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.

Ground broken on Pac-12 Network headquarters

A ceremony was held today at the San Francisco site where the Pac-12 Network studios are expected to be constructed. Officials called it a groundbreaking, but it was more of a wallbreaking, since the studios will be in the same building as the Comcast Sportsnet studios on Third and Harrison.

The new network, which will be the third conference-specific network after the Big Ten Network and the mtn., is expected to be the first to be wholly owned by a conference. Despite the Pac-12’s insistence on owning the network solo, it will have no shortage of partners, starting with housemates Comcast. College football will always be a considerable draw, and while college basketball throughout the conference may be in a bit of a slump, there should be plenty of interest in many of the non-marquee sports (baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball, etc.) to provide plenty of programming. When the network launches in August, it’s scheduled to show 850 sporting events every year.

One operational difference between P12N and other conference networks is that they’re setting up to provide up to six regional feeds along with its national feed. That should allow every market and cable operator to show games specific to those markets if multiple events are happening simultaneously. I’m not sure how this would work with satellite providers like DirecTV and Dish, other than for them to pick up a package of all seven channels. Will all seven be available on both cable and satellite? The Merc’s Jon Wilner has some info from last week’s pre-launch announcement.

With just the cable providers, the network will be available to 40-45 million households. At $0.50 per month per household, that’s potentially $270 million per year in subscriber revenue alone, or $22.5 million per school before costs are deducted (not accounting for ad revenue). That figure could reach nearly half a billion annually if the satellite providers are included, perhaps more if the cost for the channel were more than $1 per month. The University of Texas’s Longhorn Network charges $0.40 per month/subscriber, the Big Ten Network charges $0.36. The Longhorn Network experienced problems getting cable systems to partner up, a problem Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is looking to avoid. The network, or at least the national and specific regional channels, will appear on lower tier cable packages, so Joe Customer will be paying for it.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the various RSNs now that a significant amount of Pac-12 programming will be going elsewhere. The other western college conferences have little general fan interest compared to the Pac-12. On one hand, carrying Pac-12 games and shows is a cost. On the other hand, it’s good filler and has a fairly good fanbase to draw upon. The alternatives are to focus more on a market’s pro teams, high school sports, or the aforementioned non-glamour conferences. Heck, the only FBS schools in California besides the Pac-12 members are San Diego State, Fresno State, and San Jose State. Not exactly a ratings bonanza waiting there.

Personally, I don’t look forward to my DirecTV bill going up because the Pac-12 wants a little more coin. However, I wouldn’t mind seeing more college baseball, soccer, even women’s sports. That might make it worth it.

SJSU to build Bill Walsh Center

In keeping with its efforts to maintain relevance in the high stakes world of college football, San Jose State University will build Bill Walsh Center, a $9-13 million football training complex on the north end of Spartan Stadium. The Merc’s Jon Wilner has the details.

Bill Walsh Center overlooking the north end zone. Credit: SJSU

The Bill Walsh Center is expected to house the football program, while the existing Simpkins Center will be repurposed for academic support. The project has been in the works for over a year, while donations have been gathered. The BWC is expected to be completed in time for the 2013 football season. $9-13 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the $321 million Cal spent on Memorial Stadium or even the $100 million John Arrillaga used to rebuild Stanford Stadium. Despite that disparity, it’s enough for San Jose State to continue its program in the WAC, and in light of the outlandish amounts spent at other FBS schools, is a refreshing show of restraint. And in honor of a coach whose genius was largely predicated on dinkin’ and dunkin’ down the field, I suppose the expenditure’s size is appropriate.

News for 12/2/11

Now that the tryptophan has worn off, we’re starting to get some news again.

  • Wolff Urban Development (Lew & Keith Wolff among others) is buying the Hotel Sainte Claire in downtown San Jose. The hotel, on the corner of Market and West San Carlos, is currently owned by Larkspur Hotels. Marin-based Larkspur dozens of other hotels throughout California, including the Larkspur Landing chain. Prior to Larkspur’s ownership, the Sainte Claire was part of the Hyatt chain. That’s all well and good now that the Wolffs will have three hotels in downtown (Fairmont, Hilton, Sainte Claire). The interesting scuttlebutt is that there may be some higher-ups at MLB that may be involved in the Sainte Claire purchase, perhaps with an eye towards revamping it so that it becomes the official hotel for MLB road teams. That would be a smart move, since right now the Hotel Valencia at Santana Row is eating their lunch in terms of attracting road teams (in this case, NHL squads). The Valencia is only slightly larger, but much newer than, the Sainte Claire, so the Wolffs will have to put a good amount of money into improvements to match or surpass the Valencia. SV/SJ Business Journal asked a consultant, Thomas Callahan of PKF Consulting, how much the Sainte Claire would cost. Callahan pegged the price at $34 million. (David Goll, Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal).
  • Staying downtown, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed may be able to avoid a divisive budget battle with public employees unions thanks to new, lower pension cost projections that cut next year’s budget deficit in half, from $80 million to $40 million. Reed will argue that the projections are a one-time reprieve and that more fundamental changes are required, but this news will certainly make his case look weaker, especially because the unions appear to be offering concessions that will bridge that $40 million and more beyond the next budget year.
  • Moving to a mayor with a different set of concerns, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s supporters held a press conference yesterday that may have actually been a proactive rally against a recall petition effort, which is expected to begin next week. So that’s the point when Mayor Quan starts getting proactive. (Matthai Kuruvila, Matier and Ross, SFGate)
  • Meanwhile, a few A’s players have been making the rounds within the community. First it was Jemile Weeks and Tyson Ross at the Alameda County Food Bank on Wednesday, followed by the annual A’s Community Fund Holiday Party on Thursday. (Jane Lee, MLB.com)
  • A ceremonial groundbreaking at New York’s Willets Point (outside Citi Field) kicks off a $50 million redevelopment plan that will surely gentrify that part of Queens. (Nicholas Hirshon, NY Daily News)
  • Historical footnote: the New York Post revealed that prior to building the original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the pinstripers were looking for a stadium on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Now that would’ve been different. (David K. Li, NY Post)
  • In what may be the start of a trend, the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins are pursuing development of casinos within shouting distance of their respective stadia. (Douglas Hanks, Miami Herald)
  • Ed Roski’s Majestic Realty (of the City of Industry NFL plan) and UNLV are still working on a new arena/stadium deal. (Paul Takahashi, Las Vegas Sun)
  • Magic Johnson is teaming up with Stan Kasten as part of a group bidding on the Dodgers. (Bill Shaikin and Bill Plaschke, LA Times)

More as it comes.

News for 11/09/11

Tomorrow morning I’ll be in SF to check out oral arguments for the State vs. Redevelopment case. If I can liveblog it, I will.

The regular media (SFGate, Merc, MLB.com, KGO) covered yesterday’s proceedings fairly well, though I’m surprised there wasn’t a bigger mention of the discussion about the referendum requirement. No matter, the San Jose City Council formalized the requirement by amending the motion just before passing it. Still, I don’t think this is the last of the referendum discussion.

There’s other news on the ballpark/stadium front:

  • The Royals may or may not have agreement in place to sell the naming rights to venerable Kauffman Stadium.
  • Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is undergoing $12 million in renovations, including a major revamp of the area behind centerfield. Changes will include relocation of the suboptimally located visitor’s bullpen, the addition of an indoor club and several concession stands.
  • The University of Washington’s Husky Stadium just started a massive $250 million renovation project. The track will be removed, the field dropped four feet, and more seats will be added close to the field, similar to the changes at the LA Memorial Coliseum. In addition, new locker room and training facilities will be added, as well as premium seating options. Like the $321 million Cal Memorial Stadium renovations, these will be largely dependent on donations for funding. The Huskies will play next season at CenturyLink Field (formerly Qwest Field).
  • The Populous architect overseeing the 2022 Qatar World Cup project believes that the venues will not need air conditioning. The goal is to make the venues carbon neutral, something that made the winning Qatar bid attractive. A company called Arup Associates has a demo of the technology in place at a 500-seat stadium, though you could naturally be skeptical about the ability of the tech to scale to a venue with 100 times the spectators.
  • The Sacramento Bee’s Marcos Breton wonders what the ongoing NBA lockout means for the local arena effort.
  • A report on NPR’s Morning Edition goes over the economic impact of the lockout.
  • A’s naming rights sponsor Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) beat the Street today, which may signal an upswing for the networking giant. The stock was down during the regular session but up in after hours trading.

That’s all for now.