To keep things light, here’s a classic fauxmercial from the late 80’s era of SNL, featuring the dearly departed Phil Hartman.
Okay, let’s dive right in.
I read this morning that some folks over at OAFC are complaining that San Jose partisans keep touting the city’s size, while claiming that Oakland’s population density is as important if not moreso. There’s only one problem with that argument: the fanbase as whole can’t be judged on the population density of a town that represents 10% of fans.
While Oakland is undoubtedly more dense than San Jose, when you start to look at Oakland in combination with adjacent and nearby cities and towns, the density gap shrinks significantly. For Oakland to match San Jose in population, it would have to annex or include every nearby city north to Berkeley and south to Hayward. The net effect of doing this not only approaches San Jose in terms of population, it also approaches San Jose’s area.
So for a comparably sized population and area, the difference in density is less than 300 persons per square mile – or 1 person for every 2 acres. It makes the East Bay look much more suburban than is often claimed – and really, there’s nothing wrong with that. The only truly metropolitan city in the region is San Francisco, with a whopping 17,323 persons per square mile. The other two major cities are just pretending.
If the regions are comparable in terms of area and population, then why does either matter? Politics, that’s why. As I’ve mentioned before, Oakland has not built any major sports facility without the help of Alameda County. I don’t see any evidence that it can. The Coliseum Authority is a joint powers body, and the recent 19-acre acquisition of the Coliseum-adjacent HomeBase site was done with the idea that any new stadium deal would have to be done within the auspices of the JPA. Now that sites at JLS have been proposed, Oakland’s pols have to make a very tough decision: either go it alone or introduce the Coliseum Authority (or some other new JPA) into the process. While a JPA (and Alameda County by extension) could have expanded bonding capacity, any deal involving a JPA will take longer and will be more politically difficult due to complexity.
Even though a new ballpark is expected to be privately financed, it’s expected that land and infrastructure improvements will be required. That means new on/off-ramps, additional parking – things that, so far, Oakland partisans have either neglected to mention or dismissed casually. This is crucial stuff, folks! You can’t dismiss it or wish it away, because like it or not, you’re in a competitive situation. You have to put your best foot forward. That doesn’t mean selling your soul or acquiring a bunch of land via eminent domain. It means giving more than the occasional press conference or sound byte to a sympathetic columnist. It means doing more than symbolic acts.
That’s why San Jose, despite the territorial rights issue, has a competitive advantage. It doesn’t have to go through making that tough choice. It has already built a sports facility on its own, and can point to it as a success story, not hide from it as a political liability. It has the resources and the tax base to support big projects.
It has done due diligence. It has been patient. It hasn’t complained or lashed out (at least during the Reed administration) throughout the process. It has studied sites formally for four years. It has been executing its strategy to acquire land, and identified funding sources for it. These aren’t trivial steps. These are fundamental, crucial, expensive steps. It has reached out to the community to talk though issues. And most importantly, it hasn’t buckled at the first sign of resistance. Whatever the MLB panel’s criteria, surely near the top of the list has to be political climate. No amount of talk can substitute for real action in that regard. Look at it this way: I expect Chuck Reed to be reelected this year. I don’t expect Ron Dellums, who still hasn’t officially declared if he’s running again, to be reelected. In Fremont, Bob Wasserman survived his reelection campaign and if Fremont is the choice, at least he’ll be able to see the process through. Any project of this magnitude needs a champion, needs someone to carry the water and take the bullets when they come. At least in two cities, we know who’s going to do that. Who’s going to do that in Oakland?
Going back to the size issue, consider this: the A’s need less than 1% of San Jose’s population to become season ticket holders to become a success. Less than 1% equals 9,000 new season ticket holders, which rivals the A’s existing roll. Having “San Jose” on the front of the jersey is going to be major motivation on its own. Throw in even more wealthy communities to the west and existing A’s fans in southern Alameda County, and it’s not hard to see A’s conservatively pull in 15,000 season ticket holders, maybe even 20,000 in really good years. (The Twins have hit 24,000 prior to the inaugural season at Target Field.) 15,000 full season tickets equals 1.2 million advance tickets sold, not including partial packages, family packs, and other types of sales. Even San Jose’s share equals 729,000 tickets, or one-third of a 2.1 million attendance season.
Does size matter? You bet it does. Size means political weight. Size means massive sales potential. Size means huge civic pride just waiting to be unleashed. If you don’t have the size, you don’t have the clout. You have to scramble, you have to hustle. And the fact that Oakland will have to do that puts them at a disadvantage. It’s unfortunate, especially because Oakland has had a chance to put themselves in a better, more ready position. If Oakland loses the A’s, it won’t be entirely the city’s fault. They won’t have had the benefit of a fully willing and eager partner in A’s ownership. In the end, history will be written by the winners. Everything else will be a footnote.