Second Deck Club Sandwich

Travis Sawchik’s piece at Fangraphs two weeks ago got to the heart of the issue plaguing the new era of neo-classical ballparks: a lack of intimacy. Sure, most of these parks reduced foul territory and improved sightlines to improve fan experience, which is wonderful as long as you’re sitting in the lower bowl or field level seats. In most newer parks there are 15-20,000 seats in foul territory from pole to pole.

Above that lower level, anything’s possible. Legacy parks like Fenway and Wrigley took different approaches. Wrigley’s second deck was constructed fairly early in the park’s life. Fenway built more lower deck (grandstand) and small decks of premium seats above the lower level, plus the press box. In my eyes, Wrigley is the true classic two-deck ballpark, because it didn’t stray much from its pre-war design and character. Fenway is essentially a single-deck ballpark, at least as far as seating is concerned.

Think of all new parks as a lower deck, and upper deck, and a three-story hotel or office building sandwiched between them.

These days the difference between most ballparks is the approach to the second deck. The old cookie cutter stadia often had a mezzanine level with a level of suites underneath the traditional third deck. The Coliseum was built this way, as was Angels Stadium and many of the “octorads” out east. Several of early new parks followed this arrangement, including Camden Yards, AT&T Park, and Minute Maid Park. Newer parks differed by offering swanky club concourses, or additional suites behind the plate (or in football, along the sidelines). As more parks were developed, other cities chose to distinguish themselves with different features, sometimes favoring more suites over club seats.

Coors Field cross section

Think of all new parks as a lower deck, and upper deck, and a three-story hotel or office building sandwiched between them. The club seat area accounts for two stories, the upper suite level the third. The key disadvantage of this is that the upper deck is pushed skyward and its seats have to be steeply pitched or raked to better see the field. The worst example of this is the White Sox’ Guaranteed Rate Field, whose upper deck was so undesirable that the top eight rows were lopped off. The premium second deck was constituted as suite-club-suite, a stadium club sandwich. Progressive Field in Cleveland is not that much better, with its three-level wall of suites down the third base line and club seat deck along the first base line.

 

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We end up with several variants of the same theme. In nearly all of them the upper levels are pushed back from the lower seats for minimal cantilever and no columns. The older 60’s-70’s parks that received significant upgrades, Angel Stadium and Kauffman Stadium, took out the huge chuck of the lower seats behind the plate to accommodate four or five levels of suites, indoor clubs, and press. Other newer parks like Busch and Miller have their first suite level below the second deck club.

When Lew Wolff was heading the ballpark project, he hinted at ballpark features that would buck this trend and introduce greater intimacy. First was this screen grab from a presentation for a Fremont park, which compared the A’s vision with AT&T Park (note column, apologies for the poor quality):

Here’s an updated version that would’ve been used for the San Jose park:

Here the column is located at approximately row 30 of the lower deck. Another eight rows of seats are behind that column. This would bring the upper deck’s first row as close as row 17 of the lower deck, 10 rows closer than the Coliseum and 8 rows closer than AT&T Park. I don’t know how much of this has evolved in the last seven years, but it’s safe to say that it has to some extent. There’s no super-exclusive premium seating at the field level with its own concourse and a moat (though they could be introduced at some point). David Kaval has said that the A’s will use lessons learned from building and running the Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium. He and the A’s have already been quite resourceful in using the limited available area at the Coliseum, so I expect changes that will turn this tide and make other owners jealous of the A’s ballpark’s intimacy.

There are some that have advocated for something like Shibe Park or Tiger Stadium. While some aspects of those parks are admirable inspirations, they aren’t how we should build a ballpark in this era. Construction technology has improved, ballparks have been much larger out of necessity, and we want backdrops more than bandboxes. When those parks were built there was no thought given to families, casual fans, or corporations. If the A’s want to hit 3 million fans every year they’ll need those constituencies. Compromises will be made to find a proper balance between making hella skrilla and building a ballpark for the baseball purist. I have confidence that Kaval and team can do it.

Don’t Worry About Las VegA’s

There’s no need to panic about Oakland losing the A’s to Sin City the way they are losing the Raiders.

Not for a few years, at least.

AAA (and former temporary A’s) home Cashman Field

I’m not going to rehash the market size/potential/franchise competition arguments. I did that 10 years before desperate Raiders fans were doing the same. The simple problem for Las Vegas is that the region, or Clark County in particular, shot their wad in bringing in the Raiders. The vehicle for funding numerous improvements around Clark County, the room tax, is currently 12-13% for most properties in the area. A 0.88% hike for stadium funding would bring the tax to around 14%, probably the most local hotels would be will to swallow, since taxes above that percentage start to become less competitive against other vacation/convention locales such as San Diego, Orlando, or Los Angeles.

Clark County hotel tax shares and hikes for the last 30+ years (Las Vegas Sun)

The “cap” also becomes important when considering how revenue shortfalls could be addressed at the stadium. The Raiders aren’t being charged rent at the stadium, but they will assume operations and with that, operating costs. If that becomes difficult to handle and the team cries poor, guess what the first source to tap will be? The same one that will provide some $50 million a year to start and is being collected as you read this.

In short, Vegas doesn’t have a funding source for a stadium. And as we saw with San Jose, just offering a site to the A’s on which they’d have to self-fund a stadium is not going to cut it. From a structural standpoint, it simply doesn’t work.

The Vegas talk was triggered by comments from Rob Manfred, who spoke last week on the topic. Manfred has opened to possibility of MLB expansion, which hasn’t been considered since the last round in 1998 (Tampa Bay and Arizona). Expansion can’t happen until the St. Petersburg (ironic) and Oakland (tragic) stadium problems are resolved. And if they aren’t resolved to Manfred’s and the Lodge’s satisfaction, Las Vegas and Montreal remain as relocation threats, no matter how hollow those threats are.

Manfred’s stated support for Oakland over the last couple years is not lip service. He’s giving John Fisher and Dave Kaval space to complete their work, and the City of Oakland time to get its shit together. He didn’t see Oakland A’s Forever!

“Until Tampa and Oakland are resolved, I don’t see us expanding as a practical matter. It could be an expansion or relocation site,” Manfred said. “I understand the demographics and it could work, based on the size of the city.”

Now that the Raiders have one foot out the door, everything can and should come together for a deal that should satisfy practically all in Oakland. If it doesn’t in five or ten years, the Commissioner can and will complain about the lack of progress. He or some heretofore unknown corporate henchman will talk down Oakland’s commitment, just as Eric Grubman did for the NFL and Roger Goodell. I riffed on this when I first heard about Manfred’s comments.

If all goes well, the only role we’ll see involves Manfred wearing a hard hat and holding a shovel. If not, well, you can’t say you didn’t see the plot twist coming.

Architecting an outfield, bleachers and all

You remember what it used to look like. I shouldn’t even post a picture of the old bleachers, but I will just in case you don’t know.

Mother’s Cookies photo card from 1985

I won’t post a picture of Mount Davis because, well, it’s still there. I am at Chase Field tonight, so I’ll post another picture from an outfield seat.

RF Wall seat at Chase Field

In an effort to expand the availability of wheelchair-accessible seats around Chase Field, the Dbacks placed a fence in front of the right field wall along with one row of wheelchair positions and companion seats along the fence. It’s a cool albeit obstructed view of the action with plenty of space to stretch out. It also provides additional seating for the infamous pool via patio tables. The seats are generally not available in advance unless you’re buying a wheelchair space. As is often the case, on game day the seats open up for the general public. The Giants have field-level viewing spots along AT&T Park’s promenade, but they aren’t ticketed and people aren’t supposed to hang around for more than a couple innings.

Going back to the Coliseum, A’s fans know of two kinds of bleachers: the original set that hugged the uniform outfield fence, and the new carved out sections of football seats that start 15 feet above the field. We know what the standard, optimal height is, and we know what a sub-optimal, compromised height and angle is. In the 60’s cookie-cutter area, the outfield bleachers was at best an afterthought, minimal revenue-generator. Prior to that parks like old Comiskey and Tiger Stadium had wraparound second decks that had were mainly as a way to pack as many seats into a small space as possible.

Safeco outfield, bleachers upper right

Nowadays outfield seats are yet another revenue machine. Bleacher benches have been mostly supplanted by seats, and the designated bleacher sections have been moved well back of the outfield fence. Bars and party sections now populate the areas by the fence. At Safeco Field the bleachers are suspended well above the bullpens and the lower concourse, which is lined with bars and more expensive seats. And of course, most parks have completed killed the concept of the general admission seat, which allows anyone to sit in whatever bleacher seats are available, first come, first served.

Romantic as we all are for the original Coliseum bleachers, they are going the way of the dodo (remember how the A’s were considering reserved bleachers in 2010?). There should be some bleachers at the new park, but will all be reserved or will some be GA? Should the A’s consider some form of lawn or festival seating in addition to bleachers? San Diego has this, but the lawn is distant from the field.

I’m not privy to the A’s plans or marketing, so I don’t know just how many bleacher seats they plan to sell. 10% of all seats is 3,500-4,000. 20% is roughly 8,000, approaching the number for the recently re-opened upper deck. Putting together the seating mix goes in conjunction with all the other stuff that could be built there, from restaurants to roller coasters to outdoor party suites to a gigantic animatronic Stomper home run feature. Views from the rest of the seating bowl will surely be paramount, so conservation of height may be a major factor. Other than that, this could go in any number of directions. Respond to the poll below, and have your say in the comments or @ reply on Twitter. Have fun with this. It’s our ballpark too.

Rain forces postponement of 4/16 game to 9/9 doubleheader

Rain the poured throughout the weekend forced the A’s to postpone Sunday’s game. Even though the rain was subsiding as planned first pitch time (1:05) approached, Later that day the team announced that the game would be made up in September, as the back end of a natural (single admission) doubleheader on Saturday, the 9th. MLB guidelines along with union preferences and financial pressures usually call for teams to schedule makeup games on off days, or if a doubleheader is absolutely necessary, a split or day-night doubleheader with separate admissions. Of course, this is the A’s we’re talking about, so they may actually benefit from one day’s admission more than two. Tickets for the postponed won’t be honored for the doubleheader because it’s not a new date. Tickets have already been sold for the original 9/9 game, so fans can trade in another date on the home schedule. That should also mean that they can trade in for 9/9, but there’s a good chance that their seats will be marginally worse. Best way to find out is to contact Ticket Services.

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As for what caused the postponement, remember that it’s been three years since the last postponement, also caused by a soggy field. Back then, the tarp was left off the field in hopes of some of the water evaporating. That’s quite different from the normal way of getting rid of water: gravity. Modern fields have some form of drainage system to move water out of the ground quickly. That works most everywhere except for the Coliseum, where the field remains 22 feet below sea level and is subject to tidal actions. On Sunday the tide was to start coming in as the game started, reaching high tide around the end of the game. On Monday night, high tide hit at 5:30 PM and was to recede as the night progressed. That allowed the A’s to start the game with some confidence, even though a shower hit in the late innings. DIY Network provided the blurbs above, which explain how the drainage systems work. The Coli’s system was done as part of the 1995 Mount Davis renovation, though the brief period between football and baseball seasons did now allow for a complete rebuild. The Giants’ system is interesting in that it uses a vacuum pump/air system to force water out. The field is 9 feet above sea level, which means it could be tidally prone on some occasions.

Coincidentally, the Coliseum parking lot is also 9-10 feet above sea level. Any new ballpark there should have its field at least at grade or higher to deal with climate change-related sea level rise. Howard Terminal and Brooklyn Basin are at elevation 11-12 feet, and being waterfront should be subject to similar standards. Laney College is terraced, going from 13 to 30 feet from south to north.

Whatever location is chosen, great care and thought will have to go into stadium placement, footprint, and orientation. In the modern era, that’s gonna have to include elevation as well, at least as long as you’re building along the bay’s flatlands.

 

On this Opening Day, let us thank the Giants

Eleven years ago I wrote a small item on this blog titled “One Coliseum, Two Teams.” It mentioned how the Raiders had recently patched up their relationship with Oakland and Alameda County after signing a renewed lease at the venue. The A’s unveiled a proposal to build north of 66th Avenue which went nowhere. A scaled down vision of building at the Malibu and HomeBase lots near Hegenberger suffered a similar fate.

All this time, politicians and civic leaders have been trying to pitch plans in which both teams could happily co-exist within the complex, if not in the same stadium. Nevermind the concerns form the teams about parking, or construction-related upheaval, or how everything would be scheduled – who would get first dibs. This was, in East Bay fantasyland, the perfect solution despite the teams’ misgivings. And yes, the teams would have the finance these stadia themselves, or with third parties who had little-to-no relationship with City, County, or the teams, and little actual experience with projects like these.

Do you see how preposterous that reads? It was completely delusional. And no one truly believed in it, which is why Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sent a couple letters to the NFL saying We Tried as the owners approved the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. Eventually something had to break up the inertia.

Both the NFL and MLB have been eyeing the Coliseum complex for some time. While it’s not a glamorous location, the Coliseum has just about everything else a team and league could want: lots of parking, great transportation links, excellent proximity to the fan base, and potential as a development site. The leagues carried a sort of gentleman’s agreement about it. They didn’t assail each other or the teams while quietly competing for the space through their franchises. Once the NFL gave up and allowed Davis to leave Oakland, the NFL was quick to blame the A’s for the Raiders’ departure.

How do the Giants come into this? They have control over building a stadium in most of the Bay except the East Bay and most of the North Bay. The A’s have exclusive rights to the East Bay. The A’s tried to argue that since the Giants didn’t build in the South Bay (despite being granted permission by the A’s to do so), the A’s should be granted those rights if they built in San Jose. That was tabled by MLB and lost in court when San Jose sued MLB and the Giants sued San Jose. It was the Giants’ continued intransigence that forced the A’s back to Oakland, renewing the competition for the one known viable stadium site in the East Bay (nothing else has been fully studied).

We saw this happen before in San Francisco, no less. The Giants built their jewel at China Basin with a modest amount of public support, mostly infrastructure. The ballpark’s popularity took off immediately and there’s been no looking back. Debt was retired earlier this year, 20 years after groundbreaking. The 49ers got limited public funding and lukewarm support from the City and then-mayor Gavin Newsom, greasing the skids for their move to Santa Clara.

Oakland’s version of this tale has a major twist in that the Raiders saw the writing on the wall. Schaaf wasn’t going to budge on public funding, and had already talked more favorably about preserving the A’s than the Raiders. The Raiders never signed up to partner on Coliseum City and similar plans, choosing instead to speak minimally about Oakland while fully chasing Carson and Las Vegas. With Vegas approved, the Raiders chose to leave first instead of waiting for the A’s to build first. The ending for both Oakland and SF is the same: neither has a NFL franchise playing within their respective city limits in the long run, and fans heartily blame the teams and politicians for the state of affairs.

It wasn’t that long ago that Larry Baer was happy with the A’s leaving for somewhere else further away – as long as it was Contra Costa County or Sacramento, not San Jose. Now the A’s are firmly entrenched in Oakland. The indirect consequence of the football teams moving away was unintended. The future for the Giants is more intense competition from the A’s and closer competition from the incoming Warriors. The Giants’ hegemony over the Bay Area isn’t threatened. But it isn’t quite the Giants-focused as intended. The Giants are now just like any other rich team to hate.

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P.S. – The two local Comcast Sportsnet regional sports networks have been rebranded NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California. Hooray, corporate synergy.

Raiders exodus is about will not blame

Listening to radio and read the internets today, it was no surprise by mid-afternoon the recriminations came in full force. Denial and pain set in quickly, thanks to advance reports of the pending NFL owners’ approval of the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. So when it came time to start the anger and bargaining stage (3), no stone was left unturned, no name forgotten. Here’s a partial list of the people to blame for the Raiders’ departure:

  • Mark Davis
  • Libby Schaaf
  • Roger Goodell
  • Jean Quan
  • Floyd Kephart
  • Lew Wolff
  • Al Davis
  • Ron Dellums
  • Larry Reid
  • Scott Haggerty
  • Fazza (Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum), The Crown Prince of Dubai
  • Sheldon Adelson

Every player in this Coliseum saga wanted out of something. The pols wanted the albatross of Coliseum debt off their necks without giving away valuable Coliseum land or forcing any of the teams out. The A’s, Raiders, and Warriors wanted their own venues, preferably nowhere near one another. All were willing to leave Oakland to get that venue. The placed the City of Oakland and Alameda County in a delicate dance with three lukewarm dance partners. The team with the most freedom, the Warriors, announced their departure as soon as they could. The A’s tried to take a more circuitous route via the back rooms of The Lodge and then the court, failing to overturn the Giants’ territorial rights to the South Bay. The Raiders, whose owner had the least money and leverage, tied itself to city after city before going it alone in Vegas. Patience and persistence prevailed for Davis, as he somehow finagled gap funding from Bank of America, consequently earning the NFL owners’ trust in the process (31-1 vote).

Let’s go back to fall 2013. The A’s were focused on the postseason, while the Raiders were rolling out another bad run under Dennis Allen. In September, Davis came out of nowhere and suggested that his new stadium be built where the existing Coliseum stands. Had the JPA taken that proposal seriously, the plan would have been to demolish the Coliseum and construct a new Raiders stadium in its place, with the potential for a new ballpark down the road. The Raiders would play at Levi’s Stadium for two years. The A’s could play at AT&T Park for some length of time, probably longer than two years. Davis later rationalized the idea as needed to avoid all the construction-related upheaval and the related parking shortage.

The next spring, in 2014, Lew Wolff started lease extension talks with the JPA. Chastened by the legal loss over San Jose and MLB’s desire to get something going in Oakland, Wolff asked for a lengthy term keeping the A’s at the Coliseum until 2024. He also asked for a special set of conditions clearly related to Davis’s own concept: a process to vacate the Coliseum if the Raiders put together a Coliseum redevelopment proposal. Wolff’s notion was that the A’s needed some time to get a ballpark proposal started and wanted to minimize the chance of playing at a temporary venue (remember Cashman Stadium?). So he got language to give the A’s two full baseball seasons before they would be evicted. By this time Wolff was also working on improvements for the team’s new spring training facility, Hohokam Stadium/Fitch Park. The plans included new scoreboards for Hohokam and the Coliseum (buy in bulk!).

Even in 2014 Wolff and Davis were taking different approaches to the getting lease extensions (emphasis mine).

Wolff and Mark Davis are going at this stadium business in different ways. Wolff wants a lease extension, while taking that time to figure out the future either in San Jose or in Oakland. Davis is taking an opposite tack, declaring last year that it was time to stop delaying and get the stadium deal in place before any new lease. That puts the JPA in a very delicate spot. They’re already working with Davis, though he hasn’t been satisfied with the pace or the information he’s getting. Both owners, whether in league or not, are forcing Oakland to make a difficult decision between the two franchises. Both know that it’s incredibly hard to build one stadium, let alone two right next to each other. Public resources are increasingly scarce. Fred Blackwell’s leaving before he can get any blame for this. Smart move on his part.

Fred Blackwell. That guy is chilling at The San Francisco Foundation these days.

The A’s lease was stuck in deliberations for a couple months before approval. Raiders supporters decried it as something that would eventually force the football team out. The two-season exit, the demand for a bona fide football stadium plan and $10 million to secure it, and the length of the lease to 2024 hampered the Raiders’ flexibility. All those things would be reasonable arguments if not for the fact that Davis never formulated a proposal of his own beyond the aforementioned desire to build on the Coliseum’s existing footprint. Instead, he let Coliseum City complete its process without his signature, and the Lott/Fortress plan had virtually no input or involvement from Davis at all. Davis hired former 49ers exec Larry MacNeill as his representative at meetings. The NFL admonished both City proposals for no team or league direct involvement, yet the NFL reportedly never so much as inquired about the Coliseum land nor offered any alternatives.

Easy to blame Mark Davis there, and Lew Wolff if you’re so inclined. What this showed was that Davis’s will to build in Oakland was not strong. Schaaf held firm to her no-public-funds-for-construction stance, which can be interpreted as Schaaf not having the political will to get a stadium project going in Oakland. She’ll take that.

Since 2006, the Coliseum arrangement has been a series of short-term lease extensions for both the A’s and the Raiders, with no major fundamental changes. Oakland’s goal was to stay in the game with each extension, waiting for a great plan to materialize. Maybe they expected one team to change the game by seeking different terms. Turns out that happened in 2013, when Davis admitted he wanted to replace the Coliseum and evict everyone for a couple years. That started a chain of events which eventually brought us here, with Davis getting city he’s wanted since at least 1998.

The A’s get the Coliseum if they want it, and Schaaf may finally be the mayor that gets rid of the albatross. Dave Kaval, you’re up.

Fan Fest at JLS a rousing success

ferry_lawn_ht

As I arrived at the Jack London Square Amtrak station around 9:30 AM on Saturday, I looked around. No fog. Thin cirrus clouds. The sun was warming the air. This was, for once, going to be a good Fan Fest. Which it was. The A’s had a permit for 7,500, and if it rained as it had over the past several weeks and during most recent Fan Fests, they were expecting a modest 3,000 to show up. They were even considering putting up a tent at the Ferry Lawn, if only to provide more cover for fans. Instead, they got a reported 15,000 fans to show. And according to Sean Doolittle, the crowd actually measured 1.5 million in attendance. Frankly, I’m all for #alternativefacts when it comes to A’s attendance.

jls-water_plaza

Fans took over Jack London Square: waiting in line for autographs, sampling free food from several food trucks, watching player interviews, or taking in kids’ activities. Some came out because of the great weather, others wanted to check out nearby Howard Terminal. I’ll have an expansive post on that later this week. For now I’ll give you some initial thoughts.

 

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15,000 is an impressive crowd for Fan Fest, and Jack London Square makes for a pretty decent already-built ballpark village, doesn’t it? That’s only half the size of a good new ballpark crowd, and it’s on Saturday morning, not a traditional heavy traffic window as you would see most weeknights. Still, things seemed to go without incident. There could have been plenty, though. Counting the train on which I arrived, there were five trains rumbling through Jack London Square in a roughly 40 minute span coming from both east and west, including a long freight train. I also saw a near accident:

cars_tracks

Pedestrian bridge at Yoshi’s between Washington and Clay

The driver of the black Tesla was confused about where he could turn, thanks to the barricades at the Washington Street entrance to JLS. He stopped on the tracks before making a U-turn. Thankfully there was no train in the area. This is the same intersection where, only two weeks ago, two members of seminal Oakland jazz group Tower of Power were tragically hit by an oncoming Amtrak train. I know I sound like an obsessed worrywart about this train safety aspect. I can’t emphasize it enough, not just because safety is paramount, but also because the whole area needs to be safe for the companies that operate trains in the area.

food_trucks

At Fan Fest itself, new team president David Kaval reaffirmed the A’s commitment to Oakland. The new marketing slogan is “Rooted in Oakland.” The Shibe Park Tavern rebranding of the West Side Club space at the Coliseum is to make it more baseball-leaning and fan-friendly. Kaval’s chief desire during this planning stage is to have a very intimate ballpark experience with “neighborhoods.” Anyone who has been following this story back through the Wolff years knows that those last items aren’t new. They’re not location-specific. As for those locations, they remain the Coliseum, Howard Terminal, and two “in and around Lake Merritt.” Those two are the Laney College and Peralta CCD sites. Kaval was quick to praise the Howard Terminal locale especially with the perfect weather at the time. He also mentioned that the team will need help from fans in terms of community support and lobbying at the city, county, and even state levels. Citing his experience in bringing Avaya Stadium to completion, Kaval emphasized the need to deal with the special regulations unique to Howard Terminal, including the Tidelands Trust. Kaval’s language has been careful to not favor one site over another, no matter what fans want to read into tweets and news quotes.

The thing Kaval didn’t provide was an announcement regarding the site choice. That’s still in progress, though Kaval promised a timeline along with renderings and the usual things that come with such an announcement. The simple fact is that we don’t know if any of these sites will be available when the time comes, so hedging by studying four sites (down from twelve) is the most prudent move the A’s and Kaval can make for now. So we’ll have to wait for some months to come before that major event. Until then, enjoy the food trucks!