Site housekeeping

If you happen to have registered a username on this site, you’ll notice that if you are logged in a new gray bar appears at the top of the page. This was an addition that came with WordPress 3.1, which was installed tonight. For most of you this bar won’t have any functionality because you are by default at the “subscriber” level, which means you don’t have the ability to do anything other than make comments. As I mentioned in a previous comments thread, I intend to open things up for users to make their own posts at some point. I haven’t given it too much thought and I’m still figuring out how such posts would be integrated into the site. Some level of editorial control has to be maintained, and until the A’s political and city/site situation is determined I don’t intend to open things up. After that point commenting should be less prone to flame wars. If you have anything to say or ask about this policy, feel free to drop a comment.

I don’t intend to get rid of the anonymous commenting that’s currently allowed. IP’s continue to be visible to the admin (me) so that I can easily identify spammers and really bad trolls. The comments system will remain in house, so you won’t see a wholesale change to a third party such as Facebook or Disqus.

If you are interested in becoming a registered user, click on the Login link on the right and click Register. Then complete the extremely short form. You should be warned: there are no inherent benefits other than the fact that you’ll have a unique handle in green.

Boxer leaves Oakland Planning Commission (updated: Russo pursuing Alameda City Mgr job)

Found this item about now ex-Planning Commissioner Doug Boxer in Trib scribe Angela Woodall’s Friday entry interesting:

Boxer, however, looked relaxed because it was his last meeting. He was appointed to the commission nearly six years ago and stepped down a few months shy of being termed out. His resignation wouldn’t attract much attention except he is behind Let’s Go Oakland, the group leading efforts to keep the A’s in Oakland. And he is well known as the son of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has a condo in Jack London Square and is a client of his political consulting firm, Boxer and Associates.

Critics and people who are fighting against keeping the A’s in Oakland raised an eyebrow way up high at Boxer’s connections with developers and politicians and his seat on the commission when talk about a new ballpark near Jack London Square began heating up. Boxer dismissed the accusations — and they were accusations even though spoken in whispers by people with an agenda. And anyway, he said, the commission only makes recommendations to the City Council, which would have the ultimate say so over a ballpark.

“It’s time to go,” he said. “I will keep fighting the fight on the A’s.”

I’m not on the inside in terms of Oakland politics, so I don’t really know what to make of this. Either this frees Boxer up so that he can be a more forceful advocate for Let’s Go Oakland or he knows that nothing can be done prior to the expiration of his term so he’s bailing early (or both). Either way it’ll be interesting to see if Boxer’s public profile is raised in the coming months.

Update 7:30 PM – Almost forgot! In addition, Oakland City Attorney John Russo is a finalist for Alameda’s City Manager position. Russo, who famously threatened lawsuits against the A’s for anything from breaking the lease to censorship, may be looking to head across the estuary. He’d get a raise in Alameda and an escape from Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, which given their friction, may be a vacation for him. Should Russo get the job, it would set off a chain of events in Oakland in which his successor would have to be chosen or elected. One or more current City Council members may be interested in Russo’s job, maybe even Doug Boxer?

Emphasis, or beating a dead horse

The Chronicle’s Susan Slusser catches up with Lew Wolff on the stadium situation:

Wolff reiterated that he believes that the Bay Area should be considered like the other two-team markets, none of which have territorial rights assigned.

Wolff said that funding for any stadium approved in San Jose is in place. “We’re prepared to build the stadium,” he said. “We have the funding, the equity, the sources of revenue.”

This is the first I’ve heard or read Wolff confirm this. Obviously he’s not going to divulge details on how this would work, but we’ve made plenty of reasonably good guesses here to paint a picture.

In other news, the Kings have asked for an extension to the March 1 deadline to petition for a franchise move, presumably to Anaheim.

With both of those in mind, here’s a simple poll question.

Concentrated Cactus

It wasn’t 20 years ago that the Cactus League was hanging on for dear life. With 20 teams in Florida and only 8 in Arizona, there was legitimate concern that the days of playing in dry desert warmth were coming to an end. With the Dodgers finally escaping Vero Beach and both Ohio teams now camping out in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear, there are now 15 teams in the Cactus League, making for complete parity with the Grapefruit League. And if you ask around, you might get the sense that Arizona is much better. The teams aren’t as spread out as they are on the other coast, which makes travel for teams and fans a veritable picnic.

Even with the addition of teams to the Cactus League, the league has consolidated considerably. Only three years ago, three teams were in Tucson. Now there are none. The Padres called Yuma home for 25 years and the Angels springed in Palm Springs for over 30. All 15 Arizona teams are at worst 40 minutes away from each other, many within only a few minutes of each other.

This concentration of teams is largely due to teams like the Reds and Indians sharing facilities. Right now there are only 10 ballparks among the 15 teams in the league. The five shared ballparks are fairly new, with three of them coming in the last three years for over $100 million each. The five teams who have ballparks to themselves (A’s, Giants, Cubs, Angels, Brewers) are in the oldest parks, though HoHoKam and Maryvale are less than 15 years old and the other three have undergone some amount of renovation in the last decade. In a couple years the Cubs are set to move from the middle of Mesa to the western city limit near Tempe/ASU, which brings them even closer to the other teams.

Developing a ballpark is like building a scaled down version of a normal major league ballpark. A park typically holds 10,000 seats, much of them bleachers. Flanking many of the newer facilities are entire complexes with large indoor training centers and 4-8 baseball diamonds. Being in an old facility situation, the Cubs were dissatisfied with Fitch Park, only a few blocks south of Hohokam. The new plan has the ballpark colocated with the training facilities and a Cubs-themed village of sorts, all next to a lake stocked with catfish and trout. The final price of all of this is guaranteed to be well above $100 million and probably closer to $200 million.

Wrigleyville West rendering (source: East Valley Tribune)

At the other end of the spectrum is the A’s. Despite being wooed by developers to consider a move to the new Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Lew Wolff chose to stick with the City of Phoenix and the A’s longtime home, Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Wolff has been trying for some time to work with the City and Mayor Phil Gordon on renovations to Muni, going so far as to offer to pay for it upfront as long as the city pays the A’s back over time. Wolff considers the $30 million pricetag on Muni renovations chump change – not the best choice of words but an apt description compared to the other mostly taxpayer-funded facilities.

Like the Cubs and Giants, the A’s have a split facility. Muni is at the south end of Papago Park, while the training facility and practice fields are at the north end more than a mile away. Wolff and the front office apparently like this arrangement, so no need to scope out a new site. There’s no denying that Muni is long in the tooth:

Wolff, though, said he’s hardly looking for a total reconstruction of the A’s current Spring Training site. He’d like to tear down and rebuild the blockhouse of an office and clubhouse building at Papago Park and make significant upgrades to Phoenix Muni, which was opened in 1964. The infrastructure of that yard is crumbling as evidenced by a water pipe break this week that flooded some of the A’s clubhouse offices.

Sounds familiar. At least Phoenix didn’t ruin Muni by sticking a huge triple-decked football stand in the outfield. Next year I expect to head out to Phoenix to catch some games while my brother is still going to school at ASU. By then I hope that Wolff and Gordon have hammered out a deal, because if they haven’t Wolff will have to start all over again with a new mayor. I prefer being able to fly into PHX and take the new light rail line from near the airport to the station near Papago to catch a game before settling in. No other Cactus League park is near transit the way Muni is. If Wolff and Gordon can’t strike a deal, there isn’t anywhere for Wolff to look, so it would be yet another year of staying at a decaying stadium in a nice climate. If the familiarity with obsolescence breeds contempt, Wolff must be feeling like Phil Connors right about now.

Revenue sharing rollback?

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is at it again. This time he’s talking about that horrible, disgusting word that I loathe, the one that makes my skin crawl, the C-word.

That’s right. Contraction.

Rosenthal notes that some of the big market owners are grousing about having to send money to low revenue franchises such as the Rays and A’s, who conveniently don’t have new ballparks to help their revenue cases. Both teams should be the likeliest candidates because of this. However, all is not as it appears to be! Rosenthal walks back the threat in the context of upcoming CBA negotiations. To wit:

Such a threat would, however, change the tenor of the upcoming labor negotiations, raising the tension considerably. Yes, the owners always could pull back to extract other concessions, but if the A’s can be saved, why risk a work stoppage to eliminate one troubled franchise?

Naturally, he pivots to an A’s move to San Jose, which could (and should) resolve the A’s poor revenue position. In the grand scheme of things, improving the A’s financial stance may bump up total MLB revenue 1% on annual basis. That’s not enough to make Joe Fan notice, but if the game is as also about getting more owners to sign off on the financial model for the next 5-10 years, it’s an important battle to not have to fight.

Right now, MLB and MLBPA are set to go into CBA negotiations with several draft related items such as bonus slotting, a potential international draft, and the possibility of trading draft picks (yes please). Competition matters include increased replay and that extra playoff round. These items are only peripherally related to how the revenue pie is split, so the tension regarding those matters is projected to be minimal at best. That makes the biggest struggle not between players and owners, but rather between owner haves and have-nots. It has building to this ever since revenue sharing was introduced, and the financial document leaks of last summer only added fuel to the fire.

For a while I’ve been talking about how revenue sharing isn’t going to be expanded. It faces a rollback, strange as it seems, and the big market teams are pushing it. Bud Selig is listening, as his response to Hank Steinbrenner’s comments from earlier in the week shows:

“We have more competitive balance than ever before,” Selig said. “We have more competitive balance than any other sport.

“Now, look, is the system perfect? No. I didn’t say it was perfect, but I said that I think what exists today is pretty darn good. In the next labor negotiation, we have to tweak it in some areas, and it’s significant tweaks.”

What kinds of tweaks are we talking about here? There might be a tweak to the luxury tax, but that would only really satisfy the Yankees. Revenue sharing is defined as 31% of revenue minus expenses. Which means that teams keep more than 69% of their gate, local TV and radio money thanks to the ability to deduct stadium costs. Forbes had the Yankees 2009 revenue at $440 million after expenses and revenue sharing. By reducing the required share from 31% to 25%, the Yankees could see their net revenue approach $500 million, half of that excess likely going to yet another free agent pickup.

On the other end of the spectrum, a have-not team like the A’s could see its revenue go south by only a few million. It also means that other have-nots would take similar hits. In practical roster terms, this means not signing some like Grant Balfour. For a team that tends to hoard revenue sharing like the Pirates, it simply means they have less to hoard since they are forever playing the waiting game until their competitive window opens.

(You can stop your laughing now.)

Thankfully, the have-nots and middle class teams outnumber the big markets. They’re not going to take this lying down and they can lobby Selig just as effectively as the Steinbrenner brothers or John Henry (who once owned a have-not team in the Marlins). What to do then? As Rosenthal suggests, getting one team off the dole – namely the A’s – could be a big difference maker. The Twins are already there. The Marlins will be healthier starting next year. The Royals have a greatly renovated ballpark and a fantastic farm system which could literally pay dividends over the next several years. The A’s will be once they have a ballpark built (and they have the revenue streams to pay for it). That leaves the Rays as the only team that can’t lift itself up by its proverbial bootstraps. Knowing that the Rays probably won’t have anything done at least through this next CBA means they are the only team to worry about instead of four or five should the A’s situation be resolved. The sooner the owners make this happen, the sooner they can end this major internal distraction and rally in solidarity against their real enemy: the players union.


P.S. One other thing that Rosenthal touches on is debt or legal issues facing certain owners like Fred Wilpon, Frank McCourt, and Tom Hicks. It would seem that owning a team is a license to do some seriously crazy things, like investing with Bernie Madoff or buying a bunch of other franchises that one can’t afford. While Selig may look to enforce debt rules better, his reach doesn’t go as far as telling owners how to run their own personal finances. Is this recent history of individual owner financial troubles simply a remnant of the economic downturn or something else? I don’t know that any additional “screening” of potential owners would help. It’s not like choosing owners is going to become an open, democratic process overnight. They don’t call it The Lodge for nothing.

P.P.S. Ray Ratto also dismisses contraction.

News and Interviews for 2/23/11

Carl Guardino’s interview with Lew Wolff and Michael Crowley is now available (MP3). Nothing really new, other than one particular quote from Wolff that I took note of. When asked by a caller about whether it’s San Jose or out of the area to Sacramento or Vegas because Oakland’s not possible, Wolff replied:

I don’t agree with you that the Oakland situation is quite that bad. It’s a fanbase, but the problem is that implementing a privately financed ballpark is difficult.

So what it comes down to, as I’ve been hammering home for the last year or so, is being able to pay for the stadium. Oakland is simply behind the eight ball when it comes to corporate interests and it’s a nonstarter for seat licenses if those ever become necessary. I don’t have specific numbers to back this up, but I suspect that the club seat market is also poor. Even for fairly well-attended A’s and Raiders games, club sections are frequently empty compared to others. If building in Oakland or Fremont was based on an economic model that collapsed (real estate), what is to take its place? It brings to mind comments made by official Yankees blowhard Hank Steinbrenner regarding revenue sharing and markets (via ESPN):

“At some point, if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets, or don’t leave teams in minor markets if they’re truly minor,” Steinbrenner said. “Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer.”

Say what you will about the Yankees, but there’s a reason their ticket prices are so astonishingly high: they’re privately financing $1.1 Billion of the new stadium. Which means that they’re privately financing a stadium, paying luxury tax, and contributing the lion’s share of revenue sharing into the pool. Yet they still can’t fill out a rotation. Hank probably has a nice ulcer over all of that.

Shortly after the market question, the subject matter changed to Wolff’s communications (or lack thereof) with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Quan, who was misidentified as the first Asian American mayor of a major US city in Baseball Oakland’s otherwise good interview (Norm Mineta was San Jose’s mayor 40 years ago), has mentioned that she hasn’t spoken to Wolff since his aborted Coliseum North plan, which Wolff himself confirmed. Now, they can both play political points with each of their respective bases by continuing to point this out, or they can actually choose to have a real conversation. Not like anyone’s stopping either of them. And for those of you who say, “so-and-so should act first,” grow up. It doesn’t matter.

Further on in the Quan interview, she suggests that redevelopment is in a much more secure position than portrayed by others who may be signaling alarms (including me), simply due to the legal trouble the state would face in dismantling it. That may be the case, but it isn’t stopping cities and counties which have real, ready-to-go projects from taking the necessary measures to protect their plans. In Oakland’s case, Victory Court isn’t anywhere near ready-to-go, so committing resources to it with so much up in the air is certainly premature. I just have a hard time believing that any city in this era can act on a hair trigger. The process is long and arduous, and if you’ve been reading this blog more than a year you need no further reminders of that.

One thing that puzzles me is that Bud Selig’s committee is working in a silo with Oakland. It is doing the same with San Jose. It is apparently not communicating any of this to Wolff. Why not? Shouldn’t there be some sharing of information to get the best ideas to the forefront? It’s not like we’re dealing with multiple teams competing for the same stadium. It’s the same team regardless of which city is picked. It doesn’t make much sense.

In other news, Santa Clara unanimously approved a resolution to create a stadium authority for the 49ers.

According to BoSox president Larry Lucchino, Fenway Park is expected to stand another 40-50 years. (Well, as long as the climactic scene in some recent movie set in Boston doesn’t happen frequently.)

Over the weekend there was some hubbub about a rough rendering of the Quakes stadium, previously discarded and sent to the City of San Jose for code verification as part of its permits process, showing up on the interwebs. To which I say, Wow. Just wow.

Going back to the Wolff interview for a second, I noticed that the show was sponsored in part by construction firm Webcor Builders. Could they be trying to get in good on the stadium construction tip? They are handling the work at Cal’s Memorial Stadium. Devcon has been involved with the 49ers’ plans and the expansion of Buck Shaw Stadium at SCU.

More on Wolff regarding the A’s future regular season and spring training homes from writer Barry M. Bloom.

Also, Ken Rosenthal’s argument against contraction seems familiar.

Wolff on Guardino’s KLIV radio show tonight

As Santa Clara prepares to “finalize” its stadium deal, Lew Wolff will be on SVLG head Carl Guardino’s “The CEO Show” tonight on KLIV (AM 1590). Wolff’s been making the media rounds every so often, though the tone of this interview should be different from Rick Tittle’s excellent work from two weeks ago. Last September SVLG officially came out in support of an A’s move to San Jose, and sent a letter to Bud Selig urging him to make it happen.

Update 7:05 PM – Interesting, Mike Crowley is on with Wolff.

7:17 PM – Wolff answering a caller’s question about Oakland’s issues with attendance and retaining a team: I don’t think the situation in Oakland is that bad as far as the fanbase. The difficulty is in putting together a privately financed stadium.

7:27 PM – Wolff talks about Cisco’s technology push, which uses concepts seen in Minority Report, probably via near field communication.

7:29 PM – If you’re thinking the callers so far are all ringers, they are. Except maybe one.

7:30 PM – About the Quakes and the $60 million investment for the stadium there: “$100 million for 17 homes games a season is a bit of a reach.

7:35 PM – Time to build the ballpark: 30 months, assuming (the A’s) don’t get sued, as long as we get the process going.

One of the interesting asides from the interview came in Guardino’s 10 questions segment. Asked what was his favorite book, Wolff replied that it was an out-of-print autobiography of developer William Zeckendorf, who built Century City in Los Angeles and owned the land on which the UN headquarters in New York would eventually be built. As is often the case with many CEOs, he makes his employees read his favorite book.