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Press Box Perspective: A’s in Exile

By Peter Melling /// Sports Editor

Here we go again. While the MLB’s Oakland Athletics have piloted their way to the best record in baseball (as of July 8, they are 56-33 with a +140 run differential), more issues surrounding their stadium have come to the forefront. There is talk of the A’s securing a 10-year lease with the city of Oakland. “Talk” is the key word here, as A’s part owner Lew Wolff prematurely declared that a lease had been set in motion. A vote on the matter scheduled for June 27 got cancelled when representatives from the city of Oakland did not show up to the meeting. While the city council approved the lease a few days later, what the delay reveals is a complex situation that has led to a Mexican Standoff of competing interests.

Raiding the Discussion

The NFL’s Oakland Raiders have a legitimate reason to worry about this new lease. The A’s and the Raiders share their current stadium, the 48-year-old O.co Coliseum (the last stadium shared by a baseball and football team in the U.S.). Any lease agreement that the A’s would sign would affect any future plans the Raiders have for the coliseum facilities, both in maintaining the current stadium and building a new one. From what we know about the A’s lease agreement, we know that it has a clause that allows the A’s to leave the Coliseum if they find another venue and can move there in a reasonable amount of time. The Raiders are worried that whatever stadium the A’s would build in the Bay Area would interfere with their plans to build a new venue. If the A’s were to secure a site at the current coliseum site, a location either downtown or by the waterfront, or even a spot in another Bay Area city, the Raiders would be out of possible locations. Any decision made regarding the A’s that could adversely affect the Raiders would complicate actions.

Oakland’s Problem

The city of Oakland is in a precarious situation as well. They cannot alienate either side of the issue, as both teams could easily flee the city if circumstances turn against their favor. The city of Oakland does not have nearly enough money to pay for two new stadiums to replace the aging Coliseum (since both teams would demand venues tailored exactly for their needs, unlike the current multipurpose stadium that suits neither all that well). This is not factoring in the adjustments that need to made to existing infrastructure (i.e. rerouting BART lines or installing new bus routes). The city of Oakland would have to go all in for one team, and factor in how the stadium works for other events. While a baseball stadium could host concerts, monster truck rallies, and other large events, a football stadium could do much the same, while being a better venue for association football and other sports more suited for the football field arrangement. Still, 81 dates with baseball and 10 dates with football (not factoring in playoff dates) does tip the scales in baseball’s favor.

No Way to San Jose

The A’s frequently mentioned escape plan of San Jose is not a sure bet either. While the neighboring San Francisco Giants have maintained their territory rights (rights given to them by the A’s in the ‘90s). The MLB has respected this agreement of territory rights, while maintaining that the A’s must stay put in Oakland. However, in a move to get the 10-year lease approved, the MLB OK-ed any attempt for the A’s to relocate. While this was an ordinance passed under pressure to resolve the lease situation, it is an encourage sign that the MLB will be willing to negotiate with the Giants and A’s to grant the A’s a spot in San Jose if an opportunity emerges. Something like a vote on a new ballpark and the arrival of investors to fund part of the new park would cause the league to start negotiation (the league wants to avoid a nearly 100% public funded mess like Marlins Park was in Miami). However, it will take a great deal of pressure to force the MLB’s hand in any negotiations for San Jose.

The Dirty Details

The team and city’s terms also provide a stake in the matter. The lease states that the team must give two years’ notice if they leave the city, and must pay the rest of their 10-year lease if they leave. However, if they move to a new stadium within Oakland, the city will waive the lease and they no longer have to pay it. The A’s would also have to fork the bill for a new $10 million scoreboard at the Coliseum, to replace the decades-old one currently used. While the lease does make a stay in Oakland favorable for the team’s fiscal prospects, it still allows the team an easy escape if they can find a new home outside of Oakland. It also prevents a situation like the one in Tampa Bay right now (the Rays will hold their lease on the aged domed Tropicana Field until 2027, with no escape clause).

The new terms of the standoff are here. The A’s cannot hold the city hostage, but they have to deal with the Raiders objecting to a stadium deal, the Giants and the MLB blocking the way to San Jose, and the issue of the city deciding which team they would rather support. This is a Mexican Standoff of competing interests, with all sides in opposition to each other and with an equal chance of coming out dead or alive.

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