Bring on the major leagues

If Sacramento builds, will the Oakland Athletics come?

Matt Haines’ plan to bring a pro-baseball franchise to Sacramento is outlined at It’s a similar proposal to his new Kings arena plan last year (, but this time, he’s partnered with Stadium Capital Financing Group to raise funds (

Sacramento loves gossip, and especially that of a professional-baseball franchise coming to town:

“The Oakland Athletics want to leave the Bay Area—and Sacramento is the perfect home!”

“Raley Field is an amazing stadium—and all you have to do is slap on a second deck of seats for an Major League Baseball team!”

“The city’s building a Kings arena—so who not build a ballpark, too, while we’re at it!”

This sort of chatter’s been strong since Saturday night, when the Oakland Athletics visited Raley Field in West Sacramento for an exhibition game against its minor league affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats. The game was the pro squad’s first visit to the area in five years, and some 11,000 braved the tail end of a hearty storm to get a glimpse of the men in green.

But really, could Sacramento actually acquire a professional MLB franchise for keeps? Everyone says it’s as simple as Raley Field adding an upper level. But is that even feasible?

Sure, it’s true about Oakland’s attendance ignominy: The city has the lowest ticket sales in all of baseball, a paltry 18,000 people per game. And yes, the River Cats enjoy the top attendance records in the minors, some 8,455 fans per game last year.

It’s also no secret the Athletics want to leave Oakland. For years, owner Lew Wolff has had his eyes on San Jose, where he made his name as a developer. But San Jose is currently San Francisco Giants territory, and the Giants, of course, aren’t going to let that happen, because it would mean giving up Silicon Valley’s wealthy corporate sponsors.

Oakland has petitioned Commissioner Bud Selig to greenlight a San Jose relocation, but it’s been more than a handful of years, and the MLB still hasn’t made a decision on such a move. Understandably, the Athletics refuse to discuss possible relocation—they don’t want to upset the commissioner. But a source within the organization told SN&R that the process is now on Selig’s “front burner.”

Meanwhile, last week, a Sacramento-based grassroots movement that wants to bring an MLB team to town quietly launched a website and Facebook presence. The goal is to seduce investors, lure a franchise and build another stadium across the Sacramento River from Raley Field. And do all this with 100 percent private dollars.

You’ve seen the movie: You build it, they come. Right?

The catch is this: If an MLB franchise moves to town, it will likely mean the departure of the River Cats.

“There’s no city in America that’s home to both a major league and minor league team,” said Zak Basch, spokesperson for the River Cats. He and others explained that you cannot have both—a pro team and a minor league affiliate—so the River Cats, who moved to West Sacramento 14 years ago from Vancouver, would have to find new digs if the Athletics or another MLB franchise chose the River City.

It’s no surprise then that the River Cats’ policy is to avoid such speculative discussion, despite a player-development contract with the Athletics as its triple-A team. Either way, there’s not much meat to said gossip, according to Basch.

“I hear what you hear,” he conceded of the rumors. “‘Marcos Breton wrote a column.’ ‘It seems like a natural fit.’ But have I seen guys out here, engineers measuring stuff? No.”

If engineers and architects were out on Raley Field exploring the idea of a possible expansion—let’s be clear, they’re not—then Joe Diesko of HNTB architecture might be one of them.

Diesko worked on Raley Field, which opened its doors in May 2000 and was built for just $46.5 million. He remembers collaborating with Art Savage, who owned the team until his passing in 2009. In fact, he even recalls drafting up scenarios for an expansion of Raley Field.

But, he explained, turning the West Sac stadium into an MLB-sized ballpark that could accommodate some 35,000 fans isn’t as easy as bringing in more seats.

“Anybody that has some reasonable knowledge knows you can’t slap an upper deck on it,” Diesko explained. “To fill an upper deck doesn’t make sense.”

The architect—who is currently working on the future home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara—did say that Raley Field’s footprint might expand to accommodate a larger ballpark, perhaps MLB size. But that this would be a much larger undertaking than adding a second level or more seats.

“I think you could fit a major league stadium in there,” he said.

Critics are quick to point out, however, that building a stadium isn’t the largest hurdle to bringing a major league squad to the Sacramento area. It’s whether the region has the business community and sponsor dollars to sustain a pro franchise’s operations.

A veteran source within the Athletics organization argued that where Sacramento falls short is in its corporate base. The city’s businesses may be able to keep an NBA franchise afloat—barely—but pro baseball plays 81 home games a year, nearly twice as many as the Kings, and attendance numbers at a ballpark would double that of Power Balance Pavilion.

San Jose, however, is a much rosier destination. It’s the 10th-most-populated urban area in the nation. Eighty percent of the 200 most lucrative companies in the country reside in the Silicon Valley. San Jose’s mayor and city council—not to mention the heads of Cisco, Yahoo and eBay—have all asked Selig to allow the Athletics to relocate. It’s hard for Sacramento to compete with such a pedigree.

But it may not have to.

In 1989, the Giants wanted to leave San Francisco for Santa Clara. The team was in a similar situation as the Athletics are now: old stadium—in this instance, the former Candlestick Park—and a dwindling fan base.

And so, the former Athletics owner—generous man that he was—granted the Giants’ then-owner territorial rights to six Bay Area counties, including the Silicon Valley and San Jose. Well, the Giants of course never moved south—but retained the territorial rights to this day, anyway.

In fact, Oakland and San Francisco are the only franchises that own territorial rights in all of MLB. Not even the New York Yankees and the Mets, or the Baltimore Orioles and the nearby Washington Nationals, have contractually split turf like the two Bay Area teams. This means it will be a sticky situation for Selig, and league owners, to renege the Giants contract—which is why most experts speculate that they won’t.

Which brings us again back to Sacramento.

Last week, Matt Haines, a local restaurateur and businessman who owns 33rd Street Bistro, launched a website, Sacramento Baseball ( His hope is to build a coalition of local leaders to invest in a pro baseball team. The goal is to raise $650 million (not a misprint) by preselling season-ticket packages, then use the funds to build a stadium and entice a franchise.

“I’m just looking for community-minded people who want to bring Major League Baseball to Sacramento,” said Haines, who explained that he would be formally launching the effort in May.

His grassroots campaign is partnering with Stadium Capital Financing Group, a company that sells ticket packages to raise private money for sports arenas and stadiums. And, while $650 million seems like an impossible chunk of change, consider: SCFG has raised almost $250 million for UC Berkeley’s stadium upgrade.

It’s worth noting that this is $250 million of private money, unlike the quarter-million Sacramento residents are getting set to plop down on the new Kings home.