Corey Busch talks Blue Ribbon Committee on CSN

Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area provided a bit of a surprise on Yahoo! Sports Talk Live, when they had Corey Busch, former Giants executive and member of the three-person Blue Ribbon Committee (Irwin Raij & Bob Starkey were the other two). Busch explained some of the panel’s activities and charges. Jim Kozimor did his best to pry what little information he could out of Busch, who didn’t answer a number of key questions because of the state of the San Jose-vs.-MLB lawsuit.

Corey Busch interview Part 1

Corey Busch interview Part 2

Busch clarified the territorial rights deal that occurred in 1991, giving the Giants control of the Santa Clara County, which prior to that point had been an open territory. He also called San Jose’s lawsuit a mistake on their part. While you may glean additional information from the segment, you’ll probably come out of it even more frustrated than before, whether you’re an Oakland or San Jose partisan or are location-agnostic. My preference for the show: Ray Ratto in a talking head box in a corner, providing running commentary as Busch answered questions. Good work on the interview Koz, and maybe we’ll get to uncover the bodies when the lawsuit business is over. Busch promised!

Happy Opening Day, Earthquakes

Sure, they did a dry run a few weeks ago with a 10,000-strong crowd, but this was to be the test. Opening match at Avaya Stadium, full house, new infrastructure in place, systems tested to the fullest. The Quakes scored two quick goals and then held on for dear life, 2-1 over the Chicago Fire. The fans were ebullient, raving about the home they’ve wanted and deserved for more than 40 years.

I asked about how people were doing with with transit or parking. Some of the feedback:

All in all, it seemed as if the team, the fans, and the league got everything they wanted out of the experience. A privately funded stadium with great amenities, but not done in a way that would take the focus away from the game.

The original vision for the stadium, unveiled during the throes of the recession, had no club seats or suites. The horseshoe-shaped bowl was the same, including the huge double-sided scoreboard at the open end. As the economy improved and the team reached out to the community, there was interest for luxury seating options, though in implementation they weren’t like those at other stadiums. The result is a tight seating bowl configuration with a steep rake, allowing for great sightlines. An extensive roof over the bowl provides ample shade and holds in noise. And the price tag rose from $60 million to $100 million. About $10 million will be paid for by real estate sales in South San Jose. It’s a refreshing example of restraint that somehow comes without a great deal of compromise. Even Don Garber, the MLS commissioner who approved the previous Quakes incarnation’s move to Houston, understood:

“Not every stadium’s got to be several hundred million dollars. It’s actually got to have them built in a way where the economic model makes sense. That’s what we have here.”

The biggest issue going forward is the fact that there’s no room to accommodate an expansion. There’s always Levi’s and Stanford for the bigger crowds. For decades to come, this is home. It’s something to be proud of, no need to make any apologies. I suspect Quakes fans will be savoring it for some time to come, sellout after sellout.

P.S. – The USGS, which has an office in Menlo Park, set up a seismograph at the stadium.

Tenth Anniversary Edition: A Decade of Running in Place

If you’ve been around from the beginning (you probably haven’t), you may have read the very first post I made to this blog on March 14, 2005. That was ten years ago. Here’s a quick, incomplete list of things that have happened since then:

  • Bud Selig stays commissioner until 2015, is replaced by Rob Manfred
  • Expos move (are bought-contracted-expanded) to Washington, DC
  • Six new ballparks open throughout MLB (in St. Louis, DC, New York twice, Minneapolis, and Miami)
  • Levi’s Stadium developed and opened
  • Warriors get new ownership, declare intent to move to SF, buy land for arena
  • AEG moves SJ Earthquakes to Houston. Team is reborn in 2008, has stadium built for 2015 season
  • A’s propose ballparks at sites in Oakland, Fremont, and San Jose – none are successful
  • Oakland is on its fourth mayor since the blog started

That same day I posted about the A’s potentially building a ballpark south of the existing Coliseum. Pending what happens with Coliseum City, we may be talking about that very same possibility in the future. Weird how things might come full circle, eh?

As we wait for good news on the stadium front, I have some good news of my own. A couple years ago I asked for donations for the site to keep it running. Many of you responded very generously. which helped keep the site and my continuing work going. This site is a labor of love, so I haven’t asked for donations much (twice to my recollection). Back in 2013, I promised those of you who donated that I’d provide a sort of digest of previous posts. I tried many times to compile and curate that digest, but over time I’ve learned that I am a much worse editor than I am a writer (which is already rather questionable). Everything read like filler, not moving the narrative forward. I put that aside for a while and swore to get back to it. It wasn’t until earlier this year, when I put together the timeline feature, that it all came together. I was able to put together all the necessary posts, with additional context inserted where necessary. So I’m proud to announce that I have that “book” ready. The download link is below. Those of you who previously donated have already gotten the link via email. Please take a look at it and provide feedback if you like. If you donated and haven’t gotten the book, send me a note/tweet and I’ll make sure to take care of you. And if you have already donated, you don’t need to do anything else, but if you want to donate again I won’t stop you.

I’ve titled the book:

A Decade of Running in Place: A Digest of Selected Blog Posts from the First Ten Years of Newballpark.org

Book download link (Scribd, PDF)

Donate Button

I’ve poured over a million words, 10,000+ hours, and my entire heart and soul into this site. The A’s getting a new ballpark has been a dream of mine since high school, when I first saw drawings of New Comiskey Park and Camden Yards. I don’t expect anyone to have the same kind of obsession with this topic that I have. I figure that I’ll be the obsessive so that you don’t have to be. Thousands of people read this site every day. About 2% of them have donated. If you value the work here and the process, please consider donating. $10 would be great.

The book weighs in at 210,000 words and 664 pages in PDF format. It’s entirely in chronological order. There are what appear to be section or chapter markers. Those are points at which I think the scene shifts. They aren’t meant to encapsulate the story.

Editing and pagination are rough, mostly having to do with the transition from web to print-ready format. I’d like to take the time to give it a whirl in InDesign, with the ultimate goal of making printed copies. A donated of $25 or more would get the ball rolling.

Since this is the 10th anniversary, I’ve started thinking of other things to commemorate this milestone. What do you folks think? T-shirts? Caps? Stickers and decals? Should I do a crowdfunding campaign? I’m all ears at this point. Some of you readers are creatives of different stripes. Send me your suggestions.

Finally, many thinks to all the readers over the years. I’ve met and become friends with many of you. We’ve broken bread, gotten beers, talked plenty of things besides an A’s ballpark. It’s been a pleasure. It will continue until the day that this blog is no longer necessary. After all this time I still hope. I think many of you do too. It’s what binds us. I don’t know how much longer it will take for the A’s to get a new home. Another 10 years? 10 months? However long it takes, I’ll be here for the ride. I hope you enjoy appreciate it as much as I do.

P.S. – Special thanks to Susan Slusser, who suggested the timeline a couple months ago while working on her own A’s history book (due this summer and highly anticipated). Without that I never would’ve gotten properly organized.

P.P.S. – This is not “the book” that I’ve been talking about writing. That book is still very much in progress.

 

San Jose City Council approves taking antitrust case to Supreme Court

Despite losing handily twice in federal courts, the City of San Jose won’t relent, voting unanimously today to take its antitrust case against Major League Baseball to the Supreme Court. While its chances of overturning baseball’s antitrust exemption remain slim, the City’s game plan is simply to have the Supremes take the case, which could cajole MLB into settling. Even that outcome is a long shot, as Wendy Thurm explained at Deadspin two weeks ago. Regardless of the long odds, Mayor Sam Liccardo seems to be spoiling for a fight:

We may know the Court’s decision by summer.

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.”