Monday, May 28, 2012

A History of Oakland Officials Working Hard to Keep the A's

For the past 17 years, the city of Oakland has tried time and again to reach out to A's owners to build a new Oakland ballpark. And time and again, A's owners like Steve Schott and then Lew Wolff have refused to work with city officials as they chased their South Bay pipe dream. If you want the facts, check out this list of Oakland’s repeated efforts in trying to please A’s owners.
1995 - Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann buy the A’s from Walter Haas Sr. Wally Haas said his family made "substantial sacrifices" in the sale to ensure the new A's owners keep the A's in Oakland. But almost immediately, Schott and Hofmann threaten to move and renegotiate their lease with Oakland, Alameda County and the Oakland Coliseum due to changes made to the stadium for the returning Raiders. Oakland and county officials try to please the new owners by agreeing to pay $11 million to Schott and Hofmann, and up to $20 million in baseball-related stadium improvements over the life of the lease.
1998 - Schott and Hoffman put the team up for sale. The Oakland city council and Alameda County officials start working with Schott and Hoffman and MLB to choose a suitable buyer.
1999 - Oakland/Alameda County officials spend a year working with A’s owners and the office of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig on finding a new local owner for the A’s. Oakland officials select a group led by ex-A’s marketing guru Andy Dolich and produce store magnate Robert Piccinini. In September 1999, Mayor Jerry Brown and other city officials fly to Cooperstown, N.Y., to support the local ownership group that would keep the team in Oakland. Instead of finalizing the deal, the MLB owners table the vote and make no decision. Needless to say, Oakland officials are surprised and A’s fans are furious. After getting nowhere for a few months after that, Dolich and Piccinini finally give up and the ownership group dissolves. 
2001 - After Steve Schott attends a Santa Clara City Council meeting saying he wants to move the A’s there, Oakland and Alameda County officials respond, saying again that they want to work with the A’s on building a new ballpark in Oakland. Schott does not publicly respond.
2001 – A report that Schott and Hofmann are on the verge of selling the A’s to Hollywood producers with Las Vegas ties shocks Oakland city officials like such as City Manager Robert Bobb, who had met with A’s owners just a week before about extending their Oakland lease. 
2001 – City Manager Robert Bobb hires HOK Architects to study ballpark sites in Oakland and other parts of the East Bay with the goal of keeping the A’s in Oakland.
2002 - Robert Bobb tries to interest the A’s in the Uptown site, located in downtown Oakland. A’s owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann never publicly support the site and never show up at an Oakland City Council meeting. Since then, A’s owners and officials have appeared at city council meetings in Santa Clara, Fremont and San Jose in support of ballpark plans in those cities. 
2002 - A’s fans hold a rally outside Oakland City Hall before a City Council meeting where HOK Architects gave a presentation on ballpark sites. No one from the A’s front office attends either the rally or the meeting. When asked about building a new ballpark in Oakland a few weeks later, Schott insults the city by saying, "Basically, they're for 0 for 2" on stadium plans.
2005 - Ex-Oakland Councilman Dick Spees approaches Lew Wolff and offers to lead a booster group comprised of Oakland business leaders to help get a ballpark built in Oakland. Wolff rejects Spees’ efforts, telling him that he wants to do it alone. (Oakland Tribune 2/7/05)
2005 - Oakland Councilmen Larry Reid and Ignacio De La Fuente react favorably and enthusiastically to Lew Wolff’s presentation to redevelop hundreds of acres near the Oakland Coliseum. Yet, according to later news reports, Wolff almost immediately started negotiating with the city of Fremont for a new ballpark. 
2006 - Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums meets with Lew Wolff to discuss keeping the A’s in Oakland. Wolff also rebuffs Dellums, telling him that he is focusing on Fremont and that Dellums shouldn’t “break his pick on this one.” 
March 2009 - Dellums again reaches out to Wolff after the Fremont ballpark plan falls apart. But Wolff again rejects Dellums and makes it clear that the A’s now want to move to San Jose. Dellums and Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner respond by sending a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, as does U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who is an Oakland resident. 
December 2009 - Oakland announces two new proposed ballpark sites (and an additional site that was previously examined) near the Jack London Square waterfront. 
April 2010 - Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner and Let’s Go Oakland leader Doug Boxer release an economic report touting the benefits that a new Jack London Square ballpark would have on Oakland. Brunner and Boxer also hold a public meeting at an Oakland school to discuss and promote the proposed Jack London Square ballpark sites.
July 2011 - New Oakland Mayor Jean Quan reaches out to Lew Wolff and invites him to a meeting to discuss Oakland ballpark sites. Wolff accepts but reveals his negative attitude shortly before the meeting when he tells the Chronicle, "Don't read too much into it." 

July 2011 - Quan meets with Wolff and spends an hour discussing the city's ballpark plans. But Wolff refuses to talk seriously about specific plans and, when the meeting ends, he abruptly tells her she has nothing to offer him.  

May 2012 - Clorox CEO Don Knauss is joined by Oakland politicians and leaders of the Oakland and East Bay business community, saying publicly that A's owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff should negotiate with Oakland on a new ballpark or sell the team to someone who will. A few weeks later, Knauss privately meets with Wolff. 


Facts are stubborn things. So are Oakland baseball fans. Anyone saying that Oakland hasn't done enough to keep the A's are simply, factually wrong. Here's to hoping that A's owners soon start working with Oakland officials who are offering a helping hand. It would be the first time since 1995 that an A's owners did that.   

Monday, May 21, 2012

Chronicle: Longtime A's Fans Want Wolff to Sell

The Sunday column by San Francisco Chronicle sports editor Al Saracevic featured a blistering attack on A's owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher. But what made the scathing critique unique was that it  wasn't just the opinions of a columnist; Saracevic sought out longtime A's season-ticket owners and let the fans' angry criticisms speak for themselves. Take Steve Eigenberg, who told the Chronicle he's been going to A's games since April 17, 1968. Eigenberg, 59, said: "Winning should be a commitment, as well as making money. Instead, this current ownership is hell-bent on getting out of here. I hope this is not a long-term ownership group. I hope the other owners will tell them to sell the thing."

Up next were Dave Filipek, 68, and John Einstos, 58. The Chron said the longtime friends and A's fans are "angry" because they've seen Wolff and Fisher run the team into the ground. Einstos said: "A baseball team is the heart of a municipality. It's more than a business. But they treat it like a business."

Filipek was even more damning, saying: "I was really upset four or five years ago when Wolff announced they were moving to Fremont. It cost the team thousands of season-ticket holders."

But maybe Saracevic, who wrote that "Wolff is the most hated man in Oakland," said it best. He ended the column with a thought that the vast majority of Oakland A's fans agree with: 

"This is no way to run a ballclub, folks. Wolff and his silent majority partner, John Fisher, need to give up on San Jose. They need to partner up with city government and local business leaders on a plan that will work in Oakland. This is a city that needs all the help it can get. As the wealthy curators of this public trust, you owe the city and the team's fans that much. Find a way to get a beautiful new stadium built in Oakland. If you can't do that, sell it to someone who will."

Monday, May 14, 2012

East Bay Corporate Support is Plenty Strong Enough

Two important things got lost amidst the excitement that most A's fans felt after the May 3 press conference at Clorox, where company CEO Don Knauss invited A's owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff to negotiate with Oakland leaders for a new ballpark or sell the team to someone who will.

1) The list is of Oakland/East Bay corporations that want to support the A's with their cold hard cash is impressive and wide-ranging;
2) And it's painfully obvious that those same corporations have been ignored by Wolff and Fisher since they became owners in 2005.

It's all there in Knauss' recent interview with KQED's Nina Thorsen, an excellent journalist and an avid A's fan. Knauss said:

"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."

That's right, major East Bay corporations such as Clorox, Kaiser, Safeway, Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, Cost Plus, Pandora and about 40 others are willing to spend money on luxury suites for A's games, but also want to be part of a long-term solution by helping the franchise build a new A's stadium in Oakland. That's music to the ears of any long-suffering A's fan. And perhaps most importantly, it illustrates that there is plenty of corporate support to keep the franchise prosperous -- currently at the Coliseum and at a new Oakland ballpark in the future.

But what really caught our attention was the next quote from Knauss:

Now we really haven't had any meaningful discussions with the current ownership since then, so we thought it was time to reinvigorate our message to them ...

Wait, what? Let's repeat that: The East Bay corporate community "hasn't had any meaningful discussions" with the current A's ownership since two-and-a-half years ago? That is a jaw-dropping quote because it means that it's been at least two-and-a-half years since the A's front office picked up a phone and tried to sell a suite or a game ticket or anything A's-related to a major corporation in their home city. By now, you've all heard of that ballpark-banner-turned-meme, "Wolff lied, he never tried." Well, Knauss' comments factually support the "Wolff never tried" part because it's clear the A's owners are doing nothing to court the Oakland/East Bay corporate community. 

And it might explain why there are Kaiser ads at Angels home games in Anaheim, but not at A's home games in the city where Kaiser has its corporate headquarters: Oakland. One team's front office -- the Angels -- has reached out to corporations and wants to make it work. The other team's front office -- Fisher's and Wolff's A's -- are content to sit on their hands and do nothing, collect welfare checks from other owners to make up the difference, and then whine about the lack of corporate support with the hope they can use it to garner support from MLB owners for moving the team out of Oakland.

Our question for MLB owners is this: Is it smart business for you to potentially weaken your franchise, which you've worked so hard to buy and maintain, by removing territorial rights for two guys who COULD make it work within their territory if they tried, but haven't because they simply don't want to?

The show of corporate support at the Clorox press conference and Knauss' subsequent interviews with KNBR, 95.7-The Game and KQED illustrate that the Oakland/East Bay business community is fully willing to financially support a new A's ballpark in Oakland. The question now is, are Wolff and Fisher? And if they can't or won't, then they should, as Knauss said on May 3, step aside and let somebody who will. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Media Rip Wolff, Praise Knauss after Clorox Press Conference

Nine years after Lew Wolff was named v.p. of venue development for the A's, Clorox CEO Don Knauss has actually developed more venues than Wolff. Matier & Ross reported in Sunday's Chronicle, "As former chief executive of Minute Maid, Knauss helped with the effort to build the Houston Astros' downtown ballpark that subsequently bore the company's name."

 Among the many facts that came out of last week's press conference at Clorox, that one may loom the largest. And to any impartial observers, the news conference -- which was attended by Oakland corporate execs from Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, Pandora, Kaiser and many others -- was proof positive that Oakland's business support for a new A's ballpark will be strong.

 Another crucial fact was reported by Matier & Ross: there are THREE prospective ownership groups that want to buy the A's from Wolff and Fisher and keep the A's in Oakland. One group is based in Oakland, one is in the South Bay and the third is from Southern California.

 The immediate response from the media showed that they have tired of Wolff's dishonesty and stubbornness. A Sunday column by the Chronicle's Scott Ostler had this headline: "A's ownership's rewards for doing nothing." Harsh. But also accurate. Ostler wrote: "While the A's wait, Lew and John make a profit every year and watch the franchise skyrocket in value...Meanwhile, the team shrivels, as do the fans' spirits, but Fisher and Wolff have an incredibly high threshold of pain - the pain of others."

 Not to be outdone, the Oakland Tribune's Carl Steward wrote this about Wolff on Saturday: "With the aid of other Oakland businessmen, Clorox CEO Don Knauss wants to bleach Lew Wolff from the scene. A's fans are praying Knauss can get out that stubborn stain."

 And Lowell Cohn of the The Press Democrat wrote this: "For a long time, I’ve been down on the Oakland A’s ownership, most notably Lew Wolff and John Fisher. I have written sarcastic columns about them, because that’s how I feel. Now I have something new to offer. They should sell the team. They really should."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Press Conference Today at Clorox's Oakland Headquarters -- and What it Means

It was a big day in Oakland today, as Clorox CEO Don Knauss led a presentation, while joined by several Oakland and greater East Bay business leaders at Clorox headquarters, announcing their continued support for keeping the A's in Oakland. This is big news because it reiterates the commitment of local business leaders in keeping the A's in town.

 While Knauss led the discussion, also present were representatives from Safeway, Pandora, Kaiser, Matson and Dreyers Ice Cream -- all East Bay-based business titans. Knauss stated that "Clorox strongly and enthusiastically endorses the efforts of the East Bay business community and City of Oakland to keep the Oakland A's here in a new, world-class stadium." He mentioned that Clorox and other East Bay companies have pledged financial support for ballpark naming rights and the seat and luxury suite purchases necessary to keep the A's in Oakland. He also mentioned that the team has good fan and corporate support even though there is no commitment from the A's to remain in Oakland, adding that if the A's were to commit to Oakland there would be a bandwagon effect from other companies to get on board. Knauss said several times that he is willing to work with current owners, John Fisher and Lew Wolff, on these plans. However, he added, if ownership is not willing to cooperate then Knauss and others have identified new ownership willing to work with city and business leaders to keep the team in Oakland with a new ballpark.

 This is a big point, as the press conference was just the latest development to poke holes in current ownership's position that there are "no options in Oakland." Knauss also mentioned that there city officials and business leaders reached out to A's owners more than two years ago when this whole process began; while MLB was aware of it, Fisher and Wolff had no response. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also spoke, echoing Knauss' comments. Quan mentioned that in her last talk with the Giants they told her they still are not going to give up on their territorial rights ownership of San Jose and Santa Clara County. Fellow fans, today was a pivotal moment in the franchise's future.

 Very public announcements of support by the East Bay business community is a major step toward proving to the powers-that-be regarding what nearly all A's fans have known for years: that Oakland is a strong and viable market in which the A's can thrive for eternity. Don Knauss has experience in naming rights and sponsorships, as he was a major player in the deal to build Minute Maid Park in Houston. So, what happens next? Who knows, but it's time that the A's followed their own fans' desires and partnered with civic and business leaders in keeping this team here. We can make it happen. And, one way or another, we will.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sell, Lew, Sell

Now that the A's stadium situation officially will NOT be on the agenda at the MLB owners meeting on May 16-17, we have to ask: How long is Lew Wolff going to continue this sorry game?

 We keep hearing that the A's will make progress on a South Bay ballpark "next month" ... only problem is that "next month" always arrives without any A's progress on a new stadium. A few weeks ago, just hours after someone close to the A's whispered in Susan Slusser's ear that the A's would be on the owners meeting agenda, an MLB official slapped down the A's front office, saying the opposite. A few days later, Selig told the press that there is no timetable for an A's stadium.

 After years of total inertia on the ballpark front, almost everyone seems to know the A's will never fulfill Wolff's pipe dream. Wolff seems to be the only person in the world to think otherwise.

 The question no longer isn't, "When will Selig act?" Three years and two months of silence has answered that question. The answer is, never. So, the key question has become: How long will Wolff keep holding the A's franchise hostage for a ship that will never come in?

 We'll ask one more question: It's been more than nine years since Wolff was named V.P. of Venue Development for the A's, and what venues has he actually developed?

 In another life, Wolff could give up on San Jose and start to work with Oakland. Unfortunately for Lew, he is loathed by A's fans and the Bay Area media, and he has no one to blame but himself for the wholly unnecessary scorched-earth strategy he used in his failed bid to force a move out of town.

 That leaves but one solution for Wolff: Sell. Sell the A's, please.

 A's fans, the city of Oakland and the integrity of baseball all deserve better than what your ownership tenure has given them. Sell, Lew, sell. For the benefit of all involved, pocket your big profits and sell the team. Everyone, including yourself, will be better off for it.

 The only alternative is to wait for a "next month" that will never come at all.