The Oakland Athletics have pined for a move to San Jose for some time. Bud Selig and Major League Baseball recently have put the issue onto the front burner, yet no resolution seems to be within reach at this point in the negotiations.
This potential move to San Jose is not simply another example of a professional sports franchise strong-arming the league and the public sector into building a new stadium. Instead, the potential move is about money. The organization desperately wishes to leave Oakland because the profitability of the area has waned. In fact, the Athletics reportedly lost money last season, despite healthy revenue sharing checks.
From Bud Selig’s point of view, allowing the Athletics to move their franchise to San Jose makes perfect sense. It will generate more revenue for the league as a whole by transitioning the Athletics from a small-market team that was financially dependent upon the revenue sharing to a large-market team that contributes money into that revenue sharing program.
The Athletics need 75% of the owners’ votes, however, and it can be inferred that the Athletics do not have the necessary 75% vote to move to San Jose. Otherwise, the move would have already happened or have already been announced.
It is no secret as to why the San Francisco Giants are against the move. Instead of fully controlling the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Marin while the Athletics only controlled the counties of Alameda and Contra Costa, the potential move to San Jose would likely cause the two franchises to jointly control the entire physical territory. In fact, the Giants and Athletics are the only two-team market that does not share the exact same territorial boundaries, so any potential shift in location would obviously result in a massive loss of revenue for the Giants.
Other baseball franchises would not be dealt a direct financial loss as a result of the proposed move. It would, however, set further precedence for moves that would encroach on other territories. For example, if the Athletics move to San Jose and infringe upon the Giants’ territory, what would stop the Tampa Bay Rays from uprooting their franchise and moving to Indianapolis and snatching up physical territory from the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds? Or from moving to Portland and stealing the Seattle Mariners’ second-largest market? Or from moving to New Jersey and beginning to wedge their way into the New York markets?
This is about more than just the Athletics moving from Oakland to San Jose. Teams across Major League Baseball are ensuring that their territorial rights are protected and that small-market teams cannot point to this move in the future as precedent for moving into another team’s market. That is why the Athletics have not been able to obtain the 75% vote they need to approve the move.
So what happens to the Athletics?
The city of Oakland has come forward with the concept of Coliseum City, which is a plan for new, privately-funded home for the Oakland Athletics, the Oakland Raiders, and Golden State Warriors. This proposition does not fix the underlying problem for the Athletics, however, as their territorial boundaries are not expanded and serious doubts exist as to whether the team would be able to privately fund a new stadium at all.
In my mind, one of two scenarios will come to pass over the next couple of seasons:
(1) Major League Baseball will approve the move to San Jose.
(2) Owner Lew Wolff will sell the franchise, although the location of the franchise after the potential sale would still remain up in the air.
Again, this is not another example of a professional franchise strong-arming the league and the city to get what it desires in terms of a new home. This is about financial health for the Athletics. Something needs to change for the franchise, though what exactly that is remains unclear.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).