Friday, March 9, 2012

The A's-Giants Dispute Over San Jose Continues

The on-going dispute between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants regarding the A's proposed relocation to San Jose (territory claimed by the Giants) is once again heating up this week (click here for an earlier 2009 post on the dispute). After patiently waiting three years for an MLB panel to resolve the matter, A's owner Lew Wolff went public Wednesday questioning the Giants' supposed claim to San Jose. The Giants franchise alleges that it controls the San Jose territory under a 1990 agreement in which the A's voluntarily relinquished their rights to Santa Clara County (which includes San Jose) so that the Giants could themselves relocate to the area.

However, Wolff issued a statement on Wednesday referencing the minutes of the relevant 1990 owners meeting, which he says clearly provide that the Giants' claim to Santa Clara County was contingent upon the team actually moving to the area. Because the Giants never left San Francisco, Wolff asserts that the Giants have no rightful claim to San Jose. The Giants disagree with Wolff's interpretation, issuing a statement arguing that the franchise's claim to Santa Clara County has been ratified in the MLB Constitution on multiple occasions since 1990. Indeed, if the Giants' claim to San Jose was as flimsy as the A's now allege, then MLB would likely have settled this dispute a couple years ago.

Frustrated by the delay, San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo suggested on Wednesday that a reconsideration of baseball's antitrust exemption might be in order if the A's are unable to move to the city. The suggestion that the government should reevaluate baseball's antitrust exemption in light of the A's-Giants dispute is not unexpected, as the exemption has historically helped shield MLB's territorial restrictions from antitrust scrutiny. As I detailed in a recent paper, Congress has frequently threatened to revoke baseball's exemption in order to motivate MLB to make a variety of concessions. Liccardo's threat alone is unlikely to force MLB to allow the A's to move to San Jose, but that could change if a sufficient number of Congressional representatives become interested in the A's plight.

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