A’s President Dave Kaval Offers the Inside Scoop on Team’s New Stadium & Player Payroll Plans

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New A’s President Dave Kaval

Since assuming the job just a little over two months ago, it’s safe to say that new A’s president Dave Kaval has provided a breath of fresh air in the sometimes dank passages of the Oakland Coliseum. In a relatively short period of time, he’s already earned plenty of brownie points with A’s fans for his honesty, enthusiasm and willingness to engage with almost anyone and everyone who wants to engage with him. And after talking with some A’s employees who were on hand at FanFest, it’s clear that the energetic executive has brought a renewed sense of energy and purpose to the entire A’s staff. 

The 41-year-old likes to make things happen and he’s not afraid to try new things. His decision to return FanFest to Jack London Square for the first time since 1999 turned out to be a good call, with an estimated 15,000 A’s fans, most of whom seemed to be in a hopeful mood about the team, enjoying a fresh take on the event while out under the sun with the water in view.

Kaval kicked off the day with an inspiring message to A’s fans gathered on the main lawn for the team introductions. In his state-of-the-team address, he promised to announce the site of the team’s new stadium as well as a timeline for the new home of the A’s this year. And just a little later, he addressed those topics in greater detail, as well as others, during an interview session with a group of A’s bloggers.

The Stanford graduate had kind words for the work of bloggers and for alternative media in general: “I think media’s changing…I think the voices that are in this room are important…and I think some of our hardcore fans are more connected to the content you guys generate…I’ve always been a big believer in new media.”

In this session, as expected, Kaval was engaging and enthusiastic and seemed more than happy to address any questions that came his way. A’s Farm kicked off the questioning by asking the team’s top executive whether or not the A’s planned to increase their player personnel budget prior to moving into a new stadium, and he seemed to be a man with a plan…

We want to kind of duplicate what the Indians did in the early 1990s, which is to create a nucleus of really good young players who are hitting their prime when you open the ballpark. Then, if you guys remember, the Indians sold out 455 consecutive games which, in a smaller market, is a pretty incredible accomplishment. So to do that, the first thing you need to do is you need to know the timeline of when you’re going to open the new stadium – and we’re going to know that this year. Then I can go to Billy [Beane] and David [Forst] and say, “Hey, this is kind of the runway you have. Let’s put the pieces in place and make the necessary investments in order to get to that opening day where we have a nucleus of great young players who can compete for a world championship that season.” And Billy and David have done an amazing job of cultivating the young talent – I mean, you saw it in the playoffs this year. That’s not the issue – the issue is having the revenue to sign those players and keep them as part of your nucleus. So that’s the plan – I think it’s one that can work out very well. I think the exact dollar investment level is hard to know, but I think fans should hopefully be more in the know about what the plan is.

Asked to confirm that the club is indeed willing to make increased investments in player personnel prior to having a new stadium ready to go, Kaval made it clear that the team is…

Absolutely, 100%! I think seeing us actively go after [Edwin] Encarnacion, who’s a player who was going to get paid $20-25 million per year, that’s a huge move for the A’s. That’s not something that you’ve seen in the past. I think knowledgeable fans like you guys know that that’s a big statement – and it was a serious bid…but getting a player of that caliber to really anchor your offense, really support your young pitchers, because you’re going to have more run production, and really kind of put the fear into the opposing pitching, is a really important part of building a winning team.

When asked about his vision and priorites for the new stadium and when he will announce the team’s plans, he was fairly definitive…

Avaya Stadium

San Jose’s Avaya Stadium

This year we will announce the location and the timeline, and the timeline will include when we’re going to break ground. I was hopeful we could even make the announcement today, but we just haven’t done all the work necessary to make sure that we make the right decision, and to make sure that we get all the feedback from the community…In terms of design, I think the over-arching theme is intimacy. We want a ballpark that’s intimate, where you’re close to the action – think more like Wrigley or Fenway than Yankee Stadium or some of the bigger stadiums…The thing is we want somewhere where, even if you’re in the upper deck, you’re close to the action and every seat is a good seat. And if you come to Avaya Stadium, which we built for the Earthquakes, we have that, and it’s been so well received…It also creates an amazing fan experience – it’s loud, it’s raucous, it’s somewhere that we could take the Oakland fans and energize them and actually create a home-field advantage for our club…The other thing that I think is really important when you do a ballpark is you want to celebrate the history of the organization. So we want to go back all the way to Philadelphia. We’re looking at the possibility of putting in a museum that celebrates the actual history of the Athletics, all the way back to 1901 with the Philadelphia A’s, as well as our Kansas City period, then obviously here in Oakland – that’s a really important piece of the puzzle…And then I think you need to create neighborhoods – places in the ballpark where fans can gather and congregate and have a shared experience around the sport. And that could include things like we did at Avaya with the scoreboard bar. It could include an amazing bleacher section, with old-school bleachers. They might be wood – maybe we get reclaimed redwood and have a totally new thing, something that people actually appreciate and take pride in, because we want to have the people with the bed sheets and the signs. We don’t want to lose any of that with the new ballpark, because that’s how you give a building a soul, and that’s something that’s really important to us.

On the subject of the Raiders and how their actions might affect the A’s plans, Kaval didn’t seem too concerned with what the A’s Coliseum co-tenants were up to…  

It’s completely independent. We have our own path that we’re on. Now we were kind of surprised that they would actually leave – we’ve just been working under the assumption that they were going to be here. But we are charting our own course. We’re making our own decisions. I think, in the past, we were trying to tether our decisions too closely to theirs, and that got us in trouble. So we want to just say, “This is our plan to build our ballpark in the right location.” And then whatever happens with the Raiders happens.

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Howard Terminal

Asked what sites, besides the Coliseum and Howard Terminal, are currently being considered and what some of the major considerations are, Kaval provided more details about the team’s thinking and also revealed that some new technology had been deployed at FanFest…

The other two sites are in and around the Lake Merritt area…We’re trying to evaluate each one of those opportunities independently so we make a good decision…I think one thing about that location is that we kind of look at it as areas in and around the Lake Merritt BART station, because that’s a really important transit hub for the community. I think here, on this site at Howard [Terminal], some of the challenges are just around transit and making sure you can get people here. That’s the nice thing about having this event today…so we can understand how this site would even work. And actually, we’re flying a drone above us right now – it’s looking at where people go and patterns and all that stuff.

When asked what A’s fans can expect on the stadium front in the coming months, Kaval seemed eager to get the show on the road…

This year, as soon as possible, we’re going to announce where we’re going to build the ballpark. And this is as important – it’s one thing to just pick a site, but we’re actually going to announce the roadmap to opening day…There’s different pros and cons or challenges and opportunities with every site. And I think, at the end of the day, we want to shoot for something that can really be transformative. We want to make sure that we have a vibrant ballpark experience around the actual location and people are living there and there are bars and restaurants and it can be a place to be. That’s what these ballparks can do, and that’s our mission.

Discussing his efforts to draw fans back into the fold while the A’s are still playing at the Coliseum, Kaval promised to improve the fan experience at the A’s current home…

I think, for the first time, instead of just kind of punting on the Coliseum, we have a commitment to make sure that the fan experience can be enhanced. And I think you’re seeing that with the Shibe Park Tavern, where we’re investing millions of dollars in the Coliseum to create a truly east coast kind of throwback environment where fans can gather and have a great time, not even just for a game – it could be an away game and you have a viewing party. We have pool tables and artifacts from Shibe Park celebrating the history with the Philadelphia Athletics. The other thing is looking at the whole food truck pavilion that we’re going to build between the actual Coliseum and the arena – that’s going to be a great area. We’ll have up to 16 food trucks. You know, familes, millennials, everyone gathering. We’re going to have Adirondack chairs and games and kids’ zones and beer gardens. Whether you want a gluten-free gourmet food truck or you want to have chicken and waffles, all that stuff together is going to create a fun area. We’ll have video boards so you can watch the game. Those are important neighborhoods and areas to build for people to gather. So in the third inning of the game, instead of just going and getting a hot dog – and I will say, we’re not going to have any frozen buns – you can go outside – you get in and out privileges – and you can get a Vietnamese vegetarian wrap or whatever you want. So those are the types of things we’re doing, and we’re going to do more. You can’t change everything overnight, but we’re taking one step at a time to make sure the experience is better for the fans.

And finally, Kaval talked about his overall vision for the franchise and how he plans to win back the loyalty of some disappointed A’s fans…

The vision is to build a world-class stadium in Oakland and to win more world championships. And then I think the third piece, and this is something where we need to work with the community, is to really revitalize the community with the ballpark. So that’s where we need to take this organization. We’re working 24/7 to do that…And all I can do in my role is to take one step at a time and make progress in different areas – have FanFest free at Jack London Square, have opening day and see the food truck experience, see the Shibe Park Tavern, sign a player to a long-term contract – and then hopefully over time people will see that it’s not just rhetoric, there are actions that are supporting this that actually make me believe that this is a path that they want to be on but…they can decide whether to be an A’s fan or not – I think it’s way better than being a Giants fan – but it’s their decision. And we think we will attract that support. And I can already kind of feel it. It’s a little like a snowball, and it’ll happen!

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3 comments for “A’s President Dave Kaval Offers the Inside Scoop on Team’s New Stadium & Player Payroll Plans

  1. Antdiggity
    February 6, 2017 at 6:04 am

    I had a chance to meet this dude at fanfest. Told him I loved the idea that he seems sincere in commitment to keep the A’s in Oakland. This is huge for me. It’s a breath of fresh air. I feel better supporting the team when I feel “the love”.
    I hope the A’s also re-engage the local communities too! When I was a kid growing up in Oakland in the 80’s some of the players & coaches were involved in a little clinic (sponsored by a bubble gum company). I met Mickey Tettleton and Dave McCay and some other random dudes. Man, I was sold! A’s fan for life from that moment. Get in the community A’s, it’s the best way to grow life long fans like myself. And this Kaval guys seems legit. Glad he’s on board with us.

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