Wolff to fans: Sorry, East Bay stadiums didn’t work out

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff issued a public letter to fans on the team’s website on Wednesday, saying he wanted to “offer some information that I believe may be of interest to you.” The information in question: a long defense of the team’s stated desire to move out of Oakland, preferably to a new stadium in San Jose.

Wolff’s argument, once you strip out all the bits about GM Billy Beane being a “top individual in [his] profession” and how the A’s almost made it to the World Series in 2006:

  • We tried to build a new stadium in Oakland or Fremont, but that didn’t work.
  • “We fully recognize that our efforts to secure a competitive venue must be privately financed.”
  • In Oakland or Fremont, a privately financed stadium would have required “residential entitlements” — or as they’re better known, development rights to build condos. However, “under current economic conditions, the residential entitlement concept has been rendered unavailable due to the prolonged recession and sharp decline in demand for residential housing.” Translation: Nobody in their right mind wants to build condos in California right now.
  • The San Francisco Giants‘ AT&T Park is really beautiful. And (mostly) privately financed. And “within walking distance to millions of square feet of commercial office space, extensive residential accommodations and huge amounts of hotel and convention facilities.” There’s no place to build anything like that in Oakland.

The clear implication, though Wolff doesn’t explicitly mention the city by name, is that San Jose could offer room for AT&T-style development nearby. How that’d take the place of the revenue Wolff was hoping to get from condos, though, isn’t clear, since all he’d be getting would be 14 acres of land on which to build a stadium. (Also not ever specified: Why or whether the A’s would be better off financially in a new stadium, especially if they’d have to foot the construction bill themselves.)

And, of course, there’s still the question of how much money Wolff would need to pay off the Giants for invading their MLB-sanctioned “territory.” MLB commissioner Bud Selig promised this week that his blue-ribbon commission would issue its report on the matter “soon,” but he’s been saying that for a year and a half now, only strengthening speculation that the report won’t come out until the Giants and A’s have agreed on a price.

Selig did, at least, say that the threat of folding the A’s (or the Tampa Bay Rays, if their stadium campaign falls through) is off the table, saying “we have moved past” the threat of contraction. The threat of relocation, though, is always in play.

24 comments on “Wolff to fans: Sorry, East Bay stadiums didn’t work out

  1. A’s should move to Sacramento. All they do is complain and complain about the cities and MLB not doing anything for them. Fact is they have very few fans in the Bay Area. Most are Giants fans who have a team that cares about them and the best ballpark in America.

  2. I am pretty sure that this letter was introduced back at the beginning of the season—so this is not new news….and the stat’s about fans in the bay area above are not supported by the recent polls taken in the bay area that show Silicon Valley cities pretty much evenly split between the A’s and SF.

  3. Agree with SJ A’s on this one. Despite pulling better attendance to their palace over the A’s comparative hovel, there are a large number of A’s fans in the Bay Area. As for Sacramento, it’s all well and good to say they should move there, but where do you suggest they play in Sacramento, because last I checked there is no MLB size stadium in that city either? And who will pay for the new ballpark they’d invariably need in Sac?

  4. What is it about this site that attracts the “X should move to Y” posters? I want to know how criticizing the way sports owners conduct business could translate into encouraging more franchise moves.

    Certain people just can never see the forest for the trees.

  5. Apparently it is taking awhile for Selig’s “blue ribbon commission” to read the Angelos/DC/MASN agreement.

  6. Lots of people don’t want to “get it.” About the only thing “proved” with stadiums and redevelopment is that when stadiums are built in improving neighborhoods, the neighborhoods generally continue to improve. When stadiums are built in static or declining neighborhoods, they generally continue to decline. It’s like attributing development to a shopping mall or a grocery store–they are signs of development and interest in a neighborhood, not usually the proximate cause.

    Presumably Baltimore gets more than $18m a year, with the Yanks and Sox visiting 18 times a year, and yet I wouldn’t say Baltimore is doing very well. Why wouldn’t that be?

  7. The problem with the Angeles/MASN agreement is that it’s not an exact parallel: The Orioles only had TV rights to D.C., while the Giants have full territorial rights. Two different rights structures under MLB rules.

  8. And I’m sure that wherever Wolff, Neukom, and Selig are meeting in their undisclosed location, it’s a figure that’s being much bandied about.

    The thing to keep in mind is that, no matter what anyone might wish, this isn’t fundamentally a relocation study, it’s a territorial rights sale negotiation. If there’s a figure in the middle somewhere that will make both the A’s and the Giants happy, it’ll eventually get done; if not, then it won’t.

  9. Neil,
    What you need to keep in mind is 1) geographic territories have changed in the past to accomodate team moves (Bay Area was once the territory of the Boston Red Sox pre: 1958), 2) Santa Clara County was once a shared territory of the A’s/Giants pre: 1992, 3# Santa Clara County became sole territory of Giants post 1992 because they were supposed to relocate to San Jose and 4) all other two-team markets are shared territories #NY, LA, Chi); that’s what the A’s/Lew Wolff are angling for. In short, the Giants territorial rights to SCCo./San Jose aren’t as sacrosanct as you make them out to be and will be dealt with.

  10. Sure, and if you were arguing Supreme Court precedent or something, you might have a point. The only person whose opinion matters here is Bud Selig’s (and, to some degree, that of the 30 owners who employ him), and his goal is keeping everybody happy, not deciding who has better evidence on their side.

    Whatever you think of the Giants’ claim on the South Bay, there are a bunch of other teams who would be freaked out if MLB suddenly started yanking territorial rights that it had previously granted. You and I might not mind, but we’re not the ones who sign Bud’s checks.

  11. “and his (Selig) goal is keeping everybody happy…” Getting the A’s off of revenue sharing welfare and into a new venue should do the trick! “there are a bunch of other teams who would be freaked out if MLB suddenly started yanking territorial rights that it had granted.” Where in the hell else is that going to happen Neil? The A’s and Rays are the only teams left in need of new/improved ballparks (maybe, maybe Toronto in the future); everyone else is pretty much set in their territories. Yeah, we can talk about a possible Rays move to N. New Jersey and the Mets/Yankees, but that is very farfetched and would require a massive windfall for both teams. Again, the A’s are already in the Bay Area, market/broadcast into Santa Clara County and (again) once had duel claim to what’s now Giants “territory.” Neil, you really need to get a map of the Bay Area and check out where exactly San Jose is in relation to SF/Oak.

  12. Actually, I was just looking at a map of the Bay Area to plan a trip south to Monterey on my upcoming visit to San Francisco. So I am extremely aware of just where San Jose is relative to Oakland and SF.

    Again, you’re talking geographic sense, but this isn’t about that — it’s about horse-trading, and owners wanting to defend their own turf. Go read “Lords of the Realm” by John Helyar if you want to get a sense of how blinkered MLB owners can be when it comes to decisions that potentially affect their money. And Selig is not a “I’m gonna knock you guys’ heads together” commissioner, he’s someone who prefers to work behind closed doors for consensus.

    As for “getting the A’s off of revenue sharing welfare,” do you really think that moving the A’s to San Jose would be anything other than zero-sum in terms of overall Bay Area baseball revenue? It seems odd to argue that the A’s would suddenly be a major revenue earner, but that it wouldn’t hurt the Giants at all — would new Bay Area baseball fans be generated spontaneously out of thin air? Or do you think there are lots of South Bay residents who don’t go to baseball at all now because they can’t be bothered to drive up 280 or 880?

    If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s better than 50/50 that eventually a deal will get done here. But the fact that it’s taking so long makes me suspect that the finances aren’t as great as you suggest — this isn’t a matter of deciding how to divvy up a windfall, it’s a matter of trying to make everybody happy mostly by shuffling around money that already exists. And how you do that and have enough left over to build a stadium and increase the A’s payroll is going to be a very tricky question.

  13. Neil,
    It’s obvious we could be going back and forth on this till Kingdom Come; but I’ll end my thoughts with this post. Despite being unfairly gerrymanered, the Bay Area is in reality one huge market of nearly 8 million people. And the A’s already exist in the market; this isn’t a team relocating thousands of miles from Canada. A’s fans already exist in the Bay Area as well, including San Jose area; no need for fans to “be generated spontaneously out of this air.” Hard-core Giants fans from San Jose (I talk to them all the time) support SJ having a MLB team (a civic pride issue) but won’t change their allegiances; it doesn’t work that way with fans. Recent survey by Silicon Valley Leadership Group showed that 75% of Silicon Valley corporations didn’t do any business with the SF Giants; A’s move to SJ would hurt Giants financially? No! Lastly Neil, you appear to be against the greed of sports owners and the bilking of public funds for stadiums, yet seem to support the greedy/selfish position of a one Bill Neukom and his Giants…why?

  14. I’m not supporting Neukom in the territorial dispute — just pointing out that he’s not going to give up something that he sees as his without a fight. This is a realpolitik assessment, not a moral argument.

    I’m still confused, though, as to how you can argue that moving the A’s to San Jose wouldn’t cost the Giants any fans, but would result in huge new revenues for the A’s. That would require a large overall increase in baseball spending in the “one huge market” that is the Bay Area, and I’m not seeing where it would come from.

  15. LA, NY, and CHI are all shared territories the fact the Bay Area isn’t doesn’t make sense at all. The Giants claim San Jose; a city much larger then their own as their own? Plus it is 40 miles further away then Oakland is.

    The reason why the Giants so staunchly defend Santa Clara County is because if the A’s move to San Jose the Giants worst nightmare would come true….Be on equal footing once again as the A’s.

    In years past when both teams were on equal footing the A’s consistently dominated the Giants at the box office and on the field. The last 10 years the Giants get great attendance because of ATT park but if you see on field performance it is not even close.

    Giants- 52 years, 8 playoff berths, 0 titles
    A’s 42 years, 16 playoff berths, 4 titles.

    The Giants hate this and even though the A’s showed sympathy to them years ago by letting them try to move Santa Clara County the Giants in return are just being “haters” to them. The A’s should have driven them out of the Bay Area years ago if they had known this would happen to them.

    San Jose is the largest city in the Bay Area by far and has the most # of corporations and the highest income per capita for a large city in the country. That means $$$ all day long and a payroll that would top the Giants even with debt payments for a new place and putting $$ into revenue sharing.

    Santa Clara County is an untapped gold mine as why do you think the SF 49ers are trying to move there as well?

    As for why this is taking so long with MLB. Selig needs to make sure on everything before setting a precedent. He has to be as detailed as possible so the other owners see San Jose is the only way.

    If you read Selig’s comments on how this will affect “two franchises” it gives away that San Jose is where the A’s are headed as if Oakland/Fremont had a legit site right now the MLB committee would be working with that city and Lew Wolff right now….Makes sense.

    The Giants will not be compensated any money as their rights to San Jose will become shared once the owners vote to change the territorial rights in the Bay Area to one “large shared territory” like NY, CHI, and LA.

    The A’s will put money into revenue sharing while the Giants will put less money into revenue sharing thus saving them $$ every year as compensation.

    The longer this draws out the more it favors San Jose as if there was a East Bay location why would this take so long??

    San Jose A’s in 2014.

  16. @Neil

    I live in San Jose and let me say that going to SF or Oak for baseball sucks and I am a big fan of both teams and never go because it is too far away.

    If San Jose got a team I would get season tickets as Downtown San Jose is a milk run for people in Santa Clara County.

    That is where the A’s will make their coin…Convenience and the high income per captia. A lot of people with disposable income out here. The Giants know this and are acting like little kids crying to Daddy.

    The Sharks this season are out drawing the A’s and it is HOCKEY. 32,000 for a baseball game will be no problem as the city has great fans as evidenced by the Sharks.

    The Giants are scared of having competition in the market again. Even though they have the #1 ballpark in all of the MLB as rated by Forbes.com. What bitches…

  17. From a casual A’s fan who lives in Monterey County:

    If I were Lew Wolffe, I would concede that it may be too difficult to privately finance a second ballpark in the Bay Area, even before consideration of the territorial rights issue.

    If I were Wolffe, I would consider moving to Vancouver, BC. There is probably enough money there to pay for a new stadium privately, at least partially.

  18. I live in Oakland, and while I do go to a few games each year, I have no interest in driving as far as SJ for a game. Their move probably picks up some fans in the south bay, but loses many who live in Oakland, and towns north and east for whom the drive will be even worse. So while you could think of the bay area as one big market, geographic realities say otherwise.

  19. Neil:

    Let me echo SJA’s comment about the dating/provenance of the letter. It sure seems like it was written from the perspective of early 2010 (although, heck, aside from the grafs on the ’08 rebuild decision and the ’09 retrenching, the entire rest of the letter could have been [and, I suspect, was] written 3 years ago). There’s no date on the letter itself, nor any date in the source code that I can see.

    Are you sure it was actually *posted* Wednesday, or did you just run across it Wednesday?

  20. I got the “posted Wednesday” from Baseball Oakland:


    You’re right, though, that “very pleased with the team” line does sound odd. Let me see if I can get clarification from the team.

  21. There really is no comparison between San Jose and Oakland as cities. San Jose dwarfs Oakland in every category possible.

    Oakland fans haven’t come out for their team since before Raiders came back. Even when the A’s made the playoffs in the early part of this decade they only averages 25,000 fans or so..MAX.

    Moving to San Jose may cost the A’s fans in the East Bay but they will gain a new base of fans in the South Bay who are craving for a team.

    Also fans from Contra Costa County/East Alameda County (San Ramon, Danville, Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton) will be able to go opposite of traffic on the expanded 4-5 lane 680 South all the way to Downtown San Jose to catch a game.

    Right now it is more of a pain for these people to get to Oakland for a night game than San Jose. As the flow of traffic makes it tough to get to Oakland but easy to get to San Jose.

    It is a good move all around for the A’s to be in San Jose. A new wealthy fan base in a downtown location with some of the old fan base still involved.

  22. Ah, interesting. Thanks for the clarification, Neil. I hadn’t visited BaseballOakland in a couple weeks.

    We’re having a little discussion about the letter here:

    My guess is that the letter probably dates from early in the season, or was inadvertently posted on Wednesday. If it *is* recent *and* intentional, though, it sure feels to me like a first-shoe-drop sort of thing, with some other announcement/news to follow shortly.