Blindsided Sacramento searches for billionaire savior for MLS bid

It all was going so well. The Sacramento Republic FC soccer club began life in 2012. They won a USL championship two years later. Raucous fans impressively filled the temporary stadium set on the Cal Expo grounds. Fan support combined with the grassroots community feel to present the club as a frontrunner for a future MLS expansion franchise. Everything was going as planned. This month was the champagne was meant to flow. They even had a private financing plan for the stadium, then broke ground over the summer.

Standing section at the future Sacramento Republic FC stadium

Then Wednesday, MLS announced that a late, money-heavy bid from Nashville won an expansion franchise, the 24th out of a planned 28 total teams in the coming years.

The next day, backers of the Republic FC bid announced that they’re looking for both a majority investor and multiple minority investors. HP Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman backed out. The York family (49ers) is involved, though they appear to be at best limited partners.

When asked why the bidding group was short on funds, CEO Kevin Nagle admitted that they were all pledged to cover the stadium financing. That’s fine, but the expansion fee rose in the last few years to $150 million. Meanwhile, the stadium cost has risen from $170 million to $250 million.

My back-of-the-napkin guess is that the club needs an infusion of $100+ million to be approved. The additional partner(s) would probably also need to have their checkbook(s) handy in case the franchise needed to cover cash calls for construction, initial payroll, and operating expenses. Keep in mind that we’re talking about $400 million to get started. By comparison, the LA Galaxy’s valuation this year was $315 million.

Just as with the Kings, Republic FC is reaching out to the millionaires and billionaires in the Bay Area. The difference between those efforts are fundamental: former NBA commissioner David Stern brought the tech money to the table, while stalling the Maloof brothers from selling the team to Seattle interests. In this case, MLS can provide some time, but Don Garber is no David Stern, and it would be inappropriate to have MLS involved any further while competing bids in Cincinnati and Detroit await their own appraisals.

While I considered the Sacramento MLS bid to be practically a done deal, I’ll have to watch it more closely now. By the way the team and city reacted to recent news, I’m nearly as floored as I was by the A’s-Peralta news. That’s not very hopeful, in case you were wondering.

Happy Opening Day, Earthquakes

Sure, they did a dry run a few weeks ago with a 10,000-strong crowd, but this was to be the test. Opening match at Avaya Stadium, full house, new infrastructure in place, systems tested to the fullest. The Quakes scored two quick goals and then held on for dear life, 2-1 over the Chicago Fire. The fans were ebullient, raving about the home they’ve wanted and deserved for more than 40 years.

I asked about how people were doing with with transit or parking. Some of the feedback:

All in all, it seemed as if the team, the fans, and the league got everything they wanted out of the experience. A privately funded stadium with great amenities, but not done in a way that would take the focus away from the game.

The original vision for the stadium, unveiled during the throes of the recession, had no club seats or suites. The horseshoe-shaped bowl was the same, including the huge double-sided scoreboard at the open end. As the economy improved and the team reached out to the community, there was interest for luxury seating options, though in implementation they weren’t like those at other stadiums. The result is a tight seating bowl configuration with a steep rake, allowing for great sightlines. An extensive roof over the bowl provides ample shade and holds in noise. And the price tag rose from $60 million to $100 million. About $10 million will be paid for by real estate sales in South San Jose. It’s a refreshing example of restraint that somehow comes without a great deal of compromise. Even Don Garber, the MLS commissioner who approved the previous Quakes incarnation’s move to Houston, understood:

“Not every stadium’s got to be several hundred million dollars. It’s actually got to have them built in a way where the economic model makes sense. That’s what we have here.”

The biggest issue going forward is the fact that there’s no room to accommodate an expansion. There’s always Levi’s and Stanford for the bigger crowds. For decades to come, this is home. It’s something to be proud of, no need to make any apologies. I suspect Quakes fans will be savoring it for some time to come, sellout after sellout.

P.S. – The USGS, which has an office in Menlo Park, set up a seismograph at the stadium.

Quakes make it official: Avaya Stadium

The rumor of networking/telecom company Avaya signing on to be the naming rights sponsor for the San Jose Earthquakes’ stadium launched nearly a month ago. Today it’s official. Avaya will having naming rights at the stadium at a cost of $20 million over 10 years. That’s about average for MLS stadia these days, though it pales in comparison to the $220 million, 20 year deal at Levi’s Stadium.

The Avaya logo will be prominently displayed atop the scoreboard and roof.

The Avaya logo will be prominently displayed atop the scoreboard and roof.

A few more details emerged that showed how complex the deal was.

  • The cost of the stadium grew from $60 million to $100 million. Most of that can be attributed to adding features. Originally the stadium didn’t have suites, eschewing those for club-style seating down low. As interest in such an offering grew, suites of different types were added to the structure at field level. This is similar to what happened during development of SAP Center, which was also barebones until ownership injected more money to make it a better venue. The Quakes continue to say that excavation difficulties encountered in 2013 didn’t contribute to the cost hike, but I don’t believe it. That was a lot of time and effort used to get the site ready for construction.
  • Quakes President David Kaval said that 40 to 50 companies expressed interest in naming rights, though that had to be settled after the 49ers squared away their deals in Santa Clara. Even with Levi’s being the much bigger attraction, 40-50 is an impressive number that shows how strong corporate interest is in the Valley. The 49ers and Quakes are partnering on hosting large soccer games at Levi’s in the near term, so there is crossover potential between the two venues.
  • The new scoreboards are in place, coming right on the heels of the just-completed scoreboard for the A’s at Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium. In a couple months, work should commence on the Coliseum’s scoreboard project. The projects are getting progressively larger.
  • Public stadium tours are taking place, despite the stadium remaining a construction zone. Tours take place on Thursday afternoons and require reservations. Note: No capri pants or exposed feet!
  • According to a December Bizjournals article, about $10 million from the development of the iStar site in South San Jose will go into the stadium. That should help defray some of the upgrade costs.

The Quakes have been run on a shoestring budget for several years. Since the stadium had to be privately financed, it’s no surprise. Hopefully the stadium will boost revenues to the point where the team can get more marquee players, or at least playmakers in the midfield. Wondo’s not getting any younger.

View of scoreboard from fan lot area and Coleman Avenue

View of scoreboard from fan lot area and Coleman Avenue

Avaya Stadium still has some seats to install and some buttoning up to do. Regardless, there’s a lot to look forward to next spring. I’ll be sure to take in a few games at the new stadium. The Quakes finally have the home they have sought for so long. Maybe the A’s are next.

Avaya may become Earthquakes’ stadium naming rights sponsor

This was posted to the BigSoccer Earthquakes’ forum by Soccer Silicon Valley’s Colin McCarthy:


Until yesterday there hadn’t been much discussion about who would buy the naming rights to the stadium. Since the stadium is in the heart of Silicon Valley, it was figured that the Quakes would eventually find one prior their first match in 2015.

Avaya is a tech firm based in Santa Clara. They are a spinoff of Lucent/AT&T, specializing in digital phone (IP/PBX) systems. They also are make networking equipment such as switches and routers, and that’s where there may be a bit of a snag. Sunnyvale’s Ruckus Wireless signed a deal last March to be the stadium’s in-house WiFi provider. Ruckus and Avaya are competitors in at least the networking segment, and team president David Kaval has acknowledged the difficulty of working between competitors when trying to land sponsorship deals. Typically a sponsor wants to be known as the official ___ sponsor of the team, whether we’re talking networking, soda, or airlines. Ruckus does a small fraction of the business Avaya does, so there’s certainly the potential for one of the sponsors to be overshadowed by another.

Speaking of networking companies, what about Cisco? We haven’t heard from them in a few years, since discussions about a San Jose ballpark were in high gear. Both Ruckus and Avaya are competitors of Cisco Systems, and while the soccer stadium is quite separate from a ballpark, the ownership at the top for the A’s and Quakes is basically the same. Cisco has gone through a series of acquisitions and layoffs lately, and speculation has bubbled for some time about CEO John Chambers’ possible retirement. If he retires, there’s a good chance that any A’s ballpark naming rights deal would be subject to new bidding, as Chambers was a driving force behind it. Beyond that there’s some question about whether Cisco would sign on to sponsor an Oakland ballpark as opposed to the highly supported Fremont and San Jose sites. The Valley is big, rich, and ever evolving, perhaps too fast for MLB’s glacial pace.

Oral arguments in SJ-MLB case on 8/12; Kaplan & Miley work on Coli lease extension

Split the difference.

The City of San Jose surprisingly won an expedited hearing in their Ninth Circuit appeal against Major League Baseball in the spring. What remained was the announced date of the first oral argument. MLB wanted it in the fall, San Jose wanted the early summer. Today the court announced that the oral argument hearing will be held on August 12, effectively splitting the difference between the two. The hearing will be held at 9:30 AM at Courtroom 1 of the James R. Browning Courthouse (97 7th St @ Mission), 1 block away from the Civic Center BART station and across the street from the new Federal building on 7th. The wheels of justice go round and round.

Meanwhile, the second item in today’s Matier & Ross column has Oakland City Council member (and oft-rumored, undeclared mayoral candidate) Rebecca Kaplan potentially negotiating the 10-year lease extension that Lew Wolff has asked for at the Coliseum. During the hubbub in March & April, Nate Miley (who is also cited) and Larry Reid were quite vocal, making it easy to forget that Kaplan is, like Miley & Reid, a Coliseum JPA board member. If everyone’s calmed down, the two sides might be able to get something done, but first Oakland & Alameda County will have to consider the consequences of siding with the A’s. Raiders owner Mark Davis has already said that the long lease Wolff is seeking would hamper efforts for a replacement football stadium, which he still prefers on the current Coliseum site.


The Earthquakes and 49ers announced a deal in which they’d work together to make the South Bay host “top-tier soccer events” over the next five years. The Quakes are already playing the first event at Levi’s Stadium, so this seems like no more than a formality. But it also should ensure that the two venues aren’t competing against each other for events. While Levi’s Stadium’s capacity is 68,500, it can be closed off to support 50,000 or even 35,000-person crowds. Even that lower limit is nearly double the size of the 18,000-seat Earthquakes Stadium. In theory there should be no overlap. Still, it’s possible that some matches could have ticket sales expectations that fall in between. The deal could extend to both men’s and women’s international events, friendlies, and perhaps the NCAA tournaments.


Added 6/3 12:30 AMAll indications are that the Sharks will, in fact, host one of the NHL’s outdoor games in the 2014-15 season. The game could be held at either AT&T Park or Levi’s Stadium, AT&T being the odds-on favorite.

Reaction time

It would be silly to devote a post to every single new tidbit that comes out, so I’ll do one of those rare newswraps here.

  • The East Bay Express’s Robert Gammon reported that the previous group showing interest in buying the A’s (Don Knauss, Doug Boxer, Mike Ghielmetti) is back again talking up buying the franchise. This time, they’re not alone. There could be up to three groups, including one fronted by Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. Lacob and Guber were previously associated with the Dolich-Piccinini group in 2001. Lew Wolff continues to maintain that the team is not for sale.
  • Bill Shaikin of the LA Times partly shot down the Warriors connection when he contacted Guber, who said unequivocally that he’s not interested in the A’s. Lacob and others may be interested, though Lacob is not commenting at the moment.
  • BANG’s Marcus Thompson wrote a quite stirring column asking Oakland to act now to save the A’s in Oakland. Thompson also asked many of the important questions about both Howard Terminal and Coliseum City that currently have no answers.
  • SFGate has a new editorial imploring MLB to make a decision, once and for all. In the column is a quote from Wolff claiming that Howard Terminal’s cost would be more than $1 billion.

Pretty heavy news day, huh? Well, not according to KCBS’s Doug Sovern.

Is there actual news to report? Why yes there is!

  • The FCC is moving forward with its proposal to eliminate TV blackouts of sports broadcasts. The proposal mainly targets NFL games, so naturally the NFL opposes it.
  • The 49ers struck a partnership with fellow Santa Clara resident Intel for a major sponsorship & technology deal. Intel will provide a great deal of tech infrastructure while taking control of the big northwest gate.

Finally, Bizjournal’s Nate Donato-Weinstein has been tracking the iStar development and has an update. If you’re not aware, iStar is a developer and land owner tied to the Earthquakes stadium project. While the stadium is going up west of San Jose Airport, the iStar land is in South San Jose’s Edenvale neighborhood. The plan was to take some of the proceeds of various development activities at iStar and funnel them towards the stadium. The numbers:

  • 260,000 square feet of office space
  • 150,000 square feet of retail
  • 720 housing units
  • $10 million would be funneled to the stadium

Those numbers are important because they can provide a comparison to what is being proposed at Coliseum City.

  • 837,000 square feet of office space
  • 265,000 square feet of retail
  • 837 housing units
  • 2 hotels comprising 478 units

iStar went through numerous struggles and iterations as the recession ravaged the real estate market. Now that things are on the rebound, projects like iStar are picking up again. It’s surprising that despite the fairly large scope of the project, only $10 million is being made available. That’s one-sixth one-seventh the $60 $70 million budget for the Earthquakes stadium. Now consider that Coliseum City, whose Area A phases cover comparable development plans (other than the much greater office space) over a very long timeline. How much could the development activity realistically provide? $50 million? $100 million? While revenue sharing formulas will probably be different, there is a practical limit before eating into profitability. The Raiders stadium will cost more than 15 times as much as the Earthquakes’ new digs. Bridging the gap is the foremost issue for these stadium initiatives. Without that puzzle solved, there really isn’t much else to talk about.

Creating a temporary stadium blueprint

Lost in all the owners’ meetings, MVP awards and other sports news was a little story out of Sacramento. It involves a stadium for a second-tier soccer team – that will be built in five months.

That’s right, five months. And it was only announced today. The stadium will have a capacity of 8,000 and be constructed on a parking lot at Cal Expo for the Sacramento Republic soccer club. The Republic is aiming to become a future expansion team in MLS. By building this 8,000-seat facility (nearly the size of Buck Shaw Stadium), the hope is that MLS will be impressed enough to grant the franchise’s “promotion”, leading to a deal for a larger MLS stadium in a few years. The neat trick to the deal is that the club is partnering with Cal Expo’s concessionaire to build the stadium, a potential win-win for both parties.

8,000-seat soccer-specific stadium at Cal Expo

8,000-seat soccer-specific stadium concept at Cal Expo

How could all of this come together in only five months? The stadium is considered temporary. When we envision stadium projects, we usually see the dark side of environmental review because these structures are meant to last for 30-40 years or longer. However, if you build a temporary facility, you can largely sidestep CEQA law. After all, the point of CEQA is to understand and mitigate against long-term environmental impacts, so if you can prove that your project won’t have a huge impact, you may be able to get a CEQA exception. One of those exceptions is for temporary or seasonal structures. They’re planning to put in the stadium, which will only be used 15-20 times per year during a 6-7 month window, and take it apart when the new stadium is ready. Project proponents can argue that there’s little impact since the stadium site is already a parking lot. Stretching the definition of temporary to nine years in this case is a little suspect, but there isn’t a hard and fast definition to use. Here’s what the law says:

15304. Minor Alterations to Land

(e) Minor temporary use of land having negligible or no permanent effects on the environment, including carnivals, sales of Christmas trees, etc;

Similar exceptions are available for additions to existing structures, such as the musical chairs situation I described last month. It would involve temporary additions to Raley Field and San Jose Municipal Stadium. A tougher case could even be made for a larger, 20,000-seat ballpark in San Jose. Let’s say that there’s some currently undeveloped or underutilized but properly entitled land somewhere within San Jose city limits. It could be publicly or privately owned. If the A’s struck a deal with the landowner, they could get permitted to build a temporary ballpark on that land. Sites could include the Airport West site near the Earthquakes stadium (though we’ve seen the difficulty building there), the County Fairgrounds, or other privately owned land. There are even sites near downtown.

That said, we’re at a late enough stage that it’s practically impossible to pull off a temporary new ballpark in time for the 2014 season. Expanding Raley would make more sense in that timeframe. As transient the whole thing sounds, it’s definitely a path of relatively little bureaucratic resistance as long as you get willing partners. Since it wouldn’t involve public money, a referendum wouldn’t be required.

Earthquakes Stadium slips again to 2015

After what has to be considered the most excruciating site excavation ever, the Earthquakes revealed today that their stadium’s opening date is slipping (yet again) to 2015. The stadium was originally supposed to open in 2014 after last year’s groundbreaking ceremony. Then it slipped to midseason as crews encountered difficulties clearing the former defense plant of underground concrete bunkers and various other surprises found on site.

The full scope of the site-related work could only be determined when the work was fully underway, and the site-related work has continued to take longer than expected. Beyond the complications announced in July, there have been additional complexities in connecting the stadium to the city sewer system, and the high water table has slowed the site utility phase.

“Projects of this size and scope often encounter delays, especially with the amount of demolition and site preparation we had to do. What is most important is that we build a great stadium that will stand the test of time for our fans and this community,” Kaval elaborated.

Despite the complications at the site, progress has been made on the project. Demolition and grading are now complete and the site utilities have been installed. Additionally, the footings are currently being placed. The next steps in the process will be the pouring of the foundations for both the stadium and team building, followed by the steel erection. The steel has been ordered through Schuff Steel and is currently being fabricated in Stockton. The team office building is scheduled to be erected in November, followed by the stadium bowl in late December.

Well, at least they’ve ordered the guts of the new stadium. It’s just amazing that the 49ers stadium, which is nearly four times the size and well past ten times as expensive, will open before the Earthquakes’ digs. All because the site was cleaner to start. Beware, all you who think you can build on brownfields quickly. Something lurks beneath the surface.

Earthquakes Stadium opening delayed until 2H 2014

If you’ve been following the (lack of) progress in getting the Airport West/FMC site ready for an 18,000-seat soccer stadium, you’d know that they been finding some interesting and unusual things in the excavation process. Just about everywhere there have been thick foundation work, underground facilities, and in keeping with the site’s previous life as a munitions manufacturer, bomb shelters. Both President Dave Kaval and Lew Wolff have been backtracking in recent months about opening the stadium in time for the 2014 MLS season, and today’s announcement makes it official.

Unfortunately, the news creates a bit of confusion for fans, who until now have been sold on the prospects of a brand new stadium opening in March of next year, not June or July. Quakes management has a bit of a mess to deal with at the stadium site and at Buck Shaw Stadium, whose capacity is barely more than half of the new venue’s. Kaval will have a Google Hangout at 3:30 today, in which he’ll field questions from fans.

Several other MLS stadia have also experienced opening delays, including StubHub Center (LA Galaxy home, formerly Home Depot Center), Sporting Park (Kansas City), Saputo Stadium (Montreal), PPL Park (Philadelphia), and Toyota Park (Chicago). Utah’s Rio Tinto Stadium didn’t open until the end of the 2008 season, and even the first soccer specific stadium, Columbus Crew Stadium, was delayed long enough (mid-May 1999) to have the team embark on a lengthy road trip to start the season.

It just goes to show that having a site considered “shovel-ready” isn’t enough. Sometimes you need more than shovels.

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.