Sharks threaten to leave San Jose unless Google gets offa their damn lawn

In a twist so backwards that I’ve had to double-check it three times before I could get myself to even type it, the San Jose Sharks owners have threatened to move out of town if — hang on, gotta check this one more time … yep, it’s for real — if the city adds new development to the downtown area around their arena:

In an urgent plea to fans for help, the San Jose Sharks on Thursday said the team may be forced out of the city because of big downtown developments near the Diridon train station that threaten access and parking at the SAP Center, where the team plays…

“We definitely do not want to leave,” Jonathan Becher, president of Sharks Sports & Entertainment, said in an interview. “This is our home. This is where we want to be. Leaving is the last resort. But it could come to that if the arena becomes unviable.”

The development at stake is a large mixed-use development that Google plans to build to replace most much (Ed. Note: see comments) of the city’s downtown, adding 65 new buildings hosting 30,000 new Google workers, plus 4,000 units of housing. (Google says the project won’t require any tax or land breaks; most of the public concerns about it have been that it will displace existing residents.) The Sharks owners are concerned about traffic problems during construction and also that Google will be using some parking lots that Sharks fans currently use, as well as eliminating some traffic lanes — there are plans for a BART train extension to Diridon, which would make it easier for fans to arrive from the East Bay by public transit, but that’s not slated to open until 2029 at the earliest.

So it’s understandable that the Sharks owners would be gripey, but moving the team, seriously? In 2015, the team agreed to extend its lease on the city-owned arena through 2040, in exchange for about $100 million in city funding for arena upgrades and rent breaks. A city memo at the time warned that “the team’s success and popularity has cities across America vying to attract the team away from San Jose with promises of new shiny buildings at no cost to the team,” which wasn’t remotely true from what I can tell, even if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did once threaten that the Sharks could be forced to move if they didn’t get a more lucrative cable deal.

That lease extension was technically only through 2025, though, with a series of 15 one-year renewals to follow. All references to the new lease deal on the San Jose city website now go to a dead link, so it’s tough for me to check what kind of out clauses the team has before 2040, but I’ll give it a shot once folks on the West Coast have woken up today and gone to work walked to their kitchen tables and turned on their laptops.

Even if the Sharks can relocate in 2025, though, doesn’t mean it’s very likely. They have a franchise that is solidly in the middle of the pack in terms of revenue and value, with both on the rise; they have that sweet lease deal pumping more money into the arena for renovations; and they have that BART station about to open just a few years after they could potentially leave, which should make their arena accessible to tons of new fans traveling from the north. San Francisco’s Golden State Warriors arena isn’t configured to accommodate hockey, so that would leave maybe the now-vacant Oakland arena, or … Tulsa?

Way more likely is this is just saber-rattling to get San Jose to throw the Sharks some bones in exchange for putting up with jackhammers at their front door, which is entirely what you’d expect after the team owners were able to get such a sweet deal they last time they made noise about leaving town. It’s probably something city officials should have thought of when they were negotiating that lease extension — if we’re giving them a new lease through 2040, maybe we should make sure they can’t threaten to leave 15 years early if they want to shake us down for more concessions — but nobody ever said city lease negotiators were the sharpest tacks in the drawer.

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13 comments on “Sharks threaten to leave San Jose unless Google gets offa their damn lawn

  1. I think you’re right that the Sharks will probably not leave, for all of the reasons you mentioned.

    That said, the Sharks need that parking. The BART to SF or the easy bay will be too long a ride for people leaving a game at 10 pm on a weeknight. Plus, their fanbase is mostly south bay people who never take public transit. L

  2. South Bay people who never take public transit…because we can’t. They used to hold the last northbound Caltrain until 20 minutes after the game. Not anymore. No southbound service past Tamien after games. The less said about VTA light rail, the better.

    This project is not “going to replace most of the city’s downtown.” Not even close. The campus, arena and train station are all on the opposite side of Highway 87 from downtown.

    Agreed, it’s a shakedown for cash. Where are they going to go?

  3. The Diridon Station Area Plan and the Google draft EIR make it pretty clear that the intended outcome is an urban area that emphasizes transit and walking – and makes car use difficult. That is a real problem for the Sharks and SAP Center, given the geography and demography of the customer base. Field of Schemes talks a lot (correctly) about substitution effects. I think the Sharks are rightly concerned that if taking the family to a hockey game is significantly harder and more expensive than now, folks will use their entertainment $$ differently. It’s a different picture than the usual stadium/arena shakedown…

    1. While I get your point, this does seem a bit like “We built an arena downtown to be near the train station, now we’re upset that Google is building other stuff downtown because they want to be near the train station.”

  4. The Oakland Arena is no longer usable for hockey (at least without creating a Barclays Center/America West Arena situation), as the way they constructed the seating bowl in the 1996 renovation made it basketball-only.

    1. How do the Oakland Panthers play Indoor Football at the Oakland Arena? The standard field is the exact same size as an NHL rink.

  5. Late to the party, but the problem with the lack of CalTrain and VTA service is that parking is too easy right now. Maybe I am a Pollyanna, but I think both services (assuming they survive COVID times) and fans will step up (or be forced to) during and after this development finishes. People adapt (or, are, alternatively, lazy).

    The irony to me is that team owners constantly beat the drum about how arenas and stadiums can revitalize districts (and structure deals so they reap the profits). Yet here, the Sharks are interested in keeping this area underdeveloped, depressing the potential of this area and downtown population, which is the single ingredient to get downtown over the hump in terms of services, retail and vibrancy.

  6. Let’s get real folks and Gary Bettman too.
    1. The NHL is not going to abandon the 5th largest TV market, which I am sure NBC and all the cable hockey broadcasters are sure to point out
    2. The Sharks have been bleeding San Jose and Santa Clara County residents for years. They Sharks Ice practice complex is being doubled in size and the Sharks are building an arena for their minor league team to play in, instead of the Shark Tank.
    The County and City have forgiven the $11 million debt the Sharks owed for that complex. Guess who is getting stuck with that bill? SJ and Santa Clara County taxpayers. Ask the Alameda County voters how they like every year in their tax statements, that they are still paying for the improvements to the Oakland Coliseum for the Oakland Raiders. I am betting the owners of the Golden Knights, the Ducks, Kings, Seattle, the Coyotes, are not going to be publicly supporting this move.

  7. Has the author of this post ever been to San Jose? Is the author familiar with Sam Liccardo and his history of focus? This post sounds as if it came from the viewpoint of someone living 1000 miles away, not in San Jose.

    There are more moving parts to this story than you realize.

  8. Exactly… I’ve seen the hockey boards up at some concerts in Oakland. The first few rows retract, maybe rows A1-A4? Whether or not they still have ice-making is another matter.

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