Possible A's Sale
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Silicon Valley investor may buy A's
Anonymous buyer who 'loves downtown Oakland' could revive hopes for new ballpark
By Robert Gammon - STAFF WRITER
A well-heeled Silicon Valley investor interested in a new downtown Oakland A's ballpark is gearing up to buy a half-interest in the baseball team with an eye on taking full control of the A's after the 2003 season, The Oakland Tribune has learned.
The young, ambitious venture capitalist, who wishes to remain anonymous while he assembles a group of investors to purchase the A's, plans to make a written offer in the next few weeks to buy out team co-owner Ken Hofmann, two high-ranking sources familiar with the potential deal said Thursday.
Hofmann has been rumored to be interested in selling his stake in the A's for the past few years. One source estimated Hofmann's 50 percent ownership is worth $70 million to $75 million.
The investor -- who one source said "loves downtown Oakland" as a site for a new A's ballpark -- and his group want to buy the entire franchise, but the other A's owner, Steve Schott, is not yet ready to sell his half.
Oakland A's owner Steve Schott. Nick Lammers - STAFF FILE PHOTO
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Schott wants to hold onto his 50 percent share because he believes the A's are bonafide contenders to win the World Series in 2003, the sources said. The A's have made the playoffs each of the past three years, but have not won the Series since 1989.
Either winning the championship in 2003, getting a new stadium deal, or both, would dramatically increase the value of Schott's share of the team.
According to the proposed deal, Schott would remain managing partner of the A's through the 2003 season, the sources said. After that, the new investor -- who has not been linked with previous rumored sales of the A's -- and his group would take over.
"He thinks he can buy out Schott and he has the money to do it," one source said of the Silicon Valley investor. "He's young, he's ambitious, he's got a lot of money and he's got a good group behind him."
News of the possible deal to sell the team rekindled hope Thursday for A's fans who had all but given up on the idea of a new A's ballpark, which the A's and Major League Baseball have said Oakland needs to remain financially viable. Without a ballpark, some fans worried the team may eventually leave Oakland.
"That would be great. What a Christmas present -- post-Christmas," Lil Bartholo, head of the Oakland A's Fan Coalition, said of the possible team sale. "It would be a shot in the arm for fans."
A's officials did not return phone calls requesting comment Thursday.
Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb, the primary backer of keeping the team in Oakland and building a new downtown stadium, would not comment on the new investor or the possible sale of the team.
One source said Major League Baseball is aware of the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and may be willing to approve the deal. The league spurned the last serious offer for the A's in 1999.
The possible deal to sell the team would be the third in the past 17 months. In August 2001, Mandalay Entertainment of Hollywood almost bought the A's for $150 million. Then in July 2002, a deal to sell the team to Washington, D.C., investor Jonathan Ledecky for $170 million collapsed after Ledecky reportedly missed a deadline for making a $12 million deposit on the team. In both instances, the team denied the A's were for sale.
In addition, Schott said in spring 2001 that he wanted to relocate the A's to Santa Clara to a site next to Great America, but those plans were later put on hold indefinitely.
Now, sources say there may be a renewed attempt to move the team to Santa Clara if the new deal to sell the A's to the Silicon Valley investor falls through. Santa Clara has a new mayor who supported Schott's previous plans. Also, sources said there may be an interest in relocating the team to San Jose.
Hopes for a new downtown Oakland A's ballpark were just about abandoned earlier this month when the City Council, at the behest of Mayor Jerry Brown, decided to press ahead on a major housing project.
The Forest City housing development is to be built on the same site in "uptown" Oakland identified by respected baseball experts as the best spot in the East Bay for a new A's ballpark.
Brown and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente have viewed the ballpark plan as just a pipe dream and the Forest City project as a key component in the mayor's plan to bring 10,000 new residents to downtown Oakland.
In addition, Schott and Hofmann failed to step forward and publicly support the uptown stadium plan, which, coupled with the mayor and the council's support for the Forest City deal, prompted ballpark proponents to essentially give up the fight for a ballpark in uptown.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't make sense for us to sit on the uptown site when the Oakland A's have expressed no more than a casual interest," Bobb said Thursday.
Most fans and ballpark supporters in the past few months came to believe there could be no new A's stadium in downtown unless the team was sold. Now, the new Silicon Valley investor could be exactly what they had longed for.
One source said the new investor "loves downtown Oakland" as a site for a new ballpark. And uptown, which is mostly a parking lot, remains the only stadium spot in the area that makes any financial sense. A ballpark in uptown is estimated to cost at least $350 million to $400 million.
City Hall insiders, meanwhile, have speculated that Forest City may be losing interest in the uptown deal because of the ailing economy. Forest City also is said to want a higher public subsidy than the $60 million the council tentatively approved last week.
But De La Fuente said Thursday that while he would attempt to work with new A's owners, any speculation that Forest City will call off the housing deal is off base.
"Nobody is going to stop this deal -- no way," he said.
De La Fuente said he was aware of the Silicon Valley investor's interest in the A's, but is skeptical about any deal to sell half of the team now. He said it would make more sense for Schott to buy out Hofmann and then sell the team later if it wins the World Series.
Lil, the Trib broke the story you shared with us last week. Your sources are GREAT! Everything you said came to pass, including Schott's reluctance to sell until the WS is either won, or the window has closed.
Thanks for sharing!
Lil, what part did you play in breaking this story in the Trib?
| By tekgraf on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 11:13 am:|
Just read this. Sounds great, but will it happen? They write that there is a possibility that they may still try to move down south, so this scares me a bit. I won't relax until I see the first pile being driven into the earth for the new ball park. hope this new investor doesn't try to screw us, the fans.
| By voxhoo on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 11:36 am:|
Given that MLB has blocked a sale of the team twice in the last, what 4 years? Is it going to be 3 strikes and the A's are out -- of Oakland.
| By diamond_lil on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 11:36 am:|
Dave, the very small part I had was EXACTLY the part I reported here after I went to the City Council meeting for the reception to honor Dick Spees' retirement.
The information in Robert Gammon's article was ALL gathered by him and the homework was done by him...
He called me yesterday to tell me he was going with that story and I was delighted!!! He quoted my response on the paper. The only thing he got wrong was that I am the "head" of the OAFC. The OAFC has 5 board members and I am one of them. Chris DeBenedetti is the Chairman.
Now stay tuned for all the negative spins coming from the anti A's/ballpark machine and from the Magowan camp, who wants the A's out of Oakland and out of California...
Well if nothing else this presents a ray of hope for fans who know the A's can succeed and do belong in Oakland. So Forest developers now want 60 mill? That's a hell of a lot of money, these guys sure got pretty far up Jerry Brown's & DLF rear chute. As for the A's looking at San Jose that doesn't surprise me since Schott has always looked south near where he grew up...tradition & loyalty be damned. I hope this potential buyer would be the managing partner in all this since it sounds like Schitt isn't going away anytime soon.
| By kaugust on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 12:06 pm:|
I don't know what you mean by "tradition and loyalty," because this is a franchise who has had three homes in less than a century. While I do think it is best for the A's to get a downtown ballpark in Oakland, I want them to remain in Northern California and competitive. If that absolutely has to be in San Jose - hey, it's better than Vegas, Portland, or Charlotte. That said, I think Oakland is the best spot for them, granted a new stadium can be built.
Now, this new ownership possiblity has me positively giddy. Does anybody know the identity of the young investor? Is this a Mark Cuban clone? Please tell me it is. I think a new, young, brash owner could generate quite a buzz in these parts and drum up the support the team needs to stick around. Look what Cuban has done in Dallas with a little creativity and imagination. Same with the Maloofs in Sacramento. Granted, a basketball arena only has 20,000 or so seats and 41 home games, but their efforts are a perfect paradigm for a new A's owner. Treat the team like a product and watch the rewards roll in. I'm hoping something comes of this.
| By diamond_lil on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 12:06 pm:|
First of all, I personally think Forest City would welcome incorporating their housing project with the building of a ballpark in the area. And that area is big enough to make it a joint or multiple developer project.
But oakland4ever is more than correct. I think that as long as Schott remains as part owner, he will always push for his pipe dream of Santa Clara (he wants to be the hometown hero) or San Jose. And I don't buy this story that he wants to wait another year to see if the A's can win the WS. I think he wants to hold on to his shares to see whether or not his pipe dream to move south can be realized. My guess is that once Hofmann's part is sold and he sees the Oakland project has a bigger chance to be realized, he will jump off the bandwagon.
This is not going to be easy, but my hope has been rekindled and to me it is still a hell of a lot better than how I felt two days ago about the A's and Oakland's future.
| By dorrit on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 12:06 pm:|
Maybe I'm naive, but I feel encouraged by this. It's some press being put out, without the word "attendance" used! I want to SEE the progress, though. We've heard and read it all before..
| By diamond_lil on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 12:17 pm:|
I realize how you feel about wanting to keep the A's anywhere as long as it is in California. I respect your opinion and feel you have a strong point in thinking that way.
But please understand that many of us here feel the A's belong in Oakland and feel strongly enough about it to devote ALL our efforts for/to that cause. You will not find many here who will support the idea of moving the team to somewhere in "Northern California". Try to understand that and stop trying to make us think the way you think as you have done so often in the past.
My apologies to the fans over 80 years old who remember the Philedelphia Athletics last winning the World Series in 1930. No doubt it can be argued the Philedelphia A's have a proud history. As for the KC years, the only tradition the A's had was losing! Hopefully this brings more clarity as to what I meant by tradition. Today's news is encouraging, Oakland has a pulse!!!!
| By chris_d on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 03:04 pm:|
No apologies needed, oakland4ever. 13 postseason appearances in 35 years in Oakland, including 6 AL pennants and 4 World Series titles, with some of the most colorful baseball personalities of the modern era donning the green and gold, well, that emphatically qualifies as "tradition" to me!
Like other successful franchises, such as the Dodgers, Braves and Orioles, the Oakland A's may have called more than one city home, but they also have tradition coming out of their ears -- and are part of an Oakland tradition that is part of a baseball continuum that stretches back thru the Oakland Oaks (such as, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin, Artie Wilson, Ernie Lombardi, Dario Lodigiani), back to the early 1900s. We have plenty of baseball tradition in Oakland.
| By kaugust on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 03:07 pm:|
Hey, oakland4ever, you bring up a good point - the Philadelphia A's have won the World Series more recently than the Red Sox and Cubs! Ha!
I'm really hoping something happens in Oakland. The time is most ripe now, with a good, young team still intact; it'd be great if an owner with true vision could take over and make the dream a reality. And Lil, I'm sorry if you feel I'm trying to make people think the way I do; that is certainly not my intention. I guess where we differ is that my biggest concerns lie with the A's on the field, whereas you and your very noble coalition have bigger things in mind (i.e. saving the A's from relocation). I very much applaud your efforts and hope they prove fruitful. This board is full of intelligent viewpoints, and I hope I can contribute my perspective occasionally, as well.
Keep up the good work.
C'mon Lil'... who is the anonymous buyer?
| By oaktownfan on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 03:46 pm:|
This sounds great but so did the news of the Dolich group buying the A's a few years ago. We've heard this news before three times over the past couple of years so who knows what will happen in the next few months or weeks, although this story of an owner buying the team seems to be more realistic then the others. I won't be happy until I see this new owner sign the papers to gain Hoffman's share. Until then, I'm skeptical. Honestly though, this is the best off the field news I've heard in a long time. Having a new young owner who has deep pockets would be a dream come true. It would fit the personality of the team of being a bunch of young upstarts along with the best young g.m. in baseball.
As for the new park, it's looking better that the Forrest City developers are pricing themselves out. There's no way that the city can pay them the more than 60 million they need. I'm all for putting housing in downtown Oakland, but not at the cost of what Forrest City wants. If I'm them, I praying that this new owner would want to incorporate the ballpark with their housing development. It would make perfect sense to put an entertainment district in the uptown site. I'm hoping four years from now, I'd be walking down Connie Mack Street or Walter Haas Blvd.
| By diamond_lil on Friday, December 27, 2002 - 04:25 pm:|
kaugust, I do hope you continue to contribute and post here. I just wanted you to remember that the OAFC was created with the goal of keeping the A's in Oakland. So there will always be a point where many A's fans will differ when it comes to relocation possibilities. But we will always have the success of the Oakland A's franchise as our common cause. Thanks for the encouragement though.
ChrisH, I don't know who the venture capitalist is and in a way I feel it is for the best that he remains anonymous. That way nobody can attack or spin unfounded stories about him until the right time comes. Look at what happened when the Mandalay group was made public. People started to say the team was going to Vegas...yadda...yadda...
and that Mandalay group was from LA and had no intentions of relocating to Vegas.
I think there's a lot of water to run under the bridge...and I only hope this investor knows who he is dealing with, meaning Selig and Co...(insert here the Lords Selig made deals with and promisses to, and others who are in his right pocket waiting for the left pocket to empty out...)
Unfortunately I don't think Dolich/Piccinini really knew what they were up against and fell head on into a set up situation between Schott and Selig. (actually Schott admitted he had never intended to sell and just wanted to get out of the lease)
The situation now is very different and all we can do is keep our fingers crossed.