A’s renew land lease option with San Jose for 7 years

With Oakland’s Coliseum City dominating the news over the last few weeks, it’s a shock to see San Jose come out of nowhere with news of its own. According to the Merc’s Mike Rosenberg, the A’s and San Jose have agreed to a seven-year option on the Diridon ballpark site next to the main train station. The new deal is essentially an extension of the previous land option, which was due to expire next month. The A’s will pay $25,000 per year to retain the option, the same terms as in the previous agreement.

The other big reveal in the article was that last month, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed met with baseball’s Commissioner-elect (and current COO) Rob Manfred in New York. While Reed didn’t make any headway in getting Manfred to loosen the Giants’ grip on territorial rights, it’s a positive sign for San Jose that the two had a meeting, which could lead to more discussions. Reed’s mayoral successor – either County Supervisor Dave Cortese or SJ Councilman Sam Liccardo – would be the new point person, both willing to take Reed’s baton. Retiring commission Bud Selig created a 3-man panel to act as a buffer so that he wouldn’t have to be directly involved. The panel (BRC) was apparently disbanded earlier this year, leaving Manfred to handle any new talks. It’s no guarantee of future talks for sure, but it does have some weight.

More meaningful is the impact of the land option deal. Though the A’s couldn’t build there tomorrow or even next year, the very presence of the land option keeps San Jose in the game and gives MLB a card to play against Oakland in case they turn future ballpark talks with the A’s into yet another circus. After all, it was Manfred who purportedly threatened Oakland with the immediate approval of a move to San Jose if Oakland killed the A’s lease extension. At the time many called it a mere negotiating ploy, which it was. Oakland folded quickly then, so there’s little reason to think it wouldn’t work on some level again.

Complicating things for MLB is that other tenant in the Coliseum, the Raiders. Since Coliseum City is ostensibly a Raiders project, everyone has to wait for the Raiders’ eventual approval or rejection of the project before knowing what to do next. The list of outcomes is short and clear.

  • Oakland and Raiders sign Coliseum City deal, triggering clause for A’s to escape lease and look to San Jose
  • Coliseum City talks break down, allowing A’s to start up talks with the JPA and Oakland while the Raiders look elsewhere
  • Mark Davis becomes indecisive and signs a short-term lease at the Coliseum, status quo

Lew Wolff has been clear about his disinterest in Coliseum City, so his becoming a signatory over the next three months is just wishful thinking. The terms of the lease extension have kept Howard Terminal out of the discussion, with the focus on the Coliseum only. The Oakland crowd will consider this cagey and deceitful, whereas San Jose (or pan-Bay Area) partisans will call Wolff’s moves prudent and in the best interest of getting a ballpark built ASAP. There’s some truth to both views, and they’re inextricably linked. For some time Wolff’s priorities have been simply to build a ballpark and figure out a way to pay for it. If the Raiders’ fate can be determined, the A’s will be the next domino.

Timing is also interesting. For a while I’ve been of the opinion that San Jose could never be completely ruled out as a ballpark option as long as so many things in Oakland remained uncertain. MLB’s tacit approval – twice – of the A’s-San Jose land option affirms that. If MLB truly wanted to affirm T-rights as iron-clad and non-negotiable, they wouldn’t allow the land option. They know the value there. To be certain, MLB does not want to break that glass if an emergency occurs, but it’s there and it allows MLB and Wolff to maintain focus on the Bay Area, instead of playing the usual stalking horse game with another market outside NorCal. All this comes out just after the 90-day countdown on Coliseum City begins and the Raiders accelerate towards the NFL’s February relocation window. MLB and NFL have been careful to enter in the A’s and Raiders discussions only when they had to, and to let the process in Oakland work itself out. The JPA is readying itself by hiring Robert Bobb to work with either New City Development or Lew Wolff.

Is this the winter when resolution occurs? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The winter will arrive soon enough.

P.S. – As usual, much of the initial Oakland reaction is, Why doesn’t Wolff (and Fisher) sell the team? Because they have no interest, and no one can force them to sell. Next question.

P.P.S. – How long will it take for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s office to call up Rob Manfred, asking for a meeting?

P.P.P.S. – My initial draft didn’t include that third “Indecisive Mark Davis” option. It’s a distinct possibility, though it comes with its own permutations. Davis wants maximum flexibility in whatever he does over the next couple years. He has looked at various non-Coliseum stadia to temporarily host his team. You might think the leading candidate would be Santa Clara, but the terms don’t work for him because he’d have to sign a longer-term lease to cover the additional construction required at Levi’s Stadium. The leading candidate is, would you believe… AT&T Park? The Oakland Raiders at AT&T Park. You can always count on Larry Baer to always have Oakland sports’ best interests in mind.

P.P.P.P.S. – Wasn’t San Jose’s lawsuit vs. MLB supposed to make the city persona non grata in baseball’s eyes? Yet they have a meeting. Funny, that.

Avaya may become Earthquakes’ stadium naming rights sponsor

This was posted to the BigSoccer Earthquakes’ forum by Soccer Silicon Valley’s Colin McCarthy:

avayastadium

Until yesterday there hadn’t been much discussion about who would buy the naming rights to the stadium. Since the stadium is in the heart of Silicon Valley, it was figured that the Quakes would eventually find one prior their first match in 2015.

Avaya is a tech firm based in Santa Clara. They are a spinoff of Lucent/AT&T, specializing in digital phone (IP/PBX) systems. They also are make networking equipment such as switches and routers, and that’s where there may be a bit of a snag. Sunnyvale’s Ruckus Wireless signed a deal last March to be the stadium’s in-house WiFi provider. Ruckus and Avaya are competitors in at least the networking segment, and team president David Kaval has acknowledged the difficulty of working between competitors when trying to land sponsorship deals. Typically a sponsor wants to be known as the official ___ sponsor of the team, whether we’re talking networking, soda, or airlines. Ruckus does a small fraction of the business Avaya does, so there’s certainly the potential for one of the sponsors to be overshadowed by another.

Speaking of networking companies, what about Cisco? We haven’t heard from them in a few years, since discussions about a San Jose ballpark were in high gear. Both Ruckus and Avaya are competitors of Cisco Systems, and while the soccer stadium is quite separate from a ballpark, the ownership at the top for the A’s and Quakes is basically the same. Cisco has gone through a series of acquisitions and layoffs lately, and speculation has bubbled for some time about CEO John Chambers’ possible retirement. If he retires, there’s a good chance that any A’s ballpark naming rights deal would be subject to new bidding, as Chambers was a driving force behind it. Beyond that there’s some question about whether Cisco would sign on to sponsor an Oakland ballpark as opposed to the highly supported Fremont and San Jose sites. The Valley is big, rich, and ever evolving, perhaps too fast for MLB’s glacial pace.

The bone-in, skinless stadium

It starts with this.

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Arrowhead Stadium prior to 2007 renovations

And ends (for now) with this.

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Levi’s Stadium prior to August 2014 opening

These two stadia opened 42 years apart, yet bear a couple of important similarities. One that is fairly obvious when you compare the two pictures is that neither has an exterior façade. The other is that they were both designed by the engineering and architectural firm HNTB. Well, sort of. As I mentioned on Monday, Arrowhead Stadium’s original architects were Kivett and Myers. That firm was acquired by HNTB to form its sports practice in the late 70’s.

HNTB went on to do several football stadia in the 70’s and 80’s, including Giants Stadium and the Hoosier (RCA) Dome. Neither was known for being a great work of architecture, and both are now history. Until HNTB designed the Broncos’ new stadium, Sports Authority Field, it’s hard to point to any really striking sports architecture from the firm. More eye-catching examples have come in the form of minor league ballparks such as Raley Field and the twin Fifth Third Fields in Toledo and Dayton. Minor league ballparks don’t have nearly the scale and sense of mass as a pro football stadium, so it’s probably unwise to even compare.

Sports Authority Field (formerly Invesco) at Mile High, photo by Matthew Trump

Sports Authority Field (formerly Invesco) at Mile High, photo by Matthew Trump

While Arrowhead and neighbor Kauffman Stadium were highly acclaimed, notable pieces of sports architecture, they weren’t flawless. That lack of exterior façade made for cold and wet occupants, which was more of a problem at the ballpark during the spring months than at Arrowhead during the football season, when it’s customary to bundle up. The 2010 renovation of Kauffman included a large structure behind the seating bowl that provided a great deal of weather protection for fans.

At snowy Denver, there’s plenty of cover thanks to glass curtainwall. The undulating, horseshoe-shaped upper deck both saluted and riffed off the old Mile High Stadium. Even so, the most interesting thing about the new stadium is its all-steel structure, which wasn’t limited to columns and trusses. Risers that would normally be built of precast concrete were also made of steel, which allowed the Broncos to make an extra noisy, feet-stomping seating bowl much like Mile High.

New NFL stadia over the last 20 years seemed to be constant acts of one-upmanship. Paul Brown Stadium was thought to be overly garish for conservative Cincinnati. HKS-designed Lucas Oil Stadium looks like an Indiana field house enlarged by nuclear radiation, the same way a puffer fish might have become twice the size at the Bikini Atoll. Another HKS product, AT&T (Cowboys) Stadium, is practically out of a sci-fi film and as I noted while I was at Rangers Ballpark to the east, appears ready to destroy its neighbor with lasers. The next HKS design for the Vikings looks like a crystal football cathedral.

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As domed multipurpose stadia, the three HKS designs had to have some sort of skin. The fact that they are a bit over-the-top (360 Architecture is guilty of this too) is part of the celebration of football, the fans, and the home city. The other recently built West Coast NFL stadium, CenturyLink Field in Seattle, was built to protect fans from harsh, wet winters. But in California, is any façade necessary? Or is it just ornamentation?

At Levi’s Stadium, most of the suites are set in a single 8-story tower along the west sideline. It’s efficient packaging for sure, though it looks a lot like of the office buildings in Silicon Valley, which are similar in scale. The other three-quarters of the stadium is practically naked. HNTB and the 49ers chose to show off the structural steel that lifts up and rings the bowl. Whether that’s “enough” architecturally to work as aesthetic is largely subject to individual taste. So far most of the comments I’ve seen are to the effect of, It’s nice on the inside. Levi’s Stadium is a technological tour-de-force, and like many good technologies that come out of the Valley, is built with headroom and expansion in mind. What it lacks at the moment is a single element that makes it beautiful, unless you consider the suite tower that element. Arrowhead has the lovely, swooping upper deck at the end zones. It adds elegance to what otherwise would be character-less and overly brawny. Perhaps the signature element, a translucent image-projecting, shape-shifting material that clads the exterior, simply hasn’t been invented. Or maybe Levi’s Stadium is destined to be like many of HNTB’s post-Arrowhead work: serviceable at best, forgettable at worst.

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Let’s not forget that HNTB also designed Mount Davis. We know that aesthetic quite well, as our Oakland home is akin to a Supermax prison. HNTB is probably known more for their engineering work than their designs. They were hired by the City of Cupertino to do the lovely cable-stayed pedestrian bridge I mentioned in my “Rethinking Coliseum City…” post. They also designed the beautiful Zakim Bridge in Boston, along with a number of interchanges and airports. None of that sounds sexy, but they are important pieces of infrastructure that have to balance aesthetics and utility, not an easy task.

I suspect that Levi’s Stadium will undergo several minor and major revisions over the next 20 years as they iron out the rough spots and seek to enhance the experience even further. Levi’s Stadium is more than a place to watch football. It’s also a platform and brand. If there are bugs in 1.0, just wait for 1.1 or 2.0. It doesn’t get more Valley than that.

P.S. – This is not intended as a review. I’ll have one of those up in a month or so.

Rob Manfred elected next MLB commissioner by owners

After a full day of deliberation and several trays of cookies, MLB’s owners finally approved MLB executive Rob Manfred as baseball’s next commissioner (NY Times/USA Today/LA Times/MLB/ESPN Sweetspot. Throughout the day, there were frequent reports that the vote was deadlocked at 22-8 or 21-9, 1 or 2 votes shy of the three-quarters of owners needed to approve Manfred. A late afternoon break preceded the final vote, which in true Bud Selig fashion, was tabulated at 30-0. Perhaps the so-called Reinsdorf block saw the writing on the wall and gave in knowing Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner didn’t have a chance, or they knew that Manfred, who has worked in the league offices for 15 years, was the more qualified candidate. Either way, in February Manfred stands to inherit a full plate of for now unresolved issues from Selig, who is now officially a lame duck.

Who was the swing vote that got Selig’s man, Manfred, over the top? It appears to have been Brewers owner Mark Attanasio,

Among the issues that need resolution sometime in the future:

  • Nats-O’s (MASN) television rights negotiations/lawsuit
  • The future of the Tampa Bay Rays
  • Negotiating terms of an Oakland ballpark, if it can come to fruition
  • The next collective bargaining agreement (current one expires after 2016 season)
  • Blackout rules for local broadcasts

Jerry Reinsdorf wanted to go hardline against the players’ union, despite MLB having one of the most favorable, cost-controlled deals in sports. He considered Selig to be too conciliatory in his dealings with the union. It’s hard to say how much more Reinsdorf would’ve gained in the next labor talks, though the obvious goal would’ve been a salary cap of some sort. Reinsdorf was considered the power behind Selig’s throne, the senior whip who got the votes Selig needed. Here’s to hoping that sanity, not greed, wins out in the next labor talks.

During Selig’s tenure, he sought to consolidate power, getting rid of the league president roles and the deputy commissioner, opting instead for a more vertical org chart with subordinates’ autonomy reduced. One of the rumored challenges for the owners in the upcoming CBA/Constitution talks is how to curtail the powers of the commissioner’s office, which now includes disbursements of a discretionary fund that runs into eight figures (see Nats-O’s).

Going in, it was thought that the Larry Baer and the Giants supported Manfred, while Lew Wolff and the A’s supported Werner. Early voting seemed to bear this out. They even had some discussions early in the day.

The official approval of Manfred would appear to confirm the status quo going forward: Giants not budging on T-rights, A’s forced to make a deal in Oakland. The recently approved Coliseum lease extension further keeps the A’s in Oakland at least for the next several years. After that, well, who knows? MLB has seen enough of the stadium saga to know that neither city is a slam dunk, so contingency plans are needed. And it was Manfred who affirmed the threat to move “out of Oakland” last month, supposedly going so far as to mention San Jose in the same breath. So if anyone’s thinking that any city has an ally in the MLB commissioner moving forward, they shouldn’t. Manfred’s on baseball’s side, not yours.

San Jose’s uphill battle against MLB continues in 9th Circuit court

This is how oral arguments started today.

For San Jose, it pretty much went downhill from there. City of San Jose Attorney Philip Gregory was up first, and he had a very tough time against the three man panel of judges: Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, Judge Barry Silverman, and Judge Richard Clifton. Gregory asserted that the Portland Baseball case limits the antitrust exemption to the reserve clause. Kosinski and Clifton took issue with that. Gregory argued that the prior cases often cited (Portland, Curt Flood) are more about minor league-major league system interactions/transactions than major league franchise movement. The judges didn’t appear to be swayed. Gregory was left to argue that the case shouldn’t be dismissed at this early stage, and should go to discovery.

MLB lawyer John Keker was next, and he had a much easier time. He was able to go at least 2 minutes without being interrupted, which indicates that the judges had little to question.

The most resistance Keker got into was a hypothetical that Kozinski put forward. The judge first asked Keker if baseball has an antitrust exemption, doesn’t that mean that this case automatically doesn’t have standing? Keker agreed. This was also a key tenet of MLB’s filings going into today’s hearing. There was even a playful back-and-forth between Kozinski and Keker, in which Kozinski prodded, “Just between you and me…” That was followed by a chuckle from the much larger-than-normal gallery. Keker kept to his argument.

That left the rebuttal to Joe Cotchett, who brought props. That led to this exchange:

Cotchett tried his best to take down MLB, calling the territorial distribution as outlined in the Major League Constitution one that builds an “economic wall” around San Jose (Santa Clara County) because no team is allowed to move in there. He also brought up the recent decision in a US District Court to allow an antitrust case to move forward against MLB and broadcasters over TV blackouts and exclusive territories. Judge Clifton didn’t appear to be swayed by this either.

Despite the poor outlook for San Jose, Cotchett got to hold another presser outside the courtroom after adjournment, which for him is just as important as the actual proceedings inside. Even if he loses this case in the Ninth Circuit, he aims to bring it all the way to the Supreme Court. The way things look now, getting there would be the equivalent of a six-run home run.

Courthouse coverage comes from the Merc’s Howard Mintz and Fangraphs’ Wendy Thurm.

What happened to the Stand for San Jose case?

I really should check into these court cases more than once every couple weeks.

While many eyes will be focused on the City of San Jose’s Ninth Circuit appeal against Major League Baseball this Tuesday, another case appears to have been resolved. That would be “citizen group” Stand for San Jose’s lawsuit against the City in Santa Clara County Superior Court. A hearing was scheduled for the end of this week, August 15. However, that was wiped away as the court vacated the hearing. In fact, the court now has the case status as disposed as of July 24. In other words, the case is resolved, over, done. Big hat-tip to Wendy Thurm, who alerted me to this on Friday.

The only recent action leading up to that point was notice that the Oversight Board of SARA (Successor Agency of the Redevelopment Agency) would file its own motion to dismiss by July 25. The idea was that since the Oversight Board was given the power to dispose of the Diridon ballpark parcels however it saw fit as long as it took care of financial obligations to the state. That was to lead for a motion for pleadings on August 15. Then suddenly, the dismissal on July 24. It’s important to note that it’s a dismissal without prejudice, so it could come back at some point. Regardless, it’s a surprising move for all concerned. I’ve asked around to understand what happened, and haven’t gotten any answers yet.

Besides the legal maneuvering, one other thing has happened this summer that might have brought all parties to the table. That would be the A’s and the Coliseum JPA approving an extension at the Coliseum through at least 2018 (up to 2024). Obviously that’s speculation, and the filings may reveal something else, which is why I’m heading to Superior Court tomorrow afternoon. Be forewarned: I don’t expect to get much out of my inquiry. When cases are resolved in a non-public manner as this was, the parties can sometimes choose to reveal little about the motivations to do so.

Then again, there’s this update which came in on Friday:

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Some day all this legal stuff will end and there will be a ballpark under construction. Maybe.

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?