Friday, February 13, 2015

Giants Continue War on A's With Proposed Little Giants Stadium

Mark Purdy's recent Mercury News column detailing the San Jose Giants interest in building a ballpark in San Jose pointed to another potential nail in the coffin of the idea of the A's moving to San Jose. When a major league team to move to a territory where a minor league team operates, the MLB team is forced to pay compensation to the displaced team.

One option, which has never been seriously pursued is to allow both franchises to exist. Purdy noted that the Athletics, if granted approval to move to San Jose, might go this route:

Lew Wolff, the A's co-owner, has said several times that he would not force the San Jose Giants to leave town and allow them to continue operations, so he presumably would not object to a new fairgrounds stadium.

The reality is that Wolff and the rest of the Athletics ownership group have not really given a new little Giants ballpark much thought as they likely have realized that their very practical, if emotionally gutting (to some), move down 880 is dead. However, in the mode of "only the paranoid survive" the big Giants are continuing to keep their boot firmly on the Athletics neck.

Purdy noted that the big Giants are majority owners of the little Giants, a shrewd move made several years back by the franchise. The big Giants have two main goals: 1) make a move to San Jose, if possible, as expensive as possible; and 2) squeeze the Athletics fan base down as much as possible. Both goals make sense and both erode the Athletics ability to be relevant.

By ensuring, through investment, that the little Giants are in San Jose, the big Giants add an obstacle for the Athletics to overcome. There is a great documentary on Netflix called The Battered Bastards of Baseball about the Portland Mavericks, the last unaffiliated minor league team. The film concludes by covering litigation between the Mavericks and the Pacific Coast League who displaced the team in 1978 with a AAA franchise and were forced to pay more than $200,000 as compensation when the Mavericks owner took the matter to arbitration. San Jose is a rich city and the big Giants know this fact. They are poised for a mega-payout if the Athletics sought to displace the little Giants. By owning the team, they have also ensured that its affiliation won't flip -- like the River Cats recently did.

It's About Class

The other defensive move the big Giants have done is ensuring that only low-level baseball is played in San Jose, meaning that a AAA club could not swoop in and set up shop -- potentially draining fans away from AT&T. Class A is OK baseball, but the skill level -- while far above the average fan -- pales in comparison to AA or AAA and is lightyears from the majors. The level of baseball in San Jose on par with that being played in Rancho Cucamonga; Jupiter, Fla. and Salem, Mass.

The top 10 largest cities in the U.S., by population combined have 11 MLB teams, one AA team (San Antonio) and one Class A franchise -- San Jose.

The top 20 largest cities in the U.S., again by population, have a combined:


  • 13 MLB Teams
  • 6 AAA Teams
  • 2 AA Teams
  • 1 A Team -- San Jose.

Building a Castle and a Moat

Building a minor league ballpark in San Jose is a masterstroke for the big Giants. It's one thing to have a class A team vacate an older municipal facility. It's quite another to be able to specify real monetary damages should the Athletics or MLB force the minor league club to leave.

The little Giants new home will also ensure that San Jose, should the Athletics be allowed to move, won't be able to simply not renew the team's lease -- forcing a move and saving the Athletics a relocation fee.

In addition, the new stadium serves two PR purposes: 1) it shows the franchise and the Giants in general are committed to San Jose; and 2) it is a fork in the eye of the Athletics, showing that ballparks can be built.

The Giants are in a unique position, with arguably the strongest brand in the Bay Area. Three championships in five years is impressive, no matter how ardent an Athletics fan you might be. On the other hand, three straight first round exits is depressing, no matter how much of an Athletics homer you are.

It's this popularity that led the River Cats to seek a change in affiliation to the Giants, taking the great Johnny Doskow away from Athletics fans.

The Giants have literally sandwiched the Athletics in all directions, if you want to count the Giants Dugout store in Pleasanton. (Admittedly a stretch.)

Running Out of Time and Space

The Athletics are in a more precarious position that most realize or want to admit.

A simple if/then matrix:

IF Oakland agrees to allow the Raiders to serve as principal developer of the current Coliseum Complex.

THEN:

(1) The Athletics are squeezed out of building ancillary revenue streams (ballpark village -- mixed use development) and are left with almost zero options in Oakland, assuming environmental liabilities and overall feasibility of Howard Terminal continue to render that site unusable.

(2) The Athletics are blocked from San Jose by: a) baseball's ironclad antitrust agreement and overall intractability of the commissioner's office; b) the prohibitively costly nature of such a move (payment for territorial rights, compensation for little G's and little G's stadium); and c) conflict on the timetable between a move to San Jose (including passing a city-required ballot referendum) and construction of a football stadium in Oakland (which, the Raiders have noted, likely necessitates the demolition of the Coliseum sooner rather than later).

(3) The Athletics could -- theoretically -- move to Sacramento. But, now with the club affiliated (although not owned/controlled by the Giants) they would need to "draft" the territory and pay compensation. However, the team would have to buy and develop land from scratch. Raley Field is arguably the best location, but the team would likely need to use it as a "temporary" home -- leaving it with less-than-desirable tracts like the spectral 1/8-built stadium next to the old ARCO arena.

(4) The Athletics could leave town for a period of years while a stadium is built, not exactly a great way to maintain and build a fanbase.

(5) The Athletics could pay the Giants to play at AT&T. This would only happen at the commissioner's behest.

(5) Some weird temporary stadium in Concord or floating at sea could house the team.

IF Oakland has the Athletics serve as principal developer of the Current Coliseum Complex.

THEN

(1) The Raiders move to LA, Concord or into Levi's Stadium.

...

And here is an updated list of things that won't be happening:

(1) Sudden renewed interest by Athletics ownership in Howard Terminal, especially with Signature Development Group poised to gain all ancillary benefits of the team's move.

(2) San Jose's antitrust lawsuit being granted certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court.

(3) The Athletics and Raiders joining together to build "Coliseum City." Logistical hurdles (again stadium demo) combined with limited land to divvy up (thank Alameda County for exacerbating the problem with its recent purchases) mean that both teams, with historically inconsistent attendance, would be shackled to only marginally improved revenue streams.

(4) Magical money men coming in from abroad or otherwise to build two stadiums. A) The money is probably not there. B) Both Wolff/Fisher and Davis want the money from running a stadium, not to be tenants.

The Giants are Killing the Athletics

If Oakland chooses silver-and-black over green-and-gold, don't blame the Raiders. Blame the Giants. If, for those so feverishly (and admirably) pro-Oakland, you can view the situation objectively, the Athletics greatest chance of moving into a new ballpark and stopping this endless loop of stadium dialogue was a move to San Jose. Emotionally, it might be tough, but consider that this is a team whose last new stadium was Shibe Park on Philadelphia.

The Giants have done a masterful job of ensuring the Athletics moving truck has nowhere to go -- north or south. They have helped set up this "High Noon" dynamic with Athletics fans and Raiders fans -- those who think this through, anyway -- drawn into a deadly duel. The likelihood of the City of Oakland retaining two professional teams with new stadiums is slim. The owners don't want to work together and the city and county are tapped out and still paying off the "renovation" of the current Coliseum.

While the media market and population all indicate the Bay Area can support two MLB teams, the reality is that they both need to have places to play.

Zero hour is here and with San Jose barricaded off, it's Coliseum or bust.

And, bust may very well be relocation.

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