If A’s are denied San Jose move, could Wolff force MLB’s hand by refusing to sign Oakland lease?

Jayson Stark, the veteran ESPN sportswriter who actually reports from inside MLB’s collective colon, wrote on Friday that “one baseball official” reports that an Oakland A’s move to San Jose is most likely “never going to happen,” thanks to what “one sports attorney” calls “a hell of a case” that the San Francisco Giants have on territorial rights. As a result, says Stark, “baseball people” say that A’s owner Lew Wolff will ultimately have to settle for a new under-40,000-seat stadium in Oakland.

Which is certainly possible, and Oakland has plenty of stadium site proposals to choose from. But then you still have the problem of who’s going to pay for it. (Wolff has been hoping to finance a San Jose stadium with the proceeds from entering the more lucrative South Bay market, but obviously moving from one part of Oakland to another doesn’t have the same benefit.)

Newballpark.org, meanwhile, always willing to follow speculation to its logical conclusion, notes that Wolff would still have “one trump card” to play:

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.

Option B would be difficult and expensive, notes Newballpark.org editor Marine Layer, since Wolff’s group would still have plenty of money — just no place to play after 2013. And Option A is what MLB commissioner Bud Selig is trying to avoid at all costs, since he’s still hoping that somehow the A’s and Giants owners will work something out — though you have to wonder whether if Wolff genuinely uses the nuclear option, Selig would be pissed enough to just rule in favor of the Giants and tell his old frat buddy to lump it.

All in all, it doesn’t seem a threat that Wolff is very likely to carry out: Even the Florida Marlins owners, who never met a threat they didn’t like, didn’t get too serious about their warnings that they’d be homeless if they didn’t get a new stadium by the time their lease wound up. They did hint it to the media a fair bit, though, so don’t be surprised if you hear Wolff muttering darkly about how “we don’t know where we’ll be after 2013” — or at least, the sports media doing his muttering for him.

26 comments on “If A’s are denied San Jose move, could Wolff force MLB’s hand by refusing to sign Oakland lease?

  1. Developer Rick Tripp ( the runner up to finance the Sacramento Kings new stadium that fell through and a player in financing the Oakland Raiders new stadium) , & Clorox CEO Don Knauss both have the money and would like to fiance a new stadium in Oakland for the A’s.

  2. Tripp and Knauss haven’t actually said how they’d pay for an Oakland stadium, though. And there’s a difference between “finance” or “pay for” — lots of people (and banks) would happily front the money for a new stadium if the team agreed to pay lots of rent, but if he wanted to do that Wolff could just borrow the money and build it himself.

  3. I hope that Lew Wolff calls their bluff and refuses to build a stadium in the crime-infested city of Oakland. It is intellectual and financial suicide to build a new stadium in a city that Law-Abiding, Tax-Paying Citizens of the United States are afraid to enter. Oakland is infested with Blight, Drugs, Graffiti, Murder and Lawlessness. Go to downtown Oakland at high noon on a Wednesday and you will see exactly what I mean.

    No compromise on Oakland Lew Wolff! If San Jose is not an option, then either end the Franchise or consider a city other than Oakland.

  4. Not to make light of Oakland’s murder rate, but it’s lower than in Detroit, Baltimore, or St. Louis, all cities with new downtown baseball stadiums:


  5. The main problem that Oakland faces in their half-hearted attempts to retain the Athletics is that, at its core, the political leadership in Oakland just doesn’t give a crap about the A’s. Say what you will about the leadership in San Jose, but those folks down there have made it clear to Mr. Wolff that they want him in their city, and that is something that owners typically listen to, very carefully.

    Marine Layer over on newballpark.org has been doing a terrific job of following this whole thing, but he’s also been called a shill by the Oakland-only crowd, primarily because he’s willing to point out the truth about the site challenges that Oakland faces in this. And trust me, when one of your EIR options is to build a deck over a downtown freeway and put the stadium on top of that deck (google “980 Park”), you’ve got site challenges.

  6. Why should the political leadership in Oakland care enough about the A’s to spend tax dollars on a stadium when the school district is in receivership, policing is thinning and crime worsening in the hills, and all manner of other public services are being cut? A publicly financed new stadium is a waste of money. If Lew would accept only land (which Oakland has some of which is underutilized) that’s one thing; but that’s not really what he would want (e.g. tax breaks, cash, guarantees, etc.- all of which would force cuts elsewhere).

  7. SierraSpartan, Marine Layer has said publicly that he resides in the South Bay. If that doesn’t imply some inherent South Bay bias, then I don’t know what does. He tends to paint every Oakland scheme in a dim light, and I imagine mostly for that reason. 980 was shelved long ago, and for good reason. Victory Court, Coliseum City, and now Howard Terminal are all viable options for any group willing to pony up the necessary cash. Yes, each has its own issues (all construction sites for project of this nature have issues). But with an ownership that actually wanted to make them work, any one of those sites could be deemed viable. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

    San Jose isn’t happening, that much is clear at this point. Lew needs to sell to someone who is willing to move the team forward in its current home.

  8. The Giants don’t have a “hell of a case”; that’s pure invention. MLB hasn’t found a solution that is within their rules and customs, so they are doing nothing and letting someone else create the need for decision. Litigation from the A’s and/or SJ seems to be needed. The Oakland lease could be the fig leaf MLB needs to avoid another court embarrassment.

  9. I would characterize Oakland’s interest in dealing with Wolff as being about as tepid as Wolff’s interest in staying in Oakland.

    There are many options for a new facility in Oakland (including some that would have him responsible for less money than the Fremont/SJ proposals did). However, Wolff has made it clear that he has no interest in Oakland options (which is odd, since as discussed a couple of weeks ago in this very forum, he actually owns the Oakland MLB franchise, not the Dodgers, Angels or Yankees…).

    In reaching an agreement with anyone in business, it is vitally important that you refuse to “bid against yourself”. Arguably, Oakland has already made this error in offering up different sites and finance options. Perhaps Wolff will stick to his “No Oakland” plan. Certainly the other communities he feels he can get to (incorrectly) appear to have greater earning potential for him. But he does not presently enjoy the rights to those areas.

    This reduced earning potential, of course, was reflected in the price Wolff & Fisher paid for the Athletics originally… but they don’t really feel like talking about that. It’s a terrible shame that it doesn’t work this way with automobiles… you plunk down your $11k for some shitbox, then appeal to a third party that you are encumbered through owning such a lousy car, and they instantly upgrade you to a Rolls at no cost (to you). Nice.

    If he owns the Oakland franchise and honestly cannot or will not consider any Oakland stadium options, he needs to sell. He can take the money he gets from MLB (or whomever might buy the club locally…) and buy a franchise in a better market (or just somewhere he wants to be).
    He does not enjoy the right to place his franchise wherever he likes. He purchased, and owns, the Oakland MLB franchise.

    That said, I’d love to see a court fight over who actually should “control” the rights to south bay. It’s unlikely to happen (Selig will move heaven and earth to make sure it doesn’t), but it would certainly be fun… and it would increase Wolff/Fisher’s selling price for the A’s significantly too.

    It would also be enjoyable to watch a city like San Jose or Fremont file a claim against MLB for effectively blocking their ability to at any time host an MLB team. It’s definitely the scorched earth option, but if the used car dealer has effectively ended any hope these cities might ever have of obtaining a franchise because of an internal MLB agreement neither city was party to… well, one can argue that the cities don’t have much to lose…

  10. Laszlo:
    I’m with you on that. Given the history of the Haas’ family’s agreement with the Giants, there seems at least a reasonable chance that the A’s could win a court challenge on territory.

    I just don’t think it would ever get that far. The MLB checkbooks would come out and one part or another would be compensated heavily for withdrawing their claim.

    I would imagine there is no cost too great for MLB to ensure the sanctity of their own corrupt internal laws…

  11. chadem311 said: “Marine Layer has said publicly that he resides in the South Bay. If that doesn’t imply some inherent South Bay bias, then I don’t know what does.”

    Is “inherent bias” a thing?

  12. Oakland has yet to present a single viable site. It isn’t a where there’s a will there’s a way thing… Victory Court would cost $250M before construction could even begin. Coliseum City is still under study, but Rick Tripp’s funding scheme is something he has ready pitched in both San Diego and Sacramento and was rejected in both cases. Howard Terminal was the most expensive site on HOK’s study from early 2000’s, nothing has materially changed about the site.
    For a new stadium to work, it has to be a serious boon for the A’s. So far, all that’s been proposed in Oakland are serious boondoggles that don’t pencil out.

  13. @Bladen – how much do you think preventing a court challenge to AE exemption (thus challenging T-rights in general) is worth to other teams who even care about this? It’s not like the Reds’ owners are worried another team moves to Cincinnati. So, really, it’s Boston and Philadelphia (both cities Marine Layer mentioned), the NYC teams, the Chicago teams, and the LA teams. Are the other owners willing to hand over tens of millions individually (hundreds of millions total) to settle something that only 21/30 teams care about? Maybe I’m naive, but it seems just as easy for part of the worry of other movements to be allayed by signing a contract that says specifically “[8 teams mentioned above]’s territory shall not be encroached upon by another team ever.”

  14. @john bladen–please share your insight as to the many available options in Oakland–as Jeffrey states below—there has yet to be one viable option presented in Oakland. This is after 17 years when the A’s ballpark was ruined for the return of the Raiders–who received $200M in public subsidies to ruin the A’s ballpark–

  15. @ Torres;

    I’ve no doubt that most of the owners couldn’t care less… but since MLB acts as one entity, you can bet that every owner will sign on to any action Honest Al deems necessary.

    The same was also true of the NFL, yet the league as a whole acted to try and prevent the Davis move(s). In the case of the NHL, you have a ridiculous scenario in which owners who are absolutely bleeding cash are fronting money to fight a battle to prevent a second team moving into Toronto… and simultaneously writing checks to cover the losses of sister clubs in their existing failed markets.

    Logic goes out the window in these types of situations.

  16. SJ A’s:

    There have been several “Oakland” options presented to Wolff & Fisher (going back, virtually, to the time they bought the team). Each one was a “starting position” (which is how all negotiations tend to begin, including Mr. Wolff’s). The fact that you (nice impartial screen name, by the way, I’d never guess what outcome you are rooting for!), Jeffrey and Lew Wolff refuse to even consider any site in Oakland does not make these sites non-viable.

    Had any discussion between the ownership group and the City gone beyond “F Off, we’re not staying”, there is almost certainly a deal to be made at one of them.

    That doesn’t matter to Wolff, nor in all likelihood to you. You want the club to move to San Jose. No Oakland option will even be considered. Wolff wants the higher income residents of South Bay as his new fan base.

    The problem you all have (including Wolff), is that you’d have to pay the Giants a huge amount to relinquish their apparent “rights” to south bay. A large enough check solves this problem tomorrow. No court challenge, no dallying commissioner… nothing. The Blue Ribbon Panel would evaporate in an instant if Wolff called the Giants and offered the right amount (despite what he says about waiting for their report and respecting the process….), yet he doesn’t do that. Why?

    It’s curious that none of you seem to see a $250-300m payment for that location, or the partial surrender of tv rights money thus generated to the Giants on an ongoing basis, as an impediment to a deal in the same way you view any remediation or other site prep costs for Oakland locations.

    I’ll say it again: The only reason the Oakland sites have been ruled non-viable (by the Wolff group or their representatives, including HOK/Populous) is that he has no interest in any Oakland site, no matter what deal is proposed.

    As “viable” sites go, one your franchisor rules as off limits shouldn’t be very high on the list. Strange that no-one sees San Jose as non-viable because of MLB restrictions, though…

  17. Jeffrey A said “For a new stadium to work, it has to be a serious boon for the A’s”


    Or they’ll move? Where to?

    New Jersey? Not unless he pays two current owners. Montreal? Not likely. Oakland has already offered more than Mtl ever could. San Antonio? Doubtful. Boise, Des Moines, Sacramento, Buffalo, Las Vegas?

    If Wolff wants part of a major media market, he’s going to have to pay somebody (the person who already owns it). What he wants is a richer market for free.

    As his friend Mr. Selig has no doubt already told him, you can’t own the Yankees by paying sticker price for the A’s. That’s what he wants to do.

    If he was willing to pay for the market he so keenly desires, he would already be there.

  18. @John Bladen – There’s this myth being spread that the Wolff/Fisher group got some massive discount for the A’s. That may have been true when Schott/Hofmann bought the club, but not Wolff/Fisher. The A’s were purchased for $180 million in 2005. Arte Moreno purchased the Angels for $185 million in 2003, while the Dodgers were sold in 2004 to Frank McCourt for $430 million. Now that’s a discount. Yet the Angels had full, unfettered rights to the entire LA market. What’s the disconnect there? BTW – when was the last time the Giants were sold, and for how much?

  19. Really doesn’t matter whether or not you consider the most recent price paid for the A’s to have been at a “discount”. The point made by Mr. Bladen is that they bought a particular franchise and should have no expectation that they’ll be given an upgrade by the rest of the league.

  20. Thanks, Keith. That’s exactly the point.

    Marine, I’m not sure what you mean by “Myth being spread”. If you are suggesting that there is a deliberate campaign of misinformation on that point, then I believe that you are completely incorrect.

    The issue is simply that Wolff/Fisher bought the Oakland A’s franchise. Whether they overpaid or underpaid is irrelevant. They may have purchased the A’s with the expectation they could move them to San Jose, or back to Philadelphia for that matter. But they bought the Oakland Athletics, and that is the franchise they own.

    If MLB grants permission for them to move elsewhere, then so be it. At present, though, San Jose, Fremont and the like are being thrown out as options for Wolff, when currently they are no more an option for him than moving to Manhattan is.

    As ever in the sports stadium shell game, it’s about moving the message from “why” someone should fix what Mr. Wolff perceives his problem to be to “how” it should be fixed and whom (other than Mr. Wolff) ought to pay for the solution.

  21. Lew-Lew & co. knows that the carriage trade (that isn’t tied up with the Gi-ants) in S.J. will spend more than what can be attracted in Oak.
    Larry B. & co. want to be compensated for the loss of trade, have history (A’z lack of action on regaining the territory) and the other owners on his side.
    BTW – there’s no where else to go, N. American markets that can sustain (some barely) MLB are sewn up, otherwise Lew-Lew would have used one to get what the A’z group wants.

  22. John Bladen on August 20, 2012 at 11:52 pm said:

    “If Wolff wants part of a major media market, he’s going to have to pay somebody (the person who already owns it). What he wants is a richer market for free.”

    This makes zero sense. Wolff is already part of that same major media market. He wants to move to a different part of the market; a part two counties away from and 30+ miles farther away from AT&T Park as he is now.

    As a Santa Clara County resident, I feel it’s ridiculous that the Giants can hold San Jose hostage for an extortion payoff. I say this a a paying customer of both teams who would appreciate not having to drive 65-75 miles to see baseball; especially when the 10th largest U.S. city (near me!) wants a team/ballpark, but can’t have it because somebody forgot to write a sunset clause back in the day.

  23. No matter what Nielsen says, San Jose isn’t an equally lucrative media location as Oakland. If it were, Wolff wouldn’t be so hot to move there.

  24. A few points on Oakland:

    -Oakland expects a free ballpark like San Jose is getting. How many privately financed ballparks are there in MLB? 2- ATT Park and Dodger Stadium.
    -Most cities do not have the private sector in their backyard like San Jose does to privately finance a ballpark in this post recession era. The Giants got their ballpark done during an economic boon and even they admit they would not be able to build privately at China Basin in this day and age in a very wealthy city in it’s own right in San Francisco.
    -Howard Terminal was eliminated years ago because it was too $$ in 2001. Now after bumbling at Victory Court and Coliseum City this is the site Oakland picks? Which brings me to my next point.
    -If Oakland is serious about keeping the A’s at Howard Terminal they need to pony up $$ for land preparations, site cleanup (Howard Terminal is contaminated from being so close to an old naval shipyard), port relocation, parking garages, EIR, and pedestrian crossings….perhaps a few other things as well.
    -Then they need to publicly finance 50% of the ballpark with a straight public subsidy as they did with the Raiders and Warriors in the 1990s. The Raiders deal was bad but the Warriors deal turned out quite well for the city and county. The A’s then should pay the other half no problem and Wolff I think would jump at that opportunity.
    -But Oakland refuses to come out and even commit to a site and stick with it. San Jose on the other hand has had the site ready to go and only needs to relocate 2 businesses in order to proceed. San Jose has stuck to the same plan and they have the private sector backing them as evidenced by the SVLG letter (75 CEOs) signing a document to Bud Selig waving money in his face essentially.
    -Oakland has had years to figure something out for the A’s but screwing them over by backing out of the Coliseum remodel for baseball only to bring the Raiders back hurt relations between the parties forever. The A’s won 16M and lease concessions because they had signed paperwork with the city and county. Their chance came and passed, they made their bed with the Raiders, now they must lie in it.

    Do I have a problem with the A’s building in Oakland or the East Bay? No, I think the A’s would increase revenue and payroll by 20% and field better teams….But only if Oakland subsidies the site and stadium, it is the only way it will happen…Yet Oakland sits around in denial not wanting to face these hard facts after the Raiders debacle. They should be looking at the Warriors subsidy as a sign it could work and try to put it to a vote.

    No one can expect the A’s to pay for its own ballpark in Oakland if it is not economically feasible. Banks will not loan any owner the $$ for such an endeavor unless they see a way the money can be paid back in a timely manner. Oakland would never work in this way.

    Wolff is a better man than almost all owners. He has stated he will pay for his ballpark and does not expect a ton of public assistance. But he wants to build it in San Jose, which is in the same media market as Oakland and only 35 miles south in the largest city in the Bay Area.

    It is wrong the Bay Area is split up territory wise if the media market is common. That is the difference here between Baltimore-Washington, where both cities are different media markets. The Giants and A’s share the same media market, it is not like fans in San Jose cannot watch the A’s on TV.

    I am from San Jose and a far bigger Giants fan but still watch the A’s. I do not get season tickets to either team because of sheer distance. This part of the market is under served and the Giants over state their claims not because they will lose money but because they do not want competition in the market.

    The A’s would be rejuvenated in San Jose with a new ballpark, fans in the seats every night, corporate sponsors and a payroll that would rival the Giants. The Bay Area is the wealthiest market in all of the US as a whole and yet a revenue sharing recipient plays here.

    This has to end, and A’s will end up in San Jose. It is the right thing to do and unless Oakland ponies up some serious cash it is only a matter of time.