As the MLB owner meetings were held this week in New York, the owners may have spent a lunch or two observing the proceedings in Dallas, where the NBA’s Board of Governors was deciding the fate of the Sacramento Kings and Seattle. If they paid attention, they probably noticed that there was a commissioner in David Stern who encouraged independent thought, debate, and consensus via democratic vote instead of decree (the vote was 22-8, not a bogus “unanimous” decision). By having a transparent, well laid out process for arriving at a decision with the Kings/Sonics, the matter was decided in four months. Compare that to what’s happening to the A’s, who have been in limbo for four years.
As usual, the A’s were not on the agenda at the meetings, with no reports issued or recommendations made. With the A’s continuing to get their annual revenue sharing check and keeping their expenses in check, the A’s are effectively a model franchise for MLB from an operational standpoint. Status quo it is, fans be damned.
I heaped praise on Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson on March 1st for his handling of the Kings’ situation. With no support from the Maloofs, KJ put together a big money ownership group, assembled an arena deal with public funding, and rallied the vast majority of other NBA owners to his side. The feat was positively Herculean, and will serve KJ well in his future political or business endeavors, whatever way he wants to go. More importantly, KJ created a blueprint (one based on the efforts to keep the Giants in SF) for any city to keep a team in danger of moving.
Which brings us to Oakland. At present, the City and Alameda County are at loggerheads with the A’s over the future lease, even as baseball is encouraging the City to loosen up on some negotiating points. As the months progress, chances are that the A’s and baseball will be more desperate to get a deal made since there is no other ballpark solution immediately available. It’s a calculated risk that could pay off big for the revenue-short public agencies. On the flip side, MLB won’t take kindly to the A’s being gouged by the Coliseum JPA.
Long term, Oakland is doing some of the things KJ did – for the Raiders, that is. They’re trying to build business support within the community, with the two sides holding events to determine the economic potential in the East Bay. They have a program level EIR started for Coliseum City and have worked with the Raiders and the NFL on stadium concepts. For the A’s, Oakland has trotted out three stadium sites and little else. Community groups such as Save Oakland Sports and the new Oakland Fan Pledge (which has gotten 1,179 pledges worth $2.87 million so far) have tried to fill the gap for fans. If we’re judging by the level of effort, the City wants to keep the Raiders in town a lot more than they want to retain the A’s.
City officials and others will point to the A’s ownership group’s lack of cooperation as a motivating factor. Given the hell that Sacramento fans and pols had to go through, that’s not a good excuse. Oakland should be presenting its best vision for the A’s – whatever it is – and it should be doing all of the necessary background work so that if a decision comes down in favor of Oakland or Wolff/Fisher actually decide to sell the team, the ballpark effort can use some procedural and political momentum to secure a deal and get the park built. (San Jose got an EIR certified without any promises, why not Oakland?) Without a sincere and honest effort, what are the owners supposed to think? What are fans supposed to think? At least one owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, has both MLB and NBA franchises, and there’s no doubt the others at The Lodge were picking his brain to see how the boys in Dallas arrived at their decision. They can point to a commissioner who properly guided the discussion, a mayor who cared enough to fight, and a fanbase that was small but vocal. There’s still a ways to go before Sacramento has a shiny new arena, but they’ve already crawled through the proverbial river of shit. Congrats Cowtown. Don’t go spending all $258 million in one place! (er…)