The Manfred era begins – Did anything change yet?

Over the weekend, the commissioner’s torch was officially passed from Bud Selig to Rob Manfred, starting the Manfred era in earnest. Manfred’s tenure as commissioner will depend largely on how he deals with specific business and big picture issues the sport needs to address. Selig handed Manfred a highly effective business model, surpassing $9 billion in revenue in 2014 along with the lengthiest uninterrupted labor peace of the four major pro sports. Certainly, Manfred could keep the ship pointed in the same direction while keeping the motor running, and there would be few complaints from the owners who elected him. But people don’t get commissioner’s jobs just to be caretakers; they’re expected to have their own agenda to push baseball beyond its current audience. That’s the part we the public don’t know much about yet.

In Manfred’s letter to fans, he mentioned that his top priority is to bring more people into the game, by greater youth outreach to foster the next generation of players and by streamlining the game to make it more palatable to casual fans, especially younger ones. The letter is quite high-minded, masking Manfred’s reputation as a tough yet also conciliatory negotiator. Manfred’s in his mid-50’s, which places him in the baby boomer era, seeing the worst of the 60’s and 70’s as a youth: concrete multipurpose donut stadia. His predecessor helped get rid of nearly all of the cookie cutters, though Manfred played the heavy in many stadium talks. League attendance has largely plateaued with only Oakland and Tampa Bay stuck with bad parks, so if he and the other owners want to see continued growth at the turnstiles, they’ll have to do something about those two teams.

CBA talks will begin before or during the 2016 season, and unless it goes badly there should be a deal struck by the World Series. That’s 20 months away. If talks are contentious, they could take out the 2017 World Baseball Classic or worse. We shouldn’t expect to see contraction on the table, as it won’t help extort new stadia out of those two markets, plus it will only anger the player’s union, who will see 50-80 jobs (not including hundreds of minor league jobs) disappear. And no, adding a player or two to every roster is not a good substitute. There will be some calls for greater revenue sharing, along with greater pushback against it by the big market teams. Players will want earlier free agency, tweaks to arbitration, and other perks. Talk of a soft or hard salary cap has largely died. Umpires signed a new CBA over the weekend, allowing their agreement to run concurrent with Manfred’s term, one less hassle for the new commish.

That doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing. There remain numerous legal disputes to work out, internal ones like the Nats-O’s-MASN deal, and external issues like the minor league antitrust and television blackout lawsuits. As a long time insider, Manfred is keenly aware of these battles, and of the future CBA negotiations.

That leaves little room for Manfred to take on the A’s and Rays’ respective plights. Manfred and Selig have remained committed to the Bay Area while rather noncommittal to Oakland. Quoth Selig from John Shea’s sendoff profile:

“I think two teams can exist in the Bay Area. Certainly, (A’s owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff) want to stay in the Bay Area. When I say Bay Area, you understand there are several alternatives.”

Manfred from two weeks ago, asked by Bill Shaikin about the A’s:

Not much difference there. Manfred’s going to leave both Oakland and San Jose dangling, knowing he has a plan A in Oakland if public officials choose wisely, and a plan B in San Jose if not. Plan B is not considered an easy plan because of the Giants, yet if a solution can’t be found at the Coliseum, Manfred will have to come up with a solution that works for both the A’s and Giants.

This site is coming up on 10 years old. I never thought I’d be at it this long. As I’ve said on multiple occasions, I’ll keep following the story where it leads. That’s Oakland, San Jose, Fremont, Mesa (for spring training), wherever it may go. A’s fans deserve nothing less than as complete coverage as this site can provide. Thanks for hanging in there, friends.

P.S. – Manfred aroused discussion yesterday when he said that he’d like to forego defensive shifts. I don’t consider that much of an likelihood, since there really aren’t rules that dictate how to set up defenses right now, so creating new ones would be an inevitable mess that would be difficult to enforce – as if certain rules aren’t already improperly enforced. Instead, I look at Manfred’s statement as something that got baseball in the national discussion at the beginning of Super Bowl week, a difficult thing to do. It is Manfred’s job to help promote the sport, after all.

P.P.S. – More from Manfred in an AP interview:

“I don’t think of the Oakland issue as Oakland-San Francisco. Oakland needs a new stadium. There’s a new mayor in Oakland. We just prevailed in the San Jose litigation, so things are moving around a little bit out there, and I’m hopeful we can make progress on getting a new stadium in Oakland in the relatively short term.”

Sharks to become two-headed with top affiliate move to San Jose

For a casual hockey observer, this seems out of the blue: Mark Purdy is reporting tonight that the San Jose Sharks will move its top affiliate, the Worcester Sharks (MA), to San Jose starting with next season. The Worcester Sharks are in the American Hockey League, the hockey equivalent of AAA baseball. TSN hockey reporter Darren Dreger reported last month that the move is part of a five-team shift to establish a true division of West Coast teams. The AHL had operated strictly under a Western/Eastern conference alignment this year, when divisions were introduced.

The problem with the new alignment is that even in the Western Conference, the team furthest west was in San Antonio, with no teams in the Mountain or Pacific time zones. By re-establishing five existing teams on the West Coast, those teams will be able to support each other with less travel distance between them. In conjunction with the new two-headed Sharks in San Jose, Calgary will move its AHL affiliate to Stockton, displacing the ECHL Thunder. According to Dreger, the other teams expected to jump on the bandwagon are the Kings, Ducks, and Oilers. Strangely, that leaves the Canucks without a West Coast AHL mate, their current AHL city being Utica (!), NY, pending a future move or new affiliation. The Pacific Northwest is already well represented in terms of minor league hockey thanks to several junior teams (WHL) in place for years or even decades.

So far the Sharks are the only franchise to agree to house its minor league and big clubs under the same roof. Purdy thinks it’ll be a short-term move, the to-be-renamed minor league team farmed out to Oakland after the Warriors leave, Sacramento when the new arena is completed, or elsewhere in a few years. Next fall will be an interesting experiment in observing how much hockey San Jose and the Bay Area can tolerate. The Bulls and Spiders both failed at the Cow Palace, but that was largely due to the Cow Palace’s age and location. There is a real risk of oversaturation, especially if the Sharks don’t improve from their uninspiring (but playoff-bound) state. The counter to that argument is that the real hardcore Sharks fans will have an opportunity to really indulge their ice jones, by being able to watch the big show and players on the cusp of the NHL. The AHL has a 76-game schedule, so if you halve that you get a total of 79 regular season home games between the Sharks and mini-Sharks, plus preseason and potential playoff games. That’s almost as many as a baseball home schedule.

View from my 10-game SharkPak seats during the 2013-14 season

View from my upper level 10-game SharkPak seats during the 2013-14 season

Pricing is the perhaps most curious conundrum. The Sharks want to price AHL games affordably, to attract families and casual fans, yet they don’t want to undercut their premium NHL product too much. Currently, season tickets for the Worcester Sharks at 80’s vintage DCU Center run from $12 to $20 per game depending on the package, an absolute bargain compared to the Sharks or any other NHL team for that matter. They have a number of all-season promotions, including $79 family four-packs including concessions and $2 popcorn, hot dogs, and sodas on Fridays. A family four-pack in San Jose costs $120-360 depending on where you sit.

Naturally, operating costs at SAP Center are going to be a little higher than in Worcester, so we may not see prices quite so low for AHL games. The organization can choose to run a smaller operation by curtaining off the upper level, limiting the capacity to around 10,000 seats. I figure if they can pull in 5,000 a game, they should be able to break even if most tickets are around half the price of their counterparts at a NHL Sharks game. Many of the concerts, ice shows, and other paid events the AHL games would displace are meant for crowds of 10,000 or less, with numerous sections “backstage.” Unless mini-Sharks attendance is extremely poor, the organization shouldn’t lose money.

I overlaid the Worcester Sharks home schedule on top of the SAP Center’s event schedule and found 19 date conflicts. A handful involved touring shows like Disney on Ice or Marvel Universe, dates for which games could be easily rescheduled. Only 7 were SJ Sharks home games. Again, most of those could be rescheduled by either swapping dates with the visiting team or changing dates. For some weekend games day-night doubleheader situations might be appropriate. It would allow the arena to stay in rink configuration for two events over a full day. Downtown San Jose businesses would love that. Worcester and other AHL teams also have the unusual practice of scheduling the same opponent for back-to-back home games on consecutive nights. That may not be doable given the number of events at SAP Center.

Purdy alluded to new dressing rooms being built at the arena. I figure that the cluster of smaller auxiliary dressing rooms will be modified for that purpose. Another dressing room would have to be built at Sharks Ice as well. A very fan-friendly move would be if the mini-Sharks offered more open practice sessions.

Finally, the team name will not be San Jose Sharks, or Sharks 2.0. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team dumped the Sharks moniker for the team and even went with the “Silicon Valley” locator. The name would resonate with sponsors, most of whom are Valley tech companies who already have their names on the ice and boards. Maybe it’ll be something that Purdy himself has used frequently, the Tiburones. Silicon Valley Tiburones. There are no sharks in a valley, you’ll say. Hey, I’m no marketing genius and it’s only a minor league team. They can afford to experiment.

P.S. – Names I would not like: San Jose Chips, Silicon Valley Brogrammers, San Jose Apps.

Ninth Circuit upholds MLB’s antitrust exemption in San Jose case

We’ve been waiting for the Ninth Circuit’s ruling for a few months now, though we had an idea how it would turn out. From Nathaniel Grow:

end_graf

Looks like Joe Cotchett will get his wish of filing with the Supreme Court.

The opinion is available here. More on the case can be found in the first legal link to the right.

Lew Wolff chimed in from Phoenix, where Bud Selig was given the title Commissioner Emeritus as part of his sendoff.

New commissioner Rob Manfred also had a comment.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said shortly after the opinion’s release that he wants to take this up to the Supreme Court. The pressure, it would seem, is on him to “play nice” with Manfred and MLB by dropping the lawsuit.

The Merc’s Howard Mintz has a full writeup, including comments from Grow.

Liccardo’s office released the following statement:

When the City Council decided to pursue this lawsuit, we knew that success would likely require a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, because only the Supreme Court can revisit its century-old decision that created an anti-trust exemption that no American industry other than Major League Baseball enjoys.   San Jose should be allowed to compete with other cities for major league teams, and I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the nation’s fundamental predisposition toward fair and free competition. 

Since taxpayers do not have to foot the bill for this litigation, San Jose has nothing but upside to continue to pursue this to the Supreme Court, as a successful result will enable a half-billion dollar, privately-financed stadium in the heart of our city.  A privately-funded stadium would also bring millions of dollars of tax revenues to help our City pay for more police officers, road repairs, libraries, and other critical services.”

Stand For San Jose lawsuit returns

In August I posted a note about the Stand for San Jose-vs-City of San Jose lawsuit. The lawsuit, which was actually the product of two consolidated cases, had been disposed in late July. No explanation was given as to why, though the timing was curious.

On Friday Stand for San Jose filed yet another suit against the City. Fangraphs’ Nathaniel Grow has more:

Curious indeed. SFSJ drops the suit after the A’s sign their 10-year lease at the Coliseum, then objects to the option agreement and files suit thereafter. I’m certain there’s no coincidence. Brent Mann followed up with a couple tweets:

We knew about the blood ties with Pillsbury, but a SF PR firm too? Couldn’t source locally, eh? That’s so Giants.

It should be abundantly clear by the ties to the Giants, along with SFSJ’s actions always happening on the heels of what the A’s do, that S4SJ has about as much legitimate interest in San Jose as the Giants do. With SFSJ’s use of Giants fans to prop up the lawsuit and the Giants’ sage advice to Jean Quan in trying to push for a waterfront ballpark in Oakland, this legal battle has become a complete farce. And if the A’s sign a deal to develop a ballpark at the Coliseum, any bets on how quickly this lawsuit will also evaporate?

All hail the SF Giants, great guardians of the welfare of San Jose.

Timeline from KC years through today now available

Many of you have asked for it, I never got around to it. Until this week.

A timeline. That’s right, a timeline. Point your browser to http://newballpark.org/timeline and off you go.

It covers the years from when the Mack family sold the team to Arnold Johnson until now. It covers 60+ years and is 4,500+ words long, requiring a lot of curating and editing to get it down to that length. For the most part, I’ve included important events in the stadium saga. I’ve excluded much of the posturing and back-and-forth that, while entertaining, is ultimately unproductive.

I hope that this timeline helps you in terms of understanding the full scope of the struggle the A’s have always had in trying to finding a permanent home. Links are provided to my articles or outside articles. For now I’ve kept it to a simple bulleted list format. That may change to a linked list or an interactive format. For now I’m forcing you to scroll all the way down if you want to reach 2014. It’s worth reading the whole thing if you can. Appreciate the struggle.

If you have suggestions or you feel I’ve missed anything, comment away or send me a tweet.

Quakes make it official: Avaya Stadium

The rumor of networking/telecom company Avaya signing on to be the naming rights sponsor for the San Jose Earthquakes’ stadium launched nearly a month ago. Today it’s official. Avaya will having naming rights at the stadium at a cost of $20 million over 10 years. That’s about average for MLS stadia these days, though it pales in comparison to the $220 million, 20 year deal at Levi’s Stadium.

The Avaya logo will be prominently displayed atop the scoreboard and roof.

The Avaya logo will be prominently displayed atop the scoreboard and roof.

A few more details emerged that showed how complex the deal was.

  • The cost of the stadium grew from $60 million to $100 million. Most of that can be attributed to adding features. Originally the stadium didn’t have suites, eschewing those for club-style seating down low. As interest in such an offering grew, suites of different types were added to the structure at field level. This is similar to what happened during development of SAP Center, which was also barebones until ownership injected more money to make it a better venue. The Quakes continue to say that excavation difficulties encountered in 2013 didn’t contribute to the cost hike, but I don’t believe it. That was a lot of time and effort used to get the site ready for construction.
  • Quakes President David Kaval said that 40 to 50 companies expressed interest in naming rights, though that had to be settled after the 49ers squared away their deals in Santa Clara. Even with Levi’s being the much bigger attraction, 40-50 is an impressive number that shows how strong corporate interest is in the Valley. The 49ers and Quakes are partnering on hosting large soccer games at Levi’s in the near term, so there is crossover potential between the two venues.
  • The new scoreboards are in place, coming right on the heels of the just-completed scoreboard for the A’s at Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium. In a couple months, work should commence on the Coliseum’s scoreboard project. The projects are getting progressively larger.
  • Public stadium tours are taking place, despite the stadium remaining a construction zone. Tours take place on Thursday afternoons and require reservations. Note: No capri pants or exposed feet!
  • According to a December Bizjournals article, about $10 million from the development of the iStar site in South San Jose will go into the stadium. That should help defray some of the upgrade costs.

The Quakes have been run on a shoestring budget for several years. Since the stadium had to be privately financed, it’s no surprise. Hopefully the stadium will boost revenues to the point where the team can get more marquee players, or at least playmakers in the midfield. Wondo’s not getting any younger.

View of scoreboard from fan lot area and Coleman Avenue

View of scoreboard from fan lot area and Coleman Avenue

Avaya Stadium still has some seats to install and some buttoning up to do. Regardless, there’s a lot to look forward to next spring. I’ll be sure to take in a few games at the new stadium. The Quakes finally have the home they have sought for so long. Maybe the A’s are next.

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