You Are The Experiment

As some of you may have heard, I took a trip from the scorching desert to the relatively cool Bay Area, partly to catch the last two games of the Rangers series. After Thursday’s and Friday’s episodes showcased lackluster performances, it was wonderful to watch the A’s kick it into gear and finish with a split. On the way, I met with old and new friends, which only enhanced the experience.

I attended Saturday’s game on whim after I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in person in 20 years. The biggest impact for me, now that I’ve been away from the Bay regularly for a few years, is how vast and difficult this area is to navigate. Unless I prefer being in transit for half a day, it’s best to pick an neighborhood where I’m likely to hang out and visit friends, then stick to that area. Of course, since I have friends I’d like to visit in all four official “parts” of the Bay plus Santa Cruz, I usually have to pick and choose my battles. Otherwise I’m doomed to be stuck in transit. My friend works at Stanford, so we spent time walking around the campus.

Back to Saturday’s game. It was a fireworks night with a Pixar theme, so I was prepared for a big crowd. The announced attendance was 36,468, and from the packed concourses and the patterns of seats filled I observed in the park, the number looked accurate. I had a field reserved seat in 127, which I gave up late in the game to watch the finish from the upper deck. (I stopped sitting in the bleachers years ago, especially when the upper deck reopened in limited form and then completely.) Overall, it was a fairly typical Coliseum experience.

Sunday’s game was different. Before the game I took the early Capitol Corridor train from Santa Clara to Jack London Square. It took 13 minutes to walk from the Amtrak platform to the approximate east plaza of Howard Terminal at Clay and Water Streets. Google Maps estimates the walk to take only 9 minutes, but I intentionally took the pedestrian bridge over the tracks, as fans would be encouraged to do on game idea. The bridge, which takes riders some three stories over the tracks to meet Federal Rail Administration height requirements, was responsible for the extra 4 minutes. And in case people start thinking they can chance a crossing of an active rail line, I bring to your attention A’s COO Chris Giles’ recent video of his attempting to leave the A’s corporate offices at JLS, only the be delayed by not one, but TWO, trains.

Fencing, which already exists at the station to prevent pedestrian crossings, will be required at Howard Terminal, though trying to get 25,000 fans to do the right thing and take the more time-consuming bridge will be a task. 4 minutes shouldn’t matter, but you can’t discount someone being in a hurry, drunk, or both.

My buddy, educator and theater writer David Chavez, was kind enough to offer me one of his club seats with the A’s Access benefits that provides. It was also Root Beer Float Day, which for me meant I could enter the park early like other fans. As usual, the East Side Club (split into the branded Treehouse and Stomping Ground areas) was packed, reminiscent of FanFest. I’m not an autograph hound, so I went to the various media tables to get float refills (pro-tip) after I paid $5 for a commemorative mug. Shortly before first pitch I surveyed the crowd. Later I found out the announced attendance was 18,906. It seemed like that entire crowd was crammed into the East Side Club before the game. Situations like that make me wonder how expansive similar facilities will be at the next ballpark. Would everything be housed in a club, or a regular concourse, or even the outfield plaza the A’s are planning? The ESC is 40,000 square feet, which sounds large at first glance. It’s roughly the size of half a football field.

Belly full of diet root beer and vanilla ice cream, I didn’t think much of using the $10 concessions/merchandise credit on my ticket, despite David’s cajoling. Late in the game I felt somewhat hungry, so I went into the club. The fancy brick oven pizza stand was closed. It was already the bottom of the 7th, so beer was pretty much ruled out (I don’t drink much these days). I ended up getting a nachos helmet, of which I only finished half. The $10 credit wasn’t going to be enough for the food except David swooped in to claim the 50% All Access Pass discount. Along with a bottled water I paid nothing. While I appreciated the discounts, the program felt a bit over complicated as I wasn’t clear if my ticket or Dave’s pass had to be scanned first. I didn’t think it was a big deal to save a few bucks. It would’ve meant more to me if I were attending 20+ times a season.

Monday, the A’s announced that they are tweaking the Access plan to make it easier to exchange tickets and bring in guests. So far it looks like this (click graphic to expand):

10 game plan

24 game plan

Full Season plan

The big immediate take away is that the Plaza Club sections (212-214) have been folded into the Plaza Infield area. The transformation of the old Plaza Outfield sections into the Treehouse (LF) and the Stomping Ground (RF) and additional amenities have created the kinds of affordable adult and family hangout areas the Coliseum has been missing since Mount Davis was built. The changes also reduced much of the Coliseum’s reserved seat inventory, which is important as the team attempts to create an inventory similar to their new ballpark plan. Keep in mind that in the above diagrams there are effectively no reserved outfield seats. That may seem a bit schizophrenic as the A’s were trying to sell only 35,000 reserved seats during the Wolff era and only last year ballooned up to 48,000. During this current Kaval/Giles pricing experiment, the upper deck is for sale mostly as a stand-in for the roof deck planned for the new ballpark. The Giants series will see the tarps on the Mount Davis upper deck removed and seats sold as overflow. Instead of the harsh cuts taken in the past, A’s management is being more sensitive to fan needs and preferences.

I’m not an Access member, so I can’t speak to the fan experience other than the aforementioned anecdote. What the A’s are doing is every bit as disruptive (Silicon Valley term) as Moneyball was for player evaluation. So far it’s worked out well, resulting in an increase from 4,800 to 9,535 Access plans. It shows that fans are adjusting to the new subscription model, which Giles has at times called “Baseball as a Service” (Silicon Valley-esque term). The model provides less friction for fans to attend, and it seems to have created plenty of word-of-mouth sales opportunities. There is a downside, though, in that while there’s less friction to attend, there’s also intrinsically less to get people to show up, or “stickiness.” A 2016 USA Today article reported that two-thirds of those with gym memberships go unused. In the past the A’s were aiming for 75-80% of season ticket holders to show up for every game. Baseball, and the world around it, are changing. There will undoubtedly be more tweaks to come in the next couple of years until the new ballpark deal is sealed. Until then, you guys are all beta customers. File those bug reports and expect more.

P.S. – Remember when the A’s announced they were removing the General Admission designation on the bleachers and turning them into reserved seats? I did, and I recall proposing a split of the Plaza Outfield sections into something quite similar to the Treehouse/Stomping Ground remake. Someone once said that good artists copy, great artists steal. No charge for this one, guys.

P.P.S

Public Meeting Schedule for Ballpark at Howard Terminal

The A’s will be one of the subjects of a slew of public meetings in the coming weeks. Apologies for being late to post this (for those who might attend tonight’s BCDC session). There will be another. Follow this link for more information. Port of Oakland meetings are held in Jack London Square. BCDC meetings are held at 530 Water Street in San Francisco.

  • March 11 – BCDC Design Review
  • March 14 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • March 28 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • April 11 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • April 18 – BCDC Design Review
  • April 25 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners

If you can’t make it to any meetings, at least read Bill Shaikin’ LA Times piece on the A’s plans.

Raiders going across the Bay for 2019

This year, the A’s don’t have to worry about the Raiders chewing up the Coliseum grass. For a year the Silver & Black will be chewing up the Giants’ grass instead before moving to Vegas. And thankfully, the Coliseum won’t have to spend $250k every time they have to convert the stadium from football to baseball.

My question is: How quickly can the A’s repurpose the Raiders’ locker rooms?

Remember that the SF Demons of the XFL played at China Basin for one XFL season. Last year the Rugby Sevens World Cup was held there during the baseball season. You know what would be neat? Rather than a bus on game day, charter a ferry to take the Raiders from their Harbor Bay practice facility to Oracle Park.

Update 2/6Not so fast my friend.

Kaval Call Part IV: Coliseum redevelopment

Imagine the mid-60’s. You’re driving on Highway 17. There’s a flurry of construction near Hegenberger. Terminal 1 at Oakland Airport opened. The tumult (and the joy that comes with six world championships) of the 70’s was still in the distance. Oakland was hitting the big time!

Starting tomorrow the Coliseum may only have one tenant, the A’s. That lone team announced its intention to leave last month. What will be left of the Coliseum complex?

Coliseum originally under construction

In the picture above you can clearly see all of the notches in the lower bowl. The Coliseum started out with the Raiders as its first tenant. Seating risers mounted on steel plates could be moved around to suit football or baseball, which came in 1968. There were actually two different configurations for football: one for the overlapping baseball and football months where the gridiron ran from home plate to center field, and the “permanent” first base-third base configuration. The notches allowed the football field to fit the bowl, and are still in use today.

Knowing that the notches are part of the charm of the Coliseum, it’s curious that the A’s and BIG released the following rendering of a mostly deconstructed stadium.

Coliseum reimagined as amphitheater

The distinctive corner notches that would normally exist in the regular football configuration are gone. The notches at the foul poles remain along with a redone backstop notch, making this ampthitheater-Coliseum in some ways more of a true ballpark than the Coliseum ever was.

Closeup of redone Coliseum baseball configuration with arena in background

So… what happened to championship plaza? In this vision, the plaza is gone along with the plaza and upper decks, replaced by a grove of trees. It hardly makes sense for a city that’s about the spend significant effort to preserve its football history and tradition to simply cast that history aside. Now I get that these sketches are very preliminary, but they show a certain blindness to Oakland sports history. Even though the Raiders are leaving and no replacement is in sight, it doesn’t make sense to keep this baseball configuration when the A’s aren’t going to play many (one per year? any?) games there while so many fans also want football. Or if they can’t have football, they’d like a reminder of what once was. If this is the future of the Coliseum, it should reflect the venue’s rich history: football, baseball, concerts, monster truck shows, all of it.

Looks like a park, feels like a cemetery

Look at the outline of the Coliseum field above. There’s the plentiful foul territory and the backstop notch. I was surprised to find that also intact is the misshapen outfield wall, once euphemistically called the “Jagged Edge.” It’s the last remnant of a to-be demolished Mount Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that the concrete east stands are gone, but the outfield wall was never an architectural highlight. I suppose that it too is an important part of history, so perhaps it should remain. Unlike my previous argument for the notches, the jagged edge was a by-product of design choices made with the 1995 renovation. If anything, bring back the Bash Brothers-era outfield fence and dimensions.

Around the amphitheater are a lot of nice amenities. As Oakland doesn’t have a large urban park, and maybe this could work despite its distance from downtown. Yet check out the nomenclature. Meadow. Lawn. Soccer. The Hills. Youth Sports Academy. Job Training. Soccer (again). No “football” to be found. A few tennis and basketball courts. The term Community bumps up against the Nimitz Freeway. It all speaks to a sort of whitewashing/greenwashing of sports in Oakland. Toss in some “affordable housing” and facilities that should help East Oakland residents, and Bob’s yer uncle.

I remember back to Frank Deford’s write-up of the Coliseum complex in Sports Illustrated, marveling at how things have (or haven’t) changed in the years since. Consider this pearl of wisdom:

The teams all have come so fast that, among other things, Oakland has neglected to support them. People in Oakland tend to gloss this over.

In 1968 there was a bonanza in the East Bay. In 2018 the teams are in a hurry to leave.

A narrative has emerged recently in which Raiders fans looking to place blame for the Raiders’ departure say it’s the A’s fault for “squatting” at the Coliseum.  The argument is not based on any facts or real evidence. All the A’s asked for in their lease extension was for 2 years to make plans for their own eviction if the Raiders put together a bona fide stadium plan of their own. That never happened. And if we’re being honest, Mark Davis would’ve been a fool to turn down $750 million in stadium subsidies from Nevada. Such a gift was not awaiting him in Oakland ever.

These days attention is turning to having Howard Terminal become the centerpiece for another civic revitalization effort, while the A’s, being the last team standing in Oakland, negotiating control over the Coliseum land and reaping the benefits. When I first heard that was the plan I was incredulous. It’s hard enough to build one big development in the Bay Area. Now Oakland wants to hand the keys for two of them to the A’s? The East Bay Times’ recent editorial captured this sentiment well, a sentiment that will undoubtedly grow in the coming months.

Comparison of new large real estate developments

The A’s don’t plan to build out the Coliseum per the Coliseum City plans. It would be nice to have for future development. Even if there’s no new stadium, or even if the old one becomes the Oakland Mausoleum. Just think of it. The A’s could have control of 170 acres, entitlements to 8,000 homes and some 4 million square feet of commercial square footage – in two separate, high-profile locations. To the victor loser goes the spoils, I guess. For the A’s, the spoils are being able to have the East Bay all to themselves. They can dictate what kinds of development can occur at the Coliseum complex, including another football stadium.

I asked A’s President Dave Kaval about the A’s plans for the Coliseum. He ruled out building a ballpark there. Kaval’s response:

We’re still following the entitlements for the Coliseum that were approved for Coliseum City. We have to build up the areas at the Coliseum to deal with sea-level rise.

That led to the obvious follow-up question: Is there a Plan B?

You know we’re the Oakland A’s, we’re all about Plan A. We think we’ve done a lot of community outreach and we’ll do a lot more.

After the backlash suffered with the Peralta plan, I don’t blame the A’s for trying to cover all of the bases this time. I have to wonder if the world – nay, the Bay Area – is moving too fast for them.

Sneak Peak at the Coming Week

Besides monitoring Twitter and reading every article I could find, I made time to talk to A’s President Dave Kaval earlier this afternoon about the Howard Terminal and Coliseum announcement. Unlike the Wolff interview series a few years ago, this was over the phone and won’t be transcribed. Instead I’ll describe what I’ve seen so far and intersperse it with relevant quotes from Kaval.

In lieu of any assembled thoughts on the subject, I’ll lay out my plans for the coming days. Expect Part I of the Kaval Call series to come out tomorrow, with the subsequent installments coming in the next few days. I’m still jotting down my thoughts, so if you have any questions drop them in the comments and I’ll try to include my responses in the posts. Yes, there will be some comments about The Shire.

Kaval Call: Part I – Howard Terminal Ballpark

  • Shape and Style
  • Triple-Decker
  • Roof Deck and Path
  • Outfield and Views
  • Scoreboards and Technology

Kaval Call: Part II – Waterfront Setting

Kaval Call: Part III – Gondolas not BART

Kaval Call: Part IV – Coliseum Redevelopment

Huge thanks to A’s VP of Communications Catherine Aker, who asked me a couple months ago if I would be interested in interviewing Kaval. At the time I declined, telling her to let me know when the A’s were ready to announce something. As a pro would, she got back to me this week.

A’s to host Open House on Thursday; FanFest on 1/26

It’s Hot Stove League time again, and for the A’s it means something different than signing guys to huge nine-figure deals. Instead, the team will open its doors Thursday afternoon to

Apparently they’ll present or discuss both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum as potential future sites. So far I haven’t heard about any plans to use the Coliseum land to help fund Howard Terminal. I won’t be at the open house as I’ll be busy, but the Brothers August (Jeffrey and Kevin) will both be there and plan to report back. Say hi and dream about the future.


The A’s also announced that FanFest will be back at Jack London Square on January 26. I wasn’t able to make it last year due to the unfortunate timing of my health scare, but I’m feeling well enough that I might make it up for the day. Plans are in the works.

 

 

A’s schedule additional community meetings

The A’s continue their series of community outreach meetings, starting with this Saturday.

Two weeks from Sunday another meeting will be held at Oakland City Hall. While Saturday’s meeting will be focused on development at the Coliseum, the meeting on the 28th will continue the discussion about Howard Terminal. Questions about Howard Terminal are likely to be raised at the Coliseum meeting and vice-versa, so I hope that the A’s and the City are prepared. They appear to have learned some lessons from the Peralta debacle.

For now both sites are being handled separately. That may change, though not without some consternation.

The thing that concerns me is that the City should have a web page dedicated to the effort on their website. So should the A’s. Perhaps this is technically too early in the process because there is no project submitted yet, but eventually both parties will need their own information repositories for their respective efforts. Perhaps that’s why the City listed a new job posting for a project manager.

Before you ask, no, I’m not that kind of project manager as I have no relevant governmental experience. Besides, my therapeutic program doesn’t end until early next year and I imagine both the City and the Team want this work started ASAP. Nevertheless, I’m glad that steps are being made to not repeat the mistakes of the recent (and not-so-recent) past.