Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Diamond Dave Kaval's Star Dims as MLB Threatens Oakland

So, that happened...mainly MLB puffing out its sizable, graying chest and issuing an ultimatum: make it work Oakland, the A's will have other options lined up. 

The league giving its *formal and public* blessing to relocation is intended to do what exactly? Motivate the Oakland City Council. Yes. Finalize the sale of the other 50% of the Coliseum to the Athletics? Maybe. Open up viable relocation offers? Also maybe. 

Mainly, it felt like Rob Manfred being Rob Manfred. He's a lawyer by trade and his fandom of baseball as a sport, rather than a business, seems an open question.

A window into Rob Manfred came from an unexpected place and an unexpected voice last summer. As the league was trying to get going while the pandemic raged, The Daily featured New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt (who for years covered the Trump/Russia/Mueller investigation) in conversation with the commissioner, who he met during the 1994 strike. Manfred was an employer-side labor lawyer during the work stoppage. 

Schmidt recalls meeting him in '94:

And he was this pugnacious, in-your-face, takes-no-prisoners lawyer who had the sport’s biggest problem on his desk. And we would just get on the phone. We’d get on speakerphone. He’d put me on speakerphone. And he would scream at me. And I would push back at him. And after a while, a few years of this, I think we both sort of looked down at our hands and realized that our hands were sort of bloodied, but we hadn’t really gotten anything out of it.

Later he compares the previous commissioner, Bud Selig, to Manfred:

Different from Manfred, he’s a baseball romantic. If you get on the phone with Selig, you always have to listen to him regale and tell stories about baseball history. Just a deep-seated love of the game.

The Kavalcade Rolls On

Telling in Dave Kaval's media interviews post-MLB statement are the talking points about the Coliseum site -- not just the current stadium -- not being viable and citing the need to be in a "downtown," "urban" area. It's a sloppy dodge. East Oakland is urban. Is it downtown? No, but neither is Howard Terminal. Both areas are proximate to downtown Oakland. As Jerry Brown seems omnipresent in California's history, his tenure as Oakland mayor -- sandwiched between governorships -- dealt a death blow to then-minority owner/majority mouthpiece Lew Wolff's "Uptown" plan that may have been the team's best chance to move downtown. With Laney College also out of the question, there is no feasible area to build.

Howard Terminal is straight industrial. Your neighbors are a scrap steel mill -- which you are in active litigation with -- and one of the busiest ports in the world, with the truck traffic to prove it. Oh, and you have no public transit, only delusions of gondolas and realities of freight trains.

Here's how I put it in a nutshell after the relocation bombshell:

The "viability" of the Coliseum site is a major red herring. It's eminently transit-accessible. It only needs a cruise terminal and a space port to have all modes in close proximity. It has land. Oceans of parking lots that can trade places with the current Coliseum when the new park rises. What's the real holdup? It's a really hard question to answer as the team/league finds the area deficient for a ballpark but the A's master plan calls for finishing its acquisition and building the area out with retail and housing.

Also, lots of ballparks are in non-downtown areas, including the Braves (new), Dodgers (old, but thriving), Phillies (relatively new) and Rangers (new).

The MLB-issued statement is meant to stop any questions regarding the Coliseum site. But, they are still worth asking.

It's also worth asking Kaval and Fisher (if you can find him) why they have made such a staggering difficult site the do-or-die option and if, presuming they are being honest, its selection was a chess move meant to spur relocation permission.

If you previously bought Kaval's song-and-dance, it's time to reassess. I wonder how "office hours" will go next time?

The "Expiring Lease" Line

Kaval also keeps bringing up that the A's lease only runs through 2024 and, even assuming quick approval, Howard Terminal won't open until 2027. This connection seems to go unquestioned by interviewers, buying the spoon-fed fib that the A's will be without a stadium after 2024. 

Three things: 

1) IF Oakland still owns 50% of the Coliseum, they surely will agree to an extension. Look at what happened with the Raiders, who avoided becoming co-tenants in Santa Clara with a lease extension, even after formally announcing the move to Las Vegas.

2) IF the A's succeed in purchasing the city's 50% share of the Coliseum, they won't need a lease.

3) IF the A's decide to relocate, presumably any stadium project would take until at least 2027 anyway. They will be starting from zero.

The lease issue is a Kaval talking point. He should be pressed on it, but his likable personality papers over some threadbare arguments. 

It's amazing what PR stunts and food trucks will do for you.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

What Could a 20% Capacity Coliseum Feel Like?

The A's are selling "Flex Tickets," hoping for 20-25% capacity based on state and county restrictions. All-in-all, most games could look and sound almost "normal."

In 2019, the last time fans were able to attend, the team averaged a little more than 20,500 fans. The Coliseum is the sixth-largest MLB stadium by capacity at a listed 47,170 available seats. 20% of that total is 9,434. But, if Mount Davis is opened up, capacity swells to 55,945 with 20% equating to 11,189. Restrictions will likely include teams and stadium personnel in the count, bumping down the fan attendance somewhat. 

Looking at the 2019 gate numbers, 10,000 fans a game is functionally half of an "average" crowd, which is often much smaller -- particularly during the weekdays. The home opener, fireworks and giveaway days will suffer the most. Pods will also dampen enthusiasm and make for strange visuals.

How might it all come together?

The Good

In terms of the ballpark, the A's, at least in this very narrow instance, owe a hat tip to the late Al Davis for his taxpayer-funded centerfield seat mountain. In an age where distance is needed, the Coliseum has plenty -- if it chooses to use them all.

The Foul Territory (Maybe)

This will be an interesting one. Most clubs have a modern ballpark where fans are much closer to the players. The A's large amount of foul territory on either side of the diamond provides a lot of space from the bullpens and players. If an "X" number of rows from the field prohibition on fans is imposed league-wide, A's fans may be unnecessarily restricted.

Food Concessions (Maybe)

Most games, the A's do not open all food concessions -- as there are simply not enough fans. As you get to the cheap seats in the upper deck they get pretty sparse. The team could open more stands and provide more distancing. But, the extra staffing might make this cost-prohibitive. There is also the issue that the "premium" offerings are all found in the lower bowl, potentially creating crowds.

Food Trucks

Outdoors, with space.

The Bad

The BART Bridge

Yikes. After even modestly attended games this can clog up at both sides and in the walkway. Maybe the solution is a crowd control professional to "meter" entrance? Density may also prove tricky for the bridge's vendors.

The BART

BART's key role in funneling fans to the Coliseum leads to packed cars, even for modestly attended games. Fans without cars are particularly at a disadvantage. There is also the issue of platforms, where spacing again will be challenging.

Lower Concourses

Tight and not a lot of air movement. Workers are also basically working in a dungeon, a sharp contrast to the closer-to-the-field/open air concessions at the Giants ballpark.

The Bleachers

The left and right field bleacher fans are awesome and the sections are generally more packed than most areas. The drumming, the signs and the flags are key elements of the "A's" experience. While needed, spacing in these sections will be impactful and pods may be hard to enforce.

The Maybe

The Clubhouse

The team already announced that A's All Access won't be in effect for 2021. The Clubhouse is intended to be a gathering space, with both indoor and outdoor features. It will be curious to see how this space is handled.

The Sad

Beerfest and Root Beer Float Day

Not happening indoors anyway. 

Hopefully Fosse can resume his yearly scooping, albeit this time in the parking lot.

Questions, comments? Email mailbag@smallmarketball.com.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Dave Kaval Has a Bridge To Sell You

By all public appearances, the A's would seem to be much closer to a new ballpark at Howard Terminal. However, despite Dave Kaval's omni-present smirk smile, appearances can be deceiving. The team is acting as though it has laddered the CEQA review exemption process completely and now is on to the city of Oakland reviewing its environmental impact report. Not so fast: as The Athletic pointed out, the CEQA streamlining process the team considers done-and-dusted isn't: an entirely fresh appeal is going to the California Court of Appeal's First Appellate District. But, classic Kaval the PR machine has been on overdrive. Starting February 26, a flurry of tweets have burst forth touting the city of Oakland's release of the team's draft environmental impact report. A draft that may prove meaningless, should the First Appellate District subject the team to a more rigorous CEQA process. In reality, what progress has been made towards the new stadium: half ownership of a site that they are not planning to build a stadium on (the Coliseum) and a bunch of fancy renderings. For A's fans, the former is new, the latter is old hat: Oak-to-66th, Fremont, San Jose -- lots of great renderings. Heck, Lew Wolff even managed to secure naming rights to a phantom stadium. (You can't say he didn't do anything.)

Kaval is the P.T. Barnum of the A's: all hat and no cattle. This way to the egress! Robbed of his food trucks, flotillas traversing the bay and fan "office hours," his impact is even more clear and more muted. The non-owner mouthpiece does everything he can to make the sale. "Rooted in Oakland!" Right. (So was Marcus Semien, literally.) Food trucks and stunts are really sufficient to take the attention/heat off of Gap hier and owner in absentia John Fisher? The man who seemingly has nothing to say and no money to spend? It's important to see Kaval for what he is: a corporate suit, toeing the company line -- for now -- and ready at the drop of a hat to move on, to Portland, Las Vegas, wherever the money and the plan are. 

Veteran Bay Area sportswriter Tim Kawakami hit the nail right on the head with a recent Twitter thread asking where Fisher is and what the plan is? Of course, Fisher doesn't respond, but Kaval does. "While I own zero percent of the team, let me tell you about our great plans -- larger cupholders for each seat!" Fisher, watching the Gap empire and inherited wealth suffer under fickle consumers stays mum. (Maybe he's just been taking part in a multi-year mindfulness silent retreat?) Eventually, Kaval offers to have a beer with Kawakami (a great idea during a pandemic). Kawakami seemed unmoved.

The Howard Terminal project is the path of most resistance. A) It sits smack next to a body of water that is poised to massive climate change risk, in addition to being on top of a major environmental mess; B) The gondola is a neat idea, but an added expense that also would need its own permitting; and C) Tangling with the Port of Oakland and well-heeled Schnitzer Steel seems foolish, especially when you consider the alternative -- the Coliseum site. Kaval in the above Athletic article also cites other supposed proposals for use of the Coliseum site, specifically an NFL stadium. While an idea, it's a pretty big stretch given the NFL isn't expanding, the 49ers are actively marketing in the East Bay and the last team wasn't exactly selling out in Oakland. But sure Dave. He knows, the city knows and you know that the Coliseum site is nearly shovel ready and incredibly accessible in terms of infrastructure. And, especially given the projected glut of commercial real estate post-pandemic, the A's real estate play at Howard Terminal and the Coliseum is overly ambitious and costly and, at a base level, impractical.

Kaval could wine me, dine me and shower me in "Rooted in Oakland" propaganda and merchandise. (He won't and I'm not asking him to.) I love Oakland. I don't think he does and I don't think Fisher does either. A's fans are being played, to what end I don't know. Maybe Fisher wants to sell. Maybe he wants to move the team. I just don't think a scion of a slowly fading clothes empire with no visible ties to Oakland wakes up thinking how he is "Rooted in Oakland." The way the team is run, both on the field and in terms of the 1,000-year stadium saga, is closer to a hedge fund than a community asset. Consistent profitability is favored over fan relations. Fisher watched Moneyball and drew the wrong conclusion: Schott was too generous. Prove me wrong. Just don't trot smiling Dave out for another PR burst. It's getting tiring and I just think A's fans are too smart for this farce.

Comments: mailbag@smallmarketball.com