Quick notes from Wolff-Townsend interview

Update 11:45 PM – Mark Purdy asks questions of both Wolff and Reed.

Wolff’s reactions to Townsend’s questions:

  • Not critical about Selig. Is resigned to the length of the process.
  • T-rights isn’t “us against the Giants.” It’s a baseball matter.
  • Washington-Baltimore is not comparable to Santa Clara County, and has not been discussed as comparable.
  • Acknowledges cities’ financial problems. Emphasizes ballpark will be built with private funds (does not talk about public land or infrastructure).
  • Continues to be in touch with San Jose and Mayor Reed.
  • Considers real estate transactions for Diridon small in cost relative to ballpark investment.
  • Maintains there is no Plan B, Plan A being San Jose.
  • Says that there is no financial plan for building in Oakland. Infrastructure costs in Oakland and Fremont are “not in the cards anymore.”
  • Oakland Mayor Quan and Wolff have been talking, will meet next month.
  • OT – Feels that 49ers and Raiders should share a stadium.
  • San Jose site is the only that appears to be ready (EIR, land acquisition).
  • Considers being an owner a privilege.
  • Says the A’s have a good fanbase, could be bigger.
  • Likes the challenge of figuring the plan out, but he’s getting older.
  • Hints for the first time that if situation drags past the point where he can see it through, his son (Keith) and staff will do it.

Not much from the interview, but the Quan and succession stuff is revealing.


Update 4:50 PM – The League of California Cities, a redevelopment and city lobbying group, is going straight to the California Supreme Court for a ruling on the constitutionality of the new laws.

Update 2:40 PM – Governor Brown has signed the twin kill redevelopment bills.

Reminder: Lew Wolff will be on The Chris Townsend Show (95.7 FM) at 5:30 PM today.

At the end of Howard Bryant’s first column on the state of the A’s, it might have been easy to lose track of something Lew Wolff said.

Though the clock is ticking on the A’s, sources also say the committee has not expressed any time pressure to present Selig of its findings.

“That’s very true,” Wolff said. “The pressure isn’t on them. It’s on me.”

Starting today, the pressure will definitely be on Wolff – despite the fact that this pressure will come from circumstances beyond his control. At the Capitol, Republicans briefly delayed the inevitable passage of the budget, which was constructed from a combination of realignment and suspect revenue projections. The final package includes the two redevelopment bills (one to kill, one for ransom/rebirth) that were passed by the legislature two weeks ago. Cities throughout the state are lawyering up, though it’s hard to see what settlement could arise since any compromise on the state’s part would have consequences for the budget.

Legal challenges or not, all cities have to deal with the repercussions of the budget passage. Redevelopment advocates have called the twin bills little more than an extortion scheme to allow them to continue to work, and they’re not wrong. As mentioned last Tuesday, here are the amounts that would have to be paid for cities and counties to keep their RDA’s functional:

  • Alameda County: $7.7 million
  • Fremont: $9 million
  • Oakland: $39.7 million
  • San Diego: $69.8 million
  • San Francisco: $24.6 million
  • San Jose: $47.6 million
  • Santa Clara: $11.4 million

The figures are the extortion amounts. See how the Oakland amount is nearly as high as the San Jose amount even though it has less than half the population? That’s because so much land in Oakland (most of the flats) is in one redevelopment zone or another. Oakland North reports that the ransom payment won’t be factored into whatever budget is passed by the City of Oakland, which is understandable since it’s such a recent happening. As of this writing, Oakland is still choosing one of several budget proposals to approve, with the tough battle to gain union concessions won by Mayor Jean Quan. For Oakland, the issue with redevelopment becomes a matter of what they’ll be allowed to do once October 1 hits. Unlike San Jose, Oakland hasn’t gone to the trouble of winding down ORA’s activities, which makes extracting ORA from City Hall difficult. Currently, 17 police officers have their salaries paid by ORA, as well as half the salaries of the mayor and city council (who serve on the ORA board). As they scramble to figure out how some of those needs will be met, it’s not hard to see how actual projects which haven’t started in earnest could fall by the wayside.

Worse, not operating a RDA doesn’t mean that the state won’t get its pound of flesh. It’ll still entitled to the $40 million, only it gets to decide at a later point how it will extract the money from the city. If a city decides it can “play ball” it can pay the vig this year and a smaller amount for next three years, and whatever’s leftover can be used for RDA uses by a successor agency, or as I called it previously, “Son of RDA”. If a city decides it can’t play ball, a successor agency will be created for them, much the same way a defendant can get a court-appointed public defender. That agency’s sole purpose will be to tally up and distribute tax increment as it comes in, none going to new projects. Most importantly, in the can’t-play-ball scenario cities won’t be able to issue new debt. That’s a killer for Oakland, which was counting on being able to tap into new bonds to pay for some of the Victory Court project (land/infrastructure) cost. It’s even more important now that ORA had to absorb some of the city’s budgetary cost by acquiring HJKCC. Without that ability to issue new debt, Oakland’s liable to say, at “Our hands are tied, sorry we couldn’t do more.” And they’d be perfectly within their rights to do so. Thanks for killing the A’s again, Governor Moonbeam.

Then again, there may be a loophole, one that some of the largest RDA’s have been looking to exploit – and one that may have the biggest legal test. When Oakland initiated $100 million in property transfers from ORA back to the city two weeks ago, my response was, “What took so long?” Los Angeles transferred $1 billion worth of assets in a similar fashion in January. While these transfers may have occurred before the 2011-12 fiscal year begins, language written into ABX 26, the redevelopment killing bill, allows state-appointed auditors to determine if any transactions done January 1, 2011 or later (effectively after Brown took office) to be reviewed. What that means for those assets is anyone’s guess at this point, and probably will be the focus of more legal wrangling should the state start looking to liquidate assets to get its revenue.

There’s also the case of San Jose’s newly and hastily created SJ Diridon Development Authority. All thats missing from the name is “Re”. The whole affair seems like an overreaction to Brown, though there may be some hidden wisdom in there somewhere. Regardless of whether work is done through the skeleton crew at SJRA or SJDDA, at some point San Jose will also have to decide if it wants to pay to play. Recently, Mayor Chuck Reed and Lew Wolff have been adamant that they will find the necessary funds to cover the rest of the ballpark land acquisition and infrastructure change, $27+ million total. However, San Jose will also have to pay its $47 million soon if they want to be clear of the state’s reach. That would preclude merely piecemealing the remaining land sales/buys, as they have suggested. Instead, the onus may be on Wolff to deliver on the $89 million price of the Airport West (Earthquakes Stadium) land renegotiated last December. That money isn’t due until 2015, yet here we are with pushed up deadlines thanks to the death of redevelopment. $89 million would provide enough cash for SJ to complete its work and fund other infrastructure in the area it wants to be known as Silicon Valley’s Times Square (I thought it was Grand Central?).

Soon, a coalition of the ten largest cities in the state (including SF, SJ, and Oakland) will put together a lawsuit to vigorously challenge Brown’s redevelopment pay-to-play-or-die scheme. Their case is supported by the passage of Proposition 22 last November, which prohibits state-based redirects of property taxes. Legal murkiness started during the gubernatorial transition when Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown signed off on declaring a fiscal state of emergency, which set the framework for the redevelopment reform bills. Which has greater precedence, a new law or an even newer declared state of emergency? That’s what the courts will have to decide.

Can’t give these tickets away

The Merc’s Daniel Brown wrote a bleak article on A’s attendance, grabbing a few choice quotes from Andy Dolich and A’s sales/marketing veep Jim Leahey. Dolich reflected on how the Coliseum used to be packed during the Bash Brothers era, and pointed a finger at how ownership’s constant desire to move out of Oakland has hurt attendance.

“Really, it just made me sad,” he said. “There was a time – and it’s getting harder for people to remember – when the Coliseum was the place to be. It was the Giants who were an afterthought. It was the Giants who were playing in a dump and waiting for high-profile opponents to come into town. It’s completely flipped.”

There are also the numerous things done over the years that have effectively reduced the team’s exposure over time.

  • Closure of A’s Clubhouse stores (ca. 2000)
  • Consistent difficulty in getting a decent radio deal in place (not really ownership’s fault)
  • Elimination of Fanfest
  • Tarping off the third deck
  • No improvements to the Coliseum other than visual changes (vinyl signage)

Of course, there are cases like the Tampa Bay Rays, where $35 million of improvements were made that – even when combined with a winning ballclub – had very little effect on attendance. Sometimes a dump is a dump, and a competitive situation with the Giants only highlights the dumpiness. The A’s are really getting left behind due to their stadium malaise, and nothing’s gonna change as long as the Coliseum is home.

Brown also lists all of the promotions being offered just for the upcoming nine-game homestand.

  • Tuesday vs. Florida: Free Parking Tuesday.
  • Wednesday vs. Florida: $2 Wednesday.
  • Thursday vs. Florida: Root Beer Float Day and Free Hot Dog Thursday.
  • Friday vs. Arizona: Friday Family Pack.
  • Saturday vs. Arizona: Fireworks Night (watch from field).
  • Sunday vs. Arizona: None.
  • July 4 vs. Seattle: Fourth of July Visor giveaway.
  • July 5 vs. Seattle: Free Parking Tuesday.
  • July 6 vs. Seattle: $2 Wednesday.

This actually leads me to wonder if there are too many different types of promotions and discounts. It sure doesn’t look like Free Parking Tuesdays has any great effect on attendance. The novelty for BART Dollar Wednesdays, which was strong a decade ago, has thoroughly worn off. The Yankees, Giants, and to a lesser extent, the Red Sox bring in other teams’ fans. Fireworks nights bring in casual fans and families. Giveaways are great to bump up paid attendance, but take a look at the steady stream of “fans” leaving the Coliseum on the BART ramp before the first pitch is thrown and tell me that it helps in terms of real fan support. Would the A’s be better served by across-the-board ticket price drops? Would it even matter?

Warriors ownership buys D-League team, may move to Bay Area

First reported by BANG Warriors beat writer Marcus Thompson (via David), the Golden State Warriors are buying the D-League’s Dakota Wizards franchise with an eye on moving it to the Bay Area. Both Thompson and Tim Kawakami think the eventual landing spot will be San Jose, which could create a plant-the-flag situation a la Bill Neukom buying into the San Jose Giants.

The ownership change will make the W’s only the fourth team to have sole control of a D-League team, the others being the Lakers, Spurs, and Thunder. All others have shared development pacts with one other team. That doesn’t mean that it always works. While it allows the parent team to install the exact offensive and defensive systems used by the big boys, it doesn’t always mean that the parent club will take advantage of it. The Lakers actually pulled back and didn’t operate the D-Fenders last season because they hadn’t figured out a way to effectively transition players from the D-Fenders to the Lakers. Operating a club is also expensive. The Lakers struggled figuring out a proper venue for the D-Fenders before settling on having the games be part of an early doubleheader with Lakers game. Given the notoriously late-arriving Lakers crowd at Staples, you can imagine how poor the attendance was. For the upcoming year, home games for the D-Fenders will be at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. The Spurs and Thunder have traditional out-of-town satellite relationships with their D-League teams (Austin and Tulsa respectively).

If you’re wondering where the Dakota Wizards might play after their last season in Bismarck, don’t think big as in the HP Pavilion. Too costly to do the changeover, and much too big for a D-League franchise, where the average attendance is around 3,000 per game. Instead, look to an ancient one-time barnstorming home of the Warriors, the San Jose Civic Auditorium. The Civic holds 3,000 and generally has a wide-open schedule. That lineage could also a factor. My favorite Rick Barry anecdotes are about playing in old arenas, including one where he chased a loose ball out of bounds along the baseline at the Civic and ended up running through a door and completely out of the arena onto San Carlos Street.

Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center would also be a good candidate, though I understand it would require some unknown amount of improvements before it was ready to host games again. There’s also the possibility of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium being in play.

Update 1:30 PM – SJ Giants CEO Jim Weyermann has been named VP of Franchise Development for the Dakota Wizards. Given Weyermann’s South Bay ties, chances are that the franchise will move to the Bay Area once the sponsorships are lined up.

News for 6/27/11

You should be following CNBC Sports Business reporter Darren Rovell on Twitter just for the knowledge drops. Today you get the bonus of all bonuses: Rovell ripped his pants going through an airport security checkpoint and is dealing with the embarrassment.

Unlike Rovell, Frank McCourt apparently feels no embarrassment. He had the Dodgers file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Delaware court today, in what could be interpreted as one last-ditch attempt to maintain control over the team. $150 million in additional short-term financing may be coming from a JP Morgan-run hedge fund, with a whopping 10% interest rate (though it’s not a worse deal than what the Mets are getting). An initial bankruptcy hearing will be held tomorrow. Both Jamie McCourt and Bud Selig have expressed disapproval with the bankruptcy filing. For his part, Selig is said to be offering a better interim financing deal than what JP Morgan is giving Frank McCourt. Selig’s strategy has been for some time to do nothing and give McCourt enough rope to hang himself. By allowing McCourt to perform this maneuver, Selig has given his combatant just a little more rope.

Governor Jerry Brown and leading Democrats in the California Legislature gave a brief statement in support of a new budget which, through a series of cuts, cover up to 75% of the remaining deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. The rest is a $5 billion can that Brown is kicking down the road. Brown is now aiming for a November 2012 election date for tax extensions he was gunning for this year. The press conference was incredibly light on details. Naturally, Republicans want nothing to do with the budget plan. Oh, and then there’s this from Sacramento Bee Capitol reporter Kevin Yamamura:

Already-approved redevelopment bills will go to Guv as part of new Dem #cabudget.

The new budget has been designed to pass without GOP votes, just as the previous one did before Brown vetoed it. Redevelopment interests are looking to file lawsuits as early as this week.

Oakland City Council is expected to approve the sale of the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center to the city’s redevelopment agency for $28.3 million, in an effort to bridge the city’s budget gap. Not known is exactly how much of the sale proceeds will be used for the budget, with all three budget proposals using different amounts.

In radio news, Lew Wolff will be on The Chris Townsend Show Wednesday. 95.7 also hired former 49er cornerback Eric Davis to start at the station on August 1, at which point we can only hope that the NFL lockout is over and Davis can talk training camps. I bet they’ll figure out a way to team Davis up with Rick Tittle, who will do the 1-3 slot on Wednesday as part of a cavalcade of hosts, including CSN’s Jim Kozimor and Brodie Brazil today, Dave Benz and Scott Reiss later in the week.

The role of new media

This is the letter I wrote to A’s P.R. man Bob Rose in light of Dale Tafoya being stripped of his media credentials:

Mr. Rose:

I write tonight in defense of Dale Tafoya and his exemplary podcast, Athletics After Dark. He and his team have done an excellent job covering the A’s with a different perspective, and at times greater depth, than is normally allowed on the radio or via the regular print media. It would be a shame if Tafoya were not granted the access he has been afforded previously, and I fear that his product would suffer as a result. To me this is important as the A’s (as you are well aware) have been historically media-starved. To hamper his work over an issue that does not appear to have much or anything to do with his professionalism seems counterproductive at best, spiteful at worst.

Moreover, I think this is a good opportunity to explain what the role of the internet and new media is in today’s coverage of pro sports teams. I had spent a few years during college working with a professional photographer who had a great working relationship with Debbie Gallas and her counterparts at the other teams in the Bay Area. Because of this experience I can say I have at least a cursory knowledge of how the press box works, and what kind of professionalism it  requires. Going back to the internet – I had no foresight back then as to what it would really mean because things moved so fast. Six years ago I started out my blog with a focus on economics and business issues for the A’s and other area teams. Because of that off-field focus, I have never requested a media credential and I don’t intend to start anytime soon. Surely though, there is a place for Athletics After Dark, Athletics Nation, and other good outlets for Athletics fandom. The Cleveland Indians started an in-stadium social media presence last year and expanded it this year.

I write “fandom” because it means more than it used to. No longer does the fan have to rely on daily newspaper reports or even hourly radio updates. News, rumors, interviews, and other content meant to sate our appetites is ever more available and desired. That creates a situation where there could be breaches of professionalism, or at least perceived breaches thanks to less editorial control over instant outlets like Twitter. There can and should be a third way that can allow the new media to operate in a structured, professional manner. I don’t claim to have the answers for this. But I think this is a good time to start figuring it out. It’s not just for now, it’s for the next 5, 10, 20 years. Let’s find a way.

Rhamesis “Marine Layer” Muncada
new A’s ballpark blog

During the last homestand I spent one game hanging out with many AN regulars, including LoneStranger and emperor nobody. I mentioned that the frequently unused loge seats (suite level near the foul poles) would occasionally be used as auxiliary press seating for Raiders games. It was somewhat inconvenient from a logistics standpoint because someone in media relations would have to run copies of statistics and run them out there every quarter/half. For a blogger, who has this information on a laptop or app within seconds of a play occurring, there’s no need to kill more trees just to run out copies. That makes the loge, or an empty suite as the Cleveland Indians have afforded this year, a good spot for new media. I have a few ideas for this third way of accommodating new media:

  • Pay for limited access. A nominal fee of $5-10 per game, per person. Essentially it’s a ticket with perks such as access to the press box but no assigned seating within. Access to players and coaches pre/post-game would have to be negotiable. The nominal fee is important as it buys the individual a license to say anything (within reason).
  • To prevent just anyone from obtaining this access, applicants would have to provide some proof of prior journalistic work or a portfolio of existing relevant new media work.
  • Wireless internet access is a must.

Personally, I’m glad I had my brief experience working in the regular media. For me, familiarity truly bred contempt, and I found the press box a rather toxic environment, one that threatened to kill my fandom. I think that’s one big reason to separate the regular media from bloggers and podcasters. Now, there may be instances where a blogger or podcaster is looking to cross over into the regular media, and that would have to be dealt with as it happens.


Brown speaks out about redevelopment

Turns out that Governor Jerry Brown and Lew Wolff may agree on something after all.

Too bad it’s not something that can help the A’s anytime soon.

Speaking at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference in SF, Brown addressed the equally touchy subjects of CEQA (EIR process) and redevelopment. About the former:

Brown spoke about his time running Oakland, where he says he received a crash course in local politics.

“Every project was opposed by somebody,” he said. “I never had the experience of so much mindless resistance.”

His principal goal in Oakland was the creation of market-rate housing into the city’s core, which Brown thought would bring more disposable income.

It’s important to note that the opposition hasn’t shown up yet to the Victory Court project because nothing of significant substance has yet been presented. When it does, well, we’ll see how steely the collective resolve is to build a ballpark.

As a developer, Wolff has complained as frequently about CEQA as he has about the Coliseum’s warts. Brown no doubt felt the heat when eminent domain was used under his watch to acquire the Uptown site, not to mention the lawsuits and other challenges the project (built by his friends at Forest City) faced. All of that was done under the CEQA umbrella.

Brown also reaffirmed his position on choosing other budgetary needs over redevelopment. Perhaps some of the reporters in the Capitol were correct in saying that the two “compromise” bills that were passed by he Legislature but not sent to the Governor would be vetoed on the grounds that Brown felt they didn’t go far enough.

And the beat goes on…