Manfred tries to threaten to move Rays, A’s without new stadiums, trips over own tongue

Okay, I get it: Shilling for a new stadium for a team by dropping hints of a move threat is tricky business, and only made trickier when the team owner is trying to make nice with the local electeds in order to get a stadium deal done. Still, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seemed to be getting better at threat-mongering after a dismal start, but this yesterday about the Tampa Bay Rays, oy:

“I continue to believe Tampa (Bay) is a viable major-league market, and I also believe it may be better than the alternatives than we have out there,” Manfred said. “I am hopeful we get to a resolution.”…

“There does come a point in time where we have to accept the reality that a market, for whatever set of reasons, can’t get to the point that they have a major-league quality facility, and I am not going to indefinitely leave a club in a market without a major-league quality facility.”…

“It really depends on progress, right? If there is a point in time where it starts to grind to a halt and nothing is happening. I don’t think we’re there. But at that point in time where everybody is panicking, you get this look of ‘Where we going next?’ That’s when you have to start thinking about what your alternatives are. It’s hard for me to be more definitive than that.”

I think we may need to just admit that Rob Manfred is not very good at this move threat thing (or maybe this speaking English thing). You’d think if Roger Goodell can manage this, anybody can, but clearly not — for which Rays and Oakland A’s fans should be grateful, I suppose, since they don’t have to wake up to “Manfred says [your team here] could move without new stadium” headlines today, largely because today’s 24/7 news cycle journalists don’t have time to parse statements like Manfreds to try to figure out what he’s threatening if anything.

Oh yeah, Manfred said the same sort of nothing about the A’s, too:

“Given the change in the control situation,” Manfred said, “I think it’s prudent and sufficient for Mr. Fisher to take a year and make a decision on what site he thinks is the best.

“That decision is a uniquely local decision. I really don’t believe that it’s my job to have a preference for those sites. They know their market better. They’ve kept me briefed. They’ve spent a heck of a lot more time analyzing the sites. They’re far more familiar with the political issues that might revolve around those sites and the environmental issues involved.”…

“I am not going to indefinitely leave a club in a market without a major-league-quality facility.”

You know, if he’d even just said this on the same day as his name-dropping of cities that could host MLB teams … sigh. Clearly I’m in the wrong line of work — should’ve gone into evil.

MLB commissioner mentions Charlotte’s name on the telly!

The last time prior to yesterday that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about possible future expansion, in May of last year, he said that “I would love to see us expand” and “my personal, sort of, frontrunner would be Montreal or Mexico City.”

Yesterday,  at his All-Star Game press conference, and said:

I think we have some great candidates. I know the mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal. It was not great when the Expos left. The fact of the matter was baseball was successful in Montreal for a very long time. Charlotte is a possibility. And I would like to think that Mexico City or some place in Mexico would be another possibility.

Notice the one thing that’s not like the other?

This isn’t actually the first time that Manfred has mentioned Charlotte as an expansion possibility — he did so back in 2015 as well, along with Portland — but in baseball Kremlinology, it’s de rigueur to interpret the hell out of every word out of the guy’s mouth, so let’s give it a shot. Maybe Charlotte has jumped to the head of the list in the last 14 months for some reason? (Probably not, but maybe Jerry Reinsdorf got a nice salad at the airport there or something.) Maybe the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s — who again were mentioned by Manfred as needing their stadium situations “resolved” (read: somebody to build them new ones, ideally with public money) before expansion can take place — wanted a city to use as a potential move threat that was actually in the Unites States? Maybe he was waiting for the North Carolina anti-transgender bathroom bill to be repealed and the sports boycotts to end? Maybe some reporter from a Charlotte news outlet was in the crowd, and Manfred just wanted to see them get all excited when he mentioned their city’s name?

Anyway, if you really care to think about where MLB might expand to eventually, here’s a nice piece from SI’s Jay Jaffe from last year running down all the potential candidates and their pros and cons. If it has to wait out a Rays stadium denouement in particular, don’t hold your breath for anything in the next couple of years, but sometime in the 2020s MLB expansion should be ready to go — assuming the Miami Marlins don’t need to relocate by then because they’re underwater.

Bucks unveil tarpaulins covering new arena construction, and other Friday must-see news

And away we go with another weekly round of micro-news that shouldn’t be allowed to slip through the cracks:

A’s owners say moving four miles to new stadium will create $3B in economic benefits, I’m done

Okay, forget considering building a stadium on a site that’s really too small to fit one, because the Oakland A’s just trumped their own crazy yesterday, releasing a report that insists that a new stadium would generate $3.05 billion in economic impact over ten years for Oakland. That’s billion. With a B:

The study, conducted by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, also concluded that a new stadium would boost annual attendance by roughly one million, up from the 1.5 million or so that the A’s drew in 2016. Building a new ballpark would also produce about 2,000 construction jobs…

The $3.05 billion in economic benefit is broken down into $768 million from construction and related spending, $1.54 billion from game-day spending and $742 million from ballpark operations.

Okay, let’s break this down some. The $768 million from construction is uncontroversial, since a stadium is going to cost close to that much to build, though whether it should be counted as a net win for Oakland is another question. (Are all the vendors providing steel for the stadium going to go out and spend their earnings at the local Safeway?) The rest of the study, though — which features a lovely opening photo of Ryon Healy about to be mobbed by teammates excited about all the new economic benefits he’s bringing to Oakland — relies on the assumption that “gate receipts grow by approximately 2x in the first year of operations of a new stadium while concession spending increases at an even higher rate.”

There are a couple of problems with this. One is, obviously, the substitution effect: If all those new fans would have been spending that money elsewhere in Oakland anyway, it’s not a net benefit to the city. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute study takes this into account by discounting new spending by 20% — a number they apparently got by seeing that a previous study for the Detroit Tigers used 25% as the amount of spending that was substituted, then arbitrarily reduced that to 20% because Oakland is likely to have more out-of-towners attending games.

Then there’s that doubling of gate receipts thing. The study actually calculates that MLB teams saw attendance increase an average of 40% in the first ten years of a new stadium — though it puts its finger on the scale by not counting the New York Yankees and Mets for “lack of applicability,” for which read “they actually saw attendance go down in their new stadiums, that’s not going to help our numbers.” I’m not going to re-run their calculations right now, but suffice to say that that’s a lot to expect from a stadium honeymoon period, and isn’t likely to be sustainable over the long term (cf. the Cleveland Indians, who sold out several seasons in a row after their new stadium opened and now can’t draw flies despite a shiny new league championship trophy).

So, in short: If the A’s move four miles down the road from the Coliseum to new digs, some unknown number of additional people might go to A’s games, and some unknown number of them might have otherwise spent that money eating dinner in San Leandro, and some unknown amount of that cash might end up getting recirculated in the Oakland economy rather than just getting pocketed by the A’s owners and players, and — hey, why don’t we just call it an even three billion dollars? And don’t be bothered by the fact that nobody who has ever tried to find evidence of one of these stadium-sparked public windfalls has ever found any — $3 billion! With a B!

Anyway, here’s hoping that the A’s owners are just using the clear plastic binder gambit because it’s available to them, and they’ll end up actually paying for stadium construction and land acquisition and accepting a site that works for the city of Oakland and not just for them, like they say they will. If that happens, I will forgive them all their silly economic projections, though I make no promises to stop making fun of them for them.

A’s owners said to prefer teeny-tiny stadium site at Peralta Community College

There’s a new reported frontrunner in the search for a site for a new Oakland A’s stadium: The site of Peralta College’s administrative offices:

This is immediately south of the Laney College property that was previously considered (Laney is one of the four Peralta Community College campuses), but now seems to have fallen out of favor because Laney College wasn’t too thrilled with it. And, er, now that you mention it:

But there are challenges.

For one, Peralta Chancellor Jowel Laguerre says Laney’s faculty and students would probably put up a fight.

“I’m afraid of the aggravation we may create for ourselves and then nothing happens,” Laguerre said. “I am personally praying for one of the other sites to work out.”

Now that’s an endorsement!

The Peralta site definitely has advantages for the A’s — it’s right near both the Lake Merritt BART station and I-880, though it looks like it might need some highway ramp improvements to handle all the fans attending A’s games at once. More to the point, though, it’s tiny — only 13 acres and only about 500 feet wide north-to-south, making it even smaller than the Laney site that seemed arguably too small — which will present more of those challenges. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing — the San Francisco Giants have done great with a cramped site on the other side of the bay, for example — but it is a red flag to watch out for.

New MLB CBA should help spark new A’s stadium, but maybe not why you think

Of all the small changes in the new MLB collective bargaining agreement agreed on last week (which include the end of our long national World Series home-field nightmare), one that’s getting a bunch of attention is the decision to phase out the Oakland A’s exemption that’s allowed them to be the only team to collect revenue-sharing checks despite playing in a big market. The upshot, according to most sportswriters, is that this should turn up the heat on the A’s to build a new stadium:

Q. Sure, losing $35 million is one thing, but spending $800 million or likely much more to build a privately financed stadium is in a whole other category. Why does this force the A’s hands?

A. In absolute terms, it can’t. But the A’s want and need a new stadium and its revenue generating potential, so this is a strong push in this direction. Both executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst have talked about a future in which they can dial up the payroll to fit a new stadium.

That’s … not wrong, but wrongish. The implication here is that now that the A’s won’t be cashing annual revenue-sharing checks from the rest of the league no matter how crappy their balance sheet is, they’ll have to turn a profit some other way, so time to finally get cracking on that new stadium that’ll open up the money taps!

But that’s not how sports team owners think, or at least not how they should think if they’re remotely rational economic actors. (Which they probably aren’t entirely, but let’s overlook that for the moment.) If a new stadium is going to bring in more money than it costs to build, then you’re going to do it regardless of how much money you’re currently getting from other sources; and if a new stadium is going to be a money-loser, it’s not going to help you either way.

Where the new revenue-sharing rules can change the game is in how they effect marginal tax rates. Think about it this way: If you’re considering making an investment — moving to a new city, buying a car that allows you to commute to a new job, getting an advanced degree — and trying to figure out if the extra income it will allow you is worth it, the first thing you need to know is how much your net income will change after taxes, deductions, etc. So if you’ll be earning an extra $10,000 a year, but your bank balance will only change by $6,000, that’s a 40% marginal tax rate. (We can call it this regardless of whether it’s actual extra taxes you’re paying, or, say, credits you’re no longer eligible for.)

So back to the A’s. In past years, as an exempted “small market” team under MLB’s two-tier revenue sharing system, they’ve been subject to the leaguewide 34% tax on each new dollar earned, plus a 14% “performance factor” tax where both the size of the tax and the size of the benefit is based on how much money your team brings in (or fails to). (the effective marginal tax rate impact of this is largely the same regardless of whether you’re a high-revenue team or a low-revenue team, since either you’re paying out more and more into revenue sharing as your revenue rises, or you’re receiving less and less in checks, or both.) The new system eliminates the performance factor sliding-scale tax and replaces it with more flat tax — while the math is complicated, it won’t change things drastically in terms of how much of each new dollar the A’s get to keep.

What will have a significant effect is eliminating the huge penalty the A’s were previously going to face for building a new stadium. Before, a new stadium was going to make the team ineligible for any revenue-sharing checks at all, since it would kick them into the “big market” bracket; now, with the checks already shutting off, there’s no disincentive to go ahead and build. Getting rid of this penalty — a “benefit cliff,” in economic terms — should make building a new stadium a lot more alluring to the A’s owners, which is no doubt a big reason why MLB took this measure. (Though also probably because some owners were just sick of giving the A’s any money when they weren’t spending it — though that remains a problem with some other teams that remain designated “small market.”)

In other words, while losing that $35 million a year should be a huge incentive for building a new stadium, it’s not actually the loss of the money that matters, but rather taking away the threat of losing the money if they built a new stadium. MLB could just as easily have incentivized Lew Wolff and Co. by saying, “Hey, you’re small market either way, go ahead and replicate the Miami Marlins if you feel like it,” and it would have done largely the same thing.

If all that is too much math to swallow on a Monday morning — it’s almost too much for me — just hold on to the takeaway that the A’s might be building a new stadium soon with largely private money, though there’s still concerns they may try to make a grab for public land. Just also remember that revenue sharing works in mysterious ways, so what’s sauce for the A’s may not be sauce for, say, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Manfred says he hopes for A’s stadium site plan soon; Laney College fields could be option

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said a bunch of stuff yesterday about the Oakland A’s stadium plans, none of it earth-shaking, but here you go:

  • “I hope the first piece of news will be a decision as to which site will be the focus of their effort to get their plan and finances together.” That sounds like A’s owner Lew Wolff is going to pick a site first and then figure out how to pay for a stadium, which is kind of what’s been assumed all along. But anyway, now we know Manfred assumes it, too.
  • “The Mayor in Oakland has made it clear to me that baseball is her first priority. She would like to keep both teams, but baseball is her first priority. And I think that’s a good spot for baseball to be in.” This could mean that Mayor Libby Schaaf is in “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” mode with the Raiders (which would make sense, as Raiders owner Mark Davis is so far the one asking for a lot more public money for a stadium that would be in use about 12% as often), or it could mean that she tells all the sports team owners that they’re her favorite.
  • “I do believe that John Fisher and Lew Wolff are committed to the idea that they need to get something done in Oakland. I’ve told them. They understand that it is my strong preference that the team stay in Oakland.” Fisher and Wolff have said for years that they want to stay in the Bay Area (though they would include San Jose, which isn’t an option given the territorial rights squabble with the Giants), and sports league commissioners always say that they’d rather see teams stay put, even if only as a veiled threat. But it can be a true sentiment and a threat all at once — that’s the beauty of the move-threat game.

Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News (citing “a source close to the A’s”) says that a previously unreported site could be in play for the A’s: a parcel near Laney College off Lake Merritt, which I’m guessing refers to this:

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-8-34-54-am

(The Merc News report says that “one plan at Laney would call for the college to tear down some of their relatively new athletics facilities.”)

That would be a tight squeeze — here’s an overhead view of the current Oakland Coliseum site at the same scale:

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-8-35-19-amBut, hey, I’m an avowed fan of baseball stadiums in constrained spaces, since it can require designers to come up with interesting solutions and not just create a giant shopping mall with a ballfield in the middle. Laney College is owned by the local public community college district, so there would certainly be concerns about Fisher and Wolff paying fair market value for the site, but … you know, let’s cross this bridge when we come to it.

Fun fact: The Laney College site is also the where the Raiders played in the mid-’60s while the Coliseum was being built, at a temporary facility called Frank Youell Field. (Okay, fun if you’re into American Football League trivia. Are you saying you’re not? I thought so.)

Oakland offered $167m for Coliseum land, rejects bid because Raiders still might want it

Speaking of selling stadiums, turns out somebody does want to buy the Oakland Coliseum, so long as it comes with all the land that it (and the neighboring Oracle Arena) sits on:

A group of investors with ties to NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott is offering to purchase the Coliseum land with the hopes of keeping the Raiders in Oakland, according to a letter the group’s attorney sent to local officials last week…

The group proposes purchasing the Coliseum land — which includes Oracle Arena and other nearby properties — for $167.3 million, which accounts for bond obligations owed and prepayment penalties. The plan includes upgrading and replacing the site’s sewer and septic systems, which infamously have backed up during games, spewing raw sewage into dugouts and team clubhouses.

Note that Lott, who previously expressed an interest in developing the Coliseum site with a new Raiders stadium included, isn’t actually involved in the bid, though some of his partners are. The front man for the land bid appears to be Martin J. Greenberg, who is co-founder of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School, which is just weird, but I guess everybody in the stadium world is tempted to jump in and be part of the game at some point.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf immediately rejected the bid, though it’s not immediately clear whether this was because she felt it was too low a price for 120 acres of downtown (well, sort of downtown) Oakland land, or because she doesn’t want to piss off Raiders owner Mark Davis and A’s owner Lew Wolff, each of whom would rather develop the land themselves. Schaaf told the East Bay Express:

“We did not recommend consideration of this offer at this time,” the mayor said. “We remain committed to a team-centered development. We want the Raiders and the NFL at the center of this future site.”

There are so many players here and so much potential jockeying for leverage that it’s hard to tell who’s trying to put one over on whom at any given point, but at least, unlike in Phoenix, there are actually some people who want the stadium land in Oakland. Actually wanting to pay for building a stadium without getting a cheap deal on development rights is another thing, but hey, baby steps!

Oakland A’s co-owner to visit possible waterfront stadium site, everyone gets all excited

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf may be one of the Gang of Four mayors taking a hard line on stadium subsidies, but that doesn’t mean she can’t try to help the Oakland A’s owners by showing them properties they could buy with their own money. A’s co-owner John Fisher (and possibly co-owner Lew Wolff’s son and stadium point man Keith) will reportedly tour the Howard Terminal site today along with Port of Oakland officials to see if it can be made to work for a new A’s stadium.

This is only one of several sites the A’s owners are looking at, and they still prefer to stay at the Oakland Coliseum site, and really just going to kick the tires isn’t much of a commitment. But since Howard Terminal has been one of the alternate sites that has gotten more attention, this is getting lots of press attention today. Personally, wake me when somebody has a financial plan.

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.