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March 13, 2009

A's owner: Oakland sucks!

Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff responded today to Oakland city officials' overtures about building a new stadium, and he was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic:

We have fully exhausted our time and resources over the years with the City of Oakland, dating back to previous A's ownership.
We recognize conditions have not changed. Letters to Major league Baseball offer nothing new or of any real substance. Outside stimulation to have us continue to play in an aging and shared facility may generate press and "sound-bite" opportunities, but do not provide any tangible alterations in the circumstances we face.
We understand the facility continues to cost the city of Oakland and Alameda County millions of lost dollars per year. Sadly, the business and corporate base of the city of Oakland was very limited when we purchased the team and has eroded since. Our attendance and low number of season ticket holders (both one of the lowest in Major league Baseball) also continues to decline; even when our on-field performance produced play-off participation.
We appreciate the sincere interest of Mayor Ron Dellums, Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Gail Steele and local citizen Sherman Balch, as the very few people that have offered encouragement and in-depth understanding about our situation.
Our goal and desire for the organization is to determine a way to keep the team in Northern California. That goal has not changed.
We have no interest in covering old ground again, as we need to move forward in finding a future home for our team.

Zoinks. Needless to say, it's a tad unusual for a sports team owner to publicly dismiss a stadium offer — even one as vague and unformed as Oakland's — without even attempting to string them along for the sake of creating leverage. Either Wolff is sending a message to Oakland to put its money where its mouth is — past Oakland administrations have balked at Wolff's demands for development rights in exchange for staying put — or he doesn't want anyone distracting MLB from approving his campaign to get permission to move to San Jose. Except, of course, that he told San Jose to quit with the public lobbying, too. Curiouser and curiouser...


I likely know what is happening, it is very clear that Lew Wolff is in secret negotiations to move the A's out of Oakland and the bay area. Oakland A's fans, the days of having a team in your area are numbered and you might as well count down the days until the very last Oakland home game.

At this point, Lew has many options. Among them, he can move the team to Portland OR (which would sell a rivalry with the Mariners 160 miles to the north), San Antonio (which doesn't have a team despite it being a large city), or North Carolina (which targeted several MLB teams to move there in the past).

Posted by Jessy S. on March 13, 2009 06:39 PM

Market size aside - and all of those cities are actually smaller markets than Sacramento, if I'm not mistaken - the problem there is that none of them have stadiums. Portland is going to be an even harder fight for stadium funding than NorCal, and the other two haven't really been fertile ground either (cf. the Marlins in 2006 and the Twins in 1998).

Posted by Neil on March 13, 2009 07:57 PM

And all of them overlook the deep ties Wolff has to San Jose, and the leg work that Wolff couldn't get done in Fremont already being done for him in SJ, including having acceptable land available and an completed EIR.

Posted by Dan on March 13, 2009 08:03 PM

I happen to agree with Wolff. He knows that the "Offer" by the City is not serious, but an attempt to have leverage with Al Davis & the Raiders. Dellumns was a guy who dealt with budgets and PLANS every year, when he was CHAIRMAN of the House Armed Services Committee. Defense budgets, are a lot more expensive and controversial than the Oakland Coliseum & the A's. Why then does he need Bud Selig's help formulating a plan? The answer is, it was nothing but a stall tactic, to keep the A's option open when dealing with Davis.
Wolff, who is no idiot, saw right through it, and stopped it dead in its tracks.
Now the advantage lies with Davis, because he has the City over a barrel, because of the possibility of the City of Industry's future stadium. I think it is fair to say, that Dellumns does not want his legacy to be losing the A's AND Raiders, and essentially turning his city into Northern California's Camden. Meaning that it is just a crime ridden, exit off the bridge from San Francisco, like Camden is from Philadelphia. As for the A's, it is San Jose, or contraction.

Posted by Januz on March 14, 2009 07:23 AM

Januz, What part of NO CONTRACTION have you not figured out? If the Marlins or Rays didn't get contracted, NO ONE IS.

The MLBPA will never bargain away that many jobs, and experts like Rob Neyer suggest that MLB needs EXPANSION, not contraction.

You make excellent points, for the most part, but you hurt your own cause when you suggest contraction will happen.

Posted by leftWingCracker on March 14, 2009 04:55 PM

I strongly disagree with the concept of expansion (There are too many bad teams to begin with). As for the A's, there has to be an end game here. They have not had a new stadium since 1914, and they have long been second fiddle to other teams (In Oakland, it is to the Giants and Raiders (Despite FIVE World Championships)). If I was laying out a blueprint for the A's it is this. 1: I need a new stadium, that people want to see, and will be around for decades to come (Not a cheap job, which was done in St. Louis (Want to bet the Cardinals want a new facility or major renovation in a quarter of a century?)). 2: I will not share it with another team (See "Mount Davis" as the reason why). 3: Wherever I move to, I will be active in the community, and start to build a long-term fan base. 4: Make sure financing is available to fund construction. 5: Make sure the political will is there, to overcome the NIMBY's who will oppose it. There is no sense, keeping this team in business, if these goals cannot be met.

Posted by Januz on March 15, 2009 08:46 AM

5 little letters tell you why there will be no contraction: MLBPA.

Posted by LeftWingCracker on March 15, 2009 10:26 AM

I posted too early; if the owners attempted to contract any team, the PA would force them to open their books, and they would rather sell their grandchildren into slavery than open their books to the union.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

Posted by LeftWingCracker on March 15, 2009 10:28 AM

Just came across your blog. Damn good! I've posted a link to your blog on mine. Feel free to return the favor. Keep up the great work!

Posted by on March 15, 2009 03:12 PM

I hope people understand the problem with the A's moving to Sacramento. If you don't, here it is:

Raley Field, which is where the AAA-affiliate of the A's (the RiverCats) play, is in West Sacramento. West Sacramento is in Yolo County. It's not Sacramento.

Raley Field was put together by a JPA formed with West Sacramento, Sacramento County, and Yolo County. Sacramento has nothing to do with Raley Field.

On Friday, Sacramento County announced it will have a $166M deficit next year. I doubt they'd be on-board with a huge expansion to Raley Field.

Whether we want it or not, a brief era of league-owned teams, and some contraction, is upon us. No one WANTED to see Circuit City go under (well, many of us didn't, anyway; others thought with that level of customer service, they had it comin' -- which turns out to be a significant point).

No one really wants contraction, but come on, with a $166M deficit, I can't see how the Sacramento area is a viable option. How are things in Portland? Boise? Helena? Vegas?

I think we are very, very close to having league-owned NBA teams. We've already had league-owned MLB teams. I wonder if the Nats would be around if DC was given a chance at a do-over. It'll be interesting to see what their attendance is this season.

What happens with the WNBA this coming season will be one of our best barometers. If we see teams folding during the season, watch out, the NBA won't be far behind. I think it's already inevitable in the NHL.

Posted by MikeM on March 16, 2009 12:39 PM

I do not think the WNBA (Or Arena Football for that matter), is a barometer for the major sports. For Example: The NY Liberty have less fan interest than Rutgers College basketball & football. So people will not exactly cry a river that there is no Liberty Hoops this summer. The NBA & NHL have available arenas for teams that need to move (EX: Anaheim and the incoming Pittsburgh arena for basketball and Kansas City for both). The problems will be in baseball and football, where demand for facilities will outweigh supply. They following NFL & MLB teams all want new facilities: Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, St Louis Rams, New Orleans Saints, Buffaloi Bills, Tampa Bay Rays, Florida Marlins & of course, the Oakland A's. Those are the teams that are in trouble of being not finding new facilities (Or being contracted like the Marlins or A's have a chance of) (Far more than say the Sacramento Kings).

Posted by Januz on March 16, 2009 01:55 PM

I still don't get why people write about "demand for new facilities" — the only reason teams "need" new buildings is because they think they can make more money in them. If the choice is between playing in Oakland and playing in a brand-new stadium in Fremont, sure, Fremont sounds better. If it's between playing in Oakland for the time being and giving up your hard-won membership in the MLB club, why is Oakland not the better choice? (And this goes double for the NFL teams, who get national TV money even if they play in a shoebox in the middle of the road.)

Finally, speaking as a former Liberty season ticket holder, I would cry if the team/league went under. Not that I think crying is going to make much difference. I have some hope that the league's low ticket prices/expenses will help it stay in business, but past experience with economic downturns isn't promising for minor sports leagues.

Posted by Neil on March 16, 2009 02:01 PM

The WNBA is a barometer because of the NBA subsidies for it. I think the NBA is concerned enough at this point to where if they think, say, a $10M subsidy can be used to either prop up the WNBA for one season, or a single NBA team for one season, they'll have a meeting with people that starts with the words, "Well, ladies, we have some news for you today...".

(Sexism intentional. Just trying to be funny. Carry on.)

Posted by MikeM on March 16, 2009 02:10 PM

We can speculate about franchise relocations all we want. But the fact of the matter is that it is all insane to the average fan who has invested his emotional time to the team and now is left without a team to root for.

I can't imagine what is it like to be a fan of the following: Hartford Whalers, Charlotte Hornets, Quebec Nordiques, Montreal Expos, New Orleans Jazz, Cleveland Browns (the first one), Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Athletics, Winnipeg Jets, Minneapolis Lakers, Baltimore Colts and any other club that left its original city. The point of the matter is that the city where the team started its existence and began playing OUGHT TO MATTER! Those clubs I mentioned reflected a big part of what those cities wanted to present to the world, so much so that the nicknames reflected that.

I can now say that after 100+ years of comparing the league systems in both North America and Britain/Europe, that the system adopted in Britain/Europe is far superior to the one in use in North America. It is because Congress has allowed certain connected groups to determine who is and is not allowed to enter teams in professional sports that owners can pull the strings of the average fans, threatening to relocate as a way of leveraging expensive new stadia with tickets prices high for less-than-ideal views. I think the time has now come to open the floodgates. Let the Hamilton, Ontarios enter their own teams and compete if they so wish. Let the teams that play better keep their places in the highest level and let those who tank go down to the next level until they improve their performance. I think that sports like basketball and hockey are ripe for this experiment to take place. Territorial rights be damned. Real pro-freedom sports. Real competition. Let the colleges enter their own pro teams if they want as well.

Pro sports are going to have to learn these two words: Open system

Constant relocation threats and actual relocation just aren't sustainable. If people stop investing so much emotional input into these sports teams and start treating them as just another entertainment option then look out!

The British and Europeans do it better! Promotion/relegation. Clubs that are in the given communities for 100+ years. Clubs that are actually...clubs and not franchises, like we have here.

Posted by Transic on March 16, 2009 07:20 PM

First of all, I'm not sure where Neil is getting that Portland is smaller than Sacramento. It isn't, but it's irrelevant to the A's situation... MLB and then David Samson salted the earth for MLB in Portland for at least the next decade, that's why the focus is on MLS.

But to piggyback on what Transic said (hey Transic! How's it going?)... unless the economics of sports change drastically to a promotion/relegation system, I foresee a system where each "megaregion" (Google it + Richard Florida for an explanation) will have one or perhaps two teams in each major sport.

It is unsustainable for all of these smaller markets, especially in the rust belt, to be trying to support multiple sports teams. And if the teams want to keep charging insanely high prices, they are just going to have to accept the reality that most fans will go to only a few games a year and watch the rest of the games at home on their HDTV's. That means fewer teams, but pulling from their entire megaregion.

Posted by Greg (aka The Cactus Leaguer) on March 16, 2009 07:52 PM

Source for Portland being a smaller media market than Sac'to:

I'd rather use Nielsen's figures, but they yanked those from their website a year or so back.

As for small markets being "unsustainable," that's not what history shows. They'll never make as much money as the big markets, true, and won't be able to compete in payroll (for leagues without strict salary caps/substantial revenue sharing), but you can still make money selling tickets to a fourth-place team. And as the Twins, A's, Marlins, Rays, etc., show, even low-revenue teams win sometimes.

Posted by Neil on March 16, 2009 08:21 PM

Oh, you mean this (media market)?

Sorry, I thought you said market size (where Portland is still bigger, even after the Census Bureau decided after 2000 to chop off Salem from the Portland market), not media market:

There is no doubt that teams like the A's and Twins have managed to do well. I'm looking more at the future (beyond MLB) and assuming that:

A.) fewer aging stadiums will be replaced using mostly public dollars;
B.) the cost structure will not be downgraded significantly to pay for said stadiums; and
C.) owners will follow the Yankee/Met model and gouge fans to pay for said stadiums.

If that's the case (and I know those are big assumptions), then it would take a "megaregion" to afford the costs of the facility, player salaries, etc.

Posted by Greg on March 16, 2009 11:19 PM

"But to piggyback on what Transic said (hey Transic! How's it going?)... unless the economics of sports change drastically to a promotion/relegation system, I foresee a system where each "megaregion" (Google it + Richard Florida for an explanation) will have one or perhaps two teams in each major sport."

Interesting piece. However, I don't know if this analysis would address the problem of barriers to entry for a prospective new sports team. It isn't just a matter of scarcity of tickets but also a scarcity of teams as well. I doubt a person living in Pittsburgh would care about a team in Chicago, for example. Teams ought to reflect the community where they sprang up from. Leave the franchising to the KFCs, Burger Kings and the like. I don't think a salary cap is a panacea, either. The soccer leagues in Europe don't have a salary cap, as far as I know.

Now soccer is a little different in that it is only the world's most popular sport. So there is a much larger pool of players available to pick from, thus acting as a speedbump in the rise of wages of soccer players. But the thing that makes the European system so much better is that any community, whether they be small towns, villages or neighborhoods within a large city, can create, sponsor, nuture the growth of a sports team, as long as the opportunity exists for it to go further, given its ability to win against other clubs, to rise to the top of the highest of leagues. So for every Manchester United, there's a Hull City. For every Arsenal, there's a Charlton Athletic. In words, teams that a given community can rally behind and hope to win it all someday. At least it works in theory, even though it is difficult to do in reality.

However, even if 85% of clubs aren't good enough to win it all, it is still better than the North American system, where a fan in Baltimore, Seattle or Cleveland has to worry in the back of his/her mind as he/she arrives to watch a typical game whether the team will be there next year. Sports clubs under the pro/rel system do go out of business, but many of them eventually get replaced by teams within the same community who start right over at the lowest levels of competition. No such luck for cities in North America who lose teams unless they're willing to bribe the leagues.

And this leads to another advantage: The unfair leverage of owners under the franchise system goes away under the pro/rel system. If Cleveland doesn't want to bribe the NFL to get the Browns back, create a new Cleveland Browns from scratch. Call it Cleveland Browns AFC, Mach II or something cleverer. Start back in what would be the equivalent of a third division until they get good enough players to move up.

However, this kind of radical change people here are not ready for, yet. What I would propose is first start pro/rel with sports where it would be easiest, theoretically, to start new teams. Like basketball. I would include hockey to bring Canada in as well. Now basketball arenas need not be those lavish facilities which you find in the major markets. Take a mid-major city with an arena of, say, 8,000 seats, and you have conditions to start your new team. You start at the lowest level possible, sort of like a clerk at the office. Compete against teams in the nearest cities (or as close as possible). If you win that league (or finish in the top 3), you move up the next level. The competition gets tougher as you move up. You may falter and move back down. But at least the community can still keep their team as it wouldn't cost nearly as much to field a bunch of scrubs as it would a bunch of superstars.

It is something that more community should look further into.

Posted by Transic on March 17, 2009 12:16 AM

The other thing about contraction that people discount is that the economy really is a lot worse than expected. People are now not so much voting with their pocketbooks as they are prioritizing.

I'm sure going to the Kings-Hawks game tonight would be a regular ball, but people are losing their jobs. Figure it costs $200 for a family of 4 to go to that much-sought-after NBA mega-matchup; that $200 would feed them for a week.

People are making decisions like that right now.

Plus, we're not seeing how the recession is affecting sponsors. The Kings are pretty close to free of corporate sponsors right now, and I think that's common. Now, I go to Sacramento Theatre Company shows, and the attendance is hardly down at all... And yet, their revenues are way down. Why? Because AT&T and Wells Fargo can't justify corporate sponsorships for regional theatre when they're... Well, when they're BAC.

No one wants this. No one is considering contraction the best option, or even a good option. It's an ugly, hideous option, and it's on the way.

I'm pretty sure Circuit City didn't see this coming two years ago either.

Posted by MikeM on March 17, 2009 01:51 PM

The big difference between Circuit City and the Kings is that Circuit City's expenses didn't almost entirely consist of 12 employees' salaries.

People will still go see basketball at the right price - it just may not be enough to pay today's player salaries. I forget how often the salary cap is recalculated, but if NBA teams are really doing that badly in terms of revenue, it's going to plummet the next time it's adjusted, and players are going to be forced to take pay cuts.

This would create havoc among teams locked into long-term deals, and could easily lead to a strike/lockout, but I don't see where getting rid of individual teams would play into it.

Posted by Neil on March 17, 2009 02:02 PM

Promotion/relegation simply will not work in the USA because each MLB team, each NHL team, and most NBA teams have minor league systems. you're going to move the AAA franchise to the majors and send the Royals to AAA? uh, no, because the Omaha stadium is not MLB-level.

If they set MLS up on a promotion/relegation system, it would probably improve the level of play, but I don't see that happening. Also, look at the EPL, for heaven's sake. When's the last time any team other than Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal went to the Champions League? Aston Villa is on the cusp, but still hasn't made it despite Randy Lerner's billions.

Posted by LeftWingCracker on March 17, 2009 07:39 PM

You could say the same thing about the Spanish league? When was the last time any team not named Real or Barcelona won the Champions League trophy outright? And, yet, many other Spanish clubs have been able to compete at the highest level of European competition. Many have had success in the UEFA Cup, which is the 2nd most important competition there. There are teams like Villarreal, Alaves, La Coruna and Mallorca, from small cities or islands, in the case of Mallorca. You don't necessarily need to be a big city to be competitive.

Second of all, so what if the North American league have minor league systems. They're simply a product of the cartel system in place. What they don't want is a bunch of markets competing against the established clubs without paying a franchise fee to them. The owners have invested in keeping out anyone who has any vision of creating a sports club that fans can rally behind with little reservation. Why wouldn't an Omaha say to themselves "Hey, maybe we can put a team that can be better than the Kansas City Royals" and then form such team? Should MLB be the only standard in which to judge on stadium quality? Why not form an independent organization like the F.A. in England that would determine standards for facilities used at the professional level? To me, if you have seats that work, bathrooms that don't clog with frequency, grass field, dugouts, security, lights, bullpens and fans you got a stadium ready to go. That it is not Yankee Stadium II is irrelevent to me.

Ask any fan of Hull City, Blackburn Rovers, Sunderland, Bolton Wanderers or West Ham if they'd rather be in a league like the EPL today or in a North American-type league where any of them could be relocated to another city because their stadium doesn't have all the bells and whistles that other stadiums have. You might be surprised at the answer they give to you.

Posted by Transic on March 18, 2009 03:16 AM

Neil, I apprecate your comments, but market size isn't that big of an issue when it comes to pro sports. You already have megaregions in most cases. In the Twins case, the Minnesota Twins draw in a region that includes eastern Montana, both Dakotas, and Iowa as well as Minnesota. Ditto for the Vikings though there are Packer fans in the same area since the Packers predate the Vikings by 40 years. In a major market situation such as New York, it is a matter of taste as both the Yankees and Mets offer their own brand of baseball.

As for the A's, either Portland or San Antonio would be a good fit. In Portland, you have a culture that loves winning teams and have a state that is hungry for baseball. The A's could draw from all of Oregon, Northern California, Northern Nevada, Northern Utah, and Southern Idaho. In San Antonio, there is a huge swath of western and southern Texas for the team to build a fanbase. Finally, the North Carolina region isn't just Charlotte, but also Raleigh-Durham, Winston-Salem, and Asheville to name a few, and that is just from North Carolina alone. Lew Woolf can also draw from South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, parts of Virginia, and West Virginia. The bay area people have spoken and they want National League baseball provided by the Giants. The A's need to get out of Oakland, and need to do ASAP.

My Prediction, The A's will move to North Carolina following the season and will play at least a year in Durham while a new stadium is built for them in Charlotte using stimulus money. As a result, there will be an relignment of the American League with the A's moving to the AL East, Toronto moving to the AL Central, and Kansas City moving to the AL West.

Now here is my state of the leagues as of today based on comments made by MikeM on March 16th.

MLB: There will not be any contraction. If both sides declear the current CBA void, they will get a salary cap. As long as contraction remains on the table, expect a long strike or a threat of one.

NFL: Players and owners will agree to a hard rookie salary cap starting with the draft class of 2010 along with a minor rollback in player salaries, and new pensions and so on forth.

NBA: There could be contraction here. The reason for that is the NBA isn't that good of a league when it comes to scoring. It is down drastically compared to the Magic, Bird, Jordan era. Part of that problem is that there has been expansion that is hurting the product while offensive play has to improve.

WNBA: Sorry Neil, this league is history.

NHL: Expect major contraction south of the mason-dixon line with major salary cuts as well. Hockey is a regional sport in the US, and Minnesota deserves another team ahead of Miami, Tampa, North Carolina, Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus, Nashville, Atlanta, San Jose, and Los Angeles.

Posted by Jessy Scholl on March 20, 2009 12:04 AM

Market size doesn't matter in all sports, but it absolutely does in baseball.

First off, a huge chunk of baseball revenues are from local TV and radio deals, and Portland et al. would be way behind in that area. Even calling it a "megaregion" and adding in bustling areas like southern Idaho wouldn't help much — you're still better off having a share of the Bay Area market.

Second, baseball games are played on all days of the week. A football team can draw fans from 100 miles away, since they can plan their Sundays around driving to the game; but can you picture someone getting out of work in Asheville on a weeknight and deciding to drive 90 miles to Charlotte to see that night's ballgame, then drive another 90 miles to get back home?

I'm not saying that Charlotte or Portland or San Antonio couldn't support an MLB franchise — just that they'd be coming in at the bottom of the revenue barrel. Add in that none of these cities are likely to throw money at a stadium anytime soon (San Antonio's probably the most likely, and that's a few years off at best), and I don't see why the A's would be financially better off by moving there.

Heck, the *Marlins* couldn't find a viable place to move a couple of years back, and they'd only have to draw flies to improve on their current attendance...

Posted by Neil on March 20, 2009 08:14 AM

What about the A's relocating to the New York Area. Putting them, say, in North Jersey at the Meadowlands Sports Complex might not be a bad idea. New Jersey has had a big interest in acquiring a baseball team for over 20 years, now, most recently when the Expos were looking for a new home. Even the Yankees were said to have considered moving there about a decade ago. This would be a great market for any team, especially one like the A's who have nowhere near the financial opportunity in Oakland, or anywhere else they would relocate, for that matter. Moving the Athletics back in the Northeast where they originated would be a something cool to see, also.

Posted by Bob on August 10, 2009 04:55 PM

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