Earlier today, the Clorox Company, Oakland's only Fortune 500 corporation, hosted a press conference with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and reps from a number of other major East Bay companies to express support for keeping the A's in Oakland and for building a new ballpark. I spoke afterward with Clorox's chairman and CEO, Don Knauss.
Knauss: We're very interested in working with Lew Wolff and John Fisher, the A's current ownership, to keep the A's here and to build a new stadium. Two-and-a-half years ago, some 45 companies in the East Bay committed to being corporate sponsors and put over a million dollars in escrow as sort of a down payment on sponsorships -- things like marketing programs, seat licenses, luxury suite commitments. Anything to demonstrate to the current ownership that we as the business community were very committed to keeping the A's here.
Now we really haven't had any meaningful discussions with the current ownership since then, so we thought it was time to reinvigorate our message to them, given that there's a Major League Baseball owners' meeting coming up later this month. We're eager to work with them, and we think we've made a public display of affection, if you will.
If the current ownership is not committed to Oakland, we're confident we have identified a new ownership group who can and will buy the team if it is put up for sale. And that new ownership group would be committed to staying, keeping the team in Oakland, and getting a new stadium built. So we want to be clear to (Major League Baseball) Commissioner Selig and the rest of the owners, that the business community, the city, the county, and obviously the fans are very committed to keeping the A's here in their home town.
Thorsen: Can you identify those prospective buyers?
Knauss: Well, we think that's premature. First, we'd like to work with Mr. Wolff and Mr. Fisher to keep the team in Oakland, it'd be a lot quicker to build a new stadium if that were to happen.
Also, we want to respect the process and protocols that Major League Baseball uses with regard to ownership and ownership changes. So it's a bit premature, until we know what John Fisher and Lew Wolff's intentions are.
Thorsen: So what is the benefit to Clorox in having the A's in Oakland?
Knauss: Clorox is the Fortune 500 company headquartered in downtown Oakland. We care a lot about this community and the vibrancy of this community.
I think my personal experience helps this as well. About ten years ago I was president and CEO of the Minute Maid Corporation in Houston. I got involved in the design of the new Astros ballpark in downtown Houston, and then negotiated the naming rights to change the name of that park to Minute Maid Park in 2002. And I saw what that ballpark did to the revitalization of downtown, in terms of jobs, the economic growth that came out of it, tourism, and just the general vitality it introduced into Houston. I don't think it's unlike what AT&T Park did to revitalize that part of San Francisco.
So I've seen firsthand what can be done. And Oakland, I think, deserves that chance, to get that kind of economic vitality brought back to the city.
Knauss: As I've had discussions with people who could potentially participate in this ownership group, I think a downtown site could be preferable. But first and foremost, we want to keep it in Oakland. There's some interesting options with Victory Court and other sites downtown, that are more difficult now with the end of redevelopment funding, but not impossible when you look at the model the Giants used to get AT&T Park built with private funds.
Half of the purchase price of that stadium was through bank loans, and the other half was basically equity generated by all the sponsorship deals and seat licenses and luxury boxes. That model could be replicated over here.
Thorsen: You talked to Major League Baseball's fact-finding group about this issue three years ago. Do you expect to hear from MLB again, now that you've thrown down this gauntlet?
Knauss: I certainly hope we'll hear from Major League Baseball. I think the owners are going to hear from Lew Wolff and/or John Fisher at the upcoming May meeting. I don't think it's on the agenda, I'm not privy to that, but certainly after three-plus years, I would think a decision's got to be made sometime in the near future.
Of course, many people have thought a decision on the A's territorial rights issue was imminent over the course of the last three years. So far, they've all been wrong. Back in February, A's managing partner Lew Wolff sounded an impatient note in a talk to the San Jose Rotary Club.
I'm not going to continue this (waiting for permission to move) much longer. What we want is an answer. We want a "Yes, you can relocate, share the district, share the territory". Or "You can't." We have a way of demanding a vote (from MLB) but that isn't our nature. So the best thing for us to do in the next couple of months is see where we go. After that, though, I think I have to -- I can't even continue to come to these wonderful lunches, I'd feel like (Bernie) Madoff, or somebody.
Did that signal a level of impatience that could lead Wolff to sell the team if he doesn't get permission to move to San Jose soon? According to a post on the blog newballpark.org just after today's press conference, no:
11:30 AM - I just got off the phone with Lew Wolff. He confirmed that the team is not for sale and that ownership has explored all options in Oakland.
For now, the impasse continues.