For the past 15 years, the Oakland Athletics have been one of the smartest baseball organizations on the field with its "Moneyball" strategy allowing the team to compete with baseball's wealthiest franchise despite limited resources.
This is in stark contrast, though, to how the team operates off the field. For years the team's ownership has bemoaned O.co Coliseum, the team's ballpark since moving from Kansas City in 1968, and threatened to move, most notably to San Jose.
So when the rubber met the road last week, what did the team do? Signed a 10-year lease to stay in Oakland and its dilapidated stadium that features horrible sight lines, seats far from the field, and a sewage problem when they should have packed their bags for greener pastures long ago.
Time to move
For the Athletics, those pastures likely reside in San Jose, Oakland's neighbor 40 miles to the south that has publicly lobbied for the team for nearly a decade and has plans for a $400 million baseball-only stadium when the team pulls the trigger.
Oakland owner Lew Wolff has pushed – at times – to move the team to San Jose as well, but has not pushed hard enough. This lease, along with the team's ongoing unsettled territory rights with the San Francisco Giants, who must agree to let the Athletics move into its area, show the Athletics were never serious about moving.
It appears more likely that Wolff was trying all along to bully the city of Oakland to giving him what he wants – a new stadium in the town the team has called home for more than 40 years.
Making the right move financially
A move to San Jose would -- eventually -- be beneficial for both the Athletics and Major League Baseball. San Jose residents have a median income of $77,000, the highest of any major city in the country. It's also nestled in super-rich Silicon Valley and its technology giants are apt to buy ample team sponsorships and stadium luxury suites.
It's hard to exactly identify how much Oakland could benefit from moving. With attendance at approximately 24,000 for the current season, that number is similar to what San Jose officials said they could get if the team moved. The San Jose number, though, is on the conservative end.
With a stadium seating 34,000 people, the Athletics could easily average 29,000 per game, especially in a new market. Considering each fan pays approximately $50 to attend a game when tickets, food, and parking are considered, that equates to an extra $21 million per year in revenue. That's also before a new television contract for the team is calculated and the likely rise in the team's overall value are considered.
Says Fox commentator Ken Rosenthal, "Only a few hardy souls — a latter-day version of the flat-earth society — believe the Athletics still can make it in Oakland. San Jose is the largest city in the Bay Area. A new ballpark in the city not only would transform the Athletics' business model, but baseball's as well. It's not just that the A's would cease to be the sport's Little Orphan Annies, collecting millions annually in revenue sharing. Even if I didn't work for Fox, I could figure out that baseball would prefer San Jose to Oakland when negotiating its national television contracts."
Look at the Nationals
Instead of continuing to mess around with Oakland, it's time for the Athletics to move to San Jose once and for all. Baseball has long supported franchises in struggling markets – the Montreal Expos and Tampa Bay Rays come first to mind – when it appears they are doomed. The Expos moved to Washington D.C. in 2005 and became the Nationals and are thriving in the nation's capital. The Rays have stayed put and are worse off financially than the Athletics.
The Nationals might be the best parallel. The team had to work out a territory agreement with the Baltimore Orioles to move to the area. The Orioles believed having a new team so close would hurt attendance. Instead, the team has seen a bump, primarily because of improved play and annual games against a new rival.
For all their moneyball magic, it's time for the Athletics to get smarter. Moneyball was created out of necessity, one that would no longer be necessary if the team did the right thing and moved.