With the smallest payroll in major league baseball, nobody could have predicted a 97-win season for Oakland. The A’s have better win percentages than teams like the San Francisco Giants, a franchise with almost quadruple the salary space. Nine playoff trips since 2000 underlines just how much progress Oakland has made. The next step? “An extraordinary location for a ballpark,” club president Dave Kaval explains.
A Matter of Timing
Truly great teams have iconic stadiums, like Old Trafford for Manchester United or Yankee Stadium for, well, the Yankees. Even if the A’s aren’t a continental powerhouse, they’re making progress. Attendance has increased by nearly 100,000 a year, and is up hundreds of percent for season-ticket holders and ultras. These are the fans that spend the most and contribute the most to team culture – in other words, a franchise’s bread and butter. With seating nearly packed, the time is right to build a new home.
The A’s are looking at two sites: building on land attached to the old Oakland Coliseum, or Howard Terminal, a stretch of land on San Francisco Bay’s east shore. Originally, the plan was to keep the Coliseum and use it as a hub to facilitate business near the new stadium, but nightmarish traffic and cleanup issues have nixed that idea. Despite little formal comment about the location, Howard Terminal is thought to be preferred. The A’s recently moved their offices to Jack London Square, a business and retail location close to the Howard site.
Meanwhile, getting permits and funding may prove to be difficult. While the A’s have done a good job balancing their checkbooks and pruning spending, a new stadium might set them back up to $700 million. For now, Kaval plans to finance the stadium privately with sponsorship and corporate deals.
Even more problematic might be the legal issues stadiums run into. In 1998, the San Diego Padres began work on a new stadium, but construction was completely stopped as 16 lawsuits were lodged. The stadium opened finally in 2004, almost 3 years late. The A’s scored a huge victory earlier this year when California bill AB734 passed, limiting the time individuals have to pursue legal complaints against stadium construction to 270 days.
President Kaval wants to finalize a deal with the city and port by year’s end. Next, the land has to be inspected under the California Environmental Quality Act, a process expected to take at least a year. At the same time, permits for building and outside inspections must be done. This puts Oakland in a position to break ground by late 2020, with a tentative time frame of 2-3 years for the actual construction itself. This puts the opening date of the new stadium in 2023.
The hope is that this young team will grow with the stadium. The Athletics’ young core of promising talent has the potential to be a team of world-beaters. It’s that kind of success, and not a swanky new facility, that will make the stadium feel like home.