Raiders owner: Two can play at “we won’t sign a lease, we’ll be homeless” game

So Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff thought he was clever with that “we’re only going to sign a long-term lease under our conditions, or else just we’ll go play in the street” threat? Well, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis knows how to play that game, too:

Davis said he hasn’t asked for a one-year extension on the Raiders’ lease at O.co Coliseum – which expires at the end of next season – and has no plans to do so.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently brought up the idea of the Raiders renting the field at the 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara, but Davis is opposed to that idea and seems to be looking for other places to play in 2015.

Now, it’s important to remember that absolutely everything in Oakland right now has to be viewed in terms of the long game of which team (if either) will get control of the Oakland Coliseum site, both for stadium-building purposes and for other-development-building purposes. Looked at in that light, this tells us absolutely nothing: If Davis genuinely has a secret plan to move the team elsewhere, sure, this is exactly how he would be behaving. And if Davis doesn’t want to move, but just wants leverage to force Oakland to make him top dog in any Coliseum site plans, this is also exactly how he would be behaving.

In fact, it’s an absolutely typical gambit: Everyone from the Florida Marlins to the New York Yankees has warned that if they didn’t get what they wanted, their lease would expire and they’d be left homeless — and in every case, when push came to shove, a short-term extension was agreed upon where needed, because it’s not really like Oakland would say to the Raiders, “No, you can’t play in the Coliseum” or Davis would say “We’ll just sleep on our friend’s sofa,” would they?

Still, what with all the chatter about San Antonio wanting a team and Magic Johnson wanting L.A. to have a team, this is bound to kick up lots of “Where will the Raiders play in 2015?” headlines. Which is just what you want when going into lease talks with local elected officials, so nicely played, Mr. Davis.

Spurs could fight Raiders move to San Antonio, unless they’re cut in on the deal

Now this is getting interesting: Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis may or may not be serious about considering moving his team to San Antonio, but regardless, apparently the city’s existing major pro sports team is agin’ it:

In the wake of Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis’ whirlwind tour of San Antonio, sources with knowledge of the visit said Spurs Sports & Entertainment would be against the Raiders, as they are currently structured, relocating to South Texas…

Spurs shareholder Charlie Amato indicated that SS&E harbors concerns about its long-term financial health should it be forced to compete with another major league franchise for sponsorships, suite sales and ticket sales.

The solution, Amato said, would be for SS&E to have controlling interest in the Raiders or perhaps any other major league franchise that wanted to move to San Antonio.

This could mean just about anything: That the Spurs owners genuinely want to block an NFL franchise from coming to town, that they’re just angling to get a piece of any such team (after all, if the town’s really not big enough for two teams in terms of corporate sponsorships, how would having them both owned by the same people help?), or that Amato is just mouthing off and doesn’t really speak for SS&E. Regardless, it’s potentially a major stumbling block to a Raiders relocation, since if there’s one thing that can contest the political clout of the 800-pound gorilla that is a pro sports team, it’s another 800-pound gorilla.

Rich guy speculates about other rich guy’s intent, gets in newspaper

Red McCombs spoke to the San Antonio Express-News last week about the possibility of the Oakland Raiders relocating to San Antonio, and he’s a rich guy who used to own the Minnesota Vikings, so he gets to have his every idle speculation reprinted in the newspaper. These were:

  • Raiders owner Mark Davis had a good meeting with San Antonio officials: “I don’t think it could have gone better.” McCombs says Davis especially liked former San Antonio mayor and HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, who put together the deal, noting, “I can remember when Henry was mayor, and the mayor of New York left a meeting he was in and got up and embraced Henry and said, ‘God, I’m glad you came up here.’”
  • McCombs would be interested in buying into the Raiders “if that’s what it would take to get them here,” but has no idea if Davis would be seeking minority investors.
  • “It’s a myth that San Antonio is a bargaining chip.” (The Express-News headline implies that McCombs called Davis’s interest in San Antonio “sincere,” but the headline writers actually seem to have been quoting their own reporter.)

So put it all together, and McCombs is indicating … either that Davis is serious about moving to San Antonio, or that McCombs wants Davis to be serious about it. Definitely one of those two. Also, that the Express-News wants it to be the former, or at least wants readers to think it’s the former, because eyebaaaaaaaaaaaaaalls!

Oakland stadiums still at least $750 million short of becoming reality

SFGate has attempted to calculate how much additional money would be needed to get new stadiums built in Oakland for the A’s and Raiders, and the answer is: a whole hell of a lot of money.

– A new Raiders stadium is expected to cost roughly $1 billion. A new A’s stadium could run $400 million to $600 million.

– It will cost at least $150 million to tear up the sprawling O.coColiseum parking lots to build the new streets, water pipes and sewers needed to lure hotels, condos and restaurants that will help subsidize the stadium.

– Roughly $100 million is needed to pay off the bond debt still attached to the Coliseum after the city and Alameda County paid for major upgrades in 1995. And everyone in the mix – city officials, county officials and team owners – is fighting with someone. If they don’t learn to get along, one or both teams could still leave the city.

Calling this $1.75 billion in needed funds, as SFGate does, isn’t quite fair: That $100 million to pay off the rest of the Coliseum is a sunk cost (it needs to be paid regardless of whether new stadiums are built), and A’s owner Lew Wolff has said he’ll privately fund his own stadium costs — though whether that includes land and infrastructure costs is as yet unknown, and when asked where he’d come up with private funds, he replied only, “We’re studying that right now.” The Raiders ownership has promised $200 million toward a stadium, plus could likely get another $200 million in NFL G-4 funding, leaving probably a $600 million gap there.

Still, that’s at least $750 million that would have to come from “TBD” in order to get a pair of stadiums built, if you could even get the two teams to agree on who would get control of the broader Coliseum site for redevelopment. And SFGate doesn’t even get into the value of the land itself once improved by that $150 million in infrastructure spending, or whether the stadiums and other development would pay standard property tax rates … really, we have no damn clue how much this would really cost, or who would pay for it. It’s a crazy expensive project (or two projects), though, so hopefully somebody will actually start putting real numbers to paper sometime in the near future.

Raiders execs throw dart at map, pick San Antonio as place to visit for move threat

With their rivals in the development rights land rush the Oakland A’s already having played the move threat card, it was only a matter of time before the Raiders did the same. The only question was which city owner Mark Davis would play footsie with, and it looks like the winner is … San Antonio? Sure, San Antonio.

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis and two top lieutenants met recently with several San Antonio officials to discuss the potential of moving his NFL team from the Bay Area to the Alamo City, local leaders involved in the talks confirmed Tuesday…

Late Tuesday, after the Express-News published a version of this story on its websites, [city manager Sheryl] Sculley issued a memo to the City Council.

“I was asked to meet two weeks ago with the owner of the Oakland Raiders, Mark Davis, and members of his staff. Mr. Davis has expressed interest in a possible relocation of his NFL team to San Antonio and we are engaged in preliminary due diligence,” she wrote. “The agenda for this visit included a tour of the Alamodome and meetings with local business leaders.”

This is, of course, what sports team owners do when they’re seeking a new stadium — in the words of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, “go, and have a nice dinner and come back.” San Antonio’s even been through this before in the recentish past with the Florida Marlins in 2006, though then local officials had the good sense to tell the Marlins to quit using them just to make Miami jealous.

Savvy leverage notwithstanding, would moving the Raiders to San Antonio make any sense? San Antonio is a relatively tiny TV market (36th overall) compared to the Bay Area, but, of course, TV market size doesn’t mean nearly as much in the NFL as it does in other sports where local cable deals are in play. The bigger problem is San Antonio’s stadium: The Alamodome is 21 years old, and while it’s no doubt a fine enough place to watch a football game (assuming anyone really likes watching football games from anywhere other than their own couch), NFL teams have made it quite clear that any building over two decades old is considered a dump.

Is there a possibility that these Raiders-San Antonio talks will get serious, and San Antonio will dangle a sweetheart lease and maybe some new scoreboards in an attempt to lure an NFL team? Sure. Is it something Oakland fans and elected officials should be losing sleep over at the moment? Probably not. As my Sports on Earth colleague Mike Tanier writes:

Remember that NFL owners will do anything to make you pay for stadium improvements. If all it takes is a leaked story about driving around the Alamodome and having drinks with city council representatives, we are making things too easy for them. They should at least be subjected to used-car salesman humiliations. A couple from San Antonio were looking at this team just yesterday, and that’s them on the phone right now, so give me a yes, fast! Let me bring that to my sales manager.

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.

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.