Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Why Oakland A's Owner Guy Saperstein Is Just Wrong!


More at | Follow me on Twitter!

YouTube, MySpace, Metacafe,, Stupid Videos, Sclipo and Viddler

Ok. On the A's stadium issue I've read a lot of stuff from a lot of different people, sat in on my last Mayor's Office Sports and Entertainment Task Force Meeting (I quit), read and published John Russo's letter, and now I'm going to give the "once over" to Oakland A's Co-Owner Guy T. Saperstein's letters (plural) that have been bouncing around the Internet.

I'm starting a plain old bare knuckles brawl here, as I'm throwing another set of punches to add to John Russo's Ali-like jabs of last week, only my punches are not jabs; I'm going for the knockout. A lot of people aren't going to like what I'm about to write, but others are going to be happy someone said it.

Before I turn my anger to Mr. Saperstein, I have to give a tongue-lashing to three people: Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Oakland Planning Commisssioner Doug Boxer, and Oakland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joe Haraburda. But before I do, I want to thank Haraburda for coming to the Sports and Entertainment Task Force last week. Regardless of my view of how Haraburda handles sports issues in Oakland, I was happy to see him there.

Now, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

What bothers me is I've been involved in policy formation regarding sports issues in Oakland in one way or another since 1987, first as the intern who worked on the Coliseum Redevelopment Area when it was just a "study area" and created the tax increment estimates that formed the basis of the plans created by the agency (I even created something called "The Area Redevelopment Economic Model" or AREM); second, as the writer for the Montclarion from 1993 to 1996, and who broke the story that the Raiders were returning to Oakland and weighed in on a number of redevelopment issues even so forcefully challenging then-City Manger Craig Kocian's Redevelopment Budget that he took out a special agenda item to address my assertions before the Oakland City Council; third in 1995 when Elihu Harris hired me as first his economic consultant, then hired me as his adviser in 1996; forth to 1999-2001, when I came to within eight NFL owner votes of bringing the 2005 Super Bowl to Oakland, and in the face of terrible behavior on the part of then-Mayor Jerry Brown, who once told a group of business people visiting Oakland that "we didn't have enough hotel rooms for the Super Bowl" (he was misinformed) and according to a source at the NFL at the time, was working to undermine my work by having his aides call the NFL to ask questions I'd already addressed and told him the answer to.

(Jerry didn't even show up for the rehersal meeting I called the night before our presentation at the 2000 NFL Fall Owner's Meeting in Atlanta,, leaving Jennifer Gonsalzes and Sue Robachez of the NFL to say "Zennie, we feel for ya" upon observing first hand how Oakland was treating me. Memo to Jerry Brown: the NFL's has been very, very good to me in part because they saw how crappy you treated me and because I'm one of the ambassadors for its key event product, the Super Bowl.)

And Haraburda? After I went to him with the idea of housing the Super Bowl effort within the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, I had to wait for him to act and all that time Jim Steeg, then the NFL's Senior Vice President for Special Events ("Mr. Super Bowl") and now the President of the San Diego Chargers, was calling to remind me of the NFL's timetable, not Oakland's timetable. So I broke from the Chamber and created, from scratch, the non-profit Oakland Alameda County Sports Commission and got IRS approval two years before then-Oakland-City-Attorney Jane Williams said I could do it. What did Haraburda do? Instead of joining my commission, he wrote me a letter explaining that he could not join it. Our Oakland Super Bowl Bid Book has no - not one - letter of support from the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and I've got the bid book today if you want to see it.

So you can see that I've had so much experience with Oakland and the matter of sports, politics and economics, I know what's coming before it happens. Hey, I'm not bald for nothing. Oakland will do that to you if you care about it. I told Oakland A's Ownership Group member emeritus Jon Fisher (at his "Project Red" Party) that crazy land-buying spree they went on down in the Fremont area wouldn't work almost two years before they had to go hat-in-hand to the City of Fremont asking for public money they knew they weren't going to get.

But they didn't listen.

In fact, only Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley listened to me and he thanked me for the free advise. I told him to wait the A's out because the deal was going to flop and I wrote down a detailed list of reasons why and actions he should take, because their arrogance was going to get the best of them in this economic climate and they would spend a lot of money on land they couldn't get rid of and still remain in Oakland.

How ya like me now? (And Guy Saperstein, I've not got to you in this blast, so don't even think of relaxing, pal. As LL Cool J would say in Mama Said Knock You Out, "I'm just gettin' warm!")

So it's that wealth of experience at seeing Oakland stumble all over itself with secret meetings between people who think they know when they can't even crunch fiscal data let alone craft a decent set of planning scenarios that's got me riled up. And it's the fact that we have as of this writing four committees and groups - The Oakland Mayor's Sports and Entertainment Task Force, Doug Boxer's MLB Task Force, and the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's Land Use Committee, and the Oakland Alameda County Joint Powers Authority - looking at the A's stadium issue and yet never having met as one to talk about this matter and trade information in the objective of presenting a united front that really has been the last straw for me.

Look, Mayor Dellums, you should have and still can bring all of us together as one. I don't know who's giving you advise in your office, but it's not good at this point. As former City Manager Robert Bobb would say "We need all hands on deck" on this issue, not some hands. Doug Boxer, with all due respect, is too inexperienced in the matter of the history, politics, and economics associated with this stadium issue in Oakland to go and handle it as he's done. He's about to reinvent the wheel and get ran over by it by the crafty Mr. Wolff. Doug, one of your first phone calls should have been to me.

(And to be fair, when I took over the Oakland Super Bowl effort, I too was young and inexperienced, but intellectually determined and well-schooled by the Oakland Raiders. The reason Robert Bobb put me in charge of the Super Bowl effort was because in a pivotal meeting against SMG's Sally Roach, who was in charge of management of the Coliseum at the time (1999), Bobb had originally asked to be in charge of the effort, I proved that I knew how the bid process worked, and who the players were and why, and Roach didn't. And that knowledge I have thanks to now-former Oakland Raiders Executive Assistant Al LoCasale, who in a series of lunches from 1997 to 1999 instructed me on how to work with the NFL and NFL politics; it was from LoCasale that I came to know then-NFL Executive Vice President Roger Goodell, who's now the Commissioner.)

And that leads me to the Oakland A's and Mr. Guy Saperstein's laughable communications. Guy, let's take your claims one by one for the letters you've written. This is going to be fun. First you write that during the 70s, the A's "drew less than a million fans per year and that number dwindled to 306,000 in 1979" - as they say on the street, dude, you're so wrong. During the glory years of 1971, 72, 73, 74, and 75, the A's topped 900,000 fans each year save for one and went over one million twice. Then attendance did dip, but it was because the A's weren't winning! Why you didn't check this is a wonder to me.

Your statement that the "Haas family was losing money" was nothing more than a cheap shot at a fine group of people. As the A's have demonstrated with the genius of General Manager Billy Beane, a team can win with a lower than normal payroll and that could have happened with the Haas Family, but they chose a different way. To bring them out the way you did was just terrible and you should apologize for writing a paragraph that makes them look less than favorable to the uninformed. You know they're loved in Oakland and for good reason; making them look bad is just bad form when you know it was their decision and not a function of a problem with Oakland. Billy Beane proved that.

Your comparison of the A's and Giants ticket prices and sales is wrong-headed. Why? Well, Guy, the Giants' play in what? A new stadium! During the 70s, when the Giants shared Candlestick Park with the San Francisco 49ers, they only drew a million more fans than the A's over the entire decade, and that's counting the A's dramatic fan from World Series grace. A new stadium is a game-changer, but to use it to then say "See. Oakland's just not working economically" is just plain wrong.

(As a side note, I'm the developer of the simulation game called The Oakland Baseball Simworld that's used in colleges. It's a 15-year-simulation of the business of your organization that I update annually, so I will dare say that I know your organization's business dynamics better than you do. I even offered Lew Wolff the chance to use it for free to run some stadium scenarios. His response? "Free. I like free." Geez.)

Then, Guy, you point to Oakland's population of 400,000 as being less than San Jose's population of almost 1 million people. That's the most terrible comparison I've ever seen. Everyone knows that Oakland's at the center of an East Bay Area that's almost 3 million people in size and all freeways come through Oakland. For you to leave that out proved to me you were either playing games with numbers or just plain didn't know what you were doing.

You then called Oakland's political leadership "inept" but here's where I attack you and the A's ownership for being the same. Look, you're part of this mess, and the political establishment, so pointing a finger at us has the same finger coming right back at you, you just fail to see it. The A's have consistently failed to be steady political leaders in development of a stadium that Oakland can be proud of. Instead of fist-pounding on Jerry Brown's desk to get him to build a downtown stadium, you sat back and waited for John Russo and Robert Bobb the fans involved to bring plans to you; when it didn't work, you just weren't around to help them lick their wounds. If you care about Oakland, you dive in, take your lumps, and comeback swinging again and again and again. You don't give up. The Oakland A's never really took a good at bat for Oakland for anyone who really honestly knows to talk about. If you're really tough, you fight for Oakland, so let's see how tough you are!

Regarding the Coliseum Authority, and your claims of lack of long-range planning..I'll let ya have that one. The JPA burned me on the Super Bowl with their behind-my-back manuevering and I'll never forget that as long as I live or until someone over there personally apologizes to me for it. See Guy, I'm not so angry I can't see straight. Under Robert Quintella and George Vukasin, the Coliseum Complex did have the long-range planning activities well in place; not so with this organization. The overall problem is with Oakland's political culture, which tends to avoid the development of an "institutional memory" where people who had past experience are called on; instead many like myself and former Oakland Assistant City Manager Ezra Rapport are demonized for the silliest of reasons.

In Ezra's case, he created the Raiders Deal which didn't work, but he also crafted the financing plan for the Oracle Arena, which did work. Ezra also wrote a classic must-read document, the business plan for the Oakland Coliseum (Have you read it?). (I'll never forget Ezra sitting down with then-Aide To Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente Lewis Cohen and myself in 1996 and explaining that we should know the Raiders Master Lease Agreement and Oakland A's Coliseum lease "chapter and verse," and I did.) But is he called on by Oakland's political structure? No. Or what about former Mayor and my boss Elihu Harris or for that matter Vukasin, they should be involved here too.

What we have in Oakland is a "throw them away because we're new and know better" culture that then goes off and makes the same mistakes! Hilarious! But Guy, don't think for a moment that doesn't include you and the Oakland A's. It does.

The A's unrealistic Oakland stadium plan

Regarding the plan the A's developed that called for the removal of 80 to 100 businesses, the problem was you were talking to San Jose as you all were planning the A's stadium "baseball village concept" with the housing nearby in Oakland. Plus Wolff was so in love with this baseball village concept (which by its nature calls for the purchase of a lot of land) he refused to see any other alternative. And on top of that, what's normally a three year predevelopment period for a new stadium, Wolff tried for some reason to fast track to one year. I said and wrote then and say again now, if you were really interested in doing a stadium in Oakland, you and Lew would have not been so bull-headed as to stick with just one concept and a tight and unrealistic timetable. You could have taken your time, focused, and established a kind of design-build competition and gotten the fans involved, but nope. Nothing.

The A's need to present a range of development plans for Oakland, some calling for public money and others not - give us an honest picture ;it's really not Oakland's job to do that on its own because with the exception of people like me who has a device to use, Boxer and his people don't really know baseball business dynamics enough to come up with a plan you will like right off the bat. You all need to get up, roll up your sleeves, help Doug, and prove you're committed to this great city of Oakland and stop mentioning San Jose.

Guy, you should not have "serious reservations" about Oakland. Give up the baseball village concept; for God's Sake, it's a looser in this economic climate. Doug Boxer, don't even walk into that meeting with that idea in mind, someone will lose their shirt -- again.

The solution is simple: all of us need to talk and work together and place these petty differences aside, and that includes you Guy. You're as much part of the problem - and part of the solution - as the rest of us.