Act locally then globally

An article in this week’s Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal (by Lindsay Riddell) covers the A’s business side of the house from a different angle: opportunities abroad. The premise is that while Moneyball keeps the ship running lean and mean, the lack of high-profile players limits potential advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

The first step towards getting high-priced free agents, especially from Japan, is to get on a better financial footing with a new ballpark. Revenues should rise appreciably from current levels for Billy Beane to go after one or more international stars (Beane’s somewhat spotty results with big ticket free agents notwithstanding). We can only speculate as to how much, and even team officials admit that they’re not going to reach Yankee heights anytime soon.

However, this is an interesting opportunity to open a dialog with fans, especially sabremetric nuts who go ga-ga over measuring value and efficiency. Surely the team’s already come up with certain projections about what their payrolls would be leading up the opening of Cisco Field and beyond. That’s not to say they should share all of this info with the fans, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to throw fans a bone about what to expect.

For instance, how about a pledge? Again, no specific numbers. We don’t know if this year’s $80 million payroll translates to $100 million or $120 million in 5 years. However, everyone would be well served by something along the lines of this:

The A’s will maintain a payroll similar to the other AL West teams.

The other three teams have payrolls 20-30% higher than the A’s, so a pretty sizable bump would be required to get to their level. I’ve run a couple of models and think that this is doable even without constant sellouts thanks to the way the deal will probably be structured and MLB’s revenue sharing rules. So why not at some point throw the fans that bone? It’ll make the whole concept easier to swallow for the hardcore fan.

Jon Carroll: Voice of Reason

I haven’t touched on the “Is 20 miles really leaving or not?” debate in a while, and was surprised when Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll chimed his with his take. His view is sober and pragmatic, with a good dose of glass half full:

And besides, I wouldn’t really be “losing” the A’s. They would be right where they’ve always been, on my television screen. I go to maybe one game a year – partly because I dislike the ballpark so much – so I follow them the way almost everyone follows them.

(I do go to more Giants games, but that’s partly because I like the experience. I can take the ferry from Jack London Square and arrive right in McCovey Cove, mere steps from the right-field entrance. AT&T Park is a pleasing place to be and raises my spirits even when the team is losing, which it is a lot. If the A’s are going to get a stadium of equal quality, more power to them.)

In many ways, the A’s are essentially a television show, and I don’t care where they play any more than I care where “Mad Men” is filmed. I understand that this is a heretical notion. Baseball is the nostalgia game. Many people like to think that it preserves the old values. That’s why steroids are such a big deal in baseball. Does anyone care if a linebacker is a little juiced? Not really. But baseball is different. It’s a church. We must never, ever suggest that it’s a branch of the entertainment business.

Kudos to Carroll for his level-headed, casual fan take. And for those of you who want to debate this, I’ve intentionally left this post short so that there’s room for snippets of comments to be placed in the post later today/this weekend.


bleacherdave said…
Note what he didn’t say – that he would be driving to Fremont. It just doesn’t have the sentimental aura of catching a ferry to the game. Which is by the way, a world class approach to a ballpark on a sun-kissed summer morn.

linusalf said…
yes but as jon caroll says he only goes to one game a year. to many many more of us that go to more that one game a year the a’s are alot more than just a televison show and the change from oakland a’s to silicon valley a’s @ fremont would be a big deal.

anonymous (kevin) said…
I personally can’t stand the game experience at AT&T Park. It’s just so dull and listless. I find everything from the way the batters are announced to the “slash hits” counter totally obnoxious. Contrast this with the energy at the Coliseum — where “Atomic Dog” by Parliament can be heard.
Then again, I don’t like spending time in Mall food courts either.

Oakland Si said…
I take BART to many, many games at the Coliseum. Obviously the Coliseum doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it does Carroll…and he doesn’t sound as if he would drive to Fremont either. For all he really could care the A’s could be playing in Las Vegas.

Jeffrey said…
He didn’t say he would be driving to Fremont, but did say he doesn’t go to many games in Oakland because of the stadium.
There are more people who will go to Silicon Valley A’s @ Fremont games than will be turned off by “Oakland” no longer being in the name of the team. There just aren’t that many people who share the passion they have for the A’s with the City of Oakland.
I go to way more than one game a year, and I will continue to do so in Fremont, provided I can still get tickets.

Sixto said…
Jeffrey is exactly right… the number of fans who will stop going to A’s games because of the move will be far outnumbered by the influx of fans/money from the south bay. And that’s why the A’s are moving; it’s really that simple.

bleacherdave said…
Hey Jeffery,
ever hear that old saying, “If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.”

Jeffrey said…
Did you ever hear the expression “Money is no object.”
Seriously, though I am not a millionaire it isn’t that I couldn’t afford them, it is that I don’t know how available tickets will be with the limited capacity.
I could afford to take my wife and kids to a game per home stand at Giants ticket prices.

anthony dominguez said…
Fans that the A’s lose from Oakland because of a Fremont relocation “will be far outnumbered by the influx of fans/money from the South Bay.” Tell that to Peter Magowan!

transic said…
If Yankee Stadium can be (and is about to be) replaced, then the A’s can move to Fremont. It’s not like they haven’t moved twice before in their entire history.

9/24 22:15 – As much as fans obsess over the daily tribulations of our favorite teams, it is always important to keep that obsession in perspective. Most people in the Bay Area simply don’t place any of the Bay Area’s six major franchises as part of their daily consciousness, let alone their priorities. For most here and around the country, baseball is merely a form of entertainment. For a growing percentage of fans television is by far the primary method of enjoying home games, not just away games (this despite today’s announcement of MLB breaking its seasonal attendance record again). The casual fan’s opinion is not worth less than ours because they don’t religiously follow the team. It’s worth more because they vastly outnumber us, and they have to be convinced to either directly or indirectly support any new venue, from conception through the end of its life. The hardcore fan views a team as relevant, but the casual fan makes the team relevant. That trend will continue into the forseeable future.

Mixed bag

Tonight the parties requested a more informal setting than the typical City Council meeting, even though the session was held in Council Chambers. So instead of the pols sitting on the dais, city officials and developers/architects sat around a bunch of pushed-together tables. This made for a constant flow of ideas and quick exchanges. The format was considered quite positive and will likely be used for other sessions of this type. Keith Wolff led the presentation, aided by Gensler’s Marty Borko, who fleshed out the details.

A few new details came out of tonight’s work session. Nothing really major, but still worth noting:

  • The number of housing units to be built will be close to 3150, a 250-unit jump over previous estimates. Keith Wolff explained that the development team spoke with housing developers and saw potential for such an increase. Perhaps they are anticipating a rebound in the housing market by the time construction begins.
  • Land west of Cushing Parkway that was previously designated as interim parking (the “West parcel”) may undergo a mix of zoning changes. Instead of purely residential use, up to 300,000 square feet of R&D/office space could be built in at least two-story buildings. 7 acres could be set aside for one more car dealership as part of an extension to the Auto Mall.
  • With the increase in housing units come plans for greater densities. Originally, much of the acreage would have had 12-25 units per acre. The range has gone up considerably, up to 40 units per acre in some locations. To do this, some buildings would have to be taller than three stories. It’s expected that the entire development would show a sort of tapering effect of building heights from the ballpark/village to the outer edges of the lower density residential area. This could pave the way for more affordable homes as well since there would be greater variance in home types and sizes.
  • The school will in fact be in the residential area. The proposed site is at the southern edge of the property. 4 acres is being considered for the “urban” school setting, an idea that the A’s and the city were receptive to. The example cited was Horace Mann Elementary in San Jose. Horace Mann is a 3-acre school that neatly fits into a city block and was only recently reconstructed. A school of this size would not have multiple ballfields or sprawling portable classrooms.

  • Neighborhoods would be centered around numerous small parks and open spaces. These small parks would be maintained by the homeowners’ association. The neighborhoods are meant to have individual character, a la South Park in SF or Gramercy Park in Manhattan. (Bar set too high? Probably, but that’s what they’re aiming for.)
  • West parcel interim parking would have to be replaced by additional parking in the area before anything could get built on the parcel.
  • Additional retail spaces are possible within the greater residential area, including a grocery store and smaller shops.

I didn’t expect much to be revealed about the parking and transportation plans, but there were a few interesting ideas being discussed. None, however, do more than scratch the surface.
The above is my depiction of a parking and traffic management slide shown during the presentation. The idea here is to route cars to the nearest parking lot while minimizing cross-traffic. It would reduce most car movement to right turns. So if you’re coming from 880 north of Fremont, you might be redirected to the lot across Auto Mall Parkway. If you’re coming from the south, you might be sent to the West parcel. Shuttles would be run from some of the team-operated lots, though it’s expected that many will walk.

Parking projections have increased to 11,342 spaces not including the village commercial area garages. The explanation here is that in order to project a worst-case scenario, the village parking has to be considered off limits.

Councilmembers Steve Cho and Bob Wieckowski both suggested pedestrian overpasses to assist the public in crossing both Auto Mall Parkway and I-880. This concept was not met with great optimism, probably due to cost. Regardless, it’s worth considering if only to get cost estimates. There’s even an opportunity for ad revenue to help pay for the cost.

Towards the end of the session, Mayor Wasserman expressed frustration at the delay surrounding the development application:

“We need to get to the next step in terms of getting the application in and the environmental impact (report) moving.”

At the same time he preached patience since the process is expected to run slowly after the application is submitted thanks to the EIR and other studies.

Sierra Club rep Vinnie Bacon had serious reservations about the development. He felt that the details shown so far regarding transit/transportation were “woefully lacking.” 3,000 new homes were an area of great concern, and any steps to mitigate impacts on the wetlands area would be akin to placing “a solar panel on a Hummer.” He also claimed that the retail component of the village would draw dollars away from existing businesses. He neglected to mention that the retailers at the site would be higher-end and wouldn’t necessarily compete with existing retailers in the city. Massimo’s owner Bill Rinetti disputed the negative view of economic impact, stating that Fremont needs to keep its entertainment dollar. Rinetti happens to be the brother of A’s VP of stadium ops David Rinetti.

Overall, nothing significant. The application is supposed to be out in the next couple of weeks. The next work session will be in another month or so. Until then I’ll be twittling my thumbs…

City Council Work Session – Tuesday 9/18

From the Fremont City Clerk:


This is to advise you that a City Council Work Session has been scheduled on the Oakland A’s proposed Ballpark Village Project. The City Council Work Session will be from 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 18, 2007.

The Work Session will be held in the City Council Chambers located at 3300 Capitol Avenue, Building A, Fremont, California.

If you have any questions regarding this Work Session, please contact Economic Development Director Daren Fields at (510) 284-4020 or

Two-and-a-half hours. That’s a mighty lengthy session. I’ll be there.

Planned school site changed

Common sense has prevailed according to Matthew Artz’s piece on the ballpark village. You may remember that the school being planned for the village was originally going to sit on a 40-acre Fremont-owned parcel, 3/4ths of a mile away from the village (upper left corner of pic below). For the school district that was considered a non-starter and they lobbied to have the school located within the community.

The school won’t be placed within the shopping center portion of the village, and it wouldn’t work adjacent to the ballpark. Chances are it’ll go in the area that’s slated for temporary parking, where the last phases of the residential buildout are planned. Obviously some homesites would be displaced, but it probably works for the city since many on the council want to see greater variety and higher densities in some sections of the village.

Out of today’s luncheon at the Fremont Marriott (sponsored by the Fremont Chamber of Commerce) came this:

Many of the questions from the audience were about traffic issues, which Lew Wolff said were “not quite as serious as everybody says.”

The team anticipates that 5,000 fans – about 18 percent of a sellout crowd – would walk or take public transit to games, Keith Wolff said. The same percentage of fans walk or commute to the McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, he said, even though it is next to a BART station.

Where does that 5,000 figure come from? I’m baffled. We know that right now 15-20% take public transit, and without a BART option that is just as convenient as is currently in place, that percentage will surely drop, perhaps precipitously. A mode switch to a shuttle could drop utilization to half of current levels, and that presupposes a Warm Springs BART station. Diesel trains could pick up some of the slack, but nothing close to what BART does (Caltrain accounts for 2% – correction, 4-8% – of attendees at AT&T Park).

As for walking, estimates could be optimistic. Let’s say that half of those 5,000 would walk to the ballpark. So 2,500 would either be residents of the village or anyone who works in the vicinity. So to get to that estimate, slightly less than 1 person per residence or business would walk to the ballpark. Is that realistic? Sure, the village will attract fans who want to live near the ballpark. At the same time it’s still market rate housing that will attract buyers for other reasons, whether it’s the lifestyle center, Fremont’s historically low crime rate, or proximity to Silicon Valley. Housing demand, even in this current market slump, won’t allow for buyers to purchase based something as peripheral as proximity to a ballpark.

There’ll be a chance to further analyze this when a traffic study is released, but if these are the estimates, they have to be immediately labeled specious.

It’s been reported that the A’s have been selected to open next season in Japan. The likely opponent will be the Boston Red Sox, whose roster contains two Japanese stars. Since the Sox sell out every game at Fenway Park and would leave a good deal of money on the table by forgoing a bunch of home dates in Japan, you can guess as to who will “take one for the team.”

What’s it worth to you?

The commish traveled to Miami and the Twin Cities this week to visit stadium projects in two very different stages. On Tuesday he talked sites with Miami pols. The Orange Bowl appears to be the main candidate because it’s now available with the coming departure of the Hurricanes. A downtown site, if it can be acquired, may be preferable. Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde suggested that the Marlins use the revenue sharing money they’re pocketing to bridge the financing gap, an idea I put forth many moons ago. Yesterday, Selig attended the Twins’ groundbreaking ceremony. There’s even a nice feel good photo of Selig and Twins owner Carl Pohlad clutching hands. I wonder if they were laughing about that $3 million loan Selig received from Pohlad many many moons ago.

In both of these cases, someone – pols, voters, or both – decided that it would be worthwhile to use public money to finance a large portion of the project. In California, we’ve recently shown that we have a hardline position when it concerns stadium financing. Because of this we’ve had a few facilities built largely if not entirely with private funds (AT&T Park, Staples Center, Stanford Stadium) and a few more that are outmoded and need to be either replaced or torn down (Monster Park, McAfee Coliseum, San Diego Sports Arena)

Numerous journalists and economists have praised California’s privately-financed projects as responsible and potentially trendsetting. While AT&T Park hasn’t resulted in a spate of privately-financed venues, at least some markets have responded by getting better deals for themselves, often with municipalities providing only infrastructure changes (Gillette Stadium) or less public funds (New Busch Stadium). The ballpark and ancillary development at Cisco Field are to be privately financed but additional infrastructure costs are unknown.

We in the Bay Area can pat ourselves on the back for being steadfast, but conversely does our lack of willingness to fund these projects indicate that we are somehow lesser sports fans? In the Houston and Philadelphia markets, broad legislation was passed to build billions of dollars worth of new venues. No amount of hearty Bronx activism could stop the new Yankee Stadium from getting tax-free bonds and from devouring public parkland. Those markets are generally considered more sports-crazy than ours. Some would phrase our stance as “having our priorities straight,” which is mostly true. But doesn’t that undervalue what it means to have a major sports franchise in your town?

The A’s annual revenue is around $150 million. That isn’t much compared to other local businesses, even in the city of Fremont alone:

  • SYNNEX: $6 billion
  • Logitech: $2 billion
  • Lam Research: $1.6 billion
  • Wal-Mart (2 Fremont stores only): estimated $110 million
  • Costco: estimated $115 million per store
  • Fremont Bank (private): $45 million
  • Typical chain supermarket: $14 million
  • AuctionDrop: $6 million

In addition, NUMMI produces some 400,000 cars per year or about $8 billion worth of vehicles, plus parts and other manufacturing operations. So it’s not as if the A’s are turning Fremont into an economic powerhouse, Fremont already was in its own modest way.

Then again, not too many focus on a single store’s performance when analyzing a company, so why should the A’s be treated differently? The Oakland Athletics Baseball Company is merely part of a $5 billion enterprise. The team is guaranteed to get coverage for at least 45 seconds in every local late newscast. Local papers devote impressive amounts of resources to team coverage. Dedicated websites give the team enviable amounts of coverage. Charitable endeavors from the team and individual players tend to be more impressive and high-profile than those from “similarly sized” companies.

The impact the A’s make on the community is much larger than what a $150 million (revenue) company would make, but smaller than a multibillion dollar, industry-leading plant. How, then, can we quantify what the A’s mean to their home city? Marketing consultants try to paint it in terms of the amount of positive exposure a team gives to its city. Economists use multiplier effects to map out investment and consumption associated with teams. None of these things properly account for the average fan who, during an A’s road trip, rushes home to catch a 4:05 PM (7:05 PM ET) game on TV with a cold one in hand. That fan may not live in the team’s city, could be hundreds if not thousands of miles away. But that fan, in his love of the team, could be curious about the city the team calls home. He might decide, “I’d like to visit this place” or “Maybe I’ll go to school near there.” Or he may already live there and decide that all other things being equal, he’d like to raise his family there and take his kids to games. All because of a ball team. All for the love of a game. That bond falls into the “quality of life” category. A price can’t be placed on it.