Wolff, Oakland agree on A’s lease; let the new stadium battles begin

Yeah, there’s no way Lew Wolff was going to let a few wording quibbles stand in the way of a lease extension he pretty much wrote himself. On Tuesday night, the Oakland A’s owner announced that he’d reached agreement with the city of Oakland on a new 10-year lease extension; while the Alameda County Board of Supervisors still needs to sign off on the plan, they were in favor of it all along, so it’s fair to say that this deal is done.

With that out of the way, Wolff can now move on to fighting with Raiders owner Mark Davis over who’ll get the rights to develop the Oakland Coliseum property, which increasingly looks like the prize that both team owners are looking to win in order to make new stadium deals happen. This looks set to be yet another multi-sided battle, in that not only are Wolff and Davis effectively bidding against each other, but each is no doubt going to try to extract the best deal out of Oakland and Alameda County, in terms of land price, tax breaks, and direct stadium subsidies. None of that has advanced much beyond the spitballing stage in either case, so we have lots and lots more fun battles to look forward to before there’s any kind of resolution here — assuming “resolution” is something you can ever really talk about in a sports industry where stadiums can be considered obsolete after only 14 years.

A’s lease squabble continues to transition into A’s-Raiders land squabble

The Oakland A’s lease copyediting controversy goes on, now with Oakland’s city attorney making still more “minor” changes to the document, and Alameda County officials charging that they’re anything but minor:

“The city attorney interpreted that to mean that she could go back and insert changes to the language that she had been attempting to get the A’s to agree to for weeks but they had rejected repeatedly,” Streeter said. “This is the kind of thing that we are now going to have to smooth over.”

This is all completely hilarious, but it’s the kind of thing that nobody is likely to blow up the entire lease talks over at this point. Even Streeter said Friday that a final agreement should be in place within “a day or so.”

Marginally bigger news is that A’s owner Lew Wolff has ramped up his battle with the Raiders over the Coliseum site by sending Oakland city administrator Henry Gardner a letter that, in the midst of much sniping at “mean spirited persons” who would criticize his new lease extension or his good faith, declares that once the lease extension is settled, he’ll explore “looking into the bond costs and JPA operating costs to determine if we can present an offer that would vastly reduce or even eliminate the annual City/County subsidy and allow us to develop and control our own destiny.” And Wolff adds that he has “not once said or assumed that the desired new A’s ballpark would rely on or seek public funding” — calling this a “total distortion” put forward by “some parties.”

At the risk of being cut off Wolff’s Christmas card list, this isn’t actually much of a promise: “Looking into” building a stadium while paying off the existing Coliseum bonds isn’t the same as actually doing so, and it’s been clear for a while that any subsidies Wolff would require would likely be in the form of free land and tax breaks, which sports team owners generally don’t count as “public funding,” even though it is. Really, we have no idea — and for all we know Wolff has no idea — what kind of financing and development plan an A’s stadium would require, so it’s impossible to say what kind of deal it would be for Oakland, either compared to giving the Raiders’ Coliseum City partners the rights to the Coliseum site, or compared to not handing it over to either team.

In any event, though, given the amount of verbiage in Wolff’s letter disparaging the city’s exclusive negotiations with the Coliseum City group over the site, it looks like he’s preparing to move on from fighting with Oakland over the lease to fighting with Raiders owner Mark Davis over the land, as expected. If they play their cards right, Oakland and Alameda officials could turn this into a nice bidding war for the site — though given recent events, it might be a bit much to expect those guys to even hold their cards without dropping them all over the floor.

Goodell floats Raiders move to Santa Clara, but 49ers fans’ PSL rights could be stumbling block

The San Francisco 49ers‘ new Santa Clara stadium had its ribbon-cutting yesterday, and according to Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh, whose company bought the naming rights to the place, it is “the most amazing stadium on the face of the planet.” Though, according to SF Gate’s Ann Killion, all NFL stadiums “are big, impersonal, infrequently used and tend to be the same, depending on what era they were built in,” so maybe Bergh is grading on a curve here.

In any event, the stadium opening was slightly overshadowed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s suggestion that the Oakland Raiders might want to consider moving in there as well if stadium talks in Oakland go poorly:

“They have to make that determination, whether they’re in a new stadium in Oakland or whether they feel that it’s best to join this stadium,” Goodell said, according to the Bay Area Sports Guy, who tweeted the commissioner’s remarks. “We’re working on that, and that’s one of the decisions they’ll have to make.”

Rattling move-threat sabers is, needless to say, Goodell’s job. And the 49ers owners have been open to renting to the Raiders if need be. Yet as the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami points out, there could be a major stumbling block to the Raiders and 49ers sharing digs: the stadium builders licenses (aka personal seat licenses) that the 49ers sold, for anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000 per seat, to raise $500 million toward construction.

Part of the agreement is that SBL-holders have first dibs on most other events at the stadium…. There is no way the Raiders would agree to 49ers SBL-holders getting first look at their tickets.

Even if they did, the 49ers wouldn’t want to share any % of their precious SBL cash with the Raiders.

That’s a problem on two counts. First off, since SBLs have already been sold, the Raiders would be missing out on a source of cash that the team could otherwise collect at its own new stadium. On top of that, though, if the Raiders then sold tickets without requiring their own PSL purchases, 49ers seat license holders could scream bloody murder about being forced to put up tens of thousands of dollars for seats while Raiders fans paid nothing, and even potentially file lawsuits over the inequity. Kawakami says NFL sources have “muttered” about this problem previously, and that “nobody has a good answer for it, not practically.”

Kawakami doesn’t mention it, but this is a potential stumbling block with any proposed move of the A’s to San Francisco’s AT&T Park, which the Giants similarly sold PSLs, though only on the 15,000 priciest seats. Giants “charter seat license” holders likewise have dibs on buying tickets to other events at the stadium, which could cause major problems in the event of an A’s move. Not that the A’s are likely to move, or the Giants to okay it without usurious lease terms, but it’s an important reminder that there’s more to relocating a team than just saying, “Hey, look, that stadium is empty part of the time, let’s set up there!”

UPDATE: A 49ers SBL holder has posted language that seems to indicate that the 49ers accounted for this problem by omitting “other NFL games” from SBL rights — see comments.

Oakland council fixes dumb typos in A’s lease, everybody threatens to freak out again

The Oakland city council approved the new Oakland A’s lease yesterday … or approved a lease, anyway. The council made a few “procedural” changes to the lease that was approved by the Coliseum Authority earlier in the month, leading team president Michael Crowley to pronounce himself “caught by surprise” and “disappointed” that the council had changed the lease terms, and refuse to commit to signing the revised lease until he’d had a chance to review the new lease.

So what are these changes? Newballpark.org ran them down late last night, and here are the main ones:

  • Clarifying that if A’s owner Lew Wolff chooses to terminate the lease by announcing it in the middle of the year, the termination goes into effect following the second full year after the termination. (So if he terminates in mid-2016, the A’s are locked in through 2018.)
  • Fixing a typo that indicated a developer payment as being both $10 million and $20 million.
  • Clauses clarifying what happens if the team is sold, or if the Coliseum Authority defaults on its part of the deal.

As Newballpark.org notes, these are all really minor changes, and nothing that Wolff would have cause to reject. The de-typoed lease does have to now go back to the Coliseum Authority for a re-vote, though (as well as to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, which was always going to have to vote on this), so maybe Crowley was just disappointed that things are going to drag on an extra week or two? All signs point to things still getting worked out, but it wouldn’t be a week in Oakland without somebody pointing fingers angrily at somebody about something.

 

Raiders say they don’t need to tear down Coliseum right this very minute after all

No major shifts in the Oakland A’s and Raiders who-gets-dibs-on-the-Oakland-Coliseum-land controversy today, but there is one minor bit of notable news: The Coliseum City development team aligned with the Raiders issued a letter on Wednesday saying they don’t actually need to tear down the Coliseum right away, and are fine with the A’s new lease requiring two years notice before any demolition.

Which couldn’t have been that hard, given that the lease is almost certainly going to go through anyway, that the Raiders aren’t going to have funding in place for a stadium anytime soon, and that waiting two years in the grand scheme of things isn’t that big a deal if there’s a new stadium and a giant development project on a huge swath of public land at the end of the wait. But still, it’s a concession, kind of.

In any event, it seems like everyone involved is now positioning themselves to move ahead to Act II (or really more like Act XXVII), wherein the two teams fight over the Coliseum site without discussing in public, for as long as possible, how much public cash and/or free land and/or tax breaks they’d want as part of the deal. Assuming the Oakland city council signs off on the A’s lease extension by the end of the month, which while still likely, isn’t yet assured, with tons of official “undecided” votes. We could be here a while.

Oakland stadium battle lines officially shift from city-vs.-A’s to A’s-vs.-Raiders

Looks like you can forget any thoughts of Oakland city officials trying to make major changes to the A’s lease extension that the city-county joint Coliseum Authority just approved. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan yesterday declared at a news conference, “We need the City Council to approve it as quickly as possible so we can start talking seriously about a new stadium in the city,” though she did say that she’d sent city administrator Henry Gardner to meet with A’s owner Lew Wolff to discuss “clarifications” of the deal.

And with everyone kissing and making up, it’s apparently time for Wolff to make nice as well, responding to councilmember Larry Reid’s stated concern that the A’s could have moved to San Antonio or Montréal by saying he would never dream of such a thing:

Wolff said he hadn’t spent any time thinking about those two cities and wasn’t even sure Montreal has a stadium that would fit the team’s needs.

“I have not done one thing relative to that,” Wolff said. “We’d rather stay in the Bay Area than move to Timbuktu.”

Not one thing other than sending a late-night email saying he could move out of Oakland if the lease wasn’t approved exactly as he proposed it. But apparently not to Montréal, or San Antonio, or Mali, something he took pains to clarify as soon as it was clear that the lease extension was going to be safely approved.

Anyway, if you’re disappointed that the likelihood of political fisticuffs seems to be fading, never fear, as there’s still plenty of opportunity for entertaining chaos ahead. That’s because the developers behind Coliseum City — the redevelopment project that Quan has endorsed despite nobody knowing how to pay for it — sent a memo to the mayor last week asserting that the Oakland Coliseum needs to be torn down next year to make way for a new Raiders football stadium. The new A’s lease would preclude that, since Oakland would be required to give Wolff two years’ notice before demolishing the Coliseum, yet Quan still insists that both the A’s lease and the Coliseum City project should go ahead, despite them being mutually contradictory on this point.

Members of the Coliseum Authority, meanwhile, have pointed out that the city doesn’t actually own the Coliseum, they do, and they have no intention of tearing it down tomorrow. City councilmember and authority board member Larry Reid called the idea “crazy, absolutely insane,” while county supervisor and authority chair Nate Miley said, “This is either smoke and mirrors or they are on crack.”

All of which means that Quan and Wolff’s rapprochement notwithstanding, we still have a major war of all against all going on over Oakland’s stadium situation, with next major issue being whether the A’s or the Raiders get control over the Coliseum site. Quan seems dead-set on being on every side at once, but then, she might not be mayor anymore by next year, and in any case the Coliseum Authority holds the ultimate cards, so… yeah, pretty much more chaos assured.

And meanwhile, neither Raiders nor A’s execs have provided any details about how much new stadiums would cost, how much public money (or free land or tax breaks or what have you) would be required, or where the teams would play if the Coliseum needed to be demolished before starting construction on new venues. These might seem like important things to find out before choosing sides on a potential billion-dollar-plus redevelopment plan that could determine the fate of two sports franchises, but so much gets lost in the fog of war.

Raiders oppose A’s lease extension, set up showdown for Coliseum development rights

Forget the Oakland city council — an actual heavyweight has weighed in on A’s owner Lew Wolff’s proposed 10-year lease extension, and boy, are they mad:

The development team working to build a new Raiders football stadium has urged city officials to reject a lease extension for the Oakland A’s because it would frustrate the football team’s desire to tear down O.co Coliseum next year.

In a letter to Mayor Jean Quan and council members last week, the development team’s attorney wrote that “the current proposal … simply allows the A’s to buy more time to find a site outside of Oakland … and disrupt the ability to deliver a stadium for the Raiders and the ancillary developments adjacent to that stadium.”

Translation: We wanna build a new stadium where they play! Why aren’t you making them leave? This is so unfair!

Matthew Artz’s article in the Oakland Tribune does shed a bit more light on the gamesmanship going on between the A’s and Raiders owners, though, as well as some of the strategy involved. Both Wolff and Raiders owner Mark Davis, notes Artz, have their sights set on not just building a new stadium where the current Oakland Coliseum now stands — a location that’s plenty big enough to fit two stadiums if need be — but on being the primary partners on developing the rest of the site. And that town literally isn’t big enough for the both of them:

Because outdoor sports stadiums are often money losers and Oakland can’t afford to help pay for them, any new stadium development in the city is expected to include shops, a hotel and offices to subsidize the project. Sports economists have questioned whether the A’s and Raiders would want to work together because a second stadium would remove land that could be used for more profitable development.

“The probability of Coliseum City working financially and some team committing to it would be greater if there was only one team involved,” Stanford University Economics Professor Emeritus Roger Noll said when asked about the development in April.

In other words, it’s clearer than ever now that both owners’ business plans involve extracting as much as possible in negotiations over the Coliseum site, not just in public money, but in development rights to land, which in the suddenly hot Oakland real estate market could be more valuable than any old sports stadium. Which explains both why Davis is insisting on the A’s eviction at the earlier possible time, and why Wolff is eager to get a lease extension signed that would force the Raiders to wait (two years, anyway) on their stadium plans: The owners aren’t just negotiating with Oakland for the best possible deal, they’re competing with each other not just for sports market share, but for dibs on a mammoth piece of prime real estate.

Right now the Oakland council seems cranky about the Raiders’ less than detailed plans, and so is inclined to let Wolff have his way. (Or as much of his way as they have to, anyway.) But then, Davis hasn’t yet sent any late-night emails pointing out the existence of the rest of North America.

 

 

Oakland council mulls ways to change A’s lease deal without actually changing it

The Oakland city council, fresh off its decision to cave completely to A’s owner Lew Wolff’s threat to move the team out of town, somewhere, and approve the stadium lease extension exactly as he proposed it, met in closed session yesterday to discuss making some “tweaks” to the lease. Or perhaps doing some “tinkering,” depending on which part of KCBS’s report you choose to go by. Either way, it would likely run afoul of Wolff’s “enough talk, just vote for my plan” edict of last week, but it’s nice to see the Oakland council trying to figure out how to flex its muscles after agreeing not to do so, maybe? (Two pro-lease councilmembers got fed up and walked out of the meeting, for whatever that’s worth.)

For his part, Oakland councilmember Larry Reid (one of those two meeting walkouts) says he doesn’t think Wolff’s move threat was a bluff, insisting “they have options” and citing San Antonio and Montreal as two possibilities. Which I guess means he didn’t read my article for Sports on Earth this morning on where the A’s could possibly move to, because no, those are not good options at all. (And I didn’t even get into the problem that San Antonio’s only existing stadium, the Alamodome, would feature a 280-foot distance to the right field wall.) One hopes, though, that he at least read the SF Weekly’s take on the A’s lease mess, which sums it all up pretty nicely:

“I looked at the numbers, thought, ‘this isn’t so good for the city,’ and then mentioned that in public,” Quan said. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’d like to apologize to the A’s, and to all of professional baseball. Of course you can stay, and take whatever you want from the taxpayers. In fact, I would like to offer Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig one of my kidneys. Even if he doesn’t need it. Please: it’s the least I can do.”

A spokesman for Selig responded that he would like both of Quan’s kidneys.

(The photo caption is pretty excellent, too.)

Selig waves move threat stick, Oakland to approve A’s lease, everybody goes to watch fireworks

Well, that was easy:

Athletics co-owner Lew Wolff [wrote] in a 10 p.m. e-mail to officials: “I was informed tonight that Commissioner Selig, due to the possibility of not having the hearing and vote that we were purported to receive from the JPA, that we will immediately be allowed to seek a temporary or permanent location outside the city of Oakland.”

The e-mail prompted city and county officials to immediately restart negotiations to keep the A’s in Oakland, and a new deal was being discussed Thursday morning by the 8-member board of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority.

The Coliseum Authority just got back from closed session, and the city officials are reportedly ready to sign off on the lease after all.

If true, this was the easiest saber-rattling incident ever: Not only didn’t Bud Selig have to fly into town to make move threats in person, he didn’t even have to get out the fancy stationery. All Wolff had to do was open up Outlook, dash off a quick email, then go to bed and let the panic begin.

It’s especially remarkable because Wolff never needed MLB permission to “seek” a new home. Any MLB owner is allowed to consider moving wherever they want at any time — well, except for the Tampa Bay Rays, whose lease makes that a thought crime — it’s just that actually moving requires the vote of all 30 MLB owners. Which is something that Selig can’t promise, by the way, but why let this get in the way of a good threat?

Anyway, it looks like Wolff and Selig have proven that Oakland officials are more afraid of even the possibility of losing the A’s to some unspoken city than the A’s are afraid of having to play their games in the middle of an open field with some rented bleachers. Mayors really aren’t very good at this sort of thing, are they?

UPDATE:

UPDATE #2:

Wolff to Oakland on A’s lease extension: Our way or … some highway, I guess?

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Joint Powers Authority finally revealed some details of A’s owner Lew Wolff’s proposed lease extension, and they’re pretty much what we’ve been hearing for a while now:

  • Wolff would pay about $15 million in rent over the course of the 10-year extension, a slightly higher rate than they’d be paying now. The team could leave with two years’ notice if the Raiders cut a deal to build a new stadium on the Coliseum site, or starting in 2018 regardless of what the Raiders do, but Wolff would still have to pay rent on the Coliseum.
  • Wolff would settle a dispute over $5 million in back rent by instead investing $10 million into a new scoreboard system, something he’s been wanted to do anyway.
  • The Coliseum Authority would put $1 million a year into a fund to fix the Coliseum’s sewage issues.

The big news, though, is the dueling “fuck yous” that the Oakland city council and Wolff issued today over tomorrow’s potential vote on this deal. The Oakland council has ordered its four representatives on the stadium board — that’s half the body — to vote against Wolff’s plan, and instead offer its own proposal, which will include higher rent payments, and possibly more restrictions on the A’s out clause. In response, Wolff declared today that “we are 100 percent finished” with lease talks, and “if someone wants to do something else, we have no interest in that. … If we don’t get a positive vote, we’ll be very sad after 14 months of negotiations.”

If you’re scoring this game of multi-dimensional chicken at home, the calculus goes like this: Oakland officials know that Wolff needs to have a place to play after 2015, and if he doesn’t want to be forced to play in the street — or, I guess, in someplace like Sacramento, which would be marginally better than the street — he needs to bargain with them over the Coliseum. Wolff, meanwhile, is simultaneously trying to isolate the Oakland councilmembers — Alameda County board reps, don’t forget, are fine with this deal — and make a case to his fellow MLB owners that “Hey, Oakland won’t give us a lease, won’t you pleeeeeeeeze let us move to San Jose now?”

If anything, Oakland has less to lose in this standoff: Yeah, the A’s could potentially move, but there’s nothing really stopping them from moving if they do sign the lease, anyway. The real question is what Wolff is going to do if Oakland calls his bluff: Is he really going to go into the last year of his lease with nowhere else to play, hoping that either Bud Selig’s successor panics and lets him have San Jose, or some other city jumps in with a new stadium offer? (Though a new stadium elsewhere could never be completed by 2016, and there are pretty much zero available MLB-ready stadiums where he could play in the interim.) That would be gutsy, I suppose, but also leave Wolff potentially having to come crawling back to Oakland if neither MLB nor another city takes the bait.

It all promises to be great drama, anyway. More tomorrow as events develop.