A bunch of comments about T-rights in the last thread got me thinking it’s time to reset the debate. There’s some confusion about what was done when and for whom. Previously I’ve written a primer and other posts designed to get into further depth (The Neukom Doctrine, When encroachment is not encroachment). Now let’s get a long-held myth out of the way.
Team X originally held the rights to Santa Clara County. FALSE. According to Doug Pappas, the use of counties to define territorial rights did not become part of the Major League by-laws until the early 90’s. Not coincidentally, this was at the same time that Wally Haas agreed to “give” Santa Clara County to Bob Lurie so that the Giants could pursue ballpark proposals in San Jose and Santa Clara (the city). Historically, teams held rights to their own cities and in some cases other cities well outside their own metropolitan region. In the 90’s teams started to define what their regions were by annexing surrounding counties.The Baltimore Orioles also pursued this line by specifying just about everything between Baltimore and DC, even including parts of the District via the use of Rule 52, also known as the 15-mile rule.
The table below lists all teams in the two-team markets and some data for comparison, including the defined operating territory for each team. The Major League Constitution defines an operating territory as the area “within which (clubs) have the right and obligation to play baseball games as the home Club.”
Baltimore’s deal looks similar to what the A’s are getting now. The biggest difference is that they control their local TV market through MASN, which was created as part of the deal to allow the Expos to move to DC. The O’s pay the Nats a fee to carry TV rights, controlling all revenues that come into the network. Once Nationals Park opened, the Nats actually surpassed the O’s in annual revenue.
The ongoing Dodgers saga could provide its own test of territorial rights. SPORTSbyBrooks reports that MLB is in talks with AEG about a possible downtown ballpark near Staples Center and the LACC. That’s the same area targeted for a NFL domed stadium, making it highly unlikely that both could be downtown. However, it’s not hard to see MLB using this as a stalking horse against Frank McCourt, just in case bankruptcy proceedings allow him to keep Dodger Stadium and the parking lots, if not the team itself. Even if both the NFL and the Dodgers don’t bite there could be another interested party: Angels owner Arte Moreno. Despite the recent signing of lease options at The Big A, the Angels are only locked in through the 2016 season. Moreno is open to looking all over the LA for the next home, and unlike the A’s restrictions vis-a-vis Santa Clara County, Moreno can look at the entire region. That includes downtown LA, which would place the Angels 2.5 miles from Dodger Stadium. Preposterous as it sounds, Moreno hasn’t been afraid to play the leverage game, and the timing of having such an option available would play right into his hands. It’s unlikely that the next version of the ML Constitution will split the LA market unless MLB arranges a downtown LA ballpark deal with AEG and the Dodgers’ next owner, a deal that sounds too complicated to actually work.
Going back to the Bay Area situation, I’ve been trying to figure out how redrawn territories might look if the A’s were to move to San Jose. The pro-San Jose crowd likes to think that the Bay Area would become a large shared territory, like NY/LA/CHI. However, I don’t think that’s realistic. DC-Baltimore remains a split market and with the teams separated by 35 miles and the cities having their own distinct identities, it’s a much better comparison to the Bay Area. A swap of the East Bay for the South Bay is also suspect because it’s practically worthless to the Giants. Operating territories mean nothing except when it comes to playing home games, and the Giants aren’t going to look at building in Oakland anytime in the next, well, forever. Yet the Giants would object to leaving the East Bay unassigned since they wouldn’t want a third MLB team 10 miles or less from China Basin, as unlikely as that sounds. Pro-Oakland forces could lobby MLB to leave the East Bay unassigned, but that does little to address the monetary obstacles in getting a new ballpark built there. It’s clear that either San Jose or Santa Clara County would have to be assigned to the A’s instead of the territory being shared.
The strange thing about the county-based annexation done during the 90’s is that most ballparks are built in downtowns, or at least within major cities’ limits. The Rangers are the only exception to this rule, with their home being halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth in Arlington. One of the iterations of the Washington Senators moved to the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington at first before moving to Minneapolis proper. The Florida Marlins have always played in the Miami suburb of Miami Gardens, though they’ll move to a ballpark within the city limits next season. With public dollars drying up and tools like redevelopment severely restricted in California, it may be time to redefine what an operating territory is. Just from a practical standpoint, we know several things about what MLB looks for in a ballpark site (in no particular order):
- Downtown or sufficiently urban location, close to transit if possible
- Significant infrastructure already in place near the ballpark site
- Large enough market population and economic strength to make a move worthwhile for the team and MLB as a whole
- Proximity to existing fans in cases where building in an established market
It’s hard to believe that a piece of suburban, undeveloped land would fulfill these requirements. Knowing this, it may be best to pare back the definition of operating territory to cities instead of counties. For the Bay Area, that would mean the Giants’ territory would strictly be the City/County of San Francisco, while the A’s territory would strictly be San Jose. The rest of the Bay Area could be shared/restricted from the standpoint of hosting a major league franchise, with both teams requiring consent for further moves or incursions by each other or “invading” major or minor league teams. The point of the operating territory is to maximize physical accessibility to fans throughout a market. The Bay Area’s sprawling landscape makes it difficult to do that for all fans, since either the North Bay or South Bay will be pinched. If MLB is looking to evolve the game now just as they did 20 years ago, T-rights are worth a rethink in order to maximize presence for baseball fans throughout the Bay Area, not just the Giants.