Why Aren’t We Talking About The San Jose A’s?

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).

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12 years ago

I hope the A’s sue the MLB, win and move to SJ. Also, I hope then the Rays will make any of the moves you suggested.

12 years ago
Reply to  Baltar

On what basis would the A’s sue MLB?

12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption can be challenged, and unfair competition may be broached – and both the A’s and the San Jose government would have such options.

Richard Gadsden
12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Presumably that the territorial boundaries are an illegal cartel – be interesting for an MLB club to challenge the anti-trust exemption.

12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

I wish Wolff would be the one to take up the challenge of going plaintiff against the anti-trust exemption, but that’s an absolute last resort and he’s much more likely to sell the team before taking on Selig and Co. The A’s have been completely dependent on revenue sharing and dips into the discretionary pool, and those would be cut off immediately, which would mean he would have to foot massive legal bills AND run huge losses with the team in the short term. Cabals don’t exist for this long without significant protection set up against challenges. There’s a better chance of the A’s contracting (with the league buying out Wolff) than them taking on the anti-trust exemption, and that’s a sad reality.

12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Astros fan here: Bud Selig plays favorites and does whatever he wants. The owners do not disobey him. He won’t let the A’s screw with the Giants. He despises Lew Wolff for breaking the code of silence because that’s Bud Selig. You defy him or speak ill of him – you get the horns.

This. Issue. Is. Dead. The A’s can move out the Bay Area to maybe Portland – (the Mariners claim on that territory is tenuous at best), or they could dare to try a move to San Antonio – but I think Nolan would put Selig in a headlock and Jim Crane – well, Crane won’t do anything at all unfortunately. But I don’t see Texas teams allowing it.

But more likely, the A’s get sold AND stay put. Nothing to see fo the next few years on this front.

12 years ago
Reply to  Baltar

they’d almost certainly have to change their name if they moved, though. (tampa, not oakland) indianapolis rays doesn’t really work…

12 years ago
Reply to  jim

LA Lakers? Utah Jazz? Stupider names do exist.

12 years ago
Reply to  Baltar

They can’t sue. Individual teams cannot sue MLB, it would break their anti-trust agreement as they would essentially be suing themselves. It is the COUNTIES that have the standing here.

12 years ago
Reply to  Baltar

If they did sue, they would lose. What harm have the owners of the A’s suffered? None. Wolf knew his territorial rights when he purchased the team…. and presumably that influenced the 175M purchase price.

Conversely the Giants owners bought the rights to San Jose when they purchased the team… so a loss of San Jose would be a legal “taking” from the Giants ownership group and would entitle them to relief.