Thursday, January 19, 2012

A's Sweetheart Lease Almost Up, Options Limited

Angela Woodall at the Oakland Tribune has a great piece on page one of today's paper regarding just how A's-friendly the team's lease at the O.co Coliseum is and how it is currently set to expire in 2013. Here is an excerpt:

The current contract lease extension was signed in 2006 when Wolff was in talks with Fremont to build a ballpark there by 2011. The A's have control over concessions during all events, as well as parking and pouring rights, a fee beverage companies play for access to fans at facilities. It's worth as much as $4.5 million at the O.co Coliseum.

The team also keeps all revenue from their games and nearly three-quarters of money from concessions, which is above industry standards of 50 percent.

For all of A's ownership's excessive talk about how they can't make it work in Oakland, the city is basically giving away the farm with the terms of the current lease.

It's an interesting and open question in terms of whether the city will extend the lease for the team as they have made quite clear their intentions to move to San Jose -- a city without any venue suitable for a professional team at present.

You have to wonder if Oakland is deriving any real economic benefit from the A's. The argument, of course, is for spillover entertainment dollars flowing into local establishments. However, the reality is that most A's fans seem to come in, watch the game and leave the area. There are local restaurants nearby -- for instance Francesco's and the fast-food joints by the airport -- but none that are an inviting walking distance from the stadium. Surely folks via BART and car do dine in spots like Uptown, but putting quantifiable numbers together in this regard would be difficult.

Remember too that when the changeover for the Raiders happens in late summer, each reconfiguration costs the city $250,000. Here is a great video of it.

Woodall's article adds that the A's aren't welcome in San Francisco (per that team's ownership) and that while Raley Field (home of the AAA Sacramento Rivercats) could be expanded, it would likely be unable to schedule two teams. Of course, there is also the not-so-small matter of the fact that no MLB team (except for a few scattered games the A's played in Las Vegas due to the last Coliseum overhaul) plays in the same market as a AAA team.

The A's if they temporarily relocated to Sacramento would further alienate their strained East Bay core fan base and actually be moving into a significantly smaller media market. One more caveat is Rule 52 which lays out the process of "drafting" a minor league team's territory, which includes compensating the minor league team. (The San Jose Giants' website has a good explanation of it.) Also, what happens when the A's leave for San Jose? Does the expanded stadium get reconfigured back to a smaller size?

So, what if Oakland says no new lease and Sacramento is rejected? Well, presumably Bud Selig could employ his "best interests of baseball" clause and force the Giants to let the A's play there, although this seems highly unlikely. Historically, you might recall that the Yankees and Mets shared Shea in 1974 and 1975 while Yankee Stadium was being renovated. However, Shea was owned by the city -- unlike AT&T Park -- and city dollars were being used to renovate Yankee Stadium and so the Mets really had no say in the matter.

It would never happen, but the only venue that meets MLB capacity standards and is currently without a tenant is Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The other alternative is a permanent road team for multiple years, which seems improbable. The A's and Oakland will come to an agreement surely, still it is fun to play the what-if game.

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