Thursday, December 27, 2012

Making sense of Wolff's latest Coliseum letter

Last Friday, we got the first taste of what could be a long and uncertain process surrounding the A's negotiations with the JPA on the Coliseum lease. The lease expires in less than a year, after the 2013 season.

First, the Los Angeles Times published a story. It said Wolff was looking to extend the lease to 2018. Wolff followed up with a letter describing some of his lease terms. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also released a statement on her Facebook page, saying she is enthusiastic about keeping the A's in Oakland.

Looking back it, we question how Wolff played this one. But that really isn't new. He has made similar mistakes since buying the team nearly eight years ago. Since then, he frequently has claimed Oakland hasn't presented viable sites, such as in 2006, when he announced his Fremont stadium plans or, in 2009, when Wolff wrote a lettersaying he did not want to "cover old ground" in Oakland. 

Of course, much of what he claimed isn't true. In the past three years alone, Oakland has touted three sites that could work for the A's (Victory Court, Howard Terminal and the Coliseum parking lot), and each time Wolff has refused to work with Oakland officials. He instead has stayed focused on his pipe dream in the South Bay.

As the years have passed by, it has become apparent that a move to the South Bay will not happen. And Wolff and co-owner John Fisher, as a result, have definitely lost some leverage here. As the organization has tried to bend the city and A's fans over a barrel with constant threats to move, the JPA now has the opportunity to make certain demands for a new lease agreement. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Why would there be? It's not personal, Sonny, it's business. And the A's are/have been doing the exact same thing.

Occasionally, Wolff has threatened to move the A's out of the Bay Area or even out of state. But where could the A's go? Remember, that because of the anti-trust exemption that MLB, and only MLB, possesses, a team's owners does NOT have the freedom to just pick up and move, like NBA or NFL owners have. That gives MLB Commissioner Bud Selig more power on franchise relocations than other league commissioners, and he can stop any franchise moves that he doesn't prefer. 

That is why, when Wolff threatens to move the A's in his recent letter, it makes very little sense. Yes, a lease where the A's are forced to cough up a few bucks will impact his precious revenue streams. But any temporary move might negatively affect the A's annual revenue greater than any lease payments, because it will be difficult to find a sweetheart lease more team-friendly than the one the A's have had at the Coliseum for nearly 20 years. Threats of building a temporary structure are empty as well because not only will that cost at least $50 million, it will also need site planning, a time-consuming EIR, etc. And if it's out of the East Bay, it will require MLB approval, which just takes us back to square one.  Even temporary buildings cannot just pop up quickly in a city, that's why there are strict and time-consuming land-use laws in California. Besides, do you really think the notoriously cheap Wolff and Fisher are going to spend that kind of money on a temporry building? They weren't willing to spend a measly extra few million last season, during the team's first pennant race in half a decade. (Remember, they didn't acquire Stephen Drew's big contract for the stretch drive until they dumped Kurt Suzuki's big contract. It was a big roll of the dice to go with a rookie catcher, Derek Norris, to lead four rookie pitchers during a pennant race, but the owners' penny-pinching won out over baseball logic.) 

But we digress ...

As with all contracts, the devil is in the details for  the A's lease agreement talks. We shall wait and see what the two sides can agree upon. But like it or not, Lew is getting close to the point where he is going to have to commit or sell. Either one would be the sensible thing to do. Yet, those are the two possible solutions he quite insensibly is resisting. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wolff and Fisher holding the A's hostage

Well, another owners meeting will be held in February and there's no reason to believe anything worthwhile will come out of it regarding the A's stadium situation. It'll be the same as all the others, just as nothing happened at the November meeting. (Unless you count Lew Wolff's daughter's ex-boyfriend writing in support of his hometown and Wolff as "progress.")  

Actually, one thing did happen: Bud Selig dropped an 'F bomb' when sportswriters asked him about the three-person committee studying the A's stadium situation. What did Selig's uncharacteristic public anger signify, if anything?

Ray Ratto wrote that "the A's-to-San Jose topic ... remains a question Selig cannot answer, because Selig hasn't the power to fix it." In other words, if you're Lew Wolff and you're saying it's San Jose or bust, then it's clearly already a bust. 

Even more telling, check out these Nov. 13 Tweets from Howard Bryant, ESPN's national baseball writer, and a former A's beat reporter for the San Jose Mercury News: 

"MLB is not convinced the public money and infrastructure (public trains, etc.) is there in SJ + SJ redevelopment $ is in ?"

Bryant also swatted down any claims that Wolff will just sell or move the team out of state: 

"MLB has stated repeatedly it doesn't like Vegas and the others (San Jose, Portland, San Antonio, Charlotte, Montreal) are all problematic..."

In MLB's eyes, the San Jose plan has some fatal flaws and Wolff will never allowed to move there -- according to Bryant. But he's not the only sportswriter reporting this. In August, during yet another ownership meeting,'s Jayson Stark wrote this:

...if it wasn't clear before now, it's more obvious than ever that, in the words of one baseball official, that moving the A's to San Jose is, most likely, "never going to happen."
One sports attorney who has looked into this told Rumblings that the Giants have "a hell of a case" -- centered around a document signed by the commissioner defining their territorial rights to include San Jose. And that's critical, because any move by the A's, or by the sport, to ignore or override those territorial rights could open a messy can of larvae for baseball.
How? Well, if the Giants' territorial rights were suddenly deemed to no longer apply, it could set a precedent that might inspire some other team to attempt to move to New York or Southern California, by arguing the territorial rights of the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Angels were no longer valid, either.
So if the A's aren't bound for San Jose, what is likely to happen to them? Behind the scenes, baseball people are predicting they'll eventually have to give up on this battle and settle for a new, Pittsburgh-size park in Oakland -- and then do their best to beat up on the Giants in interleague play.
So, there you have it. For the umpteenth time. In just a few months, it will be the 4-year anniversary of the formation of the three-person committee to study the A's stadium situation. That must be the second-worst job in the world. Four years. No progress. And there is the answer to Lew Wolff's stadium question. 
"You know you really don't need a forensics team to get to the bottom of this. If you were going to move to San Jose, you would have moved to San Jose."  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jack London Square revving up, primed for ballpark to anchor it

The Oakland Tribune's George Avalos this week wrote a story of the renaissance going on at Jack London Square. The Square, which for decades has been Oakland's entertainment district, is right next to Howard Terminal, the waterfront site that many believe will one day be the future home of the Oakland A's.

But the news story focuses on the here-and-now of Jack London Square, especially its sizzling scene of new restaurants and taverns. Avalos writes:

"... a developer named (Jim) Ellis has begun to orchestrate a project that could change the face of downtown Oakland ... and transform the waterfront. ...Jack London Square is undergoing a $400 million revival that is bringing to the waterfront new restaurants, entertainment, retail, offices, a hotel and parking."

New companies have moved in, including solar installer Sungevity, and new restaurants such as Bocanova, Hahn's Hibachi, Haven and Miss Pearl's Restaurant & Lounge. The Forge, a pizza and artisan beer establishment, will open next year, Avalos writes. 

"All of the restaurants that we have opened are doing really well," Ellis says in the article. "It's a testament to the emerging dining scene in Oakland."

More new development is planned at Jack London Square, too. Jack London Market -- a public market featuring fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, coffee, baked goods, cheese and prepared foods -- is expected to be a place to dine and shop. According to the article, "other unfinished business is a site for retail and office space and a 250-room hotel at the east end of the project."

Plus, next year, a new restaurant owner is moving into the Miss Pearl's Jam House space, right next to -- you guessed it -- the Howard Terminal site. Now if only there was some kind of new big project that would anchor all of the new energy and entrepreneurial activity going on at Jack London Square. Like, say, a new A's ballpark. It almost makes too much sense.   

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Facts Have a Pro-Oakland Bias

In the seven years since they bought the team, John Fisher and Lew Wolff have given countless reasons for trying to move the A's out of Oakland. Unfortunately for them, none of their arguments are backed up with facts. Let us count the ways that Fisher and Wolff have been completely wrong:

First, Wolff said frequently that Oakland was "too built up" and that there was not enough available land to accommodate a new ballpark. Not true. In fact, a 2009 study revealed that Oakland has "1,200 acres of vacant or underutilized land."

Next, Wolff often says he needs a new ballpark to pay for all the free agents the new revenue will pay for. But, actually, Wolff is on record saying that once they get a new ballpark, "It will be business as usual. We have a staff, led by [GM] Billy Beane, that is very, very bottom-line oriented. Billy loves doing it that way. Frankly, it’s more fun." In other words, expect the penny-pinching to last just about forever, as long as Wolff remains the owners.

Also, Wolff has repeatedly questioned Oakland's corporate support, saying it's inadequate. This is simply not true. Oakland and the East Bay region have plenty of corporate support to support a new Oakland ballpark. In fact, Blanca Torres of the SF Business Times reports that Oakland's tech business scene is much stronger than people give it credit for. Also, if the South Bay counts companies from towns all over the 650 and 408 area codes, Oakland should be allowed to do the same, drawing corporate support from all over Alameda and Contra Costa counties. For corporations, Oakland and the East Bay have literally dozens, led by Clorox, Chevron, Safeway, Dreyer's Ice Cream, Pandora, Cost-Plus, Pixar,, and huge solar companies such as BrightSource and SunGevity. And there are dozens of others.

Wolff also likes to say that the A's can't attract or retain their free agents in Oakland. This also is not true. They re-signed Coco Crisp last year, for instance. The A's also outbid other teams for Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes and only let free agents like Josh Willingham go because the team didn't want to keep him. Willingham wanted to stay. Also,.The Oakland Tribune's Joe Stiglich wrote an article in January that refuted Wolff's and Beane's whining about this. Here's what Stiglich wrote:

"Two agents -- who each have represented major leaguers for many years -- said the A's stadium gets overblown as a factor that's kept many free agents away. What is frustrating for them is that none of them believe that they can win (with the A's)," said one agent, requesting anonymity."   

Also, manager Bob Melvin has done a great job in making the clubhouse fun again, but for more than four years, former manager Bob Geren was so unpopular that he was a major hindrance to attracting free agents, according to former A's players.

Wolff and Billy Beane also have said the A's are losing money in Oakland. But Forbes Magazine -- not exactly an anti-business publication -- says the A's have averaged around $20 million per year in net profit over the past four years. Even sportswriter Ray Ratto called out Wolff and Beane on that issue last year, saying:

The A’s are clearly playing the extort-a-ballpark game yet again ... We’ve never believed that, and we never will. The A’s are deliciously profitable every year because of the revenue sharing pixie. ... Nice try, but the smart folks aren’t buying.

In addition, Wolff and his increasingly desperate apologists like to say that Oakland leaders simply haven't done enough work to keep the A's in town. But that's not true, either. The facts actually reflect that ever since the Haas family sold the team, Oakland leaders have tried time and again to work with the A's. But time and again, Steve Schott and then Lew Wolff stiff-armed Oakland's political and business leaders and have refused to work with them. It's all chronicled and can be found by clicking here.

And that's the short list. There are plenty of other examples of Wolff's, ahem, non-reality. The bottom line is that Wolff keeps giving excuses for his refusal to work with Oakland, but the problem for him has always been that none of what he says is true. In fact, his statements are usually just a simple Google search away from being easily refuted.

Stay tuned, folks. This offseason is about to get even more interesting. Just a hunch.

Monday, December 3, 2012

S.J. Quakes turn to Oakland for corporate support

John Fisher and Lew Wolff like to say Oakland doesn't have the corporate support the A's need, and so, they must move to the more corporate-rich South Bay. Well, let's just chalk that up as yet one more Fisher/Wolff statement that is not backed up by fact. Want proof? Look no further than their MLS team, the San Jose Earthquakes. If there are so many South Bay companies clamoring to give away money for sports sponsorships, then why is one of the Earthquakes main sponsors an Oakland-based corporation? That's right, as the Quakes headed into the MLS playoffs in October, they inked a deal for Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente to be the Quakes' "presenting sponsor for the MLS Cup Playoffs." It's not the first time the San Jose Quakes and Oakland's Kaiser have hooked up. In April, Kaiser Permanente agreed to sponsor the Quakes' Get EQ Fit program, which promotes youth fitness. Kaiser then officially sponsored the team's Health and Wellness Night on May 19 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara.

To review, Fisher and Wolff say they "need" to move the Oakland A's to San Jose so the A's can benefit from South Bay companies. But as soon as Fisher and Wolff have a team in the South Bay, their best and most public corporate partnership comes from Oakland and the East Bay. ... Wait, what?

Here's another head-scratcher: If Kaiser is willing to partner with a San Jose sports team, why isn't the Oakland-based company partnering with the Oakland A's? We know that Kaiser has a strong partnership with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, so the Oakland company has no aversion to baseball. In fact, we all know that Kaiser really wants to be an A's corporate sponsor and is working to keep the A's in Oakland. We know that because Kaiser was one of several Oakland companies that joined Clorox CEO Don Knauss to say so publicly last May, when they reached out to Wolff and Fisher.

Hmmm, so you have an Oakland-based corporation offering to be a sponsor for the A's, but the A's owners apparently aren't interested. Yet, when those same owners are running a San Jose team, suddenly that Oakland company's money becomes perfectly fine to partner with. Is there any doubt now why A's fans don't trust Fisher and Wolff? Nothing they say is ever backed up by fact.

You get the point. There is plenty of corporate support in Oakland and the East Bay to support the A's. All the A's owners need to do is pick up the phone and contact them. It'd be easy ... just ask the San Jose Earthquakes.