The Oakland A’s have reached an inflection point, both for the stadium they currently occupy and where they may play in the future. The Oakland Coliseum is 56 years old, with a list of maintenance issues that make a feral cat’s hair stand up.
The cat infestation—and its accompanying feces problem—are among many items on a list the A’s filed in a recent complaint with the Coliseum’s Joint Powers Authority that also includes broken seats and plumbing problems among the many issues.
“The stadium is 10 years past its useful life,” Dave Kaval, the club’s president, said as the A’s were swept in a four-game home series by the Boston Red Sox this past weekend. “So, it’s a very challenging situation. We’re doing the best we can. We need to have a modern fan-friendly facility.”
To that end, a decision on where the A’s will eventually play could finally come soon: In a ballpark on part of the Oakland waterfront known as the Howard Terminal or on a still undetermined parcel of land located near the Las Vegas strip.
“Our parallel paths continue,” Kaval said.
Even if the A’s announced tomorrow where they will wind up, it could be at least five years before a new stadium is constructed.
Beset by economic problems, which some angry fans say are of the team’s own making, the A’s have the second lowest luxury tax player payroll in Major League Baseball at $47.9 million, the lowest average attendance, at 8,282 for their first 30 dates, and a 20-39 record, good for dead last in the American League West, 17 games behind Houston.
After losing in excess of $100 million playing without fans or to limited capacity during two seasons of the pandemic, the A’s shed pitchers Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea, plus first baseman Matt Olsen and third baseman Matt Chapman via trade or free agency. That caused a revolt among loyal fans who were also asked to pay higher ticket prices at the deteriorating Coliseum.
“The fans are obviously having their say and you have to respect that,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “It’s a place that’s tough to come and play.”
The A’s continue to lose money, although they are eligible again for revenue sharing under the terms of the new five-year labor agreement. Kaval said ownership is spending $2 million a month on “an army of lawyers and a real estate team” in lieu of players.
“We have to know we have resources to invest in our talent,” Kaval said. “And that’s only going to come with a new stadium and those revenues. It’s the only way.”
Some clarity may be on the horizon. On June 30, the Bay Conservation & Development Commission [BCDC) convenes to vote on whether to give the A’s permission to build a $1 billion ballpark and $12 billion mixed-use project on port land. The vote would formally remove the Howard Terminal site from port activities.
The 54-acre site, once a port of delivery for pineapples shipped from Hawaii, is not in use and inhabited by the carcasses of shipping containers, just north of famous Jack London Square.
The A’s plans call for using team funds to mitigate the land and raise the slope of the parcel to ward off future flooding because of anticipated increased sea levels as a result of climate change. There’s no alternative plan to remediate those issues.
If the commissioners vote no, the Oakland project is dead. But the BCDC staff has advised the commissioners to pass the recommendation.
“It’s been a saga, but it’s trending in a good direction that they’re going to vote for it,” Kaval said.
If so, preliminary approval granted last year by the Oakland City Council has to be finalized in another vote. Since the initial vote, the A’s and the city have been negotiating a deal wherein the team pays for the stadium and onsite infrastructure and the city handles offsite infrastructure out of an amalgam of public funds.
There’s also a question of meeting the public requirement for affordable housing in the real estate portion off the project, which Kaval said the A’s have 25 years to build out.
Though Kaval cautioned that the two sides haven’t fully agreed on the deal’s parameters, that process is also moving ahead. The council voted 6-1 in favor of a modified term sheet last July.
Kaval said the council “is feeling pretty good about it. That’s why if we can get it to a vote, I think it’s a good chance it would get passed. But we still don’t have the vote scheduled. That worries me. The city may be waiting to see where the BCDC vote happens affirmatively. Then they’ll schedule their vote. Maybe that’s what it takes.”
John Fisher and his family bought the A’s in 2005 for $180 million, and since then proposed new ballpark sites have moved from Fremont to San Jose to the current Coliseum grounds and on to the Howard Terminal.
Fisher’s fortune is $3.3 billion, and even with their myriad issues, the A’s are worth $1.34 billion in Sportico’s most recent valuation of Major League Baseball franchises.
Building at the Coliseum is a “non-starter,” Kaval said, even though the A’s purchased half of that property in 2019 from the County of Alameda for $85 million. “This is a site that really doesn’t fit 21st century baseball. It’s like these old multi-purpose models. You have parking around it. That’s not what people are looking for now.”
The “parallel path” in Vegas is much further behind the Howard Terminal project. Officials in Nevada said they won’t begin to take the A’s seriously until the club formally announces it’s leaving Oakland.
Although Kaval said the club could soon select a Las Vegas site, funding discussions haven’t begun.
“We’re spending a lot of time finalizing sites, which we feel is a very important step in making it more real,” Kaval said. “We can then turn our attention to how a public-private partnership would work with the government entities.”
Minor league attendance for the team’s Triple-A affiliate playing at the three-year-old Las Vegas Ballpark is on par with attendance at the Coliseum, and in 2019, the last full season before the pandemic, that affiliate set a record average of 9,299 for 70 home dates. This year, the average is 7,114.
Kaval estimated that a domed stadium in Vegas would also cost about $1 billion.
Whether the A’s would have to pay a relocation fee to MLB is a matter of conjecture.
“That’s something at the league level,” Kaval said. “We’re working closely with the league to figure out the parameters of a relocation.”
MLB didn’t respond to a query about the subject.
That leaves the A’s playing in the Coliseum for the next two-plus seasons. This past Friday night with fireworks and the Red Sox in town, the A’s drew a season-high 17,852. On Saturday, when they honored the 50th anniversary of the 1972 World Series winners, 14,796 attended.
There was an announced crowd of 5,189 last week on a sparkling afternoon for the Astros, but there couldn’t have been more than 3,000 in the stands to see Houston’s Justin Verlander lose a no-hit bid with two out in the seventh inning.
Plumbing issues are so bad that A’s players and personnel complain about daily flooding in the home third base dugout, and metal flooring beneath the premium seats directly behind home plate is beset by corrosion.
The A’s pay $1.25 million in rent to the JPA each season and are not obligated to resolve any maintenance issues.
“Especially during the pandemic, a lot of the deferred maintenance just piled up,” Kaval said. “So it became even more challenging once we got up to speed and had fans here. It needs investment for it to be playable.”
If the Howard Terminal project is approved, the Coliseum will still need improvements in the interim. Kaval speculated that the JPA may be unwilling to make those improvements until the matter is settled, but said, “There has to be a bridge plan [to the new stadium] that isn’t figured out right now, unfortunately.”