One Horse Town

Say goodbye to the bad guy.

Over at NBC Sports Bay Area, Scott Bair reported yesterday that the Raiders, who had an option to play at the Coliseum in 2020 just in case Allegiant Stadium didn’t get completed in time, recently declined the option. They had until April 1 to renew.

With the Raiders leaving Oakland behind, we can officially leave behind silly concepts like this:

Or this:

And especially this:

It was never going to end well. At least one team had to leave which grew to two. There are lessons to be learned. Memories to savor. Once we get through the current crisis, Oakland can get back to what it was like when baseball ruled the town.

October 3, 2012

When the dust settles, the A’s and A’s fans will have to pick up the pieces. What world will we live in? What restrictions will be placed on our movement, or on limits to assembled crowds? It’s more than a little ironic that the cavernous Coliseum could work in an era of social distancing – at least if the crowds are limited to 20,000 or less.

MLB is saying for now that the start of the season is postponed until mid-May at the earliest. Until then confusion reigns, as teams are deciding where to set up camp for the season. A’s staff and players have it relatively easy, since they can easily shuttle between Oakland and Mesa. Players often have offseason homes in Arizona. Other teams have more complicated logistics. Take always-an-Athletic Sean Doolittle and Eireann Dolan, who described their living arrangements, which included the specter of dual concurrent leases.

Whenever the season starts, it will be truncated and condensed. You might see many more doubleheaders (hooray!) and expanded rosters, perhaps six-man rotations. Gotta get the games in somehow. Fortunately, there won’t be anymore $250k baseball-to-football-to-baseball Coliseum conversations to plan this year, maybe forever. There is also the matter of the Raiders locker rooms. The A’s will have about two months between now and the start of the season. Should the team choose to keep all their training in Mesa, they can continue to use the old cramped clubhouses with few complaints. If they choose to move more of the team to Oakland before the official start of 2020 season, they’ll need the extra space. And while a scant two months is a tough timeline to hit, that should be enough to make sure the plumbing works, install new carpeting, and slap a new green-and-gold paint job on the joint.

Modern NFL locker rooms are vast, perhaps overkill for the A’s (photo: Flickr user rocor)

The benefits would be enormous. It’s a larger space to house the entire 40-man roster and camp invitees if needed. The facilities on that level are newer and more functional than the old baseball clubhouses (insert plumbing joke here). The team will still run the shuttle between Oakland and Mesa as needed. Parts of each football locker room could be cordoned off for press use or other functions. And outside on the field, Clay Wood and his stalwart crew can focus on keeping the turf and infield as pristine as possible without much worry about divots, dealing with the gridiron, or 300-lb. dudes trampling everything.

It’s no vaccine for the coronavirus. It could help the team be more competitive with the rest of the American League, and if the theme this year is to strike while the iron is hot, I can’t think of a better way to prepare for this season.

Howard Terminal neighbors challenge CEQA streamlining effort

I was wondering when the Port private interests (PMSA, trucking and transport companies) would file their first lawsuit. They laid down the gauntlet yesterday, suing the City of Oakland to stop the CEQA streamlining process for Howard Terminal.

I expected the first lawsuit to be filed after the draft EIR was released, not before. What made the Port group fire the first shot? A technicality, of course. Governor Gavin Newsom didn’t certify the project for streamlining by the end of 2019, which opponents are seizing on as something that should disqualify the project from streamlining altogether. Absent the streamlining, the project would have to undergo the exemption-free CEQA process, dragging on potentially for years.

The A’s applied for CEQA streamlining through AB 900, which was passed nearly a decade ago. If you look at the list of projects that were certified for streamlining, you’ll see a number of high profile examples such as the Apple Campus (certified 2012) and the planned Clippers arena (certified 2019). You’ll also see a listing for Oakland Sports and Mixed-Use Project at Howard Terminal, which to date is not yet certified for streamlining. This is despite the fact that AB 734 was passed separately to help assist with the process.

A draft version of the EIR was expected to be released at the end of 2019 in February sometime this month. (We’re past the Ides of March, as you know.) At issue were a number of environmental issues such as the project’s carbon footprint and the difficulty in getting 20% improvement over the Coliseum, a requirement that was going to be difficult to hit given the lack of transportation options at the site.

Mayor Schaaf’s office also had some feedback:

A judge will have to determine if HT qualifies regardless of the missed deadline. Maybe after that we’ll get to read the EIR. Maybe not. It can be hard to grasp how difficult a puzzle this is, and perhaps I haven’t done a good enough job spelling it out. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out. Perhaps if this drags all the way out and there is a groundbreaking, everyone will be able to appreciate the effort. Until then, as usual, never mistake activity for achievement.

P.S. – The Clippers and A’s were in roughly the same place process wise as the main legislative session was winding up in Sacramento last summer. Both teams got their respective bills passed. The Clips doubled down on their plans by offering to buy out their chief legal opposition, MSG, taking the Forum off MSG’s hands and building a bunch of affordable housing in the process. So far, the A’s say they want to build affordable housing too! As far as buying out opponents, we’ll see about that. Unlike Inglewood, the two sides aren’t natural competitors.

There’s a reason I consistently talk about whether or not Howard Terminal is prohibitively expensive. Getting rid of opposition is a huge factor, and the A’s have proven time and time again that they’re unwilling to pay to get rid of opponents. We may be getting to the tipping point for Howard Terminal.

MLB Pushes Opening Day Another 8 Weeks

My only question is: Does this mean that the A’s can skip over the usual horrid start to the season?

 

EIR will come out eventually (advanced thumb twiddling)

UPDATE 11:30 AM – The A’s are trying to respond to all the questions.

Can you imagine what this will be like if March comes and goes without delivery of the EIR?

The problem with this step of the process is that it’s opaque and inscrutable. So we wait.

ORIGINAL POST

Any day now.

I hope you readers understand why over the past several months I haven’t devoted many posts to the EIR process. Having read the completed reports for Levi’s Stadium, Earthquakes Stadium, and Chase Center, I wanted to wait until there was a finished (draft) work product for the Howard Terminal ballpark. And so we wait for that product.

Good thing we have spring training to pass the time. Until the report arrives, enjoy the spring. There’s plenty of other things to read. Or other diversions.

More on Radio

Last season, the Cincinnati Reds celebrated long-time Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, whose announcement of his retirement came at the beginning of the season. The celebration continued through the last homestand of the season. The last fan giveaway of the last series Brennaman worked was a transistor radio, to the first 20,000 fans.

The giveaway was sponsored by grocery giant Kroger, with the Reds logo alongside and Brennaman’s signature call, And this one belongs to the Reds!, printed underneath. The radio wasn’t set only to WLW-AM 700, the team’s longtime radio flagship. Instead there was a familiar dial, allowing fans to tune into Reds broadcasts throughout the Ohio and Northern Kentucky area, or other AM or FM stations if they so chose. It probably runs for hours if not days on two cheap AA/AAA batteries, and has a headphone jack. Street value is around $10-20.

I got my own portable transistor radio as a kid. I would tote it around to the park, on trips with my parents, and to A’s games. In my teens I got the first of many Walkman-style cassette radios, which were supplanted by separate CD players and pocket radios. Eventually I upgraded to an iPod paired with a digital Sony Walkman model, which looks like this:

When the A’s were on The Game I put 95.7 on the first FM preset

I did a quick look to see where I left this radio. Couldn’t find it. I have three smartphones, three laptops, two desktop computers, and other devices that can pull internet audio streams. The only radio I can find is the one in my car. Sony doesn’t appear to make the version pictured above anymore.

The hunt for the lost Walkman got me thinking about what kind of device the A’s would have to sell or give away to promote their all-streaming worldview. Think about what the requirements would have to be to make such a device:

  1. Cellular and WiFi radios plus SIM tray
  2. Some sort of minimal display, probably touchscreen or small keyboard or other input method
  3. Speaker, headphone jack, or Bluetooth output
  4. Decent-sized lithium-ion battery (irreplaceable)
  5. Android operating system to run TuneIn app
  6. USB port for software maintenance
  7. Pushbutton access to A’s Cast (and the software complexity therein)
  8. A wireless data plan

Absent such a not-inexpensive beast, we’ll all have to lean on our smartphones even more. I work in tech. I support the move to streaming as I’m ready for it and have been living it for years. For me, it’s better to carry a single device that performs a multitude of functions than to bring multiple devices (phone and radio) with me. When you consider the requirements to put together a modern streaming-only replacement for a cheap transistor radio, it looks like climbing a technological mountain. And that’s without the support sherpa some will need to set it all up.

Then I saw this Dave Kaval reply to a Bruce Jenkins column:

What followed was the usual meme fest congratulating Kaval for dragging Jenkins, as well as the finger wagging by much of the rest of Bay Area sports media. Once the dust settles from the social media rage, two outside factors will determine how well this works for the A’s. The first comes down to this claim by Kaval:

I’m skeptical of this. Even if the A’s do a wholesale revamp of the Coliseum’s in-stadium WiFi network, there’s still a transition from outside, whether you’re driving in or taking BART. Until that becomes seamless, it’s an annoyance at the least, a deterrence at the worst. If a fan is mowing his lawn on a summer day and listening to a radio, latency isn’t a big issue as there’s no perception of latency (as long as phone alerts don’t come in first). A fan at the ballpark is not going to have as much patience for a streaming delay from what’s happening in real time, right in his/her eyes.

The other big factor has nothing directly to do with the A’s. Last August, KNBR owner Cumulus chose to turn one of its Bay Area assets, longtime FM rock stalwart KFOG, into a simulcast station for KNBR. Now the Bay Area has four sports talk stations:

  • KNBR (AM 680)
  • KTCT (AM 1050)
  • KGMZ (FM 95.7)
  • KFOG/KNBR (FM 104.5)

Since the revamped KFOG is a simulcast station, there won’t be any new programming. Instead, the move enhances the Giants’ already vast hegemony over the market. The 49ers, who were already pushing into the East Bay as the Raiders depart the Bay Area, will also benefit from the simulcast. The Game will remain the Warriors’ flagship and the other place to talk Giants/Niners. With three sports stations at its disposal, Cumulus can keep KNBR-680 as its Giants station (the Giants partly own it) while the 49ers can stay on the Ticket and KNBR-FM. The Warriors will be the only team on The Game, which is what the Dubs have been wanting for years if not decades. Most radio stations, especially the ones with the high-power transmitters that can blast 50,000 watts, are owned by one of a few radio conglomerates (Cumulus, Entercom, Bonneville), making format changes largely strategic in nature with stations as pawns.

The Giants and Cumulus effectively crowded the A’s out of the Bay Area radio market, with an assist from Entercom. The A’s tried to make it work with Entercom by sticking out a few years at The Game with dwindling support from the station. Now the A’s are persona non grata at The Game even as they are currently the hottest pro team in the Bay Area.

There’s something seductive in the sales pitch the A’s are making about going the streaming route. It’s Silicon Valley. It sounds disruptive. Is it, though? If radio truly is a dying medium, the A’s are blazing a trail. A trail to what? To me, it’s like the being the first team with a website (which they were), or the first to embrace the Moneyball concepts. It gets the team attention, but it probably won’t put the team over the top without significant further investment. Same goes for streaming. The problems with the streaming-only strategy are two-fold: the A’s can’t dominate streaming the way other teams dominate other forms of media, and it papers over the fact that the A’s are a lesser player in local media than they were two years ago. The A’s are making it harder to enjoy audio of A’s games, full stop. Furthermore, the move smacks of a certain pattern of impatience I’m seeing from the team. When the A’s see resistance to their efforts, they’re likely to fold and move on to the next vision, however fanciful or grand. It happened with all of the previous ballpark sites and now with this disappearance from local radio. If the A’s return to some other station in 2021, we’ll know that they didn’t have the patience to see this through. There may be a way for the A’s to innovate their way out of this jam. So far, they’re not offering that kind of innovation. Maybe that’s more in line with tech’s current direction than anything else.

P.S. – A decade ago, the A’s had a chance to buy KTRB, the same station they used as a stepping stone to streaming last year. They could’ve used more patience back then, too. 

Radio Training Wheels Are Off!

Last year, when the A’s announced their plan to go with a streaming broadcast model, they kept rights with Bay Area AM station KTRB-860. At the time, many including myself considered the terrestrial station to act as a transitional step.

I’m not sure if the A’s deal with KTRB will go longer than 2019. I suspect that the A’s are using this year as a platform to launch the streaming offering.

The team announced today that they’re going with TuneIn exclusively in the Bay Area. That means no traditional terrestrial radio anywhere in the Bay. At least the broadcasts are free in the Bay Area.

As I don’t live in the Bay Area anymore, I found out quickly that I was outside the broadcast territory, so I couldn’t get the games or the pre/post-game content on the TuneIn app without some finagling. I decided to play around with all of my available options. I got a VPN app to spoof my location to the Bay Area, and bought a TuneIn Premium subscription for the year. The subscription ends at the close of Cactus League play, which works out quite conveniently for me.

As the 2020 Cactus League starts, they’re still getting the kinks out.

When I saw I was blocked from getting broadcasts despite my paying for workarounds, I decided to declare it all a sunk cost and went with the MLB app instead. The tradeoff there is that I got the game regardless of location, but little-to-no pre/post-game coverage. This year, I might go with MLB.tv for the A’s only (it comes with audio as well) and call it a day. It’s the price of innovation, I suppose.

Until then, I’ll keep trying with what they’re making available.

Strangely, there is still an A’s Radio Network that will operate outside the Bay Area. And there will be continue to be Spanish-language broadcasts on existing Bay Area Spanish-language stations. Those broadcasts will also be carried on TuneIn. It’s hard to beat good old radio, especially the AM variety, when you could “lock it in and rip the knob off.” In the digital age there are no knobs. There are a lot of unresponsive virtual buttons, cryptic error messages, and a creeping sense of dread as your data gets used up, inning by inning, game after game.

The A’s are partnering with TuneIn, a good choice from a business standpoint for both as TuneIn gets a high-profile client and the A’s probably get some of the production costs handled by TuneIn. I wonder about the wisdom of this decision in the long run, though. This is a move fraught with friction. Last year I chose to go away from it because of that friction. I did some A/B testing against the MLB App, and TuneIn consistently had more latency than MLB. It didn’t matter if the A’s were at home or on the road, or if I was at the Coliseum or not. Given the state of affairs, I have no interest in renewing. A while back MLB allowed smartphone users to rebrand the normal MLB app with their preferred team’s logo, making it a sort of one-stop shop for baseball fans. That same app is what A’s fans will use to watch video highlights or entire games from their smartphones on the go. Yet there is a second, unrelated app that is preferred for radio. Way to make it easy, A’s. If the team wants to remove some of that friction, they should follow the branding lead and put all their audio streams in the MLB app for easy access. No offense to TuneIn, I also occasionally listen to audio of MSNBC, CNN, and the local NPR station on the go. For A’s games, it makes less sense. I already use Overcast for pre-recorded podcast listening. That’s not going to change despite the incursion of streaming giants into the podcast world.

First world problems? First world problems.

Adapt or Die

My usual route to the gym takes me through Papago Park, the former spring training home of the A’s. Every time I drive down 64th Street/Galvin Parkway, I see this:

The old training fields are visible from the street, with Phoenix Municipal Stadium (now home to ASU) situated downhill at the south end of the park. The baseball sculpture is a friendly reminder of Papago’s sports history, and though the A’s are now in Mesa, it’s nice to know that Papago will get its own improvements before the Giants move there from their current facility on Camelback and Hayden Roads (Indian School Park). As much as I like the A’s situation at Hohokam, like the rest of Mesa it’s pretty sleepy.

Papago Park baseball fields under construction

Occasionally I would hear talk of the Giants building their own ballpark/training center complex near the Scottsdale/Tempe border, where there remains some undeveloped land. Instead the Giants struck a deal with Scottsdale to get some improvements at Scottsdale Stadium. The main thrust of the work is an expanded clubhouse that will also serve as an event center/club facility, the better to attract Giant fans with fat wallets and expense accounts. The event center is claimed to be the largest such space in the downtown area, which is somewhat surprising given the bevy of hospitality options in the city. While the stadium will remain in Scottsdale’s Old Town, the training facility at Papago Park will be just outside Scottsdale within Phoenix city limits. Moving to Papago required a separate negotiation. Indian School is 1.5 miles away from the stadium. Papago is a whopping 2.5 miles away. It’s not quite the convenience of having a single campus like the Cubs or Dbacks/Rockies at Salt River Fields, but it’s an easy drive or bike ride between the two and most Giants fans will prefer to be around the Old Town scene during and after the games.

Construction sign emphasizes the Event Center aspect

The East Valley (defined loosely as the communities within the Loop 202 freeway plus Scottsdale) is the economic engine of the area. Teams that call the East Valley home are in enviable positions relative to their Cactus and Grapefruit League counterparts. After the trend of huge campuses that helped save and expand the Cactus League a decade ago, it’s refreshing to see a return to renovated facilities, even if they’re split. The A’s and Giants are unlikely to go anywhere for years if not decades. The Brewers also renewed their deal in Maryvale. All teams are consolidating player development at their facilities, further establishing permanence while also endangering some minor league cities.

New clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium replaces an auxiliary field

There’s even more baseball this spring. A college tournament is set for Salt River Fields in two weeks, plus Olympic qualifiers are slated for late March. We’re eleven days from pitchers and catchers reporting. I might be able to take more advantage of the Spring Training Ballpark Pass this year. I’m already seeing a lot of people around here in shorts. Spring always comes early to the Valley of the Sun. ASU hosts numerous wintering teams this month, an early spring ritual. It’s an embarrassment of riches.