News for 8/30/12

Here we go. We’ll start off with some minor league news.

  • The Santa Cruz Warriors continue to work with the City of Santa Cruz to get their tent arena built in time for the 2012-13 D-League season. Final approval hasn’t happened yet, let alone construction, so the D-League put the Surf W’s on a loooo-o-ng road trip before the team’s first home game around Christmas. That gives the two parties 16 weeks to get the arena approved, built, and buttoned up. No pressure. The Surf W’s could play on the road for additional games until the project is completed, or if there are extensive delays or the project isn’t approved, hopefully there’s a backup plan like the San Jose Civic Auditorium. Cost for the downtown arena have already ballooned from $4 million to $5 million because of foundation issues that were identified. Ticket prices have also been released. [Santa Cruz Warriors; Santa Cruz Sentinel/J.M. Brown]
  • Head north on Highway 1 and you’ll eventually get near the Cow Palace, where the San Francisco Bulls are quietly fixing up the old arena. $2 million of updates will be paid for by the team, including a center-hung scoreboard, a first for the Cow Palace. A schedule and ticket prices have also been announced. I may have to ring up the Bulls to see if I can get a sneak peek of the place. [CSN Bay Area; SF Bulls]
  • The first debate for the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council happened last night, and the two main candidates, incumbent Rebecca Kaplan and challenger (and current D5 council member) Ignacio De La Fuente both had something to say about the tenant teams at the Coliseum complex. [East Bay Citizen; Steven Tavares]

On the issue of the city’s professional sports teams, Kaplan and De La Fuente differed, if not, in terms of their priorities for retaining the A’s, Raiders and Warriors in Oakland, with Kaplan being more optimistic. “Let’s face it, the A’s don’t know the way to San Jose,” said Kaplan, and adding the current Coliseum City proposal will bring shop owners, bars and restaurants to the city along with fans and conventioneers to the area, said Kaplan, while also creating jobs.

De La Fuente was less sanguine saying he would only turn his attention to the Coliseum once crime in Oakland is sufficiently quelled. “I learned from my mistakes,” he said, referring to the botched return of the Raiders in 1995. “They are in the business of making money,” De La Fuente said, believing the public sector should no longer have a role in financing stadiums.

  • The Earthquakes announced their general seat pricing and posted a seating chart. The big ticket item is the establishment of a 1,400-person supporters section in the closed end, which will have its own bar and storage area for the flags and banners they use during the game. Interestingly, the language is “1,400-person”, not “1,400-seat”, which leads me to believe that this area will be a standing terrace. That’s fine since fans in the supporters sections are expected to stand anyway. I’m pretty sure it’s the only to fit 1,400 people in what looks like a pretty small space between the elevated seating bowl and the pitch. [SJ Earthquakes]
  • The Quakes also announced today that they are negotiating with three Fortune 100 companies on naming rights for their 18,000-seat stadium. Fortune 100, eh? Club president said that some of these companies are tech or Silicon Valley firms. Recently, new MLS stadia have netted $2-3 million per year in naming rights, which if matched by the Quakes would go a long way towards paying off the stadium. FWIW, I don’t think any local tech company should be ruled out, including Cisco (and no, that doesn’t mean Cisco is dumping the A’s). [SJ Mercury News/Elliott Almond]
  • On Saturday I’ll be in Berkeley for the first Cal football game at the rebuilt Memorial Stadium. I’ll be sure to get there early to take lots of pictures and document the experience. Somehow I was able to buy one of the last available $19.32 tickets for the opening game. I’ll be in the south end zone, a mere 5 rows up. As an aside, I was somewhat surprised at how many tickets remained for the game. I expected a sell out long ago. One thing to consider is that we’re the only market with three FBS (D-I) college football teams. Combine that with small or not-terribly-fervent fanbases and two NFL teams, and it’s easy to see why our general reaction to college ball is a collective “Meh.” [UC Berkeley]
  • On a related note, the Pac-12 Network launched two weeks ago and is still negotiating carriage deals. Comcast is not an issue since the cable provider is a partner. The issue is working out a deal with DirecTV, which is not only the provider with the most regional sports and college networks, but also the provider of choice in most bars throughout the country thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket. DirecTV purportedly rejected a deal of $0.80 per subscriber/month, leaving many fans up and down the left coast without many opening week games. Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, and AT&T U-Verse customers are also affected. [SF Business Times/Eric Young]
  • The State Controller reversed a slew of land transfers between the cities of Milpitas, Morgan Hill, and their respective (and now defunct) redevelopment agencies. That doesn’t bode well for the Diridon ballpark land transfer, though it has to be pointed out that the Controller has already ruled once in San Jose’s favor, saying that Santa Clara County went to far in holding tax increment funds that were due to the City. [Merc /Tracy Seipel]

Finally, I have to thank a reader out there for giving me four prime tickets behind the A’s dugout for Wednesday’s day game against the Angels. I’m only going to use one, so if anyone’s interested in joining me and talking baseball and ballparks or economics, reply with a comment or send me a tweet.

More tomorrow.

About Oakland….

I was born in Oakland. This simple fact means that I will always have a fascination with the city. It also means that I will always root for good things to come Oakland’s way.

I regularly visit Oakland. My favorite thing to do in Oakland is impossible to say because there are so many things I love to do in Oakland. I love to see my daughters laugh and have fun at the Oakland Zoo, for example. I enjoy strolling up and down College Avenue and eating at the Crepevine. It goes without saying that I really enjoy spending time at the Coliseum Complex (be it A’s, Raiders or Warriors games). And Rudy’s Can’t Fail‘s $5 shot and PBR isn’t all that bad either (except the whiskey tastes like gasoline, but what should I expect for $5?).

So folks who prefer Oakland stay the home of the Athletics long term, let’s start from a position here of “We agree, Oakland is a nice place.”

There are other things we agree on, as well. One is that Oakland some times gets short shrift in the local papers. Some times the headlines get a little gratuitous (when was the last time you noticed a positive headline?). We all know that Oakland, being the 46th largest city in the country and like many other medium sized and large cities, has certain neighborhoods with crime problems. That has nothing to do with whether the A’s should continue to play in Oakland, it has little to do with quality of life for the city as a whole and repeatedly pointing it out is tantamount to taking “pot shots” at the city.

So, let’s set that aside too. We agree that Oakland sometimes gets pot shots lobbed in its direction and they aren’t always fair.

Now can we have an honest discussion about the things we don’t really agree on? Let’s keep in mind that there is a difference between legitimate critiques and having “a bias against Oakland.” There is a difference between asking fair questions and casting aspersions toward the Bright Side of the Bay. In short, pointing out obvious challenges is not that same as leveling baseless attacks at Oakland or its citizens.

In the early part of this season I read a letter written/signed by some fans dedicated to keeping the team in Oakland and I had to shake my head. The very first point they made about off the field issues (the East Bay has traditionally supported the team by regularly drawing in excess of 2M fans) was an intellectually dishonest statement and symptomatic of the spin campaign that has been waged by Oakland advocates. This is not to say I don’t appreciate their passion, or that I have a personal hatred for them.

“Intellectually dishonest” can come off as fighting words, I agree. So let me clarify. First, by being imprecise with the English language and using a qualifier such as “regularly,” the Oakland boosters allow themselves wiggle room. How do you quantify “regularly?” For me, and I’d argue for most people, that word means “usually.” Which is to say, “often.” How many times have the A’s drawn in excess of 2M fans? If it’s regularly, it has to be at least more than half right? The A’s have been in Oakland for 44 seasons. They have drawn in excess of 2M fans 11 times. I don’t think it is a stretch to call it “intellectually dishonest” to tout something that has happened 1/4 of the time as “regularly.”

And further, who decided that 2M fans was the threshold for “strong support?” That is an arbitrary number. I have been consistent in arguing that the real measure of successful attendance is “How did a given team perform against the MLB median in a given year?” I’ll agree, this is also imperfect. It doesn’t directly account for how wins and losses impact attendance. It doesn’t account for the fact that baseball stadiums come in various shapes and sizes. However, it is a heck of a lot more objective and accurate than picking an arbitrary number. For the record, 2M fans in the current day and age is in the bottom third of all of MLB attendance, below the MLB median. How does that equate to “strong support?”

Many folks in the pro San Jose camp point to things that happened when Jerry Brown was Mayor, or that didn’t happen when Ron Dellums was Mayor, as evidence of historical failures. I agree with you Oakland boosters that these failures are ancient history and irrelevant to the current state of stadium hunting affairs. However, the “slam dunk” you were all heralding at Victory Court turned out to be vaporware without a single peep about how you had been bamboozled. The grand “plan” of Coliseum City worked to convince the Warriors to leave Oakland (“We’ve met with Mayor Quan on numerous occasions,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said. “We’ve not gotten any definitive proposals from her.”). Next up is the many times visited, and previously rejected, Howard Terminal.

And let me be clear… It is not unfair to point out that Victory Court, once heralded as a viable site, turned out not to be. It isn’t a pot shot at Oakland to point out that Coliseum City (touted as the mega development that would convince the A’s, Raiders and Warriors to stay) is reportedly supported by a single sports franchise, provided the excuse for one to leave and was considered and rejected by the other long ago. It is also not a shot at Oakland to point out that Howard Terminal was the most expensive proposition in 2001 (which means it is still expensive) and has numerous hurdles before it can be built. Pointing these things out doesn’t mean that Howard Terminal couldn’t house an aesthetically pleasing ballpark. Pointing these things out is accepting reality. And really, that’s my biggest gripe with the “Keep the A’s in Oakland” movement, in general.

When is the “look in the mirror” moment? When do the people who want to keep the A’s in Oakland stop with the PR and start with the doing? Where is the outrage and indignation towards the Oakland City Leaders over the whole kabuki theater around an EIR for Victory Court that never happened? How does  whole group of people get so invested in a potential site and then not even make a peep when it comes home to roost that the site was as unrealistic as many critics pointed out? When do the Oakland proponents start pushing the City to begin an EIR for Howard Terminal? When do folks start to actually question if Howard Terminal isn’t just another Victory Court? Why is it the City leaders get a free pass?

Let’s get real. When folks point out that there are many more corporate/business customers available in Santa Clara County, in San Jose or within 21 miles of the proposed Cisco Fields site… Those aren’t attacks at Oakland.  Cisco pledged $120M over 30 Years for a Ballpark in Fremont. Are we really supposed to believe they wouldn’t offer something similar in the heart of their base of operation? No company has made a similar proposal publicly for a stadium in Oakland. Are we just supposed to believe that there is some mythical company that has this covered? 75 CEO’s signed a letter of support for the A’s potential move South and sent it to Bud Selig. Those 75 CEOs were writing on behalf of an organization that represents $3 Trillion to the world’s economy. Conversely, Don Knauss had 11 other companies (some of which are huge and some which haven’t turned a profit) with him at his press conference. It isn’t just a matter of perception. The business customers in San Jose are far more plentiful than in Oakland. Ditto the South Bay as compared to the East Bay.

Combine this difference in corporate sponsorship opportunities, with the paltry attendance numbers and there are legitimate concerns about privately financing a stadium. That isn’t an attack on Oakland. It is a legitimate concern. There has been one fully, privately financed stadium built in MLB since the influx of stadiums began in the 1990’s: AT&T Park. 48% of that private financing depended on advanced ticket purchases and naming rights. To get more granular, 20% of AT&T Park was financed by PSL’s and 28% was financed by a lucrative naming rights deal. Another ~48% was provided in the form of a loan by Chase Bank.

What I am saying is that if you want to get something done, you need to address the actual challenges, not fight perception. Making statements about how great attendance has always been, in the face of evidence to the contrary, won’t get a stadium built. Getting commitments from guys like me, or the 51,000 folks on the LGO Facebook group, to buy season tickets for a brand new Oakland ballpark will.

Arguing with folks that Cisco won’t sponsor a stadium in San Jose, when we all know they will, won’t get a new stadium built in Oakland. Getting Chevron, or Clorox, or some other very large company to agree to a naming rights deal that pays $4M a year over 30 years (and having them shout it out publicly) will.

These things won’t get you all the way there, Oakland proponents. But they can get you 48% of the way to paying for it and that’s a whole lot closer than you have come to date.


Radio switcheroo

Adding to the intrigue regarding last week’s reshuffling of 95.7 The Game, several radio announcements have been made in the last week or so. First, KNBR’s Tom Tolbert will contribute a minute-long segment at the top of every hour on CBS Sports Radio. (The segment is much like ESPN Radio’s Sports Minute with Mike Tirico, which is heard in other markets with ESPN Radio stations.) The new network was announced in June and will launch on September 4, anchored by numerous CBS and Cumulus stations, including the two KNBRs.

This CBS Sports Radio is different from the previous one, which was syndicator Dial Global’s (Westwood One) mostly game broadcasts with the CBS brand. The new CBS Sports Radio is a 24/7 sports talk network with no carriage of the four major pro sports at the outset. That’s no big deal for the KNBR twins since they have the Giants and 49ers. They’ll be fine, although I’m curious to see how much ESPN Radio remains in the lineup.

You may also remember that, back in March, Dial Global cut a deal with Entercom to switch its game broadcasts from KNBR to 95.7 The Game, coinciding with the NCAA tournament. Dial Global has the NFL, It’s additional sports programming to help bring in new listeners, though it’s not the same as landing a team like the Warriors or Raiders.

Turns out that Dial Global and NBC Sports are also launching their own network. They’ve announced a flurry of new hosts to fill their talk lineup, including the oft-traveled Erik Kuselias (meh) and former NY Giants (and De La Salle Spartan) Amani Toomer. Toomer’s show will be in the late night Eastern (10 PM – 1 AM ET) slot. Current NFL TV analyst Rodney Harrison will get his own weekend show. The interesting thing about NBC Sports Radio is its launch date: also September 4.

That lines up with The Game’s scheduled programming changes, which have a few details remaining to hash out. For now, Dial Global hasn’t said whether it’ll go whole hog with the NBC branding, but it stands to reason that it will. The name Dial Global has no recognition outside of the radio industry, and NBC has been thorough in having the NBC Sports moniker permeate all of its TV sports properties, from the former Versus network (now NBC Sports Network) to the Comcast SportsNets, which have NBC Sports as part of their tagline with every broadcast.

I’m merely connecting the dots, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? Come Tuesday, fifth tier Yahoo! Sports Radio will be ditched for NBC Sports Radio, which has much stronger recognition despite its startup status. Funny thing is that for decades, KNBR-680 was the NBC affiliate for Northern California, a stint that only ended as the station switched to the sports format full time. Throughout the 2000’s the A’s shuffled between CBS-owned affiliates before signing with The Game. Remember how I remarked how cozy the relationship was between The Game and CSN Bay Area/California? That may well have been a prelude to something much bigger. And there’s still the Warriors situation to shake out. September could be a banner month for 95.7, as The Game literally changes.

ESPN keeps MLB rights with $700 million/year deal

Six weeks ago we discussed here the implications of MLB negotiating new TV contracts, with up to $40 million in new national revenue going to each team as a possible outcome. Today the first domino has fallen, as Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reports that ESPN and MLB are re-upping their deal.

The current deal calls for ESPN to pay $306 million per year ($10 million per team) to baseball for the rights to games on Sunday and Wednesday, occasional Monday nights, and immediate highlights and live look-ins on Baseball Tonight. Digital rights to select games were also added for $50 million per year. The new deal has ESPN paying $700 million per year ($23 million per team), which now includes digital and international rights along with domestic cable. The international rights piece is another coup, because it should clean up some rather disparate pieces. The “Worldwide Leader” will also get one wild-card playoff game per year as part of the deal.

Of course, this is ESPN we’re talking about, so there has to be a downside, and it’s that Bristol asked to carry more Yankees-Red Sox games (imagine that!). They got it. Now it can be written: ESPN pushed to expand their East Coast bias. Next thing you know they’ll have a Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow reality show ready for Week 8 of the NFL season.

Remaining to negotiate are the deals for the Saturday Game of the Week (FOX), and the Sunday afternoon game (TBS). Both of those networks also have playoff series, so the stakes are just as high, even if the coverage is not as vast. NBC/Comcast wants in, and CBS is also in the running. Ourand thinks those rights will stay with their respective holders, so we’ll see about that.

As for the A’s, anything that can help the team keep players and start with a higher baseline payroll ($70-75 million), the better.

“Bernie” to throw out first pitch on Saturday

That’s right. The A’s announced today that Terry Kiser, the veteran actor who played the titular dead boss Bernie Lomax in the Weekend at Bernie’s movies, will throw out the first pitch at Saturday’s game as part of “Bernie Weekend“. The versatile Kiser’s film and TV career goes back to the late 60’s, with guest spots on Golden Girls and The Fall Guy among his many credits. Personally, my favorite work of his was his repertory role in Carol Burnett’s short-lived, long-form sketch comedy show, Carol & Company. The rep cast also included Richard Kind (Spin City), Peter Krause (Sports Night, Six Feet Under), and Jeremy Piven (Entourage). Anyway…

If you’ve been under a rock, you may have missed the team’s homage to the Bernie character. The craze was inspired by the song Moving Like Berney by rapper ISA and started on the team by Coco Crisp, Jerry Blevins, and Brandon Inge. Several players can be seen doing the Bernie dance in the dugout after a home run or while celebrating a walkoff win. What is the Bernie, you ask? It originates from the sequel, Weekend at Bernie’s II, and a momentous scene where a reanimated (yes, reanimated) Lomax leads a conga line.

Frankly, I don’t know why the A’s are even doing this. I thought ownership was a bunch of soulless bean counters who only own the team to leverage real estate. Reveling in the team’s winning? Selling tickets to boost attendance? Sharing some fun with fans? Inconceivable. It’s almost as if Lew Wolff enjoys owning a baseball team. Nah, that wouldn’t fit the evil owner narrative. Silly me. /s

Side note – The A’s are pretty good at cashing in these movie tie-in’s.

“Oakland Loves Its Sports Teams” Pep Rally

Let’s be clear about one thing. This was a pep rally. No more, no less. Rick Tittle set the tone as the emcee, talking about how teams are private entities, yet fans can make their voices heard through rallies like this. True to form, no official representatives from any teams were on hand. Tittle did his best to gin up the 200 or so people in attendance, talking up how Oakland is the only city in California with NFL, MLB, and NBA franchises. He also taunted a little, getting the crowd to respond when asking if certain other cities were “big league” (hint: one of them has the initials S.J.). Tittle finished his opening remarks by rattling off the names of numerous political and community leaders that were at the rally.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announces the upcoming “Oakland Loves Its Sports Teams” week of events

The podium was handed off to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who started off by giving a non-update on talks between the City and teams/leagues, not that anyone expected an update. She then talked about the “Oakland Loves Its Sports Teams” week, which will start with the Raiders’ home opener against San Diego on 9/10, a Monday Night Football game. The bookend event is the 9/14 A’s game against Baltimore, which is both the Star Wars fireworks night and an A’s blogger night set up by the team’s media relations department. Quan encouraged fans to sell out both events, which given the circumstances, should not be too difficult. During the week will be other events, including a fundraiser. Curiously, the Warriors were only mentioned in passing by Chris Dobbins and perhaps one or two other speakers, and none of the new signage (see pic above) references the W’s. This may have something to do with how the W’s preseason doesn’t start until October. Yesterday’s revelation of the team hiring an architect for their dream SF arena probably doesn’t help. Still, the W’s are the one team whose practice facility is located in downtown Oakland. You’d think there’d be more than a token mention.

A number of others took the podium, including City Council member Rebecca Kaplan and a person from Rep. Barbara Lee’s office. Throughout the 40-minute rally, there were frequent mentions of Coliseum City and how the project can help revitalize Oakland. Strangely, I didn’t hear a peep about Howard Terminal. Now that the Port is onboard, I was surprised that Howard Terminal wasn’t discussed even a little bit. Maybe I missed something while I was tweeting during the event, but “Howard Terminal” is a phrase that would’ve gotten my attention. (Ed. – I did miss Kaplan’s Howard Terminal reference while I was tweeting.) Now that I think about it, no one from the Port was there either. In the grand scheme of things the omission doesn’t matter much, yet it remains notable. It seems as if the two efforts, such as they are, are running in parallel and there’s no effort to unite them. It sends a mixed message.

Since we’re talking about mixed messaging, I got something else from the tone of the event. On one hand, Oakland supporters talk about how devastating losing the sports teams would be, how much of an impact they make economically, civic pride, etc. At the same time the City is treating the W’s somewhat cavalierly and the A’s in a standoffish manner. It’s what a jilted lover sounds like, and it makes little sense. Don’t get me wrong, events like this and the upcoming weeklong affair are important to elevate the topic among civic discussion. There’s a feeling that this is more of the same, wake me up when you have something new.

Throughout much of the event, there was a protester on the other side of the still-fenced off Frank Ogawa Plaza who was decrying the event, yelling, “Save Oakland, Not The Raiders!” The undercurrent of protest remains, even as the City announced this event on a Friday and held it at 11 AM the following Monday. What would happen if a rally like this were held on Monday during rush hour, with Occupy protesters ready to go? I can’t imagine it’d be pretty. As much as the City keeps claiming that these new sports investments (that’s what they are) won’t require voter approval, they are kidding themselves if they think the City’s residents won’t put serious pressure to put any stadium project to a vote. That’s why this stage is so easy and positive. There are no details. No costs. No sacrifices to make. Unfortunately, the placards and pom-poms have to be put away at some point. Quan ended her remarks referring to her attendance at the recent 15-inning game saying, “It may take a while, but we’ll win in the end.” If I’m a league commissioner in a New York high-rise, I can’t think of a more confidence-inspiring message.

Warriors choose Norwegian firm Snøhetta to design SF arena

This one’s out of left field. The Warriors announced today that the firm they’ll have design their waterfront arena is Snøhetta, a Norwegian firm. Snøhetta’s an interesting choice because according to Joe Lacob, they were chosen for their waterfront expertise. Snøhetta doesn’t have extensive sports venue experience, but they are doing one local project of note – the expansion of SF MOMA.

SF MOMA expansion rendering by Snøhetta

As far as waterfront buildings, the two most cited are the Oslo Opera House and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt. Both are notable in how they seemingly “slide” into the sea adjacent to the buildings. Both of these  venues are not arenas, obviously. What they are for Joe Lacob and Peter Guber are shining examples of how to make iconic venues on the water. That’s what they’re going for. Most arenas in the U.S. are utlitarian in nature, little more than concrete, steel, and glass boxes. If Lacob and Guber are trying reaching to attain Sydney Opera House (another Scandinavian-designed venue) status, they are to be applauded.

Oslo Opera House along the Oslofjord

Making an arena truly iconic is no small task. Most arenas have façades consisting of repetitive patterns of cladding over concrete or glass and steel. Recent attempts to break up arenas into multiple spaces using additional exterior elements and different types of materials have had mixed results. From a distance, an arena is squat, not tall, and often slab-sided. No new renderings or sketches came with the press release. Nevertheless, I look forward to what Snøhetta has to offer. In particular, I hope that Snøhetta finds a way to accentuate the Bay and the SF skyline, as I suggested in May. In a town where just about anything can become instantly controversial, the Warriors’ arena concept is destined to provoke lots of discussion. I imagine that Lacob and Guber wouldn’t have it any other way.

Snøhetta won’t be alone in this endeavor. They’re partnering with AECOM, a huge design and management company that acquired sports architecture firm Ellerbe Becket in 2009. Ellerbe Becket worked on 14 NBA and NHL arenas over the last 20 years.