Last week I received a flyer from the A’s urging me to get my season ticket plans wrapped up soon, as early as mid-November. Thanks to a Sunday report from Matier & Ross about MLB’s entree into the Coliseum lease discussions, I expect the A’s Ticket Services department to get a lot of angry, misdirected phone calls starting tomorrow morning. And I feel bad for them for having to deal with it.
The fact is that until recently, MLB has stayed out of the lease negotiations at Lew Wolff’s behest. As the lease comes closer to expiring with the two sides still far apart on the terms, baseball has decided to start playing the heavy. As we’ve seen in Miami and many other cities, MLB doesn’t play nice. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to start asking for hundreds of millions for a ballpark. Instead they’re playing the leverage game, threatening to move the A’s across the bay to AT&T Park if the Coliseum Authority won’t relent.
We’re told MLB is also demanding that the Coliseum give the A’s just a two-year lease extension – not the five- to eight-year deal the authority has been pushing.
The short-term lease would give the A’s more flexibility should the team’s owners swing a deal to move to San Jose – or beyond.
Let’s be clear about one thing: this is not MLB’s preferred option. They’d rather have the A’s and Giants play in their own ballparks, because getting them to share is messy when it comes to logistics, scheduling, and revenue sharing. While sharing has happened in the past, it hasn’t happened in almost 40 years. Plus the last thing MLB would want is to have a situation where the experiment goes so well that the Bay Area populace is convinced that there’s no need for two parks, or that the A’s seriously eat into the Giants’ revenue. Just as in other stadium negotiations, MLB has never been afraid to rattle sabers when it feels it can work to the benefit of one of its franchises. From this point forward, don’t expect anything less. Chances are that the JPA will buckle, because they know that the A’s tentatively playing away from Oakland can easily transform into the A’s permanently playing away from Oakland. From MLB’s standpoint, this is a question of loyalty. Oakland and Alameda County shown repeatedly that they’re willing to spend money and make things work for the Raiders. They have also demonstrated that they’ve been willing to move the A’s (and MLB) to the back burner at the most inopportune times. If the JPA doesn’t make concessions for the A’s, that’s just more proof that they aren’t truly willing to make the A’s a priority, which would make MLB less motivated to back Oakland’s efforts to forge a long-term deal. Raiders owner Mark Davis seems to prefer that they start working on a replacement Coliseum on the site of a demolished Coliseum, which if granted would leave the A’s without a place to play. Without a lease extension tied to a well-developed stadium plan, the Raiders would prefer to go year-to-year. The A’s would like to do a five-year deal with early termination if they’re impacted by construction of a new Raiders stadium. The challenge for the JPA is to put together a deal that caters to MLB’s needs while not jeopardizing their relationship with the Raiders and the NFL.
For the time being, Giants chief Larry Baer has stayed silent, probably at Bud Selig’s request. To say they wouldn’t accommodate the A’s would torpedo baseball’s plans and leverage, the same way Wally Haas and then-AL President Bobby Brown rejected Bob Lurie’s plans to share the Coliseum while SF figured out a downtown ballpark plan. That occurred in 1985. Now that MLB is a singular governing body with less stated conflict between the two constituent leagues, the Commissioner has the ability and power to influence the Giants. However, Selig’s track record has been to stall regarding the A’s for nearly five years. Now that a “manufactured” crisis may arise, could Selig be more inclined to come up a with a solution? I’m not holding my breath.
Logistically, sharing the stadium could be difficult for the teams. Naturally there are only two clubhouses at AT&T Park, unlike the more flexible setups at many arenas and new football stadia. The visiting clubhouse would have to be converted into the A’s temporary home while the Giants’ clubhouse would be used for A’s home opponents. There are also 10 potential date conflicts (not 9 as M&R reported): May 12-14, May 26-28, June 13-15, and July 3. That last date is the end of a Giants homestand and the beginning of an A’s homestand. Offloading those conflicts to Raley Field would be difficult because the River Cats already have the first two series and July 3 already booked at home. Day/night doubleheaders would be difficult to make work because of game days can easily stretch beyond eight hours for players and personnel because of warmup/reporting times.
Then there’s also the appeal for AT&T and the various other sponsors in China Basin. AT&T would undoubtedly love double the home dates and exposure. So would Virgin America, Intel, and ironically, GAP competitor Levi Strauss. That and many more subjects (concessions shares, non-game event revenue, ticket pricing) would be up for debate. In the end, the A’s would pay a handsome rent payment and surrender a big chunk of non-ticket revenues. Both teams would deduct stadium expenses against their revenue sharing payments. One way to look at is that the A’s rent would effectively be a rebate against the Giants’ revenue sharing payment – assuming it was structured to fit within the CBA appropriately. Selig doesn’t seem inclined to force the Giants to share, but he can work with the rest of the owners to make it worth the Giants’ while.
Already I’ve seen a lot of anger from fans swearing that they’d never see an A’s home game in SF, or that they’ll cancel their season tickets posthaste. There’s another angle to consider if the A’s were given this two-year window at AT&T Park. The A’s have never called a modern ballpark home, so any serious revenue-generating potential at a new ballpark remains theoretical at best. What if the window was MLB’s opportunity to prove (or disprove) the A’s viability as the second team in the Bay Area? It’s not the same as having a new ballpark to themselves, but the better amenities and location should be attractive to many fans and companies that normally don’t attend A’s games en masse. After all, the city with the most ticket-buying A’s fans (number, not percentage) is San Francisco, not Oakland or San Jose. If the two-year window fails to positively affect the A’s bottom line, The Lodge may be more inclined to allow the team to move out of the Bay Area. While M&R hinted at a move as a product of failed stadium plans, I think this could be a bigger reason.
MLB has entered the fray, and they’re getting ready to lay down the hammer. For that we can thank A’s and Giants ownership for their stubbornness, Oakland and Alameda County politicians for their lack of urgency, and Bud Selig for not resolving this sooner when he had all the time to do so. Unless a Coliseum lease gets struck in the next month, this is only going to get uglier. A “silly” idea like sharing AT&T Park may turn into something quite sensible. The big issue looming is the endgame, which as Ray Ratto points out, is the can that gets kicked down the road for two years.