While the A’s enjoy a well-deserved off-day after a most grueling road trip, let me bring your attention to a special event happening on the way back from Tampa Bay.

MLB is hosting a game in Omaha.

Yes, Omaha.

TD Ameritrade Park, well known as the home of the College World Series championship rounds, will host a Tigers-Royals game tonight on ESPN.

The game is considered a sort of warm-up for the CWS, whose championship starts this weekend at TDAP. There’s even talk about potentially scheduling the MLB draft concurrently with the CWS to give the draft a better profile both for baseball fans and draftees. While the path from the draft to the majors isn’t as clearcut as in basketball or football, baseball has been working to make the draft a higher profile event. What better way to do that than to dovetail with the premier annual amateur baseball competition? To be honest, I don’t know why they haven’t done it yet.

As for tonight’s matchup, I bring it to your attention because of the venue, naturally. I wrote about TDAP when it opened in 2011, thinking that I would see a game there eventually, maybe the CWS. The weeknight scheduling of the Tigers-Royals game made flying in problematic, so it’ll have to be some other time. Tonight the weather is good for a not-quite-summer ballgame.

TDAP was built primarily to host the CWS, and has done so capably after replacing venerated Rosenblatt Stadium. (Read my writeup from 8 years ago if you want the details on its development.) The park holds 24,505 seats, which curiously is close to the 27,000 advertised by BIG for the Howard Terminal ballpark. No, that doesn’t mean MLB is on its way to Omaha for more than this brief stop anytime soon, but it should start a proper conversation about how much stadium the A’s need now and into the future.

Inside TD Ameritrade Park Omaha Photo by Collinulness

Above is a picture of a building that holds 24,000-plus. The A’s are planning a structure that is similarly-sized, with the addition of a magnificent roof deck that could hold 10,000 more. When I compared the two visions, I came to the conclusion that Howard Terminal is essentially TDAP with fancier accommodations and a fancier roof above. The A’s have been careful not to say how much the park will cost, only that it’s privately financed. Where the financing will come from is still a bit of a mystery, but like with Fremont, it’s likely to come from real estate sales and leases.

And that aspect of it – the upzoning and turnover of a bunch of real estate – makes it just as important to know how much the construction bill will be. Because in the end, folks, A’s fans will be paying for the tickets, suites, and concession items. The real estate aspect is an indirect subsidy. Granted, that’s not as bad as having a bond issue backed by tax revenues. But it’s still a subsidy, and it’s worth asking if everyone from the City and Port to the A’s and A’s fans are getting a good deal on this. Whatever the A’s are planning, it can’t possibly be a better deal than $131 million spent on TDAP. Even if you double that budget to add MLB facilities and that roof deck and account for inflation, the total cost is probably less than $400 million. That’s a lot less than the numbers I’m hearing now. Especially once you add in the gondola.

The A’s had an economic impact report released recently. Yesterday they were scolded by Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan for repeatedly holding rallies outside of key votes in Oakland and Sacramento. The Council approved the motions on the two bills, with a clear message that they aren’t going to be rushed into rubber stamping Howard Terminal.

The saga continues.

P.S. – During my hospital stay in Phoenix, I encountered a number of alums from Creighton University, which has the fortune of playing their home schedule at TDAP. Creighton’s building a branch of their medical school right next to that hospital. For the Creighton baseball team back in Omaha, it’s not a bad place to call home.

Maybe the 49ers should’ve built a dome instead

Remember the famed groundbreaking for the 49ers stadium in 2012? It was a joyous regalia, with red carpet for VIPs and an artificial turf field where the grass field would eventually be placed. Little did the 49ers and Santa Clara know that the fake grass would end up being the best-looking field all the way through the stadium’s first year of existence.

If they only knew how it would work out 30 months later...

If they only knew how it would work out 30 months later…

Tonight, a crowd resembling an late-April A’s game at the Coliseum “filled” the seats at Levi’s Stadium for the Foster Farms Bowl. Despite being local, Stanford’s small student body and alumni base was not going to buy the team’s 9,000-ticket allotment. Maryland, having jumped from the ACC to the Big Ten (oops, B1G), is not a great football power whose fanbase travels well. Add to that the thoroughly abused field, plus blustery winds and a chill that were far more reminiscent of the ‘Stick than of sunny Santa Clara (remember how fans were frying in the seats in September?), and the optics more than a little disappointing. The only notable thing, other than the Cardinal’s offense actually looking cohesive, was Foster Farms’ sponsorship of the whole affair, punctuated by animatronic chickens singing 80’s karaoke favorites during the commercial breaks. The bowl’s executive director expressed hope for a Cal-Michigan matchup next year. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Meeeesh-igan, for some reason, won’t end up as low as 6th (thereby qualifying for the game) in the B1G next season.

Somehow, nearly everything about Levi’s Stadium has ended up disappointing in 2014. The field has been bad enough to be planted five separate times. A stadium that loudly touts its LEED Gold certification can’t properly grow grass. That should change for 2015 with new dirt and sod, if not the roof deck may have heads on pikes as featured attractions. The late summer heat chased fans to the concourses, leading to empty seats. The 49ers were shut out in their first home preseason game. As the team continued to disappoint on the field, novelty and public curiosity wore off, leading to even more empty seats and a lot of head-scratching about the venue. The Pac-12 championship game was poorly attended. The Foster Farms Bowl was even worse.

Was Levi’s Stadium too luxurious? Yes. Did it lack character? Absolutely. Was it worse in ways you wouldn’t anticipate going in? Sure. Can it be fixed? Perhaps not to the degree everyone would like.

The irony of all this disappointment is that considering the >$1.2 billion spent on the stadium, they could’ve put a dome on the thing and fixed a good number of those problems. An enclosed stadium with a roof fixes the summer heat and tonight’s wind, and it could be done without needing climate control, a la Safeco Field. It probably fixes the grass problem, since the stadium would have either Field Turf or a grass tile system like in Houston, so no grass debacle. Yes, a retractable dome would kill the open feel of the stadium. The flip side to that argument is that the footprint would have to be more compact, with fans closer and a more intimate setting.

And like other domes, which attract Final Fours and multiple Super Bowls without weather worries, a domed Levi’s Stadium would be a more flexible venue overall. I recognize that a dome – retractable or fixed – is anathema to building in the Bay Area, where the very site on which Levi’s Stadium sits was once part of the incredibly fertile “Valley of Heart’s Delight.” If anything, we’ve found out that the environment, and human reaction to the environment, are much more fickle than we’re initially willing to admit. An add-on dome is not a realistic option for Levi’s Stadium, considering the limited space around the stadium to support it and the way it was built in the first place. Seat licenses make midfield ticket holders just as likely to retreat to the clubs or not show up at all if they don’t feel it’s worth it. There’s little the 49ers can do at the moment to fix it, though I expect them to experiment a lot on different types of service going into next season.

Levi’s Stadium inaugural season hasn’t gone the way Jed York would’ve wanted. Neither has the team’s collapse. Fixing the 49er fan experience means more than merely providing new amenities to escape to. It means providing value for every fan in every seat location, everywhere throughout the stadium. Providing solutions for that problem will require some Silicon Valley ingenuity, but more importantly it will require swallowing some pride and getting back to basics. That’s innovation that not many companies get right, whether in tech, sports, or hospitality. I’ll write more about what that could entail – for football and baseball – in the new year.

Falcons stadium concepts blow everything else away

And it’s not even close. 360 Architecture released two visions for the stadium that will eventually replace the still-young Georgia Dome. As Jason Kirk wrote in SB Nation, the whole thing is insane. Two concepts are being considered. The first is a fairly common stadium design called the Solarium. The catch is that instead of have the roof move on tracks to open a small sunroof, the roof and exterior walls are on hinges (with supporting tracks on the ends) that pull back to open a much larger area to the elements. The stadium also has a trick seating bowl where some of the corner sections collapse, allowing the end zones to be pulled in for a “tighter” basketball bowl.

The second concept, named Pantheon, is much bolder in terms of design, with numerous triangles that, when put together, resemble a very ominous spaceship. Key to the mindblowing nature of what 360’s done is that the roof opens like an iris. It’s beautiful to watch and at the same time very scary. Who’s coming in through the open iris, God or our new alien overlords (who I, for one, welcome)?

Either roof design presents some new practical challenges. Can the hinged roof reliably provide a weatherproof seal? That might be tough. And the iris design is completely new, novel, and unproven. It’s composed of eight separate triangular roof elements that overlap and appear to have their own motors and tracks. That’s an engineering challenge to put it lightly. 360 explains that this roof has smaller, lighter elements that move shorter distances, which should in theory make it cheaper to build and operate. Who knows, maybe it’ll work well? Then again, maybe it’ll work like the The Big Owe or the initially problem-plagued system at Miller Park.

Other innovations are being considered, such as movable walls that can allow suites to be resized on demand, and a club concept called “The 100 Yard Bar” with a display (and bar) that runs the full length of the field. (Check out the Georgia World Congress Center’s site devoted to stadium development for presentations by the GWCC and 360.)

No, this doesn’t change my mind that the Georgia Dome doesn’t need to be replaced. It’s still a perfectly good football and basketball venue. Of course, if either the Solarium or Pantheon get built, I’ll definitely hop on a Delta flight to Atlanta to bathe in the new ambience.

News for 1/21/13

Update 11:00 PM – Tomorrow at 2 PM Mayor Johnson will hold a press conference where further plans to keep the Kings in Sacramento will be unveiled, possibly including the disclosure of one or more assembled bidding groups for the the franchise.

NorCal has it pretty good these days in terms of sports. Unless you’re a Raider fan. Or the Kings fan. About the Kings…

  • Around the end of the AFC Championship Game, a flurry of reports from national sources had the purchase/sale agreement between the Maloofs and the Hansen-Ballmer group sewn up, with the paperwork being submitted as early as tonight. The price hasn’t budged from the oft-discussed figure: a $525 million valuation with the Hansen-Ballmer group paying for a 65% majority share, or $341.25 million. One new wrinkle is the Maloofs’ demand of a non-refundable $30 million deposit, which sounds like either pure desperation on the buyers’/sellers’ part or a sign that the move will be rubber stamped with it reaches the NBA’s Board of Governors. The remaining 35% of minority shares have not been arranged to be sold in any way except for a 7% chunk that will be sold in a bankruptcy proceeding. For their part, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and forces in Cowtown continue to work towards providing a counteroffer. It’s unclear if that counteroffer will get more than a cursory look. [Pro Basketball Talk/Aaron Bruski | ESPN/Marc Stein]
  • In the latest Matier & Ross column, there’s an item about John Fisher attending a Warriors game courtside with W’s owner Joe Lacob. “That prompted one East Bay mover and shaker to speculate that a deal might be in the offing for Lacob to buy the A’s,” a notion that was summarily shut down by Lew Wolff. Hmmm, who could that East Bay mover and shaker be? Perhaps someone who is working as a consultant for the Warriors to move the team to SF? Grasping at straws, anyone? [SF Chronicle/Matier & Ross]
  • Lew Wolff spoke at the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Economic Forecast breakfast on Thursday. SVBJ had one choice quote from Wolff, “I want people in LA to say ‘the one place in California I want to build is San Jose.’ ” Wolff also joked, “Next time I’ll take on the pyramids instead of baseball.” Nonsense, Lew. You just have to be more of a dick to the other owners to get your way. [Silicon Valley Business Journal/Shana Lynch]
  • A little-reported story on this blog has ended rather quietly. That would be the ballad of Charlotte lawyer Jerry Reese, who filed lawsuit after lawsuit against the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to prevent a AAA ballpark from being built there. Reese’s reasoning was that any such deal would impair the market’s ability to get a major league stadium deal done. After a judge threatened sanctions, Reese agreed to settle and drop all lawsuits, including those related to a AAA ballpark under construction in Uptown Charlotte. Charlotte is considered a somewhat overextended market for MLB to begin with so it’s hard to take such an effort seriously, but you can’t blame Reese for trying. [Charlotte Observer/Gary L. Wright]
  • No surprise that the Chargers will stay in San Diego at least through the 2013 season. Better to wait until the AEG sale happens (or doesn’t). [NFL.com/Dan Hanzus]
  • Cleveland Browns Stadium will now be known as “FirstEnergy Stadium, Home of the Cleveland Browns”. Poetic. [Cleveland Plain Dealer/Tom Reed]
  • The 49ers may hold off on selling naming rights to their stadium until the proper deal comes in. With all of the advance money coming in, they can afford to wait. One thing they don’t have compared to another unnamed stadium, Cowboys Stadium, is the sheer number of events held annually that can help draw enough attention for a company to justify the naming rights fee. I imagine that the 49ers will get a naming rights deal done before Super Bowl L in 2016, the better for a bidder to take advantage as MetLife will prior to Super Bowl XLVIII. [SF Chronicle/Matier & Ross]
  • One stadium is getting rid of its naming rights sponsor, Sporting Park in Kansas City, KS. They’re distancing themselves from Livestrong for obvious reasons. One not-so-obvious reason: the MLS All-Star Game will be held there this year. No need for a tarnished brand to represent the league in that manner. [Reuters/Simon Evans]
  • The Cubs have unveiled plans for their massive renovation of Wrigley Field. Besides the oft-reported newer, larger clubhouses, there will also be two large club areas behind the plate, expanded concourse areas throughout, and a patio in the left field corner. One new deal point is that the Ricketts family is willing to pay for the $300 million themselves as long as the City of Chicago/Cook County doesn’t start placing a bunch of restrictions on what the club can/can’t do at Wrigley. More night games, anyone? [Bleacher Nation]
  • Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist considers downtown Tampa the best place for a Rays ballpark. That won’t make the keep-em-in-St. Pete-crowd happy. [Tampa Bay Times/Stephen Nohlgren]
  • One community in Florida is having a tough time figuring out what to do with a stadium-related sales tax once the stadium is paid off. [Florida Today/Matt Reed]
  • It seems that the only way to introduce a new stadium concept in Las Vegas is to make it bigger and more ostentatious than the previous concepts. The UNLV Now concept has a $800-900 million cost attached to it. That seems very Vegas to me. The new wrinkle: a 100-yard long video screen stretched along one of the sidelines. Why put seats in the best place you could have a video screen there instead? [Las Vegas Sun/Ray Brewer]
  • The Oilers and the City of Edmonton are reportedly close to a new arena deal. Oilers ownership backed off a $6 million/year subsidy demand, which was a major sticking point previously. Instead, the team will be asking for more direct subsidies upfront. [Edmonton Journal/Marty Klinkenberg]
  • As the Kings prepare to leave their home of 25 years, another former Kings home may be up for demolition. That home is Kemper Arena, which was barely a decade old when the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985. An effort is underway to save Kemper, spearheaded by the namesake’s descendants. Kemper Arena hosted the 1988 Final Four, numerous “home” games for the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team, and most ignominiously, the 1999 WWF event Over The Edge, during which Owen Hart plummeted 70 feet to his death from a malfunctioning harness. [KCTV-5/Chris Oberholtz]
  • According the Milken Institute, the South Bay is the #1 economic market in the country. SF/Peninsula is 36th, while the East Bay is 155th, below Vallejo-Fairfield and Fresno. Milken seems to attribute much a market’s economic power to its tech proliferation, which might penalize the East Bay, but if you look at the rankings, it doesn’t. [Milken Institute]
  • It what has to be considered your classic Friday afternoon bad news dump maneuver, Clorox announced that it’s selling its headquarters building in downtown Oakland for $110 million. The buyer is real estate firm Westcore Properties. Westcore is leasing back more than half of the building to Clorox, though the length of the lease was not disclosed. The news comes several months after Clorox relocated much of its R&D staff to Pleasanton. Now I can understand Clorox not wanting to deal with the overhead of being a landlord, and the company runs quite lean with a small cash position. But whenever you hear about similar sell/leaseback deals, they usually aren’t good. A similar deal was reported that very same day by Sony when the tech giant announced that it was selling its midtown Manhattan headquarters for $1.1 billion. The Maloofs sold and leased back ARCO Arena because they were low on cash. In other words, no one’s celebrating about this. [Oakland Tribune/George Avalos | Financial Times/Michiyo Nakamoto]

More as it comes. One quick viewing note: on most cable/satellite systems, NHL Center Ice is doing a free preview through the end of the month. Check your local provider.

News for 11/16/12

Belated congratulations to Bob Melvin for winning AL Manager of the Year. While there’s no photographic evidence, Melvin’s daughter Alexi admitted to pieing him in the face recently. All in celebration, of course.

On to the news.

  • MLB’s big three national television contracts were approved this week during the owners meetings. Apparently this was so anticlimactic that only a single tweet about the news emerged, from Eric Fisher of Sports Business Journal.
  • As mentioned yesterday, all ballots in Alameda County have been counted. With that, Measure B1 appears to have been narrowly defeated by less than 700 votes. Perhaps the backers had a false sense of security due to the lack of fervent opposition. Back to the drawing board, I guess. [Contra Costa Times/Denis Cuff]
  • Fox is fixin’ to buy a big piece of the YES Network. Not the Yankees’ piece, the part owned by Goldman Sachs and Providence Equity. The network is worth as much as $3 billion, making the two-thirds share up for grabs worth $2 billion. [NY Times/Amy Chosick, Michael Cieply]
  • The Rangers have announced that they will play two exhibition games at San Antonio’s Alamodome in March. The stadium’s only full-time tenants are the UTSA college football team and the AFL’s San Antonio Talons. The seating bowl layout (see pic below) makes it even less baseball friendly than previous square/rectilinear multipurpose domes like the Metrodome and Kingdome because it has a very limited number of corner seats. It’s also a bit narrower along the football sidelines than the Metrodome and not all of the rows retract, making the right field line dimension perhaps as small as 280 feet. Backers of MLB to San Antonio see this as a good sign, but the arrangement is a double-edged sword. Just as the Cowboys staged training camp in the same Alamodome multiple times, the Ryans are doing this to reaffirm the brand throughout the state, not to promote MLB there. After all, the Rangers have some solid TV money to protect.  [San Antonio Express News/Josh Baugh]

Picture of one side of the Alamodome stands retracted for a 2010 Dallas Cowboys training camp session. Picture from Sports Nickel.

  • The ballpark for the Midland Rockhounds (A’s AA affiliate) will soon be losing its naming rights partner. Citibank has been the sponsor since shortly after the ballpark opened. The ballpark sits as part of the nicely designed and manicured Scharbauer Sports Complex, alongside one of the best high school football stadia I’ve ever seen. It is the land of Friday Night Lights. [Midland Reporter-Telegram/Sara Higgins | Bud Swanson]
  • The Mariners are going a different route to make a splash in the offseason, unveiling plans for what will be the largest video/scoreboard in MLB. The display will measure 57 feet tall by 201.5 feet wide, with a resolution of 3840 x 1080. Effectively that’s two Full HD screens side-by-side. At 11,425 square feet, the display will be 70% larger than the display the Astros had installed at Minute Maid Park last year, and 30% larger than baseball’s largest current screen at Kauffman Stadium. Panasonic will be the manufacturer, displacing Daktronics. The display is part of a $15 million capital improvements fund, negotiated by Seattle/King County and the Mariners prior to the opening of Safeco Field. [MLB.com/Greg Johns]
  • Chris Hansen released renderings for his dream arena in the SoDo neighborhood of Seattle. The concept, penned by 360 Architecture, is reminiscent of 360’s Sprint Center project in Kansas City. It’s meant to house both basketball and hockey teams. Unlike Sprint Center, Hansen’s arena won’t be built without commitments from existing NBA and/or NHL franchises. Ironically, the opposite is what occurred in Kansas City, as the city chose to plow forward with an arena with no permanent tenants. That would put KC and Seattle in direct competition for any future franchise moves. [KING 5/Chris Daniels, Travis Pittman | 360 Architecture]
  • Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) played to populist roots earlier this week by decrying the Vikings’ plans to sell PSLs at their $1 billion stadium. Most everyone throughout the Twin Cities expressed confusion at this sentiment, since it was pretty clear from the beginning that PSLs were a crucial piece of the financing plan. [MN Gov. Dayton | Minneapolis Star-Tribune Editorial Board]
  • Perhaps just in time for the start of the Mike D’Antoni era in LA, DirecTV and Time Warner Sportsnet agreed to a carriage deal of the fledgling regional sports network. (Laker fans weren’t missing much the last two weeks anyway.) Terms were undisclosed, but TWCSN has been seeking $3.95 per subscriber per month, making the channel among the most expensive RSNs in the nation. [LA Times/Joe Flint]
  • The City of Reno swore in a new City Council this week, and with that came swift action. They nixed the narrowly approved debt restructuring/refinancing plan completed just before the election. That puts both the team and the city in a bind. The team is threatening to leave without a tax subsidy. The Council clearly wants nothing to do with the debt liability. This snag gives the two sides about a year to figure out some sort of solution before Aces ownership figures out a move. If the Aces leave, Reno would be stuck with the debt anyway. Already the city has stopped making debt payments, pushing its credit rating into junk status. [Reno Gazette Journal/Brian Duggan]
  • Did you know about the Sacramento Sports Commission? If you didn’t , then it matters little as it’s about to be dissolved. The commission’s job was to attract different types of sporting events and maintain relationships with governing bodies like the NCAA, so that Sacramento venues could remain in constant rotation for major events such as NCAA championships. The task will probably end up with Sacramento’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. One of the reasons for the dissolution is that SSC failed to repay a $400,000 loan taken out for the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships. [Sacramento Bee/Ryan Lillis]

That’s it for now. Feature on media coming over the weekend.

News for 10/5/12

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve done one of these. Time to catch up.

  • The A’s finished the season with a total attendance of 1,678,913, an average 20,727 per game. Not including the first two home games in Japan, the total attendance is 1,591,295 (20,143 average). That’s an increase of more than 200,000 fans over 2011, and the best number since 2007. MLB’s total attendance rose nearly 2% to 74,859,268, propelled largely by the opening of Marlins Park. If you assume that each ticket costs the FCI average of $27 and comes with $11 in additional spending (concessions, parking), MLB gets $2.84 billion in stadium revenue. If we project $7.7 billion for the 2012 season, then regular season stadium revenue accounts for 36.9% of total revenue. Wendy Thurm from Fangraphs/Hanging Sliders has more in-depth analysis. [MLB, Fangraphs]
  • TV ratings are out too. While the A’s showed marginal improvement throughout the year on CSN California (1.27 rating, 32,000 households), Wednesday’s AL West title showdown pulled an incredible 4.72 rating in the Bay Area (172,000 households), the highest rating since 2008. If the A’s could pull in half that number on a regular basis, they’d be in much better shape financially. [Sports Business Journal/John Ourand & David Broughton, Comcast SportsNet California]
  • Like the A’s and Giants, rivals Baltimore and Washington are also in the postseason. Their rivalry extends to off the field, as their ongoing battle over the Nats’ TV rights value on MASN continues. As part of the deal to move the Expos to DC, O’s owner Peter Angeles was allowed to set up MASN and own Nats’ broadcast rights, to which the O’s pay around $30 million per year. Angelos wants to raise the rights fee to $35 million, whereas Nats owner Ted Lerner is holding out for $100 million, which would put the team among the largest markets in terms of TV revenue. That number may not be feasible without a sizable bump in subscriber fees for MASN, which would get the channel into another battle with Comcast over carriage costs. ([Forbes/Mike Ozanian, Press Box/Tim Richardson]
  • The website UFE (Urine Feces Everywhere) did its own annual study of ballpark cleanliness, surveying all 30 MLB ballparks throughout the year. The Coliseum came in 4th worst in baseball (F grade), thanks to those oh-so-charming trough urinals and an embarrassing 56% of men not washing their hands. You people are disgusting pigs. For shame. The best ballpark? Busch Stadium. The worst? Wrigley Field (maybe that’s symbolic). AT&T Park came in 8th best, its only demerit being the composite trough sinks it uses (didn’t realize those were a problem). [UFE]
  • muppet151 sent a well-worded letter to City of Oakland and Alameda County officials asking about cleanup costs associated with the Howard Terminal site. I can’t say I have confidence it’ll be answered, considering how this week the City started limiting access to City Council sessions. We’ve discussed contamination and cleanup at Howard Terminal before. Furthermore, the Howard Terminal Land Use Covenant severely restricts what can be built on the site. Prohibited uses include residences, a hospital, a school or a day care center, or a park or open space (if the ground is uncapped). Here’s some relevant text from the request: [Twitter, TwitLonger, SFGate/Mattai Kuruvila]

A Removal Action Work plan (RAW) was drawn up, and the RAW leads to several questions that have yet to be discussed publically by officials who have spoken in favor of an A’s stadium at the Howard Terminal site, more specifically the role City and County governments would play in regards to the RAW.

The RAW states that should these asphalt concrete caps break, the removal of contamination would cost “in excess of $100 million. It would also require the terminal to shut down for a long period of time.” If the caps were to be broken during the building of a stadium, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say cost over runs could be in the neighborhood of $200 million (contamination removal and stadium building costs), and could delay the opening of a Howard Terminal stadium by at least a year and possibly longer. The worst case scenario being the project being permanently shut down causing the A’s to leave the Bay Area altogether. Such an accident would undoubtedly find its way into a court room as well. 

  • Arizona State University is in the middle of the Phoenix-Mesa spring training game of musical chairs. The school is looking for a much larger home than its on-campus facilities, so it is looking to either share the new Cubs’ ballpark in Mesa or move into Phoenix Municipal Stadium if the A’s vacate Muni and move to HoHoKam in Mesa. [Phoenix Business Journal/Mike Sunnucks]
  • Before the end of September, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a series of bills meant to revive redevelopment in one form or another. Brown didn’t rule out some of the ideas completely, giving credence to the notion that some aspects of redevelopment could be restored once the state’s budget shortfalls are resolved after the old institutions of redevelopment are completely eliminated (good luck with that). Meanwhile, the League of California Cities filed a lawsuit challenging last summer’s redevelopment laws. [LA Times/Patrick McGreevy, AP/Bloomberg Businessweek]
  • Tarps continue to be a sore spot, as the A’s refuse to remove tarps for the ALDS and will only consider removing them from the ALCS. Back in 2006 was when I had first heard of a MLB rule restricting capacity. If it’s entirely the domain of the team, then why not just take some or all the tarps off? Who is it going to hurt? Let’s Go Oakland has started an online petition, though that’s not going to actually get the tarps removed. The numbers on the petition will end up on some letter to the commissioner. Frankly, if people really want to get the tarps removed, they should show up outside the Coliseum Box Office/Ticket Services with news crews in tow. Get 2,000 people there who have been shut out of buying tickets. Protest. If you’re going to get ownership to budge or MLB to push ownership, the only way may be to put real pressure on them via the media. Otherwise this is little more than political fodder. [SFGate/Carolyn Jones, Let’s Go Oakland]
  • An rally for the A’s will be held outside Oakland City Hall on Monday at 5:30 PM. The rally will be held despite the fact that Monday is a city government furlough day.
More as it comes.

California Memorial Stadium Reopening

Six years ago I went to the first game at the new Stanford Stadium. Yesterday I went to the first game at the renovated California Memorial Stadium on the UC Berkeley campus, eager to compare and contrast the experiences. Both home teams lost their respective first home games. Both stadia received major upgrades in terms of amenities and comfort. That’s where the similarities end. Stanford Stadium is a modern facility that bears little resemblance to its forebear. Memorial Stadium was painstakingly renovated to maintain as much of its early 20th Century charm as possible. It’s with that key difference that I’ll start my review of CMS.


Panorama from top of South End of California Memorial Stadium

Like many stadia built 80-100 years ago, CMS was a testament to classical form and simplified function. Slightly less than half of the oval seating bowl was built atop a hill on the east side. The other half was a concrete structure with arches and a single narrow concourse. All of the seats were wooden bleachers. A small press box was affixed at the top of the west side of the bowl. At one time 80,000 could be packed sardine-style into CMS.

Over the years CMS deteriorated noticeably, with huge cracks in the concrete and bleachers splintering everywhere. The stadium was situated directly on top of the Hayward fault line and the west half was not considered safe by modern seismic standards. Many calls were made to replace or refurbish the old girl, with nothing happening until the UC Board of Regents approved a $300+ million plan to rebuild the west side. The new half would contain three club areas, a new and wider general concourse, a large press box, and a training center for the athletic department that would be competitive with other major college sports programs.


Area outside West façade descends into additional public spaces, press box hanging above the bowl

The debate over whether the upgrades were worth it will continue for years to come, as Berkeley continues its internal struggle over academic priorities and costs to attend keep rising. What the fan is left with is a sense of history and legacy preserved, with modernity accentuating itself in specific areas.

The three level press box and club building is the big nod to the new landscape of college football, where everything is driven by intense media coverage and alumni with fat wallets. The building is a glass-and-steel structure, its frame forged and delivered in pieces and put together on top of the new concrete support structure that holds up the rest of the west bowl. There’s even a space beneath the press level where the camera positions are located that makes the building appear to float. Chicago’s Soldier Field renovation may come to mind, but the work done at CMS isn’t nearly as imposing or potentially upsetting.


Press box “floating” above stadium bowl

What was once a single, dark concourse with water seemingly dripping from every crack and opening is now two: the swank lower club level (which I didn’t visit) and the regular concourse, which now lines up with the elevation at Gate 6. The result is that large areas were opened up, allowing natural light coming through the arches to flood the concourse. It also creates numerous scenic vistas of other parts of the campus and the Bay. As the morning fog receded, I was able to see all the way to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The main concourse is 30-45 feet wide depending on where you are. Concession stands alternate with much improved restrooms everywhere you look. Blue tiles of different shades mark the restroom locations, while the concession stands are adorned with names like “Oski’s Place” and “The Fault Line”. Oski is, of course, the beloved bear mascot at Cal, whereas “The Fault Line” playfully notes that it’s located right on the Hayward fault.

Walking through the concourse, it’s hard not to notice the many expansion joints dividing roughly 100-foot sections of the stadium. These joints and piston shocks will help absorb motion in the event of a major earthquake, with as much of six feet of travel allowed. Flexible conduits are located in areas with expansion joints, which should reduce the chances of data or electrical disruption. Concrete columns are spaced every 20 feet, giving an appearance that the structure is overbuilt.


Expansion joint with additional support for utilities

Lines for food were long towards the north and south ends of the stadium. Between the 20 yard lines the lines aren’t so bad. Crowds will figure that out by the end of the season. The fare was pretty standard, with a regular hot dog and a Saag’s polish on the menu. Prices were cheaper than at pro games, but noticeably more than at other college venues I’ve been to. Top Dog has three stands on the East upper rim, and those had 20 minute lines from the looks of it. The club most certainly has pricier options.

The only obvious change to the east bowl was the replacement gold aluminum bleachers, matching the rest of the stadium. Padded seat cushions with backs were available for rent. Down near the field where I sat, four rows were ripped out and replaced with ADA-compliant wheelchair locations. The old south tunnel is now just access to two ADA restrooms, from which security had a hard time shooing confused fans. The new Field Turf playing surface was also lowered four feet, which helps sight lines immensely. Way up above the field, Tightwad Hill is still there, with its spectators almost close enough to touch.

On the north side the tunnel remains intact, allowing for a pre-game procession through the campus into the stadium. A ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony was held, with Walter Haas III doing the honors in memory of his father, the much-loved former CEO of Levi Strauss, one-time owner of the A’s, and philanthropist whose name is emblazoned on Cal’s arena, a staircase at CMS, and the business school (which faces the north entrance Gates 1 & 2).


Much improved main concourse

Just about all of the flat areas of the Berkeley campus are packed with academic buildings, athletic facilities and other structures, making open space rather scarce. There was some question going into the planning and construction phases for CMS about whether or not there would be places for fans to mingle or even tailgate before games. Some effort has been made in this vein by creating plazas outside the arched façade with tents for additional concessions or grills. It’s not quite the same as tailgating, yet these are spaces that can find a purpose in the future.

All told, Cal and HNTB did a wonderful job of holding true to the idea of maintaining California Memorial Stadium’s architectural and structural integrity. There’s no telling if Cal will be a good football team anytime soon. Nevertheless, Memorial Stadium is a beautiful place to watch a game and a reminder of how stadia don’t have to be overly utilitarian. It’s worth a visit.

News for 8/30/12

Here we go. We’ll start off with some minor league news.

  • The Santa Cruz Warriors continue to work with the City of Santa Cruz to get their tent arena built in time for the 2012-13 D-League season. Final approval hasn’t happened yet, let alone construction, so the D-League put the Surf W’s on a loooo-o-ng road trip before the team’s first home game around Christmas. That gives the two parties 16 weeks to get the arena approved, built, and buttoned up. No pressure. The Surf W’s could play on the road for additional games until the project is completed, or if there are extensive delays or the project isn’t approved, hopefully there’s a backup plan like the San Jose Civic Auditorium. Cost for the downtown arena have already ballooned from $4 million to $5 million because of foundation issues that were identified. Ticket prices have also been released. [Santa Cruz Warriors; Santa Cruz Sentinel/J.M. Brown]
  • Head north on Highway 1 and you’ll eventually get near the Cow Palace, where the San Francisco Bulls are quietly fixing up the old arena. $2 million of updates will be paid for by the team, including a center-hung scoreboard, a first for the Cow Palace. A schedule and ticket prices have also been announced. I may have to ring up the Bulls to see if I can get a sneak peek of the place. [CSN Bay Area; SF Bulls]
  • The first debate for the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council happened last night, and the two main candidates, incumbent Rebecca Kaplan and challenger (and current D5 council member) Ignacio De La Fuente both had something to say about the tenant teams at the Coliseum complex. [East Bay Citizen; Steven Tavares]

On the issue of the city’s professional sports teams, Kaplan and De La Fuente differed, if not, in terms of their priorities for retaining the A’s, Raiders and Warriors in Oakland, with Kaplan being more optimistic. “Let’s face it, the A’s don’t know the way to San Jose,” said Kaplan, and adding the current Coliseum City proposal will bring shop owners, bars and restaurants to the city along with fans and conventioneers to the area, said Kaplan, while also creating jobs.

De La Fuente was less sanguine saying he would only turn his attention to the Coliseum once crime in Oakland is sufficiently quelled. “I learned from my mistakes,” he said, referring to the botched return of the Raiders in 1995. “They are in the business of making money,” De La Fuente said, believing the public sector should no longer have a role in financing stadiums.

  • The Earthquakes announced their general seat pricing and posted a seating chart. The big ticket item is the establishment of a 1,400-person supporters section in the closed end, which will have its own bar and storage area for the flags and banners they use during the game. Interestingly, the language is “1,400-person”, not “1,400-seat”, which leads me to believe that this area will be a standing terrace. That’s fine since fans in the supporters sections are expected to stand anyway. I’m pretty sure it’s the only to fit 1,400 people in what looks like a pretty small space between the elevated seating bowl and the pitch. [SJ Earthquakes]
  • The Quakes also announced today that they are negotiating with three Fortune 100 companies on naming rights for their 18,000-seat stadium. Fortune 100, eh? Club president said that some of these companies are tech or Silicon Valley firms. Recently, new MLS stadia have netted $2-3 million per year in naming rights, which if matched by the Quakes would go a long way towards paying off the stadium. FWIW, I don’t think any local tech company should be ruled out, including Cisco (and no, that doesn’t mean Cisco is dumping the A’s). [SJ Mercury News/Elliott Almond]
  • On Saturday I’ll be in Berkeley for the first Cal football game at the rebuilt Memorial Stadium. I’ll be sure to get there early to take lots of pictures and document the experience. Somehow I was able to buy one of the last available $19.32 tickets for the opening game. I’ll be in the south end zone, a mere 5 rows up. As an aside, I was somewhat surprised at how many tickets remained for the game. I expected a sell out long ago. One thing to consider is that we’re the only market with three FBS (D-I) college football teams. Combine that with small or not-terribly-fervent fanbases and two NFL teams, and it’s easy to see why our general reaction to college ball is a collective “Meh.” [UC Berkeley]
  • On a related note, the Pac-12 Network launched two weeks ago and is still negotiating carriage deals. Comcast is not an issue since the cable provider is a partner. The issue is working out a deal with DirecTV, which is not only the provider with the most regional sports and college networks, but also the provider of choice in most bars throughout the country thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket. DirecTV purportedly rejected a deal of $0.80 per subscriber/month, leaving many fans up and down the left coast without many opening week games. Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, and AT&T U-Verse customers are also affected. [SF Business Times/Eric Young]
  • The State Controller reversed a slew of land transfers between the cities of Milpitas, Morgan Hill, and their respective (and now defunct) redevelopment agencies. That doesn’t bode well for the Diridon ballpark land transfer, though it has to be pointed out that the Controller has already ruled once in San Jose’s favor, saying that Santa Clara County went to far in holding tax increment funds that were due to the City. [Merc /Tracy Seipel]

Finally, I have to thank a reader out there for giving me four prime tickets behind the A’s dugout for Wednesday’s day game against the Angels. I’m only going to use one, so if anyone’s interested in joining me and talking baseball and ballparks or economics, reply with a comment or send me a tweet.

More tomorrow.

News for 6/10/12

We’re overdue for one of these.

  • Matier and Ross reported on the contents of the Wolff-Knauss summit two weeks ago. Wolff laid out his 1 hour, 45 minutes case, Knauss and other East Bay execs made their case to work in Oakland – or sell the team. When the latter came up, things apparently got a little testy.

The only flare-up came when Knauss suggested that the business execs had deep-pocketed investors who would buy the A’s if Wolff and his ever-silent co-owner, John Fisher, weren’t interested in keeping them in Oakland.

“You can’t buy what’s not for sale,” Wolff told the group, according to Knauss. “I’m surprised you brought that up.”

  • In the same article, contractors at the Cal Memorial Stadium retrofit indicated that the project may not be ready in time for this fall’s football opener. Not that big a deal, same thing happened at Stanford.
  • Prices for the non-premium seats at the 49ers stadium have been revealed. The per-ticket prices aren’t bad, but some fans may bristle at the required seat license fee (which can be financed). The pricing structure looks very similar to that employed at Cowboys Stadium, which makes sense considering that the firm marketing the seats is partly owned by the Cowboys.
  • If Farmers Field begins construction next year, it’s likely that the E3 convention, held last week, would have to be moved out of the LA Convention Center. San Diego, anyone?
  • Chelsea F.C., which has seemingly won everything this season in the Premier League other than the outright league championship, lost out to other developers in its bid to redevelop the hulking Battersea Power Station into a new, 60,000-seat stadium.
  • KNBR’s Damon Bruce tweeted on Friday that the Warriors’ Piers 30-32 deal was dead. So far the story hasn’t been corroborated, and other sources indicate it’s incorrect. Seems odd to say something’s dead when it the process hasn’t yet started.
  • The Arena Football League suffered its first ever forfeited game when players on the Cleveland Gladiators went on strike before the scheduled Friday game against the Pittsburgh Power. The strike is part of an ongoing CBA negotiations.
  • Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen joked that he’d contribute “a couple million” towards a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark.
  • Keeping the Astrodome running and up-to-date could cost $270 million or more, even though the dome wouldn’t have a tenant team.
  • The Glendale, Arizona City Council approved a deal that would bail out incoming Phoenix Coyotes owner (and former Sharks exec) Greg Jamison to the tune of $325 million over 20 years to stay in the desert suburb. Jamison has not yet been fully approved to take over the Coyotes by the NHL’s Board of Governors, pending a review of the Jamison group’s finances. The conservative Goldwater Institute wants a temporary restraining order to see if the deal violates the state Constitution.
  • In another cautionary tale about public dollars being spent for sports facilities, the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview is in debt up to $250 million for its MLS stadium. What’s paying for the shortfall? Property taxes.
  • Update 6/11 12:19 PM – Numerous sources are reporting that (near) billionaire and Ubiquiti Networks founder/CEO Robert Pera is buying the Memphis Grizzlies. The sale price has not been disclosed. Pera is only 34 years old and is partly based out of San Jose. Update 4:00 PM – The price is in the $350-375 million range. The buyout for the FedEx Forum lease is $105 million as of next year.

Happy reading.

Ballpark fever in February

Last week I felt like getting a glimpse of Mark Appel, the Stanford hurler and East Bay product who may eventually be the #1 pick in the June draft. So off I went on Friday to Stanford’s Sunken Diamond, one of the many immaculately kept athletic facilities at The Farm. My baseball cravings have come early, too early to be sated by spring training. College baseball is an excellent, affordable brand of ball, and I have to admit being more curious than usual thanks to my recent reading of The Art of Fielding, rookie novelist Chad Harbach’s work about baseball at a small, fictional Midwestern private university.

An unusual 70 feet from the plate to the backstop at Sunken Diamond. Nevermind that as Stanford P Mark Appel rarely had to make C Eric Smith do more than reach down to rein in a pitch.

What started with Appel toying around with the Texas Longhorns to the tune of 10 K’s turned into a mad dash all over Northern California to see baseball wherever I could find it. (This is what happens when you’re not married, have no kids, and you’re comfortable seeing your friends only twice a week.) Sunken Diamond is a pleasant, serene environment, with more than ample foul territory and trees beyond the outfield that effectively block out civilization. The Friday night game, with a published attendance of 2,624, was typical for Stanford baseball: a very family friendly environment with kids running up and down hills to grab foul balls.

On Saturday I drove up to Sacramento because I felt like being environmentally irresponsible. On the way to Cowtown I stopped in Stockton, where there was nothing happening at Banner Island Ballpark. Not wanting to stay in Stockton any longer than humanly necessary, I jumped back on I-5 and headed north. I stopped at Raley Field, hoping that someone was there or that a gate was open. Thankfully, as I arrived a college team (JC?) entered the gates and was getting ready to take the field. There was a sign advertising National Anthem singers, though I didn’t see any staff on hand to guide any audition process. I quickly went in and took a few snapshots, which I’ve never had a chance to do with Raley Field empty (I’m sure if I called the River Cats’ media relations they would’ve granted it but I tend to operate by the seat of my pants). The field was in fine form, just waiting for its masters to handle grounders and make great catches on it.

Ready to go in West Sacramento

Three (!) years ago I wrote an article about how difficult it would be to expand Raley Field to MLB size. Rain caused major changes in construction methods, including a change from enormous steel columns to poured-in-place concrete columns and light steel trusses supporting the press box and suite/club level. This is what that structure looks like:

All of this would have to be scrapped to make way for multiple decks and/or suite levels.

This is what a properly sized (overengineered) column at Busch Stadium looks like:

Now that's a knife column.

After the brief stop at Raley, I crossed the river and went to the train station, which as far as I know is the closest the public can get to the Railyards site where the planned arena will sit. I’ve written enough about that so I won’t bother with that subject in this post. Once I got my fill of downtown, I headed east to the CSU-Sacramento campus, where the Hornets were getting ready to play a day game against Seattle University. If Sunken Diamond is one of Northern California’s nicest college ballparks, Sac State is one of the most spartan. The grandstand is all aluminum, with mostly bleachers and a smattering of real seats in the first few rows. There is no press box and no actual restrooms. Tickets cost $5, but I could have easily gotten a good view for free from the parking garage in left field. The PA announcer sounded like an older Rick Tittle. Ambience was provided by a busy rail line across the street and a handful of coeds who cheered on every player on the Hornet squad. Regardless, I enjoyed the experience.

View from the 6th floor of the student/faculty garage just beyond the left field fence.

I got my fill of Hornet baseball after about six innings. The UC Davis baseball team was on the road over the weekend, so I skipped The other Farm and headed back to the Bay Area. My last stop was scheduled to be Albert Park in San Rafael, home of the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent North American Baseball League. That leg of the trip was ruined when I got a hankering to visit Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, a half-hour and another county away. By the time I got to Albert Park it was completely dark and a few transients were lingering about. That’s just as well, since only yesterday did a Marin County judge allow the Pacifics to start operating in full with ticket sales and improvements to Albert Park. The old fashioned covered grandstand will be expanded from 800 to 900 seats. Tickets will start at $10 for general admission, though you have to think there will be numerous merchant nights to provide free or heavily discounted ducats. There’s even a tryout on March 17, so if you have a few tools and you aren’t dunk by noon, you may want to drop by for a tryout.

The high nets at Schott Stadium are a necessity as the field is only steps from traffic.

Sunday was a day of rest and no baseball. With no games scheduled on Monday, I chose to take in a game at Schott Stadium at Santa Clara University on Tuesday afternoon. The park is tightly wedged into a corner  of El Camino Real and Campbell Avenue, surrounded on two sides by university apartment housing and a few industrial buildings. There are a good number of permanent seats, and while there are plenty of bleachers, you can tell that a few corners have been cut there. The bleachers are basically standard aluminum sections that aren’t connected to each other. Even though the park is only seven years old, the bleachers feel rickety. The dugouts are not set much below grade, so the roofs of the dugouts obstruct the views down the line. The PA system is distractingly loud. Other than those niggles, the experience is quite pleasant. Schott Stadium is across the street from the main campus and down the block from the Santa Clara Caltrain station. A small parking lot next to the stadium has a space reserved for namesake and former A’s owner Steve Schott.

The whole trip reminded my of one of my other ballpark trips in the Midwest or East Coast, except that I didn’t have to shell out for hotel rooms. I’ll try to do one of these with the various minor league parks later this year, and perhaps another trip involving more college ballparks.