MLB releases 2019 schedule

A short note before I get into the big news today: it’s late August, which means it’s time for MLB to release next year’s schedule. And so they did today. As usual, I’ll start compiling all of the home schedules to make my annual schedule matrix for 2019. There will be two different sorted lists, one by alphabetical order and another regional chart. There will also be a plain .CSV or Excel download for those who want to play with it on their own.

Obviously, the big news is that like 2008, the A’s will open the season in the Tokyo Dome. And like that opening series, the two-game set will be considered home games, meaning that there will be 79 scheduled home games at the Coliseum. The A’s will get a little extra revenue from moving the first two home games (March 20-21) to Tokyo. The price, besides the loss of two actual home games, will be a shortened Cactus League session. Though as most spring training followers are aware, roster spots and rotation should be determined by then.

It’ll take the rest of the week to put together the matrix, so keep an eye out for that here and on the Twitter feed.

Oakland’s thirst for football runs into a hArd limit

As construction on the Raiders’ new Vegas palace continues, Oakland keeps trying to get some kind of football team to take the Raiders’ place at the Coliseum. Thankfully, on Thursday the Coliseum JPA ended their pursuit of a new XFL franchise for the 2020 season. The XFL, the once and future brainchild of WWE head Vince McMahon, previously played during the winter and spring of 2001, with a franchise at what was then named Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park). The next iteration of the XFL is supposed to launch a 10-week season around the time of the 2020 NFL playoffs.

The A’s ended up being a big factor in the decision, as the grounds crew takes much of each winter to get the field ready for baseball, which starts every April. To be fair to the JPA, the XFL appears to be ones who tried to push the issue, knowing how well the league did with the SF Demons last time around. But despite the Coliseum’s multipurpose nature, it’s still hampered by some old decisions – some 20 years old, some 50 – that make conversions expensive while compromising the playing surface quality for either sport. It’s smart for the JPA to pass on this.

Hesitance on the JPA’s part caused the XFL to look north, to Berkeley and Memorial Stadium. That entreaty was also refused, leaving the XFL with no obvious alternatives. Why didn’t the XFL hit up the Giants to use China Basin again? After all, AT&T Park recently hosted the Rugby World Cup Sevens successfully. Perhaps like the A’s, the Giants wanted to keep the field pristine during their offseason. Can’t blame them for that.

Hey, where’d the infield go?

Another option that won’t be available for Oakland is the other startup football league, the Alliance of American Football. That league, whose franchises are mostly placed in the South, has set a 2019 launch date.

The Coliseum may not be the best baseball stadium in creation, but at least we can rest assured that the JPA is paying more attention to preserving the Coli as at least a half-decent place to play. The Raiders have every incentive to get their new digs ready for fall 2020, which would benefit the A’s even more as they determine where the future ballpark will be built.

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.

AB 734 works its way through legislature

While the A’s have a team of people working on future concepts for a new ballpark…

… legislation to blunt the impact of potential legal challenges continues to progress through the California legislative calendar.

Here are the simple facts you need to know about what’s happening.

  • The two items above are only tangentially related for now. As mentioned in the previous post, the Coliseum site is already entitled, in that a new stadium is already approved there once everyone figures out what to do with the old stadium and the rest of the land. Howard Terminal has a ways to go before it’s entitled; that’s why the legislation is being considered – to limit the ability of those seeking to create roadblocks. Planning for the actual ballpark structure and its features is a different discussion and will take months to years regardless of site.
  • The legislative calendar is on a pretty tight schedule. You may have heard that AB 734 made it through two committees so far, the Finance and Judicial committees. The bill has been referred to the Appropriations committee next. The idea here is that by having the bill sponsored and through to this point, the heavy lifting for it has already been completed. There shouldn’t be any showstoppers from here, though that doesn’t mean the A’s could start clearing either site once the season ends. If you want to keep track, here are the key dates for the bill:
    • July 6 (last week): Legislature went into a monthlong recess
    • August 6: Legislature goes back into session
    • August 31: Last day for legislature to pass bills
    • September 30: Last day to get governor’s approval for any bill

    There are a few more rules to this, but I’d rather keep focused on the key dates and not burden you with a bunch of legislative mumbo-jumbo. If you need more details, please ask.

White line is the extent of the complex for potential sale

One other thing I wanted to point out. The Coliseum land being considered for possible sale to the A’s is only the original Coliseum parcels which include the stadium and arena, assuming the arena’s own financial responsibilities are settled. The land doesn’t include the Malibu or HomeBase lots near Hegenberger Road, which were long assumed to be part of planning for the aborted Coliseum City project.

Last thing to mention is that in AB 734, the bill specifies LEED Gold certification by the National Green Building Council as part of the package. To me this is exciting and could make the A’s a sort of trailblazer, because most baseball stadia built over the last few decades have been certified Silver, not Gold or Platinum. Getting to Gold or Platinum often requires greater conservation efforts, though I sometimes wonder about the scoring on that. For example, Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta was certified Platinum last year, though it is a heavily air-conditioned domed stadium that employs artificial turf. Outdoor grass baseball parks haven’t been able to reach that standard.

 

Assemblyman introduces CEQA-streamlining bill for future A’s ballpark village

Now we know something is happening.

Sort of.

Yesterday, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) submitted an amendment to AB 734, a bill working its way through the Assembly. Its purpose is to limit the number and length of potential legal challenges to an A’s ballpark and ancillary development. The language allows for the ballpark to be built at either the Coliseum or Howard Terminal sites.

(c) The city has identified two viable sites for the new baseball park, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site principally owned by the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda, and the Howard Terminal site owned by the Port of Oakland. The city seeks to capitalize on the development of a new baseball park to maximize the economic benefit of the team and its facilities for the city, county, and port, including critical transit and transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, open space, and job creation. Essential to the success and feasibility of the new baseball park is the development of complementary adjacent mixed-use residential, commercial, and retail uses that will support the baseball park and further the city’s and region’s goals for sustainable transit-oriented development, including an increase in supply of housing, including affordable housing.

Bonta’s district includes most of Oakland including West and East, Alameda, and San Leandro, so he can’t be accused of playing favorites among the sites. Though it’s somewhat curious that Peralta isn’t mentioned. That indicates that all parties have moved on.

Elsewhere in the text is the definition of the project (for CEQA purposes), which the A’s haven’t yet publicly presented:

(3) “Oakland Sports and Mixed-Use Project” or “project” means the following components of a sports center and mixed-use project located at the Howard Terminal site in the City of Oakland or the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site in the City of Oakland, from demolition and site preparation through operation:
(A) A baseball park that will become the new home to the Oakland Athletics and adjacent residential, retail, commercial, cultural, entertainment, or recreational uses developed by the Oakland Athletics, and that meets all of the following:
(i) The baseball park and each new mixed-use building achieves at least LEED Silver certification or its equivalent for new construction after completion or the project achieves at least LEED Neighborhood Design Silver rating or its equivalent.
(ii) The uses are subject to a comprehensive transportation demand management plan to reduce single-occupancy vehicles and prioritize other modes of transportation, such as public transit, waterborne transportation, ride-share, bicycles, and pedestrians.
(iii) The project is located within a priority development area identified in the sustainable communities strategy Plan Bay Area 2040 adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The particulars are designed to ensure that the stadium project would qualify for CEQA streamlining. The implicit deadline for opponents to challenge the project is July 1, 2019, slightly more than one year from today.

A previous version of the law, AB 900, allowed for a few major sports facilities to be built, including the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center and the upcoming Chase Center. It also tracked with three failed SoCal football stadium projects: Farmers Field, the City of Industry Stadium, and the revamped Qualcomm Stadium.

Should the A’s end up starting a project (one should hope so), they should be prepared for resistance from all manner of environmental and community groups, as they saw with Peralta. The worry there may be diminished with the Coliseum, which already went through this process when Coliseum City was approved. Howard Terminal doesn’t have that yet, and may never get to that point. It’s expected that A’s brass will pick the site by the end of the year, kickstarting the CEQA review in the process. But could they try both sites simultaneously?

The All Bay Collective, a group of policy planners and environmentalists, started looking at areas in the Bay that could use strengthening against sea-level rise. Their plan for the Coliseum/Airport area, renamed Estuary Commons, is fascinating.

ABC’s Estuary Commons (Coliseum/Airport area)

Among the changes being considered are tidal ponds in the Coliseum parking area and a rerouting/tunneling of I-880 near Hegenberger Road and San Leandro Street. As far as I know these ideas are not being offered officially by the City of Oakland. Still, it’s interesting to consider the possibility of the Bay reclaiming part of the Eastshore as it’s doing with parts of the South Bay.

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.