Actually it’s a Flash Sale for A’s baseball

Well that was fast.

The A’s announced their $19.99 Ballpark Pass deal last Thursday. Today they announced that the plans will stop selling this Wednesday at 5 PM.

That’s right. Not even a week’s worth of sales. The good news is that the response has been incredible. The team already tallied 2,000 passes sold so far. The abrupt end of the sale aroused a lot of speculation, so it was worth asking what was going on.

This doesn’t shut the door on future sales. For now this group should provide a large enough sample size to understand how the passes will be used, what the demographics breakdown looks like, and what in-stadium purchases are made by pass holders. For now you’ll have 36 hours to decide, if you were on the fence.

Like many A’s promotions this year, the Ballpark Pass was rolled out later in the season, away from other promotions to give it some breathing room. After the normal winter season ticket push, the team offered digital options like the 510 Pack, which focused on field level tickets. Then the A’s opened the upper deck, which brought great excitement and fanfare but apparently not a lot of ticket sales. Because it’s such a new development, I didn’t expect gangbusters sales, at least as long as the team was mediocre.

The Ballpark Pass is different in that its aim is to provide a frictionless way to attend games. Pay once per month, decide if you want to go the day of a game, pick seats if you want using the At the Ballpark app. It’s easy and doesn’t require much planning, so combined with the bargain basement price point it should be a hit. At 2k sales so far, it most certainly is. But it’s also worth studying why the emotionally positive upper deck opening hasn’t yielded a big boost in attendance, yet the Pass is set to do just that.

The price point helps, yes. Disregard that for a moment. Is the problem more that the traditional walkup ticket sales model is dying, if not already dead? So much has happened to the entertainment sales model since the iPhone launched in 2007. The proliferation of apps has created new economies around tickets, with purveyors recognizing that ease and convenience are bigger factors than tonight’s pitching matchup or the A’s slugger pair. Last weekend I went to see a friend’s musical in a local regional theater. That mom-and-pop operation uses Walletini, an app aimed at modernizing small live theater ticketing operations. Movie theaters have been using Fandango for years. Sports events have Ticketmaster, Tickets.com, and a myriad of secondary market apps. The Pass cuts through all of that by making the Coliseum a sort of club where you can just show up – and not be forced to pay anything else once you’re there.

It’s a nearly egalitarian way of selling baseball to fans, except perhaps for longtime loyal season ticket holders who now have been severely undercut. I expect that if the A’s continue with the Pass, they’ll need to offer greater perks to retain those high-revenue customers in ST plans. Otherwise there will be questions about the value they’re getting. As far as marketing experiments go, the Pass operates at multiple levels. It’s trying to bring in new fans or disenchanted old fans. It’s trying a different pricing model. It’s trying to balance those new subscribers against the needs of MVP and club seat holders.

All of it put together should provide a good picture of what A’s baseball is really worth to A’s fans.

 

It’s Netflix but for A’s baseball

The A’s announced that they, along with a few other MLB franchises, are rolling out an inexpensive monthly ballpark pass, which allows for admission into all home games from June through September. The price of the pass is $19.99 per month, and like most subscriptions, will auto-renew every month.

Ticketing will be done through the mobile At The Ballpark app. Once you buy a month, you’ll have admission to all games that month. The admission is for guaranteed standing room, plus you’ll receive seat location(s) by text if they’re available. Realistically that should be for nearly every game since the A’s are averaging just north of 16k per game in a 41k capacity stadium. Like most subscriptions, you’ll be able to cancel it during the season (see terms for more details). The value is undeniable. June has 15 games by itself, which works out to $1.33 per game. And that’s for the Yankees, Astros, Blue Jays, Reds, Dodgers, and Nationals, plus a Braves game. The downsides are that the pass is not transferable, and if you need to get a group to sit together you’ll need to buy several together.

Truth be told, the A’s have run similar Spring Training passes the past two years and two summers ago at the Coliseum ($79 for select months), so they have some experience with this type of ticketing. 2017’s edition offered 17 games at Hohokam for $40. By comparison the current deal is a serious loss leader, a way to get new casual fans in the door to sample the new experience at the Coliseum. A family of four could camp out the Coli for $320 (plus taxes), less than the cost of a single full-season bleacher ticket. That’s simply astonishing.

Variance in prices among other ballparks leads me to believe that an industry standard price has not been set yet. That’s fine for now. Fans get to benefit from the extended beta (pricing per ticket per month):

  • STL $30
  • HOU $59 (weekdays only)
  • CIN $30
  • MIN $99 (April/May)
  • DET $49
  • MIL $39
  • LAA $49
  • OAK $19

I expect that the actual number of available passes will be limited as they were for the spring, though the huge available inventory should make such restrictions unnecessary. The upper deck’s open. Let the kids in.

If the popularity of ticket subscriptions takes off, I wonder if they could affect how new ballparks (like the A’s future park) are designed. Would they build in more standing areas instead of back rows of seats? More bars and drink rails? Outfield berms instead of bleachers? A change to the outside food policy? And what does this mean for season ticket holders of the cheap seats, who were just undercut big time?

Other teams launched pass programs to fill in empty seats. The A’s are trying to fill whole sections and levels. If there’s a place where a pass could make a visible difference, it’s Oakland. Practically no cover and no two-drink minimum. Bring in the college and high school students, the hipsters, the families, the cheap dates. The A’s love you, and maybe you’ll love them back.

Laney, Peralta, and Howard: It’s a ballpark not a horse race

Last Saturday I spent most of the day (and night) at a Derby party. One of the hosts is from Kentucky, so the party had great authenticity all the way down to me taking a nap in the front yard after a group photo. That’s my authenticity, at least. During the brief lucid state I was in as we feverishly bid up horses, I started to feel a sense of familiarity to the whole affair. That’s because ever since the Dave Kaval-led A’s narrowed potential ballpark sites down to four in and around downtown, fans and observers everywhere placed bets on their own favorites. I’ve gotten no shortage of requests to handicap the four sites. While I’ve pointed to the Raiders-less Coliseum as the easiest, fastest site due to work already done and reduced complexity, there are far more interesting sites out there, sites that could prove more compelling to the A’s.

Peralta is the site between Laney (red) and Brooklyn Basin (light blue)

Kaval has been careful to not tip his hand. In public interviews and private conversions, Kaval praised all three sites, pointing out advantages for all three. If you’re gleaning some sort of favorite from him, it’s probably your own bias at play. Nothing wrong with that, just acknowledge it and understand that the team has a process it’s trying to follow.

That didn’t stop Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf from opining that the A’s have narrowed down the sites to Lake Merritt (Laney College) and Howard Terminal. Today, Robert Gammon expanded on that culling, explaining that the A’s are worried about getting 35,000 fans across the active railroad tracks running through Jack London Square. Brooklyn Basin, or the part of it that was being offered, is no longer under consideration. I suspect this is because they couldn’t assemble all of the needed land. Lake Merritt is actually two sites, the Laney fields and the Peralta Community College south of East 8th Street. Gammon’s scoop is that the A’s may be focusing on the Peralta site. That’s a bit of a surprise because most observers and Laney site fans have been fantasizing about those fields forever. Assuming that Laney wanted to keep its athletics program, bringing in the A’s is a nonstarter. Peralta is smaller, is further from BART, and rather close to 880. Peralta’s also smaller, with at most 10 acres available. Or does it?

Peralta parcel map

In the above map the word “College” has “16.70 Ac.” That nearly 17 acres includes all but 4 acres of the Laney College parking lot across Lake Merritt Channel. And because the ballpark is next to the Channel, a large buffer will be required along each bank for flood control and recreational purposes (Tidelands Trust). The buildable area is a square measuring roughly 600′ x 600′. That’s less than 10 acres in footprint, which would make the A’s park by far the smallest modern venue in baseball, while also leaving precious little room to build anything else. I wrote last October:

If the Peralta site is chosen, the administration offices and support for all four campuses in the district would have to be relocated. Perhaps a solution could include a large parking structure with offices atop. That could help serve parking needs for Laney, Peralta, and the A’s. It could also be crazy expensive on its own.

Peralta in bottom center, Laney fields upper right, BART tunnel begins bottom right

Since the undivided parcel includes the parking lot, any land deal could be a little easier if it’s confined to the 16.7 acres, though with the Channel removed only 4 acres are left to build a multi-level garage, the replacement district administration buildings, and other offices. A pedestrian bridge over East 7th Street would also be in order. That doesn’t leave much land to build a ballpark village unless the A’s buy or the city/college volunteer additional land in the area.

There’s also an old rail easement immediately south of the Peralta parcel, plus a corp yard butting up against the Nimitz. Those could prove useful in the future. It’s not realistic to expect any street grid changes or other infrastructure to help support the ballpark other than revamped on/off-ramps. This is little more than a thumbnail sketch of the Peralta site. We’ll surely find out more in the coming months.

Unusual Peralta lot boundaries

The Coliseum was mentioned as the third-place site in the Gammons piece, which is not a problem from a process standpoint. With the Raiders leaving, the Coliseum is not going anywhere and can also serve as a fallback position if the need arises. Then again, MLB has often said it prefers downtown ballparks, yet two of the last three parks (SunTrust, Marlins) were not built downtown, and the Rangers’ replacement will also be built in the suburbs. Only Target Field is downtown, lacking an adjacent ancillary development. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s seems to be conflating “downtown” with “ballpark+development,” truly a perversion of the traditional definition of downtown.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

The tarps are dead (upper deck)! Long live the tarps (Mount Davis)!

Tuesday off-days, rare during the baseball season, are pretty good days to make announcements. Dave Kaval made a big announcement this morning that can only win over fans. The failed scarcity experiment and objects of scorn known as the upper deck tarps are no more.

While the compression of the seating inventory helped make the venue more intimate at times, the optics of 12,000 seats of upper deck being tarped and cordoned off were embarrassing and could not be escaped. The policy was put into effect for the 2006, not long after Lew Wolff and John Fisher bought the team from Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann. That makes the tarps the one enduring visual symbol of the Wolff era, which officially ended last November.

The tarps atop Mount Davis will stay as the seats at the summit won’t be sold. When football season begins there will be a humdrum exercise in rotating between the A’s and Raiders tarps, covering seats that the Raiders wanted in 1995 but haven’t sold since 2013. The new baseball seating capacity will be 47,170 plus a thousand potential standing room admission tickets available for big crowd event games (Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, fireworks).

Tickets for the newly reopened sections (300-315, 319-334) will be $15 everywhere with half the proceeds for the upcoming 10-game homestead going to Oakland Promise, a charity and mentoring program that aims to have every Oakland high school student graduate with the necessary skills needed to finish college.

Say goodbye to the old seating chart:

Hello to the new (old) seating chart, whose URL is um, interesting:

Finally, we can’t bring back the Coliseum upper deck without that one incident (NSFW)…

During that first homestand with the upper deck reopened, the A’s will play the M’s on 4/20. It’s a night game. You know what to do. Note: the tickets do have seating assignments, so any thoughts that the upper deck is now some massive general admission section are at best unspoken and informal.

As for what the A’s should do with the tarps, I thought up some options. Vote on one. Now that I’m thinking about it, whatever happened to the tarps that covered 316-318?

How quickly can Mount Davis be demolished?

Sorry, there’s no magical charm to hide this beauty

Short answer: Not this year.

I get it, A’s fans. You’re excited, I’m excited, the A’s marketing crew is excited. We’re all champing at the bit right now. Unfortunately, I’m gonna have to slow everyone’s roll. In California we don’t build things quickly. We don’t even demolish things quickly. You’re not going to see a big viral video implosion of the Coliseum, ever. Keep in mind:

  • Candlestick Park’s demolition dragged on for months to protect residents living nearby from asbestos and other pollutants.
  • Site prep for Avaya Stadium took a year longer than expected because of previously unknown underground bunkers and other items to demolish and cleanup.

The Raiders have already exercised their option on the 2017 year, so they’re in come August. Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas isn’t outfitted with the updated locker rooms and security fencing that the NFL requires. Any upgrades couldn’t come until after the 2017 season ends. It’s that classic tale about the boy who leaves the girl yet needs to crash on her couch for a few months while his new fling upgrades from a studio to a junior one-bedroom apartment. You’ve seen it – Cameron Crowe or Richard Linklater?

As long as the Raiders are staying for hopefully only year, the A’s should be able to break out the wrecking ball come February 1, 2018, right?

Nope.

The problem is at that point there will still be some $75 million in debt remaining on the Coliseum. The City and County haven’t figured out who or what is paying for it. Until that gets resolved, the JPA can’t so much as pelt it with rocks. Beyond that, the demolition will have its own cost which someone will have to pay out of pocket. The infrastructure funding plan offered to the Raiders and the Lott-Fortress group had the demolition of the entire stadium budgeted in. I imagine that the same offer’s on the table for the A’s should they choose to build at the Coliseum. If they don’t, demolition’s yet another cost to add onto the debt resolution. If the JPA quickly came to a deal with the A’s, demolition would probably be accommodated depending on the Raiders’ departure and the phasing of the teardown.

Once the debt issue is resolved, I would expect that demolition would happen in two parts. Initially, the peak of Mount Davis, otherwise known as the upper deck, would be lopped off. That would be the easiest aspect of the plan since only the seats and risers would be removed, along with the columns and beams holding them up. The Washington football team removed more than 10,000 seats from the upper deck, replacing many of them with the wall-like platforms used at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. Once the upper deck of Mount Davis is removed, the Oakland hills and Leona Quarry would be visible from parts of the original Coliseum, namely the original upper deck. Aesthetically that would be a huge improvement, if not a complete solution.

Outside Mount Davis

Once the easy part is dealt with, dealing with the rest of hulking structure becomes a project unto itself. The East Side Club is a four-story section that stretches the length of the stand, with two upper levels of suites facing the field and a vaulted ceiling above the club. It’s more like demolishing a gigantic concrete pier than your average tilt-up office building.

Everything at or below the plaza concourse would have to stay intact while the A’s played in the venue. The BART plaza is at this level, so unless someone wanted to completely rebuild that even though future plans have the old BART bridge replaced, it’s all staying intact. In addition, the only vehicular access to the field is via the steep centerfield tunnel underneath Mt. Davis. That can’t be touched.

East Side Club, suites on upper levels

I don’t mean to crap on your dynamite-charged fantasies, folks. As long as the A’s have to continue using the Coliseum there’s only so far you can go in terms of dismantling it. Eventually the whole thing will come down. Chances are it will be piece-by-piece. Maybe the A’s can have some of the demo team dance to YMCA for old times’ sake.

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.