ESPN’s Tim Keown pens sobering feature on future of pro sports in Oakland

It’s terrible timing to have a column about Oakland titled “Death of Sports Town” as the A’s jump into the postseason, yet here it is. Written by ESPN the Magazine writer and former Chronicle scribe Tim Keown, the piece tries to codify the meaning and value professional sports teams provide to their home communities.

Keown deftly explains the socioeconomic dichotomy that stratifies Oakland, the lack of outsider faith in The Town, the city government’s ongoing ineptitude, and the greed of owners who already have one foot out the door.

At the end of the column is a plea from Keown for the owners and overseers of these sports to, for once, forgo the extra $$$ and try to keep the community intact.

In the relentlessly monarchical world of professional sports, someone has to be able to forsake a digit or two in the bank account to create a legacy more meaningful than a trust fund that’ll cover a lifetime of BMWs and Botox treatments for the grandchildren of his grandchildren. Someone has to consider the void left behind.

Yet Keown can’t clearly answer the question he poses about gauging the impact of pro sports. I don’t know that anyone can. Yes, they are part of the fabric of any community fortunate to have them there. He drops the Raider-turned-San Leandro-cop Kenny Shedd anecdote. He interviewed Oakland native and NBA rising star Damian Lillard, who grew up near the Coliseum. These are all good, but anecdotes are the worst kind of gauge. There should be something between these feel-good stories and cold political calculation, as was exhibited in the Oakland Chamber’s poll yesterday.

In the poll, 50% felt that it was very or extremely important to keep the franchises in town. 55% of the 500 respondents said that they hadn’t attended an A’s game in the last 12 months. Another 20% only went 1-2 times. Obviously, part of the reason has to be the Coliseum’s dilapidated state. Some may be turned off by ownership. It shouldn’t be the team, since they’ve been meme-ing the sports world for the last 15 months. Someday someone – perhaps multiple people – will write an academic study on Oakland and its relationship with sports. Hopefully it’s not an eulogy.


33 thoughts on “ESPN’s Tim Keown pens sobering feature on future of pro sports in Oakland

  1. While it was an excellent and accurate article, I agree the timing was very bad. As I stated in a previous thread, all energies currently should be going towards cheering the A’s to victory; doesn’t matter if your an A’s fan from Richmond, Oakland, Livermore or San Jose. Again, once that final out is made (hopefully with a WS Championship) we could then resume our partisan bickering about where our team should play in the future.

  2. Yea timing might be bad. But it’s because they decided to do an all bay area edition of ESPN the magazine. They try to cover everything going on in bay area and obviously this fits well for this issue. It was an article written for the Magazine and not timed to come out with A’s starting playoffs. Just an unfortunate coincidence.

  3. I think a study by someone like Peter Dreier on Oakland would be awesome. I am not sure who are the urbanists at Cal/CSUH or Mills are. But I agree, I wish there was a study, there isn’t a ton of source material on Oakland, which is why I wrote a lot of my papers on LA region.

  4. Maybe Oakland needs less sports and more academics?

  5. Steven, I don’t get your drift. The UC and Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab influence in Oakland is pervasive. (Little known fact: In uptown, couple of blocks from my office, LLN keeps its supercomputers humming.) The relationship between Berkeley and Oakland is as tight as Palo Alto to SF.

  6. Man that Tim Keown sure can over-write.

  7. I eat stuff like this up and loved the verbose, heavy handed tone Keown uses drawing the parallels between 21st Century pro sports and old world religious ideologies. The unfathomable amount of resources humans once threw into cathedrals is far from the priorities we put on new pro sports venues. I hope Oakland supporters will see that this piece was written out of a deep rooted admiration of Oakland.

  8. EDIT: The unfathomable amount of resources humans once threw into cathedrals isn’t far from the priorities we put on new pro sports venues.

  9. The socioeconomic development and population growth of the Bay Area never really sufficiently expanded over to the East Bay during the most recent decades. Instead, the natural expansion of this phenomenon moved south along the San Francisco peninsula to Santa Clara County and the South Bay. The desire of the Bay Area major professional sports franchises to move to new and potentially more profitable venues within a changing market is understandable. Examples, the upcoming move of the 49ers to Santa Clara and the hopeful moves of the Warriors and A’s to San Francisco and San Jose, respectively. The good news about these impending moves is that these teams will be able to remain within their Bay Area market, and at the same time be able to maintain a potentially strong level of financial viability. Ironically, the one team(Raiders) that is most willing to remain in the East Bay could be the only one of the current major Bay Area sports franchises to eventually move to another market.

  10. btw, turns out Judge Whyte has a “tentative rulings” web page. Currently, the rulings for last Friday’s hearings are up. Should be worth monitoring, though. (Of course, he could always say: “parties to appear.”)

  11. @llpec: Also, Oakland is a port city whose economy relies on a thriving shipping industry. The South Bay was first known for making cars. As car factories moved over seas, electronics manufacturing filled the void. When electronics manufacturing moved over seas, the South Bay shifted to biotech and business/internet services. Meanwhile, Oakland’s ports take the hit.

  12. Xoot – Only doing a little trash talking before the big game tomorrow morning.

  13. Xoot, Xoot Xoot; have you seen Samsung’s new headquarters in NSJ? Polycom’s new headquarters in NSJ? Brocade’s got nice new digs up there as well. Apple’s staying home in Cupertino as is Google in Mt. View. Got Facebook in Menlo Park? You dig Xoot? Yet your making a broad judgment on civic relationships based on Twitter and busses in LG? OK!

  14. Tony, when I see pictures of Marissa Mayer posing for cameras outside the San Jose Opera House, I’ll concede your point. Of course, when I see her having a beer at Rudy’s Can’t Fail here in Oakland, I’ll be impressed, too.

  15. I’d like point out that this was a perfectly missed opportunity to say, “Tony! Toni! Toné.”

  16. Disclaimer: Keown’s article itself mentioned that the homicide number amongst Oakland African Americans was equal to the numbers moving on to a higher education. A commenter suggested that Oakland should place academics over sports teams in importance. Another commenter drew a questionable parallel between Oakland and places of higher learning/academia and I responded in kind. As a minority myself I meant absolutely no disrepsect towards African Americans or the City of Oakland. Was just responding to the content the article presented; that is all.

  17. Marissa Mayer now represent ALL of Silicon Valley? Oh boy! Xoot, just stop will yah..

  18. Having less sports teams in Oakland will probably reduce crime, adding to Xoot’s life expectancy.

  19. “Full Definition of ACADEMIC
    “1: a member of an institution of learning
    “2: a person who is academic in background, outlook, or methods
    “3 plural: academic subjects ”

    I responded a bit hastily, relying on the primary defintion of the word. It’s habit. This is an academic town.

    Believe me, I’m well acquainted with the divided worlds of Oakland.

  20. @Steven That last one, was funny. @xoot I may have gotten this round. Tony D. your on it man, I agree with you, there is this SFOak vs SJ thing. my home town (Oakland), gets pimp-slaped by SF so much like Warriors showing SF skyline, not taking host city name (Oakland), mayor Lee giving Curry keys to the(SF) city after Warriors playoff run. re-nameing the eastern span of Bay Bridge (Oakland eastbay side) after W. Bown? Boxer working to keep the A’s in town, and helping get the Warriors get out at the same time I could give 100 examples, Good for SJ they just are not letting SF pimp-slap them, like Oakland, and as you know, as much as I would like to see the A’s in Oakland, if we get a new park in SJ, I will be sitting next to you saying “Lets go San Jo” first round is on me.

  21. @xoot-Sorry ment to say. You may have

  22. Look, I’m sitting here in my Oakland home enjoying the sunset over the bay and looking forward to attending the game vs. the Tigers tomorrow night. Life’s good. Oakland’s wonderful place.

  23. @Lakeshore,
    I’ll give this round to Xoot as well. Hey, perhaps I should have been an attorney. BTW, there’s photos of me posing outside the Orpheum Theater/SF after an awesome performance of Lion King, so maybe Xoot is right after all 😉
    GO A’S!!

  24. @Tony D. Yeah I saw the Lion King there too, really nice show. I am with you though, while it is true, it is named the San Francisco Bay Area for a reason, and there would be no South Bay, or East Bay without SF, but SJ (South Bay), have been growing and makeing things happen not only in, and for the Bay Area, but stateworld wide as well. It would be nice if some (not all) folks in SF would let SJ have their day in the sun, rather then act like SJ is some small area just outside SF. SJ and Oakland have lots things (history) going for them, when I was growing up in Oakland Shela E. was doing her thing, Tom Hanks was still at Skyline High, I almost lost it, when I saw two stories about each of their lives growing up in San Francisco, I was like next thing you know it will be Clint Eastwood, and R. Henderson.

  25. @xoot Yeah you have said, you live in Oakland befor. I have no problem with you. Your the best (Giants fan), friend I have (-:

  26. Loved the column and it speaks directly into the sports crisis that is taking place in Oakland. One telling quote I took away from it was this:

    “Some of the greatest times we’ve had in our restaurant came last year when the Warriors and A’s were in the playoffs,” LeBlanc says. “Did it translate into revenue? I don’t know, but I do know everybody there had a great time.”

    Although sports definitely boosts the Town’s civic pride, it doesn’t necessarily translate into an economic boom for the city, unfortunately.

  27. The soul or cultural atmosphere of the two cities is an odd argument for this issue(IMHO). It means nothing to the issue of wheres and hows of locating/building a successful stadium. It’s all about the return on investment with everything else being just small talk (whether that is a good thing or not, as is suggested in the article, is simply not applicable).

    I have, as many others, posted it before and certain points in this article just reinforce that theme. Pro Sports are a dying thing in Oakland. I’m not saying that to put down Oakland (the city has some fine points to it), I’m just stating what I see as the obvious reality. When it takes between a half a billion to a billion dollars to build a stadium yet the ‘economic equations’ don’t come out and say that is a wise investment, the question is answered. And the only thing that will change that is the government/people of Oakland putting a huge sum of money into the project to alter the outcome of the economic equations. And while anything is possible when it comes to government, I’ll east my hat if the city of Oakland gives LW somewhere in the area of 100 to 200 million dollars. Further, IMHO, the city of Oakland is absolutely right not to do that (see: Davis, Mountain. See: pressing needs, other). Then when we add into the issues that 30 miles down the road the ‘economic equations’ equal a much less riskier investment? Game, set, match. At this point it’s all dog and pony…the reality is set in stone save the red tape.

    I have a suggestion to Keown, when he speaks of asking others/companies to forgo extra $$$ for the purity of civic heart, can he also balance that with a statement that says if the A’s must leave Oakland for SJ because the economics simply don’t work even with the purity of heart discount (as crazy as that belief is), the Giants should forgo the $$$ and let the civic pride of the entire Bay Area continue by keeping the A’s. Hey! That suggestion may work as the Giants ownership sure seem like a bunch of above board, straight shooting, money isn’t everything type of group (ahem).

  28. I read the article and it is some kind of “Fantasy Land” viewpoint, that all races and classes exist in some happy place (the Coliseum), and the A’s owners are bad guys, because they are not making the experience of an A’s Game special. Of course, Keown takes the time to mention The Black Panthers, but does not look at 100 plus years of A’s History and the reality of it. Why? It is very simple, it defeats his article: They cannot compete long-term with teams like the Yankees (or Giants) without a decent facility and (or) additional TV Revenue (even the Yankees are cutting back). Remember Charley Finley (who History is viewing much more kindly), and even Connie Mack, had Dynasty A’s teams they could not afford so they got broken up. There is a price to be paid for success. The reality is Municipalities have to make investments if they want to grow and keep their “Best & Brightest.” and places where the A’s have played, simply have not done that. Look at Stanford, they built the New Stadium, and look at the results on the football field. The choice between Sports and Academics is also a false one, the debate about building a New Yankee Stadium and the Barclay’s Center, and should Columbia University and New York University (NYU) be allowed to expand, has been equally nasty and controversial, but were approved. There are always going to be winners and losers in these confrontations, the only questions are who and what is the cost? One thing is for certain: There is some other entity who would be elated to “Take the A’s and (or) Raiders off Oakland’s hands.” Just like some team will be happy to take Yoenis Cespedes, of the A’s hands (just like what happened with Eddie Collins, Jimmie Foxx, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire and countless others throughout the A’s History). But acknowledging that point does not generate controversy and of course, money.

  29. Lakeshore, it’s called the San Francisco Bay Area because the bay is named San Francisco Bay. And it was named as such long before San Francisco the city existed (and even at its founding SF was called Yerba Buena if I’m not mistaken.) With or without SF we’d all still live in the SF Bay Area.

  30. @Dan I already know the history, but thank’s, something tells me the point may have been lost…

  31. Don Perata hired as a lobbyist by Mark Davis? Perata has his fingerprints ALL over Mt. Davis debacle & the remaining $100M+ debt. Perata should be in jail.

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