USFL, reborn?

File this one in the out-of-the-box department. A new pro football league calling itself the USFL wants to launch in 2014. Like the original USFL, the new league plans to play its games in the spring. Unlike the 80’s version of the USFL, the new league has set it sights a bit lower and broader. The new USFL expects to launch with eight teams in markets such as Southern California and Alabama.

The kicker to the league’s business plan is that the USFL has inked a deal with an unnamed national developer to build “villages” containing a 20,000-seat stadium for each franchise and ancillary commercial development to go with it. If successful, the business model would turn minor league sports inside-out. Building a stadium has been hard enough in the past, let alone building stuff to go beside it. While it’s doubtful that the additional development can be built and filled quickly enough to help defray the stadium cost in every case, there’s a chance that there could be one or two shining examples. In the South or Texas, where regulations are lax and zoning in some cases doesn’t exist, this can be fairly simple. In California, where CEQA looms large over everything, it might not be such an easy task.

Going with a 20,000-seat stadium plan for each franchise and a single-entity operations model makes the new USFL similar to the launch of MLS in 1996. MLS took numerous years of billionaire owners like Phil Anschutz pumping in money to keep the league afloat, though that was with soccer, not football. Even with the more familiar sport, Americans generally haven’t taken well to lesser-talent football, finding that the NFL and NCAA FBS serves most of America extremely well. Only the Arena Football League has survived long enough to fill that minor league niche, though it experienced its own financial problems during the recession.

The potentially problematic thing about the 20,000-seat plan is that MLS has already filled numerous markets with that size of stadium, driving up competition for decreasing numbers of 20,000-strong outdoor events. In the USFL’s press release it has indicated interest in Ohio. Columbus could be a  spot but it has a stadium for the Columbus Crew MLS team. Cleveland, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, or Dayton may be better choices. Dallas and Houston also have those stadia, while San Antonio doesn’t. Alabama, Oklahoma, and Virginia seem to be ripe for this kind of thing, though the Virginia Beach UFL team hasn’t exactly made people sit up and notice.

If the UFL folds, the USFL would be poised to pick up the pieces and establish relationships. At the very least there will be some number of temporary stadia at which to play, though minor league football isn’t exactly the sexiest proposition. They’ll also be poised to become a feeder league for the NFL, a concept that generally failed to date (UFL, NFL Europe). The AFL has had a shaky record performing in this mode, and it plans to launch its own league in China in late 2014.

No element of the USFL’s plan is more mysterious than the partnership with the unnamed developer. It’ll be fascinating to see how aggressive each market’s deployment is, and whether each team is able to succeed quickly with its development goals. If it works, we may see many medium and smaller markets use this as an example on how to build the next generation of venues. If not, USFL2 will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Quakes to start building February 26

The San Jose Earthquakes are set to start building their 18,000-seat, $60 million soccer specific stadium on February 26, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Lauren Hepler. That comes four months after the venue’s world record groundbreaking ceremony.

Shovels set in the dirt prior to the October groundbreaking ceremony

The timing of the start of construction will give the Quakes roughly one year to complete the stadium. Major League Soccer’s regular season runs from the beginning of March until the end of December. The Quakes will want to do at least one preseason game that attracts as large a crowd as possible and another smaller event that it can use as a dry run. Plus there are those always fun “group flushing” tests and other tasks that need to be completed to properly test the facility’s readiness. A web cam will be placed at the site for fans to monitor construction progress.

Some smaller minor league ballparks have been built in a year or less, so it’s possible that the Quakes stadium can be finished in a year. By doing the bulk of the major work during the dry months, the last three winter months should be fine for buttoning up the building. Devcon, the same company working on the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara (along with Turner Construction), has long been tied to this project. If the progress in Santa Clara is any indicator, the Quakes’ new digs should proceed at a rapid pace. By comparison, Houston’s 22,000-seat BBVA Compass Stadium took 15 months to build, forcing the zombie-Quakes/Dynamo to play on the road for two months.

It’s funny that a stadium that will be about one-quarter the size of the 49ers’ stadium will also take 40% of the time to build. The Quakes stadium will be a far less complex building, with a single ground level concourse underneath the seating bowl. A long wait for the inordinately patient Earthquakes fanbase is nearing its end.

Black and Blueprint

At the end of yesterday’s 2-2 draw between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy, the Quakes’ shoo-in MVP candidate Chris Wondolowski headed to the supporters’ sections behind the north goal to do his ritual handshakes and celebration with the fans. A camera followed him over and suddenly, in view, was a large sign featuring a drawing of Lew Wolff’s head. The banner thanked him and John Fisher for, well, being the owners of the Quakes. There were no mustaches or devil’s horns drawn on the image, no effigies of Wolff hanging nearby. Whether it’s love is based on one’s perspective. Clearly, there is a level of appreciation among Quakes fans that isn’t being felt in Oakland, and perhaps never will. Being more tuned into what’s happening in Oakland, I thought my eyes deceived me at first. Thankfully, another observer saw the image on television as well.

That appreciation was on display earlier in the day, as the Quakes held their stadium groundbreaking ceremony on the other side of the tracks from Buck Shaw. 6,256 fans showed up at 1125 Coleman Avenue for what would eventually be declared a Guinness World Record for the most simultaneous participants in a groundbreaking. During the typically long __, Quakes President David Kaval thanked Wolff, his son Keith Wolff, and Fisher for bringing the team back and getting the stadium underway. That elicited hoots and hollers along with the expected applause. Lew was introduced and spoke briefly, thanking the fans. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council was there too, keeping the procession of dignitaries going.

Pretty shovels, all in a row.

Kaval and Quakes defender Jason Hernandez explained to the crowd how the groundbreaking was supposed to work. A large painted soccer ball was hooked onto the end of a crane. When the ball dropped and hit the ground, an airhorn would go off, signaling to the “crew” that it was time to start digging for two minutes. Thousands of commemorative shovels were stuck in the dirt field, which had painted lines and goals at each end. When the horn went off, the assembled crowd started digging. Since we were all in a fairly compressed space, many of us found that within a minute we had pretty much dug up most of the loose dirt in our respective vicitinities, leaving the next layer of hard clay to deal with. For me, that made the second minute of digging more a minute of manicuring. A countdown led to a second horn announcing the end of the two minutes. Public address man Danny Miller laid down a little suspense as he said that the Guinness people had to tabulate the crowd on hand. Miller announced “Six-thousand…” and was quickly drowned out by the crowd’s roar. Kaval held up a certificate in victory, and the masses started to depart.

Dig for two minutes and you get a free shovel.

It’s no secret that the stadium has taken longer than anticipated to get built. Whether it was concern over sponsorships needed to get it built or process issues like permitting, fans have been waiting long time for the first permanent, unshared home for the franchise to materialize. When AEG took the first MLS incarnation of the Earthquakes to Houston, Colts-style, after the 2005 season, a pall descended on the fanbase. The logos and branding would remain in San Jose, but there was no indication that a new franchise would materialize right away. AEG, which operates the Coliseum complex, Staples Center, and owns the LA Kings NHL team, is reviled in San Jose even more than Lew Wolff is in Oakland. Don Garber, the MLS commissioner who flew in to attend the ceremony, was AEG’s evil puppet and accomplice in December 2005.

Commemorative shovel

The expansion Quakes franchise took the field for the 2007 season, when Wolff and Fisher swooped in. For MLS, Lew Wolff and John Fisher represented enough money and local ties to keep the team going throughout what would be trying times ahead. Fisher may well have been the most interested person within the ownership group in getting a franchise. As for Wolff, building a stadium for the Quakes would be a good warmup for doing a much larger, more expensive stadium for the A’s, whatever the location. Wolff’s son Keith would focus on the details. As the recession struck and sponsorship dollars disappeared, the Wolffs pursued land deal concessions, which they received. The vision for the stadium was scaled back, then when the economy recovered, expanded. When the Earthquakes Stadium opens in March 2014, it will have been over 8 years from when the team was purchased to opening kickoff. If the Wolffs are tired of going through the “process”, the outward signs are slight. Still, Lew has talked about not being around for when a ballpark finally happens, and Keith has certainly dealt with enough that he may be gunshy about saddling up for an even bigger battle. Yet that’s what will be necessary if they want to get something built for the A’s. Maybe it’ll be in San Jose, maybe it’ll be in Oakland. However it proceeds, there are probably a lot of lessons from the Quakes stadium experience that are applicable for an A’s ballpark. Given how hard it is to get something funded and built in California, having that experience can’t hurt one iota.

News for 10/19/12 (plus Young trade thoughts)

Update 10/20 3:00 PM – The A’s front office decided to kick off the hot stove league early by trading IF Cliff Pennington and 3B prospect Yordy Cabrera to Arizona for CF Chris Young (not that Chris Young) and $500,000. This has immediately led to speculation regarding the future of current CF Coco Crisp, who is scheduled to earn $7 million in 2013 and has a $7.5 million club option for 2014 ($1 million buyout). Young is due $8.5 million in 2013 and has a $11 million club option for 2014 ($1.5 million buyout). Cabrera was flipped to Miami for reliever Heath Bell. 

Pennington was either going to remain a mediocre shortstop or become an okay second baseman surrounded by many other okay second basemen in Oakland. That makes a trade for Young a steal, even if there’s no obvious place for him at the moment. Young came off a subpar 2012 season, especially compared to his 2010 All-Star campaign. September callup Adam Eaton (not that Adam Eaton) appears to be the CF of the future for the Snakes.

The A’s still have something of a logjam at 2B going forward. Jemile Weeks, Adam Rosales, Scott Sizemore, and Eric Sogard are on the 40-man roster. Grant Green waits in the wings. Expect more trades.

….

Much to go over in this edition.

  • The NHLPA rejected the NHL’s most recent CBA proposal, which would have had the owners/players revenue split at 50/50. The union responded with three different proposals which would’ve more gradually brought the split down to 50/50. In response, the NHL has cancelled all games through the end of October. At this point it seems highly unlikely that the proposed 82-game compressed schedule could be pulled off. [NHL | Washington Times/Steven Whyno | NJ.com/Charles Curtis]
  • The Raiders received a 24-hour extension to the weekly TV blackout deadline imposed by the NFL, and were able to reach the goal of 85% of seats sold for the game Sunday vs. the Jags. Next potential blackout date: the next home game against another Florida team: Tampa Bay. (Also – kind of weird that the Raiders are playing all three Florida teams this season.) [CSN Bay Area/Paul Gutierrez]
  • The City of Reno was able to get a ballpark built in the middle of the Great Recession by getting a $55 million short-term loan. That loan will be due before the end of 2014, and the City and Reno Aces are scrambling to refinance the loan. Property taxes used to fund a TIF plan for the ballpark have dropped drastically, forcing the two parties to come up with something else. The Aces, which are owned by Indiana Pacers owner and mall magnate Herb Simon, are willing to pay $1 million in rent per year, with the rest of the $3 million annual obligation split between the City’s general fund, a ticket tax, whatever meager redevelopment money can be scraped up, and other public sources. Simon has threatened to move the team if no deal can be met. The Aces won the 2012 AAA championship and were awarded the AAA All-Star Game for 2013. [Reno Gazette Journal/Brian Duggan]
  • Lew Wolff came out against San Jose’s Measure D, which would raise the city’s minimum wage from the state’s $8/hour to $10/hour. Wolff’s argument is that the hike is unfair to hotels and restaurants in San Jose, which could potentially lose business to Santa Clara and other neighboring cities. The hike would also presumably affect seasonal employees at the two stadia Wolff wants to build, the Earthquakes Stadium and Cisco Field. Wolff played down that issue, saying that there’s less direct competition there to affect the Quakes/A’s. The City Council is split on the measure, while Mayor Chuck Reed has come out against it, along with the Chamber and Restaurants Association. My take? I hope it’s passed in San Jose, because like the plastic bag ban that was passed a couple years ago that spurred similar bans throughout the county, it could lead to a minimum wage hike countywide. As I’ve mentioned before, I have relatives who work low-pay, low-skill hotel/restaurant jobs, and they could certainly use the hike – though they don’t work in San Jose proper. [San Jose Mercury News/John Woolfolk]
  • Speaking of the Earthquakes, their groundbreaking ceremony is Sunday at 11:30 AM at 1125 Coleman Ave, San Jose. At least 5,500 have RSVP’d for the event, which should break a Guinness record. Walkups are welcome if they bring their own shovels.
  • Teams are announcing their ticket prices for the upcoming season. At least in terms of season tickets, the A’s have no change from 2012. The Cubs have announced modest drops in response to a large attendance dropoff, and the crosstown White Sox have announced even bigger cuts. [Chicago Tribune/Paul Sullivan | ChicagoNow, James Fegan]
  • The A’s announced their 2013 promotional schedule, and while it doesn’t have everything yet, there are now six fireworks nights instead of the usual five on the slate. There will now be two in August, on the 3rd and 31st.
  • The Port of Oakland placed its executive director on paid leave pending an investigation into improper spending and expensing by Port employees. This included a $4,500 tab at a Houston strip club, and numerous other suspect charges in the US and abroad by the Port’s maritime director James Kwon. Abuses could be so widespread as to be institutional. Yesterday, port workers scheduled a protest against fiscal mismanagement. The blowback from this investigation could curtail or place a trained eye on certain Port activities, such as (pre) development at Howard Terminal. Knowing the Port’s history, it’ll probably be more of the same. [SFGate/Matier & Ross | KTVU | SF Business Times/Eric Young]
  • Cal may have trouble paying off the $11.6 million annual debt service on Memorial Stadium because of lackluster premium seat sales. This smells a lot like the Mt. Davis deal. [Daily Californian/Justin Abraham]
  • The Warriors further explain their SF arena vision, with the help of Snøhetta architect Craig Dykers. The form will be “soft” and “lozenge-shaped”. The Fiscal Feasibility Report unveiled earlier this week can be viewed here. [Golden State Warriors | SocketSite]

More as it comes.

News for 8/30/12

Here we go. We’ll start off with some minor league news.

  • The Santa Cruz Warriors continue to work with the City of Santa Cruz to get their tent arena built in time for the 2012-13 D-League season. Final approval hasn’t happened yet, let alone construction, so the D-League put the Surf W’s on a loooo-o-ng road trip before the team’s first home game around Christmas. That gives the two parties 16 weeks to get the arena approved, built, and buttoned up. No pressure. The Surf W’s could play on the road for additional games until the project is completed, or if there are extensive delays or the project isn’t approved, hopefully there’s a backup plan like the San Jose Civic Auditorium. Cost for the downtown arena have already ballooned from $4 million to $5 million because of foundation issues that were identified. Ticket prices have also been released. [Santa Cruz Warriors; Santa Cruz Sentinel/J.M. Brown]
  • Head north on Highway 1 and you’ll eventually get near the Cow Palace, where the San Francisco Bulls are quietly fixing up the old arena. $2 million of updates will be paid for by the team, including a center-hung scoreboard, a first for the Cow Palace. A schedule and ticket prices have also been announced. I may have to ring up the Bulls to see if I can get a sneak peek of the place. [CSN Bay Area; SF Bulls]
  • The first debate for the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council happened last night, and the two main candidates, incumbent Rebecca Kaplan and challenger (and current D5 council member) Ignacio De La Fuente both had something to say about the tenant teams at the Coliseum complex. [East Bay Citizen; Steven Tavares]

On the issue of the city’s professional sports teams, Kaplan and De La Fuente differed, if not, in terms of their priorities for retaining the A’s, Raiders and Warriors in Oakland, with Kaplan being more optimistic. “Let’s face it, the A’s don’t know the way to San Jose,” said Kaplan, and adding the current Coliseum City proposal will bring shop owners, bars and restaurants to the city along with fans and conventioneers to the area, said Kaplan, while also creating jobs.

De La Fuente was less sanguine saying he would only turn his attention to the Coliseum once crime in Oakland is sufficiently quelled. “I learned from my mistakes,” he said, referring to the botched return of the Raiders in 1995. “They are in the business of making money,” De La Fuente said, believing the public sector should no longer have a role in financing stadiums.

  • The Earthquakes announced their general seat pricing and posted a seating chart. The big ticket item is the establishment of a 1,400-person supporters section in the closed end, which will have its own bar and storage area for the flags and banners they use during the game. Interestingly, the language is “1,400-person”, not “1,400-seat”, which leads me to believe that this area will be a standing terrace. That’s fine since fans in the supporters sections are expected to stand anyway. I’m pretty sure it’s the only to fit 1,400 people in what looks like a pretty small space between the elevated seating bowl and the pitch. [SJ Earthquakes]
  • The Quakes also announced today that they are negotiating with three Fortune 100 companies on naming rights for their 18,000-seat stadium. Fortune 100, eh? Club president said that some of these companies are tech or Silicon Valley firms. Recently, new MLS stadia have netted $2-3 million per year in naming rights, which if matched by the Quakes would go a long way towards paying off the stadium. FWIW, I don’t think any local tech company should be ruled out, including Cisco (and no, that doesn’t mean Cisco is dumping the A’s). [SJ Mercury News/Elliott Almond]
  • On Saturday I’ll be in Berkeley for the first Cal football game at the rebuilt Memorial Stadium. I’ll be sure to get there early to take lots of pictures and document the experience. Somehow I was able to buy one of the last available $19.32 tickets for the opening game. I’ll be in the south end zone, a mere 5 rows up. As an aside, I was somewhat surprised at how many tickets remained for the game. I expected a sell out long ago. One thing to consider is that we’re the only market with three FBS (D-I) college football teams. Combine that with small or not-terribly-fervent fanbases and two NFL teams, and it’s easy to see why our general reaction to college ball is a collective “Meh.” [UC Berkeley]
  • On a related note, the Pac-12 Network launched two weeks ago and is still negotiating carriage deals. Comcast is not an issue since the cable provider is a partner. The issue is working out a deal with DirecTV, which is not only the provider with the most regional sports and college networks, but also the provider of choice in most bars throughout the country thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket. DirecTV purportedly rejected a deal of $0.80 per subscriber/month, leaving many fans up and down the left coast without many opening week games. Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, and AT&T U-Verse customers are also affected. [SF Business Times/Eric Young]
  • The State Controller reversed a slew of land transfers between the cities of Milpitas, Morgan Hill, and their respective (and now defunct) redevelopment agencies. That doesn’t bode well for the Diridon ballpark land transfer, though it has to be pointed out that the Controller has already ruled once in San Jose’s favor, saying that Santa Clara County went to far in holding tax increment funds that were due to the City. [Merc /Tracy Seipel]

Finally, I have to thank a reader out there for giving me four prime tickets behind the A’s dugout for Wednesday’s day game against the Angels. I’m only going to use one, so if anyone’s interested in joining me and talking baseball and ballparks or economics, reply with a comment or send me a tweet.

More tomorrow.

Earthquakes Stadium Groundbreaking on 10/21

Prior to tonight’s Quakes-Rapids game at Buck Shaw, the Earthquakes announced that the long-awaited, oft-delayed groundbreaking will finally occur on October 21, before the home finale against the LA Galaxy.

20120825-182147.jpg

Quakes President David Kaval makes the big stadium announcement. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed (in blue) was also there in support.

Knowing how long the fanbase has suffered waiting for the Quakes’ permanent home to be built, the team is making the groundbreaking a big public event. They’re inviting every fan to come to the ceremony and participate, in hopes of breaking the Guinness record of 4,532 simultaneous “groundbreakers” at a similar ceremony in India. Sounds like fun. Will the Quakes have enough hard hats on hand?

Update 7:00 PM – The San Jose Earthquakes have put up a press release for the event, which will be at noon on October 21. Fans can RSVP for the ceremony here.

News for 6/21/12

Good stuff in this edition.

  • Save Oakland Sports is having one of its regular meetings next Monday, June 25 @ 6 PM, at the Red Lion Hotel, 150 Hegenberger, Oakland.
  • CBS Radio and Cumulus (parent of KNBR) announced a new sports radio network that will launch in January. The network is expected to feature talent currently on CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network. A key talent on the latter is Jim Rome, whose daily TV show launched in April. Rome’s radio show is syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks (a News Corp. subsidiary), so there’s some natural friction there. I have to think that Rome came to CBS-SN with the idea that he might jump to this new radio network too at some point, though at some $30 million per year, his radio persona doesn’t come cheap. Both of the KNBR stations were identified as future network affiliates for the CBS Sports Radio, which creates a bit of a juggling situation for Cumulus. Will Cumulus continue to pay decent money to be an ESPN Radio affiliate and carry some Fox Sports Radio programming on the side? If not, does that free up ESPN Radio to move to The Game? And how does an ESPN Radio relationship conform with The Game’s cozy relationship with Comcast Sportsnet? Fantasy radio operators, start your typewriters.
  • Oakland’s City Council approved a $1 billion plan to finally remake the Oakland Army Base. Unlike some of the more glamorous or controversial plans that have been proposed (movie studio, casino, big box retail, auto row), this one will stay true to the base’s largest neighbor: the Port of Oakland. The plan will include new infrastructure, warehousing by ProLogis, and a logistics center. Every so often the base has come up in discussion here as a potential stadium site, but it’s an idea that’s never had legs within City Hall.
  • Greg Jamison’s quest to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes has hit a big roadblock in the form of a lawsuit by the Goldwater Institute. Now there are questions as to whether Jamison, who is not a billionaire, can pull off the acquisition without the sweetheart deal approved by the City of Glendale that would subsidize the team’s continued operation at Jobing.com Arena. The franchise, which is owned by the NHL at the moment, is being forced to lawyer up to complete the sale. If that can’t happen…
  • The City of Seattle and Chris Hansen are getting ready to finalize their new SoDo arena plan. Hansen would pay around 60%, with the remaining 40% coming from public sources. The political minefield is being negotiated right now, as the City Council doesn’t want the plan to come to a public vote, and the Port of Seattle is objecting because it fears that the arena will adversely impact port operations. Any team (NHL, NBA) that relocates to Seattle would play temporarily at Key Arena while the new arena is being built.
  • This week’s cautionary tale about public stadium financing comes from Chester, PA, where not only has a MLS stadium not been a development catalyst, the stadium tenant Philadelphia Union missed a $500k PILOT payment in 2010.
  • The BCS will have a four-team playoff starting in 2014. Semifinal games would rotate among the four current BCS sites, with the championship game going to the highest bidder among them.
  • Jim Caple has another one of his ballpark column series, this time an elimination tournament of all 30 MLB parks. In the tournament, fans can vote online for their favorite ballpark in each matchup. We’re at the semifinal stage, with Fenway Park (seeded #2) facing off against AT&T Park (#3) and Camden Yards (#4) vs. tourney Cinderella Miller Park (#24). The Coliseum was seeded #28 and lost in the first round to Target Field (#5) by a whopping 91% to 9% with over 60,000 votes, which is about right. Don’t feel bad though. New Yankee Stadium also lost in a landslide. The Coli’s Mt. Davis was also awarded Worst View. Finally, Caple gets a shoutout to Shibe Park, which ended up #8 in his list of places he wishes were still around.

Happy reading.