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San Francisco Giants get flexibility and innovation in naming-rights deal for Oracle Park

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San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer (left), and Oracle CEOs Mark Hurd and Safra Catz introduce the new name for the Giants’ home ballpark, Oracle Park, in a press conference on Jan. 10, 2019. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

ORACLE PARK — The marquee out front still read “AT&T Park”. So did the clock tower over the north entrance. So, too, did the under-renovation scoreboard in center field, if you could see it through the heavy fog.

But, out front, printed on a banner hung between the palm trees, and on a tarp covering much of the infield, the new name of the San Francisco Giants’ home — Oracle Park — was more than readily apparent.

The park will have the new signage in place by Opening Day against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 5 — and CalTrans will likely take longer to change all the AT&T Park signs in and around the city and its freeways. The hoped-for innovations due to the partnership won’t take hold quickly. But the Giants — and CEO Larry Baer — got exactly what they wanted out of a deal with the $40 billion Redwood City-based tech giant Oracle.

In a press conference that included cameos by 87-year old Willie Mays and his dog, as well as the first man to manage a Giants team in the stadium — Dusty Baker — Baer was focused on the future.

“We were joking, during the start of our negotiations, it’s kind of hard to put prescriptive elements into the deal, the back end, at 2038,” Baer said. “We were joking that maybe in 2038, we should put in the prediction that Giants fans will be able to take flying cars from Redwood Shores to Oracle Park.”

Flying cars have been predicted going back at least a century, but that flight of fancy aside, the money involved in the deal will be a boon to the Giants, as they move into a new era of technology-driven analytics, spearheaded by new President of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi.

“There’s a Farhan component to this, in the sense that high-speed cameras that do things, they have amazing engineers there, so there’s side benefits that way,” Baer said.

The deal with Oracle won’t immediately show up in technological innovations at the ballpark, at least in the first year. Baer did mention, though, the potential to order food from seats via an app, a virtual reality component to games, scouting and player development, and of course, what Oracle can bring in terms of information sharing in the ever-evolving analytics department.

“We have a whole vertical that’s focused on sports and facilities and automation of those facilities,” said Oracle CEO Mark Hurd. “You can imagine, with our movement with the cloud, our scale in the enterprise applications market … and we will certainly bring all of those capabilities to the Giants, as well. It’s all of our current capabilities, as well as our innovation facilities, fan experiences, that we hope to team with the Giants on over the next 20 years.”

The 20-year naming-rights deal, which the Examiner has confirmed is worth in the neighborhood of between $300-$350 million, is firmly in the top tier in terms of North American sports stadium deals. At the top end, the deal would be worth $17.5 million per year, which would be the fourth-highest per-year take, behind the Toronto Raptors’ ScotiaBank Arena ($30.4m/yr), the New York Giants and New York Jets home of MetLife Stadium ($24m/yr) and the New York Mets’ CitiField ($18.2m/yr).

AT&T’s remaining stadium — the Dallas Cowboys’ palace — costs them between $17 million and $19 million per year, while Chase Center — the new home of the Golden State Warriors starting next October — costs the credit card giant about $16.7 million per year.

“We didn’t really slot it that way,” Baer said. “Obviously, we wanted it to be a market deal. More importantly — that was a consideration, obviously — we wanted to have a partner who we could do things with and activate with for the next two decades.”

The fact that Zaidi has yet to make a significant move this offseason, and instead gear the on-field product towards winning in the long term, means there may not be as many victories in Oracle Park in Year One, and that could impact attendance.  The lucrative deal will allow the organization to endure the ebbs and flows of fortune on the field, and, crucially, will allow both the business side of the club and the baseball side to take risks.

“I’m not talking about just free agents,” Baer said. “I’m talking about building something out in the ballpark. It could be on the player side, but also for the fans. We can do more in analytics, allow Farhan to come up with a budget that we might not have without this, to build out parts of the organization that we haven’t built out in the past.”

Money could be funneled into minor league development, as well as renovating both the Giants’ spring training home of Scottsdale Stadium — set for this spring, after the club breaks camp — and the minor league facility, which will be renovated after spring training in 2020.

One of the reasons the Giants were able to sign such a lucrative deal is because the Dallas-based AT&T — which succeeded San Francisco-based Pacific Bell and then SBC Global as the title sponsor due to corporate mergers and takeovers — decided that, after a relationship lasting 23 years (between the various entities that gobbled up one another) it wanted to re-focus its priorities.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, the Giants entered an exclusive negotiating period with AT&T, and made a presentation in early October to the company in Dallas about possibly extending the partnership. After all, three World Series, an All-Star Game and Barry Bonds’ records have certainly cemented the AT&T Park name in the consciousness of local fans. That’s when AT&T said it would not want to extend the deal to 2020 and beyond (the original 23-year deal was set to expire after the 2019 season).

“We love them, they’re fantastic, but originally, Pac Bell was up the street on 3rd Street, and they said, ‘Look, our business has changed a lot,'” Baer said. “They changed strategies, and they were not going to be doing naming rights outside of Dallas. They loves the relationship, but they changed.”

The acquisitions of HBO and CNN, Time Warner and DirecTV complicated the AT&T business model, and the company gave the Giants an early opt-out.

“It was a courtesy on their part,” Baer said. “Can’t say enough good things about AT&T. They were a good partner. I get it. They’re based in Dallas. They weren’t based in Dallas when we came in.”

The club took a small list — about six companies — and Baer began calling CEOs of companies that had close partnerships with the organization. Oracle, which had partnered with the Giants for close to 20 years, pounced.

“With Oracle, it was clear they were able to move quickly,” Baer said. “There was a rhythm to the Oracle thing.”

The two principles had their first meeting right after Thanksgiving, on Nov. 26. In 35 days, the deal was done.

“We worked on hyper-speed to put something together,” Baer said.

Both Baer and Hurd said that the deal “just made sense” for both parties, and Hurd went on to say that the deal “had nothing to do with any other sports team.” Nor did it, Hurd said, have anything to do with the fact that, once the Golden State Warriors leave Oracle Arena for Chase Arena just down the road from Oracle Park, Oracle would no longer have their name on a building (that deal is solely with the Warriors, not with the arena).

Both of Oracle’s CEOs — Hurd and Safra Catz — have brought their families to the ballpark. Oracle founder Larry Ellison — who at one point tried to buy the Warriors — has been to World Series games at the park. Baer repeatedly cited the fact that Oracle will “wear well” as a title sponsor because of their Bay Area roots.

“Larry Ellison likes to sit right behind home plate,” Baer said. “He said, ‘I don’t have to be in the first row, but put me someplace where I can see the ball movement.’ Ever the engineer, ever the physicist. I think he likes the park. The fact that Oracle’s had its events here, like OpenWorld [concerts], it’s not just baseball. They have their customers here with great experiences. It just kind of all fit well.”

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