The Oakland Coliseum complex is no Ebbets Field, but after last week's announcement that the Golden State Warriors are heading across the bay, it could suffer the same fate.
When the Dodgers left their Brooklyn bandbox 55 years ago for the vast parking lots of Chavez Ravine, the team ushered in a new era of stadium and arena building.
Inexpensive land, parking and freeway access became paramount -- not proximity to decaying city centers. Stadiums and arenas were becoming sports fortresses surrounded by moats of parking, cut off from neighborhoods and city life.
It was an age that gave the Bay Area Candlestick Park in 1960 and the Oakland Coliseum and Arena in 1966. And it saw the Dodgers' old Brooklyn home demolished and turned into an apartment complex.
But what was old became new again in the sports world. Over the past 20 years, baseball and basketball teams have returned to urban cores, forging close ties with nearby corporate titans that can pay top dollar for premium seating.
Increased dependence on corporate sponsorships and the rising economic might of Silicon Valley now threaten Oakland's preeminence in the Bay Area sports scene.
The Oakland A's remain desperate to move to San Jose and tap into the valley's corporate base but remain stymied by the San Francisco Giants, who want to keep that support for themselves. And the Golden State Warriors are chasing greater riches in San Francisco, even though the team draws well and has ample premium seating in Oakland.
As Oakland fights to keep its teams, industry leaders say it's hampered by the fact that its main lure was a site more attractive 40 years ago than it is today.
"I think that's a real problem," Smith College economics Professor Andrew Zimbalist said. "The times have passed it by."
In moving to San Francisco, the Warriors are following in the footsteps of nearly the entire NBA. Of the 22 NBA arenas built since 1992, 20 are in downtown areas, about half of which replaced arenas that were outside city centers.
Baseball has followed a similar trajectory, even though its stadiums require more seats and parking spaces. Since Baltimore's Camden Yards ushered in the retro ballpark era in 1992, most of the 21 new baseball stadiums have been built in and around city centers.
The exception is football, whose relatively few home games and utilitarian revenue sharing policies make it less important for stadiums to be in top markets.
Several factors account for the downtown sports building boom. As governments poured money into reviving downtown areas during the last two decades, they included funds for stadiums and arenas in hopes that they could spur additional development.
Downtown facilities placed teams in much closer proximity to businesses that could pay for new luxury suites and club seating, which now account for about 10 percent of teams' revenue.
"When you had suburbanization, the idea was that rich people were leaving the city center," Zimbalist said. "Now the idea is to be close to the business community to get the corporate dollar, sell more corporate sponsorships and charge higher prices."
A major hurdle for Oakland is that not only is its prime sports location on the outskirts of town, but it's on the outskirts of a town that doesn't have the corporate base of its two bigger neighbors.
Since the Coliseum was built, Silicon Valley has grown into the region's economic engine; San Jose's population has more than doubled, while Oakland's has barely increased.
"Oakland always was, and still is, a slightly below average home for teams," Stanford economics professor Roger Noll wrote in an email. "(And) while Oakland is roughly where it has been, San Francisco and especially San Jose have become more attractive."
The Coliseum and Arena never spurred development in East Oakland, not even bars and restaurants where fans could go before and after games.
When city leaders presented proposed stadium sites to a major league baseball committee several years ago, the committee preferred a location near Jack London Square and downtown, officials said, because they wanted a new stadium to be "a place-maker."
But with no funding to move ahead with a stadium near the city center, Oakland officials decided to try to create a city center around the Coliseum site.
The Coliseum City vision includes a new arena for the Warriors and new stadiums for the A's and Raiders. The teams would have to finance the facilities, but they also could bring on development partners to build hotels, shops and restaurants.
"We don't think this is about following the 1960s route," Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell said. "We think it's something new that has the same place-making potential that sites downtown would have."
What the city doesn't have yet is buy-in from the teams. The Warriors departure and a competing arena in San Francisco would be a severe blow to Coliseum City, economists said, because indoor arenas get more use than baseball and football stadiums -- providing a steady stream of customers for adjoining restaurants and shops.
Perception vs. reality
Andy Dolich, a former executive with the A's, 49ers and Warriors, concedes that within the sports industry the Coliseum site is "absolutely not perceived to be as good," as San Francisco and San Jose.
But that doesn't mean it's not a viable home for all three teams.
"Logic tells you San Jose or San Francisco, but the historical reality says you could do just as well on 66th Avenue," he said.
Dolich said teams can charge a slight premium in San Francisco and San Jose but that both the Warriors and the A's -- when the ownership was committed to Oakland -- sold plenty of high-priced tickets.
There's still a scenario in which Coliseum City could happen: if the Warriors' San Francisco arena gets bogged down in environmental red tape; the A's are sold to an ownership group willing to settle for a home that's more practical than transformative; and the Raiders decide to invest in a stadium for themselves rather than becoming a tenant in Santa Clara or Los Angeles, then East Oakland may get a second reign as the king of Bay Area sports.
But if things don't fall into place, the city risks having its teams pickpocketed. And if the teams leave, city officials have said they will turn away from sports and look to fill the Coliseum site with a mix of businesses and homes -- not unlike what happened at Ebbets Field.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.