by Rachel Swan
News of the Golden State Warriors' planned defection to a swanky $500 mil, privately-funded arena in San Francisco caused mass hysteria earlier this week, with Oakland bloggers protesting that there was no real financial impetus for the move — given the oft-quoted statistic that the Warrior actually boast the 10th highest attendance in the NBA.
By some counts, that stat might be misleading, because when you look at it, the move is entirely about ca$h money. Team owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber are apparently willing to risk a drop in attendance in exchange for higher ticket prices (possibly double or triple what the average fan pays in Oakland), and a chance to double the return on their investment — they bought the team for $450 million in 2010, and threw another $500 million into the new waterfront arena.
Unfortunately, there's little question that, at least from a calloused, purely mercantile standpoint, Lacob and Guber made a smart decision. They're hoping to attract more corporate money and court the new Silicon Valley elite. Moreover, they'll gain a lot of advantages by owning, rather than leasing an arena, since they can rent the new 17-19,000-seater out to circuses, touring pop acts, and other lucrative events. Above all, they're gambling on the chance to increase the value of the team over time. Right now, the Warriors are ranked eighth in the NBA — which might seem shocking to anyone who's watched them lose — because they're essentially the only game in town. And in this case, "town" means a fairly large market. Yet, by moving to San Francisco, Lacob and Guber might be able to attract more high-profile players.
Despite all the odds, Mayor Quan is sticking to her guns about the Coliseum Project, and arguing that there's no reason for the Warriors' owners to seek dollars tomorrow when they can stack dimes today. In a press release sent to members of the media this morning, Quan insisted that her prospective multi-use retail, sports, and hotel development provides "the superior option for all three sports teams that currently call Oakland home.” She added that since it's controlled by the city, it could be built in as little as 2 or 3 years, long before the Warriors' current lease expires in 2017. She also argues that ultimately, Oakland is more cost-effective: The Warriors will have to spend more than $100 mil to refurbish a dilapidated pier for their waterfront venue, and they still owe $95 bond debt to the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority.
That said, it's clear that Oakland has a lot more to lose, in this case, than the Warriors. Perhaps it's "just basketball," as Contra Costa Times reporter Marcus Thompson argued in his eloquent piece on the move. But it's potentially a huge hit to the local economy, and to regular fans who've historically filled the seats at Oracle Arena, bought all the merch, and clung to the team even when it sucked. From the owners' perspective, they might be a drop in the bucket. But if the new chichi arena fails to attract an audience, the benefits could be illusory — and that old fanbase will surely be missed. After all, there's always the chance that you can build it, and maybe that won't come.