Time again for AAA Musical Chairs

It’s September in an even-numbered year, so you (should) know what that means: The biennial ritual of matching AAA franchises to new cities has begun. According to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, that includes the A’s affiliate, the Nashville Sounds, who are discontinuing their player development contract (PDC) with the parent club.

In this new era of improved regional consolidation, the pairing of a Central time zone-based AAA club with a Pacific time-zone based parent was never going to be the most convenient of situations. While the Sounds were reasonably competitive under the A’s stewardship, the transient nature of player movement makes it more likely for fans to root for the front of the jerseys than the names on the back.

Las Vegas Ballpark planned for Summerlin, NV

The Sounds could hook up with the Washington Nationals. The Nats will no longer be the parent of the Syracuse Chiefs as the Chiefs were bought by the New York Mets. In turn, the Mets are ditching the Las Vegas 51s, a team undergoing its own transformation. Additionally, the Round Rock Express are expected to switch back from an affiliation with the Texas Rangers to the Houston Astros. As a result the Fresno Grizzlies’ affiliation would be up for grabs. So it would appear that the A’s have Las Vegas and Fresno as potential affiliate candidates. The Rangers could also switch to Nashville or San Antonio.

For potential west coast affiliates, air travel is easier coming in and out of Las Vegas than Fresno, so Sin City has a distinct advantage based on logistics. Fresno’s airport is small compared to other major cities and doesn’t have the kind of demand that teams can use to their advantage for pricing. Fresno is closer to Oakland than Vegas, only a four-hour drive (six on Amtrak) from Fresno to the Coliseum. If Reno extends with the Dbacks, another candidate in the Pacific time zone goes away.

Las Vegas and Nashville have one thing in common. HOK was the architect for First Tennessee Park in Nashville, which opened in 2015 in time for the A’s. HOK is also working on the new ballpark in Summerlin, which will replace Cashman Field starting in 2019. HOK also has previous experience working the A’s, as the firm designed Avaya Stadium for the Quakes. And don’t forget, the A’s retained HOK’s Brad Schrock as a consultant on their new ballpark project in Oakland. Synergies abound!

P.S. – If you’re wondering if the new ballpark in Summerlin could host the A’s or another MLB club, take a look at the rendering in this post. Then get back to me on how you’d add 20,000 seats and a roof.

20+ years later, the process remains the same

I was going through some reading material as any good stadium geek does occasionally, when I came upon one of my favorite chapters in Sports, Jobs & Taxes, the Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist book that set the tone for future stadium discussions along with Neil deMause’s Field of Schemes. I then remembered that I wrote a post about this years ago. And then I noticed something else while I was rereading the chapter: a flowchart.

Well then, how does one go about making it work as the Giants did in China Basin? Thankfully, some very smart economists – John M. QuigleyEugene Smolensky, and Stephen J. Agostini – have gone to the trouble of diagramming the process.  The flowchart below comes from a paper titled Stickball in San Francisco. It’s better known as the San Francisco Giants’ case study in the book Sports, Jobs, and Taxes by noted sports economists Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist. Ready? Here’s the secret recipe:

stickball

Step-by-step instructions on how to follow the Giants’ plan. (click for larger version)

Back in 2012, I made parallels between the process China Basin went through and Victory Court, one of the last great ballpark concepts that went nowhere. I was amazed at how, 20+ years after the Giants navigated the political process and broke ground, how similar the process looks for Howard Terminal. While AB 734 sits on the governor’s desk waiting for his signature, the only procedural change it makes for the A’s is limiting the length of CEQA-related lawsuits to 270 days. So I’m presenting the flowchart again, to show you the path Howard Terminal must take to breaking ground. There are some differences, mainly the lack of Caltrans involvement in the land deal and the fact that Oakland doesn’t have a Board of Supervisors like the City and County of San Francisco (Oakland has a City Council instead), but most everything else is quite similar.

The A’s and their architects apparently have a trip planned to visit several urban ballparks towards the end of the regular season. I wonder if the junket will also include a visit to the next BCDC Commission meeting.

Dolich thinks A’s have secret plan

Now that the A’s have the not-heavy-lifting passage of AB 734 completed, we can focus on next steps.

That means the financial part of the deal. Besides picking the site (Howard Terminal or the Coliseum), the A’s have to arrange a deal to either lease or purchase the land. Andy Dolich thinks that the A’s will make a play for both, using one to offset the cost of the other.

When the green and gold can’t access enough infrastructure gold from the city, county and Port of Oakland, they might introduce their Hidden Ball Trick.

It goes something like this: You (public entities) pay for Howard’s infrastructure with this ball over here, and we (the A’s) and a DTBNL (Developer to Be Named Later) will pick up your debt load of $137 million on the Coliseum. Of course, you’ll have to make us the exclusive owner of that site.

Any guesses as to whether or not that’s an even trade? When the community activists start to speak out, we’ll soon find out the answer.

A’s to drop season tickets for more flexible subscription model

Even as the A’s await a new ballpark, they’re not afraid to try new business concepts that one would expect them to deploy at a new ballpark. To that end, A’s COO Chris Giles announced today that the team is doing away with the traditional season ticket, instead replacing it with a membership plan that offers greater flexibility for all buyers.

The idea here, as foreseen by many in the industry, is that fans want the ability to go to every game, but don’t want to be tied a season ticket plan that could cost upwards of $2,000 for a whole season. Like the Treehouse plans introduced before this season, the new A’s Access plans will provide general admission to all 81 games, plus reserved seating for 10, 24, half-season or full-season of games if you choose. Included will be digital seat upgrades and a number of subscriber perks. Prices start at $240.

The highlights:

  • All plans include admission to every home game including reserved seats (View level)
  • Seat upgrades via the Ballpark app are available on a per game basis
  • Better seating locations are available in advance as well (before the season begins)
  • $10 parking available; Gold and Platinum members can get parking passes included
  • Half-price concessions, such as $3 hot dogs and $4 20-ounce beers
  • 25% off merchandise at A’s team stores
  • Monthly subscription fee option
  • Guaranteed promotional giveaway items

To me this is the culmination of the initiatives laid out by MLB AM a few years ago and executed on a phased basis by the A’s and other teams since. If I still lived in the Bay Area I’d jump all over this. Maybe I’d get a plan if I only make it back occasionally. Who knows, maybe I’ll move back?

56,310

As part of the 1989 World Series anniversary celebration last night, the A’s chose to open up the top of Mount Davis (heretofore covered in tarps) to paying fans. Tickets were put on sale for $10, with some concessions offered for only $2. Nevermind that Mount Davis was only a mere twinkle in Oakland politicians’ eyes in 1989, the A’s decided to extend their goodwill even further by giving fans a chance to check out the views from WAY UP TOP.

During last night’s rather bizarre game I received a few questions about temporary seating and celebratory events. The general rule is that the capacity should stay the same for an entire season, with no temporary seating or platforms to abruptly add or subtract seats, or especially, to change the outfield dimensions. This was challenged by Charlie Finley when the A’s were in Kansas City. Finley chose to put in a short porch in right field at Municipal Stadium of only 295 feet with additional seats, the better to copy the old Yankee Stadium. The seats could be added or removed on a whim if Finley chose. MLB was not onboard with the idea, so they chose to nix it. That started Finley’s grumbling about Kansas City in general, which ended up in, well, you know the rest.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the two currently pressing stadium issues during All Star week, the A’s and Rays. Both are status quo while permanent solutions are worked out. Prior to the start of the season Rays president Brian Auld presented a concept in which the team’s new home would played in a new roofed stadium in Ybor City, a trendy neighborhood of Tampa. It’s not yet determined if the roof will be fixed (like the current one) or retractable (like Safeco Field or Marlins Park). The planned capacity is only 28,216 seats, with an additional 2,600 standing or berm/beach admissions available. At 30,816 all told, the new park would be by far the smallest in baseball. We haven’t heard yet about capacities for either Howard Terminal or the new ballpark at the Coliseum site, but it’s safe to assume that either will be less that 40k.

There has been a clearly evident trend of “rightsizing” ballparks since I started this blog 13 years ago. Back then, anyone talking about 35,000 seats like Lew Wolff was considered anathema. Nowadays there is much less argument in favor of the big stadium, because the more you build the more expensive and less intimate the park becomes. The 30k Ybor City park is projected to cost $892 million, with less opportunity to fleece the public as the Marlins did in Miami. A’s president Dave Kaval is aware of this, as he has said repeatedly that the A’s park will be privately financed. Thanks to the A’s recently eclipsing the $1 billion mark in franchise valuation I believe Kaval, though I wonder about MLB’s debt rule and its impact on the A’s.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Tampa Bay Times article linked earlier:

A smaller park means less spending on maintenance but not necessarily less revenue, said Mark Conrad, a professor and director of the Sports Business Concentration at Fordham University.

“The days of getting 50,000 or more people with the exceptions of major games are pretty much very limited,” Conrad said. “You don’t really need that many seats to be profitable if you utilize the seating you have based on different pricing structures, views and standing areas.”

Don’t get used to seeing the tarps off Mount Davis.

Schnitzer Steel fire sends dark cloud over Oakland

Just before 4 PM today, a fire broke out at the Schnitzer Steel metal recycling plant immediately to the west of Howard Terminal. This followed a similar fire in March, and other fires that have hit the facility over the last several years. Thankfully, the blaze came under control shortly after six, after help came from Alameda and San Francisco fireboats.

Schnitzer and the A’s met before the season started as the A’s renewed interest in Howard Terminal. Schnitzer clearly warned the A’s that if the A’s were to build there, either the metal plant or the team would be impacted because the plant’s operations have already changed to overnight hours to help reduce the impact during regular business hours. While this fire occurred on a Saturday afternoon, it could happen at any time as long as there’s a pile of scrap metal ready to ignite at the plant.

That brings up a serious conundrum that may face the City of Oakland, the Port of Oakland, and the A’s if the three parties decided to go forward with the Howard Terminal site. Would they have to figure out a way to get rid of Schnitzer? The company likes their location, with access to freeways, rail, and the waterfront for shipping to other countries. That’s pretty hard to beat as long as the company can comply with environmental regulations. The plant is overseen by an alphabet soup of public agencies. California’s DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances watches what gets leaked into the ground or bay. The BAAQMD (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) tries to make sure that toxics aren’t released into the air as they were today. Moving the plant to another location – in Oakland or elsewhere – would require drawing up new toxics control agreements and invite protests from potential neighbors.

We have a couple of test cases to guide us through the process. AT&T Park was made possible by the closure and decommissioning of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after Loma Prieta, which allowed the city to remake the entire waterfront from Mission Bay to Broadway. In Minneapolis, Target Field was placed on a site next to a plant that not only recycles, it actually burns garbage and creates energy in the process. That’s not the same as a metal recycling plant whose main job is to recycle steel from old cars and appliances. At HERC the burning is controlled. At Schnitzer, fires can occur without warning.

To support their cause, Schnitzer enlisted from former State Senate President and East Bay politico Dom Perata. While Perata has seen his image disgraced and his power diminished, I don’t doubt for second that he still has some weight to throw around and that Schnitzer will use it to make any negotiations difficult. The question is, does Oakland and the A’s want to venture down this road? Schnitzer’s problems have been well known, but it provides a useful service for area. What is to be done about it? What if a fire broke out during a night game next door? How do you protect the fans, or evacuate them safely? These are among the many questions the A’s will be considering over the next six months.

Or, as Dave Kaval wrote in a letter to Mayor Libby Schaaf in March:

Of course, significant uncertainty remains on how the various challenges for Howard Terminal can be satisfied.

One thing’s abundantly clear: We can no longer wish away Howard Terminal’s challenges.

Update 6/4 7:23 PM – ABC-7’s Laura Anthony has further clarification on the incident.

 

Battle of the dueling ENAs

So here we are, almost Memorial Day, and the A’s have entered separate Exclusive Negotiating Agreements with two potential ballpark sites in Oakland: the Coliseum and Howard Terminal.

That was followed by A’s president Dave Kaval’s response on Twitter to an inquiry about Howard Terminal:

First, it’s good to hear that the A’s will have (with the Port’s help) a weather station installed at Howard Terminal.

But where will it be located? And is one enough?

To gain some insight, let’s check with our friends at Weather Underground. Unlike last year, when it appeared that a station was installed on a buoy in the Oakland Estuary, this time it appears that it’s situated on the southwest corner of the Howard Terminal pier. That’s not the likely location of home plate or the grandstand, but it should provide a sense of the prevailing winds in the neighborhood.

Here’s what that station is registering as of 6:20 PM tonight:

Now let’s look at the Coliseum area at 6:23 PM:

Now I’ve heard a lot about how Howard Terminal won’t be Candlestick, Part Deux. Let me point out that Howard Terminal is not Jack London Square, and while HT isn’t exactly Land’s End, it isn’t the most wind-protected area ever and it’s probably not going to be in the future. Even if a ballpark is built there, local and environmental groups will fight hard to keep the A’s from building a 100-foot-tall, 800-foot-long edifice on the waterfront. The A’s will probably unveil a design that orients the park more towards downtown and away from the water, to provide allow the ballpark grandstand to block the wind. Or, as the Giants found out:

The wind and temperature conditions aren’t necessarily going to be the gating factor that determines the viability of Howard Terminal. Economic factors and political process will.

Speaking of process, now that the ENAs for the Coliseum and Howard Terminal have been approved, the A’s now have given themselves a scant six months to figure out all of the details.

Say that Kaval makes an announcement in early December. Because of the normal City Hall schedule, a project won’t be brought up for City Council review, let alone planning commission review, until early next year. Then the CEQA process will begin. If you’re keeping track of how other recent projects have been affected, consider that the Warriors ownership group bought the site of the future Chase Center from Salesforce in April 2014. It’s scheduled to open in time for the 2019-20 NBA season, which starts in October 2019.

Then remember that the Coliseum, thanks to the aborted Coliseum City project, already is entitled for one or more stadiums and a slew of ancillary development. The Warriors ended up going with a backup plan. What will the A’s do?