Calling Dibs on the Coliseum
AASEG and the City of Oakland held a ceremony at the Coliseum to celebrate the announcement of the AASEG’s Exclusive Negotiating Agreement over the City’s half of the complex.
The plan is to revitalize the Coliseum area and East Oakland, which went neglected in the wake of the Raiders’ and Warriors’ exoduses, the A’s planned departure in the coming years, and the general deterioration as other area businesses like Walmart left. It’s strange to consider this reversal of fortunes, as not even a decade ago Oakland was heavily promoting a Coliseum City concept anchored by a new Raiders stadium.
AASEG’s concept, absent any fleshing out on their website or a providing real specifics, is effectively a community-based, Black-led, updated version (read: adds affordable housing) of Coliseum City minus the Raiders. Besides the economic boost, the results could yield a WNBA franchise, NWSL team, and a NFL team via expansion. That last part would require the NFL to forgive the City of Oakland for suing it multiple times, no big deal.
Casey Pratt watched the event and noted that the A’s weren’t mentioned at all except for a comment by CM Noel Gallo in the context of the A’s *maybe* ditching the Howard Terminal plan and coming back to the Coliseum.
Later, KRON’s Stephanie Lin caught up with new Oakland mayor Sheng Thao and asked her about the A’s. Thao’s comment suggested that the City hasn’t made much progress with the A’s since she won the election last November.
Online, the response to AASEG’s project is mixed. While there is nearly universal support for revitalizing the neighborhood, there’s already concern from A’s supporters that Howard Terminal is now on the back burner, which I predicted would happen last fall. To that I say, relax A’s fans. These ENA announcements are designed to gin up support while distracting from the hard work ahead, most of which won’t be publicized. A’s fans got spoiled by the city’s fairly frequent updates on HT during the Schaaf administration. It kept fans’ attention as intended. The downside of that approach is that it minimizes the simple fact that the true end product is a deal. It’s like separating the wheat from the chaff.
Consider that since 2010, Oakland has entered several ENAs with multiple teams and developers. All included multibillion-dollar projects. And in the end, none of them actually built anything thus far. The Raiders were supportive of Coliseum City at first, but only if it was done on their terms. The A’s had an ENA when they entered an agreement to purchase Alameda County’s half of the Coliseum. That ENA expired with no further action. The city entertained a bidding process for their half, ultimately deciding on AASEG last fall because it apparently had bigger, more compatible goals. The only thing I can say for certain is that whatever gets built at the Coliseum will look nothing like what AASEG or the City is dreaming up. Why? Because reality has a way of resetting your objectives.
Throughout the bidding process and the slog that led to the ENA, it didn’t seem that anyone in the East Bay was willing to ask some very simple questions:
- What happens to the business plan – and the dedicated NFL stadium/convention center land – if these pro sports franchises don’t materialize?
- What is the priority list and sequencing involved?
- What if third parties cause interruptions to AASEG’s plans?
Third parties, plural? You might think I’m only referring to the A’s. Au contraire, my friends. You see, the ENA only includes the original Coliseum complex with the stadium, arena, and parking. Years ago, the City chose to buy some of the adjacent land such as the Malibu and HomeBase lots. The City then negotiated separately with the Oakland Roots/Soul, the upstart USL Championship men’s soccer team and planned women’s side. Their plan is to build a temporary stadium on the Malibu lot, which would serve as a good venue until the clubs are ideally promoted to MLS and NWSL respectively. AASEG may want to use the currently vacant land for their own construction staging. Since the Malibu/HomeBase sites are not covered in the AASEG/Coliseum ENA, it’s hard to know how they can make that ask.
AASEG’s plan also includes its own men’s and women’s soccer clubs. How could Oakland field two or four lower division soccer clubs when they only recently decided to show interest in soccer? Beats me.
I’m glad the East Bay is showing interest in soccer, though let’s be brutally honest about how that came about. Soccer is filling a vacuum created by the departures of NBA/NFL and perhaps MLB. It’s scavenging the wounded East Bay sports fan populace. WNBA/NWSL less so due to the fact there are no current teams in the Bay and women’s sports has its own market niche. The Roots are in their honeymoon period and are looking to cement their place in the NorCal sports market. USL teams like Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, and Las Vegas can achieve promotion to MLS by getting a stadium deal (20,000-seat modern SSS). Or Oakland could keep itself a lower division club like Orange County or Monterey Bay by staying in a smaller or temporary stadium. One choice is expensive, the other has limited growth potential.
For any Oakland soccer club, it’s ironic that John Fisher’s San Jose Earthquakes stands in the way of MLS promotion. So would Sacramento if they get the financial stability they need to support a promoted Republic side. MLS would also have to grant a third NorCal team as no other market has more than two. MLS currently has 29 teams with St. Louis debuting this season. There’s a limit on remaining slots, all of which come with a stadium requirement.
The NFL stadium under discussion would also be used as a convention center. That probably means it would be domed, the better for attracting multiple types of events. It’s too expensive to build a stadium in anticipation of being awarded an expansion franchise, so you have to wonder how long AASEG will get for that team to materialize with all the obstacles that will face Oakland. Beyond that, the exercise feels like a lot of late 20th century thinking. Domes are indeed flexible and adaptable, but they’re also expensive to operate and require constant maintenance because they are more complex than outdoor stadia. I moved from Scottsdale to Glendale last summer, and while we’re getting ready for the madness that is Super Bowl week, I’m also aware that in three weeks State Farm Stadium will host a home and garden show on the stadium floor made possible by its rollout grass tray field. After that there are a few stadium concert tours coming through and car auction events this year. Glendale isn’t utilizing the full stadium more than a couple dozen times per year including Arizona Cardinals games.
All of these factors lead me to believe that the only given in this process is that AASEG will not resolve all these issues along with their general business deal terms in the 18-month ENA period. They’ll request and be granted an extension in hopes that the A’s resolve their outstanding Howard Terminal issues and complete their own exit strategy from the Coliseum. However, the A’s lease runs through 2024 and they already admitted they can’t move into a new ballpark at HT before 2027. Since they control half the property through their agreement with Alameda County and they’re on schedule to finish the debt service payments in 2026, the A’s have veto power over any development plans at the Coliseum whether they include one, two, or three new sports franchises.
Or no sports franchises for that matter. The ENA means having to negotiate with the A’s at some point, if not right away. And who knows what will happen to Howard Terminal in the meantime? In Oakland, the struggle for relevance remains.
P.S. – Much of the media coverage painted the ENA as a “deal.” No, the ENA is the period when a deal is worked out or, often in Oakland’s case, when a deal isn’t worked out. I’ve been privy to many contract negotiations between private parties (corporations). Only in pro sports does a party publicize an intention to enter a contract. It would be helpful if the media doesn’t puff this up more than it is. It’s a step, not the destination.
P.P.S. – London, a metro that has twice the population of the Bay Area, has 17 professional soccer teams. All are associated with specific neighborhoods. That very concept seems anathema to American pro sports’ regional tendencies, but if Oakland can somehow achieve some of that neighborhood galvanization effect (and the Roots are so far), it’s a cultural win. I also wanted that for the A’s a while back, but Oakland keeps thinking bigger for some reason.