Tampa Bay developer presents ballpark vision
Today’s the day that the Tampa Bay Rays and the City of St. Petersburg were scheduled to hear about a ballpark plan that is located within the city, yet is more convenient to Tampa and Clearwater. The site is in Carillon, a mixed commercial development at the foot of the
Sunshine Skyway Howard Frankland Bridge. Because of Carillon’s proximity to Tampa and Clearwater (north of downtown St. Pete), nearly double the population is within a 30 minute drive of the ballpark site compared to Tropicana Field.
Carillon is already largely built out, and the developer, CityScape, has only 17+ acres on which to build the ballpark. Since regional public transportation is severely limited, the ballpark will require a significant amount of existing or new parking to meet potential demand. To that end, _ has identified 14,000 parking spaces within the Carillon development. As we’ve seen with Fremont’s Pacific Commons, negotiating parking rights can be very tricky.
Five ballpark configurations were presented, two with a fixed roof, two with a retractable roof, and one that’s open air. The roof options have either a fixed or retractable outfield wall, the latter of which adds an estimated $8 million to the cost. Open air is the cheapest option at $424 million, whereas the retractable roof/wall version will cost an estimated $577 million.
Within those 13 acres is one of the more interesting ballpark concepts presented recently. Hotels and offices loom above and behind the upper deck. A large parklike area sits beyond the outfield, surrounded by more offices. If Rogers Centre (SkyDome) mated with Rangers Ballpark, the offspring might look something like this. At only 35,000 seats it would be the smallest ballpark in MLB, depending on Cisco Field’s final capacity.
The proposal is being pitched by a third party, not the City or the Rays, so there’s an extra element of complication if something like this were to be executed successfully. Both the team and developer will want to make the most money possible, yet there’s a $250 million funding gap – and that’s if St. Pete allows the Trop tax to fund Carillon. At the moment Carillon appears to be the only new ballpark option emerging from St. Pete and has some support from the mayor and some members of the city council. Will that be good enough for Stuart Sternberg, who has wanted to explore Tampa along as St. Pete? We’ll see.
In which they hand out cards
This will be my only post on today’s event.
Digging in the dirt
It used to be that during the early part of the NFL regular season, Raiders home games had a special form of home field advantage. Thanks to baseball and football seasons overlapping for 6-8 weeks, both the Raiders and A’s had to play under less-than-ideal conditions. The A’s dealt with football cleats trampling the grass, whereas the Raiders had to overcome a football field which was largely dominated by the dirt baseball infield. A few years after moving back to Oakland, the Raiders drafted Florida State kicker Sebastian Janikowski, whose impressive left leg could power kickoffs and long field goals regardless of the quality of surface. Other teams’ kickers who usually kicked on well-manicured grass or ever perfect artificial turf often couldn’t adjust, ruining their accuracy and/or distance.
Last night, the dirt infield bit the Raiders more than once. Longsnapper Jon Condo was inadvertently kneed in the head in the 2nd quarter, forcing the Raiders to use backup linebacker Travis Goethel as the longsnapper (teams carry one due to specialization). Goethel, who hadn’t done any longsnapping since high school, proceeded to botch two snaps to All Pro punter Shane Lechler, causing Lechler to be unable to get off two punts, which then translated to good field position and eventual field goals by the Chargers.
The NFL has long known about the suboptimal field conditions, and has made it clear that it wants the Raiders in a football stadium in the future, not a multipurpose stadium. That may seem like a no-brainer, but you have to think that the league was taking notes, with an eye towards really pressing the case when it talks to Oakland and Alameda County officials in the future. At the very least it gives the Raiders some ammunition to advocate to cease the stadium-sharing agreement with the A’s once both teams’ leases end in 2013, and really, could you blame them if they did?
The A’s will also have something to say about this, since they have complained loudest about the field. That puts the Coliseum Authority in the unenviable position of trying to cater to both teams while they are at odds over this very basic, fundamental problem. Key to this is the cost of doing the frequent conversions from baseball to football and back. To get a better understanding of what this entails, watch the video below from several years ago, when Brodie Brazil was working for KICU-36.
The conversion from baseball to football and back costs $250,000 every time, and the cost is borne by the Coliseum Authority, not the teams. Chances are that the Authority, looking to reduce its operating costs while it services $20 million per year in debt for Mount Davis, will want either or both teams to chip in for the conversions. During a calendar year we can count on the conversion happening at least four times, twice in preseason and twice during the regular season. With the A’s making a pennant run, there’s the distinct possibility of a fifth conversion happening this year: October 21 for the Raiders game vs. the Jaguars. The late October date is even more sensitive than September or early October because it aligns with the deep postseason for MLB. According to MLB’s postseason schedule, 10/21 is the date of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. And since seven game series are in a 2-3-2 format, it’s likely that a Game 6 in Oakland would also be knocked out. The conversion process takes 24-48 hours to complete just from one sport to the other, so if we get to the point of watching the A’s in the ALCS (knock on wood), MLB and the NFL will have a scheduling nightmare on its hands. That is unless the A’s enter the playoffs as a wildcard, in which case they wouldn’t have home field advantage past the wild card playoff game and would only play Games 3, 4, and 5 at home.
If you’re wondering why the conversions cost so much, consider this: crews come in and effectively build a 4,000-seat temporary stadium inside the Coliseum every time, then dismantle it. Add the extra effort to replace grass, remove/replace tarps, and paint/repaint lines on the field. Cranes and bobtails run all over the Coliseum’s B Lot, moving and arranging the individual seating section pieces. After watching some of the work in seeming slow-mo, I’m surprised it doesn’t cost more.
Single game postseason tickets on sale Monday 9/17
Single game tickets for a Wild Card playoff game and the American League Division Series will go on sale at 10 AM on Monday, September 17. You’ll be able to get the tickets via the A’s box office or oaklandathletics.com (Tickets.com).
At first glance I thought I was looking at a regular season pricing chart. Then I realized why: the A’s are using those as baseline prices and letting dynamic pricing determine how high they go based on demand. It’s fair and it rewards those who buy early. Season ticket holders have already gotten the opportunity to buy postseason strips, so we’ll really get to see how many casual fans snap these puppies up. I submitted deposits for season tickets next year, which afforded me the chance to buy strips for this postseason, but I declined to buy them because I want to stay with this year’s walkup/advance ticket buying experiment. I’ll be at the box office early Monday morning, ready to go.
Note – The Value Deck is the notable omission from the pricing grid. I assume it’s because it will be an overflow media location. Working to verify that.
Football Town, Baseball Town
Too often, Oakland has been the butt of jokes or an object of pity in national eyes. In the sports world, however, Oakland has been a serious trailblazer. Al Davis emphasized the vertical passing game in the AFL over the the stodgy, conservative NFL to the point of disdaining the inevitable league merger, with Davis feeling that the AFL would eventually surpass the NFL due to a more entertaining, superior brand of football. While Aaron Sorkin and Michael Lewis were popping zits, Charlie Finley built a dynasty by stealing scouting information from other teams and by being the shrewdest guy in the room. The Bash Brothers-era A’s were the pioneers of performance-enhancing drugs, paving the way from 20 years of chicks digging the long ball. Moneyball has been well-documented, and its nascent successor is well on its way.
Not only did Oakland teams change the way sports was played on the field, for better or worse they changed the economics of pro sports forever. The darkest chapter started in 1982, when Davis attempted to move the Raiders to Los Angeles. We all know the story. Davis applied for the move and was rejected by a 22-0 vote of the other owners. Davis and the LA Memorial Coliseum subsequently filed separate antitrust lawsuits against the NFL, with Davis and the Coliseum eventually prevailing. The Raiders had almost immediate success in LA, winning Super Bowl XVIII in 1984.
Without an emboldened Davis, Bob Irsay may never have had the “courage” to move the Colts out of Baltimore. If Davis was the scarred warrior first through the proverbial wall, Irsay gladly followed his lead. Instead of a protracted battle, Irsay packed Mayflower trucks in the wee hours of March 28, 1984, and took the team to Indianapolis, where the shiny, new Hoosier Dome awaited. Just four years later, Bill Bidwill took the Cardinals out of St. Louis and relocated in the Valley of the Sun, where the only other pro franchise at the time was the Phoenix Suns. The Browns were next, as Art Modell was in over his head running decaying Cleveland Stadium and lost so much money that he needed a bailout city to keep the team. The Browns moved to Baltimore in 1995, shifting the heartbreak 371 miles west. That conveniently made Cleveland a stalking horse for every city whose stadium was outdated, until Cleveland was awarded an expansion Browns franchise for the 1999 season. Bud Adams moved the Oilers from Houston to Nashville by way of Memphis, changing the team name to the Titans along the way. Houston got the last expansion team in 2000 and would start play in 2002. Los Angeles lost both its teams in 1995 to two other cities who had previously lost their franchises, the Rams to St. Louis and the Raiders back to Oakland.
MLB’s antitrust exemption allowed these cities’ baseball teams to stay put while their NFL counterparts had the freedom to move willy-nilly. While all of the affected cities seemed to use the same playbook, all had unique circumstances that ultimately made them ripe for an NFL team to bolt.
- Oakland – For years Davis pestered the Coliseum Commission for skyboxes and other improvements and was rejected. He moved the Raiders for promises of suites and pay-per-view TV money in LA, neither of which materialized. In response, the OACC worked with Wally Haas to refurbish the Coliseum for baseball after the Raiders left, including the suites Davis wanted. When Davis brought the Raiders back, the Coliseum was set back to the old Mausoleum days (at least for baseball) and little has changed since.
- Baltimore – Like Davis, Irsay complained about the state of Memorial Stadium, which lacked modern amenities. Wanting to prevent a repeat of the Colts’ move, Baltimore and Maryland officials worked with the Orioles on a successor to Memorial which became Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Construction of OP@CY started only 5 years after the Colts left. The model used to build OP@CY was so successful that it was replicated in nearly every MLB market, and was extended when Baltimore lured the Browns away from Cleveland. Coincidentally, both the current baseball and football teams in the Charm City were once named the Browns – St. Louis and Cleveland, respectively.
- St. Louis – For decades there were two teams that played at Busch Stadium that were called the Cardinals. Only one truly mattered. St. Louis is a baseball town first and foremost, with football being a mostly unpleasant diversion throughout the two tenures of NFL football in the city. So when the football Cards left for Arizona, there was little drama or protest, at least compared to other cities. Later there would be a love affair with the Greatest Show on Turf-era Rams, but that too fizzled, leaving many wondering if the Rams will return to LA.
- Cleveland – Modell largely brought the team’s demise in Cleveland on himself. He chose to take control of Cleveland Municipal Stadium from the City, including all revenue and operations costs, the latter of which only grew while the former dwindled. While he supported some domed stadium concepts in the 80’s, in error he chose not to become a partner in the Gateway Center project, a broad redevelopment plan in downtown Cleveland that could have netted a successor to Muni. This may have been due to a cash-flow problem on Modell’s part, as Dick Jacobs was able to fund roughly half of a new Indians ballpark. The ballpark would go on to fuel the Indians’ resurgence and partly salved the wound made by Modell.
- Houston – Unlike Oakland and Baltimore, Adams was granted significant improvements to the Astrodome that should’ve kept the Oilers in town for 20 years, if not more. 10,000 seats were added to the back wall, replacing what was once the largest scoreboard in the world. Suites also helped modernize the Dome. Despite the improvements, the total capacity was only 60,000, a number that would prove too small in the coming era of NFL football (70k is the comfort zone with 5-10k more for Super Bowls). Reliant Stadium, built next to the Astrodome, has a capacity of 71,000. A countywide effort spurred partly by the Oilers’ move resulted in a new ballpark (Minute Maid Park), arena (Toyota Center), and Reliant.
- Los Angeles – Still has no NFL replacement 17 years after both teams left. Two competing NFL stadium proposals exist, only one will get enough popular support and resources to move forward if one or two teams commit to moving to LA. All the while forces looking to bring a pro team back to LA are competing with USC and to a lesser extent UCLA, who both “secretly” view the NFL as competition. The cost to bring the NFL back is so high for all parties (city, developers, team) that there’s a legitimate doubt as to whether it will happen. Meanwhile the Angels have only flourished in a baseball-remodeled stadium made possible by the Rams’ exodus, and the Dodgers have continued to gain in value regardless of the quality of ownership involved.
Which of those cities are football towns, and which are baseball towns? Oakland had the Raiders before the A’s, and attendance trends point to it being a football-first market. Baltimore isn’t big enough to be a four-sport town like Philadelphia, Boston, or New York City. Historically, Baltimore ignores hockey and its experiment with the NBA Bullets failed. Continued success of the Orioles kept attendance in the top half of the American League, until right around the time the Ravens started playing at a neighboring stadium in the Inner Harbor. While the situation is too complex to blame the O’s downturn specifically on football, there is an argument to be made that a smaller media market’s attention is finite, so locals turned their attention to a fresh, exciting Ravens team as post-Cal Ripken, Jr. era began. St. Louis and Houston both suffered from apathy, though Houston was certainly a better football market. If St. Louis is a baseball town, is Houston a football town? Within Texas, the Oilers were always overshadowed by the Cowboys, and the Oilers’ annual bridesmaid status made it hard to stick with the team when the times got tough. Cleveland’s a unique case in that it hasn’t won anything since 1964, a psychologically crushing phenomenon that I can only be thankful I never had to experience. Like Baltimore, it can be considered at the very least a true two-sport town, with basketball providing a winter diversion.
Winning played a major factor in building up the support necessary to build new venues for the baseball Cardinals and the Orioles. The Astros and Indians were both part of large-scale downtown redevelopment efforts. That leaves the A’s, who can’t be classified in either category. When East Bay civic leaders put together the resources to build the Coliseum complex nearly 50 years ago, the idea was to put Oakland on the map, an effort that mostly succeeded. Now that Oakland is struggling to retain its teams, it once again has to decide how much resources to use to maintain its sports town status. Even then it’s not clear just what kind of sports town Oakland is. That may seem like an academic question, but it’s important as those finite resources will be devoted to some effort. If more people feel it’s necessary to keep the Raiders than the A’s or vice-versa, they’ll pledge their effort to it. It’s the decision that Oakland and the East Bay doesn’t want to make. Yet it’s coming, like it or not.
Earthquakes Stadium Groundbreaking on 10/21
Prior to tonight’s Quakes-Rapids game at Buck Shaw, the Earthquakes announced that the long-awaited, oft-delayed groundbreaking will finally occur on October 21, before the home finale against the LA Galaxy.
Knowing how long the fanbase has suffered waiting for the Quakes’ permanent home to be built, the team is making the groundbreaking a big public event. They’re inviting every fan to come to the ceremony and participate, in hopes of breaking the Guinness record of 4,532 simultaneous “groundbreakers” at a similar ceremony in India. Sounds like fun. Will the Quakes have enough hard hats on hand?
Update 7:00 PM – The San Jose Earthquakes have put up a press release for the event, which will be at noon on October 21. Fans can RSVP for the ceremony here.
PSA: No baseball on the Sabbath
That weird scheduling quirk we talked about at the beginning of the year is coming up this weekend, so consider this a heads up. Thanks to some political party’s convention, the A’s-Rays series was pushed up a day, from Thursday to Saturday. Sunday is a most unusual scheduled off day.
Normally, teams going from the West Coast to the East Coast are allowed an off day to cover travel, whether they decide to leave immediately after a game (road teams) or use the off day for the transcontinental flight (often the A’s). The CBA explicitly calls for this, though every team has a number of exceptions it can use that have to be approved by the league. The A’s are one of the more hospitable WC franchises in that they prefer to have 12:15 starts on Wednesdays, the better to get a move on.
With the A’s having to fly out immediately after today’s game, there’s already a little bit of havoc. A’s beat writers Susan Slusser, Joe Stiglich, and Jane Lee had no choice but to take commercial flights before today’s game, having to deal with transfers to get to TPA. I suppose it just adds a little more flavor to a week of upheaval (Weeks’ demotion yesterday, Colon’s PED suspension today).
As for the event kicking our elephants out of Tropicana Field for another set of elephants, it’s not specifically part of the convention, which will take place at Tampa’s St. Petersburg Times Forum starting on Monday. Instead it’s a welcome party for delegates at the Trop. Whoop-dee-freaking-doo. The Rays are in the middle of a homestand, so no pain on their part.
Apologies in advance to those who observe the Sabbath on Saturday, or who don’t celebrate any Sabbath at all. Oh who am I kidding? Even Sabbath celebrates baseball!
I want to go to there
So there I was lying on the Coliseum grass, just beyond the infield rim where Jemile Weeks normally mans 2B. The fog had invaded, covering up any stars. I saw closeup how well Clay Wood and his staff covered up all of the evidence of a football game just five days prior. Temperatures had dipped below 60 and the breezes were starting to kick up. At least a thousand fellow A’s fans were assembled on the field, most with blankets, some clutching cups of coffee. It was 10 o’clock, and we were waiting for Moneyball.
The movie itself was introduced by Scott Hatteberg, and just as we did in the pregame ceremony several hours earlier, we cheered players as they were announced or as they appeared on the smallish portable screen. Sound bounced off the still concrete bowl, creating an eerie, unintended echo effect. The stadium lights darkened, and for a moment everything was still, everything was perfect.
I’ve probably seen Moneyball seven or eight times now (three in theaters plus I own a Blu-ray combo pack), so the movie itself wasn’t the attraction. I didn’t go to the red carpet premiere at the Paramount, so this was as much about community as anything else. Yet I distanced myself from people and stayed way back, in an open spot as close to the cordoned off infield as possible. Every so often I would stand up and look back at the old seating bowl, where the safety lights were on and the media had cleared out of the press boxes. For better or worse, this is my second home, I said to myself.
As the movie ended, I gathered all of my things and, mindful of how long I had been there and how emotional the day was, felt absolutely exhausted. Many friends who I had seen in the Coliseum had left long ago. In light and in darkness Mount Davis stood, impressive in scale and magnitude. For once I didn’t hate the edifice. It was just sitting there, alone and somewhat forlorn, no lights on. As I started to walk toward the stairs I thought to myself, I wish one of those suites was my apartment so that I could head up there and go to sleep instead of driving home.
If I had the money and someone built it, I’d live in an apartment or condo overlooking an A’s ballpark. Not one with a postage stamp sized view like in San Diego, detached from the action. A place that was as far as the upper Mt. Davis suites are now, with a balcony. I could wake up, observe the grass get cut and the mound manicured over a cup of Aeropressed coffee. Watch as tour groups came through and wave to them in my robe smoking jacket. Head downstairs, where there would probably be some retail component, for a sandwich or pastry. And watch the game from the balcony, or head down to one of the field box seats that were mandatory to buy with the apartment lease or condo purchase.
None of this is possible at the Coliseum, of course, for myriad reasons. The Raiders need those suites to be used as suites. Mt. Davis was never built with this kind of mixed use in mind. It’s something I can still dream about at a new ballpark. Given the cost of developing a park these days, it’s not a bad way to help with the financing. Follow me on this.
When NASCAR was at its peak before the crash, several tracks built condo complexes that overlooked the action. Most often, it was rich racing aficionados who bought up the units, forgoing an RV weekend in the paddock for an pied-à-terre above the track. To me that sounds crazy, considering that most tracks will get one or two races a year plus various minor events. It doesn’t compare with 81-82 games plus concerts and whatever else the team can attract to a stadium. Yet the closest thing to a residential component we’ve ever seen is the hotel at Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome), now a Marriott Renaissance property. Lew Wolff once had an interest in it, so he should know quite well how it’s run.
If someone were to experiment with this kind of feature, one can’t expect a big, 400-foot long apartment building with 200 units facing the ballpark. There’d probably be a “boutique” style building with no more than 40 units, 20 facing the ballpark, 6 stories tall, roof deck with a pool on top. How would they be sold? Upfront as condos with high HOA dues, or extremely expensive apartments? Maybe fans who aren’t one-percenters could enter a lottery for one or two units, or perhaps for a year-long lease. 25 years ago the apartments on Waveland and Sheffield outside Wrigley Field could be rented by an average family. Now they’re all corporate suites, better than the ones inside the park. In either condo or apartment form the units could provide a not-small financing piece, up to $30 million towards the ballpark’s total construction cost after factoring in overhead. That’s about as much as anyone could expect from a seat license sale, and it wouldn’t come with the uncertainty or negative vibe associated with PSLs.
Taken as part of the growing number of luxury options, these could be considered as either complementary or competitive with regular suites. The biggest difference would be the view and the access, since suites are not normally available 24/7 the way a housing unit has to be. One could even see a player or two take advantage of the convenience, though he’d have to make sure his curtains are drawn at the proper moments. That is, unless he likes the attention.
The other kind of walkoff
The A’s made hay in July via a series of walkoff wins. It’s fitting that the team is capitalizing on a phenomenon coined by former Athletic Dennis Eckersley, almost karmic (I’d rather have won the ’88 WS). The A’s soccer brethren, the Earthquakes, have also gotten into the act, stringing together several winning and tying goals in the waning moments of numerous games this season. Let’s just say that the organization is no stranger to theatrics.
That comes in stark contrast to the neverending ballpark struggle, which has entered its 41st month according to our counter, but really has gone on for more than twice that long if you count back to when the Wolff/Fisher group took ownership. And if you believe Jayson Stark’s take coming out of the owners meetings this week, there’s no end in sight:
For about the 78th consecutive meeting of baseball’s problem-solving owners, there was no resolution this week of the A’s-Giants standoff. But if it wasn’t clear before now, it’s more obvious than ever that, in the words of one baseball official, that moving the A’s to San Jose is, most likely, “never going to happen.”
One sports attorney who has looked into this told Rumblings that the Giants have “a hell of a case” — centered around a document signed by the commissioner defining their territorial rights to include San Jose. And that’s critical, because any move by the A’s, or by the sport, to ignore or override those territorial rights could open a messy can of larvae for baseball.
How? Well, if the Giants’ territorial rights were suddenly deemed to no longer apply, it could set a precedent that might inspire some other team to attempt to move to New York or Southern California, by arguing the territorial rights of the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Angels were no longer valid, either.
So if the A’s aren’t bound for San Jose, what is likely to happen to them? Behind the scenes, baseball people are predicting they’ll eventually have to give up on this battle and settle for a new, Pittsburgh-size park in Oakland — and then do their best to beat up on the Giants in interleague play.
Stark didn’t articulate how this ballpark would be paid for. It’s a legitimate question. Oakland isn’t alone here. Field of Schemes’ Neil deMause pointed out in a recent Slate article that Seattle is facing the same dilemma.
Stanford economist Roger Noll pegs the operating profits of a typical arena at somewhere between $20 and $30 million a year. That could be enough—barely—to pay off $400 million or so in arena debt. But then Hansen and his as-yet-unnamed investors will still need to put down a huge amount of money to purchase an NBA franchise to play there. If every penny of revenue is going to pay off construction debts, that will leave nothing to offer his moneymen as return on their investment. “The gross revenues of an NBA team in Seattle could not possibly be sufficient,” says Noll, to cover the costs of both building an arena and buying a team.
Replace Seattle with Oakland and “NBA team” with “Athletics” and you have the first half of our local quandary. The crux of the argument to keep the A’s in Oakland is that some sugar daddy ownership group (Don Knauss & Co.) will swoop in, buy the A’s from Wolff/Fisher ($500 million) and pay for a new ballpark ($500-600 million). Using deMause’s corollary, which we’ve espoused here repeatedly, how does this new ownership make money, or even prevent themselves from being buried in debt? Even in San Jose a $500 million ballpark will require tons of upfront commitments to ensure that Wolff/Fisher aren’t leveraged to the hilt.
Moreover, this ongoing stalemate does no one any favors except the Giants, who must love the status quo – except for that pesky drug suspension thing. If the other big market teams are truly afraid of breaking precedent, then the naysayers are right, there is no way to San Jose. We’ve never heard anything directly from any owner to confirm this, so it’s just more grist for the mill. Funny thing is that there are protections in the Major League Constitution to keep the two-team markets safe. From Doug Pappas’ old article dissection the Major League Rules (emphasis mine):
Under Rule 1(c), either league can move into a territory belonging to a club in the other league, so long as (a) 3/4 of the affected league’s teams consent; (b) the two parks are at least five air miles apart unless the two clubs mutually agree otherwise; (c) the newcomer pays the existing club $100,000 plus half of any previous indemnification to invade the territory; and (d) the move leaves no more than two clubs in the territory. This provision dates to late 1960, when it was adopted to establish the terms for the expansion Los Angeles Angels to play in the territory claimed by the Dodgers in 1958.
That leaves Boston and Philadelphia as the only “vulnerable” markets, and any move to either city would face just as many political and logistical obstacles as the A’s face going to San Jose, if not more. Even with that technicality out of the way, the big market owners may be looking at T-rights as sacrosanct and untouchable, nevermind the actual language.
Bringing us back to Stark’s blurb, what can Wolff do? He seems content to play the nice guy role among the owners and not push the matter. If the Giants are lined up looking to sue, the A’s can do the same. San Jose is putting together its own legal resources should a decision come down not in their favor. But there is one maneuver, one trump card that Wolff can play that we’ve only skirted around, and it’s fairly simple.
Wolff could refuse to negotiate a Coliseum lease extension.
Fitting that this last bit of “inaction” could finally force action. It worked for the Minnesota Vikings. It most certainly won’t get the kind of results Zygi Wilf got (a publicly financed stadium), but it would at least force the powers that be to act. It would absolutely burn the last bridge Wolff had with Oakland and would be the worst PR move ever on top of many other missteps, but as we’ve seen in the Vikings’ case, it’s practically standard operating procedure for owners looking to get new stadia. Oakland pols have bragged that the A’s have nowhere to play besides the Coliseum. Do they really want to make that bluff?
Wolff’s refusal would create a nightmare for MLB. MLB could proceed one of two ways, either A) rule once and for all on the T-rights matter and let the franchise move forward, or B) try to assume control of the A’s by alleging that Wolff was not acting as a proper caretaker of the franchise in the market. The A’s can’t be contracted through the rest of the current CBA. Two teams would have to be contracted as a matter of practice and the Rays are locked into their lease, making contraction impossible in the near term. If MLB rules for the Giants, then at least Wolff would be able to decide if he wants to build in Fremont or give up completely and sell the team. And if MLB rules for the A’s, then Wolff will have gotten what he wanted, although he had to be a dick to Selig and the Lodge to make it happen, and Selig would have to deal with the Giants’ legal onslaught.
Selig could try to buy Wolff’s silence by subsidizing an East Bay stadium (also unprecedented) or having the other owners buy out the Wolff/Fisher group, which won’t be cheap. Wolff/Fisher are in a strong position in that they don’t have to sell, at any price if they don’t like.
Now, if MLB were to try to wrest control of the A’s from Wolff, the league would land in litigation hell. Wolff could easily point to Selig’s committee’s 41 months with no plan or decision, and it would drag out for a long time. Unlike the McCourt-Dodgers fiasco, the Wolff/Fisher group are more than solvent (underneath it all A’s ownership is the 4th richest in baseball). T-rights would finally be dragged out into the open, in court. Meanwhile, MLB would have to step in and negotiate lease terms with Oakland/Alameda County for some unknown period. They can’t go around Wolff to negotiate a lease while he’s still the franchise’s control person, since he still has to sign on the line which is dotted. MLB can’t get an injunction on Wolff not doing something. Can they force him to negotiate a lease? We’ll see. Beyond the Bay Area, there will be at least one mayor who’ll look at the ending lease and make a play for the A’s, even if the resources aren’t there. Effectively the A’s would turn into the Expos, a team in limbo for an indeterminate period.
All of that’s possible from Wolff making a simple declaration. He doesn’t have to make it now. He could wait until the end of the 2013 season if he likes. The chaos would put a great toll on the franchise and the fanbase, and you’d have to wonder if, in the end, it’s worth it. Walking away from the lease could be the first domino. At least someone would be playing. We’ve been talking about post-2013 for a while now. The closer we get to that point without a resolution, the more likely someone’s going to make a move out of desperation. Often large bureaucratic organizations don’t make moves until things reach crisis mode. If Selig wanted to end his tenure without drama, this definitely wouldn’t be a way to do it.