Scott Haggerty strode into Massimo’s, perhaps Fremont’s most venerable restaurant. He was jumpy and keyed-up, ready to make the pitch of his life. Nearly three years earlier, in the summer of 2001, Fremont’s county supervisor had ensured that his city would be considered for a new ballpark. But ever since, the breaks hadn’t favored Haggerty’s hometown. So here he was, amid the overstuffed booths, mood lighting, and bow-tied waiters, quietly preparing to sell his anonymous ‘burb as the future home of a Major League Baseball franchise.
In walked Lewis Wolff, the man hired by the Oakland A’s to find a new site for a stadium, and a man who so believed in the team that he bought a piece of it eleven months later. Haggerty immediately began schmoozing, waving over Massimo’s owner Bill Rinetti Jr., whose brother David ran the A’s game-day operations at the Oakland Coliseum. Once the flesh-pressing was over, Haggerty got down to business.
Fremont was more than an endless sea of subdivisions, he told Wolff. It was just up the road from Silicon Valley, where cash-heavy tech firms were waiting to drop a load on sponsorship deals at a new stadium. The decrepit Coliseum was lucky to get a few billboards from Kaiser Permanente or the Oakland Tribune, but a new Fremont ballpark would brim with logos from Apple, Cisco, eBay, and Intel. An advertising fortune was there for the taking, and the revenue could finally make the A’s permanent postseason contenders.
Just five minutes into Haggerty’s spiel, Wolff cut him off: There was no chance in hell that the A’s would ever come to Fremont.
“I was actually stunned when he told me Fremont was not an option,” Haggerty recalled. “I didn’t eat much, because I was sick to my stomach. … He just knocked the wind out of me. ” Thirty-two months later, at a standing-room-only press conference, Haggerty grinned as he watched Wolff, Cisco CEO John Chambers, and baseball Commissioner Bud Selig officially announce that the A’s would call Fremont home starting as early as 2010. A new baseball-only stadium, where fans could use Cisco software to remotely order garlic fries or buy digital photos of game highlights, would rise up next to a condominium and retail complex known as a “ballpark village.” Haggerty’s dream, so casually dismissed in that dark Italian restaurant nearly three years before, was now a $400 million reality.
From a distance, the turnaround appeared remarkable. But a closer look at the A’s storied past reveals that their long road to southern Alameda County was inevitable. The team was destined to leave the Oakland Coliseum more than eleven years ago when a prodigal football team finally decided to come home. And then the Athletics’ fate was sealed in July 2003, when the lone government advocate for keeping the team in Oakland was shown the door. Indeed, there’s a convincing argument to be made that Fremont was the only viable place left for the A’s in the Bay Area. It was either that or leave California.
Rooting for laundry
Any story of how a beloved sports franchise would break Oakland’s heart must begin with Al Davis. The sweatsuit-clad owner abandoned the city in 1982, packing up his football team and moving it four hundred miles south to Los Angeles. Wooing him back thirteen years later required a monumentally bad deal that nearly bankrupted the city of Oakland and Alameda County. It also ensured the eventual departure of the A’s.
Erected during the 1960s’ multipurpose stadium craze, the Oakland Coliseum was never a first-rate ballpark. But during the Raiders’ absence, it served admirably for baseball. In 1990, the A’s set a team attendance record, selling 2.9 million tickets. The park’s grass field was regarded as the best in the majors, and the stadium offered sweeping views of the green and gold East Bay hills. Washington Post columnist George Will even featured the Coliseum on the front of his 1990 best-seller, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball.
Yet Davis believed the Coliseum was too small for Raider Nation. So city and county officials agreed to build “Mount Davis,” a concrete monstrosity full of plastic seats. It made the Raiders’ owner happy, but Mount Davis obliterated the views and destroyed whatever charm and intimacy the old ballpark had. It also devastated the Athletics’ business model.
It’s a basic axiom of economics that when supply increases, demand decreases. So when the supply of Coliseum seats jumped from 45,000 to 63,000 with Mount Davis, the demand for A’s season tickets stagnated. In a 2005 interview with an A’s fan club, Wolff noted that the team had just 7,000 season-ticket holders compared to 25,000 for the San Francisco Giants, who play in a new 41,000-seat, baseball-only park. “It’s clear that the renovation of the stadium to accommodate the Raiders made it less valuable for the A’s,” said Roger Noll, a Stanford University sports economist and one of the nation’s leading stadium experts.
Once A’s co-owner Steve Schott studied the plans for Mount Davis in the summer of 1995, he demanded an escape clause in his lease. Between 1998 and 2002, he tried to sell the A’s at least three times — twice to owners who intended to move the team out of state. He took the city and county to arbitration and won a $16 million judgment in 1998. Then, from 2001 to 2005, he tried to move the franchise himself, first to Santa Clara and then San Jose. He desperately wanted the A’s in Silicon Valley, where he could capture corporate sponsorships and sell luxury boxes — two things he couldn’t do consistently in Oakland.
Schott was nothing if not a smart baseball man. But he knew that as long as his franchise was stuck in an aging stadium more suitable for football than baseball, he couldn’t afford the out-of-sight salaries demanded by the game’s stars. He learned that firsthand in 1997 when he lost baseball’s premier power hitter, Mark McGwire. It was clear that he had to find a general manager who could win on a shoestring budget. He found the best in Billy Beane.
Over the years, Beane has become famous for crafting winning teams from one of the lowest payrolls in the majors. He did it by dispassionately analyzing baseball statistics to uncover no-name players, overlooked or cast aside by other teams. These no-names turned the A’s into winners; the A’s have reached the playoffs in five of the last seven years. In 2003, Berkeley author Michael Lewis trumpeted Beane’s exploits in the best-seller Moneyball.
But even Beane admits that Moneyball is not all it’s cracked up to be. When his no-names become high-priced stars — from Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada to Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson — he no longer can afford them. Frank Thomas is the team’s latest pilgrim, and Barry Zito is likely to follow soon. It’s no way to build fan loyalty, and it’s no way to increase season ticket sales.
At the November 14 press conference, Beane said he dreams of a day when a young A’s fan can have a “favorite player in the first grade” and then watch that player for his entire A’s career. A new baseball-only stadium in Fremont, he said, “will give us that opportunity.” With so much turnover on the team’s roster each year, fans are basically relegated today to cheering for the team’s uniform. Beane admitted that he feels a little sheepish at times asking fans to “root for laundry.”
No there there
Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland that “there is no there there,” but her famous comment better describes the city thirty miles to the south. Fremont is basically a large collection of housing tracts fronted by strip malls — with no downtown. It also gets no respect. With a population of 210,000, it’s the region’s fourth-largest city behind San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland, yet no one ever seems to mention it after the top three. Two A’s fans in a video on YouTube recently described the city as “a parking lot with a mayor.”
For years, Fremont was just a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. Yes, it’s home to the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. auto plant, the county’s largest private employer. But during the 1990s, it also became home to a huge influx of Asian immigrants, many of whom were engineers at high-tech companies in next-door Santa Clara County. By the end of the decade, Fremont’s leaders decided it was time to transform their city into a high-tech destination.
They pinned their hopes on a large piece of land west of Interstate 880, near the salt flats of San Francisco Bay. The property was owned by Catellus Development Corporation, the state’s biggest private landowner and a spinoff of the old Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads. Catellus had attracted Silicon Valley giant Cisco Systems to construct a huge business park on 143 acres known as Pacific Commons.
The new high-tech mecca was to feature 3.4 million square feet of office space, 10,000 workers, and eighteen midrise office buildings. “I always had high hopes for that property,” Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said. “I was ecstatic when we approved the high-tech business park. It would have been the new center of Silicon Valley.”
The city craved the development so badly that it became a co-applicant in the federal environmental review process. Catellus coveted the deal, too. To ease concerns about wetlands and threatened species, the company deeded a large portion of its Fremont holdings to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. But by the time Fremont and Catellus had obtained all the permits they needed to break ground, the dot-com bubble burst. In April 2001, Cisco shelved its plans, and Fremont’s “there” went back to being just a vacant lot.
Meanwhile, thirty miles to the north, another vacant lot had become the focus of Oakland’s attempt to finally create its own destination. City Manager Robert Bobb was on a one-man crusade to reawaken Oakland’s long-dormant downtown with a new A’s ballpark. But he needed help, so he recruited Fremont’s economic development director, Rosie Rios, who had helped lead the Cisco-Catellus project. During late 2001 and early 2002, Bobb and Rios drew up a plan for a new entertainment district in Oakland’s Uptown District, next to downtown, anchored by a ballpark and a refurbished Fox Theater. “It would have jumpstarted downtown Oakland,” Bobb recalled.
But Bobb’s boss, Mayor Jerry Brown, had other plans; he wanted the site for his friends at Forest City Enterprises Inc. a large housing developer. Brown later told reporters that A’s owner Schott was not interested in the Uptown site. And while it’s true that Schott never stepped forward to embrace the plan, it’s also true that Brown put a gag order on it, forbidding anyone in the city from discussing it with the A’s. The mayor also forbade Bobb and Rios from revealing it publicly. The plan’s details came to light only when they were obtained by the Oakland Tribune.
With the help of City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, Brown effectively killed the ballpark-entertainment district in May 2002 when the council awarded the land to Forest City. Brown and Bobb’s once-close relationship was damaged beyond repair, and thirteen months later, the mayor told his city manager to quit or he would fire him. Brown then terminated Rios outright. With Bobb and Rios gone, the A’s destiny would not be in Oakland.
“There is no way that that project should not have been built,” Bobb said. “But at the end of the day, politics overcame a long-range vision for the City of Oakland.” Bobb went on to become the city manager of Washington, DC, and spearheaded — with an assist from Rios — that city’s successful 2004 bid to lure the Montreal Expos with a new ballpark. But before he and Rios left Oakland, they oversaw a study of possible stadium sites around the East Bay.
Conducted by famed architects HOK Sport, who designed San Francisco’s AT&T Park and Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the study ranked Uptown as the best place for a new ballpark. But to nearly everyone’s surprise, another spot had caught the architects’ attention.
Where’s the library?
Scott Haggerty thought Fremont was being stiff-armed. Haggerty is the consummate Fremont booster; he was raised there, he represents it on the county Board of Supervisors, and he has a tight relationship with its mayor and longtime Fremont police chief, Bob Wasserman. Haggerty affectionately calls Wasserman his “father on earth.” But in mid-2001, Haggerty was livid. He believed Bobb and Rios were rigging the HOK study.
“They had a clear bias and an agenda in making sure the A’s stayed in Oakland,” recalled Haggerty, who at the time was chairman of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority. In fact, it looked as if HOK was going to bypass Fremont entirely until Haggerty insisted that the architects analyze a large piece of vacant land near the NUMMI plant, not far from the planned new BART station at Warm Springs.
HOK liked the Fremont spot and selected it as the East Bay’s third-best site, but the results were largely forgotten by the summer of 2003. Then, when Bobb resigned on July 1, 2003, Haggerty attempted to revive his hometown’s prospects. “I think that Fremont has always been the site of choice for many,” he told the Fremont Argus a day later. “And the fact that … nobody is stepping to the plate to build a new ballpark in Oakland will greatly increase Fremont’s chances.” Four months later, the A’s hired a man who would make the county supervisor look prescient.
Lew Wolff joined the A’s in November 2003 as vice president of venue development — corporate jargon for “new ballpark guy.” Wolff had made a name for himself in real-estate development, particularly in San Jose, where he built the San Jose Park Center Plaza and the San Jose Fairmont Hotel’s new tower. He also was no stranger to pro sports. He once owned minority stakes in the Golden State Warriors and the St. Louis Blues hockey team, and controlled a piece of the Skydome, the home of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays. In the early 1990s, he also helped try to bring the Giants to the South Bay.
Wolff’s extensive ties to San Jose, in fact, fueled speculation that he would attempt to move the A’s there. But in May 2004, baseball Commissioner Selig reaffirmed the Giants’ territorial claims on the South Bay. “We do respect territories … and territories are well defined … and everybody knows that when they buy a team,” Selig said. Translated, it meant that the A’s would have to find a new ballpark in their own territory — Alameda and Contra Costa counties — or move out of the Bay Area. Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties belonged to the Giants and were off limits.
Wolff, who had invited Selig to the press conference, has been close pals with the commissioner since the 1950s when the two were fraternity brothers at the University of Wisconsin. At the press conference announcing the Fremont move, Selig joked that in college he never would have predicted Wolff would become a wealthy businessman. “To quote my mother, ‘He was never going to amount to a row of pins,'” Selig said, smiling. Wolff quickly retorted, “The commissioner was always in the library. It took me three years to find where the library was.”
But once Wolff began working for the A’s, it didn’t take long for him to find the second-place finisher in the HOK study — the Oakland Coliseum parking lot. In a July 2004 team report, Wolff said the A’s were willing to spend $100 million of their own money for a new $400 million stadium there. Three months earlier, Wolff had told Haggerty at Massimo’s that Fremont was not going to happen.
But Wolff, who did not return phone calls to his spokesman seeking comment for this story, soon learned that Oakland city officials would not help the A’s finance a new stadium next to the Coliseum. The Raiders’ deal had made sure of that.
Poisoning the water
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, America’s cities prostituted themselves for the rich owners of professional sports teams. From coast to coast, cities spent billions building new stadiums, trying to steal teams from one another or hold onto the ones they had. Oakland and San Francisco were no different. Both went deep into debt to build taxpayer-financed stadiums — the Oakland Coliseum, which lured the A’s from Kansas City, and Candlestick Park, constructed for the newly arrived New York Giants. But as the century neared its close, all that whoring was about to end.
The changing tide began with Al Davis, who sowed widespread distrust in 1982 when he jilted Oakland. By the early 1990s, the Giants’ owners experienced the sea change for themselves. They had threatened to relocate to the South Bay, but voters called their bluff, turning down four publicly financed stadium proposals. The backlash was not lost on East Bay politicians. They knew they could no longer dangle taxpayer money in front of sports teams.
That’s why politicians such as Don Perata, Ignacio De La Fuente, and county Supervisor Mary King were so eager to promise that the Raiders deal would cost the public nothing. And that’s why, when their promises turned out to be wildly off base, the A’s chances of obtaining public dollars for a new stadium were spoiled forever. “It all flopped,” said Noll, the Stanford sports economist. “It was clear that the Raiders’ deal poisoned the water for Oakland politicians.”
By early 2005, after De La Fuente made it clear that using public money for an A’s stadium was out of bounds, Wolff began working on a plan to finance one privately. He decided to build a “ballpark village,” featuring a new stadium surrounded by a mini-city of single-family houses, condos, restaurants, bars, retail, and a hotel. He planned to use the profits from the houses and condos to pay for the stadium.
“The general idea is that in order for it be privately financed, you need an outside revenue source,” said Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts and coeditor with Noll of the seminal 1997 sports economics book Sports, Jobs, and Taxes. It made the case for why publicly financed stadiums make no sense for cities. Wolff, Zimbalist said, was on the cutting edge of how sports franchises are responding to cities that refuse to help pay for stadiums.
In March 2005, as Wolff began to sketch out his plan, he and his partners purchased the A’s from Schott and his partner Ken Hofmann for $175 million. John Fisher, son of Gap founder Donald Fisher, became the majority owner of the ball club, but he remained in the background and allowed Wolff to be the general managing partner — corporate jargon for “front man.”
Three months later, Wolff heard a convincing pitch for why the best site for his ballpark village was not in Oakland. It was a huge slice of land once destined to turn a bedroom community into Silicon Valley North.
Closing the window
Scott Haggerty is a persistent man, and on June 1, 2005, he wrote to Wolff, asking him once again to “seriously consider” Fremont. A week later, Mayor Wasserman did the same thing. The two knew Wolff was getting nowhere in Oakland and that Fremont would greet him as a savior. Shortly after receiving the letters, Wolff met Wasserman, and this time he didn’t cut anyone off. “He was very, very interested from the moment I met him,” Wasserman recalled.
In less than a week, Wolff killed the Oakland Coliseum parking lot idea. But he gave little explanation; he vaguely mentioned concerns about building atop underground utility lines and having to negotiate with the Raiders and Warriors. The truth was that his ballpark village would not pencil out unless he had a lot of land for all of those homes and condos. The Coliseum parking lot was just too small.
In Fremont, meanwhile, Wolff sent his son, Keith Wolff, on a driving tour with Wasserman. The mayor showed the younger Wolff the property that HOK had studied, but the owner’s son, who was now helping lead the ballpark project, was more intrigued with the Catellus-Cisco land. “He had never seen it before, but he already knew about it,” Wasserman recalled. At 143 acres, it appeared to be the perfect size for a ballpark village, but the elder Wolff decided to give Oakland one last chance.
On August 12, 2005, Wolff unveiled his ballpark village plan publicly for the first time, saying he wanted to build it on about a hundred acres of industrial land north of the Coliseum, from 66th Avenue to High Street. The bold proposal was met immediately with skepticism. Wolff asked for no public money, but he said he would need Oakland’s help relocating about one hundred blue-collar businesses that occupied the land. His plan instantly raised the ugly specter of politicians using eminent domain to confiscate private property and then hand it to a wealthy sports franchise owner.
Wasserman also attended Wolff’s presentation, and said he remembered thinking it would not fly in Oakland. “His plan looked beautiful, but it was very obvious they he would never be able to do that there,” the mayor said. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘My gosh. That’ll work in Fremont.'”
Wasserman believes Wolff probably thought the same thing, but in public, at least, the A’s co-owner stayed the course in Oakland. A few weeks later, he offered to help pay the salary of a city staffer to shepherd his plan. And in December, he requested a lease extension at the Coliseum. “More than anything else, it would have extended the window toward securing a baseball-only facility in the city of Oakland,” A’s spokesman Jim Young explained to the Trib. “That window remains open, but it won’t be forever.”
In hindsight, that window was closing rapidly — if it was still open at all. Wolff had been working behind the scenes in Fremont for half a year. According to a column by Mark Purdy in the San Jose Mercury News, Wolff was introduced to Cisco CEO John Chambers in the fall of 2005 by former A’s co-owner Ken Hofmann. Wolff and Chambers quickly began discussing a deal for the 143-acre Cisco-Catellus property, to which Cisco still held the rights.
Then in March of this year, Wolff declared his Oakland ballpark village plan dead and said he was focusing on Fremont. Wasserman said his city and the A’s already had entered into serious discussions. A few months later, in July, Wolff quietly gobbled up land near the Cisco-Catellus property. According to county records, he purchased eight acres fronting I-880. The additional land gives him 151 total acres for his ballpark village.
Finally, on November 14, at Cisco’s headquarters in San Jose, Wolff, Chambers, Selig, and Beane announced the A’s move to Fremont. Wolff said Haggerty had “hounded” him since that lunch at Massimo’s in 2004. He said he planned to buy the Cisco-Catellus property — now owned by ProLogis, a real estate development giant that swallowed Catellus last year. And Chambers agreed to pay the A’s $120 million over thirty years for the right to call the new ballpark Cisco Field.
The new 30,000- to 34,000-seat stadium may open as soon as 2010. But Wasserman said he told Wolff that he would have to build it without public funds.
A tremendous opportunity
Oakland’s glorious baseball history — a story of four World Series titles, of Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin, Dennis Eckersley and Mark McGwire — is now destined to end in about three seasons. It’s easy to fault politicians like De La Fuente. But in retrospect, he can’t be blamed for what happened the past two years. It was politically untenable for him to put public dollars in play for a new sports stadium, especially after the Raiders’ fiasco. If De La Fuente is to be blamed, blame him for that.
For his part, the council president believes Wolff set up a series of straw men that could easily be knocked down, allowing him to leave town, say he gave Oakland plenty of chances, and still save face. “There was never a real effort to park someplace and really make it work,” De La Fuente said.
There’s evidence to support this theory. After all, Wolff is no sports neophyte. He had to know that East Bay politicians could not help the A’s finance a new stadium on the Coliseum parking lot. He also must have known that relocating a hundred businesses would render his ballpark village plan dead on arrival.
But De La Fuente also is guilty of throwing up at least one straw man of his own. Over the past year, he kept saying that Wolff should look at the so-called Oak to Ninth property along the Oakland Estuary. But the Port of Oakland had already sold that land to another condo developer. Thus it would never work for Wolff, because he needs to sell condos himself to finance a new ballpark.
In the end, Fremont was the A’s destiny. It’s near Oakland, as close as the team can get to Santa Clara County, has a ton of vacant land, and it’s only a few miles from the Bay Area’s economic engine. The A’s should be able to finally start selling corporate ads and luxury suites. Billy Beane was right: The infusion of new cash should allow him to keep some of his no-name-turned-superstar players, building fan loyalty and increasing season ticket sales.
For Fremont, the A’s will put the city on the map. Wolff promised the team’s new name will at least include “of Fremont,” which ensures that each summer, the city will be mentioned in the sports pages of every newspaper in the country. It also means that all the time, money, and effort Fremont spent on the Cisco-Catellus development in the late ’90s was not a complete waste of time.
Pundits have warned that it’s not yet a done deal. There are transportation issues to be resolved — the Nimitz is a nightmare, Fremont city streets are choked at rush hour, and the stadium will be about two miles from the still-unbuilt Warm Springs BART station. There’s also the question of who will pay for infrastructure — new roads, electrical lines, and sewer pipes. Wasserman said the A’s would have to foot the bill just like any other developer, but he expects the team will request a tax break on its mega-project.
All communities face these types of issues when negotiating with major developers. And at this moment, it’s hard to imagine this deal unraveling. Unlike Oakland, Fremont has plenty of political will. Haggerty and Wasserman are not about to let the A’s slip through their fingers. “This is a tremendous opportunity,” the mayor explained. “It will be a ballpark village that will be known around the world.”
By contrast, Oakland finds itself staring at a bleak sports future and years of debt. The bonds sold to build Mount Davis won’t be paid off until 2025. But when the Raiders’ lease expires in 2011, they’ll likely attempt to leave town. Al Davis has been unhappy at the Coliseum since 1995, too, and it’s a given that he will scour the nation for a city that will build him a new stadium. When the Raiders leave, Oakland, a town that identified itself for decades through its professional sports franchises, will be left with an empty 60,000-seat stadium, a mountain of unpaid bills, and one final pro sports team that won’t even take its name.
Garlic fries, hot dogs, embroidered team jackets, and the other sources of modern sports revenue.
By Kara Platoni Can a new Fremont stadium finance a winning future for the A’s? Let’s do some baseball math. Everyone knows the big money pit for baseball teams is salaries. But with all of the revenue sources at a team’s disposal — ticket sales, naming rights, advertising, luxury boxes, media contracts — it might surprise you that the one everyone’s banking on is … the mighty garlic fry.
Given the nature of revenue-sharing from TV and radio contracts, teams such as the Yankees, who play in the highly lucrative New York media market, start off with profoundly larger resources than the A’s. Higher revenues equal a higher payroll and, Moneyball notwithstanding, studies show a direct correlation between player salaries and games won. Advantage: Yankees. “Just because of television markets alone, we’re never going to be able to spend the type of money the Yankees or Red Sox spend,” A’s president Mike Crowley laments.
But certainly the A’s will hope to fill their new stadium, which would increase annual ticket sales from their current 2 million to about 2.6 million. They’re also likely to raise ticket prices above their current average of around $20 a pop. Advertising rates are based on attendance, so those, too, would be expected to climb a bit.
Still, concessions may be the one revenue source with potential for the greatest expansion. Can smaller-market teams really narrow the revenue gap — and the resulting achievement gap — selling spicy tubers? Teams today think so, especially once fans throw in an imported lager at the bar, lunch at the fancy club, and an embroidered jacket at the fan-gear shop. Remember the days when people sat in the bleachers for the whole nine innings? No more, says Victor Matheson, a College of the Holy Cross sports economist. “Once they have you in the ballpark, the last thing they want you to do is watch the game,” he says. Today’s new stadiums are designed for milling around and near-constant spending, and to appeal as much to casual watchers as to diehard baseball fans.
That means children’s play areas, bars where people can catch a few innings, sit-down restaurants, and high-end concessions such as AT&T Park’s famous ahi tuna sandwich. It means keeping fans in or around the park, wallets out, as long as possible. That’s hard to do at McAfee Coliseum, Crowley notes. “Right now, our stadium is pretty much a destination,” he says. “You get in the car or on BART and you come to the park, watch the game, and leave.” The new A’s stadium, he said, will boost the number of attractions inside and nearby the park. “We’re hoping people will show up earlier, stay later, and obviously have an opportunity to enjoy the game,” he says. “But we’re looking for them to spend more.”
It’s no coincidence that the A’s are heading for a tonier neighborhood, where fans can afford to drop more dough at a game, and where, they hope, the surrounding business community will finally fill the team’s luxury boxes. The new stadium will be even smaller than the Coliseum, pressuring fans to buy season tickets to ensure they’ll have seats for postseason games. This past season, the A’s closed off the upper deck and created an artificial seating shortage for just this purpose. This will further bifurcate the audience, says Stanford University sports economist Roger Noll. “Ordinary people will be watching on television — hopefully paid television — and the people in attendance at the games will be upper-income people paying high ticket prices and will be the best candidates to buy the fancy food instead of the hot dogs and go to the clothing store and buy team jewelry,” he says.
Will bigger merch sales mean better baseball? Crowley is hopeful. “People have seen, these last few years, what we’ve been able to do with a payroll south of $70 million,” he muses. “If I could have added ten or twenty million dollars, would that have made a difference? It might have.” Although higher payroll often means more wins, Noll cautions that the match-up isn’t perfect. An aging superstar can draw a princely salary and plenty of fans, but not help win games. And sometimes, the key player is really a good general manager. “The move to Fremont isn’t going to cause the A’s to become the Yankees in terms of revenue,” Noll says with a chuckle. “But their management will be the same, and hopefully Billy Beane will live to be 150.”
We asked some hardcore A’s fans what they think about the team’s Fremont aspirations.
Interviews by Kara PLATONI
Shane Higginbotham, Albany
“I love the move to Fremont. The A’s will finally have a venue all to themselves, and the designs look awesome. No offense to them, but Oakland cannot demand loyalty from the A’s when in their entire history, the citizens of Oakland haven’t shown up at the games, and the leadership of Oakland has ignored and snubbed them, favoring the Raiders’ return more than an already-there Athletics franchise. When the A’s move to Fremont, they can finally shed the unfortunately bad image Oakland has, and start afresh. Besides, most of the people I’ve met at A’s games were from outside of Oakland.”
Jill Olson, Oakland
“The A’s going to a craptastic new stadium in Fremont is an example of the continued Disneyland/Big New Mall/McMansionization of America. Fremont is a series of strip malls, parking lots, and fast-food restaurants. Thanks, Oakland city managers! We lose again.”
Debbie Li, Piedmont
“As a business decision, I congratulate the A’s on potentially maximizing their profits and whatnot. As a baseball fan, mindful of the history of the A’s in Oakland, it makes me sad to see the direction that the A’s, and baseball in general, is going. The blatant ass-kissing of corporate dollars? Ignoring what used to be the bread and butter of the A’s fanbase? The San Jose Athletics of Fremont, or, God forbid, the Silicon Valley A’s of Fremont? A little bit of my soul dies every time I hear that.”
Owen Bly, Oakland
“Sure, Fremont is only 25 miles away, but it’s a world apart. Those who buy into this awful high-tech stadium are being distracted by a shiny object. Oakland Athletics baseball has soul, which trumps the Silicon Valley Generics every time. Shame on Jerry Brown, Lew Wolff, and everyone involved with this travesty.”
Teddy Miller, Berkeley
“At least they are not moving to Tampa or Las Vegas or Walla Walla. Fremont is only an iPod playlist down the BART line. Plus, economically, there’s something to be said for tapping into the San Jose fan market without exposing themselves to the higher real-estate prices. They are going to get higher revenues, which will translate into more Monopoly money for Billy Beane to play around with as he adjusts to the league catching up with his Moneyball technique. This could be the way that we parlay our miraculous low-money run of the 1990s into a true dynasty of playoffs and fun. Honestly, how else are we going to be able to afford to hold onto Nick Swisher, Huston Street, or Jeremy Brown when they make it big?”
Beverly Thompson, Milpitas
“I have commuted to A’s games since 1968, first from Sacramento, now from Milpitas. I am thrilled they will be closer. Regardless of where they moved to, I would still be a fan. Now I will be able to go to even more games, since going to nonweekend games was a major problem due to traffic and time required.”
Gabe Pinar, Oakland
“I’ve been to Fremont, once, and I think I’ll keep my sports dollar in Oakland (read: the Warriors). The “great” urban sprawl may have sucked the life out the A’s, my favorite team, but they won’t bring me down with them.”