The Stadium Saga In Oakland

Over the weekend, I found this item in Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times:

“Retired sportswriter Greg Johns, via Facebook, after the Mariners beat the Athletics for the 12th straight time: ‘Now that the Mariners own the A’s, are they responsible for building a new stadium in Oakland?’”

And that comment reminded me that I had not read much of anything about the A’s and thier quest for a new stadium in a while – – so I went searching…  Barring something cataclysmic, the A’s will play the 2022 season in the Oakland Coliseum – – or whatever its new naming rights “partner” has chosen to call it for a year or so.  The facility is dilapidated; it is outdated; it is the modern-day equivalent of Shea Stadium, RFK Stadium and/or The Vet.  Randomly occurring sewage backups be damned; this is the 2022 home for the Oakland Athletics.

The team has been seriously looking for a new playpen for about the last five years and the sticking point in the search process is a familiar one:

  • The team wants the local government and the state government to pick up much if not all the tab for the new facility.
  • The politicians who run the city do not want to spend what it would cost to make that happen.

We have gotten to the point in the kabuki theater drama about new stadiums that the team is beginning to talk to other cities to find out how much the local politicians in charge there might be willing to kick in should the A’s pull up roots and move their home venue.  If the reporting is correct – and thorough – Portland, OR and Las Vegas, NV are the juridsictions that have been asked for their offers to become the home of the A’s.

To keep hope alive in Oakland, the team has proposed the building of a stadium – – along with a large commercial and residential development project sited in some waterfront property in Oakland.  The team owners say they will build the stadium and the rest of the development as proposed if only the city of Oakland will agree to pay for the infrastructure improvements that will be necessary to make the development viable and if the city will use eminent domain and turn over to the owners the acreage needed for the development.  That sounds like a good deal until you recognize that the infrastructure improvements would cost the city at least $800M – – and some estimates go as high as $1.3B.  Two points here:

  1. Infrastructure projects of this type and scope rarely come in under budget and often cost 50% more than what is estimated.
  2. There could well be monies available for such work  in the Federal Infrastructure Bill moving ahead in the Congress.  However, many politicians in California have other preferences for how such money might be spent.

The standoff here is at a point where new “economic factors” need to be put in play to move things off the current “dead spot”.  At this point I am not sure the team really cares if it gets its new stadium and development in Oakland or if it pulls up roots and moves elsewhere; right now, the team needs something to happen, and it could be a short-term positive thing or a short-term negative thing; the A’s simply need “movement”.  Amazingly, in such circumstances, someone somewhere came up with the following data and somehow the data became available to a reporter:

  • Thirteen times in September, the A’s drew fewer than 10,000 fans to its dilapidated facility as the team was in a fade to miss the playoffs.
  • In seven of those thirteen times with crowds under 10,000 fans, the actual attendance was below 5,000 loyal souls.
  • Surely, it is apparent that the folks in Oakland who care about baseball have had it with the Oakland Coliseum as a venue and the A’s will not be a viable business entity in Oakland without something to goose up attendance.  Other than a World Series victory – not happening this year due to the A’s absence from the playoffs – that “something to goose up attendance” translates to “new stadium”.

The A’s and the city have been at a variety of impasses over the years, but there is a new trump card in the game this time.  Unlike the NFL when teams can – and have – simply moved from city to city without the blessing of the league, the A’s never had the pat on the back from the Commish to entertain seriously a move elsewhere.  That changed earlier this summer when Rob Manfred told the team that it had to continue to negotiate with the people in charge in Oakland and they were also free to investigate other cities to house the franchise.  Enter the city fathers of Las Vegas and Portland; welcome to the drama…

Call it what you will – “Brinksmanship” or “Action Spurred by Deadlines” – there is a time limitation here.  The A’s have a lease with the city to play in the Oakland Coliseum and that lease runs out in 2024.  Building a modern 40,000-seat baseball stadium is not nearly as challenging as was the construction of Stonehenge about 4000 years ago; it cannot be done overnight – – but it can be done in two or three years.  So, now is the time for the A’s to get involved in serious negotiations regarding where they will play starting in the middle of the 2020s and beyond.

The government folks in Oakland are not in a lovely position; they have not exactly had the best of fortune with sports franchises there:

  • The NFL Raiders left Oakland for greener pastures in LA in the early 1980s
  • The Raiders moved back to Oakland in the mid-90s when the city fathers in Oakland paid a healthy ransom to Al Davis to move the team.
  • The Raiders then departed Oakland for Las Vegas when the Raiders could not get a stadium deal done in Oakland.
  • The Warriors just moved from Oakland to SF a couple of years ago – – because they got a better arena construction deal there than they could get in Oakland.

I get it; the politicians in Oakland will not look good if they lose all three of their major sports franchises in a period of less than 10 years.  At the same time, they have been screwed over by team owners in the past and have never been able to recoup- their “prior investments”.

So, that is where we are in the saga of the future of the Oakland A’s franchise.  I suspect that something important will happen within the confines of this story in the next several months because as Snuffy Smith used to say in the daily comic strips – – “Time’s a-wasting…”

Since I started today with a note from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times, let me close with another of his observations:

“Retiring U.S. soccer star Carli Lloyd, 39, on the GOAL podcast, on why she won’t be playing at age 44 like QB Tom Brady: ‘Well, Tom Brady doesn’t have to have kids.’”

But don’t get me wrong , I love sports………