Meet the new flagship, KIFR

The A’s announced that CBS station KIFR-106.9 (Free FM) will be the FM flagship starting next season. Many had been rooting for this move for a while, especially because around this time last year KIFR boosted its signal from a paltry 3 kW to 80 kW. Before you start running around claiming the A’s are torching the blowtorch, keep in mind that AM signal properties are better for night coverage and KNBR’s status as a clear channel station puts it in an enviable position regardless of signal strength.

Still, this is a huge improvement since KIFR’s North Bay reach will be much better than what was coming out of the two Peninsula-based stations, KYCY-1550 and KNTS-1220. It remains to be seen how much CBS will stick with the youth-oriented format. Does this set the stage for a change to sports talk? Or youth-geared sports talk? Hopefully KIFR will be a better promotional vehicle than the A’s have had on radio the last few years.

There’s one nice little side benefit to having an FM station – Comcast digital cable carries it. Except, inexplicably, KIFR. At least that’s the case in the South Bay.

A suggestion: Build the museum ASAP

Last week I drove by Pacific Commons and went to Brandin Court, where a front company for Maritz-Wolff bought much of the cul-de-sac. I noticed that one of the buildings was vacant, so I decided to do a little research. The building’s address is 5070 Brandin Ct. (assessor’s map in PDF), and according to this listing it has over 53,000 square feet of space.

According to the listing the building is “Under New Ownership” and has “Exterior and Interior Renovations in Progress” even though I didn’t see any cars out front. It has an
anonymously blah exterior, as would be expected of most Silicon Valley office parks. As a structure designed to hold both office and light industrial/manufacturing operations, much of the building does not have windows.

The Fremont office market is not hurting too badly at this point, so the owners should be able to find a tenant at some point if they haven’t already. If/when the land deal for the rest of Pacific Commons is done, there’s a particularly novel application just waiting if no tenant comes:

Use the building as a tentative site for a baseball museum.

Why not? Yes, ownership would undoubtedly lose money at first, but it’s an extremely good way to build a rapport with existing and future fans. I went to the Baseball as America exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California last year, and as impressed as I was with the collection, I also came away asking myself, “Why isn’t there a local baseball museum?” Sure, the A’s have been criminal for not adequately touting their history, but the Giants don’t have a museum either even though they’re constantly talking about their own history. In fact, not only is there no baseball museum in California, there’s nothing west of the Rockies. The Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum had been trying to get a home in San Francisco since 2002 but little has come of their efforts (Citgo is working with the HoF on a Latin American traveling show). Are you as surprised as I am that no baseball museum exists nearby? The Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame is well-intentioned but its plaques and monuments are spread out all over the Bay Area.

In March it was reported that a baseball museum would be part of the A’s Pacific Commons development. That little heralded nugget may be the best part of the package because it would present the A’s a unique opportunity to finally acknowledge the franchise’s rich, 106-year history (38 years in Oakland) with something tactile and permanent. 5070 Brandin Court would of course be a temporary home until a proper museum could be built closer to the ballpark. In the meantime, the intervening years could be used for fundraising efforts, to gather collections, and to focus the scope of the museum properly. Consider the possible categories:

  • A’s franchise history
  • The old Pacific Coast League
  • Bay Area baseball legends and notables
  • WWII and its effect on baseball
  • Broadcasting wing with nods to Bill King, Lon Simmons, Bill Rigney, et al
  • How technology has changed baseball and how we experience baseball
  • Sabremetrics
  • The usual kids exhibit – “Physics of a curveball” and other topics
  • Existing Cooperstown exhibits

If you visited Baseball as America you’ll see that some of these ideas were covered by the collection shown, so I’m not exactly covering new ground. But wouldn’t it be nice to have something permanent and at the same time more expansive? The only limitation is the amount of depth that the A’s want covered. Some intriguing issues:

  • How is the steroids era treated?
  • Is the museum A’s-only?
  • Do the A’s attempt to work with the Giants?

The Rangers operate their “Legends of the Game” museum as an all-encompassing collection rather than one that trumpets the team’s history (admittedly, the Rangers/Senators history is not that rich). Having a museum open well before anything else would be a fantastic way to get people into the Pacific Commons area early. Not only would they see A’s tradition on display, but ownership could have a development sales office next door (if anyone’s interested in buying a condo). I’d be willing to help out (with the museum, that is).

Cisco at the ballpark, in your home, etc…

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Cisco’s intentions regarding the ballpark. Now that the Arena in Oakland has been renamed “Oracle” would a new ballpark be named simply “Cisco”? Cisco Field? Cisco Park? Cisco Grounds? Cisco Yard(s)? Cisco Athletics Park? There’s the remote possibility that Cisco won’t be involved in the naming rights – but if Mark Purdy is right, Cisco is in it deep.

The innards of the ballpark will serve as a major showcase of Cisco technologies. While most acknowledge Cisco’s role as a manufacturer of infrastructure products such as routers and switches, Cisco has been making inroads into the home market with its Linksys brand of networking gear and last year’s purchase of set top box manufacturer Scientific Atlanta. They’ve also gone extremely high end when yesterday Cisco unveiled their six-figure video conferencing product, TeleConference. The Bentley-Rolls version has three huge, 1080p (full HD) screens on one side of a table while “you and your team” are on the other side of the table. This will be a trial balloon for eventually cheaper, consumer-focused video conferencing and VoIP (Voice over IP) telephony products.

How could this stuff be featured in a ballpark? I’m no marketing whiz, but besides the obvious high tech touches such as WiFi and in-seat ordering, there’s potential for other interesting uses:

  • Alternate Broadcasts. Do you think you can do a better job than the A’s current TV play-by-play men, Tim Roye and Glen Kuiper? How about using a special booth set up to stream your version of play-by-play and commentary to a select audience? Want to have a broadcast entirely from the bleachers? It would be possible. Broadcast pros would no doubt wince at the idea, but it’s a novel way to hit a niche audience (and prove how difficult the job really is).
  • “TiVo” at your seat. A fan could bring or rent an iPod-like device (with WiFi and a bigger screen, of course) that would have the entire game broadcast streamed and archived to it. Want to see that controversial replay they won’t show on the big screen? No problem. Interested to see if The Gambler had pine tar on his left hand when he stunk up the joint in his last regular season start against the Blue Jays (hmmm, look at that picture)? It’s available instantly from MLB.TV’s archives.

Cisco CEO John Chambers brought up technology in a ballpark setting in a speech at Oracle’s OpenWorld on Tuesday:

The individual would gain entry to the ballpark via an e-ticket on their smart phone. Digital signs inside the ballpark, if authorized by the smart phone, could display advertising tailored to the person’s likes. Once in the game, the individual could use their wireless-enabled ultramobile PC to keep score on the device’s electronic scorecard or hit its instant replay icon to view a contentious play.

Restaurants at the ballpark could use Cisco’s newly announced TelePresence videoconferencing system to show the game on huge screens and allow diners to contact remote friends to watch along with them.

Cisco is partnering with AT&T on TeleConference, and the cable market has been turned upside down since the Governator signed AB 2987, which opens the doors for all sorts of competition in the cable TV market – including phone companies that sponsored the bill.

A video of the Cisco’s presentation at OpenWorld is available at cnet. The preso is awash in A’s logos and imagery, enough to make me think that they might try some of this stuff out in the Coliseum first.

New CBA equals minor changes

Details were announced on the new five-year deal struck between MLB and MLBPA. Some important points:

  • As expected, contraction did not rear its ugly head.
  • There was no major revamp of the amateur draft to include certain foreign players.
  • A reduced form of free agent loss compensation remains in place. Type A free agents will now be the top 20% of their position (down from top 30%), and Type B will be 21-40% of their position (down from 31-50%). Type C free agents no longer mandate compensation. Upshot: The A’s will get something out of losing Barry Zito.
  • The luxury tax levels stay the same, but the tax threshold has increased to $148 million next year with 4.7% annual increases throughout the life of the CBA. Unless the Red Sox or Mets really went crazy, the only team that would consistently hit the threshold would be the Yankees.
  • Citing the increase of non-local revenue leaguewide, the revenue sharing formula has changed, with each team set to contribute 31% (down from 34%) of their net local revenues minus “actual stadium expenses” (i.e. rent or debt service).
  • League minimum salary increases from $327,000 to $380,000, with $10,000 increases thereafter.
  • Drug policy remains the same and now officially runs concurrent with the CBA. Selig will cite his “blood test study” until he retires.
  • The questionable rule that gives World Series home field advantage to the league that wins the All Star Game remains intact.

The new CBA should not change much things for the A’s since they only undergo incremental payroll raises. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the Yanks because their radio deal with WCBS has just expired.

Deconstructing the Coliseum, Part II: Stadium Height

In the first installment of this series, I wrote about how the round multipurpose bowl shape was ill-suited for baseball. This time, the discussion topic is height. In this case, I can proudly say that the Coliseum has far more positives than negatives. There’s much that works well in the Coliseum when it comes to vertical circulation. The few negative aspects stem from the fact that the venue was built decades before the implementation of ADA rules. Unfortunately, much of what works for the Coliseum can’t be used in new ballparks because of specific feature requirements.

You may have noticed that the drawings I posted on Thursday did not show the eastside stands, or “Mt. Davis” as it’s typically called. Since the addition was built almost solely for football, it’s nearly pointless to use it as part of the discussion. However, Mt. Davis provides a good reference point as it showcases huge differences between how ballparks and football stadia are designed.
Mt. Davis has a lot more in common with Gillette Stadium or Heinz Field than any ballpark, past or present. There are three levels of luxury suites, all having seats safely encased in climate controlled spaces. The plaza or mezzanine level is an exclusive club seating area. Cantilevered decks or overhangs are largely non-existent. The first row of the upper deck on Mt. Davis is roughly the same height as the top row of the upper deck in the original bowl. I’ve always wondered why the Raiders never placed sherpas at the base of each upper deck tunnel.

One thing rarely discussed about the Coliseum is how easy it is to travel between the three decks in the original seating bowl. Plaza level seats can be reached using either the lower or upper concourses. The upper concourse also serves the View level. Anyone sitting in the upper deck could get to the lower deck in 5 minutes by simply descending a few sets of stairs. Undoubtedly, this encouraged the informal seat trade-up policy so frequently used by upper deck dwellers (and conversely reviled by ownership). This practice was so frowned upon that at least one modern stadium, New Comiskey Park (US Cellular Field), was designed to segregate fans by seating level. Recently, teams and architects have started to see the value in allowing fans to circulate more throughout a concourse – the better to expose fans to concessions. Vertical circulation is still somewhat difficult due to exclusive club and suite levels, though in the concept I’m working on their may be a solution to that dilemma – that’s for another time.

The next several graphics show both the Coliseum (in color) and the concept (outlines) in profile. Two perspectives are used: behind the plate, and behind third base.

As shown in the previous set of drawings, the two models are comparable behind the plate. While the concept’s seats are closer to the field horizontally, the closure of the View level makes the Coliseum’s seats closer overall. Now see what happens at the hot corner:

Once again, the horizontal distance plays a huge factor. The total distance to the top row of the concept’s upper deck is 213 feet, while the top row of the Coliseum’s plaza level is 221 feet from third base. Worse, the overhang from the luxury suites is so bad that fans at the top of the plaza level have virtually no view of the sky. The following table compares various distances.

The overhang problem isn’t limited to Plaza level seats. The back four rows of the Field level are pretty bad too, especially if you’re down the foul lines a bit, say Section 106 or 128. You have to contend with the overhang and the auxiliary scoreboard, which drops another 2 feet from the bottom of the Plaza level. If you’re seated in those sections it’s not that bad, but stand up and suddenly everything changes. These days, a couple of changes have been made to stadium design to help. Fan complaints about these overhangs force a few extra vertical feet into the plan, but ADA design guidelines mandate more vertical space. This is because wheelchair-bound fans are supposed to be able to have a clear line of sight over standing fans two rows ahead of them. The way to do this is to elevate the wheelchair rows an extra 18-30 inches above the row in front of them. If you’ve ever sat in the Coliseum’s bleachers, you’ll see those aluminum platforms in most of the wheelchair rows. This was done exactly for the reason cited above. It can be said that the original bowl’s wheelchair seating placement would not work in a modern day stadium design.

All of this may sound like nitpicking, but it all conspires to add the equivalent of one or two stories onto the height of the stadium. Inevitably, the fans who pay the biggest price are the ones in the nosebleed sections.

Speaking of nosebleeds, whoever decided that the first row should be wide enough for circulation deserves a tongue lashing. It’s one thing to to have a rail as an obstruction, but traffic should not be another. That’s probably another reason why the View level was closed. I remember seeing staff that were directed to sell the seats above row 4 first because they had fewer obstructions. I can’t think of another stadium in the country in which the first row is also used for circulation, and I’ve been to dozens of them.

Suiteholders pay a price too, though it’s not as steep. In the Coliseum’s case, suites in the original bowl are inferior to most other Bay Area venues’ suites. They don’t have separate restrooms. They’re cramped. They don’t have their own entries, concourses, or elevators. Problem is, if you design a separate concourse into the plan, that easy vertical circulation is eliminated. Then again, maybe that’s what they want…

The Coliseum may have plenty of warts, but it’s fantastic when it comes to height conservation and vertical circulation. The seats aren’t too steep. It’s easy to move between levels. Sadly, it doesn’t work well in today’s MLB. Don’t expect this to carry over into the new ballpark.

Killion pleads for Magowan to cash in & Warriors + Oracle = deal

The type of column written by Ann Killion in today’s Merc was bound to happen sooner or later. Colleague Mark Purdy had been pushing in this general direction. Both are now arguing that the Giants should relinquish territorial rights for the health of the franchise, or else they won’t get anything if/when the A’s move to Fremont and effectively encroach on the South Bay.

Killion asked Wolff about territorial rights while both were in Detroit for the ALCS last week:

Wolff completely dismissed any lingering idea of moving the A’s to San Jose — a step that would require a deal with the Giants over territorial rights.

“That’s over,” Wolff said. “Dead. Over. I’m not going to waste one more ounce of energy on it.”

And that statement is important, whether you believe Wolff or not. The A’s have been in full-on sales mode regarding the new ballpark/village concept for some time now. At this point details are very important, especially the site. While San Jose may be more desirable for some in the Valley, the obstacles are enormous and it’s possible that the financing plan being applied to the Fremont site can’t work in San Jose without major modifications and delays.

Supposedly, the rub is that the Giants in the post-Bonds era could be in such dire financial straits that they may be looking for a bailout of sorts. Don’t believe it. While Bay Area fans can argue for days about Brian Sabean’s competency as Giants GM, the Giants will get enough players or stars to bring out a minimum of interested fans. A $75-85 million payroll allows for this – see Seattle for proof. That doesn’t mean the Giants will be good, but they will at least have one overpriced slugger and probably one overpaid arm. Who knows, they may get rid of Sabean and overpay for a GM.

The idea that the Giants are going to be hemorrhaging money for the next decade is ludicrous. Let’s remember some key facts about their operations:

  • They may have $20 million in debt service every year, but they can write off about $5-7 million of that thanks to MLB’s stadium operations expenses deduction.
  • They’re past the sixth year of their tenancy at China Basin, and officials have admitted that they can pull in 34,000 per game and still remain financially healthy. Below that, and they’d have to slash payroll a bit. Use this as a guide: each drop of 1,000 per game equates to $2.5 million in revenue. Even if they were to keep the entire amount (which they don’t thanks to revenue sharing) that amount wouldn’t even pay for a marginal player. If the G-men were to average less than 25,000 per game, then I’d be concerned. I don’t see this happening.
  • Thanks to vested interests in both KTVU and KNBR, the Giants can hide ad revenue and local broadcast rights fees. In 2003, a season after the Giants went to the World Series, they reported non-gate revenue of $78 million. The A’s reported $75 million. Who’s kidding whom?
  • If it really does become dire straits for the Giants, they can do what the A’s have been doing for years: suck on the teat of revenue sharing, if only temporarily.

Besides, even if the two teams actually got to the point of discussing the actual value of territorial rights, where would they begin? An immediate one-time cash infusion won’t help since the Giants apparently can’t pay off the debt early. Why would A’s ownership want to buy the proverbial cow (territorial rights) if they can get the milk for free? Fremont creates a very compelling revenue trifecta for the A’s:

  • They could secure better bond interest rates because revenue streams to secure the bonds would not be tied solely to stadium revenue (the Giants struggled with this initially). Entitlements would pick up a majority if not all of the cost.
  • Through some clever organizational setup (hiding revenue), the A’s could still have the aforementioned stadium expenses deduction even though their stadium-related debt load would be near zero.
  • Not having to pay the Giants while having similar access to Valley companies equates to increased dividends for the owners – ahem – or increased payroll.

Both the A’s and Giants would have interesting advantages in the Bay Area market if everything stayed status quo. The Giants would have the vertical integration that comes with media ownership stakes, while the A’s would have little debt on a brand new stadium. Without delving too deeply into the numbers, I’d say that’s a Wash.

The Warriors and the Coliseum JPA have finally hooked a big one for their naming rights deal: Redwood Shores database giant Oracle. Two interesting things about the deal: 1) It’s only 10 years long, and 2) the venue will be simply called “The Oracle” with no apparent reference to Oakland. 10 years is a virtual blink of the eye in naming rights terms, and it doesn’t cover the remaining balance on the expected naming rights fee contribution to the arena renovation’s debt service. Perhaps there’s an option that could be exercised by Oracle. Regarding the name, I suppose it’s “fitting” that if the team doesn’t have Oakland in the name, the venue doesn’t have to either.

Deconstructing the Coliseum, Part I: The Bowl Shape

This is the first article of a new series called “Deconstructing the Coliseum.” The purpose is not to trash it or spit on it, for the Coliseum has served its purpose admirably over the years. Instead, my goal is to educate readers of this site on what to potentially expect from a new ballpark, and how it compares with the current situation and other ballparks as well. The first part of this task is explaining where the Coliseum succeeds and fails.

The idea came from my re-reading Philip Bess’s excellent paean to urban ballparks, City Baseball Magic. Bess, an accomplished architect, professor, and noted baseball architecture critic, put together an alternative plan to the new Comiskey Park (a.k.a. US Cellular Field) called Armour Field. Armour Field harkened back to the first ballpark building boom in the early 20th century and had many similarities to Manhattan’s long departed Polo Grounds. As part of the plan, he compared Armour Field’s dimensions and layout to the HOK-planned Comiskey, which itself was an updated version of Kansas City’s Kauffman (née Royals) Stadium, considered the hallmark of baseball stadium design during the late 80’s. (Oh how things change!) While Comiskey was hailed when it first opened, it only took a year before its gleam was eclipsed by the first true Neoclassic ballpark, Camden Yards. In the intervening years, Comiskey was rightly bashed for its steep and recessed upper deck and its three levels of suites and club seats. It was also criticized for its initially symmetrical dimensions, which I personally didn’t have a problem with because at least they weren’t contrived. In the intervening years, Comiskey has under gone renovations, chief among them the lopping off of the top eight rows of seats – a nod to increasing scarcity and the vertigo-inducing scary nosebleed rows up there.
Prior to my re-reading City Baseball Magic, I had been working on a new ballpark model. Since we lack a specific ballpark model other than the high-concept drawings shown in August 2005, I figured I’d put my own together to create a similar alternative concept. Like the Wolff-360 plan, it has:

  • 35,000 seats
  • 40 luxury suites and 40 mini (4-6 person) suites
  • Expansive club area
  • Hotel/Apartments
  • Party Suites
  • Two decks (sort of)
  • Increased intimacy

Bess’s book got me to overlay my concept over the Coliseum. What I found was rather surprising. While we all know that the Coliseum’s round shape is not ideal for baseball, this overlay really illustrates the problem. But first, let’s take a look at the baseline – the Coliseum footprint.


Like the old cookie-cutter stadia, the Coliseum is based on a series of concentric circles, the smallest of which is a 400-foot ring where the field meets the first row of seats. Using 400 feet as a guide makes sense because a football field is 360 feet long, while a baseball field’s dimensions are 330-400 feet excluding foul territory. The give-and-take required penalizes spectators of either sport in a multitude of ways, many of which I’ll get into later.

The Green area represents the field and its quirky dimensions. Yellow represents the lower deck (Field level), Red the mezzanine (Plaza level), and Blue the upper deck (now closed View level). Yes, it is to scale (approximately), and it’s based on estimates and measurements I’ve made in the bowl over the last several years.

Now let’s strip it back to just the lower deck and overlay the first deck of my (unnamed) concept:


Take a look at the how many seats are in the green area. You may be asking where the rest of the lower deck seats are. The next graphic shows the rest of those seats.


In this case, the concept is still far superior to the Coliseum because of the shortened distance to the field. Even the small area where the Coliseum has closer seats, the backstop, was only created because of a design quirk that caused the “notch” in the bowl. This affirms the notion that those sections behind the plate (x15-x19) are some of the best in baseball. Unfortunately, everything else pales in comparison.

Next, let’s compare at the upper tiers.


This has the concept’s upper deck overlaid with the closed View level. Notice how the concept’s upper deck actually fits within most of the front rim of the View level. In the seats down the line, this translates to fans being as much as 70 feet closer, more than the distance between pitcher and hitter. Since the View level is closed, it may make sense to use the Plaza level in the comparison instead. The next graphic shows what such a comparison looks like.


Here, the concept is also better though the differences aren’t as vast. But that’s still remarkable considering the fact that the Plaza level was never built to be used as an upper deck. It sheds light on the compromises made when using a circular stadium design.

I remember taking some friends to an opening night game a decade ago. We sat in the third or fourth row of section 323. It was one friend’s first time at the Coliseum, and the first comment he made was, “Man, are we far.” Far, indeed.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover height as it relates to the Coliseum.