Wolff: Selig should okay San Jose A’s move “for good of baseball”

Athletics Nation has posted a long threepart interview with Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff on multiple issues, including his new stadium plans. Among the highlights:

  • Asked when a decision will be reached by MLB’s relocation commission, Wolff sounded frustrated, as always: “I wish I could give you a finite answer on that. There is actually no reason in the world that any of us can come up with that either the Giants or the baseball Commissioner should not approve us to move 50/60 miles away to San Jose so A’s can get a new ballpark. The Commissioner … is not the kind of person, for reasons that I don’t know even though we are very close, that gives you a firm date on anything until he is absolutely ready to do so. So I feel embarrassed that I can’t answer the question to say, ‘By the end of November…’ but I can’t.”
  • Wolff hinted that he hasn’t been directly negotiating a territorial rights buyout with the Giants, saying, “I haven’t heard much from the Giants either, not that they need to,” and adding: “So this really boils down to the commissioner deciding, which he has the power to do, whether or not he will grant our request to share the Bay Area two-team market as the other three two-team markets in MLB all do.” He also reiterated several times that the former A’s owners handed over San Jose rights to the Giants for nothing “for the good of baseball,” and that handing them back to the A’s would likewise be for the good of baseball. Reading between the lines, this appears to be: “We’re not going to haggle over the price, so it’s up to Bud to force an agreement down the Giants’ throats”; given Selig’s proclivities for avoiding internecine conflict, good luck with that one.
  • Wolff ruled out staying in a new stadium in Oakland, insisting: “We have exhausted every option in Oakland. And you’d think within the last two years that somebody from Oakland would pick up the phone and say ‘here’s a finite plan that you missed and that we wish to discuss with you.’ I haven’t heard one word.” As if in answer, yesterday the Bay Citizen profiled plans continuing for Oakland stadium proposals by Jack London Square and near Lake Merritt Channel — whether you consider them viable options or not, they are “finite plans.”
  • He reiterated the “nobody wants to play on our grass” argument, asserting: “We have lost players in past years who would rather take a bit less money and play in a modern venue in a stronger market,” and citing Rafael Furcal and Adrian Beltre as specific examples. (Though in Beltre’s case, at least, indications are that he signed with Boston mostly to play in a pennant race and juice his batting numbers to earn a better subsequent contract in free agency.)
  • “We are, I believe, the only team in baseball to share our ballpark with another professional sports team.” When the interviewer points out the Florida Marlins, Wolff replies, “No, I think they just play there by themselves. I think it is a football stadium, but they play there without a team there.” That stadium would be the facility until recently known as “Dolphins Stadium,” where the Miami Dolphins play — they may be going through a rough patch, but “unprofessional” is kind of harsh.
  • On moving the team if San Jose falls through: “John Fisher and I don’t want to own a team outside of the Bay Area or outside of California. So if the Commissioner says to us, ‘Sorry I can’t do anything for you.’ Then I don’t know what we’ll do. We have not measured those options.” Wolff also reiterated the claim that he’s “never once threatened a move to another city,” though that hasn’t stopped his media proxies from doing so on his behalf.

In related news, Wolff told the San Jose Mercury News that he can have a San Jose Earthquakes stadium built by 2012, or maybe 2013, once he actually starts building one, if he does. “We’re taking every step toward a building permit that we can,” he said. “I don’t want to overdo it. These are very difficult times.” In other words, don’t hold you breath there, either.


19 comments on “Wolff: Selig should okay San Jose A’s move “for good of baseball”

  1. Regarding the Earthquakes Neil, if you read the next line he actually broaches the subject of paying for the remaining funding for the stadium out of pocket.

  2. You mean the bit about “we need the stadium under way before getting sponsorship where we want it”? I took that to mean “We can’t wait for ad sales to pick up, because nobody’s going to buy ads at a nonexistent stadium.” Unless there’s more to the interview somewhere else, though, Wolff still didn’t commit to putting shovels in the ground any particular time.

  3. Well as he said, they’re waiting on the permits being approved. But this is the first time he’s put an end date on the Quakes stadium construction. Based on the simplicity of the design they could potentially get it built in a year’s time.

  4. I didn’t take “these are very difficult times” as a commentary on the slowness of the permit process. But I guess we’ll see what happens.

  5. the City of Oakland Planning Commission will discuss the Victory Court ballpark plan on December 1. It’s a public meeting, and will be held in Meeting Room 1 of Oakland City Hall. Those interested in details of the meeting agenda will find it here:
    www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca/groups/ceda/documents/agenda/oak023324.pdf

  6. Neil, I’m sure Wolff would “like” to have his new Quakes stadium asap. But even though he has said “no later than 2013”, he has left the ‘or else’ largely unstated – just as with the A’s. That’s not finality in my book.

    The 3,000 season ticket holders is probably not a significant stumbling block, as soccer in a baseball stadium really doesn’t work. Once a better facility is built and the experience for fans improves, I would expect that number to increase significantly.

    Whether a new 15,000 seat stadium will make his MLS club economical is another matter. While MLS clubs have been selling for impressive prices in recent years, I notice no-one has been queueing to buy one for a couple of years now. With a couple of exceptions, they’ve never been particularly good businesses to run.

    His focus, as you say, seems to be on getting to building permit approval stage. That is a long way from a completed deal.

    As for the A’s… well, that’s a whole other story…

  7. Would someone explain to me, again, why the A’s need a new stadium? Because people won’t go watch a bad team play in the old one?
    As recently as 2003, the A’s aveaged over 27,000 per game, in a year where the Giants were a full sellout (5.48 million attendance for both teams). Now, the A’s want to build a stadium for, at most, 5,000 more fans per game?
    Mr. Wolff, donate some money towards improving road access into the Coliseum area, and spend some money on the players. Downtown San Jose will not draw fans the way the San Francisco waterfront does, and the corporate money is gone no matter where they play.

  8. After today’s announcement that Comrade Jean Quan of the North Korean Communist Party has become Mayor of Oakland, you can bet that the moving vans for both the A’s & Raiders will be backed up for the trip out of town, as soon as their leases are up. The problem for the A’s is instead of Dionne Warwick singing “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”. It might be “Eve Of Destruction” (Heading for consolidation).

  9. John, there was no “or else” implied in that statement by Wolff. You’re reading things into his statements that just aren’t there. Remember with the Quakes stadium there is nothing holding him up other than himself, he’s got the permit requests in (he’s waiting on their final approval not to submit them. They already have prelim approval.), has the options on the land, owns the territory, owns the team.

    As for MLS franchises, not sure where you get your info, but people have been lining up for them for several years now. Franchise 19 was just bought up by Saputo up in Montreal earlier this year. And the year before the franchises in Vancouver and Portland were purchased. And word is that the Mets and a second group are planning to buy Franchise 20 in New York City in the coming year. They’re selling like hotcakes and the last 4 new franchises, Toronto, Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland have all proven very popular and profitable with fanatical followings and large season ticket rolls. What people forget (and I think Wolff underestimated) with the Quakes is that they are not an expansion team. They were a deactivated franchise whose fan base had been significantly ripped apart by the move of the 2005 players and coaches to Houston. It’s going to take a new stadium with more than wood benches and porta potties to bring the fans back, and it appears Wolff finally gets that.

  10. Nothing holding him up except himself, and his desire not to lose his shirt on the deal. Presumably if Wolff thought a stadium would pay its own way, he would have built one by now.

    I expect a Quakes stadium will eventually get built, but I do find it curious that Wolff is forever proposing stadium plans where the financing comes down to “don’t worry yourself over that, now.” At this point, I’ll believe him when I see one actually get built.

  11. Dan;

    Of course there is… anytime an owner says “no later than” there is an or else. The only reason Wolff did not state what it is is that he has no backup plan (for the Quakes or the A’s, really).

    If you think otherwise, tell me who will buy either club and where they will move them.

    Wolff has “got” the need for a new stadium since before he bought the moribund franchise from the league. That was pushing five years ago, and still no stadium. Lots of nice drawings, but no stadium and nothing firm on how he will pay for it (his ‘sponsorship’ plan can never pay for the entire thing… even a Wolff devotee like you has to admit that much).

    The Saputo family has been courting MLS (off and on) since the league started. Their entry last spring has more to do with someone else paying much of the necessary cost than MLS’ economic base.

    Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto and potentially RBNY are solid franchises. The others mostly lose money (some lose very significant amounts). You have included two “profitable and popular” franchises that don’t exist yet in your list of four successes. Want to talk about the support & popularity of KC, Dallas, or Colorado? No, how about New England, Columbus or Chivas USA? Barring the Crew, these clubs play in front of family and friends most of the time.

    MLS franchises aren’t selling “like hotcakes”, Dan. 2-5 years ago (in an era of free money and mostly free stadia), some very wealthy people put down money on them (though many did not pay the full advertised fee). But not now.

    A second NY team is a possibility (you know Wilpon invested w Bernie Madoff, right?), but no more than that (who pays the fee, who pays for the stadium?) The second group is headed by a guy who you really should do some background research on… not sure they’ll make the finish line.

    Assuming one does, what happens after 20? Can you list the next four franchises to be sold? Even two? As much as I like MLS, it has tapped it’s good markets. The only available markets left are average at best. Some of it’s current markets probably aren’t sustainable either.

  12. John, statements like “they play in front of family and friends” and “the franchise he bought 5 years ago” prove you know nothing about the Earthquakes or MLS. Wolff exercised his option to buy the Earthquakes in summer 2007. I’m no math wiz, but that’s not 5 years ago. Second, MLS concluded their second best attended on average season after their opening year so either these people have a ton of friends and family or you are just wrong. They’re currently on average playing in front of crowds that would give the NHL and NBA a run for their money. You also freely admit Saputo has been trying to get an MLS team for years, I thought no one was lining up for teams? Which is it?

    MLS is no longer the tiny little league you seem to remember. Want to talk about KC, sure. They’ve been selling out the little band box they’ve been playing in and are moving into a new stadium next year, more popular than ever now that they have a real owner (who by the way lined up to get them from the Hunts last year). Want to talk about Columbus, sure. They’ve just completed a year in which they had nearly 20k on average attendance. And yes some of their successes haven’t even played a game yet. Portland and Vancouver’s season ticket rolls are nearly sold out already building on the base the original teams created. You also chose to ignore the success that was given to Houston when the original Earthquakes moved. You also chose to ignore the success NY has found with their new stadium and new star power.

    And yes, New England isn’t tearing it up financially or attendance wise, but they’re a subsidized entity living off of the Patriot’s teat. And Dallas may not have much in the way of fans but owning their own stadium they’ve actually been operating in the black for a number of years and were the second team to do so after LA.

    The only real struggling franchise is DC. And their troubles are because of the terrible stadium situation at RFK and a terrible team.

    As for what happens after 20, that’s up for debate. FIFA doesn’t like Tier 1 leagues to have more than 18 teams generally, however the also recognize that America is a hell of alot bigger than most countries they govern. The league has stated they’d like to go as high as 24. Where those teams go will come down to where the potential owners put together a stadium plan and the cash to buy in and where it makes sense to strategically put teams. But there are interested groups in several cities including San Diego, Atlanta, St. Louis, Ottawa. What it will come down to is if they can get their finances in order and if they can build or acquire rights to play at a stadium.

  13. How long have you worked for Lew Wolff, Dan?

    Mr. Wolff was in negotiations with MLS to buy the Earthquakes name/record in mid 2006. He and his partner signed an option to do so that year, and exercised same a year on. It is now late 2010. Clearly you aren’t a math whiz, as that is approximately 4ÔøΩ years.

    You should really read posts before you answer them. You might misquote people less often if you bothered to do that. Pretty much every rebuttal you offer is to something I didn’t actually say. Clearly you are better at arguing with yourself than debating someone else.

    Finally, if you think DC is the only struggling franchise, you must work in the league PR department, not for LW… Dream on.

  14. Guys, this is walking the line between criticizing each other’s arguments and just name-calling. Please tone it down – it’s an interesting topic of debate, and I’d have to have to call an end to it for hitting below the belt.

  15. Paul, you base that one what? Wolff has said he won’t go to the taxpayers for the stadiums, and indeed it wouldn’t work. The Giants found that out in the 90’s.

  16. Ironic that the guy who is proposing to privately finance a soccer stadium and ballpark is trashed by the guys who are supposedly promoting only private investment in ballparks and stadium….as my kids would say…”riddle me that”—once MLB gets off its rear and establishes the bay area as a shared territory like all the others we will see what he is capable of doing at that point–and if he doesn’t deliver than berat him…

  17. @David Brown I take offense to you calling Jean Quan of the North Korean Communist party with that statement of yours. For one thing Jean Quan is not of Korean ancestry. Jean Quan is in support of keep the A’s in town and is for the Victory Court plan.

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