In a word, no.
We’ve hit the point where the latest attempt to find a way to replace the aging (and decrepit) facilities for the Raiders and Athletics has been formally submitted to the City for consideration. It will soon be made public officially, and soon after that, it will be dead.
This is a $900 million plan that if we lived in a magical world of unicorns and ponies would appear one morning with a new stadium, hotels, retail and office space and a balanced budget with no debt so that everyone can live together in harmony and the teams will play on in Oakland forever.
In practice, this deal looks to be requiring significant investments by the city (which says it has no money), the county (which is actively trying to sell it’s share of this property to the city and get out of any involvement), the Raiders (who have said they hate it and aren’t interested in spending money on it) and the A’s (who aren’t thrilled at spending money on it either).
By the way, the Raiders have hired Carmen Policy to oversee the possibility of the Raiders move to Compton to a proposed new stadium to be shared with the San Diego Chargers. A second stadium proposal for LA involves the St. Louis Rams moving to a new facility on the grounds of what was Hollywood Park.
The NFL has increasingly expressed its frustration with Oakland’s inability to figure out how to replace the Colisseum, which is a pit.
To boil down the problem Oakland is facing: the Warriors are moving to San Francisco, leaving them with an empty building and about $80 million in debt left over from when that building was last upgraded. On top of that, Oakland is on the hook for $99 million in debt still unpaid against the football/baseball park — all of which was refinanced in 2015.
The Raiders have a possible (probable? Likely?) opportunity to move to a brand new building in LA at effectively no cost to them. They’re being asked to pay a big chunk of their new building in Oakland. If you look at the other cities considering moves to LA, both San Diego and St. Louis are working on packages to help get new facilities built worth about $300-350 million. In Oakland, they’re asking the Raiders to stay for the good of the fans that love them.
If you look at attendance, Raiders are one of the teams that struggles to sell out its games and which has (in part because of NFL blackout rules) the worst TV ratings in the league. The Raiders were 30th in home attendance in 2015, in fact.
So consider the Raiders choice here: pay a few hundred million dollars to stay in Oakland for the love of the fans (and have 10% of the stadium empty every week with nobody watching, or accept a deal to move to a new, much larger stadium in Compton and a TV market they don’t have to share with the much more popular 49ers. Is it a big surprise they have Carmen Policy helping foster this move for them? For all the Raiders have walked the political fine line of being publicly supportive of Oakland so they don’t piss off their fans before the deal is final — in the back room the interns are packing the boxes and looking for apartments to the south.
Can you blame them? Whether you like the idea of public financing for pro teams or not (and there are lots of reasons to argue against it) look at the three teams involved here: two are being offered packages around $00m to stay, and one is being asked to pay around that amount to stay, and given Oakland’s been trying to figure out how to upgrade these facilities for over a decade and failed miserably, could you blame the Raiders for not exactly trusting them this time to get it done?
So I think it’s safe to say the Raiders are done in Oakland. And something to think about: even if the Compton deal doesn’t happen and instead the Rams move to LA, there are people talking about the Raiders taking the deal being offered to the Rams in St. Louis and moving there. So we may end up with the LA Rams (back where they used to be) and the St. Louis Raders. There seem to be no rational scenarios where they remain in Oakland.
Where does that leave the A’s? Well, to be honest, where they’ve been for years: screwed and with few options. Lew Wolff’s attempts to build a new ballpark first in Fremont and then chasing his own personal unicorn in San Jose have both turned to failure and dust — the only person who still seems to think the A’s to Oakland might happen is Mark Purdy — and frankly, the number of cities that have MLB caliber facilities empty and waiting for a team, or a willingness to building, count up to — zero. So the A’s can’t even do what the Raiders are doing and hold their breath and turn blue if Oakland doesn’t build them a new baseball stadium. They basically can’t threaten or bluff to get anything.
That’s one reason why the A’s seem to be the lost stepson in all of the new building discussions in Oakland. Here’s the other reason:
- SF Giants, 2,000M
- SF 49ers, 1,600m
- GS Warriors, 1,300m
- Oakland Raiders, 970m
- Sacramento Kings, 800m
- Oakland A’s, 725m
- San Jose Sharks, 425m
- San Jose Earthquakes, 145m
These are the 2015 Forbes franchise valuations for all of the major sports franchises in the Bay Area. The A’s are worth well under half of what the Giants are, and a few hundred million less than the Raiders (which are worth a crapload less money than the 49ers). In the hierarchy of value, the city of Oakland has done the right thing in trying to save the Raiders, and while Wolff has gone on record as saying he doesn’t want to share a facility, the fact is he has very little leverage in this discussion, and I think he knows that.
If there’s a rainbow on the horizon of this civic disaster, I think it’s that in the next few months a lot of things will finally happen — the Warriors will get final approval for their new building in SF and the Raiders will back up the moving vans and head either South to LA or East to St. Louis, and that’ll leave Oakland and the A’s to sit down and figure out how to do something with the Colisseum that both sides will be mostly happy with?
Oh, and how to do that when you already have $180 million in debt on the buildings, no primary tenant for the arena and are trying to pay off the bills with concerts and tractor pulls and a week of Ringling Brothers every year? Assuming the concerts and circus don’t move to San Francisco into the new building with the Warriors?
Oakland’s in a tough spot here. The A’s are in a really tough spot as well, since they have no real options other than find a way to make things work in Oakland. A lot of the problems in Oakland tie back to their (really stupid and financially idiotic) decisions made when they brought the Raiders back from LA. Those problems magically don’t go away even if the teams do, but they complicate the ability to solve the current problems.
This, in a nutshell, is why so many city funded deals for pro sports buildings are idiotic and ultimately go sour: to make them fundable and viable, the length of time planned to pay off the bonds ends up to be much longer than the lifetime of the buildings, and when the building wears out and need upgrading or replacing but the bills are still going on for another decade, bad things like this happen.
In retrospect, Oakland shouldn’t have brought back the Raiders. If they hadn’t, they could have focused more on upgrades for the A’s and not on building Mount Allen, which everyone hates (and is an eyesore). The money spent upgrading the arena was well-intentioned, but it turns out that building’s setup limits what you can do with it — Key arena was effectively a clone of the Oakland building and Seattle ran into very similar problems, a bad rebuild of the building, and ultimately losing the team as well. Sometimes, what you have needs to be thrown out and started over, and both Seattle and Oakland learned that the hard way, and which Phoenix is struggling with with the building the Suns are playing in — another almost clone of the Oakland building.
But things could be worse. The situation in Oakland is painful and Oakland is going to lose two of its teams and have to figure out how to solve its building problem to keep the third — but none of that remotely comes close to the pain and financial and political disaster that is Glendale Arizona home of the Gila River arena and the (at least for now) Arizona Coyotes of the NHL where people forget that on top of the stupidity the city got itself into building that hockey arena, they also put in even more money into the Camelback Ranch spring training project that lured the Dodgers away from Vero beach. Whether hockey is viable in Arizona is the least of their problems — Glendale has hundreds of millions of dollars of debt and no way to remotely get that under control or paid for, with or without the Coyotes.
So Oakland has made some mistakes in the past but now they’re trying to do what they can with what they have, so I’m not going to criticize them even htough I think it’s obvious it’s not going to work and the Raiders are history there. I hope they come to grips with taht soon and shift their focus to figuring out how to save the A’s and build something worthy of them, although to be honest, I have questions about whether the Bay Area is still a two MLB-team region or not, just like it really isn’t a two-NFL team market any more. The problem with saying that is that I’m not sure what other options the A’s would have. I still think Wolff made a major mistake giving up on his Fremont project so easily in favor of chasing rainbows in San Jose. Folks who have been stuck at dinner tables with me know I’ve been saying since day one that would never fly, and for once, I’ve been proven right….
My two scenarios for the A’s are this: Wolff and Oakland figure it out and put a few hundred million into upgrading the current stadium and deleting that ugly Mt. Davis monstrosity and turning it back into a real ballpark is the likely one.
But failing that, I think it might be time for Wolff to sell and move on, and allow some new owner to start fresh and look to build a new building — I’d be looking along the BART lines in Pleasanton/Dublin area or up around Walnut Creek. The problem? Good land for this kind of project is increasingly rare and expensive.
So let’s hope once Oakland and the Raiders give up on each other for real the city and the A’s can figure it out. If there’s a franchise taht deserves to be given a bit of love by its city for being the good soldier through all of the other crap Oakland had done to them over the years it’s the A’s.
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About Teal Sunglasses: Three Dots of Hockey and Sports
Teal Sunglasses is an email newsletter about Hockey, the San Jose Sharks, Baseball, the Business of sports and whatever sporting topics catch my attention.
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Teal Sunglasses is written and produced by Chuq Von Rospach. Chuq was a 20 year season ticket holder with the Sharks starting with the franchise’s first season and one of the operators of the Plaidworks Sharks mailing list and many other sports mailing lists on the internet.