It Had To Be On The Table
The report should hardly come as a surprise. A move of the San Jose Sharks 40 miles up to San Francisco is on the table. Golden State Warrior owner Joe Lacob was asked the question and gave the answer that didn’t surprise me in the least. Yes, the Sharks and Warriors are talking. Sure, there was a lot of soft peddling that followed that comment. The Warrior owner wouldn’t want to upset Sharks owner Hasso Plattner by suggesting a deal was imminent. After all, there are lots of games that will need to happen in San Jose before any move is made to a bright shiny new facility in San Francisco.
For a while now, I have looked at every management decision the Sharks have been making through exactly this lens: Is Hasso Plattner going to move this franchise to San Francisco? Time after time, the answer is not what I hope. It started nearly a year ago when Doug Wilson casually made a mention of the owner keeping the Sharks in San Jose during a postseason interview. My alarm bells went off. It made zero sense for Wilson to casually drop that tidbit into the morass of coverage surrounding the meltdown versus the Kings. And yet there it was. As was an alternative venue being planned for not all that far up highway 1o1, though that went unmentioned at the time.
Plattner didn’t take full ownership of the franchise until it became clear the Warriors were going to build a new venue in San Francisco. In hindsight, I don’t see that as a coincidence. If the Warriors had announced plans to stay in Oakland, perhaps Plattner does not buy the Sharks outright.
What Does the Owner Care About?
The blinders are off. Does Plattner care about revenues in San Jose? It does not seem like it. The team cut back on payroll this season, and when given opportunity after opportunity to spend some money to make some money, the Sharks said no.
Perhaps no situation put that in such sharp relief as what the Sharks did at the trade deadline. Basically nothing was done to improve a team that was in the playoff hunt. Get into the playoffs and you are looking at well north of $3million in added ticket revenues. Win a series and your are up close to $10million. At least as puzzling, the trade deadline was in close proximity to when the Sharks sent out season ticket renewals. You would think getting fans excited about improving prospects might also get fans to renew their season tickets. A big deal, one would think, given that the team has not sold out the arena for a number games this season. Those actions, or rather the lack thereof, spoke both loudly and ominously.
Who causally leaves so many millions of dollars on the table? Hasso Plattner can. Let us be completely clear here. Plattner is worth $9billion. And if a bunch of fans do not renew their season tickets, he is still worth $9billion. Heck, he could lose every dime he put into the Sharks and he’d still be worth $9billion. Do you think he has special affinity to San Jose? He lives in Germany.
The Writing on the Wall
In a recent article, I mentioned firing John Tortora before the season is out because he has been tone deaf with the community. Tortora is the executive in charge of the team in San Jose for the absentee owner. My overriding suspicion however, is that Tortora is not getting along with the community because he sees no real reason to get along with it. Fire well-like broadcaster Drew Remenda. Who cares what the people in San Jose think? I should note that the comments attached to that article also voiced their support for getting rid of Tortora, some in rather graphic terms.
Do you wonder why Plattner decided to put the name of his business on the Shark Tank instead of doing the obvious, and calling it The Shark Tank? I don’t. Just about everyone in San Jose calls it the Shark Tank. If the Sharks were to stay here, the branding would be valuable. But there is no value in branding the team in the community if you are planning to move the team to a different community.
The shiny new home in San Francisco is most definitely a strong consideration. The Shark Tank, while far more than merely functional, is already an older venue. It could be the oldest venue hosting a Bay Area sports team by the time the Warriors move into their new home. The baseball Giants are making money hand over fist in their relatively new ballpark. The 49ers have a new venue, while the Raiders and A’s are both looking to leave their current venues. By 2020, the SF Giants home venue could be the oldest venue hosting a major Bay Area sports team.
Signs of Hope?
If I had to look for some measure of hope, it might be that the stadium series game was played in Santa Clara and not San Francisco. But for the most part, the Sharks do not show much desire to plant deeper roots into their current city. There is always a chance that this is being run up the flagpole as a negotiating tactic — that the Sharks will use San Francisco as leverage to try and suck money out of San Jose city coffers as inducements to stay. Even in the best case scenario, there would be a lot of goodwill lost.
The logic is too straightforward to argue. People pay more to see events in San Francisco. There will likely be more seats, higher prices and more luxury boxes. The asset value of the team could soar. Plus, by sharing a venue, there is a potential to save on operating costs — didn’t Tortora just mention that as one of the reasons for increasing ticket prices? Truth is, the economics of a shared venue are pretty darn good. And while San Jose hates to admit it, it knows: San Francisco is still the big dog in the Bay Area. You want the marquee name, it is San Francisco. You want the money, there is more of it in San Francisco.
Shark fans need not completely worry. Plattner might also take care of the fans here. After all, there can be San Jose Sharks hockey long into the future, even if we are talking about the current Worcester Sharks, who are moving to the Shark Tank from the Boston area for their next season. You can bet though, that long before the NHL team moves, a whole lot of NHL Shark fans will stop being a sap.