Comment of the Day: Don’t dismiss the Downtown Dodgers too quickly

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I’ll admit, I’m still kind of steaming over that downtown Los Angeles Dodger Stadium thing I went on about this morning.  But I’ll also admit that, from a “could it happen” perspective, I may be looking at this too narrowly.

My thinking (actually my outrage) is based on the fact that no solvent Dodgers owner would ever consider moving the team out of Dodger Stadium. Why? Because a solvent Dodgers owner owns the park, owns the parking, has no competition from outside food or drink vendors or any of that stuff, and thus has no incentive to move downtown where everything would have to be shared with developers, other retail, etc. But of course the insolvent Frank McCourt and a new but as yet unidentified Dodgers ownership don’t have the same incentive structures.

Against that backdrop, someone I know who knows lots of someones in California business sent me an email a few minutes ago trying to explain the downtown L.A. dynamic to me.  I’ve reproduced it below, and it makes a compelling argument for the “why would the City of Los Angeles be behind the Dodgers moving downtown” angle to it all.  It’s hung on what’s going on with the L.A. Live entertainment complex, the Staples Center and the adjacent development.

I still don’t get why Major League Baseball would want to go this route. Getting around Frank McCourt’s ownership of the ballpark has to be easier than simply abandoning it and going in with some developers, right? But this goes a long way in explaining the non-baseball parts that are moving here.

L.A. Live is incredibly impressive.  And while yes, it got some love in terms of zoning or tax breaks or whatever from the city, it really was built with private capital.

L.A. Live fulfills the self image of L.A., and L.A. politicians, in ways that are hard to express.  It really is a combination of sports and entertainment and glitz all in one place.  The Grammy Museum is there.  People like J-Lo and Denzel Washington are regularly visible from the windows of rooms that I have meetings in.  The Lakers play there, and the role of Lakers tickets in the social hierarchy of L.A. cannot be over-expressed.  The thought of putting a baseball stadium right there, and adding a summer season (“the box seat Hamptons” to go with “the courtside seat Aspen” of the Lakers) excites a lot of rich and powerful people.

For the first time ever, there’s something attractive in downtown L.A. to draw people in.  Until now, the only things in downtown L.A. were politicians who felt lonely.  Do not underestimate the desire of those politicians to have a nice entertainment place nearby. Yes, it will take 10 years, but this move is a key chess piece in bringing the NFL back to L.A. Believe it or not, the Dodgers are like a rook or a bishop at best in that game — maybe a knight is more appropriate.

The fact that it’s bubbling now, as you point out, is to put more pressure on Frank McCourt.  But not only is it a credible threat, it is actually the plan. And when it is done, Dodger Stadium will be bulldozed, the NFL will be back in L.A., and Phil Anschutz will own the stadiums where basketball, baseball, football, and soccer are played in the #2 media market in America. L.A. Live is making lots of money. It’s got huge hotels, a dozen restaurants, three live music venues, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a shopping mall, the Grammy Museum…   just wait until there’s baseball nearby, sweet condos across the street, another urban shopping center built…  you know the drill.

Concrete will be poured.  Money will flow.  Mark my words.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”