MLB commissioner says he’s “committed” to Oakland, doesn’t know how to haggle

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said a bunch of stuff about the A’s future in Oakland at the All-Star Game last night, and sounded more like a realtor trying to talk up the city as an investment property than a sports league commissioner trying to play hardball on a stadium demand:

“I am committed to Oakland as a major league site,” he told the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday. “I think that if we were to leave Oakland, I think 10 years from now we would be more likely than not looking backwards saying we made a mistake.”…

“I think that Oakland is more likely than not to be a better market five years from now than it is today,” Manfred said. “So I certainly have not given up on Oakland.”

That’s all probably true, especially since Oakland is increasingly looking like the next Brooklyn, at least in terms of getting spillover gentrification from the super-wealthy district one bridge away. It’s a terrible way to create leverage, though — any hardball negotiating can now be met with “Yeah, well, your commissioner said you’re not leaving regardless” — and is only likely to stiffen Oakland officials’ already stiff resolve not to offer A’s owner Lew Wolff any public money to help with construction or land acquisition or anything else he might ask for.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Wolff isn’t looking for any of that — he seems to be happy if he can just get the rights to build a stadium on the Coliseum site instead of the Raiders — and that Manfred knows it, which is why he’s saying such nice things at a time when it’s more traditional to talk about how a city is a tough market, and really needs up to step up to the plate, etc. Either that, or it’s just further evidence that Manfred is really bad at this whole blackmail thing.

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24 comments on “MLB commissioner says he’s “committed” to Oakland, doesn’t know how to haggle

  1. Interesting to note that Manfred did not make analogous comments regarding the Tampa Bay area and the Rays. Maybe he is a serial blackmailer at best, and has not yet evolved into doing multiple blackmails in parallel.

  2. The Tampa Bay area and Florida for that matter, will continue to grow exponentially. Very good for TV ratings.

  3. The league could have let the A’s go to San Jose, which all parties involved know would have been a major financial boon to the team and the league. But for whatever reason, the league treats the Bay Area as 2 separate territories while treating all the other 2-team markets as single shared territories. And as long as that’s the case, I don’t see how the league expects to get the A’s off revenue sharing, even in a new stadium, without significant pushback from the team.

    1. Because when the current owners bought their teams, that divided market was part of the contracts governing ownership of each franchise and (along with everything else) was reflected in their sales prices. The only things preventing this from being resolved is the A’s don’t wanna buy, and the Giants don’t wanna sell. It should be pretty obvious by now that there is not going to be a ruling against the Giants’ territorial rights, probably because other owners are concerned about the precedent that might set. And yes, I know how the Giants franchise came to “own” San Jose, but that doesn’t matter, legally.

      1. I think the league could easily have remedied the situation without setting “dangerous” precedent for other owners by simply saying that the creation of a single shared territory from two separate ones is a one-off action being taken in a market that already has two teams (rather than having a new one move in) to bring it in line with the structure of all other two team markets.

        1. Clearly it’s not simple and doesn’t have the support of other owners. Saying something is simple doesn’t mean it is

    2. Pretty simple: The Giants are the preferred team of Silicon Valley corporate customers. The A’s plan was the hoover up that segment.

      From MLB’s perspective that’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. From the teams’ perspective that was decreasing the value of the Giants while increasing the value of the A’s, which makes the whole thing just a matter of transferring an equal amount of money from one owner to the other–but they never could agree one what the number should be.

  4. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head for the most part.

    Creating leverage is pointless because Oakland voters will reject public financing anyways.

    MLB is noticing that the Warriors are moving across the Bay, and the Raiders seem to be dead set on moving….somewhere. Therefore, there’s a good chance MLB will have Oakland all to itself right when the market is starting to look pretty good. It is possible from a PR perspective MLB *hearts* Oakland is a fine way to try to sell tickets and build the fan base similar to how the Nets tried to tap into Brooklyn-chic or at least repair some of the bad PR from back when they were trying to gain leverage on Oakland.

        1. A capacity 10,624 stadium, eh?

          Perhaps they could move to San Francisco and play in the Safeway parking lot that replaced the old Seals Stadium. It seats more people.

          1. Despite what people have stated, Raley Field can be expanded to MLB standards. And Sacramento has supportive fans:

          2. jcpardell: There’s nothing MLB owners love more than moving into “expanded” minor league stadiums in small markets with middling economies especially when at 16 years old that stadium is already around the league median age before the first pitch is thrown.

            As far as I know this is the list of minor league stadiums that later hosted MLB teams, not counting multi-purpose stadiums that were used for the NFL or CFL:

            LA’s Wrigley Field for 1 year.
            Jarry Park Stadium in Montreal for 7 years.
            Seals Stadium in San Francisco for 2 years.
            Sick’s Stadium in Seattle for 1 year.

            In 2 of those cases the permanent home was already under construction. In Seattle’s case the Pilot’s skipped town a year later. Only Montreal managed to make this work for a time, though Olympic Stadium was built a few years later anyways.

            This was all in the days when pro sports was far less demanding in terms of stadiums. If converted minor league stadiums didn’t work in the 60s and 70s, why would they work today?

            But I guess Sacramento, the finest in cow towns, is such an incredible market….*chuckle*

  5. Manfred knows that the ultimate solution for climate change is abolishment of air conditioning. Oakland is one of the few precious baseball markets that will thrive in our coming utopian paradise.

  6. After all this, it’s possible that the longtime have-nots may be the last team standing in the East Bay. Once the Warriors (almost certainly) and the Raiders (better than 50/50) leave, the A’s will stand alone.

    As the only major team in the East Bay, plus a new ballpark, that’s a huge win for MLB.

  7. Do the A’s really compete directly with the Warriors and Raiders for much, other than space? I can’t imagine folks in San Leandro are going to give up their Warriors tickets just because they have to take BART a couple extra stops to get there. (And switch to Muni Metro, yeah, yeah.) I suppose there might be some East Bay companies that would shift their ad dollars to the A’s, but isn’t most of the corporate market fully regional?

    1. I think it’s less true with the Warriors who draw from the whole Bay Area, but the A’s and Raiders definitely compete for corporate support and general fan attention. It’s no accident that the only period with average-and-above attendance for the A’s was from 1981-1993, when the Raiders were going and then gone.

      Remember, the A’s and Raiders lose a lot of East Bay-based fans to the SF teams in their respective sports, while you can probably count the SF-based fans of those teams on one hand. The loyal-to-the-East-Bay-team crowd is only so big, and only so wealthy. That’s even more pronounced for the corporations based in the East Bay, as pretty much no non-East Bay companies buy premium seating.

    2. Directly? No.

      However, one only has to look at the Sharks to see the impact of putting a city’s name on a team. The fact they are the only team with San Jose on their jerseys (yeah, yeah, MLS, Earthquakes, blah, blah) gets them a cult following down in the South Bay and total apathy elsewhere in the Bay Area. When you’re the only team with Oakland on the uniform right when Oakland is becoming “cool” you potentially sell more tickets, jerseys, etc.

  8. Boy, we’ve sure come a long way from the 2009-2010 “There is no Oakland option” position statement from Mr. Wolff, haven’t we?

    I guess not everything people say in negotiations turns out to be true…

  9. It could be that Manfred is just learning this whole stadium shakedown thing… but I would have expected the owners to focus on nothing else in the hiring process, to be honest. So I’m pretty sure he knows what he is doing just as much as the used car salesman that preceded him did.

    So why the co-operative demeanor?
    I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with the general sports marketplace (certainly for baseball) being saturated. Perhaps Neil can remember the name of the study (I can’t) which looked at potential growth for the four major sports leagues a few years ago. They concluded that MLB was pretty much hemmed in, with it’s only real “new” markets available that could support a team being New Jersey (likely not happening, unless Sternberg wants to pay the Steinbrenners, for very obvious reasons) and Montreal.

    Remind me who else Manfred has been really concilliatory with lately?

    MLB is very nearly out of potential markets that can support it’s current business model. I’m not even sure some of the current ones can, but clearly Manfred feels he has to try to keep them.

    Is the future a smaller business model and more markets, or a bigger business model and fewer markets? Eventually, you get to the point where you can’t extract any more dollars from each existing fan (whether through seat licenses, overpriced concessions, RSN rights fees, or hat sales). Then what?

    1. In theory, I would think Charlotte would work as a potential market. That said, my understanding is due to the odd rules of baseball media rights and the specifics of the deal that got the league-owned Expos moved to DC, Peter Angelos more or less owns the majority of the TV revenue of any team that relocates to Charlotte.

      You know, because Charlotte is so close to Baltimore and all.

  10. Nobody who ever left Oakland (as in Joke-land) regrets it, as Gertrude Stein penned “there is no there there”…

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