Kaval said he and Fisher have a “great working relationship” and a “system whereby we divide and conquer on certain things.” When asked what Fisher concentrates on, Kaval mentioned the team’s relationship with Major League Baseball before quickly promoting the team the A’s have in place to build a ballpark.
“It looks as if the owner isn’t going to be involved,” Dolich said. “That to me is not a wonderful model of success.”
The city of Oakland has not taken a leadership role, waiting to see what the A’s decide. Through a spokesman, Mayor Schaaf declined to be interviewed.
The Bay Area may be the region of the country most hostile to public financing of sports arenas; the San Francisco 49ers received no direct public money for their new home in Santa Clara, and the under construction Warriors arena is entirely privately financed. Kaval insisted that the A’s would privately finance their new stadium.
That will require corporate partners, and Oakland is home to just one Fortune 500 company, Clorox. But Kaval said he believed San Francisco and Silicon Valley-based companies would work with the A’s.
“Their work force is here in the East Bay,” Kaval said. “I actually think the biggest benefit for them is around their work force, and making sure their knowledge workers have options here for quality of life.”
Even if the ballpark is built, Kaval will need help from the team’s baseball side to field a team that will attract fans. This season the A’s are far out of contention and attendance is flat despite improvements to the ballpark. The A’s have traded Sonny Gray, Yonder Alonso, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen — some of the faces of the team — for prospects.
For decades the A’s have used the poor condition of the Coliseum to justify their frequent roster teardowns, arguing that they cannot sustain a high payroll. Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, the A’s — despite playing in one of the largest markets in the country — were considered a small-market club because of their stadium and received annual revenue-sharing checks, reportedly $35 million in 2015.
The C.B.A. that was signed late last year will end payments to the A’s in 2021 at the latest.
At that time, they will have to sink or swim on their own, putting tremendous pressure on Billy Beane, the team’s longtime roster builder.
“The frustration isn’t that we’ve had success; the frustration is that after success, we haven’t kept” players, Beane told reporters this summer. “And we need to change that narrative by creating a good team and ultimately committing to keeping them around, so that when people buy a ticket, they’ll know that the team is going to be there for a few years.”
It is hard to overstate the importance of a contending team, or at least an improving one, when moving into a new stadium. To see why, the A’s simply need to look across the bay. The 49ers haven’t had a winning record since opening Levi’s Stadium three years ago, but they were Super Bowl contenders during its construction and were able to charge large sums for personal seat licenses and season tickets. The Warriors, who have won two of the last three N.B.A. championships, are in a similar situation; their San Francisco arena is scheduled to open in 2019.
But given the A’s financial constraints — they can’t, or won’t, simply spend their way to relevance — can they time the blooming of a suddenly stocked farm system to stadium construction? Even after announcing a site, the team will have to secure financing, conduct community meetings and work with public agencies, all before shovels hit the ground. Unless they open a new stadium by 2021, Beane may have started rebuilding too early.
If and when the A’s move to a new ballpark, the work of turning the team back into a powerhouse will be just beginning. The Giants have siphoned many of their potential fans, not to mention competition from the Warriors, the 49ers and the Raiders. But Kaval says they can coexist.
“Even in London, if you look at the big soccer teams, you can have more than one team thriving in a metropolis, like the San Francisco Bay Area,” he said. “We almost drew three million fans in the 1980s, so I think that there is a sleeping giant — pun intended — of A’s fans out there.”
Kaval added, “Being a part of kind of the rebirth of this city in many ways is something that people are watching, and they are interested in that.”