Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

The Long View: Earthquake Warning

This one’s not strictly about baseball. But if you want to learn more about the A’s – top-down, or inside-out – it’s valuable to know. Lew Wolff and his insatiable South Bay real estate dealings are again involved – as are, according to some reports, A’s President Michael Crowley and even another guy who knows a good buy when he sees one, A’s General Manager Billy Beane.

While that last connection remains tenuous, it’s a good indicator of why, as an A’s fan, this should interest you – even if you like your ball no bigger than a Golden Delicious.Last year, Wolff and his partners bought the right to “trigger” an expansion franchise in Major League Soccer. After a lot of behind-the-scenes work, Wolff and friends will now be the guest of MLS Commissioner Don Garber at Thursday’s MLS All-Star game in Denver, and announced today that the new franchise will be triggered earlier than anticipated: in time for the 2008 season. (As you may recall, there was already a franchise called the San José Earthquakes; but it’s related to the current enterprise in name only.)

MLS normally insists that new owners must have a stadium in place to be considered – preferably a modern, soccer-only venue – but Wolff’s case is a little different. First, there’s MLS’s desire to fully capitalize on the David Beckham marketing frenzy. Second, MLS wants to balance a schedule currently burdened by an odd number of teams. Finally, league execs are smart enough to know that any national professional league needs to have a presence in the nation’s fifth-largest media market (and, more than any American sport, they seek Hispanic fans – a Bay Area specialty.)

Fans familiar with the move to Fremont and Cisco Field must grudgingly concede that Silicon Valley looks a lot better to Wolff than Oakland. Yet Wolff’s people feel the original Earthquakes should have capitalized better on the market beyond the San Jose area. So, if a press conference happens this week and goes as expected, you’ll likely hear of a unique plan: while Wolff seeks, then builds (or renovates) an appropriate venue, the new Earthquakes will be permitted to play “home” games all over the Bay Area.

For at least a couple of years, the ‘Quakes could use McAfee Coliseum when Beckham comes to town – there have been several international exhibitions there already this year, for which the ubiquitous upper deck tarps were quietly removed – and peninsula college venues or wild cards like San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium for less-heralded opponents. Wolff swears he will keep the soccer team away from the A’s new Fremont site – and to date, he’s been pretty good on such promises. But you can bet he’ll turn this new franchise into another inventive real estate play, south of the Bay Area’s traditional heart.

Since late last year, two or three hand-picked A’s executives, working with @oaklandathletics email addresses and under the supervision of A’s president Michael Crowley, have populated a small office in Wolff’s Fairmont Hotel in downtown San José. From there, they’ve worked to organize events like the Mexico-Ecuador game in Oakland March 28, to recruit corporate sponsors for the Earthquakes, and to iron out complex stadium deals with San José State University, Stanford University, the City of San José, and other potential partners. To date, no long-term solution has been named, but industry buzz ties Wolff to a private plot of stadium-suitable land near the airport, among others.

Two years ago, businessman Phil Anschutz (owner of the San Francisco Examiner, and at one time most of the MLS) moved the original Earthquakes team to Houston, where it was renamed the Dynamo and promptly won the 2006 MLS championship. It’s worth noting that the present caretaker of the Beckham hoopla, Galaxy General Manager Alexi Lalas, first served as G.M. of the first Earthquakes.


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