SBD/June 19, 2013/Franchises

San Jose Sues MLB Over A's Impasse, Challenges League's Antitrust Exemption

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A proposed A's ballpark in San Jose already has a naming-rights deal with Cisco
The city of San Jose sued MLB yesterday "in an effort to move" the A's to the South Bay, and the lawsuit "challenges the Giants' claim to the region and MLB's monopoly over the business of professional baseball," according to a front-page piece by Tucker & Shea of the S.F. CHRONICLE. The San Jose City Council unanimously voted to file the suit, which claims that MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig have "violated state and federal laws regarding unfair business practices and anticompetitive conduct." It also "challenges the exemption to antitrust laws that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld for Major League Baseball in 1922." The A's "are not plaintiffs in the lawsuit." As one of the 30 teams that make up the league, the A's are "technically defendants in the case, but the lawsuit specifically does not seek any monetary damages from the club." A's Owner Lew Wolff said that he did not know if the suit "would help or hinder his pursuit of a ballpark in San Jose." Tucker & Shea note the A's "suffered a public-relations black eye over the weekend when raw sewage flooded locker rooms" at O.co Coliseum. The team and San Jose have proposed building a ballpark downtown, but the Giants are citing their "territorial rights to that area" in fighting the plan. San Jose officials claim that they have "lost millions of dollars because of Selig's actions, including $3.5 million annually in property tax revenue as well as hundreds of jobs." The lawsuit claimed that a new ballpark would "generate an estimated $130 million in extra spending in the city each year." Oakland city officials said that they have "offered two sites to build a new stadium, one on the waterfront and one at the Coliseum complex, and that the lawsuit wouldn't stop their efforts to keep the team" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 6/19).

CHANGE OF STRATEGY: In San Jose, John Woolfolk in a front-page piece reports the legal action marks an "abrupt change in strategy for city leaders who have mostly avoided confrontation since Major League Baseball began a protracted study of the A's stadium options in 2009." It "reflects a growing sense that San Jose, once confident it would soon be a major league city, has little left to lose -- and that similar suits by other cities have succeeded in the past." City officials have "talked about suing for months," as they have become frustrated by Selig "repeatedly rebuffing" San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's efforts to forward it (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 6/19). Reed said, "We've been at this for over four years. We have turned over every rock, we have looked everywhere, we have done everything Major League Baseball has asked us to do, and we still don't have an answer. So I concluded that it was necessary to protect the rights of the people of San Jose by killing this territorial restriction that's obviously preventing the A's from coming to San Jose." He said that he "sent Selig a letter six weeks ago requesting a meeting and was denied, getting directed instead to speak with the committee." MLB responded to the suit with a statement from Exec VP/Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred, who said, "The lawsuit is an unfounded attack on the fundamental structures of a professional sports league. It is regrettable that the city has resorted to litigation that has no basis in law or in fact" (USA TODAY, 6/19).

COULD THIS FORCE A DECISION? In S.F., Al Saracevic writes regardless of the lawsuit's results, the move by San Jose "should force baseball to finally make a decision on the A's or risk defending its much-maligned antitrust exemption in court." After four years, "no one has heard from the blue-ribbon gang" appointed by the league to settle the matter, and the A's "continue to play great baseball while languishing in the Oakland Coliseum." Observers can "only speculate whether the court case filed Tuesday in San Jose will reach the nation's highest court and again threaten baseball's antitrust exemption." The "more likely outcome will be a settlement of some sort, as MLB will surely try to avoid another legal interpretation of its long-standing free pass to conduct business outside the jurisdiction of federal antitrust law" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 6/19). In San Jose, Mark Purdywrites suing MLB was a "thoughtfully audacious move" by the city. It is "designed to wrest the issue away" from Selig and "move it into a courthouse -- where the issues can be debated out in the open, rather than behind closed doors by Selig's executive committee of owners." The lawsuit if nothing else "might goad Selig and the other owners into action" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 6/19). In L.A., Bill Shaikin notes the issue "is not whether a jury would bypass" Selig and allow the A's to move to San Jose. Instead, it is "whether the case gets thrown out right away." The courts "generally have held that matters of league governance" are covered by the antitrust exemption, so it is "likely that MLB will ask that the San Jose lawsuit be thrown out." If a judge "decides there is enough evidence for San Jose to at least make its case to a jury, then the power shifts to the city" (L.A. TIMES, 6/19).

EDITORIAL ROUNDUP: A SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS editorial states, "For San Jose's decision to sue Major League Baseball for blocking the Oakland A's from moving south, we're pulling out our pom-poms." Selig has been "cowed in part by the San Francisco Giants' threat of litigation if they lose San Jose as part of their arbitrarily-designated territory." Editorial: "Now Selig's got an actual lawsuit to fret over. ... We hope the strategy succeeds. But even if it doesn't, the lawsuit will force a decision one way or the other" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 6/19). A S.F. CHRONICLE editorial states, "Selig's foot-dragging over four years of study on the Oakland Athletics' wish to move to San Jose has been a disservice to almost everyone involved." The "only beneficiary of this absurd delay has been" the Giants. What Selig has "done to Oakland and San Jose with his indisposition has been beyond frustrating." It has "been costly and cruel to both cities." Selig "needs to make the call so that Wolff can either move to San Jose or sell the A's to a group willing to give Oakland one more try" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 6/19).

PLAYERS SEE BOTH SIDES: In S.F., Susan Slusser reports A's players yesterday "voiced strong support for a new stadium," but many also "expressed concern for their current Oakland fan base." A's P Ryan Cook said, "A new stadium would be sweet, but at what cost and what gain? ... I know some fans would make the drive to San Jose for games, which is great, but I know others couldn't or wouldn't, and that's not great." A's P A.J. Griffin said that he would have "liked to see the A's get approval for downtown Oakland." But A's 1B Brandon Moss "does not believe the issue will be resolved soon enough for him to play in a new stadium." Moss with a laugh said, "I don't think most of us will be around. Obviously, it will take a few years" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 6/19). ESPN.com's David Schoenfield wrote, "Whether a move to San Jose would improve attendance and TV ratings is only speculation, but as this weekend's embarrassing sewage incident showed, the A's can't exist much longer in their current ballpark" (ESPN.com, 6/18).

ROOT OF THE PROBLEM: In S.F., Matier & Ross cite O.co Coliseum management as saying that the sewage problem "was not the result of poor plumbing in an aging stadium," but rather "someone stuffing something down a pipe." AEG Facilities Manager Chris Wright, who is the ballpark's GM, "takes issue" with statements by the A's front office that the "raw-sewage backup that forced ballplayers from their locker rooms was only the latest instance of a common problem." He said, "There have been prior plumbing issues, but this was the first time there was a backup of the sewage" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 6/19).
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