Announcement: Writing for Bloguin network, too

I’m happy to announce that in addition to my regular, roughly every other day posts at this site, I will be contributing to a regular column on the Bloguin network, home of Awful Announcing and a slew of sports blogs. While I don’t have an automatic fit with a particular site, my first piece was published today at The Outside Corner, Bloguin’s general baseball blog. The post is titled, “Can the A’s Survive California’s Stadium Drought?”

First post on The Outside Corner

First post on The Outside Corner

I expect to make contributions weekly, maybe even twice a week or more if time permits. The topic will be largely stadium construction, though I’ll also cover sports economics occasionally. I’ll post links here and immediately on Twitter. Bloguin CEO first proposed the idea last week, and I felt that I had the bandwidth so I said yes. I look forward to taking more of the general sports posts that I used to write more frequently here to Bloguin, where I feel they’ll have a more appropriate home.

As usual, feedback is welcome. Thanks to all of you loyal readers. It’s you who have helped build this site’s creditability so that I could spread knowledge elsewhere.

Sacramento City Council approves arena deal 7-2

They overcame the Maloofs, Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, and forces from Orange County. In the end, the City of Sacramento voted to approve the final form of its downtown arena deal, which will pave the way for site demolition and the eventual construction of the ESC, to be opened as early as 2016 (deadline set by the NBA is the start of the 2017-18 season).

Final estimate of the arena (ESC) cost is $477 million, $222 million coming from the Kings and $255 million from the City. The Kings are providing much of the upfront money while the City secures either short or long-term financing. The team has also asked for a short-term, $12 million loan from the City to cover permits and other related expenses. That request was approved as part of the vote. A CEQA challenge may be filed by opponents as early as tomorrow, but it won’t be able to halt construction.

Sacramento is banking on the arena to revitalize downtown, especially as the venue replaces the largely failed Downtown Plaza mall. While regional spending on Kings games and some concerts/ice shows should show at least a modest improvement due to the ESC replacing Power Balance Pavilion, additional concerts should come thanks to the more attractive facility, which should boost ticket sales and ancillary economic activity. The City is rerouting a great deal of parking revenue to pay for its share with the hope that new construction will spring up the same way Staples Center catalyzed downtown Los Angeles.

Most of the country has not seen the economic boom that hotspots like the Bay Area, Texas, and North Dakota are experiencing. Sacramento is see some improvements, though it’s not close enough to the Bay Area to see any major benefits. Hopefully a widespread boom will sustain growth in downtown Sacramento, because if the country hits another one of those bust cycles, the dream of a revitalized urban core will have trouble coming to fruition. Personally, I’d be more impressed if the many Silicon Valley interests who have ownership stakes in the Kings open offices in the Sacramento area. That would really be putting money where their mouths are.

The large public subsidy remains a sore spot for me. I’m a bit of a hardliner on the issue. I realize that the subsidy issue is often considered a value proposition by many. X dollars may be the price required to attract or retain a team. If the public supports that, so be it. It’s happened in Santa Clara, now in Sacramento, and maybe in the future in Oakland. Nevertheless, I’m happy for Kings fans that they’ll be able to see their team locally for decades to come.


NBA Commissioner Adam Silver bans LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life

Some of you may not be aware that I am every bit as much a basketball fan as I am a baseball fan. It is with that fanaticism that I am proud that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has banned LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist remarks made on tape that were released over the weekend. There is no place for these kinds of comments in pro sports, let alone the NBA. Commissioner Silver may have only been on the job for three months, but he has already leapt above the other Big 4 commissioners in terms of forcefulness. Thanks, commish.

There will be plenty of time in the future to speculate on the fate of the Clippers, Sterling, or new ownership. For now let’s reflect on where we are as a society in terms of race relations, and remember that sport in its purest form transcends race.

Warriors, Coliseum JPA dispute arena debt

It just keeps happening this week. Shortly after the flareup regarding the A’s and JPA’s dueling 10-year lease offers, the Warriors get into their own little fracas with the JPA. After the team announced their Mission Bay arena plans, they were also asked what would happen to the current Oracle Arena, which will have its debt retired in 2027, nine years after the W’s plan to leave. Through team spokesperson Raymond Ritter, the team denies it has any additional obligation to pay off the arena after the team leaves. The JPA countered that the team is fully obligated to pay off the full remaining debt, even if they leave after the 2017 season.

Just as with the “A’s owe back rent” allegation, I figured it was best to look through some documents to figure out the truth. It’s pretty simple:

From the arena bond filing

From the arena bond filing

In case you don’t want to read all of that, the language from the MoU is:

“After June 30, 2007, the Warriors may terminate the license by paying the Authority a termination payment in an amount sufficient to retire all of the then outstanding Bonds, as well as other debts associated with the Arena Project.”

It’s highly unlikely that concert revenue or other non-game receipts will make up the difference in the meantime, so chances are that the W’s will be liable for $61 million. Here’s the payment schedule for the remaining arena and stadium debt:


Arena and Stadium bond payment schedules

And that’s that.

Dubs to dump Piers 30/32 for Mission Bay Salesforce site

With a 2017 opening lost due to increasing scrutiny and the threat of SF’s waterfront height restrictions proposition hanging over the Warriors’ arena project, many news sources, starting with SF Weekly, revealed today that the Warriors are completing a deal to purchase a parcel in Mission Bay from cloud computing giant The arena is expected to open in time for the NBA’s 2018-19 season.

Salesforce bought the 14 acre parcel at the corner of Third Street and 16th Street in 2010 for $278 million, an outlandish sum even for San Francisco. Soon, the company released plans for a new campus that eventually would’ve held nearly 2 million square feet of office space. As recently as last month, UCSF was in talks with Salesforce to acquire an adjacent parcel, which happens to be across the street from the bulk of UCSF’s Mission Bay campus. The sale price of the arena property wasn’t available, but with the spiraling costs of the waterfront site making it potentially cost-prohibitive, Mission Bay looks like a decent site given its availability. That availability became clear when Salesforce signed its own deal two weeks ago to occupy half of the massive Transbay Tower, which is currently under construction. Soon Salesforce will have its own “campus” within a few blocks of very dense SoMa, a pretty impressive feat of consolidation within a major city.

The arena site doesn’t have the picturesque Bay Bridge views of Piers 30/32. Neither is it downtown nor close to BART (30+ minute walk from Powell or 16th Street Mission stations). However, it is right along the the Third Street Muni line, which by 2019 will have a more direct BART link to the arena thanks to the Central Subway. Plenty of parking has already been built near the arena site, including over 2,400 spaces in two garages within a block.

Just as important, the site isn’t subject to the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that rule over Bay Area waterfront land, such as the BCDC and SLC. Being a block away makes all the difference in the world. And since the land isn’t on the waterfront, it’s exempt from the likely-to-be-passed Proposition B, the initiative that seeks to have tall developments along the SF waterfront subject to a vote – ballot box planning to the extreme.

There will still need to be an EIR written and certified for the arena project, but that’s nothing compared to the waterfront process. Prior to Prop B, I thought that the arena could be done if SF Mayor Ed Lee used up some political capital to see through his legacy project. When the initiative was cleared for this year’s primary, the writing was on the wall. The Giants saw it too, because Prop B threatens their large development across from AT&T Park. Any leverage that the Giants had regarding sharing the arena with the W’s is gone, now that the Giants have to deal with potential legal challenges throughout the development process and at the ballot box. Should Prop B pass and be legally upheld, the Giants stand to lose a few hundred million against the potential of their China Basin/Mission Rock plans.

Should he get this built, Joe Lacob will deserve many accolades. He gave the waterfront a good effort for nearly two years and had an alternative at the ready if he felt the need to cut bait. He inserted himself into the Howard Terminal discussion, showing interest in buying the A’s and building a stadium on the Oakland waterfront. He even managed to get the Port of Oakland and local developers to get excited about a waterfront arena, even though Lacob had not shown any specific interest in one. They got so excited that the ENA signed three weeks ago allows land to be conveyed to a team other than the A’s. Meanwhile, Lacob did the Salesforce deal away from the spotlight. That’s a classic smokescreen, well executed by Lacob. Now I don’t doubt that Lacob would enter the bidding for the A’s if they were available, but Lacob’s first job is to get the venue built for the team he currently owns. He got the land without early leaks, which have a tendency to invite speculation in the real estate market.

Going forward, I wonder if Salesforce is still tied into the arena via naming rights or another sponsorship deal. Once rivals with Oracle, they are now partners on a number of enterprise integration initiatives. Oracle’s naming rights deal expires in 2016, with the W’s expected to leave after the following year. The big target for Salesforce these days is SAP, who happen to have naming rights on some arena in downtown San Jose.

Negotiating Extension and Investor Group Approved for Coliseum City

Two weeks after a potential investor group headed by Colony Capital and Rashid Al Malik’s HayaH Holdings was revealed, that same group was formally approved as part of the master developer team. With that approval comes a 12-month extension on the ENA (exclusive negotiating agreement) to figure out all most of the details, plus a 6-month administrative extension if needed.

That’s the news. Now let’s try to understand what has to happen next.

The City of Oakland has about $250,000 remaining in money it assigned towards Coliseum City studies. Bay Investment Group (BayIG), the Colony/HayaH partnership, will put in $500,000 towards a market study to determine the viability of Coliseum City. This is important since BayIG is expected to push that study to its own individual investors, who as a group will decide if/how to move forward. The forthcoming study is not to be confused with AECOM’s feasibility study, which was made available during the summer.

Over the next 12 months, the public and private sides have to make good on a set of deliverables. Some within the City, especially CM Larry Reid, wanted a shorter 6-month + 6 month extension instead of the 12 + 6 deal that was approved. Reid’s concerns, aired last week in a committee meetings, were that 12 + 6 was too long a period and didn’t show the necessary urgency to the NFL and the Raiders. Raiders owner Mark Davis has indicated that he wants a lease/stadium deal in place shortly after the NFL season ends.

Nevertheless, Coliseum City will move forward on its own timeline because BayIG asked for 12 + 6 in order to get everything in order. A short list of deliverables looks like this:

  • November – Estimate on cost of remaining pre-development work
  • February – Assessment of new infrastructure costs
  • April – Letter(s) of intent from team(s) who choose to sign on with plan
  • May – BayIG market analysis
  • Summer/Fall – EIR and Specific Plan

These items, along with additional smaller ones, should lead up to preliminary project approval in whatever form it takes, plus a DDA (disposition and development agreement), the contract fine print on how Coliseum City is built, including costs, financing, and timelines. Zennie Abraham caught up with Oakland Asst. City Administrator Fred Blackwell at the meeting to summarize what’s next.

Simply put, BayIG just bought the City of Oakland and Alameda County some time. However, it’s easy to see how the list of deliverables doesn’t exactly line up with the timeframe that Davis is trying to dictate. Moving forward, the issue is whether the dev team can show significant enough progress to get Davis to sign on and sign a separate lease at the Coliseum that would keep the Raiders in Oakland throughout the transition. Then again, that part’s a little confusing too. When Raiders uber-fan Dr. Death asked JRDV’s Ed McFarlan when the earliest groundbreaking could be he received this rather optimistic response.

That seems unlikely given the scope of the project and all the little details that need to figured out. Is that groundbreaking for a new stadium alongside the existing Coliseum? Certainly it couldn’t be demolishing the current Coliseum and building on the same site, since the demo itself would take months and would displace both the Raiders and A’s. While BayIG indicated that it will reach out to the A’s and Warriors to gauge their interest in Coliseum City, it’s extremely unlikely that either team will commit. Despite recent setbacks, both teams are focused on their San Jose and San Francisco plans, respectively. Plus they’d have to commit without all deliverables in place, especially that market analysis. If you think that Lew Wolff would sign a short-term lease without knowing the development’s impact on the A’s, you’re crazy.

For the next 12 months, BayIG has control over most of the process. They could press the deal if they see encouraging signs, or they could kill it if the market analysis looks bad. They’re in great shape considering that they’ve only committed $500,000 towards the project – chump change for billionaires. Just as important, they don’t have to adhere to a specific vision of Coliseum City, though they’re positioning themselves to have at least the football stadium in place. Consider last night’s report on the agenda item:

The Coliseum City Master Plan is providing the basis upon which the City is currently under a separate contract with a specialized planning consultant firm to complete a Specific Plan and CEQA/EIR analysis. The Specific Plan will also identify alternatives to the Master Plan and will consider different development scenarios that will envision zero up to three sports facilifies at the site. Pursuant to CEQA, the separate planning contract will prepare an EIR to address the potential physical environmental effects of the Coliseum City project.

There’s nothing new there, but BayIG is positioned to take advantage of it. There could be a single football stadium, a football stadium and a ballpark, even an arena. At this early stage, it looks like it’ll just be the Raiders stadium, though even that is far from a given. BayIG could find that the best thing to do is to minimize its investment in the stadium, or seek out revenue streams from the stadium or team that could help pay back their investment. The infrastructure cost, which will be borne by City/County, could also prove prohibitively high on top of the remaining debt to be carried at the Coliseum. BayIG could even go with zero venues at the Coliseum. Such a plan would probably not get approval from City since it would represent a white flag. Yet it remains a distinct possibility – if not now, within a few years.

The upside, regardless of your optimism or skepticism of Coliseum City, is that things are coming to a head. Coliseum was introduced more than 21 months ago, and has shown only the most tentative progress until a few weeks ago. Now’s the time to put up, to see what results Coliseum City can yield. No more stalling, and for that we can all be glad.


Note: The only local mainstream media coverage of yesterday’s news came from CSNBA’s Scott Bair. Seems like everyone else was preoccupied with transit strikes and some other multibillion dollar development in the South Bay which is a lot more than vapor.

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.