The Oakland A’s are getting a little help from San Jose

by Jordan Kobritz

The Oakland A’s are having a difficult time finding their way to San Jose, but the city proved last week that it’s willing to help pave the way.

After waiting four years while a committee appointed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig “analyzed” the A’s request to move to San Jose, the city elected to place the decision in the court’s hands.  Not surprisingly, MLB doesn’t think they will be successful.  Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president for economics and league affairs, said “…the city has resorted to litigation that has no basis in law or in fact.”  Unfortunately for San Jose, Manfred’s comments weren’t far off the mark.

The lawsuit alleges that MLB is violating federal anti-trust laws and is “tortuously interfering with a contractual relationship” between San Jose and the A’s.  Allegations in a lawsuit are nothing more than claims or opinions.  In order to prevail in a court of law evidence must be presented to prove the elements of the claim.  And that’s where any objective view of this case suggests that San Jose has an almost impossible burden to overcome.

In order to prove tortious interference with a contract one must first prove the existence of a contract.  The only contract between San Jose and the A’s is an option – for which the A’s paid $25,000 – to purchase land upon which the parties anticipate the team will build a ballpark.  That hardly seems like a sufficient contract to overcome the city’s first hurdle.  But let’s assume that it is.  The city is claiming prospective economic damages of $1.8 billion.  Those damages are entirely speculative and will be impossible to prove.

The anti-trust argument does have merit.  After all, if you ignore a 1922 Supreme Court case that determined – erroneously – that MLB was not engaged in interstate commerce, it’s clear from subsequent court decisions as well as common sense that professional sports is a business that is subject to regulation under the federal anti-trust laws.  But before San Jose can argue that MLB is engaged in anti-competitive practices by preventing the A’s from moving to their city, they must prove they have “standing” to sue, a legal term that says only someone who is aggrieved by another’s actions can bring a lawsuit.  As an example, if you cause an accident that injures my neighbor, he has standing to sue you but I don’t.

Even if San Jose was to establish that MLB is subject to anti-trust laws, there is no guarantee that the A’s would be free to move – anywhere.  Franchise shifts can still be subject to reasonable league restrictions.

It’s clear that the A’s are damaged by the refusal of MLB to grant them permission to move.  Their home ballpark is a dump, thereby preventing the team from maximizing revenues.  In addition, it’s a health hazard.  During a recent home game the pipes backed up, discharging raw sewage into both clubhouses.   Despite that, don’t expect the A’s to join San Jose’s lawsuit anytime soon.  As a condition of league membership, every team must forfeit their right to sue MLB.

If MLB was concerned about the physical well-being of the players and the financial health of the A’s, the decision to allow them to move would be a foregone conclusion.  But the fly in the ointment is the San Francisco Giants.

In 1990, when the Giants were in a similar situation to the A’s, Walter Haas, the A’s then owner, magnanimously ceded the Santa Clara County territory, which includes San Jose, to the Giants with the understanding that the team would build a new facility there.   At the last minute, the Giants elected to build a new ballpark in San Francisco.  As Bud Selig has stated publicly, the grant of the Santa Clara territory to the Giants was never intended to be permanent.  However, it has since been confirmed in the league constitution and bylaws, which means that the A’s can’t move to San Jose without the Giants’ permission.

One other option is for Selig to rule in the A’s favor under his “best interests of baseball” authority, something the commissioner is loath to do.  For now, the A’s languish in Oakland, the Giants rake in the dough in San Francisco, and San Jose is alienating MLB.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner.  He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com  Jordan can be reached at jordan.kobritz@cortland.edu.

© Copyright 2013 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed
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