Wake up, Oakland

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

There are any number of ways to rephrase the idiom above. Some might use “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” though the meaning is not the same. Voltaire coined the phrase a little more directly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

As I listened to Don Knauss make yet another sales pitch about the virtues of Howard Terminal (and Damon Bruce’s softball handling of it), I started to write a point-by-point rebuttal of everything he said. Then, thanks to BANG’s Matthew Artz, I read a 6-page letter from Lew Wolff to Oakland Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner. The letter outlined Wolff’s desire for a lease extension at the Coliseum before leading into the questions surrounding the future of the Coliseum.

Two pages of the letter are devoted to a section called “The Raiders”. Instead of pointing fingers at the Raiders or Mark Davis, Wolff mostly pans BayIG, the Coliseum City plan, and all of the work that has gone into it so far.

I contrasted words from both Knauss and Wolff. The Clorox CEO talked about a transformative project that could hugely benefit downtown Oakland, which it could. A similar description has been made about Coliseum City by its proponents, comparing it to LA Live among other developments. Then there was Wolff, going detail by detail about the process, the difficulty, tedium, and the obstacles. He even lashed back at “Negative Forces” agitating at every possible turn, which could be construed as a critique of Don Knauss or others allied with Knauss.

The argument, which has stretched as long as Wolff and John Fisher have owned the A’s, comes down to Voltaire’s quote. Wolff’s #1 job this entire time has been to get a ballpark. Let’s understand some of those efforts.

  • 2003 – Wolff was hired by Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann to be the VP of Venue Development. During that brief tenure, Wolff proposed building in the Coliseum’s A Lot and at the Malibu/HomeBase lots. The A Lot option went nowhere because Schott was only willing to put up $100 million for the ballpark. The Malibu option was not available because it was not JPA-owned land. Eventually the JPA bought the land in order to assemble a larger complex for what would be become Coliseum City.
  • 2005 – Wolff exercises an option to buy the team, phasing Schott & Hofmann out and bringing Fisher and numerous associates of Wolff in. Wolff soon proposes the Coliseum North (66th/High) plan, which would redevelop a large swath of industrial land north of the Coliseum complex into a ballpark and mixed-use (residential, retail, commercial) plan. The plan received great fanfare at first, but quickly died as numerous existing landowners showed no interest in selling.
  • 2006 – The Fremont Baseball Village plan is proposed in south Fremont near the Santa Clara County line. A compromise plan of sorts, the idea was to court Silicon Valley corporate interests without crossing into the Giants-held territory of Santa Clara County. Again, there is great immediate enthusiasm, this time from Fremont city leaders. This time, a combination of the Great Recession and big box stores vetoing any developments they didn’t approve of killed the plan. Another attempt in 2010 was made to put the ballpark near the NUMMI (now Tesla) factory across the Nimitz. That was met with hostility from well-heeled residents on the other side of I-680 and fell apart quickly.
  • 2009 – San Jose becomes the next plan, with a partially-acquired site downtown, major corporate and civic support, and a certified environmental impact report ready to go. Again the plan stalled as the Giants remained intransigent about their held territory. A lawsuit filed by people associated with the San Jose Giants (eventually a SF Giants-owned property) threatened the project and is still ongoing. The City of San Jose became frustrated and launched its own lawsuit in 2012 against MLB. That too is ongoing.
  • 2009 – Let’s Go Oakland launches with support of three sites in downtown Oakland: Victory Court, JLS West, and Howard Terminal. Victory Court becomes the preferred site in 2010. LGO promoted Victory Court as much as possible, backed by local developers. No significant activity occurs in 2011, and by the beginning of 2012 the site is dead due to the death of redevelopment and spiraling site acquisition costs.
  • 2012 – Not long after Victory Court goes away, murmurs about Howard Terminal becoming the new preferred (not by A’s ownership) Oakland site begin. In 2013, the Port of Oakland negotiates a settlement with SSA Terminals to vacate the site in order to consolidate facilities and kill a lawsuit against the Port. That allows the Port to look into non-maritime uses such as a ballpark, which it does in spring 2014. A new investor/support group, OWB (Oakland Waterfront Ballpark), emerges, led by Knauss and former Dreyer’s CEO T. Gary Rogers.
    While Wolff has been trying to deal with the on-the-ground demands of planning and building a ballpark, many in Oakland have been fixated on grand concepts like Coliseum City and the far-off promises of Howard Terminal and Victory Court. Even yesterday, Knauss couldn’t help but bring San Francisco into the discussion, talking up how a HT ballpark would have better weather and views than AT&T Park. Coliseum City would be a transformative project that could attract Super Bowls and give Oakland new cachet.

Oakland’s desires to become something bigger and better are completely understandable. But they’ve been so pie-in-the-sky, so big, that there’s always been huge doubts about what, if anything, the City could pull off. I’ve mentioned before that Oakland has never built anything by itself, and that it needed the County and the business community to come together to make the Coliseum work nearly 50 years ago. That need hasn’t changed, but the sense of teamwork has. In Oakland’s attempt to keep all three teams in place, it has gotten away from what got them the teams in the first place: strong partnerships and sensitivity to the teams’ needs. Nowhere is that more evident than in Coliseum City, where the County is playing the realist role in questioning the project and in looking to the A’s, while the City brings in big names with no commitments, entirely footing the bill along the way.

Oakland keeps searching for the perfect project, the ultimate solution, the one that will finally vault them past the City beyond its rival across the Bay. Some politician(s) would take credit when it gets done, a legacy-defining moment. So they keep dreaming, keep hoping, clearly not worried about the little details that need to be addressed or the problems that arise when undertaking big projects. At some point, someone in Oakland will recognize that the dreams need to be tempered with what can realistically be done, and understand the work that will be required to get it done – establishing partnerships with the teams and stakeholders for starters. If not, the teams will get frustrated and give up. Those dreams will die. The biggest pro sports Oakland will be able to get will be minor league (which for some is okay). And the Coliseum, home of six world championships, will end up unused, even more unloved, and ultimately, something generic like a shopping center. That’s what happens when the well-intended keep pursuing the ever-elusive perfect instead of understanding that good is actually pretty great.

Lew Wolff is getting ready to offer what could be a pretty good deal. If Oakland wakes up, they may be able to react in time to take it.

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P.S. – I’m removing comments from the site for the time being. It’s not because of the commenters or specific comments – although they can be especially inane at times – it’s because those comments and the constantly attacking spambots (which you don’t see) are causing heavy server load, for which I’ve been warned by my provider. I hope that by having no comments there will be less server load. Thanks for your patience.

BayIG backs down on lease term, Quan endorses deal, Wolff denies move out of Bay Area

Ray Ratto has been giving the stadium situation a constant read this week. Wednesday’s piece may have been the best of all, though it can mostly be summed up by this:

halfass

Can we even give the City of Oakland credit for half-assing? May be generous.

Meanwhile, on the news front, the City received another letter Wednesday from BayIG’s lawyers, which indicated that the development mean could be onboard with a plan to provide the A’s 2 years’ notice if a replacement Raiders stadium came to fruition. That’s a backpedal from their original stance, which was to tear down the Coliseum immediately after the A’s 2015 season in order to make way for the new football venue. BayIG suffered a little blowback in the media and from fans, which may have led to this softening.

In that same article, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan continues to believe that the city can continue to host both teams, while endorsing the lease extension approved by the JPA last week. Quan doesn’t get to vote on the deal unless the 8-person City Council is deadlocked. Said Quan,

“I absolutely want the City Council to sign this agreement so that we can get on to negotiating a new stadium (with the A’s).”

We’ll see if she’s forced to break a tie. Several of the council members are undecided, perhaps hoping for concessions from the A’s that probably are not coming.

Word came yesterday morning from The Game’s Chris Townsend that the A’s could be willing to buy out the County’s portion of the JPA, which would allow the team to work on a new development plan for the Coliseum complex. I’m looking into the legality of such an arrangement. The bond issues are heavily tied into specific revenue streams and the property is jointly owned, not divided, so it’s unclear how a private developer could legally replace a public entity. It’s also important to note that BayIG has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the JPA for any Coliseum development. That agreement doesn’t expire until October, so any developer whether the A’s or a third party can’t formally engage in talks with the JPA until the ENA expires, assuming it’s not extended. Correction 5:37 PM – As was pointed out in the comments, the ENA is only between BayIG and the City of Oakland, not the JPA. Because of this, Miley or other JPA members could engage in discussions with the A’s over the future of the Coliseum complex.

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Once again, Lew Wolff had to speak publicly about someone else’s suggestion that the A’s could leave the Bay Area. CM Larry Reid suggested the team could go to Montreal or San Antonio, places that coincidentally had hosted exhibition games in March. As I’ve said before, MLB may wield the move threat, but it’s largely toothless without a deal for a new ballpark in a target city. No rumored candidate like Portland, Montreal, San Antonio, or Charlotte is close to having such a deal in place. In fact, Charlotte just opened its AAA ballpark, surviving numerous legal challenges by a local attorney who wanted to aim for MLB, not AAA. Sorry, no Timbuktu.

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A couple other blog posts are worth reading and come from completely different angles. The first is a piece by the Motley Fool advocating for a move to San Jose. It’s a skin-deep analysis, but may portend future San Jose articles in the media, especially if Oakland continues to be a circus. The other is from Death of the Press Box writer Andrew Pridgen, who calls Wolff the “last great owner in baseball.” Mind you, he sets the post up by calling Wolff a prick.

Purdy cites Sharks’ TV deal as reason team could leave San Jose

It wasn’t that long ago that the Sharks were such a laggard in terms of TV ratings and revenue, they sold their own ads. With no competition to Fox Sports and its successor, Comcast Sportsnet, the Sharks always ended up the runt of the litter compared to the MLB and NFL teams, plus the Warriors. When CSN California was started in 2009, the Sharks gladly leaped to the fledgling network in hopes of better exposure and fewer time conflicts. While they got both of those goals realized, the actual contract terms severely favored Comcast, netting the Sharks only $7 million a year.

Mark Purdy mentions Sharks ownership’s exasperation with the deal, which was negotiated in 2010, years before Hasso Plattner assumed the throne at the Tank. The NHL hasn’t been affected as much by the TV rights bubble as the other three major sports, but there’s enough of a discrepancy that it’s problematic for the Sharks, who have the 4th highest payroll in the league. SoCal rivals, the Kings and Ducks, bring in $20+ million annually. Even the Florida Panthers rake in around $11 million per year. Toronto has the most lucrative deal at $41 million per year, which expires after next season. That said, Toronto’s deal is approximately the same as the middle-of-the-pack deal the A’s signed, ironically also with Comcast Sportsnet.

And it’s not like the A’s are a ratings powerhouse. Both the A’s and Sharks are in the 1.x ratings range on CSNCA. You’d think that would translate to similarly sized deals. Evidently not. Purdy speculates that former Sharks exec Greg Jamison lost his job after making the deal. Jamison had a long tenure dating back to George Gund’s time as the owner, so maybe Jamison was too fixated on how the deal compared in proportion to previous deals. Perhaps he didn’t see the bubble coming.

Current team CEO John Tortora is a former media lawyer, so renegotiating the contract should be right up his alley. Unfortunately, the team is locked in for another 14 years, and while Comcast may be accommodating to some degree, they’re not gonna give away the farm. I like the idea of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman getting involved and holding next winter’s Stadium Series game as a carrot, though I’m not convinced it’ll make that much of a difference. When Comcast files its annual financial statement, CSNBA and CSNCA are lumped with all of the other regional sports networks and non-sports properties like USA and Bravo. But it’s obvious that each network is its own unit and must perform up to par. Take CSN Houston, whose carriage situation outside its sister cable provider has been disastrous. CSN Houston is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, and the two teams who have partnered to start the network, the Rockets and Astros, are feeling the pinch because of that mess. For Comcast, CSN Houston may be the canary in the coal mine that signals the end to the bubble.

Trapped for now with a poor TV contract, the Sharks could look elsewhere locally for revenue. Santa Clara has harbored ambitions of a huge Coliseum City-like entertainment complex, with Levi’s Stadium and Great America acting as anchors. An arena – presumably on the current Golf & Tennis Club – would complement the existing options, with a Santana Row-like development bridging the area between the arena and the stadium. Since the City is tapped out because of obligations for the stadium and redevelopment dead, the Sharks would be on their own the same way the Warriors can’t expect help from San Francisco for their Mission Bay arena. Even with free or cheap land, the arena’s price tag would be $600-700 million. Most franchises can attempt such a move if they have ballast in other areas like TV. The Sharks do not, so it’s hard to see how they’d take on such a huge debt obligation.

Attendance has been great for all 20 years the Sharks have been at the Tank, so the only motivation to reach for more is the premium seating segment. SAP Center has plenty of suites and club seats. The suites could be better situated, and the newer segments in between suites and club seats haven’t been addressed, whether you’re referring to 4-6 person loge boxes or outlandish accommodations like the “bridges” under the ceiling at MSG. Even standing room only seats have been turned into something of a premium experience in some arenas.

The cheapest solution would be to make improvements to SAP Center to match what’s being offered. There are only two concourses, main and club. The upper suite level above the seating bowl is too narrow to serve anything besides the suites and penthouse area. The ceiling is among the lowest in the NHL, which limits expansion to an extent but also contributes to making the arena very loud (compared to Staples Center and Honda Center it’s no contest).

tank-seatingchart

Recent Sharks seating chart

Knowing the Tank’s limitations, I have a short list of improvements that could be made to keep the place competitive:

  • Install 40 loge boxes - As you can see from the chart above, the club seats begin where the club level vomitories (tunnels) provide access to the seats (near the 100-level numbers). The seats immediately next to the vomitories are non-club seats. If the Sharks want to add loge boxes, they can do so in those 4 rows. Doing so would displace a bunch of season ticket holders. Hopefully they can be relocated to comparable area.
  • Replace the wire/metal railings at the front of the upper deck – Currently the Sharks sell Ledge seats at a premium, as most teams do. If they remove the wires and replace them with glass, the views from the 2nd and 3rd rows won’t be as compromised, allowing the Sharks to sell those seats for more.
  • Redo the lower half seating bowl with dual-rise seating at the ends – Doing so will make the arena configuration more flexible and efficient. See this post for more.
  • Install rafters seats – Like the MSG bridges, these seats would be in the ceiling and would practically overlook the rink. The elaborate truss framework in the ceiling is designed to make various parts up there easily serviceable and accessible. Look up during a game and you’ll often see people scurrying along the catwalks. If the Sharks can figure out a way to properly provide fan access, there’s an obvious opportunity. The only question is whether the trusswork causes obstructed views.
SAP Center ceiling

SAP Center ceiling

All of this costs money. SJAA, the authority that manages the arena over the top of the Sharks, has a capital improvements budget that it negotiates with the City and the Sharks. Over time they’ve funded replacement scoreboards, the addition of new suites, and other changes. It’s through SJAA that future improvements will be funded, though the Sharks will have to pony up a lot of their own money to get it done. For the rights to operate the Tank and get a cut of concessions, parking and other revenues for all events at the arena (not just hockey), the Sharks pay San Jose $7-8 million a year – mostly for debt service. The Sharks have claimed paper losses for several years now, partly owing to that rent payment, the TV shortfall, and the team’s high payroll. Perhaps the Sharks will offer to make the improvements in exchange for lease concessions. Also, there’s still the deal struck in 2010 to build a garage north of the arena in case the A’s come to San Jose. The lease is up in a few short years, so both sides better get prepared.

Finally, there’s a much simpler market-related question to ask: Can the Bay Area support 4 arenas? With the W’s building their own in SF, Oracle Arena and SAP Center probably still standing for some time to come, how does a 4th arena (2nd in the South Bay) make any sense? Touring acts will play the 4 off each other, killing the arenas’ profitability in the process. LA and NY support 3 up-to-date major arenas, mostly because all the arenas have sports franchise tenants (the Forum is an outlier). In the Bay Area’s case, only 2 arenas would have sports franchises. Each arena would be specced out for their respective team, multipurpose being synonymous with compromise. From a demand standpoint it makes little sense. Plattner, Tortora, and their staff probably realize this and know how to move forward with the venue. But consider for a moment that the Bay Area could have 4 very nice arenas yet only 1 modern NFL stadium and 1 modern ballpark. Frankly, that looks more than a little skewed.

Oakland’s mayoral picture changes, San Jose’s goes as expected

This isn’t Rebecca Kaplan’s first rodeo. She ran for Mayor of Oakland in 2010 on a platform of pragmatism and hope. In the end she was considered a bit young for the job, placing 3rd next to political stalwarts Jean Quan and Don Perata, who got the plurality of first-place votes. Quan famously ran the “Anyone-but-Don” campaign to the mayoral seat, and the rest is history.

I went to a Kaplan campaign event that summer, to get a sense of what she was like on the trail. She was everything I had heard she was – friendly, eager-to-please, and not the kind of same of political operator that many in Oakland were. Eventually, she’d get her chance again when the 2014 election came around. With Quan flailing away on the job and flagging in favorability and job approval, today Kaplan became the 16th candidate to run for Oakland Mayor in 2014. Like the last election, this will be ranked choice voting in November, with everyone running their own version of “Anyone-but-Quan” to some degree.

During that August stop, Kaplan outlined a few things about her pro sports platform, which even then were much more fully-formed than what Quan has proffered throughout her term. From that post in 2010:

  • She’d like to keep the A’s in town, have a rebuilt Coli be the home for both NFL franchises, bring a WNBA team to town, and attract more international soccer matches.
  • Kaplan talked up the potential of TOD developments, citing the Coliseum as a distinct site with potential. She joked about the BART bridge being a “walkway of chain link doom.”
  • She did not say it specifically, but I inferred that she would push for a A’s ballpark solution at the Coliseum, with new ancillary development around it to make it feel like a proper urban ballpark feel.
  • She did not mention any of the JLS sites. She tried to make a distinction between what she called the “Possible Dream” (something that is feasible) and the “Impossible Dream” (something that people simply keep talking about in circles). Does this mean that she’s not a shill for the JLS-area developers that want/need the ballpark to boost their ROI?

Obviously things have changed a bit since 2010. There will be no joint 49ers-Raiders stadium in Oakland, not with Levi’s Stadium set to dominate the landscape in the fall. Coliseum City, which Kaplan has touted from the beginning, has become more crystalized as a plan, though it still has numerous question marks. The “Impossible Dream” remark was about Victory Court, which within a year quietly died. Kaplan has chosen to put most of her arrows behind Coliseum City. Five months from the election, nothing about the project will happen that can sink her campaign. If she successfully negotiates the lease extension with the A’s, the act will most certainly boost her campaign, even if the net result is simply pushing the issue a few years out (again).

Lew Wolff praised Kaplan in code during the Bloomberg interview. We’ll see how real any support is when campaign donation records are released later. Remember that Wolff and John Fisher donated to Perata’s 2010 campaign as when the former State Senator said that putting up public funds to keep the A’s in town was a bad idea. For now, it sure appears as if Wolff has a horse in the mayoral race – then one that can get him the lease he wants. Beyond that lease, there’s no telling what can happen. Once some dominoes fall at Coliseum City, we can get a better sense of how everything else will project.

Mayor Quan has also supported Coliseum City, but at a distance. Kaplan’s position as a JPA commissioner (board member) allows her to take a hands-on approach.

Over in San Jose, the expected frontrunners, County Supervisor Dave Cortese and San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo, were the top two candidates to emerge from the primary. Cortese is also a former SJ City Council member. Both are members of Baseball San Jose, which should mean that the effort to get the A’s and push MLB/Giants will continue unabated. But while Liccardo is a Chuck Reed disciple, Cortese is more his own guy, forging an alliance with Reed’s biggest nemesis, labor. If elected, it’s possible Cortese could take a different approach from Reed in approaching MLB. Madison Nguyen ran competitively on Tuesday, eventually falling short to Liccardo 25% to 21%.

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While the San Jose mayoral race looks like a classic labor-vs.-business battle, the Oakland race is much harder to peg, and could reach circus-like proportions with the amount of horse trading that could occur. That’s what happened last time, and guess who won the election?

Forever small market

Update 8:10 PM – Oakland CM Rebecca Kaplan will announce on Thursday that she’s entering the mayoral race. Recent polls had her as a frontrunner even though she hadn’t declared.

In an interview on Bloomberg Market Makers earlier this morning, Wolff talks up the 10-year lease extension that has gained momentum this week. When asked by show co-host Eric Schatzker when the extension might be done Wolff replied,

“Next couple of weeks, I hope… there are some approvals necessary, but the people we’re dealing with now are very intelligent and working with us.”

That seems to be a further nod to Oakland City Councilperson and JPA board member Rebecca Kaplan, who is now involved in negotiating the lease. Kaplan, who still hasn’t decided if she’ll run for the Oakland mayoral gig (thanks ranked choice voting for allowing this to play out), could very easily use the A’s extension as part of her platform, pivoting directly into the race immediately afterwards.

It’ll happen when it happens. Unless it doesn’t.

If you want to get a good idea of how the rest of the country views Oakland and the A’s, look no further than Schatzker’s numerous comments about the small market nature of the A’s. Moneyball may have indelibly painted the A’s as a small market team that plays in a crappy stadium, but there’s also a major disconnect. Market Makers is broadcast from New York, so it’s no surprise that the Schatzker and co-host Stephanie Ruhle know little about the Bay Area (Schatzker’s “southern Bay Area” remark is especially telling). Bloomberg has its own West Coast offices and a TV show broadcast out of SF. Oakland is mere miles from SF and a little further from the South Bay, separated only by a body of water, not a border, and yet Oakland is unable to shake the small market label. It’s not even clear that a new stadium in Oakland will get rid of small market.

Wolff, who had perhaps his best television interview in recent memory, played along with the narrative and called the A’s David to the various Goliaths, though as usual he didn’t complain about said Goliaths. The rising tide is lifting the A’s boat, as the franchise should see $200 million in revenue this year thanks to the new national TV deals. Yet competitively they remain way behind most of the rest of baseball, where 16 teams started the year with payrolls above $100 million. The A’s are stuck with the other small market – or rather, low revenue – teams. A new ballpark running at capacity should properly elevate the A’s relative to their peers. The CBA points out that the A’s are in the #7 market, and given their position they should be taken off revenue sharing once a new ballpark starts operation. But as long as the A’s remain in limbo with regards to a new venue, so will their financial position. They live in a large market, yet they can’t function like one because they don’t make enough money to live that way. Sounds apropos considering how tough it is for individuals to live in much of the Bay Area these days.

Ballpark Vote seeks to assess A’s fan interest in stadium sites

A site run by three San Luis Obispo residents aims to determine which potential A’s ballpark site(s) fans like the most. Named Ballpark Vote, the site was launched three weeks ago. Listed are five sites or ballpark concepts:

  • Howard Terminal (Oakland)
  • Coliseum City (Oakland)
  • Estuary Waterfront Project (Oakland)
  • Raley Field (Sacramento)
  • Cisco Field (San Jose)

Fans are allowed to vote for more than one choice. Even though the site was up since at least May 7, I only found out about it early this morning. Between then and the time of this writing, voting has jumped up considerably. Obviously the results aren’t scientific, and are prone to change due to the nature and dynamics of social media. Voting appears to be limited to one set of votes per browser session, though people could use multiple browsers to game the system.

What fascinates me about this is that when I first checked the site at nearly 2 AM, Howard Terminal had over 500 votes, double that of the next two selections, Cisco Field and Coliseum City. Since then Cisco Field has spiked well past Howard Terminal. Some in the stAy crowd have called out the site for being a tool of ownership or some sort of fraud, without any proof of course. When I tweeted about the site I received a handful of replies and only two favs, so it’s not as if there was some massive viral effect at work. The site is new enough that it hasn’t established a monthly trend, a common metric used to measure traffic. Hopefully the site runners will reveal some of the statistical data behind the survey.

Five alarm fire destroys building on San Jose ballpark site

The old KNTV studios on Park Avenue in San Jose were destroyed Sunday afternoon during a five-alarm blaze. The property, which had been vacant for nearly a decade since KNTV moved to a larger facility on North First Street, was completely destroyed.

The KNTV studios occupied Parcel #12 at 645 Park Avenue

At the scene, fire investigators found generators, barbecue grills, and other items that could have caused a fire. Since the vacancy, the building had become a home for squatters. As many as 30 homeless called the building home. No people were killed, but two dogs didn’t make it out. All survivors now have to go to homeless shelters or find a spot elsewhere in downtown, probably outdoors. Firefighters already had familiarity with the building, as they used it several years ago for drills. The building, which was bought by the City of San Jose in 2004, was also convenient across the street from a fire department training station.

The building would’ve been razed at some point in the development of an A’s ballpark at the site. Because of the unusual shape of the total ballpark land, the ballpark’s footprint would not have gone to the south end, where the KNTV building was located. Instead the ballpark would’ve been pushed slightly north, where there’s greater width to accommodate the footprint. The building’s broadcasting history meant that it was eligible for City landmark status had there been an effort to preserve the property. That didn’t happen, and the building itself had little architectural value. The building immediately to the north, occupied by AT&T, has architectural value in its facade, though it too would face the wrecking ball prior to the construction of a new ballpark.

The fire reminds me of a similar incident at the old HomeBase warehouse near the Coliseum along Hegenberger. In 2005, a seven alarm fire gutted the building completely. After the fire, the Coliseum JPA bought the land in preparation for a stadium deal with the Raiders. Amazing how so many things have changed in the last 10 years, yet the most fundamental things remain the same – at least for the A’s.

MLB files reply brief in antitrust case, ties in Stand for San Jose lawsuit

MLB filed its initial response in the Ninth Circuit’s antitrust case. The general thrust of MLB’s argument hasn’t changed. They still argue that San Jose doesn’t have standing against baseball because of the flimsiness of the option agreement between San Jose and the A’s and because the sport’s antitrust exemption allows baseball to act however it likes regarding franchise relocation.

A wrinkle was added, in that MLB filed a Motion to take Judicial Notice of the ongoing Stand for San Jose-vs.-City of San Jose case (in Santa Clara County Superior Court). In this motion, MLB points out that the next court date for that case is on August 8, with the deadline for the opening brief set for May 14. Baseball argues that if the option agreement is considered invalid by the lower court, San Jose will lack standing in the bigger case.

If you’re following all of the legal meanderings, you may have noticed that the federal and appeals court proceedings have gone much faster than the county court’s. Much of that is procedural, as the S4SJ group has launched two lawsuits only to have them combined, while San Jose has tried to smoke out the SF Giants as the real instigators of the lawsuit. The important thing is that 8/8 will be the date that the court decides the validity of the option agreement, which could make or break a large part of San Jose’s case.

For its part, San Jose has maintained that the option agreement is completely valid, arguing that baseball’s refusal to allow the move has caused economic damage to the City. Joe Cotchett has repeatedly said that he’d love to take MLB all the way to the Supreme Court regardless of what happens in the lower courts. In an interview with KCBS Radio, he cited the Ninth Circuit’s approval of an expedited appeal as a positive for San Jose. MLB had previously filed a motion against an expedited appeal.

The circular arguments we see related to the case are enough to make one’s head spin. For instance, this from MLB’s reply brief:

In sum, San José uses speculative 30-year and 50-year models of the local economy to seek billions of dollars of damages, all before trebling. This sort of “Economic Impact Analysis” may be appropriate for municipal planning and decisionmaking, but it is far too speculative and judicially unmanageable to create standing for a multi-billion dollar antitrust claim.

Strange that such claims are perfectly fine for baseball when they’re selling a ballpark to a City, but not good enough when being threatened by a lawsuit.

I’d love to able to tell you that all of these legal hijinks will wrap up in a neat, tidy way. But we all know that the loser(s) will inevitably appeal, adding more months and years onto this saga.

Kawakami: San Jose is dead for now

If you haven’t already read Tim Kawakami’s latest blog piece, I must insist that you do so. Then come back here.

Kawakami’s premise is that after checking with various league sources, San Jose is not happening soon, and doesn’t have the votes thanks to the Lodge’s reaction to last summer’s lawsuit filed against MLB.

I’ve heard differently, that for some months now everything is simply a big negotiation and the ongoing items in progress (lawsuits by/against San Jose, Oakland’s own activities) are there to make points towards the final figure. As we’ve seen time and time again, MLB is thoroughly inscrutable. They can choose to punish A’s ownership for nodding with San Jose’s antitrust lawsuit while turning a blind eye to the Giants’ interference with San Jose. It’s their Lodge, they make the rules. People have jokingly noted that the fifth anniversary of the “Blue Ribbon Commission” just happened. Well, so has the ninth anniversary of this blog! And we’re still not closer to a new ballpark!

Regardless of MLB’s (in)actions, the fact is that Kawakami’s right that the A’s aren’t going anywhere soon. Maybe that changes if Joe Cotchett can get the heat turned up via the Ninth Circuit. Even then it seems likely that in a loss MLB would appeal to the Supreme Court, which is really what Cotchett wants. If MLB can be made to heel, then it would force a solution the same way Tampa Bay got an expansion franchise. That is at best a long shot and shouldn’t be expected.

And maybe that’s Selig’s point. Selig and the rest of the owners prefer to work everything out within the confines of the Lodge. They could be holding the decision over Lew Wolff’s and John Fisher’s heads as long as the lawsuit moves forward. If the lawsuit were suddenly dropped, the process could be back on, but not while the lawsuit continues. The response brief from MLB is due this week.

While Kawakami’s basic point about inertia stands, it doesn’t speak to a real endgame. There remains the game of musical chairs at the Coliseum, as well as the pace of progress and the numerous unknowns of the Howard Terminal project. If both of those options fall apart it works in Wolff’s favor. If at least one works out it helps MLB and the Giants since they wouldn’t have to touch territorial rights. The endgame scenarios are unpredictable, involving plenty of independent moving parts. The situation within the Lodge could take years to settle, or could be done before Selig leaves office next year (if that happens).

The parting shot that Kawakami takes in which Wolff & Fisher haven’t endeared themselves to the other owners because they “make profits” from revenue sharing – that sounds like a talking point. That’s the system, set up and approved unanimously by the owners per the CBA. If the owners hate the A’s getting revenue sharing so much, adjust the formula to limit their take. Or how about this – allow them to have a solution to get them off revenue sharing. The 2012 CBA specified that the A’s would be off the dole once they moved into a new ballpark within the Bay Area market, perhaps as late as the end of the CBA in 2016. We now know that the next CBA will come with no new (permanent) venue for the A’s at that time. If the owners are that upset, get punitive. That said, I think that criticism is a load of B.S.

Even the outcome that has the A’s staying in Oakland in a new park is problematic. If the A’s (Wolff/Fisher or a new ownership group) privately finance a $500 million stadium, they’ll be on the hook for $30 million in debt service every year for 30 years, with no revenue sharing to backfill any revenue shortfalls (if the A’s have down years or the honeymoon period ends). Plus they won’t have nearly the kind of corporate revenue to cover a large percentage of the loans the same way a ballpark in San Jose or San Francisco would. Is the Lodge ready to approve such a deal? Or would they rather extend revenue sharing to provide a cushion for the A’s? If they do, the M.O. would belie those previous criticisms. Yet it would be the easy way out. Just treat the A’s like a small market team forever, and let the sleeping dog entrenched interests lie. Yep, that sounds a lot like MLB, especially under Bud Selig.

Dickey and Wolff duke it out in the media

A week ago Glenn Dickey wrote this in the Examiner, among several assertions:

In late 1992, just before he stepped down as head of the group trying to buy the Giants from Lurie, Walter Shorenstein told me there would be two conditions in the new contract: 1) The Giants would have to get a new park within 10 years; 2) The Giants would then have territorial rights to all the counties down the Peninsula and into San Jose. They were looking at Silicon Valley, of course, and money from that area helped build the park.

Well, I guess we can rest assured that the late Walter Shorenstein took that to his grave. If that’s true, why did Shorenstein split from the Giants ownership because he didn’t feel that a privately financed ballpark concept would work out? Did Shorenstein get cold feet?

In any case, A’s ownership would’ve been best served not responding to Dickey, since who reads Dickey or the Examiner anyway? Yet they did. Maybe Lew Wolff felt the need to respond. Maybe PR man Bob Rose was spoiling for a fight. Here’s today’s full press release refuting Dickey:

Setting the record straight: our position

OAKLAND, CA-On March 11, San Francisco Examiner sports columnist Glenn Dickey wrote an article about Oakland A’s Owner and Managing Partner Lew Wolff entitled “A’s Owner Wolff standing in the Way of a New Stadium.” The column featured numerous and un-resourced inaccuracies that need to be clarified.For the record:

  • The Oakland A’s have paid rent to play their games at O.co Coliseum and will continue to pay rent under the current new two-year agreement with the Joint Powers Authority. The A’s are also the only team playing at the O.co Coliseum that directly pays for day of game police protection.
  • The team continues to negotiate with the JPA about a 10-year extension to continue to play at the Coliseum.   Under such an arrangement, the A’s would continue to pay rent and has offered to pay for over $10 million in major improvements to the venue including two HD video scoreboards and LED ribbon boards.
  • It is not “urban legend” that Walter Haas granted territorial rights to Giants owner Bob Lurie so he could explore possibilities in the South Bay.   It is fact and Major League Baseball or the A’s would have confirmed that if either would have been asked.
  • Mr. Wolff did not create “artificial attendance reduction” by tarping off seats in the upper deck of the Coliseum. As a point of reference, the average attendance at the Coliseum in the 10 seasons before the tarps were installed was 21,872-capacity with the tarps installed is 35,067. Attendance in 2013 averaged 22,337. On several occasions, Mr. Wolff has said the team will remove the tarps if there is consistent ticket demand that justifies it. In fact, the team did remove the tarps during the 2013 postseason once ticket sales indicated the need for a larger capacity. However, the smaller capacity with tarps has clearly created a more intimate and exciting atmosphere at the Coliseum, as noted by many of our players, media and fans.

Not sure why Dickey calls the T-rights deal an urban legend. Selig acknowledged it. As I wrote two years ago, when everyone got confused over the history of the Bay Area’s T-rights:

If Bob Lurie had not gone after the South Bay, he wouldn’t have been granted the rights by Wally Haas. After Lurie struck out in SF for the last time and threatened to move to Tampa Bay, Magowan/Shorenstein swooped in to save the Giants. Would Magowan have asked for rights to the South Bay in 1993-96 in order to finance AT&T Park, knowing that he wasn’t actually going to build there but rather in downtown SF?

Remember that in the mid-90’s, the Internet as we know it today did not exist.

As for the stadium negotiations, Wolff is willing to sign a pretty long deal, as long as the A’s aren’t locked in if the Raiders take over the Coliseum complex. That’s only fair, since Wolff needs to have some control over where the team plays. Besides, history shows that Oakland/Alameda County/JPA have bent over for the Raiders, screwing the A’s in the process. The JPA is in the position to do it to the A’s all over again.

Interestingly, there are rumors emanating from the Coliseum that Coliseum City may be too expensive to pull off for the Raiders alone, forget the multi-team/multi-venue dream project. Hmmm

Still, best to avoid Dickey and his rants.