A's hopeful for resolution of territorial rights

A's hopeful for resolution of territorial rights

A's hopeful for resolution of territorial rights
PHOENIX -- Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff said on Wednesday that Commissioner Bud Selig had not yet decided to deny a move to San Jose for the team, despite a published report to the contrary. The possibility of the club exploring moving from the Oakland Coliseum to a new ballpark in downtown San Jose has been studied by a Major League Baseball appointed committee for more than two years.

"Recent articles claiming that Major League Baseball has decided that the A's cannot share the two-team Bay Area market were denied by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig last weekend," Wolff said in a statement from the A's, which he confirmed came from him.

"We are hopeful that the Commissioner, the committee appointed by the Commissioner, and a vote of the MLB ownership, will enable us to join the fine array of modern and fun baseball parks that are now commonplace in Major League Baseball."

Wolff said the "gentle statement" was issued in response to a bevy of reports in the past few days stating the contrary, beginning with an article in the New York Daily News. The subject has been a hotly contested issue between the two San Francisco Bay Area clubs. The Giants claim they own the south Bay territory, including San Jose and all of Santa Clara County. The A's, who once possessed that part of the territory, do not.

In a statement of their own released later on Wednesday, the Giants contended that Santa Clara County is now essential to success in their market.

"The population of Santa Clara County alone represents 43 percent of our territory," the statement read. "Upon purchasing the team 20 years ago, our plan to revive the franchise relied heavily on targeting and solidifying our fan base in the largest and fastest growing county within our territory."

Therein lies the problem for both franchises. Wolff reiterated in the telephone interview that he hadn't heard anything new about the situation from Selig.

"There's nothing either way," Wolff said. "We're just continuing to follow the process. Hopefully we'll hear something soon."

The San Jose market indeed once belonged to the A's, who ceded it to the Giants in the late 1980s. The Giants were trying to build a new ballpark in Santa Clara County, but the club lost two separate popular votes. The Giants have since self-funded their own successful ballpark on the waterfront in San Francisco that opened in 2000, but are still claiming San Jose as their territory. Accordingly they have succeeded in blocking the A's move.

MLB has four two-team markets, but only the A's and Giants claim separate geographic territories within their own markets.

"MLB-recorded minutes clearly indicate that the Giants were granted Santa Clara, subject to relocating to the city of Santa Clara," Wolff said in the statement. "The granting of Santa Clara to the Giants was by agreement with the A's late owner Walter Haas, who approved the request without compensation. The Giants were unable to obtain a vote to move and the return of Santa Clara to its original status was not formally accomplished.

"We are not seeking a move that seeks to alter or in any manner disturb MLB territorial rights. We simply seek an approval to create a new venue that our organization and MLB fully recognizes is needed to eliminate our dependence on revenue sharing, to offer our fans and players a modern ballpark, to move over 35 miles further away from the Giants' great venue and to establish an exciting competition between the Giants and A's."

The Giants, though, contend that their rights go well beyond just trying to build a ballpark in Santa Clara County. They have long maintained that the territory was a key consideration when the team was sold by Bob Lurie to the current ownership group after the 1992 season. The Giants said in their statement that MLB conducted a comprehensive review of the Bay Area in 1994 and concluded that Santa Clara County was within San Francisco's territory. That position was memorialized three times since then.

"The Giants territorial rights were not granted 'subject to' moving to Santa Clara County," The Giants said. "Indeed, the A's fail to mention that MLB's 1990 territorial rights designation has been explicitly re-affirmed by Major League Baseball on four separate occasions."

Wolff, a real estate developer and hotel magnate, led a group that purchased the A's in 2005 and almost immediately began to search for a site to build a ballpark. Oakland was quickly eliminated as a viable option.

With Cisco Systems, Inc. as an investor and corporate sponsor, the A's researched privately funding and building a ballpark on a parcel of land in Fremont, Calif., which is just on the Oakland side of the border from Santa Clara County and is in the A's territory. When that deal fell through in 2008, Wolff turned his attention to building Cisco Field in San Jose. That's when the Commissioner established his committee.

There has been greater attention paid to the issue recently on account of changes in the revenue sharing portion of the new Basic Agreement negotiated between the owners and players last year. The agreement now defines 15 major markets in MLB that no longer will be able to be receivers from the revenue sharing pool by the time the agreement expires at the end of the 2016 season.

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of those markets and the A's are one of those teams, meaning that a decision on their pending move is essential to the franchise's future financial success. If they are turned down, the A's may then begin exploring a move to another market outside the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Giants, though, contend that this is not their issue, that Wolff and billionaire John Fisher were well aware of the territorial situation when they purchased the team.

"The MLB Constitution has been re-affirmed by the MLB owners -- including by the A's -- on three different occasions [2000, 2005 and 2008], long after the Giants won approval to build AT&T Park," the Giants said. "Mr. Wolff and Mr. Fisher agreed to these territorial designations and were fully aware of our territorial rights when they purchased the A's for just $172 million in 2005."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.