One of the biggest issues this off season has been what has not happened – a new stadium for our beloved Athletics. This off season has seen a lot of false hopes, and a lot of let downs instead. So let us do a little recap of the stadium situation from the perspective of the participants in this little melodrama.
The City of Oakland has been working to get through a plan to keep the A’s, authorizing an EIR for the Victory Court location. Oakland has retained an attorney whose trade seems to be keeping or acquiring sports franchises for his respective client cities, and the Oakland city attorney has threatened legal action if the A’s were to try to move.
But even with the dissipation of redevelopment agencies delayed by a vote, the same problems still exist for Oakland. How do you pay for the stadium? The A’s have said themselves that they will not invest very much money into building a stadium in Oakland, for reasons that have been rehashed over and over, both here and abroad. For the city, even disregarding the political climate which would make it suicide to try to publically pay for a stadium (although that does not seem to be stopping Santa Clara in their pursuit of the 49’ers), the city just does not have the money to pay for the new stadium and infrastructure improvements at Victory Court without amassing a seriously large amount of debt. The corporate support for the stadium does not look to be nearly enough, and there is still no taker for naming rights for the proposed stadium in Oakland. The biggest hope seems to be in the form of a loan from Major League Baseball, but that might be in question with the Mets financial problems and the MLB reworking its debt policy. Meanwhile, the problems of the current tenants at the Victory Court site still remain, uncertain about their future, and unwilling to sell. That’s a lot for Oakland to overcome.
For the City of San Jose, things are a mixed bag right now. The city has moved forward to protect its redevelopment agency by transferring funds to a new authority that would be responsible for managing any project occurring at the proposed ballpark site at Diridon Station, which would oversee not just the ballpark, but the transit and infrastructure projects as well. Now that the vote for Redevelopment absolvement has been delayed, it will be interesting to see where this situation goes. Lew Wolff has stated that he has the financing in place, the corporate support is there, and the naming rights are already sold to Cisco. On the land front, the property is all but acquired, and the stadium construction can start soon after it is approved. The city even decided to hold a special election to vote for the stadium proposal. So what is holding the process up?
Territorial rights are the biggest thorn in the side of the A’s and San Jose. As most of AN knows, the Giants control the rights to San Jose and Santa Clara County after the A’s granted them the rights when they threatened to move to San Jose in the early 1990’s. Since then, the Giants have been sold, built a stadium in San Francisco (instead of San Jose or Tampa Bay) and put their foot down, stating that the territory of Santa Clara is the biggest, most vital part of their franchises value, that they have a huge fan base in San Jose, and that they absolutely refuse to negotiate at all with the idea of handing those rights over to the A’s. To either protect their territory, or more likely profit from its loss, the Giants invested heavily in their single A club, the San Jose Giants, while producing the predictable Astroturf campaign groups, complaining that the city should not be wasting money trying to build a stadium with any public funds, infrastructure or not, while begging for a public retrofit of the current decrepit Municipal Stadium.
But the Giants might have allies in several other teams, notably the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox, who fear that the move of the A’s into another team’s territory could lead directly to the move of another team, i.e. the Rays, to New York or New Jersey, which would go right into the Yankees and Mets territories, and hurt their profit machine (but not their susceptibility to fall for ponzi schemes).
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball seems to be the key player right now. The Blue Ribbon Committee, which was commissioned about three hundred years ago, is still working diligently on their report, crossing every I and dotting every t, while the commissioner tries to figure out what to do. When the City of San Jose decided to stop waiting and start pushing, scheduling a vote for the stadium last year, MLB was furious and demanded that they postpone the vote, which San Jose did upon assurance that MLB would pay for the new vote, which was supposed to occur right about now (March), but has yet to appear.
Much of the rumblings on why MLB has not approved the transfer allude to the above territorial dispute by the Giants, a combination of compensation for the Giants and fears by teams that believe they might lose their territory protection. The other half is that the MLB is using the A’s and Rays, as the two weakest teams financially, as leverage against the Players Union in their Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, with the threat of contraction. Combine that with the recent financial struggles of the Dodgers/McCourts and the Mets/Wilpons, and the pending sale of the Houston Astros, and you can see why the A’s might get shifted to the back burner. The problem is that the A’s have been on the backburner for so long, I am afraid that the kettle might burn through.