Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A's No-Win Corporate Support Position

The A's and the Giants operate in the same market. Say that sentence out loud if you need to, because you would not know this when you look at payroll or how the teams are covered in the media.

The Giants are -- at the very least -- a middle-market team, if not a big-market team. The A's seemingly define "small-market."

The U.S. Census department places San Francisco and Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area Combined Statistical Area (CSA). This CSA comprises 11 counties and greater than seven million people.

The A's and the Giants play in one big market.

For the Giants, the entire region is unabashedly their domain. They have a team merchandise store in Walnut Creek and recently paraded their World Series trophy in Hayward, both cities squarely in the A's "territory."

The A's meanwhile have twisted themselves into a pretzel in terms of where in the Bay Area they can embrace.

The A's dream -- however quixotic it may sometimes seem -- is to move to San Jose and tap into the rich corporate base of Silicon Valley. The team already has an agreement in place with Cisco for naming rights to a South Bay A's stadium. A's owner and public face Lew Wolff no doubt dreams of a stadium peppered with names like Apple, Adobe, Google, HP and Sandisk and suites filled with executives of these companies.

However, for the foreseeable future the A's are firmly in Oakland -- where one of their primary arguments for needing/wanting to shuttle down 880 is that there simply isn't a robust level of corporate support.

Enter the Catch 22

The A's are in a no-win situation.

If they aggressively court and land South Bay companies while in Oakland, they give fodder to the argument that this is a regional economy and the stadium's location does not necessarily create a direct correlation to corporate support. Consider that Cisco has agreed to be the naming sponsor for a South Bay stadium, but has no sponsorship agreement (at least that is readily apparent) with the club at present.

On the other hand, Oakland's most visible corporate titans -- The Clorox Company and Kaiser Permanente -- either do not sponsor the team at all, or have bare-bones agreements. This is not to say that the A's haven't engaged East Bay companies. For instance, the team has a long-standing relationship with San Ramon-based Chevron.

Kaiser Permanente is likely a casualty of the team's agreement with Fremont-based Washington Hospital Healthcare System. (This was predicated, one would assume, by the thought that A's were moving to Fremont.)

The Clorox situation is particularly puzzling. However, today there is about a zero percent chance that Oakland's sole Fortune 500 company (Kaiser Permanente is private and ineligible for the list) will become a major sponsor as its CEO is the point person for a group of local investors that surfaced last may pressing the team to commit to the city or sell, and then seemingly faded into obscurity.

The team's delicate dance is best embodied by the cash commitments the advocacy group "Let's Go Oakland" has in the bank from the Oakland and greater East Bay business community. Clorox CEO Don Knauss referenced this last May in an interview with KQED-FM:

Two-and-a-half years ago, some 45 companies in the East Bay committed to being corporate sponsors and put over a million dollars in escrow as sort of a down payment on sponsorships -- things like marketing programs, seat licenses, luxury suite commitments. Anything to demonstrate to the current ownership that we as the business community were very committed to keeping the A's here.

The A's seemingly are hand-strung from being aggressive in pursuing East Bay sponsors both because they won't commit to staying in the community, and because they are afraid that if more local companies did sponsor them public perception might shift -- MLB and A's fans might sense that the company does have adequate support and it would only be bolstered by a new park in the city.

A No-Win Situation

Here is how it breaks down:
  • Cisco is committed to sponsoring the A's in the South Bay to the tune of $4 million annually for 30 years, but isn't spending on the team until the move happens.
  • Clorox and 44 other companies are committed to sponsoring the A's only if they commit to staying in Oakland.
What the Fans See

The A's promotional schedule versus the Giants is an interesting contrast when looking at local companies who are sponsoring giveaways:

The Giants pull in tech titans Box, Stubhub (owned by Ebay) and Zynga in addition to longstanding pillars of San Francisco -- Genentech, PG&E and Visa.

The only tech firm sponsoring A's promotions is NetSuite.

The Giants have six S.F.-based sponsors. The A's sole Oakland-based promotional sponsor is the Tribune Tavern -- a restaurant in the Tribune building. Established and emerging Oakland companies Clorox, Kaiser Permanente, Pandora, and Sungevity are all nowhere to be found.

Promotions are one of the most visible ways that the public sees corporate support.

The message the A's send to the public is that they have virtually no connection to the city of Oakland's business community. 

1 comment:

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