I know we are all currently mired in arguably the world’s most anxiety-ridden holding pattern. We oscillate between optimism (“the delay is a good thing to give us more time!) and negativity (“we are losing momentum with this delay!”), while mixing in equal parts paternal defensiveness (“this is our goddamn team, Seattle trolls!) and indifference (flag and move one, flag and move on – more of this, please). Collectively, the Sactown Royalty community has eloquently stated every conceivably argument for the Kings staying, while simultaneously (and perhaps reluctantly) acknowledging that Seattle deserves a team. The daily angina of the last few months (no more red “Breaking News” headlines!) has taken years off of our respective lives, to be sure, but I also know that this has also been arguably the best of times for us diehards. Understand that, win or lose, never before has a professional sports grass roots effort matched the one in which we are all participating. We completely understand why Seattle wants our team – they want basketball back in their city. Their hypocrisy aside, we can’t fault them that very fundamental desire. We are all here because we like NBA basketball. But let’s be frank: they don’t need NBA basketball in Seattle. This is in sharp contrast to Sacramento. Our ability to see beyond the hardwood is what sets us apart in this saga. From Day 1 (and I suppose we can argue as to when that day occurred), we rallied, perhaps unknowingly, behind the mantra that our illustrious leader has echoed time and time again.
My wife dislikes two things: sports and Sacramento. In her defense (I guess), she has lived here her entire life and has experienced too much suburban sprawl for her soul to handle. Conversely, I am a Bay Area transplant, and I prefer the smaller-market feel of this city to the overwhelming, and arguably arrogant nature of San Francisco. Her general issue as a long-time resident of Sacramento is that, historically, one needed to travel to the Bay Area to attend anything culturally worthwhile. Now, we all can concede that this point is difficult to refute.
Last year, as the A’s were vying for a playoff position in the last week of the season, a Facebook friend of mine, conveniently a Giants fan, vilified Oakland’s fan base with a post along the lines of, “Really, Oakland, your team is fighting for a playoff spot and only 15,000 of you show up to support them?”. As an A’s fan, I took umbrage. And I laid into said individual (and then defriended his ass), arguing that Giants fans were not too dissimilar in very recent history. Since Seattle logic states that the Bay Area is purportedly just on the western side of the Yolo Causeway (and that Stockton is really Sacramento, like Einhorn was also Finkle), let’s delve into the history of one of these local baseball teams and analyze the parallels to our own situation.
First off, let’s remember that, not long ago, the Giants played their games at Candlestick Park. And we all know that Candlestick sucked (or still does). Many of you grew up going to occasional games with your parents. It was a pain to get there, it was cold (by the way, people need to stop thinking AT&T Park has better weather – it does not), and it had a cyclone fence for its outfield wall, for Vivek’s sake. We built better wiffle-ball fields in our backyards. Looking at: http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/SFG/attend.shtml we can see that, from 1987-1999 (again, not that long ago), the Giants ranked in the top half of NL home attendance just once (the '89 season when they won the pennant and lost the anticlimactic Bay Bridge earthquake series). They even made the playoffs in three of these seasons! Their best season for attendance was 1993, the year Bonds came to town and they won an insane 103 games (and amazingly still didn't even make the playoffs). The point is: people did NOT go to Giants games in recent history, many times regardless of the Giants' fortunes. Any argument to the contrary would contain as many facts as Chris Daniels’ reports <cue Stern’s smackdown last week>. I know what you’re saying: but we supported the Kings through thick and thin, this is nothing like us! Hang tight…
The 1992 and 1993 years are very noteworthy. You may remember that then-owner Bob Lurie was bleeding financially, in great part because no one was attending games at Candlestick. He had an agreement to sell the team and move them to Tampa, FL. http://articles.latimes.com/1992-08-08/news/mn-4660_1_tampa-bay-area
Of note from this article:
Owner Robert Lurie of the San Francisco Giants, frustrated over the repeated failure of Bay Area voters to approve financing of a new stadium, said Friday he has agreed to sell the team to a Tampa Bay syndicate that will move it to the Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the 1993 season.
Lurie refused to go beyond a statement in which he confirmed that a memorandum of agreement had been reached during a meeting in San Francisco on Thursday and that he would not receive any other bids for the team while the offer goes through the process of approval.
And in San Francisco, Mayor Frank Jordan said, "This deal is not done," and vowed to present a competing offer from local investors that he hopes will derail the team's move to Florida.
"San Francisco does not agree to sell the Giants to Tampa Bay," an uncommonly somber Jordan said during a packed news conference at City Hall. "I can tell you I'm not going to let it happen without a fight."
While refraining from attacking Lurie directly, the mayor expressed anger that the Giants' owner would sell the team while a coalition of San Francisco investors was working on a bid to keep the ballclub in town.
Jordan said the coalition asked for the team's financial records about three weeks ago in order to calculate a "fair market value offer" for the club.
What happened next? The National League nixed the sale to Tampa and essentially forced Lurie to sell to a group of local investors, headed by Peter Magowan. Starting to sound a bit more familiar? And what was Magowan’s first move when he purchased the club in January, 1993? Oh, just to sign a little free agent named Barry Bonds. By 1995, the PacBell Park (as it was first called) plan was unveiled for the first time and it opened in time for the 2000 baseball season.
Now this is when things really get interesting, in terms of the impact on San Francisco’s infrastructure. In short, PacBell/SBC/AT&T Park changed the dynamics of everything south of SF’s Central Business District. For those of you that do not recall what China Basin looked like prior to 2000, it was, well, a veritable shithole. And now? A bustling area of restaurants, bars, entertainment, and mass transit. It has completely transformed a previously-neglected part of a major international city; its cumulative financial and cultural ripple effects are incalculable. (Now, look back to those attendance stats from http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/SFG/attend.shtml. From 2000 to the present, notice any marked difference in attendance, payroll, and performance?)
After PacBell opened up, there were no longer baseball games in San Francisco. Each game was now (and is) an event. In the 12 seasons since it opened, and despite having one of the smaller venues in Major League Baseball, the Giants have now not fallen out of the top half of NL home attendance (all while other cities followed suit with new and/or improved stadiums). The romance of its new location, the prospect of "Splash Hits", the available sushi at concession stands (which, by the way, should be illegal at a baseball stadium – have an effin’ hot dog and a beer or GTFO), were all contributing factors, to be sure. But now going to a Giants game is about the event itself - dare I say a “chance to be seen”, and a bucket list checkmark for many.
Look, Giants fans got lucky - really friggin' lucky (I suspect many of them don't even realize it today). And, right now, we are similarly lucky. In addition to having the nation’s greatest city mayor, we have a group of investors who believe Sacramento has the makeup to be a large-market city. They believe so much, in fact, that they are willing to pony up ungodly sums of money to make this vision happen (can you believe the Giants sold for a paltry $100 million?). Let’s remember, unlike Seattle’s vision, their/our vision for Sacramento is only partially basketball related. They see so much more here. We see so much more.
While we go through bottle after bottle of Tagamet in the next two weeks, we can only sit back and hope that the Stern, the BOG, and the remainder of the owners see those precious two seconds ahead where Vivek and company are waiting - waiting to begin the implementation of an unparalleled vision that will change the face of a city, and have an enormous impact on the overall NBA business model. If they want an example, look no further than to San Francisco and ask Major League Baseball how their decision to deny the sale of Giants benefitted their league.
See what we see, NBA. You will not be disappointed.