Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Local Race With Some Big Sports Implications

The Local Race With Some Big Sports Implications

By Evan Weiner


(New York, N. Y.) -- Californians go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on party nominations for Governor and other state positions along with a US Senate designation and other local posts. There is also another election in California which won't get very much attention except in Santa Clara and San Francisco and in this local election that is no national message, no mandate, no liberal message no conservative message.

Measure J simply asks do Santa Clara residents you want to pay for a football stadium or not?

Santa Clara residents will either end the 13-year saga of San Francisco 49ers ownership's quest for a new stadium for NFL games and more than likely a chance at hosting a Super Bowl by agreeing to provide partial funding of about $114 million although that figure could rise to well above $400 million (the Santa Clara Stadium Authority is supposed to pick up $330 million and another $67 million could come out of the Santa Clara general fund) to build a nearly one billion dollar facility or say no and force John and Jed York, the 49ers owners, to talk to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom about a plan to build a stadium at a closed Navy shipyard (which is eligible for Superfund cleanup) at Hunter's Point. The Yorks could also turn to Oakland where local officials are trying to figure out what to do with Major League Baseball's A's and the NFL Raiders and maybe the NBA's Golden State Warriors.

Tuesday's election in Santa Clara is a big deal to citizens in Oakland and in San Francisco and maybe Los Angeles as well in terms of defining the direction of the 49ers and possibly the Raiders. A loss deals Santa Clara out and brings back San Francisco and Oakland into the picture and maybe even Los Angeles for nothing else than owner leverage for the Yorks.

This was all supposed to be settled back in 1997 when San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo agreed to a deal whereby San Francisco would kick in over $100 million to build a new $500 million football facility near Candlestick Park along with a retail space and movie theater/entertainment complex. On June 3, 1997, San Francisco voters said yes to DeBartolo's plan.

It was never built.

In 2001, the Yorks (who had taken control of the franchise after DeBartolo's legal troubles) began looking for a new stadium to replace the aging Candlestick Park (or whatever corporate naming rights partner had a deal with the 49ers and the city of San Francisco). By November 2006, the Yorks had enough of San Francisco politics and decided to pursue the Santa Clara option.

Candlestick Park became the 49ers home in 1971. The team had played at Kezar Park between 1946 and 1970. In 1960, the 49ers and the Oakland Raiders both used Kezar Park, a 59,000 seat bowl shaped stadium that opened in 1925.

California politicians and sports have a long, very productive but strained relationship. After the Yorks announced their intentions to build a Santa Clara stadium, State Senator Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, planned to introduce a bill that would have block cities or counties from using free land or other subsidies to attract a National Football League franchise from within a 100-mile radius.

Santa Clara is about 40 miles south of Candlestick Park.

Every Major League team, whether it is in baseball, football, basketball, hockey or soccer gets some sort of public assistance in California through various mechanisms.

Al Davis moved the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982 and back to Oakland in 1995. Davis jumped at Los Angeles after negotiations with Oakland broke down with Los Angeles being an open territory after Carroll Rosenbloom moved his Rams to Anaheim after the 1979 season (the Rams were moved by Rosenbloom's widow Georgia Frontiere to St. Louis after the 1994 season). Donald Sterling moved his National Basketball Association team from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1985.

California has poached teams. Los Angeles enticed the Cleveland Rams ownership to move to the LA Coliseum in time for the 1946 season while San Francisco’s NFL team got started in the All-America Football Conference in 1946 and joined the older league after the 1949 season. The American Football League put a franchise in Oakland after the NFL co-opted the owners of the Minnesota AFL team to join the older league for the 1961 season because they needed an eighth team. San Diego took the Los Angeles Chargers after the 1960 season after Barron Hilton (Paris Hilton’s grandfather) lost money playing at the Coliseum.

Walter O'Malley moved the National League's most profitable team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957 in a land deal. Horace Stoneham left Manhattan for San Francisco at the same time in a deal that didn't work out all that well. The Giants franchise almost ended up in Toronto in 1976 and various owners spent decades looking for a suitable ballpark in the Bay Area including San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Clara. The Giants owners are now well entrenched in China Basin, not only in the ballpark but in properties they control near the stadium. The other Bay Area baseball team, the A's came to Oakland from Kansas City after 1967 (which sparked a chain reaction that included a hastily put together expansion in 1969 that included San Diego by four teams so that the American and National Leagues in baseball could keep their antitrust exemptions---San Diego almost lost the team to Washington in the off season of 1973 but McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc bought the franchise) and various A's owners from Charley Finley to Lew Wolff have found out that the Oakland ballpark is not a revenue producer. Finley sold the A’s to Marvin Davis in 1979 but the deal fell through after Davis announced the franchise was moving to Denver because the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Authority would not allow the team to break the Coliseum lease.

Baseball's American League sold cowboy movie actor and crooner Gene Autry a franchise in 1960. The Los Angeles Angels played at LA's Wrigley Field in 1961 and at Walter O'Malley's Dodger Stadium from 1962 to 1965 before moving to an Anaheim built ballpark in 1966.

The Los Angeles Lakers came about after Bob Short decided Minneapolis was a dead NBA town and moved his team to LA in 1960 (Short also moved the Washington Senators to Texas in 1971 and is the only owner ever to move two franchises in two different sports). The Los Angeles Clippers franchise played in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978 and ended up in LA when Buffalo owner John Y. Brown traded his franchise to Boston with the Celtics owner Irv Levin taking over Brown's Braves and moving the team to San Diego. Levin sold the franchise to Donald Sterling in 1982. Sterling took the team to LA. The Sacramento Kings (a team still looking for an arena) came from Kansas City after the 1983-84 season.

The National Hockey League added Los Angeles and Oakland in 1967. Oakland moved to Cleveland in 1976 after an arena proposal in San Francisco fell through. The NHL returned to the Bay Area in 1991 with the San Jose Sharks playing in Daly City, not far from Candlestick Park, for two years while San Jose built an arena. The NHL added Anaheim as an expansion team in 1993. Major League Soccer has two teams in Carson, south of LA and in San Jose. San Jose is building a soccer stadium for Lew Wolff's San Jose Earthquakes.

California does a lot of sports business with politicians but there is still the California football problem, getting facilities built in the Bay Area, LA and San Diego has proven difficult. The last time California built new facilities designed to accommodate the NFL (or AFL) was in the mid 1960s in Oakland, Anaheim and San Diego.

In 2006, California Senator Dianne Feinstein was thinking of introducing a bill which would require local officials to approve if a sports team tries to leave town with the city's name still attached. The Democrat said she also was considering legislation that would require the National Football League to sign off before teams could relocate to other cities or states.

S. 249 The Football Fairness Act which introduced in 2007 and has led a quiet life since then.

The minute the clerks start counting the Santa Clara votes will begin a new era in South Bay sports. There will be no mandate after the vote. The proponents will say we won; we have the 49ers and possibly the Oakland Raiders at some point. The NFL would like to see the 49ers and Raiders share the facility in one sense. It cuts the financial exposure to the York family if they have a partner like Al Davis. Davis can get out of his lease in Oakland in 2013. The opponents will claim victory and will point out that they have been validated in their opposition to the project which would cost taxpayers money.

It is not very complicated.

The Yorks with a win go ahead with their plan and probably will have a stadium by 2013 or 2014 which dovetails with the end of the Davis-Oakland lease. But a loss puts them back years and could bring them back to review the Hunter's Point old Naval base plan or send them across the San Francisco Bay and talk with Oakland, a municipality who might have a two-team stadium solution, or maybe talk to Ed Roski in the City of Industry---which is east of Los Angeles---about Roski's stadium-village idea or to kick the tires by looking at a downtown Los Angeles stadium proposal near the arena that houses the Lakers, Clippers and Kings or maybe the LA Coliseum Commission, a “non-partisan” political group with tentacles in Sacramento, that holds all the cards in LA’s pursuit of a National Football League team

Oakland has an old stadium that cannot compete in this day and age with separate baseball and football facilities. Oakland is having a hard time holding onto the Lewis Wolff's A's but Wolff cannot move his American League baseball team to his preferred San Jose (not far from Santa Clara) site because the San Francisco Giants have territorial rights in both San Jose and Santa Clara (despite losing stadium votes in each municipality) and a deal to move to Fremont just outside the Santa Clara County/San Jose market never materialized.

Oakland also is the new home to NBA's Golden State Warriors who might be for sale. A number of years ago, so the story goes, NBA Commissioner David Stern felt the Sacramento Kings owners, the Maloof Brothers, would be perfect San Francisco owners and the thinking was somehow to get a franchise swap done where the Maloofs would gain control of the Warriors. That never happened nor did Willie Brown's plan to build an arena next to the Giants baseball park in China Basin in San Francisco.

Whatever happens on Tuesday in Santa Clara will have not have the impact on national political parties but it could trigger some significant moves in Northern California's sports landscape starting with the San Francisco 49ers.

Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business' and can be reached for speaking engagements at evanjweiner@yahoo.com

No comments: