Cities Simpatico

Holy Week finds Oakland and Sacramento in similarly uncomfortable places. The new sports radio station (95.7 FM) has been talking about the A’s stadium fate all week, and that will only continue on Monday when Chris Townsend interviews both Doug Boxer and Chuck Reed during the first hour. A death watch has hovered over Sacramento since the Kings’ last regular season game of the season ten days ago. Both cities have had highly active grassroots groups rally the resources to get their respective higher powers (MLB/NBA) to give their homes another shot, perhaps their last. So it may be fitting that during a religious week, the Kings appear to be resurrected – if for a year.

As the process for both the Kings and A’s drags out, comparisons will be made between the teams, cities, owners, and fanbases. The easy (and somewhat lazy) thing for the media to do would be to lump them in together. To get a better read on where either team might end up down the road, it’s important to highlight the similarities and differences between each team’s current predicament.

What’s similar

Admittedly, this is the easy part. Both the A’s and Kings play in outdated venues, the histories of which have been well documented here and elsewhere. Both cities have somewhat unfair reputations as not being particularly corporate-rich and both are government towns. Oakland is the county seat and it has the Port, UC, MTC, and BART. Sacramento has the Capitol and numerous agencies associated with it. Both cities have been hit by crushing unemployment. There’s a sense that either team’s ownership group hasn’t exactly given 100% effort towards a new venue in their respective home cities. Lew Wolff’s last try in Oakland was in 2006 (Coliseum North), and the Maloof brothers infamously dropped support for a railyards arena in the middle of the campaign – also in 2006. Both venues’ financing plans involved the selling of land entitlements. Those plans crumbled in the wake of the real estate market collapse. While neither party has verbalized it, it’s that collapse that has caused Wolff and the Maloofs to have doubts about any financing plan in Oakland or Sacramento. Now nearly five years later, Wolff is looking 40 miles south whereas the Maloofs are looking 400 miles south.

What’s different

This stuff is harder to explain, but it gets at the heart of the problem. Most of this it is inside baseball, making it hard to pin down or easily explain away. Unfortunately the differences are more likely to be responsible for what eventually happens than anything else.

  • Markets. The Kings would be moving out of the Sacramento market (2.1 million population) which it has to itself in order to inhabit Orange County, part of the Greater LA market (18 million). LA already has six major league teams. The A’s would move within the Bay Area market, which would preserve TV and radio presence but cause upheaval among available fans for attendance and sponsorships.
  • Venues. While both the Oakland Coliseum and ARCO Arena are antiquated, that’s where the similarities end. The Coliseum is owned by the City of Oakland and Alameda County. ARCO Arena is owned by the Maloofs. That’s an important distinction because of who to “blame” regarding the state of those venues. The Coliseum has received few upgrades and limited maintenance since the Raiders came back, thanks in part to very limited public funds. Kings fans have targeted the Maloofs due to their seeming neglect of their asset.
  • Team ownership styles. The Maloofs saw fit put a well-paid team on the court as long as they were competitive, going over the NBA’s salary cap on a regular basis during the glory years (1998-2004). Ticket prices were in the upper half of the league to help pay the bills. The brothers’ business fortunes have taken a tumble, which has caused them to field low payroll teams filled largely with young players. Wolff has been practicing that philosophy for years with Billy Beane at the helm, though payroll for the A’s more a function of team revenue than anything else. Thanks to frequent discounting, A’s tickets are among the cheapest in MLB.
  • Television complications. It is believed that the Maloofs are going to Anaheim lured in part by much greater television revenues. In Sacramento, they’ve been getting $11 million from CSN California, one of the lowest annual deals in the NBA. Earlier this week officials from CSNCA have suggested that they would bump up that number if the Kings were to stay, though they didn’t say how much. As part of the move, the Kings would be on Henry Samueli-owned KDOC for a year until the Lakers’ deal with Fox Sports ends, then that slot would be available. The KDOC deal is worth $20 million for the year. However, LA’s pre-existing NBA teams, the Lakers and Clippers, object to the move on the grounds that they’ll be negatively impacted. In the Lakers’ case, they could lose up to 10% of their newly inked deal with Time Warner. That deal could provide as much as $5 billion over 25 years, and would take a hit if a third team such as the Kings/Royals played in the market. Considering the opportunity cost for the league, there’s now a legitimate question of whether new TV revenue in SoCal for the Kings/Royals makes up for that lost revenue for the Lakers.
  • Antitrust exemption. MLB’s longstanding exemption allows the commissioner to control all franchise moves, which has made baseball the major sport with the fewest moves in the modern era. The NBA has no such protection, which has allowed nine franchises to move since 1972. During the same period MLB has only moved one franchise, the Expos to DC, and that was orchestrated by Bud Selig. Whatever the NBA decides, Stern doesn’t have to worry about actions that may set a precedent since Stern’s already been through it. The possibility of setting a precedent with the owners seems to paralyze Selig, who was once an owner and wants to remain buddy-buddy with the owners. Stern may be the opposite in that he’s often received criticism that he’s more supportive of the players – specifically the stars – than the owners.
  • Timeline. Selig’s panel has been deliberating for two years with no end in sight. In the last few days, David Stern and his committee have essentially set a real end date to the process, March 2012 – if the Kings are stay in Sacramento as has been reported. If the move is approved, the moving trucks will be at ARCO faster than you can say “Mayflower.” The Maloofs have pushed out a deadline to apply for the move, but that application and the decision making process are not expected to drag out for very long.
  • Sales pitch. Let’s Go Oakland may have gotten some attention with its $500k in pledges last summer, but that’s nothing compared to what Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson has put together. Working with Denver consultancy ICON Group and Sacramento-area civic and business leaders, Johnson has gotten $10 million in commitments to keep the Kings in town. Johnson also may have dazzled the NBA’s brass in a way only a young upstart who isn’t a career politician and had a lengthy career as an All Star point guard can do. San Jose’s sales pitch has been glacial, minimal, and could be boiled down to a MS Project chart with milestones. Anaheim’s pitch has been rushed to the point of incoherence.

At this point, it’s all up for grabs for both teams, all of the cities, all of the owners. MLB and the NBA have upcoming collective bargaining sessions, though MLB’s should be less contentious. It’s hard enough to know how all of this will turn out if there weren’t a ton of external factors. Many think that the simplest path is to have money rule the day, and that cities like Oakland and Sacramento haven’t a chance. Hardcore fans hold out hope for a white knight like Ron Burkle or Larry Ellison to save the day. There’a a well-earned feeling of solidarity between Oaklanders and Sacramentans, with some being fans of both the Kings and A’s. Whatever happens, we’ll give it a thorough look. Just sit back and buckle your seat belt. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

11 thoughts on “Cities Simpatico

  1. Thats a pretty great analysis. Thank you.

  2. A’s move to SJ “would cause upheaval among available fans for attendance and sponsorships.”. Huhh? Respectfully don’t agree with that assessment RM.
    Also, let’s remember that the majority of A’s fans in the Bay Area just want a new venue in the Bay Area; be it SJ or Oak.
    The “Oakland-only” crowd makes up a small portion of the fanbase and is not representative of all of us.
    The Kings would be moving over 300 miles away, not to West Sacramento. In closing, major differences between the A’s and Kings situations.

    • @tony d. – 20-mile radius. Think about it.

      • @tony d. – 20-mile radius. Think about it.

        So you’re saying that the “upheaval” would be those current A’s season ticket holders who live within 20 miles of the Coliseum WON’T become season ticket holders at Cisco Field/SJ? If so, then that’s a small price to pay for getting a new venue and becoming a revenue contributor (vs. welfare recipient). If not, then I don’t know what the “upheaval” will be. Oh well, HAPPY EASTER! Will check in later tonight…

  3. Just the thought of moving 40 miles south has caused major upheaval with this 40 year OAKLAND A’S fan.

  4. jk, Unfortunately (or fortunately) there aren’t many people like you.

  5. Hey guys–wont be able to listen to CT tomorrow–traveling–hopefully Mayor Reed will identify what the status is of the remaining land acquisitions in SJ—if not hopefully someone asks him–

  6. CT is also going to have Jose Canseco on a@ 2:00, I don’t know what they will talk about. But, I’ll be listening. I know someone commented on this blog that it would cool if Canseco was somehow involved in the new station.

  7. ellison? white knight for the a’s? i doubt it. if anything he’ll bring a new nba team to the bay area and be the white knight for bay area basketball fans who’ve been stuck with the sorry sad sack of a franchise known as the w’s. if the w’s move to sf and ellison brings in the hornets or some other franchise to sj, i think a lot of fed up oakland especially but east bay w’s fan who’ve been disrespected due to the w’s org as a whole not naming the franchise after oakland and moving them most likley within the next decade to city and in all liklihood changing the name finally from gsw to sfw, they’d probably switch alligence to a sj based nba team imo.

  8. Oakland and Sacramento had their teams “misplaced” years ago.

    Had MLB and the NBA known San Jose was going to end up with 1M people and have a corporate base like it does today in the 1960s and 1980s both teams would be in San Jose and not where they are now.

    Especially the Kings who could have moved to San Jose in 1993 when the San Jose Arena first opened up.

    Both cities do not have the private sector to support these franchises. Not to mention the facilities they are in are ancient by modern times. Without public money to help build new venues there is no way these teams can survive where they are now.

    In both cases Oakland and Sacramento failed numerous times trying to get something done for their teams. Sacramento is strange to me since it is the only team they have while Oakland has 3 teams.

    One can blame the owners but that is the easy way out….In reality this is a two way street with the cities and without a good public-private partnership nothing gets done.

    In the end the Kings will end up in Anaheim, no one can stop the Maloofs from moving if they want to. Sacramento is 5 years away at least for a new arena and KJ still has not stepped up with a financing plan for it. He is merely stalling in hopes the Maloofs sell the team, which we all know will not happen.

    The math is simple since the NBA model has changed from sellouts to selling out luxury suites and premium seating. Sac has 30 luxury suites (small and not good) and zero club seating while Anaheim has 84 very nice suites and 3,000 club seats.

    Regardless if they good attendance overall they will make $$ of selling the premium seating alone. Hence why the Maloofs want to move. The only way Sac keeps the Kings if the Maloofs themselves decide not to move.

    The A’s will end up in San Jose or be contracted with Lew Wolff getting the Dodgers. I see this as a possibility since Selig does not have the “balls” to force the Giants to accept whatever he dictates.

    In the end these two cities should have never had their teams in the first place but who could have seen San Jose grow to where it is today back then?

    Sacramento and Oakland at one point were great cities but with the recession it has set them back for years and the private sector is the only way to get anything done in this day and age.

    Great analysis ML!

  9. As per Selig’s balls: Ask Frank McCourt.

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