Wolff makes pitch for 10-year A’s lease extension in Oakland

We’ve heard Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff say before (via his intermediaries in the newspaper columnist world) that what he really wants is to stay put for another decade at the Oakland Coliseum — Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reported as much last month, and Kawakami’s colleague Mark Purdy echoed that sentiment, saying all Wolff really wants is a long-term lease so that he can sink some money into a new scoreboard. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross joined the fray today, saying Wolff is ready to sign a ten-year lease extension at the Oakland Coliseum:

“We hope to have (a deal) as soon as possible,” A’s co-owner and managing partner Lew Wolff told us Tuesday. “It’s really up to Oakland now.”

The new lease could keep the A’s at the Coliseum until at least 2024. It calls for the team to make nominal rent payments in return for the A’s paying for $10 million to $12 million in stadium improvements.

On the one hand, this shouldn’t be all that shocking: Wolff’s attempt to move to San Jose is still spinning its wheels (that antitrust suit wending its way toward the Supreme Court notwithstanding), and there’s little chance of a new stadium in the East Bay happening in the next few years, and the A’s have got to play somewhere in the meantime. And if they’re going to be playing at the Coliseum anyway, Wolff may as well have a ten-year lease so he can plan ahead accordingly, and replace the bulbs on the Kittyvision.

Still, these reports raise a bunch of questions:

  • Is Wolff serious, or is this just a negotiating ploy? Oakland has been dragging its feet on extending the A’s lease — city officials say they want to resolve the Raiders stadium situation first, which could involve building a new football stadium on the Coliseum lot — and this could just be the A’s owner calling Oakland’s bluff: If you want me to stay, then put the lease years where your mouth is.
  • What happens to the A’s if the Raiders get their new stadium? Having been to the Coliseum, it seems to me there should be enough room to squeeze a new stadium in the parking lot without disturbing the baseball team. That said, Wolff told Matier and Ross that in the lease he’s working on, “There’s a clause that if the Raiders build a new facility, with some notice we will evacuate.” Which doesn’t seem like the security he says he’s looking for, but we’ll have to wait to see what the actual language says.
  • What would this mean for the A’s cut of revenue sharing? Right now the A’s are exempted from the ban on big-market teams getting a cut of MLB revenue sharing, thanks to a special clause that allows Wolff to keep receiving checks so long as he doesn’t have a new stadium. That clause expires with MLB’s collective bargaining agreement following the 2016 season, however, and there’s likely to be a pitched battle among the owners about whether to renew it.

None of which is to say any of this is a bad thing: If Wolff and Oakland are close (or at least closer) to resolving their lease squabbles, this could be a way for the team to finally settle in and worry about building a fan base (and making some improvements to the home it’s stuck with, a la the Tampa Bay Rays) instead of going through this “Are the A’s moving to San Jose/Sacramento/Portland/Boise?” business every year. And who knows? Maybe if the Raiders leave the Coliseum, it might even be possible to knock down Mount Davis, the tower of football luxury seating that is worse than useless for baseball, and rehab the Coliseum into the not-half-bad baseball facility it once was.

Or it could just mean kicking the can down the road a few years, while Wolff bides his time, or more likely sells the team to someone younger who’s up for fighting the next battle. Either way, it’s not a resolution I think anyone would have expected even a couple of years ago, but baseball moves in mysterious ways.

15 comments on “Wolff makes pitch for 10-year A’s lease extension in Oakland

  1. @Neil- mlb taking away A’s revenue sharing in 2016- unlikely as their own BRC hasn’t found a suitable site in Oakland in 5 years nor have they figured out how to resolve the fairness disparity in what is considered a large market but limits the A’s on where they can move in their large market…

    Why would LW be in a rush to invest $500M of his own money in an area that no other mlb owner would make that deal when he can continue to collect $35-40M of welfare and watch is team value skyrocket–to the tune of about 3.5x his original investment or around $700M. He has indicated that if he has the Coli site to himself…meaning Raiders are gone for good…then he can make a deal work in Oakland–Oakland just needs to make a decision to get rid of the Raiders, grant LW the developing rights to the site and invest about $400M in infrastructure improvements for CC; an estimate provided by their own consultants.

    Bottom line…given the age of the stadium and the odds of continued bad PR for mlb for not resolving the issuing (how many times do you have an MLB owner willing to invest their own money to build a ballpark) I think MLB has more drivers to settle the issue before something truly embarassing or worse happens and casts a light on their incompetence.

    Regarding selling the team—he has made it clear, as has JF, that the team is not for sale with LW’s son/grandson expected to lead the A’s going forward. His son is currently focused on building the SJ Earthquakes privately financed stadium in San Jose which is expected to be completed in time for the 2015 season.

  2. O.Co is THE worst stadium in professional sports, it would be disappointing to see them stay (in that stadium, they should stay in the bay area.)

  3. I thought the stadium was fine the two times I was there for raiders games. The concourses need widening and the concessions could be better, but the location is ideal and it has a great tailgating lot.

  4. @ben- not sure what your definition of ideal location is- good for football but not for baseball where fans are looking for more urban type of atmosphere where the ballpark is integrated to a downtown environment. The Coli is in a pretty rough neighborhood- tailgates are fine but you wouldn’t go to that area to grab drinks and dinner and then head over to the game- or hang out after the game

  5. Neil,
    For the record, San Jose is in the Bay Area, 35 miles south of Oakland. And the A’s “fan base” is scattered throughout the Bay Area, including San Jose. Thought I’d let you know. (Your welcome)

  6. If Wolff is smart (and I believe he is… after all, having fans and newspaper writers do your bidding for you for free is pretty solid ‘work’ IMO), his lease extension will include a payout if any “Raider related” developments force him to leave the site before the end of ten years.

    As the franchisee willing to sign a lease extension first, he should be in line for more co-operation from the city than the recalcitrant Raiders. Thus far, that doesn’t seem to be the case (no surprise given past history).

    I would agree that a good number of the established issues with the existing coliseum can be fixed. Some cannot. Wolff would like a ballpark with 1″ or less of foul territory (and yes, that’s a quote) to put fans closer to the action along the baselines… that can’t be done at the Oakland Coliseum economically. Of course, we could also look at this physical characteristic the other way… he wouldn’t have received the high prices he has for the pitchers he’s traded away absent that vast foul territory… pitchers who’s numbers tend to falter dramatically when they get into ballparks where foul balls aren’t outs 35% of the time…

    It may or may not be practical to demolish Mt. Davis if the Raiders leave. While the outstanding debt is a sunk cost (and might actually be easier to repay if the absence of the Great Pylon encourages more paying fans to attend baseball games), the fact is that demolishing a structure like that is not cheap – much less free. Who pays for that? And who pays to rebuild ‘something’ else out in centrefield?

  7. Sell the A’s, Raiders , Warriors and pay back the taxpayers the hundreds of millions they have stolen.

  8. If they do ANYTHING to the Coliseum, it has to be a redo on the playing surface (which does not drain properly)…at least digging it up and reseeding it with a crown behind second base would help immensely because when it rains right now, there’s nowhere for the water to go so it just collects on the field. At any rate, this facility needs a hell of a lot more than a new scoreboard.

  9. GB: Good points regarding the field. If LW gets his nominal rent deal, he can add a couple of million to the $30m+ he pockets in Revenue sharing each season right now (interestingly enough, the teams with the highest payrolls at this point often do little better than break even, according for Forbes valuation figures) and do some real work to the place.

    As anyone who has ever paid for their own renovations knows, money goes a lot farther when it’s owner is the one making the decisions and accountable for the details. I would wager that $30m in privately funded renovations would produce results similar to $60-70m in publicly funded ones. He might yet make the coliseum the destination he seeks.

  10. It is a more than half bad baseball layout, as bad or worse than Fulton Co. Stadium, as bad as any of the cookie-cutters no matter what the doped-up bleacherites try to remember through the haze of time.
    Wolff-ie is kickin’ it down the road cuz he knows that even if the case gets to SCOTUS his “pals” in MLB will fight him tooth and nail.
    If they repeat the 70’s dominance they still won’t draw flies. The franchise gets to the playoffs regularly and yet it’s still just the flag wavers and drum beaters in the cheap seats.
    They’re stuck in the low rent district and can’t get out.

  11. There is still another possibility: Wolff knows that he will NOT be getting a New Stadium (or even an upgraded Coliseum) for a very long time. Think about this: In the US, (except the Vikings and Texas A&M), there are no facilities breaking ground or under construction Post-2014. I know the Red Wings are close (as is Ralph Wilson in Buffalo), but it still has not happened. All the entities you expected to get something such as the Cubs, and Colorado State are no closer than before. Why? Because the General Public and politicians (Liberal & Conservative alike) are opposed to them, or any kind of Corporate Welfare (or at least politicians are learning there is a price to be paid for saying YES (ask Mayor Gray in Washington DC who said yes to a DC United Soccer Stadium, he was defeated in a Democratic Primary)). This is why the Rays have given up on anything but cosmetic changes to “The Trop” and the NY Soccer Team will play at least three Seasons (probably more) @ Yankee Stadium. I suspect BOTH the Raiders and A’s will be playing @ The Coliseum five years from now, as will the Chargers in San Diego @ Qualcom.

  12. The Falcons broke ground last month, the Braves are set to do so in early 2015, the Sacramento Kings this fall — I’m sure I’m missing a few others. Yes, lots of people (and even a few politicians) are upset about corporate welfare, but I don’t see any sign that the tide is turning on stadium subsidies. It’s an uphill battle for team owners, like always, and the potential windfall for grabbing the brass ring just once is so huge that owners aren’t going to stop pushing for them, like always.

  13. @sanjoseA

    I far prefer tailgating and I think rank & file fans do too. Journalists push the downtown park idea, sure.

  14. Paul:

    As I recall, around a decade ago when the A’s were still in a very old stadium and playing well, they ranked 15th-19th in avg attendance in all of MLB.

    It’s true that they are now down in 23rd (2013), and have at times been at or near the very bottom (they swapped that honour with Tampa for a couple of seasons). However, they are nowhere near last in attendance, and in fact have been right around the bottom quartile point in recent years.

    So suggesting they “ain’t drawin’ flies” would imply that fully a quarter of the MLB franchises need to move or fold… which clearly they don’t.

    Oakland is a small market close/adjacent to a big one. They aren’t the only team with that problem, nor is that problem likely to go away. On average, they draw 1.6m – 2m fans annually (over the past decade, give or take), which puts them on par with or ahead of 6 or 7 other teams.

  15. John,
    The Oak/’Frisco/SJ “market” is a joke, stretching more than 100 miles north to south. Suppose the NY market included Philly and Hartford/NH?
    What other franchises have the “adjacent to a big one (market)” problem? None of the other 2 franchise markets have baseball businesses with the same problems the A’z do.
    Their problem is that they are “close/adjacent” to an MLB financial powerhouse and they have nobody to blame but themselves for their problems. At close range they saw what the Gi-ants were doing from the early 90’s thru today and pretty much sat on their hands and were passed biz wise as they were standing still. Also, A’z owners (past/present) hold the blame for not getting off their butts and making sure that SC county was “shared”.
    Mets are “close/adjacent” to a similar powerhouse, but the NY market is robust enough to sustain 2 franchises (unlike ‘Frisco) even when the Mets continuously shoot themselves in the foot/leg/arms/torso. But NY isn’t financially robust enough for 3 franchises as so many unknowing fans assume.
    They ain’t drawing flies vs. at least half of MLB, the half that the A’z say they are competing against.
    One of Wolff-ie’s points has been that they can’t draw the numbers they want (more than near 2m per anum) in Oak. despite being “near” a “large” market. Drawing more than 6-7 other franchises still leaves ’em behind 3/4 of the rest, sure that Wolff-ie & Co. love hearing about that at owners meetings.
    A’z are stuck and there’s nowhere to go that would be a substantial financial improvement aside from SJ. Building a gilded cage in Oak. won’t make any difference either, it’s the Gi-ants region. Stuck is stuck.