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January 26, 2011

The Payoff Pitch

Will the A's Ever Move to San Jose?

by Neil deMause

It has been almost a year since I last checked in here on the Oakland A's long-running game of footsie with San Jose, where owner Lew Wolff has been dreaming of moving the franchise seemingly ever since he bought it in 2005. At the time, a three-man task force appointed by Bud Selig to decide the team's future was entering its 12th month of deliberations. Selig promised that their report "will be coming in the near future."

A's fans will be forgiven for wondering if Selig meant a near future in geologic time. The three men—former Arthur Anderson sports consultant Bob Starkey, ex-Giants vice-president Corey Busch, and MLB lawyer Irwin Raij--have now been at their task for 22 months, in which time they've produced absolutely zilch in the way of a resolution to the question of where the A's will be playing long-term.

Last week, the frustration was enough to get Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal to pen an open plea to move the A's already. Rosenthal's arguments: The A's, stuck in an unattractive stadium that draws few fans, are hamstrung from signing star free agents; San Jose is bigger and wealthier than Oakland, and moving the team there would boost revenues not just for the A's but for MLB as a whole; and given that the only holdup is the Giants' possession of territorial rights to the area, it should be easy enough for MLB to sit everybody down and hash out a deal, just as it did for moving the Expos into Orioles territory in 2005.

It's a tempting narrative, and plenty of people--most of them residents of the South Bay, if my e-mail in-box is any guide--are wishing that Selig would just get on with it and declare San Jose and the A's lawfully wedded. But there are reasons why a San Jose move is far less of a slam dunk than Rosenthal makes it sound.

It's clear that the big sticking point is the territorial rights issue. This is one of the more bizarre stories in recent baseball ownership history: Back in the late 1980s, when then-Giants owner Bob Lurie was getting referendum after referendum held to try to get a stadium built so that he could move his team to San Jose (and losing every time), he asked then-A's owner Walter Haas for exclusive rights to the South Bay. Haas, being a generous sort--and, you have to assume, salivating at the thought of a suddenly vacant San Francisco market just across the bay--said fine. Now, 20 years later, Giants owner Bill Neukom has invoked the legal doctrine of "no backsies."

So far, the two sides have been huddled up in their respective corners, Neukom declaring that the South Bay is not for sale, while Wolff has publicly called on Selig to hand over San Jose "for the good of baseball." It's the kind of situation that calls for a mediator who'll knock heads and force the two sides to meet in the middle, but Selig is not that kind of Commissioner--and as Rob Neyer has pointed out, even if he were, there's enough anxiety among owners about opening the Pandora's box of territorial rights transfers that he might not be able to get the votes to back him up. (The Nats-Orioles deal that Rosenthal mentioned as precedent was actually over television rights, which in MLB terms are a whole 'nother kettle of fish from territorial rights.)

But even if Selig were to lock Wolff and Neukom in a room and tell them not to come out until they had a deal, it's not entirely clear that there's a dollar figure that would work for both sides. Here it's probably best to think not about the individual cities involved, but rather of the Bay Area as one giant, sprawling market, which for all intents it is, albeit one where it's a hefty drive between the farthest-flung bits. In that respect, it's not all that unlike the Connecticut-New York-New Jersey market, though with the complicating factor of the bay and a bunch of bridges that act as traffic bottlenecks thrown into the mix.

With that in mind, you currently have the Giants in firm control of San Francisco, while also drawing a significant chunk of fans from further south on the Peninsula and on into the South Bay--it was Silicon Valley money that has helped the team pay for AT&T Park. The A's are left with the East Bay. It's relatively populous, since about 2.5 million people live in either Alameda County (which includes Oakland and Berkeley) or Contra Costa County (across the hills to the east), but that population is more diffuse and less money-soaked than its neighbors to the south.

So, move the A's to San Jose, and what happens? The Giants, presumably, would lose most of their South Bay fan base, and gain some disaffected East Bayers in exchange; the A's would make the reverse swap. It's not quite a zero-sum game, though: If all works according to plan, the number of San Jose denizens who'd pick up the baseball bug would be more than the number of Oakland-area fans who'd swear off baseball and buy Monta Ellis jerseys, and the rising tide would lift all boats.

How far would it lift them, however? To make a San Jose A's move work, then, you'd need to generate enough new revenue to:

  • Pay off the Giants' indemnification demands for giving up Silicon Valley;
  • Generate around $30 million a year extra to pay off the estimated $461 million construction cost of the San Jose stadium that Wolff says he will build himself (California being probably the hardest state in the nation to get taxpayer stadium funds approved in, given its stringent public referendum requirements); and
  • Leave some money left over to pay all those free agents that Rosenthal insists would come a-running as soon as the A's were out from the shadow of Mount Davis. Figure $50-60 million total at minimum--and it would all need to come from new San Jose fans, less the number of lost Oakland fans.

It's a tough mathematical nut to crack, even when you don't have two sides playing North-going Zax and South-going Zax. The latest developments out of Sacramento aren't likely to make the math get any easier: Jerry Brown, recently reinstalled as California governor after a 28-year layoff, has made as one of his first orders of business filling the state's yawning budget gap by eliminating the state's local redevelopment agencies, which for decades have been siphoning off local tax revenues and stockpiling them for use on development projects. Since Wolff is counting on San Jose's RDA to buy the remaining land needed for his stadium ("paying for it yourself" has its limits, after all), that would tack on an extra $20 million on the cost side of the equation.

If not San Jose, where else could the A's go? Oakland has its own stadium plan in the works for its downtown Jack London Square area, though it's only in the initial planning stages and is also dependent on RDA money. Failing that, Wolff could cast his eyes outside the Bay Area, to Sacramento, or Portland, or Las Vegas. However, none of those cities have MLB-ready stadiums, or much hope of building them anytime soon; all have relatively dismal local economies, and all are fairly dinky in terms of market size. It's one reason why Buster Olney's recent speculation about MLB pulling a John Henry and putting Wolff in the Dodgers owner's seat while taking on the A's as an Expos-style ward of the state doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because the two best relocation options then (DC and Northern Virginia) now off the table thanks to the birth of the Nationals, so it would be hard to get much of a bidding war going with the remaining dregs--unless Selig were willing to take the bold move of threatening a return to by far baseball's largest unoccupied market.

 All of which is why we're in this standoff, with no end in sight barring Seligian intervention. Though at least we have a great soundtrack for the eventual TV movie

Neil deMause is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Neil's other articles. You can contact Neil by clicking here

Related Content:  Bug Selig,  The Who,  Territorial Rights

40 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

John Lowe

It looks like Las Vegas is planning to build a new 42,000 seat domed stadium on the West side of the UNLV campus. It is right next to the airport and about one mile from the Strip. Maybe that would be an even better site to move the A's. They have been in one city far too long anyway. They are nomads, it is in their nature.

Jan 26, 2011 00:24 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

The UNLV stadium would be football, not baseball.

Jan 26, 2011 06:56 AM
Michael Bodell

The fact that San Jose used to be the As territory means from a fairness point of view MLB should be able to force SF to sell it back to San Jose for something close to what they bought it for.

Jan 26, 2011 01:31 AM
rating: 1

Not even sell in my opinion. If no money changed hands in the first place, then it should be reversed to serve exactly the same purpose.

Jan 26, 2011 09:47 AM
rating: 0

Why not have give San Jose rights to the A's and give Oakland rights to the Giants?...The Giants get Oakland for San Jose

Jan 26, 2011 12:08 PM
rating: 0

Funny, the A's drew fans when they were winning and there wasn't an economic crunch.

Yes, the Coliseum is a dump but San Jose is not the answer.

Somebody needs to buy out Wolff and get on with building a facility in Oakland.

I throw out the idea of Tom Hanks (former food vendor at A's games) to lead an ownership group. Steve Jobs and Apple to create the iColiseum - state of the art 'green' facility for baseball, concerts and disaster coordination.

Jan 26, 2011 03:19 AM
rating: 2

I agree. Just build a new stadium in Oaktown. People are moving back there anyway and it actually has functional mass transit from the southbay. I used to go from San Jose to the Coliseum by BART several times a season. It was easy and you didn't drive. Just like the way people go to the NYC stadiums.

Jan 26, 2011 09:52 AM
rating: 1

Yes I had to drive to the furthest south BART station but it wasn't bad compared to commuting.

Jan 26, 2011 09:53 AM
rating: 0

bart is still an hour when you throw in commute time to fremont from pretty much anywhere in san jose, so no that isnt an ideal option for fans coming from the south bay. san jose is the only option, and it's too close for it not to happen

Jan 26, 2011 22:20 PM
rating: -2

"Connecticut-New York-New Jersey market, though with the complicating factor of the bay and a bunch of bridges that act as traffic bottlenecks thrown into the mix."

Wait, are you saying that CT-NY-NJ doesn't have a bunch of bridges that are traffic bottlenecks?

Jan 26, 2011 06:06 AM
rating: 4
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

Not compared to the Bay Area. There are about a dozen ways to get across the Hudson (bridges, tunnels, trains, ferries), compared to what, four to get across the Bay?

Jan 26, 2011 06:52 AM
Jay Taylor

It's actually really easy to to get to San Francisco from the other side of the Bay. If you are in the East Bay you can drive over the Bay Bridge, take one of two ferry lines, or take Bart, which is the fastest. From the North Bay you can use the Golden Gate Bridge or one of the ferries.

I live in Alameda (which is an island off of Oakland) and work in SF, and it only takes me 45 minutes door to door in the middle of rush hour whether I take Bart or the bus.

Jan 26, 2011 10:42 AM
rating: 0

I do invite Neil to try to drive from Hoboken to Hartford during rush hour and see how that compares to the bay area.

Jan 26, 2011 06:55 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

Who drives from Hoboken to Hartford?

I will agree, though, with the implicit point that New Jersey would make sense as an MLB site, in part because of the Hudson River. That's another territorial rights issue that Selig ain't gonna touch with a 40-foot pole, though.

Jan 26, 2011 07:28 AM
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Welcome back to BP, Neil.

Jan 26, 2011 06:33 AM

Hear hear!

Jan 26, 2011 07:21 AM
rating: 9

Why is New Orleans never thrown into the Portland/Sacramento/LV/Northern NJ mix when talking about places a team could move to?

Jan 26, 2011 07:11 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

Because its post-Katrina market size is smaller than Albuquerque?

Jan 26, 2011 07:17 AM

yeah just noticed that....Raleigh-Durham then?

Jan 26, 2011 07:21 AM
rating: 0

MLB in Raleigh would be a dream come true for me. Even Charlotte would be better than nothing, which is what the Carolinas have now. NC is the ninth most populous state in the US, with 10 million people, yet the nearest teams to us are Atlanta to the south and the Nats/Orioles to the north.

NC is considered Nats/O's territory by MLB even though the vast majority of people here identify with the Braves or some other team. You can't even watch Nats/Orioles games here because of the ongoing pissfight between TWC and MASN, and the MLB.com blackout of "local territory" games, neither issue of which MLB seems to care to do anything about. It's ludicrous.

Jan 26, 2011 10:08 AM
rating: 0

New Orleans is, sadly, a very poor city- and have you ever been there in the summer? It makes Houtson's weather seem like Alaska's.

Jan 26, 2011 07:19 AM
rating: 0

Very good article, Neil.

The territorial rights issue, in my opinion, just isn't gonna go away here. (At least not in any economically feasible sense, as you explain.) Your suggestion that pointing the discussion toward a vacant, large, foreign market (Montreal) is the correct one, in my opinion.

But I would offer a different market: Mexico City. To be sure, all sorts of complexities exist in a Mexico City proposal. But I really think MLB could benefit greatly from at least having a meaningful--and public--examination of such a thought. Heck, even if MLB makes MC its version of the NFL's Los Angeles, it potentially could pay dividends for Oakland fans (or Tampa fans).

Jan 26, 2011 07:19 AM
rating: 3

That would be awesome. They could rename them the Mexico City Drug Cartel.

Jan 26, 2011 08:44 AM
rating: -3

As a transplanted A's fan, I've been waiting for this issue to be resolved forever. The Coliseum is terrible.

I will note that I'm not sure how many fans the A's will lose if they move to San Jose. It's not like the A's will be moving cross country in that case. The local fans will still have access to the team. It would be much more difficult to start over in a new market. With the glacial pace, perhaps BART will be going to San Jose by the time everything gets taken care of.

Many A's fans I know just want the team to have more revenue so we can actually sign a free agent for once. I'm sick of having to sign the old, washed up, hurt guys on the cheap and hope they pan out a la Frank Thomas. Is anyone really excited for the Hideki Matsui signing? I would have much preferred Manny Ramirez.

Jan 26, 2011 08:50 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

That's not the fault of the A's budget, though: Matsui's costing double what Manny's getting from the Rays. Billy Beane just got outsmarted by Friedman, as Christina alluded to yesterday.

Jan 26, 2011 16:53 PM
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Aye. Preference and early action comes with a price tag, and then again, there's no accounting for taste. Add in the expense for fairly fungible guys like Conor Jackson, and it isn't like the A's are maximizing their profitability by screwing down their payroll.

Jan 26, 2011 17:35 PM

I presume both the A's and Giants are both readily available on Bay-area cable and radio, right? This being the case, I don't really see too many fans changing allegiances.

I mean, if the Mets moved to Long Island, would NJ-based Mets fans really switch to being Yankee fans?

Jan 26, 2011 09:03 AM
rating: 1

True, but to the extent that the issue is ticket sales, I am an A's fan who lives in the East Bay / works in the city. I attend both A's and Giants games about equally. If the A's move to SJ, I'd follow the A's more on TV and end up going to many more Giants games than SJ A's games.

Jan 26, 2011 09:41 AM
rating: 1

Actually, the A's do not have a radio station at all. In the past 15 years it has gone from spread all over northern California, southern Oregon, western Nevada and deep into central California to not being herd 20 miles away from the Coliseum.

At one point you could only hear the A's in Sacramento (90 miles away) in Spanish.

The A's made a bid to buy a radio station recently A's their anchor. The last few seasons they were on after right-wing talk radio and Christian broadcasting.

Also, there is a problem with Comcast in the BayArea. Not sure what all that is - buy in short if you have Comcast you don't get to see the A's.

Jan 26, 2011 13:21 PM
rating: 0

The Mets are already on Long Island.

Jan 26, 2011 13:32 PM
rating: 0

San Antonio/Austin

Jan 26, 2011 10:34 AM
rating: 0

The Coliseum isn't really that bad a place to watch a baseball game, and since there is no move imminent, the A's ownership would benefit if they stopped bad mouthing the place every chance they get. Granted, I've been to The Phone Company park much more often, but isn't because of the ballpark, it's primarily because I live and work in SF. The A's might find it cheaper to pay the Raiders enough to get them to move back to LA, and then spend their money to tear down Mt. Davis and refurbish the existing park as a baseball only facility. That would solve two problems.

Jan 26, 2011 11:43 AM
rating: 3

A lot of this is subjective. in the 1980s Tom Boswell (I think, or was it Roger Angell?) published a book of baseball essays in which he surveyed parks and decided that the Coliseum was the BEST BALLPARK in the majors. He was looking at transport, food, viewing experience etc.

Since then of course former owners Schott/Hoffman took blood money for permission to ruin the stadium with a giant "Mount Davis" addition that blocked views of he Oakland hills and gave the place a closed-in feel.

But there is a big difference between saying the aestehetics have been compromised and saying that it is a "dump" that needs to be replaced.

How about spending some of the $461 million on player salaries? Nothing attracts fans like winning. How about spending part of the amount on sprucing the place up a little? It would be a lot cheaper installing new seats and food courts than building a stadium from the ground up. And, as mentioned above, how about the current owner not demeaning the product on a regular basis?

Jan 26, 2011 14:18 PM
rating: 3

Since the 80's the vast majority of ballparks have been replaced and the coliseum has aged over 20 years. Plus Mt. Davis. Plus they don't sell tickets to the upper deck anymore and instead cover it with tarps. Plus they don't clean it much, so it smells. Plus it isn't near anything. Plus it is a hunk of ugly concrete.

The seats are relatively new already. The food is decent enough. But that doesn't matter, trust me, it is a dump. Sure, if they fielded a better team more people would go, but teams don't compete every year, so you need a place people want to go even if they think their team will lose. AT&T is like that. The Coliseum isn't.

Jan 26, 2011 18:14 PM
rating: 0

From what I understand from the front office there is a sewage leak, the ceiling drips when it rains in some of the offices and the clubhouse is pretty much cramped.

There is also a lack of indoor hitting and pitching facilities in the advent of poor weather. The training rooms are at the level of your local community college and there is not a full service food area that is a staple in 'modern' facilities.

Further, the public sanitation is disgusting and the lack of decent food and beverages is horrible.

1980 was 30 years ago. A lot has happened since. The Mt Davis renovation apparently came with the concession that nothing could ever be wiped down or cleaned.

The press booth is a nightmare with poor ventilation and lacking two at a time exits.

The place is a dump but not for a lack of doing nothing to make it worse.

San Jose is not the answer. A new facility is needed, though.

Jan 26, 2011 18:56 PM
rating: 0

how is san jose not the answer?

Jan 26, 2011 22:21 PM
rating: 0

Brooklyn Athletics

Jan 26, 2011 16:22 PM
rating: 2

A couple of things:

The Hass family also were ok with the raiders return and going along with the changes in the stadium; not that they wanted this but I believe they felt it was good for the community for the Raiders to return.

While I think fairness dictates returning the territorial rights to the A's since they willingly gave them up to help the Giants, my understanding of their position is that income from the San Jose/Santa Clara area was factored in determining how they would do the debt service on the stadium. I think that is the main point they are making

Jan 26, 2011 18:30 PM
rating: 0

Las Vegas might be small in population but it also attracts an awful lot of tourists some of whom might be interested in going to a game, and the casinos certainly would be willing to reserve sky boxes for the season.

Jan 26, 2011 18:54 PM
rating: 0

Tourists don't buy many season tickets.

Jan 27, 2011 06:38 AM
rating: 0
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