I suppose I can ask now: Was the A’s tanking in the second half of 2021 and all of 2022 worth it if a Howard Terminal deal happened? Seemed like a lot of fans were hoping for exactly that to occur.
What’s that? There is no deal? Well, that complicates matters a bit. City staffers and the mayor finally conceded in the last few weeks that no deal is coming this year, barring a miracle.Any deal would have to be consummated in 2023 at the earliest, with no assurances that would happen given the changing political and economic landscape, along with the deal’s increasing complexity and cost.
I wrote in July that Oakland pols were mostly motivated by the fear of being blamed for the last major pro sports team leaving, and to that end they mostly succeeded. The unenviable responsibility will fall to the next Mayor and City Council, to be decided in two weeks. While some of the media try to position this as a sort of baton-passing exercise, anyone paying attention knows that a different mayor, with a different city council, is bound to have priorities that stray away from a $12 Billion mega-development project. Though perhaps it’s not that far off. Vice Mayor/CM Rebecca Kaplan posted a slide from a poll taken by the Mayor’s office on Oakland’s priorities. Look at where Howard Terminal lands in there.
Whatever happens, Oakland’s looking at some serious regime change when 2023 rolls around (mayor, 2-3 council members), and no one should expect business as usual on the Howard Terminal front. Then again, Kaplan’s slide shows that HT doesn’t have the juice that outgoing Mayor Libby Schaaf liked to project. Perhaps following the script of pushing for incremental movement while hoping for a big breakthrough is staying the course, because what choice does Oakland have at this stage? What might change is the messaging. The Oakland populace has felt largely ignored by the mayor in her second term. A return to a more realistic approach may be in order, which may mean putting Howard Terminal on the back burner. At this point, who can really say? The building trades unions are certainly pumping enough money into this election to expect some sort of ROI. But the unexpected can and sometimes does happen in Oakland’s ranked choice elections. Maybe Ignacio De La Fuente will somehow sneak in.
The City of Oakland continues to make its procedural push, a double-edged sword which thankfully is not paid for by taxpayers but is being bankrolled by the A’s, creating its own apparent conflict of interest. Again, what choice does Oakland have? This is the game. Oakland chose to play it.
Now if you want a fully delusional view, I give you @As_Fan_Radio’s tweet from the summer, in which whichever account runner was working promoted FIVE teams in Oakland: the A’s, the return of the NFL to the Coliseum property, a WNBA team, plus the Roots and the Oakland Soul, a women’s pro soccer franchise owned by Roots ownership. Think about that for a moment. A city which 50 years ago made its name by being an easy-to-work-with landing spot for sports franchises spent the last decade running them out of town, yet still dreams it can easily retain or attract new ones. Sadly, they’re blind to two things: it’s harder to get things built now, and Oakland has been surpassed by many competing markets. Oakland is no longer a soft landing spot.
Obviously, the NFL is in no hurry to come back to Oakland since the City’s Hail Mary lawsuit against the league was recently dismissed by the US Supreme Court. Oakland, like St. Louis, argued for monetary damages because of the way it lost its NFL team for the second time. Unlike St. Louis’s successful lawsuit, the Court didn’t buy that the NFL hurt Oakland on antitrust grounds. STL actually produced a funded stadium option for the Rams, which Stan Kroenke and the NFL ignored as their sights were focused on re-entry to the LA market. Oakland, which had an EIR in place for Coliseum City (sound familiar?), didn’t have a funding plan in place. STL took the Rams/NFL to court first in 2015, Oakland later in 2018. Despite regular defeats on the bench, ambulance chasing law firms kept taking Oakland’s case on contingency.
On the other hand, WNBA could happen in Oakland since there’s already an excellent modern – though expensive to operate – venue in the Coliseum Arena. The issue there, as is the case for most WNBA franchises, is a matter of who’s going to pick up the operating costs. I argued previously that it was curious that Joe Lacob, who gained credibility in the pro sports world via his foray in the ABL, so far has only teased his involvement with a WNBA franchise. If the argument against has to do with defraying operating costs, I have to point out that the Warriors’ luxury tax bill will run into the nine figures for the next several seasons thanks to upcoming contract extensions. If anyone can afford the freight of running a WNBA team and its piddly $1 million annual payroll, it’s Joe Lacob and his partners, though chances are he’d prefer to play most of the games in the arena he runs across the Bay.
As for the Roots/Soul, they’re using the same playbook the A’s briefly (and successfully until it became unsustainable) used when the Raiders left. Despite the Roots’ recent success in North American second-tier league USL Championship, there’s still a way to go to establishing a permanent home away from Laney College, where the football stadium is being rented. The franchise is in talks to build a stadium on the Malibu lot next to the Coliseum, which is City-owned and not subject to City/County/JPA co-ownership stakes. If the HomeBase lot is included, the total land is about 20 acres -more than enough for the stadium and some ancillary development. The requirements for USL Championship (10,000-person stadium capacity) is roughly half that of MLS (20,000). One thing you have to keep in mind for these fledgling franchises is that their plans have to manage growth. They can’t simply build a 5k or 10k stadium and call it a day unless they don’t plan to bring in more fans than that on a regular basis. If their plan is to eventually build something attractive for promotion to MLS, that’s a completely different set of requirements or challenges.
Look, if you’ve been reading this far and reading my posts for some time, you know I’m not a person to provide easy answers or empty rah-rah homerism. I care about the deal and how it gets done, who wins and who loses. I didn’t care much about how the EIR and related approvals came through because I knew those proceedings had limited impact and had tons of strings attached. If the A’s announce they’re leaving for Las Vegas tomorrow, it’s not like whatever tentative approvals are in place at HT can be transferred to a hypothetical new MLB team, a soccer team, or god forbid, a NBA or NFL team. What people fail to understand about Oakland’s plight is that none of these leagues are going to wait too long for Oakland to get its shit together, only as long as a team is bound to a lease. The leagues allowed two Oakland teams to find better options outside of city limits, the same way they allowed the A’s to do “Parallel Paths.” If you believe MLB or anyone will exercise a great deal of patience for Oakland to come up with a perfect deal (Opening Day 2027, hello?), history shows that strategy doesn’t pay off for The Town. Which is somewhat ironic, because as Oakland loses team after team and fades from relevance on the national stage (I didn’t forget that Mills College merged with Northeastern University), “The Town” may be a more apt nickname than anything an overpaid consulting firm could come up with.
There’s always next year. Until then…
P.S. – In the summer of 2021 there was an arbitrary deadline to get a deal done between the A’s and the City. They made fundamentally different proposals and agreed to work on them, punting the deadline TBD. Early this year, the EIR and BCDC decisions were also pitched as critical. November’s election, and the end of the year, are similarly sold. Now that these dates have elapsed, what are the consequences for miscalculating the impact? Do the HT proponents tire of buying these arbitrary deadlines whole? Healthy skepticism never hurt anyone, especially when so much money is on the line.