Last minute inclusion of new Oakland stadium boosts SF’s Olympic bid

Word came yesterday that the US Olympic Committee was going to select its choice as the bid city for the 2024 Olympics. A month ago, I considered the bid doomed because of its wasteful temporary stadium in Brisbane. Now it looks as if wiser minds have prevailed, as San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf held a conference call today to promote a new wrinkle in the plan: a main stadium for track and field and the opening/closing ceremonies at the Coliseum complex. Phil Matier has the scoop. Though bid presentations were made in mid-December, there was nothing stopping BASOC from amending the proposal to include the new stadium concept.

That concept is eerily similar to what I suggested a month ago. The stadium would be outfitted for the Olympics, but built for the Raiders in the long run. The idea of a “legacy” stadium could significantly boost the Bay Area’s bid, which was hampered by the $350 million, pop-up stadium on the windy stretch of Peninsula south of the ‘Stick. While pop-up stadia are a great idea in principle, in actual practice they haven’t proven to be as versatile or reusable as originally thought, especially in the case of London’s Olympic Stadium. Maybe another decade will bring technology that can make such a concept more efficient, but I wouldn’t pin a bid’s hopes on it. That’s why a stadium that works for both the Olympics and the Raiders makes sense. Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium was transformed into Turner Field, which was perfectly fine for 20 years until the Braves decided they wanted to chase suburban dollars in Cobb County. That shouldn’t be an issue with the Raiders in Oakland.

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The rest of the bid appears to be designed to look as compact as possible given the dearth of major outdoor facilities within SF city limits. It has AT&T Park repurposed for beach volleyball, the W’s SF arena used for gymnastics and basketball (finals, presumably), Aquatic Park for staging many long distance events, and Harding Park for golf. Some of the more debatable choices include Treasure Island for a series of new facilities (BMX, tennis, sailing). While Treasure Island offers a great backdrop for a BMX track, so does the Embarcadero. Stanford’s Taube Family Tennis Center is arguably the best in Northern California and would only need a temporary stadium expansion to be compliant.

Sites in the East and South Bay are not numerous, especially when compared to the 2012 and 2016 bids. Stanford is only listed for the pentathlon, an outdoor event not dependent on a large stadium. SAP Center is the volleyball venue, while Haas Pavilion is a key basketball venue and Oracle Arena is listed for handball (I think these should be reversed). The Coliseum complex was originally going to have the arena and a new velodrome. Having a velodrome, stadium, and arena there creates a nice hub of activity.

Mercury News map shows locations of venues, does not include new Oakland stadium at Coliseum

Mercury News map shows locations of venues, does not include new Oakland stadium at Coliseum

A hub-based plan is what Los Angeles is going for. Leaning on its previous Olympic experience, LA could be considered the favorite if the chief criteria is efficiency. The compactness of the bid belies LA’s reputation for sprawl, with most of the venues within 10-15 miles of each other. To achieve that compactness even Orange County has been cut out of the bid. Somehow the LA River will be a “feature” of the bid, which could give rise to the least photogenic Olympics ever (Beijing’s smoggy skies providing stiff competition).

Hubs were a feature of Bay Area’s previous bids, but with Stanford 30 miles away from downtown SF, the Bay Area’s hubs were going to be too far flung. Eventually, if the Bay Area bid beats out the others, BASOC and USOC will have to consider better utilizing Stanford and Cal to contain costs. In Matier’s report he suggests that the two West Coast cities lead the pack. Boston has many geographical advantages and is the most compact city, but it lacks many major venues and may be considered too small to make it work. Washington’s bid depends its own Olympic-NFL stadium, replacing RFK Stadium and allowing their NFL team to come back from the Maryland suburbs. Washington has the worst weather, and is dragged down by its perception abroad. SF may be the golden child in terms of image, and is certainly the prettiest locale of the four.

Later today the USOC will meet in a conference room inside Denver International Airport’s terminal. After the decision is made the committee will announce the decision and fly out to the winning city for a press conference. The list of cities on the 2024 Summer Olympics Wikipedia page is not all that impressive despite the name recognition, so 2024 is as good a chance for the US to win as any in the last decade or so. The final selection by the IOC will take place in 2017, so the winner tomorrow will have a lot of time to work with the USOC on fine-tuning its submission.

P.S. – If SF is chosen, and the Raiders sign on to a NFL-Olympics stadium at the Coliseum, chances are that the A’s would be gone. It’d be difficult to have a new stadium, the existing arena, a cycling velodrome, and a new ballpark at the Complex. It’s simply too crowded. Making the parking situation work while supporting several years of construction over multiple phases is a bit much to ask of “permanent” tenants like the pro sports teams.

P.P.S. – There are a number of political and infrastructural issues to tackle should SF get the nod. I’m hesitant to write anything about that stuff until a bid is chosen.

Kroenke’s gambit may force NFL to act

Stan Kroenke is an extremely wealthy guy. He is worth more than $6 billion on his own, combined with his Walmart heir wife they’re worth $13 billion combined. If Kroenke wanted to build a stadium on his own, he most certainly has the resources to do it. That doesn’t mean he will. But the potential is there.

So it was more than a little curious when Kroenke acquired 60 acres of parking lot between The Forum and the Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood. It’s an opening move that sets up numerous possibilities. He could move the Rams to LA against the other NFL owners’ wishes, a rogue move that would have to withstand legal battles. He could partner with the NFL and facilitate a two-team venue. He could stay in St. Louis by squeezing every last nickel out of the State of Missouri, which is planning to unveil new stadium plans on Friday. He could also stay put at the Edward Jones Dome, leaving the various threats hanging over many heads. Stan Kroenke has a first mover advantage, one that threatens to disrupt the NFL is myriad ways.

Thing is, despite Kroenke’s vast wealth and sports portfolio, he has only one new stadium opening under his belt, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in the suburban Denver area. He has usually bought teams after their new venues were built. The Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche were a package deal two years after the Pepsi Center opened. Kroenke was a minority partner in the Rams when Georgia Frontiere died, allowing him to buy the Rams in 2009. He bought English football club Arsenal after Emirates Stadium was completed.

Should Kroenke decide to move the Rams to the City of Champions development in Inglewood, he would forego the NFL’s G-4 loan program, which can hand out up to $200 million per team. The 80,000-seat retractable roof stadium would be the new West Coast Super Bowl rotation favorite. Or would it?

The NFL would prefer to have two teams in LA, to keep from any single owner profiting too heavily on the LA market. Any of the three teams (Rams, Raiders, Chargers) that moved to LA would conservatively double their franchise valuations once they arrived, with greater riches coming from new stadium revenue. Kroenke’s move is barely above squatting, since it would be in keeping with a 2016 timetable. Other than that, Kroenke’s move spells trouble for the NFL if their hope is to control the transition(s).

The NFL has staff working on potential relocations for all three teams, trying to work out ways that maximize value for the owners while minimizing short-term revenue damage in respective markets. The league would prefer to announce the teams and venues on its own schedule. It appears to be working on a deal with AEG for Farmers Field. Just as important, the NFL would like to control the LA Super Bowl venue. It could do that by partnering with AEG and bringing in a single team, providing competition for Inglewood.

Think about the impact of TWO large, indoor-outdoor NFL venues in LA. The NFL could punish Kroenke by never awarding the Super Bowl to Inglewood, which would hurt him in the wallet. There’s nothing he could do about it. Farmers Field would be in the Super Bowl rotation instead, every 5-6 years. Beyond that, AEG/NFL and Kroenke would be competing for Final Fours, college football playoff and bowl games, soccer and rugby matches, and mega-concerts for the Southland. They’d also compete for large corporate sponsors. A stadium bidding war, turned on its head.

Could LA properly support some $3 billion in mega-domes? There are already plenty of questions about the LA’s willingness (not ability per se) to support a single team. Two domes, with 300 luxury suites and 15,000 club seats to sell will be a strain, even in mighty LA. Having it all in one venue softens the blow. With two competing venues selling out is a must. It’s easy to see a sort of stadium arms race happening in LA, with the two competing stadia trying to leapfrog each other in terms of amenities, scoreboards, and perks. The NFL, which has spent decades successfully extorting other cities out of billions in stadium subsidies, would have to subsidize a money pit of its own. That’s not a war that the NFL wants to get into. It would rather work hand-in-hand with Kroenke or AEG, provide that regular Super Bowl carrot, move the NFL Network studios to that stadium, have two teams in the same building, and maximize revenue. Threatening to build a competing facility in LA takes away Kroenke’s first mover advantage, since the NFL has more cards to play than Kroenke. It also doesn’t hurt that AEG has a certified EIR for its stadium, whereas Kroenke hasn’t started one yet.

Since the Inglewood announcement, I’ve seen a lot of conjecture about what Kroenke’s gambit means for the other teams. Many in the media have said that the chances of the Raiders staying in Oakland become better. Sure, as long as it’s only the Rams moving there. If, as outlined in the previous paragraphs, the NFL decides to compete with Kroenke, Mark Davis will undoubtedly trample everyone in his path to be at the front of the line for a Raiders move south. After all, he’d get a stadium all to himself during the regular season, along with all the benefits of splitting the #2 market. He wouldn’t deserve the windfall, but it would work out perfectly with his M.O.: let the process play out while letting others spend the money and take the arrows.

Football Stadium Proposal Tale of the Tape

I put together a simple table explaining the differences between the various stadium+ proposals being bandied about in California. Some of the information below is subject to change.

Click for larger version

Click for larger version


Happy New Year! Stan Kroenke and Inglewood have an LA stadium plan

Update 10:50 AM: The NFL released a statement that doesn’t actually address Kroenke or Hollywood Park, at least not until 2016. From league spokesman Brian McCarthy:

“No team has applied for relocation and there will be no team relocations for the 2015 season. We are committed to working towards having franchises that are strong and successful in their existing markets. Any decision on relocation in 2016 or later is subject to approval by the 32 clubs.  An affirmative vote by 24 of 32 clubs (three-fourths) is required.”

Overhead of plan:

New Hollywood Park plan with football stadium

New Hollywood Park plan with football stadium

The LA Times’ Sam Farmer and Roger Vincent have a bombshell to start your week: Rams owner Stan Kroenke is partnering with the capital and master developer behind Hollywood Park to add an 80,000-seat football stadium to the current plans.

Artist rendering of Inglewood’s City of Champions project, with NFL stadium in background

SF-based Wilson Meany is the development partner (think of JRDV for Coliseum City), with plans already in the works. Adding Kroenke’s recently acquired 60 acres to the adjacent 238 acres brings to total development to nearly 300 acres, a massive complex of easily redevelopable land, 50% more than the refocused vision in Oakland. Wilson Meany already has experience redeveloping a race track, having redone Bay Meadows in phases going back a decade. Bay Meadows is a much smaller site than Hollywood Park at 83.5 acres.

Stockbridge Capital, also based in SF, is a large real estate investment that often sinks its teeth into large projects. Stockbridge bankrolled Bay Meadows, hotels in Las Vegas, and more staid assets like office parks throughout the country. It’s a bit ironic that two SF companies are partnering on Hollywood Park, whereas a consortium of mostly SoCal interests are behind Coliseum City.

Kroenke's land is between the Forum (upper left corner) and the large race track.

Kroenke’s land is between the Forum (upper left corner) and the large race track. Note plane flying overhead.

Anyone who reads this site is well aware of the Rams’ current situation in St. Louis. The football team beat the operator of the Edward Jones Dome (a public authority), which entitles the Rams to $700 million in improvements – or a completely new stadium if renovation doesn’t make sense. This was thanks to perhaps the most team-friendly lease in pro sports. A package of renovations was not approved by the City, putting the Rams into a year-to-year lease with no penalty for leaving. As the rumor mill of teams escaping to LA heated up, St. Louis civic and business interests including a former Anheuser-Busch exec put together preliminary plans for a stadium near the Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River. Financing is unclear, with another decade of debt still remaining on the existing Dome in addition to new stadium debt (sound familiar?). Chances are that the State of Missouri will have to be involved in the same manner they’re involved currently, to the tune of a $12 million annual subsidy. St. Louis, meet Oakland. Create a support group.

Teams still won’t apply to move for 2015, as Roger Goodell is pulling the strings here. Instead, this move and maybe another by AEG down the road will ratchet up pressure on St. Louis, Oakland, and San Diego to deliver stadium deals in short order. Inglewood intends to put full Hollywood Park plan before voters this November. Having rejected the Chargers’ desire for a downtown stadium near the convention center and Petco Park, San Diego has a tall order to come up with a satisfactory plan for all parties before the calendar turns to 2016. It’ll be interesting to see how Rams ticket sales are affected by this announcement, since it’s Kroenke, not some third party, doing it.

The Raiders’ lease at the Coliseum has already expired, and the team has given indications that it wants a new short-term deal. Mark Davis prefers a repeat of the previous lease, a 1-year deal that forgoes previously-desired stadium revenue streams in favor of maximum flexibility. Knowing that and the ticking clock, will Oakland put up much of a fight as it did in last summer’s drawn out negotiations with the A’s? It seems unlikely. Oakland has precious little leverage at the moment, especially as it tries to work on plans with both the Raiders and A’s, football team in the driver’s seat.

With the Inglewood announcement, the NFL’s grand plan comes into clearer view. The league has been very hands-off with the teams and cities over the last 1-2 years, allowing their respective political processes to play out. Rules required teams to make good-faith efforts towards new stadia in incumbent markets, all done in various ways for all three teams. St. Louis dared the Rams to go to arbitration and lost badly. San Diego let its convention center’s interest override the Chargers and lost the script on a football stadium. The Raiders stayed involved to a minimal degree with Coliseum City as that project flailed repeatedly. Now the NFL, through its relocation team, can start to hammer cities with demands. If those demands aren’t met, well, hopefully those respective mayors have made the proper political calculations as to what football stadium subsidies mean to their tenures.

2016 has started off with a bang. Meanwhile, Lew Wolff sits back and waits.

P.S. – BTW, if you haven’t kept up on Bay Meadows, it’s not nearly finished. Development was kept on a slow track thanks to the recession and a desire for controlled growth. Phase II is underway.

Maybe the 49ers should’ve built a dome instead

Remember the famed groundbreaking for the 49ers stadium in 2012? It was a joyous regalia, with red carpet for VIPs and an artificial turf field where the grass field would eventually be placed. Little did the 49ers and Santa Clara know that the fake grass would end up being the best-looking field all the way through the stadium’s first year of existence.

If they only knew how it would work out 30 months later...

If they only knew how it would work out 30 months later…

Tonight, a crowd resembling an late-April A’s game at the Coliseum “filled” the seats at Levi’s Stadium for the Foster Farms Bowl. Despite being local, Stanford’s small student body and alumni base was not going to buy the team’s 9,000-ticket allotment. Maryland, having jumped from the ACC to the Big Ten (oops, B1G), is not a great football power whose fanbase travels well. Add to that the thoroughly abused field, plus blustery winds and a chill that were far more reminiscent of the ‘Stick than of sunny Santa Clara (remember how fans were frying in the seats in September?), and the optics more than a little disappointing. The only notable thing, other than the Cardinal’s offense actually looking cohesive, was Foster Farms’ sponsorship of the whole affair, punctuated by animatronic chickens singing 80’s karaoke favorites during the commercial breaks. The bowl’s executive director expressed hope for a Cal-Michigan matchup next year. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Meeeesh-igan, for some reason, won’t end up as low as 6th (thereby qualifying for the game) in the B1G next season.

Somehow, nearly everything about Levi’s Stadium has ended up disappointing in 2014. The field has been bad enough to be planted five separate times. A stadium that loudly touts its LEED Gold certification can’t properly grow grass. That should change for 2015 with new dirt and sod, if not the roof deck may have heads on pikes as featured attractions. The late summer heat chased fans to the concourses, leading to empty seats. The 49ers were shut out in their first home preseason game. As the team continued to disappoint on the field, novelty and public curiosity wore off, leading to even more empty seats and a lot of head-scratching about the venue. The Pac-12 championship game was poorly attended. The Foster Farms Bowl was even worse.

Was Levi’s Stadium too luxurious? Yes. Did it lack character? Absolutely. Was it worse in ways you wouldn’t anticipate going in? Sure. Can it be fixed? Perhaps not to the degree everyone would like.

The irony of all this disappointment is that considering the >$1.2 billion spent on the stadium, they could’ve put a dome on the thing and fixed a good number of those problems. An enclosed stadium with a roof fixes the summer heat and tonight’s wind, and it could be done without needing climate control, a la Safeco Field. It probably fixes the grass problem, since the stadium would have either Field Turf or a grass tile system like in Houston, so no grass debacle. Yes, a retractable dome would kill the open feel of the stadium. The flip side to that argument is that the footprint would have to be more compact, with fans closer and a more intimate setting.

And like other domes, which attract Final Fours and multiple Super Bowls without weather worries, a domed Levi’s Stadium would be a more flexible venue overall. I recognize that a dome – retractable or fixed – is anathema to building in the Bay Area, where the very site on which Levi’s Stadium sits was once part of the incredibly fertile “Valley of Heart’s Delight.” If anything, we’ve found out that the environment, and human reaction to the environment, are much more fickle than we’re initially willing to admit. An add-on dome is not a realistic option for Levi’s Stadium, considering the limited space around the stadium to support it and the way it was built in the first place. Seat licenses make midfield ticket holders just as likely to retreat to the clubs or not show up at all if they don’t feel it’s worth it. There’s little the 49ers can do at the moment to fix it, though I expect them to experiment a lot on different types of service going into next season.

Levi’s Stadium inaugural season hasn’t gone the way Jed York would’ve wanted. Neither has the team’s collapse. Fixing the 49er fan experience means more than merely providing new amenities to escape to. It means providing value for every fan in every seat location, everywhere throughout the stadium. Providing solutions for that problem will require some Silicon Valley ingenuity, but more importantly it will require swallowing some pride and getting back to basics. That’s innovation that not many companies get right, whether in tech, sports, or hospitality. I’ll write more about what that could entail – for football and baseball – in the new year.

Could cities use eminent domain to acquire teams? Don’t hold your breath

Field of Schemes‘ Neil deMause has an intriguing article at VICE Sports today positing the idea of teams buying teams via eminent domain. It’s not an entirely original idea. You see it on a message board every so often, and the City of Oakland famously tried to use ED to keep the Raiders from moving to LA (it failed). deMause doesn’t consider any eminent domain proceedings to be a slam dunk, as their efficacy could vary wildly based on jurisdiction. Instead, deMause looks at the ED threat as a cudgel to use against another threat, the move threat teams often wield over cities. Whether or not teams actually talk about moving to other markets, the possibility of being tied up in court, having to open the books, etc., might make team owners think twice about it.

As for eminent domain actually having teeth, it’s difficult to argue for it. California already has two cases on the books that support teams and leagues over cities, and of the teams that have recently built or are looking to build new venues, none are using that extortion weapon – except perhaps for Arte Moreno against Anaheim.

The Green Bay Packers are often touted as the model for publicly-owned sports franchises. The franchise was stabilized nearly 90 years ago when they became run as a public corporation, with real stock sales. Once issued, shares cannot be resold except back to the franchise, and the stock doesn’t offer any sort of dividend or significant voting rights, so they’re mostly for stadium improvements or for financially supporting the team, which struggled through the Great Depression.

Let’s say Raiders fans wanted to try such a model in Oakland. They’d have to raise $1 billion, or 10 million shares at $100 each. A new stadium would also cost around $1 billion, so make that 20 million shares. If the NFL was amenable to the idea (they have disallowed publicly owned franchises except for allowing the Packers to be grandfathered in), it might work. 20 million shares at $100 with no tangible returns is pretty hard sell, though cheaper than Coliseum City when you think about total costs. deMause floated the idea of cities using eminent domain, then raising bonds for the team purchase. Cities don’t have the cash to competitively outbid private parties in today’s escalating franchise sales wars. If eminent domain were considered legal for this purpose, it’d probably be the only way a city could buy a franchise.

You may consider the concept of cities attempting to own sports franchises a serious overreach of government power and responsibility. On the other hand, you might see it as a reasonable alternative to the increasingly money-driven, greedy ownership model we currently see. A third way might be the public stock offering, which worked in Green Bay and is also in use to a much greater degree in European soccer. Whatever your take, the very rich men who plowed nine or ten figures into their sports franchise investments have zero desire to change the current ownership model. If that is legitimately threatened, you can be sure that they’ll fight to the bitter end to protect those investments. While I wouldn’t expect it to happen, challenging the status quo can often be a good thing. I’d like to see what happens. It’s not my retainer, after all.

Holiday offering – a schedule of every major and minor league game in 2015

I’ve been working on something on and off for the past few weeks, and since it’s Christmas and I’ve gotten it done early, I figured this was a good time to offer up a piece of it.


Sample of schedule

It’s a travel grid of every regular season major and minor league baseball regular season game everywhere in 2015, from Miami Marlins to the Vancouver Canadiens, from the Portland Sea Dogs to our very own Oakland Athletics. Download it, marvel at it, have your eyes glaze over, remix it, and send me some feedback via email or the comments if you feel like it. I’ve checked it many, many times over, but I can’t guarantee that it’s completely error-free, so if you see something amiss please point it out to me.


Have a safe and happy holiday, wherever you are.

P.S. – I just noticed that the PDF, if it were printed on a single sheet, would be 93 inches by 55 inches in size.