OAKLAND — As attendance at the Oakland Coliseum dwindles and the A's await a decision from Major League Baseball about the future of the franchise, some — those who do not bleed green and gold — may wonder: What does a major league team bring to a city?
Not much, at least financially, experts say.
"I don't mean to throw a wet blanket on all of this, but typically the impact on a city of a major league team is relatively minimal," said Paul Staudohar, professor emeritus of business administration at Cal State East Bay.
Just last month, Oakland officials and a group trying to keep the A's in the city released a study arguing that building a 36,000-seat, $500 million baseball-only stadium in the Jack London Square area would immediately create 1,661 construction jobs in Oakland and generate about $2.6 billion in total economic activity for the city during the next 30 years.
The study, commissioned by the group Let's Go Oakland — a collection of business and community leaders trying to keep the team at home — illustrated the substantial return the city and Alameda County would receive on its investment if a stadium was built, the group's co-founder Doug Boxer said.
However, some such as Roger Noll, an economist at Stanford University who follows the business of professional sports and stadiums, see things differently.
"When you talk about economic activity, what exactly are you talking about?"
When considering if a project such as a new stadium would be a good investment, Noll said, one should consider what else could be done with the same plot of land and with the same amount of money invested in it.
The number of construction jobs the study projected a stadium project would create seems high, Noll said. He also noted that good redevelopment projects usually produce one job for every $10,000 invested.
"In this case it would be about 1,700 jobs for $500 million?" Noll asked, pointing out that would be one construction job created for about every $294,000 spent.
Noll did acknowledge, "Of course, this isn't a normal redevelopment project."
Boxer agreed, comparing the impact of this prospective development to that of AT&T Park across the Bay — a stadium project many acknowledge has been successful in reinvigorating the China Basin area of San Francisco.
In addressing how the Let's Go Oakland report was commissioned, Boxer said his group was very "hands off" in its approach and hired Gruen Gruen + Associates to undertake the study. Boxer said he believes the numbers in the study are modest and rely heavily on real-world examples such as the stadiums built in Denver and San Diego.
Leo Kahane, a professor of economics Cal State East Bay, said he can agree the economic activity estimates do seem modest.
"I think that number could be on the low end. I mean, $2.6 billion over 30 years is not exactly a lot if you think about it," said Kahane, adding one also must weigh what other revenue-generating project could be put in the stadium's place.
Kahane also pointed out the potential stadium construction may not actually be creating jobs, because there is a chance many workers would be completing other projects if the stadium development did not exist.
"I understand where the economy is, so construction may be slow right now, but these workers perhaps would have other jobs," Kahane said. "Also, these are not permanent jobs. The stadium is built and these people simply go home."
The Let's Go Oakland study does state the city would save 885 jobs related to baseball operations at the Coliseum while creating an additional 162 jobs if a new stadium was built. However, economists say that illustrates another problem with helping to build multimillion stadiums — many of the jobs created are seasonal, part-time jobs. The truly marquee, high-paying positions professional sports teams bring are those for players, coaches and management. Many of those people, however, do not live year-round in the community, so they do not have a strong impact on the local economy.
"Members of baseball teams do not typically live in the city they play (in)," Noll said. "So it's a little different. How many NUMMI workers commuted from Florida to go to work?"
The small amount of jobs that do go to local residents likely would still become available via other entertainment venues where people would spend their money in lieu of going to baseball games.
"People are still going to spend their entertainment dollars, be it at the movies, restaurants or wherever," Kahane said.
Economists also question the money local government would see from a new stadium. Oakland officials have acknowledged the city and perhaps the county would be on the hook to provide the land, infrastructure and parking for a new baseball stadium.
However, the sites being considered have values ranging from $30 million to more than $100 million. Though the study claims the city and county would see large property tax increases from a $4.7 billion rise in property value over 30 years from land around a new stadium, some say that's not true.
"There are many examples of property value actually dropping around new sporting complexes because people don't want to live near all that congestion and noise," Kahane said.
Boxer disputes that notion. He said baseball parks, unlike football stadiums, have shown to increase property value of surrounding parcels. He pointed to the fact baseball parks are in use many days of the year, unlike football stadiums. Boxer added the Jack London Square area could thrive like China Basin considering its waterfront view and other attractions.
"The area is prime and ready to take off," Boxer said.
Nevertheless, some do see a less tangible value of keeping the A's in Oakland.
"I really do believe the A's mean a lot to Oakland," Staudohar said. "I would hate to see them leave, yet I think that's a very real possibility."
Fans of the green and gold also see a value beyond dollars and cents.
"This team means everything to this city. It's part our cultural identity," said Garth Kimball, who used to be a season-ticket holder until the team started to threaten to move. "The A's are a source of pride for our, at times, downtrodden city."
"The psychology of the cities is closely aligned with its sports franchise," said Boxer, whose first A's game was a 1972 World Series contest. "It's a source of pride for a city. No matter how bad times get, you can always go to a Major League Baseball game."