The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays faced off in the American League Wild Card game last night, before a sold-out crowd at Oakland Coliseum who paid an average of $129 for tickets on the resale market. One might think this would make it harder for the teams’ owners to claim that they’re doomed to failure on and off the field without the new stadiums they’re seeking — which means it’s time to pull out everybody’s favorite entry in the stadium-grubbers’ playbook, the oblique move threat:
- MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, in town for the game, said he’d told Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf that the city’s lawsuit against Alameda County for agreeing to sell its half of Oakland Coliseum land to the A’s owners without consulting the city that owns the other half left him “very concerned” that Oakland would “litigate against progress,” and that “I said to the mayor at one point, ‘The timing was such that some people could read it that maybe it is time for us to consider other alternatives.’” In case anyone missed the point, Manfred added, “There needs to be a plan to move this franchise forward. I’m hopeful it’s going to be here in Oakland,” and “I think it would be a tragedy for Oakland to lose its last major professional sports team,” which is almost a direct quote from the Army Protection Racket sketch.
- Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, meanwhile, bought tickets to the Wild Card game for Stephen Bronfman, the Montreal-based Seagram’s heir and private equity fund baron who is Sternberg’s would-be partner in his plan to have his team split time between two countries as the Tampontreal Ex-Rays. (Not the actual name, probably, but it should be.) “The thing is, it doesn’t interfere with anything going on, on the field. I made a point, and it still continues to be true, that 100 percent of what we’re focused on right now is on the field,” said Sternberg, while making headlines by answering questions about hosting a potential move-threat partner off the field.
Now, you will notice that neither of these threats came explicitly from the teams’ owners: A’s president and de facto stadium campaign spokesperson Dave Kaval limited himself to saying he was “surprised” by the city lawsuit, while leaving the heavy threatmongering to Manfred. And Sternberg insisted that he wasn’t the one who revealed that he bought Wild Card game tickets for Bronfman (they wouldn’t be sitting together, he said), but rather a member of Bronfman’s executive team who tweeted about it.
Still, sports team owners have a long track record of levying move threats by proxy, since it allows them all the leverage benefits while avoiding the nasty bits about being burned in effigy by outraged fans. It’s particularly unlikely that Manfred would be dropping threats in interviews without the explicit permission of A’s ownership, since the 30 MLB owners pay his salary; as for Bronfman, it’s possible that Sternberg said, “Here’s some tickets, now keep it under your hat that I paid for them, it would look really bad if people thought I did this just to rattle sabers about moving to Montreal during my team’s first postseason appearance in six years” and someone in Bronfman’s crew got Twitter-happy and ignored this, but somehow that doesn’t seem the most likely scenario.
Anyway, the Rays drove the A’s out of the playoffs with a pile of home runs, which means now we’ll get to see how attendance at Tampa Bay’s much-maligned stadium looks for games that really matter. Tickets for the A.L. Division Series vs. the Houston Astros go on sale today at 4 pm, and I for one will be as glued to the SeatGeek resale prices as to the start of the N.L. Division Series that’s happening at the same time.