on the perimeter. The idea is to have the venue be part of a new, several-block redevelopment plan in downtown Detroit, just a stone’s throw from Comerica Park and Ford Field.

The full development will cover 45 blocks on either side of I-75, an area slightly smaller than Coliseum City’s core 120 acres. If the images in the above video look familiar, that’s because they’re reminiscent of 360’s work on the Fremont vision for Cisco Field. Again, there was a plan to pull the ancillary development away from the ballpark. The idea was to allow fans to come an hour or two earlier, then either watch batting practice, or shop and hang out at a restaurant or bar on the premises.

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It would be somewhat poetic to see that 2005 Oakland/2006 Pacific Commons concept resurrected in Oakland, with the sales pitch coming from a similarly-sized and scaled Detroit development that will be breaking ground in a few months. It’s that sense of scale that to me makes such plans more achievable than something gargantuan like Coliseum City that is so dependent on externalities. 360 Architecture is on a bit of a roll, and it would be fitting for them to achieve their biggest success on one the very first projects they worked on, in various forms over a decade. That’s some serious sweat equity.