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.

The growing black hole (Update: Blackwell quits)

Update 4:15 PMThe Chronicle reports that Oakland City Administrator Fred Blackwell has left his job to become CEO of the San Francisco Foundation. Who exactly is going to do all the dealmaking that Blackwell was doing before?

Just so we get this straight…

Last summer, the Raiders stadium at Coliseum City was projected to cost $700 million, with a $300-400 million funding gap.

In November, the cost estimate was raised to $900 million, with a $400-500 million funding gap.

Yesterday, new Oakland City Administrator Fred Blackwell was interviewed by the Trib’s Matthew Artz. In passing, he mentioned that the funding gap has ballooned to a whopping $500-600 million.

He did note that one of his top projects, getting a new football stadium built for the Oakland Raiders, remained a struggle. Blackwell said the stadium project faces a $500 million to $600 million shortfall that would have to be subsidized by additional development within the Coliseum complex. While he praised the city’s business partners working on the deal, he said “there are a lot of things that can go wrong in a negotiation of that complexity.”

The biggest thing than can go wrong in any stadium project is not knowing how it gets paid for. Coliseum City is clearly at that moment. $600 million just off the development proceeds and fees? Sure, if they have 500 acres to develop at the Coliseum. In this case it’s only 100 acres, and much of that land is already taken up by the pre-existing venues.

How does this gap keep growing? Are the sides still having trouble determining what the proper stadium vision is? For some time the Raiders and the NFL have wanted a smaller, open-air stadium. The City wants a bigger, retractable dome venue that could also be used as a convention center and to attract future Super Bowls. If there’s still no consensus on the scope of the project a year in, it’s not confidence inspiring. And Mark Davis claims he’s being left in the dark.

Already the backers of Coliseum City are looking into alternatives. Perhaps that will involve the existing Coliseum, or further scaling back or cost-engineering the new stadium. The Raiders may even be considered too expensive to retain. Either way, this stadium project has turned into a money pit. Or a black hole, and not the kind cheers emanate from.

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.

2014 Coliseum Opening Night thoughts

Some takeaways from walking around the Coliseum tonight:

- Metal detectors at the BART Plaza gates were extremely sensitive, forcing nearly everyone to be wanded. If you’re going to do that, just wand everyone and skip the first step.
- I like the new concessions booths, especially the corn dog/popper stand behind the LF bleachers. Those corn dogs are huge (though not $25 Chase Field huge).
- Craft beer bar at the back of the Bar & Grille (West Side Club) is good despite the high price ($11). Short lines and you don’t have to deal with the lines of people ordering mixed drinks or macro brews at the big bar. Plus you can order the custom pizzas there if you like.
- Most of the new color came from the redone concessions stands. Some had paint, others vinyl coverings. The burrito stand on the Plaza Level looked good.
- I had originally planned to get Field Infield seats this year, but pulled back for the Value Deck. I’m going to play around with the ticket Upgrade feature on the MLB At The Ballpark app throughout the year to see what kinds of options it provides. Tonight’s sellout crowd provides little inventory as you might imagine.
- There remain problems dealing with e-tickets, as not all scanners can handle them, apparently. Worse, I didn’t get my $6 food/merch credit. Not good.

Stadium operations was robbed of a proper “dry run” on Saturday with the cancellation, though I couldn’t tell that service was better or worse with Ovations. That’s something that will have to be judged over time.

Anyone else who attended the game have thoughts?

Coliseum gets upgrades for fans, media, players alike

The Coliseum will look a little different from last year or even FanFest. A number of improvements have been made, from fresh paint and changes to the dugouts and clubhouses to the redone West Side Club. Here’s the press release announcing the changes, courtesy of the Coliseum Authority:

For Immediate Release                                Contact: Dan Cohen/Edit Ruano                                              March 30, 2014

 

 

New Improvements to the O.co Coliseum Will Greet Oakland A’s Fans, Players, and Media for the Start of the 2014 Baseball Season

Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Authority and the Oakland A’s have invested in improved security, upgrades to press and player amenities, and new food options

 

OAKLAND, CA – A’s fans visiting the O.co Coliseum to watch a game this year have a number of new improvements to look forward to – and so do the A’s players, opponents, umpires, and media.  The Coliseum Authority and the Oakland A’s made significant investments in the off-season to improve the experience for all guests.  This includes improved security at the entrance, new food and beverage selections at the stadium, and improved amenities for players, fans, and media.

 

“A’s fans have been looking forward to the start of the 2014 baseball season all winter, and we want their return to the O.co Coliseum to be a positive one,” said Authority Chair and Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley. “That’s why we are so excited about all the work that has been happening at the stadium during the off-season this year. It’s more than a fresh coat of paint – it’s about us addressing the needs of our loyal fans.”

 

For A’s fans, here are some new improvements to expect:

  • New look: The O.co Coliseum has been fully re-painted and new Kentucky blue grass sod has been laid on the field as it is each year before the season.  New investments in groundskeeping machinery, including industrial lawnmowers and a “laser-leveling system,” will allow the Authority to maintain the field more easily and effectively.
  • New concessionaire & food items: The Oakland A’s, which are in charge of the concessionaire contract, have brought in an exciting array of new items and are upgrading the concession experience/facilities. Fans will now have access to even more premium beers and new food items like wood-fired pizzas, and more!
  • Improved “Ring” Road:  The Coliseum Authority will repave the road that circumnavigates the stadium after the initial homestand.
  • Improved security: The Authority will provide state-of-the-art magnetic screening equipment that fans can quickly pass through as they enter. The Oakland’s A’s will provide personnel to manage the screening.

 

 

For the players, umpires and media, improvements include:

  • Remodeled dugouts: Both the home team and visitor dugouts have been upgraded with new padded benches, upgraded flooring, new dugout phones, water fountains, and new bathroom fixtures and paint.
  • Upgraded lockers: The home team, visitor, and umpire locker rooms all have new rubberized floors and showers.
  • Updated press box: Members of the press will now have access to flatscreen televisions, and new tables, carpets, restrooms and ceilings.

 

“We are excited about this season and confident that fans who come to the stadium and the players will have a winning experience,” said Chris Wright, VP of AEG Facilities and GM of O.co Coliseum & Oracle Arena. “Now, it’s time to play ball!”

 

To download pictures of the improvements, please visit:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/kuljv0oejnuxp4n/gg26JgTftW?lst

 

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About the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Authority:

The Authority is a public partnership between the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda (owners of the Coliseum Complex) that manages the Complex on behalf of City and County.  The Authority subcontracts the day-to-day operations of the Complex to AEG.  An eight-member Board of Commissioners governs the Authority.  Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley currently serves as the Chair of the Board, and Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid serves as the Vice-Chair.

Let’s hope that the weather cooperates tonight so that everyone can enjoy the changes. The one I care about most? You can guess:

20 craft beers now available in the West Side Club

20 craft and import beers now available in the West Side Club

Last 2014 Cactus League Ballpark Reviews

I’ve been playing catch up in terms of news, so for the sake of consolidation I’m putting the remainder of my Cactus League ballpark write-ups in a single post. Enjoy.

Peoria

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No Cactus League ballpark typifies the 90’s more than Peoria Stadium. From the color choice to materials and signage and circulation, it all feels 20 years old. Sure it feels dated the way anything a generation ago feels dated. Then again, personally, I enjoyed the 90’s. There’s nothing cool about Peoria. It isn’t old enough to be regarded in a retro-cool or ironically cool way. There is, however, plenty of good.

For decades the Padres played way out in Yuma, a 2-hour bus ride from Phoenix. The team’s move to the West Valley suburb of Peoria marked the start of consolidation within the Cactus League. They also share the Peoria Sports Complex with the Mariners, the first such arrangement when the complex opened in 1994.

Like most of the West Valley ballparks, access is a little painful. Instead of dealing with the awful I-10/I-17 weeknight traffic headache, I took the Loop 101 around North Scottsdale and Phoenix to get there. The main exit to get to the park was severely backed up, so I drove one further and found a back way to get to Peoria Sports Complex. A shopping center is adjacent to the complex. Parking costs $5, though you could probably get away with parking for free at the shopping center.

I was extremely fortunate when I got to the gate. I walked up to a table selling $8 lawn tickets. The sellers asked me if I was alone. When I replied that I was, they handed me a ticket given to them by some Giants fans (game was Giants-Padres) who had an extra. The ticket was for the upper grandstand behind the plate. I happily took the ticket for free and walked in. Later I spoke to the wonderful ladies who furnished the ticket and found out that they were from the South Bay. One of them was an A’s fan.

There’s a pronounced carnival atmosphere inside the concourse, with a kids’ field not far away and numerous food tents. The concourse is incredibly spacious, though the game can’t be seen from behind the grandstand. A full upper level includes the press box, suites, and club seats. One major demerit is the almost complete lack of a roof for shade. Day games here can be brutal when it’s very warm.

Banks of bleachers are set up down the lines, leading to the outfield berm. Food and beverage tents and trailers are set up behind the berm. Four Peaks has a beer tent with the most reasonably priced craft brews in the region at $7.50. A frybread stand is not far away. More diverse food offerings are available at Peoria than at any other Cactus League park, probably because Peoria and the M’s/Pads aren’t afraid to let independent vendors work the concourses. If you’re sick of the standard ballpark food available at many other parks, Peoria has you covered.

Prior to the start of the Cactus League season, the City of Peoria finished numerous improvements to the complex. The vast majority of those improvements focused on the team facilities. The Padres and Mariners both got upgraded administration buildings, replete with new weight rooms and other modern touches. Little was done to Peoria Stadium. The old scoreboard remains. No seating changes were made. No new buildings within the ballpark were constructed. The upper half of the grandstand, whose first row is elevated several feet above the concourse, allows for fans to stand directly in front of it without impacting the views of other fans seated behind the standees. This was preserved. That alone may make Peoria the best ballpark in the Cactus League. All of the newest parks have standing areas 25 rows back along the concourse. In Peoria it’s half that distance.

The quirkiest playing element within the Cactus League also resides at Peoria. The batter’s eye is integrated into the outfield fence, which means that a home run to center has to clear a 40-foot wall. That seems sadistic.

Peoria doesn’t attempt to mimic a Major League experience. The City and teams know what works best there, and they haven’t tried to change it much. Eventually cosmetic changes will need to be made, but those shouldn’t affect the overall feel of the ballpark. Keep it fan-friendly, keep it casual, and the winning recipe at Peoria can continue indefinitely.

Maryvale

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The Brewers have spent spring training at Maryvale for seemingly forever. The neighborhood in West Phoenix is no garden spot, yet Maryvale provides a nice oasis. As a single facility with a stadium and training facility, Maryvale does the job for the Brewers reasonably well. The team has made murmurs about getting upgrades, but the City of Phoenix isn’t having any of it for now. Might as well make the best of it.

The complex is within Phoenix city limits, so it’s not way out in the sticks. Access can be a chore thanks to a single main road leading to the stadium from I-10. A good alternate route is to check the streets west of the complex, most of which allow for parking. A regular bus travels along Indian School road to within a 10 minute walk of the complex.

Maryvale received a wholesale revamp in 1998. Far more stylized than Peoria or HoHoKam, many of the design elements work well. There’s a good mix of sun and shade along the concourse. The concourse itself is fairly narrow, creating jams at all of the concession stands. The press/suite building stands on stilts above the concourse, which was necessary because space is at a premium here. A benefit of this is a 360-degree concourse with views from everywhere. From afar the press box looks like it’s floating above the rest of the ballpark. Expansion anywhere within the ballpark seems unlikely unless the Brewers or Phoenix plow a lot of money into the project.

One oddity of the ballpark is that there are only two gates, each well down the lines. It’s common to see fans looking for a gate at home plate and having to walk around much of the stadium to find a gate. The lack of an entrance or anything else besides a fence behind the plate makes the park look facadeless.

The outfield berm is split by a walkway. Many fans sit along the back berm despite being obstructed by other walking fans because trees provide shade. The lower berm extends behind the batter’s eye and around the left and right field foul poles past the bullpens. Unfortunately there are no concession stands along the berm, forcing berm attendees to travel to the main concourse to get anything besides beer. That makes the concourses even more cramped. A basic scoreboard is in left, sans video or graphics.

When I visited, the Brewers AA/AAA camp was hosting the A’s equivalent side, so I headed to the auxiliary fields to check the games out. If you’ve never watched minor league camp games, you should at least once. Few fans attend, and you can sit or stand right along the backstop. Have your minor league rosters handy, as there are no PA announcers. Sometimes you’ll see rehabbing major leaguers in short stints. It’s easy to move between the fields, and you’ll frequently share the common area with players. There are no concessions sold here, and it’s free. You can bring whatever snacks you like.

Back at the ballpark, food offerings are spartan. The expected list of Miller and Leinenkugel beers are available. The Brewers brought their trademark brats and stadium sauce. Beyond that there isn’t much. A shopping district with fast food and other restaurants sit north of the complex along Indian School.

Maryvale could use a little more space on the concourses, and more food variety. The scoreboard needs an upgrade. Other than those quibbles, the ballpark and complex perform their duties competently. Unless the Astros come to the Cactus League and partner up on yet another dual-team facility, this will be the Brewers’ home for some time to come.

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Tempe Diablo Stadium

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There’s little to say about this place other than the word “Diablo” is appropriate. It’s a devil of a time parking near the stadium or walking along the 15-foot-wide main concourse. About the only thing good about Tempe Diablo is its relatively central location, but even that is problematic because the park is nudged up against a freeway. Visit it once and never again, unless you’re an Angels fan and you have no choice.