A’s latest sewage woes, and the pros and cons of the Coliseum

The Oakland A’s had another sewage problem at the Oakland Coliseum last night, when a toilet overflowed during the 6th inning and spilled several inches of water into the A’s dugout, forcing players to climb to the top dugout step for the rest of the game. This follows the incident in June when somebody in the A’s clubhouse flushed something that shouldn’t go in a toilet, and everybody had to go shower upstairs in the football locker rooms.

A’s owner Lew Wolff, to his credit, brushed off the latest sewage issue after the game as something that “could happen in your house.” Before the game, though, he was out stumping for a new “downtown” stadium:

“Look at a beautiful day like today,” he said. “Downtowns are where the transportation hubs are. People can walk over.

“If we were in a downtown, like most stadiums are now, there’s a chance that people would be around and come out. I doubt very much that a lawyer in downtown Oakland is going to go down the elevator (from his office), get his car and drive to the park.”…

Someone brought up the fact that the Tigers, once they got to the ALCS in Yankee Stadium last year, said they were prepared for the energy of the crowds in the Bronx because they’d played in Oakland.

“I didn’t know that,” Wolff said, smiling, “but that’s a real compliment. The energy level here is always impressive.”

This is a good time for me to finally report on my own visit to an A’s game earlier this summer, my first since the new football seats were added in 1996. My first impression was that while Mount Davis certainly isn’t a plus for baseball, it didn’t completely ruin the experience or anything:

The best way I can describe the Coliseum is as no-frills, in the extreme: It’s a plain concrete bowl with not much in the way of concessions or anything else. (At one point I went in search of one of those soft-ice-cream-in-a-helmet-cup items that I thought were endemic to all major-league stadiums, but quickly discovered that there were none to be had — which didn’t take long, since I was able to visit every concession stand in the place in about a five-minute walk.) If anything, amenities seemed to have gone backwards since my last visit in the early ’90s. It reminded me a bit of my visit to Montreal’s Olympic Stadium during the Expos‘ terminal doldrums — or even more so, to a minor-league facility somehow grown to major-league size. Take the teeny tiny video board perched high up in right field, so small and low-resolution that it’s only good for bizarre gimmicks like ranking whether A’s players prefer puppies or kittens:

That said, I had a terrific time, and not just because the A’s won on one of those late comebacks sparked by no-name players that they seem to specialize in. As Wolff acknowledged yesterday, the energy level at the Coliseum is fantastic, with fans cheering, hoisting homemade banners, and greeting closer Grant Balfour with an improvised “Balfour rage” dance that I wasn’t able to adequately capture on camera, but you can see it for yourself here:

It was all totally awesome, and it was not unrelated, I don’t think, to the functional-at-best surroundings. If there were a giant video screen at the Coliseum telling fans when and how to clap, it’s unlikely anyone would have come up with Balfour rage. (It’s worth noting that the other most-creative fan group I can think of, in the old Yankee Stadium bleachers, had their backs to the video board and couldn’t see it at all.) If there had been anything decent to eat, fans would be off getting food between innings, not staying in their seats and riling each other up for the next inning. Food courts and Ferris wheels may add to the ballpark experience, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as making for a better baseball experience.

None of which is to say that the A’s and their fans wouldn’t be better off with a new stadium, or at least one that’s gotten any upgrades at all for baseball in the last 20 years. But however Wolff ends up resolving his new-stadium push — in San Jose or in Oakland, “downtown” or in his current middle-of-a-parking-lot-by-the-airport location — one hopes that he’ll keep in mind what he’s got at the Coliseum, and why. Because it’s not something that can just be transplanted to a new “state-of-the-art” building without a lot of careful forethought that most other owners haven’t managed.


42 comments on “A’s latest sewage woes, and the pros and cons of the Coliseum

  1. What, people actually paying attention to the game on the field instead of wandering & spending at the park malls, restaurant, playing on their electronics or staring at the video boards?? In 2013?!

  2. Yeah, it’s like a time machine to the past. And not just because Josh Reddick’s beard looks like Rutherford B. Hayes’s.

  3. Neil–guess your definition of what is cool in a ballpark doesn’t meet the snuff test for most. First place A’s average attendance is 22k–last place gints–in one of those new fangled ballparks- 41k–final homestand of the year and A’s averaged 18k against the Angels–LW concept for a ballpark in SJ was to create one of the most intimate ballparks in baseball–no 3rd deck- 32-36k seating–and few of the corporate amenities that make sports stadia so boring these days–if baseball had a commish who wasn’t clueless that vision for a ballpark would be opening next year…. instead Oakland/Alameda County are the laughing stock of the nat’l media and deservedly so—

  4. I think you missed my point: It’s not that the Coliseum is my favorite place to see a ballgame or anything. But what Wolff is praising about A’s games – the energy – is in part thanks to having to make their own fun. And that’s something that’s too easy to lose when designing a new stadium.

    Yes, Wolff’s San Jose plans are for a small ballpark, but if he’s promised “few corporate amenities” I haven’t heard it. (If he’s going to make enough from Silicon Valley corporations to make back his contruction costs, he’s going to need to amenitize the heck out of them.) I don’t know exactly what the happy medium is for a stadium that is a good place to watch a game and also a good place to not watch a game, but it’d be nice for some owner to at least make both of those their goal.

  5. Thanks for sharing Neil. Having grown up on Oakland A’s baseball, this brought a little tear to my eye. I miss Oakland and love their raw and scrappy place in the MLB hierarchy. The modern-less stadium in a crappy neighborhood adds to the lore. It is probably inevitable but moving to SJ will change the team just like the Giants move to the China basin has changed the fan demographic and has squeezed out so many fans with lower household income.

  6. Great report Neil! You are exactly right on, including your comment. I think a lot of the core fans appreciate the unique atmosphere at the Coliseum. It will not last forever, a move to a SJ stadium will benefit the club, but it will completely change the game day experience. Some will argue in a good way, other’s in a bad way. The huge increase in ticket prices will drastically change the fan base, which to me will be one of the negative aspects.

  7. Dear Neil… where do I begin???

    Maybe Wolff should have low prices, a winning team, great giveaways, free parking nights. lots of fireworks displays – this would be stuff that might put more fans in the seats. Oh wait – he’s already doing all that . Never mind. Face it – as long as Wolff is unwilling to privately finance a ballpark in Oakland, regardless of the risks involved, he is going to be hated by some folks….sigh…

  8. If Wolff didn’t have current fans in his plans, why not just ask to move the team to Vegas or San Antonio? Selig said Wolff has the right to request a move. No, Wolff is endeavoring to keep the team within an hour of the existing facility, taking on the Giants territorial rights and having current fans hate him just because the name “Oakland” would disappear from the daily standings and they’ve have to travel a little farther to get to the games…please city of Oakland.. let the A’s move to San Jose.. and focus on a funding plan to get the Raiders a new stadium… there the only team that wants to stay.

  9. Thanks for the write-up Neil, this is great stuff, and as a biased Oakland fan, I think you really nail the balance of pros and cons about watching the A’s at the Coliseum (with the pros often too quickly dismissed). I also wanted to mention an effort I and a fellow A’s fan co-founded earlier this year: Oakland Fan Pledge (www.oaklandfanpledge.com). We’re trying to give local fans the opportunity to show their support for a new stadium in Oakland, despite current ownership’s contention that it isn’t possible. Operating entirely at a grassroots level, we’ve already received nearly 5000 pledges totaling over $11M. Our intention is two-fold: show off the support of fans in Oakland, while also making it clear what a private stadium would require of fans (higher ticket prices, PSLs, etc.). Happy to share more if you’re interested (info@oaklandfanpledge.com), but thanks again for highlighting the great atmosphere we have at the Coliseum, in spite of our questionable plumbing.

  10. Actually, Berry, Wolff is endeavouring to acquire a staggeringly wealthy market like San Jose after paying only the price of the Oakland market.

    He doesn’t want Vegas or San Antonio or Montreal any more than he wants to stay in Oakland.

    Only a very small percentage of current A’s fans would be willing or able to pay for tickets in a new ballpark in San Jose regardless of travel issues. It’s the same argument used above for the Giants… the fans who used to buy the cheap seats at Candlestick are, for the most part, out of luck at Pac Bell (yes, I know… but that was it’s first name and that’s what I’m sticking with).

    The new park isn’t going to be a plum for the old and long suffering A’s fans. The whole point of the new park in a new city is that it will bring in new (higher income) fans willing and able to spend. Even the Oakland fans understand this…

  11. …sorry, that shouldn’t have read “even” Oakland fans understand this… unintentional slight there fellows…

    Neil;

    Further to the atmosphere argument, this is something I’ve noticed in nearly all new stadia (for whatever sport) I’ve visited. When the new stadium comes, it brings a dramatically different demographic of fans in.

    This can be a good thing (some of the things that used to go on in the stands at some of these places were appalling and criminal), but it does tend to promote a major change in fan behaviour… often leading to a quieter and more reserved stadium experience.

    I know people who cancelled their tickets to Bills games simply because they would not expose their children to the kinds of things they saw happening in the stands (and security apparently didn’t). This was also true at the Vet & Municipal Stadium in Cleveland I’m told, and old Yankee stadium in the 70s/80s… before prices went up.

    Like it or not, we fans have to accept that pro sports no longer caters to the average working man – even in some of what were once blue collar towns.

    In other words, regardless of effort by ownership and stadium designers, it may not be possible to create the same kind of atmosphere in a facility that commands $30-100/ticket that you could in a $5-10 grandstand seat facility. By default your customer base has forever changed.

  12. John Hansen very good effort on your ticket pledge for a new stadium in Oakland, but what this pledge page has done is proven Wolf and San Jose crowds point. That a private stadium in Oakland just does not have the support. Demand for the A’s is just not there:

    Like others have said -1st place +free parking+cheap tickets+giveaways = half empty staidum

    You been up for 4 or 5 months now and have not gotten the results that other similar drives in Seattle and Sacramento have gotten. If we take conservative view and say only about 50% of pledges turn into real dollars then Oakland fans have a long way to go.

  13. JB, totally agree with you pro sports in the US and even around the world is no longer for the “working man”… new sports world reality.

  14. So why does Wolff have a poor public image in Oakland? Because he is unwilling to privately finance a ballpark in corporate-poor Oakland. That’s it. The media, ignorant of or in plain denial of East Bay economics, reflexively sides against Wolff. No surprise there.(Of course, the East Bay and Frisco media do not want the A’s in San Jose under any circumstances) The A’s are in first place and their attendance is poor. Is Wolff supposed to deny this?

  15. Thanks for your take Guey. We appreciate your perspective, but wholeheartedly disagree on your take that we’ve proven Oakland isn’t viable. In fact, we believe its the opposite, as spending less than $50 on advertising to date and not having our cause highlighted by local/national media (see ESPN segment on Kings’ move to Seattle earlier this year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P__vuRCAizo) we’ve still achieved the numbers we have. Moreover, we know we’ve only scratched the surface of the latent A’s fan base ready to support the team in Oakland, demonstrated by 35k tickets selling out in two hours for the ALDS series, and highlighted in Neil’s piece above. The fact is, the feedback we’ve received shows us the fanbase in Oakland has been turned off by an owner who has worked for 10 years to find the franchise a suitable new stadium and made literally no progress, yet refuses to consider any options outside of one he’s not presently allowed to pursue under MLB rules. But, we don’t need to make this comment board another San Jose vs Oakland argument that many of us locally are all too familiar with, so if you’d like to discuss our efforts more, please email us at info@oaklandfanpledge.com. Thanks!

  16. The problem with all of this is simple: If there is an agreement for the Raiders to get a Stadium on the Coliseum Site, where are the A’s supposed to play? The only way they can remain in Oakland is if the Raiders move to LA or both teams accept playing at the Coliseum as is. I think they are heading out of Town.

  17. it was a poor PR move on LW’s part to bring up attendance in this way. Probably should have brought attention to the lack of attendance for a ‘winner’ from a different angle (unless his comments were meant to be pointedly heard by a certain former college friend).
    **The continued pointing out/lamenting of the Oakland Only commenting is odd. It is already well established, factual, empirical, indisputable they will not be honest. They are running on emotion, they simply want to win, no facts or evidence will sway their commenting one iota. They want to win and will bulldoze anyone and anything to do it (including some “media”). LW could save orphans from a burning building and they will say he was actually trying to push them all back in the building and simply failed in doing so.
    ** Boycotting of the A’s because of LW? Puhlease. Attendance is where it should be for this location and venue. While some sort of media flash could possibly generate a bump in attendance, it will be short lived. Attendance is where it should be and it ain’t going to change to any significance. LW knows this, BS knows this, anyone who can read and add knows this.
    **I agree with other posters who want a plumbing disaster to happen during the WS. Hard to believe that these kind of events are more important than reason, however, the coward known as BS will get the issue put front and center if the world sees players leaving the dugout, game is delayed, and the reason is crap. It will even force the cowardly local “media” to take up the issue from a slightly more earnest standpoint…

  18. Guys–pro-sports are for the working man–they just now choose to watch them on their HD flat panel tv’s from their own man cave…hence why the broadcasting revenues and deals signed with teams are out of control–

    Also–revenue streams need to be predictable—selling out for a playoff game does not indicate a huge fan base–it shows lots of bandwagoners who will jump on board for the playoffs but come no where near the ballpark and buy season tix–hence the 22k season avg–or 26th out of 30 teams–

  19. Mr. Bladen wrote: “Like it or not, we fans have to accept that pro sports no longer caters to the average working man – even in some of what were once blue collar towns.”

    Considering the reliance on TV money, this really isn’t true. It would be true to say that they don’t cater to them at the live venue.

    Mr. SJA’s wrote: “Guys–pro-sports are for the working man–they just now choose to watch them on their HD flat panel tv’s from their own man cave…hence why the broadcasting revenues and deals signed with teams are out of control–”

    “Choose” isn’t really the right word. As others have pointed out, the economics of some of the newer stadiums means it’s not entirely by choice that the “working man” watches at home.

    I kind of hope Mr. Wolff comes around and pays up to move into San Jose, then builds his own stadium. It would be an interesting experiment. Considering the size of the stadium he’s talking about, it might work.

  20. That’s true Keith/Geuy. However, I when I talk about “catering to” I don’t mean “allowing to watch at home on television”. I mean the “in stadium” fan, though apparently I didn’t make that clear.

    I also am of the opinion that the modest income fan who watches from home does not necessarily support just one team. I think you become a more general fan of the sport in question, probably still mainly supporting the team they used to buy tickets to, but also watching other games on their MLB tv, satellite or internet package. The same total amount may be spent, but I’d wager it is less focused than when that fan was a captive audience in stadium.

  21. I’ll never step foot in another ballpark or airport the way they treat us like terrorists. Let the sheep enjoy giving up their freedoms.

  22. @JR–hope home is enjoyable–I travel about 70% of the time and they can continue to do whatever they want to me as long as it keeps the bad guys out–and I feel the same way about going into arena, stadiums and ballparks–an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold—

  23. SJA’s, what do you think they’re preventing? None of their procedures, even the A’s newest, would stop a dedicated terrorist. They’re nothing but smoke and mirrors to make a few random sheeple feel better as they go about their day.

    And unlike the A’s most MLB teams have not caved in and implemented these ultimately worthless and invasive procedures.

  24. Apparently MLB is trying to get metal detectors installed at every postseason-bound team’s ballpark for October, with the rest following suit next spring:

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/sports/pro/baseball&id=9254504

    I don’t really think this is more invasive than the wanding that they do now, and my main concern is that I still be allowed to bring in my tuna sandwich and backpack, which will apparently still be okay. But it is going to create headaches getting in the door — they used detectors at the Little League World Series when I went this summer, and it takes *forever* for everyone to get their keys and stuff out of their pockets and back in again.

    Meanwhile, I’m still not clear what all this is supposed to accomplish, other than butt-covering so that if anything ever happens, the league can say it did its best. What exactly can people sneak past a wand that a metal detector would catch?

  25. Well hopefully they reconsider. Further inconveniences to their fans and adding to this country’s prision camp mentality is not going to do them any favors when it comes to attendance.

  26. A’s used them last night and by all reports–no delays or issues–and believe it or not–it was a sellout (due to StarWars fireworks night). Personally if it finds even one crazed person who is trying to bring a gun into a game I am all for it–

    btw–another shitfest going on today in Oakland–this time A’s managers/coaches office affected—absolute embarassment that one of the top MLB teams in 2013 is playing in a dump and bs hasn’t done anything about it

  27. Yeah, so I saw:

    http://deadspin.com/raw-sewage-is-flowing-in-oakland-again-1362507893

    Has anyone thought to, I don’t know, call a plumber?

  28. @Neil- the JPA can’t afford to call a plumber- Jean Quan needs to start moonlighting–she also knows how to spew shit–

  29. Neil;

    Maybe that’s for Bud’s safety, not that of the general public….

    I seem to recall an article in the Mercury in which one of the long time stadium maintenance workers was quoted as saying that the plumbing backups are nothing new and have, in fact, been happening since the 1970s – when the place was more or less new. Apparently, much of the drainage system is below the collection systems it discharges to, so when there is any kind of failure of equipment, well, gravity can be your enemy as well as your friend.

    That doesn’t make crap running down the aisles “ok”, of course, but the idea that this is evidence that the stadium is crumbling around the fans and players in it is not necessarily true.

    You’d think if the city really wanted to “work with” the A’s to find a way to stay, step one might be sinking a few million into plumbing renovations. New massive scoreboards and sushi you can order from your seat are not bona fide needs in my view, but toilets that take waste away rather than funnelling it in certainly qualify.

  30. If your city has to lay off cops & has financial problems, I don’t think it’s a good idea to throw taxpayer money on an old stadium in a multi-billion dollar industry that only helps millionaire owners. Priorities. Wolff should pay for it himself, or at least MLB should give him a loan. But they won’t because it’s all a part of the big scheme to get the A’s a new stadium – especially when the A’s are going to the playoffs in spite of it all.

  31. The A’s pay rent to the city and county, and the public gets a cut of naming rights money, too. I don’t think it’d be unreasonable for the city, as owners of the building, to use some of that to fix the plumbing in order to keep its tenants happy — or, for that matter, to get O.co to re-up its naming rights deal without fear that it’s buying an association to raw sewage.

    Sometimes spending money on a stadium actually is an investment. Not often, but sometimes.

  32. @mp34- LW is more than willing to privately finance his ballpark in an area that can support that level of private investment. Silicon Valley has shown with the ‘9ers new stadium that they have the economic means to support privately financed stadiums/ballparks–just need bs to get off his duff and make a decision

  33. SanJoseA’s,

    The new 49ers stadium is hardly ‘privately financed’. The City of Santa Clara had to borrow, what was it, 800 million to make that stadium happen. I believe the plan for the A’s stadium in SJ also assumes a very healthy donation from the City of San Jose.

  34. Borrow v. public subsidization is a bit different—refer back to Neil’s article on the “success” of the ‘9ers stadium and how the financial risk has been managed–so yes—stadium authority borrowed $800M but all of that will be paid back with no risk to Santa Clara taxpayers—can it happen everywhere–no–definetely not in Oakland–but Silicon Valley has shown that it can be done—just like SF did for the gints–and no–the SJ ballpark proposal does not include a healthy dose of public dollars–it includes providing infrastrucuture support–just like the gints did in SF- while the ballpark would be privately built by LW–this btw is one of the issues that MLB has with SJ–they prefer publically subsidized ballparks like Miami’s over privately financed ones–

  35. The fact that the 49ers (or rather, Santa Clara…) managed to sell their PSLs and earn the money they projected does not mean the city did not place any risk on taxpayers.

    In this instance, the hoped for revenue projections were not as pie in the sky as they are in other markets (see Minnesota, Cincinnati etc). Add to that the fact that it is an affluent market and the 49ers became good at “just the right time”, and the projections for funding have roughly been met (as I understand it, though they aren’t in the new facility yet, of course).

    Santa Clara still took considerable risk by making this deal. The fact that it seems as though they’ll get all their tax dollars back makes it a good decision, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a risk.

  36. Vinnie, please explain what donation you think San Jose will be making toward the construction of Cisco Field? Last I checked the plan called for no public donation toward the park, even borrowing.

  37. mp34
    One Word: YUP
    and you know what im on lew wolfs side… geez lew wolff has to just pay for everything right??? dude that is a joke… it will take public dollars like it or not to get the Raiders and A’s to stay… and you know what??? WHo cares… it will help the city and finally the teams.. I don’t think public dollars for stadiums is going away anytime soon… it just might be limited.

  38. Either way I’m cutting the Comcrap cable. If the A’s leave the market I will be stuck with a ever growing cable bill and only the Gnats to watch. I don’t see Comcable giving us a refund when the A’s leave. Goodbye cable sports! A’s, go ahead make my day.

  39. The team is going to eventually move to San Jose just like the Rays will move from St. Petersburg to Tampa, that’s where the money is. The Giants ownership just wants a cut of a potential San Jose A’s teams profits, just like the Orioles owner sucked-up a bunch of the Nationals profits and were able to start their own regional network to do it in MASN.

  40. The Orioles didn’t have the same leverage as the Giants, though, because they didn’t have territorial rights to D.C., just TV rights. So long as MLB respects the Giants’ territorial rights to San Jose, they can keep the A’s out the same as the Yankees could keep them out of New Jersey.

  41. Well Neil that temp hold will soon be shown in court… o wait.. mlb does not want their illegal tr issues in court.. so yes the Giants who had a embarrassing year… will have to play nice.. and lift the hold on san jose county area… the A’s will move to San Jose.. which will give the city of Oakland one less distraction and to get them to put up 300 mil to keep the Raiders in a brand new stadium… maybe with a convention center… but still public dolalrs for sports will never go away.. its a privilege to have a team rep your city…