If San Jose antitrust suit goes to Supreme Court, what would that mean for A’s?

The Wall Street Journal ran a long piece yesterday on San Jose’s antitrust suit against MLB for blocking the Oakland A’s from moving there, with the upshot being that while it’s still probably a longshot to overturn baseball’s 92-year-old blanket antitrust exemption, it’s not out of the question. And an appeals court could rule on the matter as soon as this summer, setting up a likely Supreme Court showdown soon after.

The really short background on this: Back in 1914, a bunch of businessmen set up a rival to the American and National leagues called the Federal League, which aggressively stole both players and fans from the existing leagues. (The Chicago Whales franchise played in a brand-new ballpark that later became known as Wrigley Field.) The AL and NL owners retaliated, first driving the new league to the brink of financial ruin, then buying out enough owners that the new league collapsed. The owners of the Baltimore Terrapins FL franchise, who hadn’t gotten a cut of the boodle, sued saying that this was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act barring monopolistic activities. But the Supreme Court ruled that baseball is exempt from antitrust laws because it’s not an interstate activity, a bizarre warping of logic that has nonetheless been reaffirmed through the years by other Supreme Court rulings.

Baseball’s special antitrust exemption — other sports leagues have limited exemptions, but none that allows full control over franchise movement like MLB’s — has been widely disparaged over the years, but the courts have repeatedly kicked things back to Congress, ruling that if politicians want to clear this up, they should just go an make a new law that explicitly says how antitrust applies to baseball. Congress has rattled this saber on occasion to get MLB’s attention (including for such things as forcing testimony over steroid use), but has never seriously considered revoking baseball’s exemption, largely because everybody powerful is pretty content with the current system, so why rock the boat just for a little matter like legal doctrine that makes a damn bit of sense?

Every time one of these cases comes up, though, there’s always the chance, slim though it may be, that the Supreme Court will actually overturn the 1922 ruling, which is why MLB usually tries to avoid letting things get to the Supreme Court. That hasn’t happened so far here, though, either because MLB is confident that the case will be dismissed (it was once already, by a lower federal court) or because it would rather roll the dice with the courts than figure out how to break open its 150-year-old territorial rights system.

The WSJ cites University of Georgia law professor and baseball antitrust expert Nathaniel Grow as saying if it gets to the Supreme Court, “I’d be surprised if baseball wins”; sports economist Roger Noll, who has testified in past challenges to the antitrust exemption, has similarly told me he thinks this suit may have legs. If so, though, it’s puzzling why MLB seems willing to risk going to the top court on this, rather than hashing out an agreement between the A’s and San Francisco Giants over San Jose, which seemingly could be handled just by an exchange of the right amount of money. (Though finding an amount that both sides could live with might be impossible, especially if A’s owner Lew Wolff is hoping that a court will give him San Jose for free.) We’ll probably need to wait to see what the appeals court says this summer — if San Jose pulls off a hail mary (I know, I know, wrong sport) and wins this round, things could certainly get interesting.

Community coalition: We’ll endorse Bucks arena if you give us $150m for school facilities

So I know I’m always harping on the idea that city officials and concerned residents should be demanding something back in exchange for sports subsidies, but this:

Members and organizations aligned with Common Ground, a community organization of churches, small businesses, nonprofits and neighborhood groups, will meet Tuesday to consider a motion to support public funding for a new arena as long as $150 million to $250 million is directed toward better public school athletics facilities, playgrounds and recreational spaces.

If that amount is not set aside, Common Ground says it will oppose public funding for a new arena.

…is just not the right way to do it.

I get where Common Ground is coming from: If you’re going to give tax money to the Milwaukee Bucks, give some to our schoolkids as well. But there are two big problems with this: First off, all the money would be coming out of the same public purse, so Common Ground is basically saying, “If you’re going to throw money at this thing we don’t think is worthwhile, throw some money at something we like, too, and then we’ll support it.” Secondly, money is fungible, so if the county were to build a ton of new high school gyms or what have you, there’d be nothing stopping them from taking the same amount of money away with their other hand — in a future budget after Common Ground has already been brought on board, if necessary.

This is another example of what we might call What’s In It For Me-ism, which started with the introduction of “community benefits agreements” and has headed off in some weird directions ever since. Common Ground looks to have some clout, though, so it looks like the “How do we pay for a Milwaukee Bucks arena?” question may metamorphose into “How do we pay for a Milwaukee Bucks arena and a bunch of school athletic fields?” Which is … better? Worse? Different? One of those.

Even regular rainwater has it in for the Oakland A’s

In case you missed it, the Oakland A’s just completed a first week of the season that included not only yet another sewage backup but a rainout when it wasn’t raining:

David Rinetti, vice president of stadium operations, said the team’s “weather consultant” informed the A’s no storm was expected overnight, and groundscrew chief Clay Wood did not tarp the field, preferring to further dry it out after recent rains.

“In the last week, we’ve had more rain at the facility than we had since I’ve been here,” said Rinetti, an A’s employee for 34 years. “The field has taken a big hit all week. . . . Unfortunately, we were wrong on the amount of rain and got about a third of an inch of rain last night. We got here this morning, and the infield was underwater.”

This, at least, is something that’s easily fixable: It’s trivial (if not necessarily in cost) to rip up a field and put in modern drainage. Not that it’s probably worth the expense, given that the last A’s rainout before this was in 1998, and, you know, California. But it’s less an embarrassment of an outmoded stadium than a weathercaster oopsie.

Panthers print out $80m subsidy demand on nicer paper, resubmit it to Broward County

The owners of the Florida Panthers responded to criticism of their demand for $80 million in public subsidies in exchange for pretty much damn near nothing by issuing a revised subsidy proposal at the end of last week, which looks like:

The new request looks largely the same.

Thanks, South Florida Sun Sentinel, for saving us having to read the rest of the article. There would be a small change in how the profit threshold would be calculated before the Panthers would have to share profits with Broward County, it looks like, but given that it’s pretty much inconceivable that the Panthers would ever hit that threshold anyway, this isn’t likely to be that significant a change.

New Panthers CEO Rory Babich, meanwhile, had this to add:

“We resubmitted our proposal to eliminate or modify certain previous requests to enable the discussions to focus more specifically on the economic terms of the arrangements,” he said in an email. ” …  We look forward to continuing to engage in an active and constructive dialogue with the county staff regarding the terms of our agreements with the County. We remain confident that a sensible, long-term solution can be found to help sustain the long-term viability of the Broward County-owned BB&T Center.”

Man, I can see how Babich got that job. I knew I should have gone for an advanced degree in gobbledygook.

Friends don’t let friends watch basketball games in football stadiums

Kentucky and Connecticut are going to face off tonight at the Dallas Cowboys‘ AT&T Stadium for the NCAA men’s basketball championship, and somebody is going to sit in these seats, and it is going to suck:

It’s the highest row in the deepest corner of the venue that will welcome over 75,000 fans on Saturday and Monday night.

“It’s about what I thought it would be. I knew it was huge, and I knew we were going to be way up high,” Jane says.

Will they get their money’s worth after spending almost $1,000 to watch a game from a distant perch of Jerry’s World?

“We’ll see, but I doubt it.”

I’d go on a rant about how awful it is that the NCAA chooses to play its biggest games in buildings that are absolutely terrible for basketball, but really, if 55,000 people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to sit in seats that would be above the rafters at a regular basketball arena, who’s to tell them no? (It’s not like those extra seats make the first 20,000 seats any worse. Well, much worse — those first couple of decks after the bottom one look to be a mile from the court, thanks to being set up for football.) Instead, how about you read a rant about how the actual players making the games possible won’t receive any of the proceeds from those tickets, or even from t-shirts honoring them in particular? It’s a great way to get in the mood for tonight’s big celebration of amateurism and the pure love of sport!

Stop the presses! Ricketts considering selling minority shares to finance Wrigley reno!

Wrigley Field opens its 100th anniversary season today (or, as it’s known to Associated Press URL writers, “Thursday“), and the forecast is for quarter-sized hailstones, no doubt in tribute to the announced retirement of David Letterman. Anyway, they think they’ll get the game in, but regardless of whether or not they do, it’s an excuse for every Chicago news outlet to be talking about what the heck is up with those stadium renovations that have been put off until 2015, oh come on, there’s got to be something to say here, or we’re going to have to write about the actual Cubs, seriously:

The Ricketts family is considering selling minority stakes in the Chicago Cubs to help finance its $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley Field and redevelop the surrounding area, according to a source close to the team.

Okay, I guess that qualifies as something, sort of. Nobody is saying how much of a stake the Rickettses are thinking of unloading, or how serious they are, but it’s one way of raising cash if they want to do it. Or they could just ask their dad for some money, or borrow it from a bank and then repay it from revenues from all the new ad signage they’re hoping to erect, but selling a small slice of equity is a time-honored way to raise capital and not at all something that anyone is likely to get alarmed

Raising cash will invite comparisons to the New York Mets selling minority ownership stakes in wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal.

Ah, corporate web media, what would we do without you?

Meanwhile, across town, nobody is going to White Sox games because seriously, have you been outside in Chicago in April? Deadspin cracks a joke about how this doesn’t mean that the White Sox should be contracted, but it’s only a matter of time before somebody writes that they need to build a new stadium or move to Schaumburg or something. Probably the next time the Cubs have a hail-out and there are pageviews to fill.

And finally, on a happier note, here’s what Wrigley Field looked like in 1914, when it was home to the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. It’s pretty cool that you can still go to this place and watch baseball, even if it sadly no longer includes a detachable seating section 30 feet behind the first baseman:

Merc News columnist: “Almost zero chance” that MLB will okay A’s move to San Jose

I honestly don’t know what to make of this Tim Kawakami piece on the Oakland A’s, which uses unsourced claims to argue six ways from Sunday that the A’s move to San Jose is completely, utterly dead:

The A’s dream of moving to San Jose is all but barricaded, at least for the foreseeable future…

The move to San Jose — as it stands now and probably for at least as long as Fisher and Wolff own the A’s — is not happening…

For months, every credible independent source I’ve talked to about the A’s future has insisted that there is almost zero chance that a move to San Jose will be approved.

Specifically, these sources — all involved with the highest levels of the sport — say that the A’s chances at a San Jose move were always distant.

And after the lawsuit filed against Major League Baseball by the city of San Jose, the idea of a move has essentially lost any ownership support they might have ever had.

Kawakami specifies that these “independent” sources are independent of the San Francisco Giants, who are trying their darnedest to put a stake through the heart of any San Jose A’s talk. He also writes that “these sources also emphasize that Fisher and Wolff have not endeared themselves to other owners by crying poor while simultaneously collecting massive revenue-sharing checks — $30 million per year or more — and turning very nice profits.” Which would seem to mitigate for them wanting to get the A’s into San Jose and off the revenue-sharing list — big-market teams were barred from getting league payments in the last collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2016, but Oakland got an exemption until they get a new stadium — but you never can tell with baseball owners.

Anyway, I’m certainly as pessimistic as anyone about an A’s move to San Jose ever coming to fruition, but this seems to be another level of coffin-nailing. Kawakami was one of the first to notice that the Golden State Warriors‘ San Francisco arena plans were running into trouble, so maybe he knows something we don’t know — or maybe he just needed some way of getting a column topic out of A’s manager Bob Melvin not complaining about the latest Oakland Coliseum plumbing problems.

April Fools’ Day, when everyone struggles to out-absurd reality

Yesterday was April Fools’ Day, and amidst the fake movie remakes and lots of stuff involving cats, there were some stadium-related hoaxes as well:

  • Something called Greater Greater Washington reported that Washington NFL owner Dan Snyder is negotiating to build three stadiums, one each in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Key fake quote: “Each stadium would be built entirely with team money, provided that the local jurisdictions prepare and deliver the land intact and for free, only as long as they donate approximately $700 million to the team prior to delivery.” Absurdity/believability rating: Moderate, though points for the only-slightly-tongue-in-cheek description that FedEx Field “at 17 years old is greatly outdated and inadequate to the team’s needs.”
  • The Austin Chronicle wrote that the city of Austin was about to announce a new MLS stadium in the middle of the Colorado River, to be “accessible by rail, boat, the new canoe/kayak facility at the mouth of Waller Creek, helicopter, jet-ski, or zip-line.” Key fake quote: ”I’m generally highly skeptical of any city project on this scale, especially when it’s heavily incentivized by public dollars and presents extremely worrisome environmental challenges. But this is about soccer!” Absurdity/believability rating: High, not just for the perfectly deadpan delivery and the fact that announcing you’re getting a new MLS franchise is the new Flappy Bird, but because the Chronicle posted this on March 28, with only the mention of “an embargoed press release, dated April 1″ to tip readers off.

And before anyone asks: I don’t participate in this little ritual not just because I prefer to stick with real news, but because there’s no way I can compete with reality.


Cleveland sin tax smackdown: Nobody wins

It’s all over but the shouting mutely because your Skype mic isn’t on, and the upshot of the Great Cleveland City Club Stadium Sin Tax Debate is that … people disagree, I guess?

  • That’s how WKYC-TV summed things up, certainly, recapping the panel discussion featuring Cleveland city council president Kevin Kelley, Cleveland Cavaliers president Len Komoroski, Coalition Against the Sin Tax organizer Peter Pattakos, and yours truly as “a two-on-two verbal showdown” — or as it’s better known, a debate.
  • Cleveland.com’s “five takeaways” from the event were that the Cavs exec and council president were “polished,” that they didn’t answer questions directly, that the anti-sin-tax organizer and myself were “populist,” and “Are there alternatives to the sin tax?” and “What would Cleveland look like without Gateway?” which are actually questions, not takeaways.
  • WCPN radio was the only outlet to note that almost all the audience members in the room were pro-sin tax (helping to explain the one-sided Q&A at the end), while counterposing a quote from Kelley touting the economic impact of sports facilities with a quote from me saying they mostly just move money around from one part of town to another.

If I had to pick one takeaway of my own, it would be: Cable-news-style panel discussions suck. The topic may be well thought-out, the moderator may try to probe for deeper truths (yesterday’s City Club moderator did press Komoroski on what the Cavs would do if the tax extension was defeated, something he ducked entirely, leading to that “didn’t answer questions” takeaway above), but still everyone knows that there are no penalties for unresponsive answers, so everyone just recites their own talking points without really responding to each other. It makes for a decent quote harvest, but doesn’t really enlighten anybody much at all, beyond leaving everyone with the warm squishy feeling that we’re all big enough people to sit together in a room (or appear via holographic projection) and agree to disagree, regardless of things like “evidence” and “facts,” and isn’t that what democracy is all about?

I would far rather have spent an hour having an actual journalist or three interrogate me and my panelmates on why we believe what we believe, possibly even referring to their own independent research on the matter. Instead, we get a situation where there’s no reason not to claim that the War of 1812 started in 1945 — especially when you know that the other guy is likely doing it, too.