Thursday, January 26, 2012

Website, Team Name Issues for A's if San Jose Approved

The A's are serious about moving to San Jose, but, to date, they have yet to get serious about long-term branding and securing key intellectual property. You may recall that the NBA's Sacramento Kings, seemingly at the cusp of moving to Anaheim, last year registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office the following names: Anaheim Royals, Anaheim Royals of Southern California, Orange County Royals and Los Angeles Royals. This is smart business, as the last thing a team (or company) wants is to be blocked when adopting a new brand. You can do the search yourself, but no trademarks have been filed by the A's for any San Jose or Silicon Valley related monikers.

The assumption is that the A's intend to move to San Jose in which case (and I am not a trademark attorney mind you) the team, like the Kings, should be able to file under the "intent to use" basis. Here is an excerpt on such a filing from the USPTO's website:

If you have already used your mark in commerce, you may file under the "use in commerce" basis. If you have not yet used your mark, but intend to use it in the future, you must file under the "intent to use" basis. This means you have a bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce; that is, you have more than just an idea but are less than market ready (for example, having a business plan, creating samples products, or performing other initial business activities).

The A's may be holding off as the move is still a ways away and also because such a move might upset Pro-Oakland fans even more (assuming this is still possible).

An important caveat here is that the city of San Jose has stipulated that if the A's were to move there, the team would have to include "San Jose" in their name. I didn't search for "Silicon Valley Athletics of San Jose" but that name is almost as unpalatable as "Oakland Athletics of San Jose" (also not registered).

And the Website?

The other glaring intellectual property issue for the team to address is its website domain. The A's main site today is oaklandathletics.com. The team does not own athletics.com. Per Who Is, that site is owned by Net Athletics, Inc. and expires in 2016. In terms of San Jose sites, the team is pretty limited:

sjathletics.com -- Registered through 2015
sanjoseathletics.com -- Registered through 2014

When these sites are close to expiration owners would be foolish not to renew being as they will command a pretty penny from the team should a move be approved. However, even without MLB approval, why not work to get these sites now, park them and then use them as the basis for a PR campaign to woo South Bay fans? Just like the surrounding a potential new stadium, prices are bound to be lower before a decision to build is made.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A's Dynamic Pricing Goes Season-wide

Buried in the A's news piece regarding upcoming FanFest was that the A's are shifting to an entirely dynamic pricing model for 2012 -- meaning that ticket prices will rise or fall based on demand. From the A's press release:

...the club today announced that dynamic pricing will be used on all single-game tickets in 2012. Last season, the A’s dynamically priced nine premium home games. With the help of software analytics provided by Qcue, the A’s will be able to accurately set and adjust ticket prices in real-time, based on actual demand for a game, taking into account a variety of factors such as day of the week, weather, opponent, pitching matchups and team performance. Current pricing information for individual tickets will be available online at www.oaklandathletics.com/dynamic. (Editor's note -- On the release this URL is linked, but leads to a dead end. Might want to keep it unlinked until the site is live.)

Steve Fanelli, A's executive director of ticket sales and operations commented on how this season's tickets were priced in a recent Forbes blog piece:

Under variable pricing, we made our pricing decisions for an upcoming season 5 months before the first pitch was thrown…categorizing groups of unique events into pricing groups that limited our ability to look at each event as to what it really is. Namely, a unique and unrepeatable event that possesses a multitude of characteristics both on and off the field.

Oye. A bit opaque if you ask me. Qcue, the software being employed by the A's reviewed data from the system's use in 2011 in baseball and the blog The Business of Sports recapped it. Salient findings from the piece:

Average price change per seat: $1.55 increase
Average percentage change per seat: 3% increase
Average price decrease: -$13.63
Average price increase: $3.27


The piece also notes that a team can increase their revenue by an estimated $900,000 by implementing dynamic pricing.

The bottom line is that the A's seem unlikely to benefit a tremendous amount from this plan as they seem destined to wallow in mediocrity (if we are lucky) this season. The Giants have done well with dynamic pricing, largely thanks to the fact that they have been exciting and competitive. When the A's unveil their pricing, we will see what the data has told them. If you really want cost certainty, become a season ticket holder. They pay the same price regardless of other factors and its always lower than whatever dynamic dip might happen.

This move by the A's can hardly been seen as surprising, but what is a surprise is that it took a team seemingly obsessed with data so long to go this route.

Quick Note -- The Giants just emailed details on their FanFest. It's free. Then again, the Giants own their ballpark so the cost is surely lower.

A's in Tokyo, Rams in London

This season, the A's will open their regular season at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. The two dates the teams will play will come off the A's home schedule leaving the team with 79 home games. The A's attendance of late, while up year-over-year, has been one of the laggards in all of baseball. Part of the rationale behind the team opening in Japan might be that fewer games increases fans-per-game at the O.co Coliseum. The A's will also make more money on these dates than they likely would have made in Oakland as the games should sell out.

This trend of "home" games being played away from home has been spreading with NBA Raptors games in London and NFL Bills games in Toronto. And now, the St. Louis Rams are set to play three "home" games in London over the next three seasons.

A few common threads run throughout these moves: small market teams and potential global expansion. Remember, the A's are playing for the second time in less than 10 years in Japan -- despite having no significant Japanese talent in either 2008 or now (barring Hideki Matsui resigning).For the Rams, the Raptors and the A's these foreign home dates mean guaranteed profits and, in the case of the Rams, possible leverage in their own sticky stadium situation.

What's 4,000 Miles for True Fans?

The Rams recently announced that they will be playing a home game for each of the next three years at Wembley Stadium in London -- which just so happens to be owned by their owners. Conspiracy theories have blossomed. Rams fans have been wrestling with uncertainty over a new stadium in St. Louis as the team's ownership wants one and their lease with the city contains a provision that if Edward Jones Dome is not a "top-tier" facility (one that is superior to 3/4 of the stadium's in the league) that they can opt out and leave town. The St. Louis Post-Disptach has a good piece on the issue here. Interestingly, the piece notes:

The lease calls for the Rams to stay in town through 2025, but only if St. Louis keeps its end of the bargain. That means the Dome is to be judged at two points: in the 10th year of the lease, in 2005, and again in its 20th year, 2015.

The first time around, St. Louis got a pass. The Rams granted a delay in 2005 and, two years later, agreed to waive the "top-tier" certification in exchange for $30 million in improvements.


The public relations argument/spin for Rams games in London, and A's games in Tokyo for that matter, is that in each instance the team's global brand is burnished. Here is the Rams executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff in last Saturday's Post-Dispatch:

"This isn't designed to move the team to Europe, or move the team anywhere else," Demoff said. "It's designed to improve our standing in the NFL and grow our brand. And the stronger our brand is, the stronger our franchise is, the better that is for St. Louis."

Right.

So, is the thinking that Londoners will become big Rams fans and maybe even travel to St. Louis for games? Will they buy Rams merchandise? This is surely some of the rationale, but the more likely reasoning is: a) these games pressure St. Louis to move on improving the stadium (with the underlying threat being maybe the team will move to London permanently; and b) the team gets guaranteed higher gates from these home games. Per the article linked to above:

With the Rams struggling to fill the dome during an unprecedented stretch of losing, the Rams will make more money playing "home" games in London. Exactly how much is uncertain, but NFL teams playing in London are guaranteed ticket revenue equivalent to a sellout, plus expenses.

Money and leverage are the key elements in the Rams playing in London. Not only do the Rams owners get a nearly guaranteed sellout, they also likely get a bigger cut of the beer, food and merchandise sales. (The Edward James Dome is owned by the city of St. Louis and so one can assume they take a healthy cut of the revenue there unlike in Oakland where the city basically gives the A's everything.)

Why are the A's Really Playing in Japan?

Money and the lack of robust home attendance figures are they key factors for the A's playing in Tokyo. Without Hideki Matsui, who is currently unsigned, the A's have no real Japanese calling card. This situation is not unlike 2008, when the A's were in the same boat. Then, Boston had natives Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima. Today the Mariners have Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki.

Reasons for the Mariners also make sense when you consider that according to Mariners president Chuck Armstrong more M's games have been broadcast in Japan over the past 10 years than any other team -- thanks to Ichiro's presence no doubt.

The A's are going to Japan partially because of a robust Japanese-American presence in the Bay Area, but mainly because, as in 2008, they won't be missing all that much revenue from home gates for these games. Two trips in less than 10 years, which has not happened with any other team, indicates that MLB is treating them as if they are expendable. "Big Market" teams would surely balk if put in the A's position.

But won't the "Opening Series" also build the A's global brand? Of course, but remember merchandise sales on MLB.com and MLB.tv subscriptions produce revenue that is shared by all clubs equally. The A's make more money on shirts and suds sold in the Coliseum than anywhere else.

MLB make a good amount of money, not building their own fan base. Here is a Financial Times piece breaking down the 2008 series' benefit to MLB:

The move to ship teams to Tokyo is part of MLB’s strategy to expand its international market, particularly in Asia. The two-game opening series, mainly paid for by Yomiuri, Japan’s largest-circulation newspaper and owner of its baseball team the Yomiuri Giants, is expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for MLB from marketing, television and sponsorship rights. “This is about as big as it gets,” said Jim Small, managing director of MLB Japan.

The "What If" Game

Rams fans worry that their team might bolt for L.A. and now possibly London (the NFL has expressed interest in having a franchise there). Buffalo Bills fans fear their team moving to Toronto based on their recent regular season games at the SkyDome. The Toronto Raptors struggle in terms of attendance, and have seen the league's only other Canadian entree bolt for south of the border in the Grizzlies. Should A's fans worry they might, given the intractable stadium situation, bolt to Japan? Seems unlikely right now, but with more (although still few) Japanese players entering MLB, maybe in commissioner Selig's wildest dreams there would be a team in Japan. Great media market, passionate baseball fans and a currency close to par with the dollar. Again, an excerpt from the 2008 Financial Times piece referenced above:

Through sponsorship, television rights and licensing, MLB’s Japan business has tripled in the past five years to more than $70m a year and now accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of the league’s international revenue.

Friday, January 20, 2012

More Dim Predictions, FanFest and SJ City Councilman Speaks on Land

It is pretty painfully obvious to most A's fans that barring some sort of Moneyball (the movie) style miracle, this year's team will struggle to win very much. Fox Sports's Tracy Ringolsby had this to say about the team in his preview posted today online:

They (the A's) folded. And the 2012 season hasn’t even begun.

The A’s seem more concerned now with excuses than successes.

Yes, they are a small-budget operation, and their plight in Oakland is seemingly hopeless, which has them basing their future off the hope that commissioner Bud Selig can pull off some hocus pocus and force the San Francisco Giants to open the door to the San Jose area in an effort to salvage the A’s franchise.

Ringolsby's "hocus pocus" comment echoes a lot of the sentiment by local media in the Bay Area regarding a potential move South, despite meetings that seemed to be indicative of progress in that direction (or at least some resolution of the matter).

FanFest

A's FanFest, scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 22, will give fans an opportunity to speak with A's managing partner Lew Wolff. The vitriolic Twitter comments regarding this announcement are mounting. I would expect, given the highly fractious nature of the team's stadium issue, for these meet-and-greet's to take place in private areas well out of site. Still, kudos to Lew for coming. At least he can say he was in Oakland once this year.

SJ City Councilman Liccardo Speaks on Land Deal

Baseball San Jose -- a political action committee dominated by individuals with ties to A's-ownership -- reprinted on their blog a piece by city councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents the 3rd District in San Jose. It defends the city council's recent decision to grant the A's an option on part of the land needed for a downtown stadium (the other part is still held by private entities). The option was $50,000 and the purchase price was a shade below $7 million. It is important to note that the city spent $25.2 million acquiring the land. This passage was particularly noteworthy, especially given the extreme squishiness when it comes to justifying public funds for stadiums (especially those which will be privately held and controlled).

Under even the most expansive view of San Jose’s public investment in the project, the land sale comes at a bargain.   Critics assert that the RDA spent almost $25.2 million in acquisition and relocation costs for the six parcels, and the City’s Diridon Authority will acquire only $7 million in return, at a net loss of $18.1 million.   Consider this $18.1 million public investment in a fuller context, however: it will leverage a private investment of approximately $489 million in new construction, and millions in annual revenues to restaurants, hotels, and other nearby businesses.   For the taxpayers, the revenue produced directly by the stadium will bring some $1.5 million to the City’s coffers, and another $3.5 million in annual revenues to the County, schools, and other local agencies.  That does not even count the additional tax revenues flowing from nearby development catalyzed by a new stadium; the vastly revitalized urban neighborhoods surrounding stadiums in cities like Baltimore, San Diego, Denver, and San Francisco provide ample reason for optimism.  The taxpayers will get their money’s worth. 

For San Jose taxpayers, what is now AT&T Park in San Francisco is instructive as it  was privately financed as the A's intend to do. Rutgers University's Judith Grant Long in the book Baseball Between the Numbers notes that taxpayers ended up subsidizing 14 percent of then-Pac Bell Park's costs. (p. 224) These subsidies took the form of property tax breaks and free land. Surely the figure will be less as the A's are paying something for the land, but the city is already starting at a loss as it is selling for less than it paid. Neil deMause is the author of the chapter "Are New Stadiums a Good Deal?" it, along with the book and deMause's website Field of Schemes, are worthwhile reading.

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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesday Smallball

Athletics Relocation Fees:

Tracy Seipel in today's San Jose Mercury News ran a piece which largely sums up the current sticky mess that is the A's plan to move to San Jose. This passage was particularly interesting:

Though there is no confirmation about what price the A's might have to pay to move to San Jose, (Stanford University sports economist Roger) Noll believes it's in the $25 million to $35 million range.

This amount is similar to the $30-$50 million the Sacramento Kings were looking at paying to move to Anaheim last year. This is a unique cost for a stadium in San Jose and is in addition to whatever a ballot initiative in the city (required by law) will cost, assuming MLB chooses not to foot the bill.

Lowell Cohn Describes Meeting A's Owner John Fisher

If you have time, you should check out Santa Rosa Press Democrat columnist Lowell Cohn on Athletics After Dark. This recent is excellent and you get to hear Cohn describe his awkward experience of meeting majority owner John Fisher. Cohn originally wrote about the chance meeting with Fisher here.

A Dim Outlook

Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passan previewed the Athletics' outlook in 2012 and it doesn't look great in his opinion.A few salient excerpts:

Over a three-week span, the Oakland Athletics traded 37 percent of their strikeouts, 37.8 percent of their wins and 64.9 percent of their saves from 2011. The frenzied fire sale that saw Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey and Craig Breslow leave was expected, sure, but the speed with which the A’s eased them out of town felt sordid, the ugly consequence of baseball’s refusal to settle Oakland’s festering stadium situation....

The A’s might as well be the Ifs. Because as long as owner Lew Wolff and GM Billy Beane run their team with an indignant streak – trying ever so subtly to force MLB to figure out their situation – the perpetual limbo of the franchise will render it irrelevant. No team, not even the best-managed ones, can win with constant change. And that’s what the A’s are right now: a group of mercenaries who understand they’re not long for a green-and-yellow uniform.

Cahill and Gonzalez and Bailey and Breslow learned just like Tejada and Giambi and Zito and Hudson and Mulder and Haren and Damon and Street before them. Only a new stadium will stop the revolving door. And the almost-certain use of public money to get it makes the situation not only more tenuous but more revolting....

Athletics in Haiku
Liquidation sale!
Bats, balls, jerseys, pants, socks, jocks
Next on A’s trade list

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Whither the Gio Gonzalez Bobblehead

Oh Bob Wickman, I'll never forget you. The former All Star closer for the Milwaukee Brewers sticks out in my mind not so much because he was a great pitcher, but mainly because he had his own poster day in Milwaukee -- after he had been traded to Cleveland. Similarly, you may remember that Tampa Bay had to scuttle Manny Ramirez bobblehead day last year after he tested positive for banned substances and abruptly retired. They gave out "Super Sam Fuld Super Capes" instead.

For the Athletics, the question after the Gio Gonzalez trade is what becomes of the bobblehead scheduled to be given away of him on June 17 at the O.co Coliseum. The date has already been removed from the Athletics promotional schedule. However, as lead time for bobbleheads is months, fans shouldn't be expecting to see a replacement. The good news is that the two other bobblehead days for the Athletics-- Rollie Fingers (Apr. 21) and Scott Hatteberg (Aug. 18) both feature individuals who can't be traded for prospects.

Assuming the Gonzalez bobbleheads are in production or finished, one can only assume they will be destroyed or buried a la cartridges of the Atari game ET.