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May 07, 2009

Wolff: A's are headed ... somewhere

Athletics Nation has a long interview with Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff in which he answers questions about his stadium plans, though as we've seen, "answers questions" has a somewhat different meaning when it comes to Wolff. In a nutshell:

  • About a possible return to Oakland: "We spent a great deal of time and energy, more than anybody on any other side, investigating every site that we thought was available in Oakland. It takes me almost an hour and 45 minutes to go through what we did. We haven't had that opportunity with certain officials so they can understand what we think we've done to stay in Oakland. And the door is open there for them to tell me about something that I missed which is not impossible. ... Oakland is a built-up area. There aren't a lot of pieces of land that don't have a big expensive component to them to make them work."
  • About a possible move to San Jose: "The answer is that we want to stay in Northern California. When we went to Fremont, there was hardly a word said. The Oakland people realized we were trying to stay. The territorial issues are really determined by Major League Baseball, not by me."
  • About where else in Northern California the A's might move: "That's the problem. In the district we're assigned, it's either Oakland or Fremont."
  • About whether Sacramento is an option: "I heard they have a pretty nice new ballpark in Omaha but I don't want to have to fly to Omaha to see our games. The one thing we haven't done no matter what anyone will tell you is that I have never threatened to go to another city outside the state."

Add that up and it's clear as mud, but one possible interpretation would be: "I'm trying to convince Bud Selig that San Jose is the only viable option in Northern California, but I can't say that out loud yet, because he has to believe that it's his idea." It's somewhat of a longshot — the San Francisco Giants could put up a fight over territorial rights, San Jose could decide it doesn't have the money or the land, or Selig could just decide it's not worth the hassle — but given the size of the payoff if he wins, you can't blame Wolff for trying. And besides, in the meantime it doesn't stop people from throwing out other stadium ideas.


Did Wolff really say that about Sacramento? Was someone there to remind him that his AAA affiliate is in Sacramento? And that not an insignificant number of fans from Sacramento (i.e. yours truly) make the trek to Oakland. Last I checked, Omaha wasn't a 1.5 hour drive from Oakland. Wolff is running this franchise into the ground. The A's only broadcast their games on cable, his little experiment of going down to 35,000 seats is a joke, and that Fremont experiment was silly to say the least. Maybe Bud Selig put him in there to justify contracting the A's.

Posted by Art Vandelay on May 7, 2009 12:37 PM

Did Wolff also say that Sacramento was outside of California? Where did he think the state capitol was, Berkeley?

Posted by Art Vandelay on May 7, 2009 12:45 PM

No, his metaphor was that if you're going to Sacramento you might as well go to Omaha. Both are places that are too far away from where he wants to be, and where the majority of the fanbase is located.

Posted by Dan on May 7, 2009 01:37 PM

learn to enjoy the mausoleum/coliseum folks, they'll be there for a long time...

Posted by paul W. on May 7, 2009 03:07 PM

If the crowd I saw Monday night is any indication, no they won't. When you're only drawing 10,000 people to a game it won't be long before MLB forces the issue one way or another (think Montreal). The A's days in the Coliseum are quickly coming to an end. The way I see it, it's just a matter of which course or action is taken next.

1. The A's get a new stadium in Oakland (This will require Oakland's leadership to come up with an actual plan, be it a publicly built stadium or helping along a privately funded one in some way or another and identifying a site that is actually viable and isn't a retread of 10 year old failed plans).

2. The A's build a new stadium in San Jose after MLB forces the Giants to relinquish the territorial rights. If privately built the A's could avoid a vote in SJ, if publicly funded at all it will trigger a vote, but if passed the citizens of the city will have approved the public funding.

3. The A's move to another municipality willing and able to either build them a stadium or assist the ownership in building one (where likely the A's will either have to play a season or two lame duck in Oakland or in a venue not really designed for an MLB team since no MLB ready venues are sitting unused right now).

4. They'll contract the A's and Rays assuming the Rays aren't able to get a new stadium deal together in the next few years.

Based on Oakland's history of political ineptitude option 1 seems very unlikely. Option 3 seems equally unlikely since there's not municipality clamoring for an MLB team right now and none that actually have a place for the A's to play or plans for a place to play. That leaves options 2 which will require MLB's owners to take a vote to change the territorial rights issue (which is quite possible) and option 4 which while almost unthinkable and with obvious MLBPA objection issues is not without precedent as it has been considered just this decade.

Posted by Dan on May 7, 2009 04:41 PM


Have you seen major league attendance these days? Lots of teams, particularly outside LA, NY, Boston, or Philly, regularly draw less than 14K, especially during the week? KC drew 22k this week and astonished the world. MLB would have to take action an behalf of about half the league by that standard.

If teams are going to try to charge $200 for a "premium" ticket to a MLB game, and absurd prices for the upper deck, the team might make some revenue but at the cost of decent crowds.

Posted by GDub on May 8, 2009 01:03 AM

It would be much cheaper just to renovate the Coliseum. It would basically be impossible for the A's to get a new stadium in this day & age, and remember, it's Oakland in California, they have much bigger problems & this isn't New York. Hopefully the Raiders will stop using the Coliseum and this renovation could possibly happen. I don't think we'll ever see contraction.

Posted by Mark on May 8, 2009 01:00 PM

Unfortunately even if it's rennovated the Coliseum would never be a great place to play or see baseball. It has too many inherent flaws. Mount Davis would have to be demolished. The seats are too far from the field. It's freeway access is way too narrow and old for big game days. Even if Mount Davis were demolished the stadium still would border on too big for baseball. The concourses would all have to be gutted, including concessions, bathrooms, etc... And even if they did all that, which would be extremely costly, particularly the Mt. Davis demo, it still doesn't address the Coliseum's greatest flaw, a crappy location. It's in a crappy industrial wasteland that is more akin to a DMZ than a real neighborhood and it is nowhere near downtown. There's nothing around it but warehouses and a disease and trash infested slough.

Posted by Dan on May 8, 2009 02:47 PM

There are far too many problems with refurburshing the Coliseum, not the least of which is what happens with the Raiders (Will they be staying in Oakland, sharing a Stadium somewhere else with the 49ers, or moving to LA? This issue has not yet been determined). Another major issue, is you need something to work with and preserve for it to make sense (See Kansas City as an example of this, where you had two excellent stadiums to be able to renovate).
The A's have been a credit to the Bay Area, winning four World Series to the Giants ZERO. But it is time for them to stop being the ugly step-sister of not only the Bay Area, but MLB in general. They need a new Stadium (Either in San Jose or somewhere else) or to be contracted. They can stay until 2014 (Three one year leases starting after 2010). But just like with the Marlins, there has to be a drop dead date where they have an agreement to have a new home, because if nothing happens, MLB consolidation or even Wolff and company simply bailing out, and heading to b/k becomes a real possibility. This could get ugly, like with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Posted by Januz on May 8, 2009 04:39 PM

One problem with theorizing the A's as the next Coyotes: They turned a $26m profit last year, according to Forbes, 7th-best in MLB:

Yes, some of that was due to revenue sharing, but revenue sharing money is green like any other. Both Wolff and MLB can drag this out as long as they feel like - it took a decade in Florida and Minnesota, and there's no reason they can't futz around that long, or longer, in Oakland, too.

Posted by Neil on May 8, 2009 11:41 PM

Neil, I agree with you 100% about how long it took for the Twins and Marlins (And I still think the Marlins Stadium is a mistake, but that is another issue). The Phoenix comparison, was related to the ownership bailing out (I am also sure that although the A's are profitable (Unlike the Coyotes), Wolff, was not happy about losing $40m in Fremont, and how much longer will he tolerate the situation?). This is also what you are seeing with Charles Wang and the Islanders, an owner who regrets buying the team, and wants to pull the plug.
I honestly do not see 10 more years at the Coliseum. The main reason being the Raiders. Their lease is expiring in 2010, and I am willing to bet that the priority for the City is keeping the Raiders in Oakland (The City of Oakland keeping the A's, but without the Raiders will get about as much positive national coverage as the Calgary Flames). Another factor, is the fact, that Al Davis will be 80 years old, and it is far preferable to get a long-term deal done with Davis to keep the team in Oakland, than risk him or his successors selling and perhaps moving the team when the economy improves. One more factor involves the Mayors race next year. Where do Bobb, Perata, and Quan stand on the A's and Raiders? (If De La Fuente gets in the race, or Dellums runs again, we know where they stand).
All of these factors add up to something happening with the Raiders and A's one way or another this year.

Posted by Januz on May 9, 2009 11:06 AM

MLB teams fighting other MLB teams isn't allowed per the MLB constitution; the territorial issue will be dealt with a) within the lodge of MLB via the Blue Ribbon Committee and b) the Giants will most likely have to accept compensation (ala Expos to DC/Orioles saga) for allowing the A's to move to San Jose. Bottom line: the MLB Giants play in San Francisco, not 50 miles down the road in a city of over 1 million.

Posted by Tony D. on May 10, 2009 01:54 AM

Just to reiterate: The DC/Orioles compensation was over TV rights, not territorial rights. So this is likely to be a whole nother kettle of fish, with extra zeroes.

Posted by Neil on May 10, 2009 09:00 AM

I'm going to try, again, to clear this up. I'm sure this won't be my last try.

The Sacramento RiverCats do NOT play in Sacramento or Sacramento County. Their stadium is in West Sacramento, in Yolo County. You can see Sacramento, in Sacramento County, from the ballpark, and you can walk from Sacramento to the stadium.

The key here is: Funding source. Raley Field was paid for MOSTLY by the grocery store chain, and Yolo County, with far fewer people than Sacramento, put up less than half of the $70M it took to build the stadium. At this point, I can't see several things:

1) I can't see Raley's kicking in more;

2) I can't see Yolo kicking in more;

3) I can't see Sacramento City kicking in one red cent;

4) I can't see Sacramento County, with a $150M deficit, kicking in more.

Simple as that, really.

It'd be the same problem all over again: No public funding available up here. San Jose is far more likely; it's not even close, really.

Posted by MikeM on May 11, 2009 12:23 PM

In addition to MikeM's comments, Sacramento is barely holding onto the 41 game a year Sacramento Kings. Sacramento is not a viable option for big league sports. Although the area is highly populated, Sacramento doesn't have the corporate base to attract luxury box sales.

On top of that, the Kings attempt at arena subsidies got creamed at the polls. And that was when the Kings were a popular playoff team.

Posted by Art Vandelay on May 11, 2009 01:08 PM

REMEMBER THAT KEEPING THE A's FROM MOVING TO SAN JOSE IS NOT ONLY GOOD FOR OAKLAND, BUT GOOD FOR THE GIANTS TOO!! Let's Go Oakland! is a group of A's fans, business people, labor leaders, and government officials who are committed to keeping the A's in Oakland. But it's about much more than just building a ballpark. As part of a larger plan to build new hotels, restaurants, and cafes, a new destination stadium will attract visitors from all over the region. Like AT&T Park in Mission Bay did for San Francisco, our ballpark will be a catalyst to bring new investment and jobs to Oakland, kick-starting the next phase of our community's successful economic development. If you support Oakland -- if you support the A's -- we hope you'll stand with us. Sign our petition, and urge Major League Baseball and team ownership to keep the A's in Oakland!

Posted by OAKLANDathletics on May 17, 2009 07:30 PM

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