Life after Barry
Will McCovey Cove be hopping once Bonds leaves?
Posted: Friday August 3, 2007 12:55PM; Updated: Saturday August 4, 2007 11:57AM
Ted Choi learned his lesson on a clear September afternoon. The line snaked around the outside of City Kayak in San Francisco -- Choi's shop where a bulk of those patrolling McCovey Cove during Giants games rent kayaks -- while his employees inside slivered between the customers crushed in like commuters on a New York City subway.
That was Sept. 17, 2004, just hours before Barry Bonds would launch his 700th home run. Since then Choi has learned: a) the value of a reservation system to prevent throngs of people trying to grab their kayaks at the same time; b) that his shop will never be crammed with Giants fans again; and c) Lesson B -- his shop not being flood by fans in the future -- has nothing to do with Lesson A -- his reservation system.
After Bonds leaves the Giants with his imminent career home run run record, Choi expects to lose roughly 20 percent of his annual revenue. After all, Bonds has hit 34 of the Giants' 58 homers into McCovey Cove.
"When Barry was injured [in 2005 he missed 142 games while recovering from right knee surgery]," Choi says, "we had an 80 percent reduction in McCovey rentals." Bonds' absence leaves Choi up a financial creek, no matter how many paddles he has inventoried. This, of course, begs the question: Without Bonds, will the Giants find themselves financially in, shall we say, the same boat as Choi?
While other teams have built stadiums and lost stars -- not to mention games, and sometimes a lot of games (see Baltimore and Camden Yards) -- 30 teams still thrive in the majors. The Giants, however, are an interesting aberration in that they are the first team since Walter O'Malley opened Dodger Stadium in 1962 to privately pay for approximately 95 percent of their new stadium. After the Giants' previous ownership group failed to get taxpayer support on four separate occasions, San Francisco voters approved a plan for what was to become AT&T Park in the spring of 1996, the start of Bonds' fourth season with the team. Now the Giants are on the hook for an $18 million annual mortgage payment until 2017, along with the stack of bills that includes $126 million owed to lefty pitcher Barry Zito, as part of a $90 million payroll, the 12th-highest in the majors.
Many have wondered if the retro ballpark would have been built at all without Bonds as the face of the franchise, and Bonds certainly can be credited with enhancing the value of the Giants -- Forbes Magazine estimates the ballclub is worth $459 million, making it the seventh-most valuable franchise in MLB. (That includes AT&T Park, worth $131 million.)
So losing Bonds doesn't mean the Giants are losing sleep. "You're not going to replace Barry Bonds with another Barry Bonds and we're not going to try," says Giants Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Larry Baer. "We believe we can operate with a strong brand. We have a lot of good will in the bank."
While there's no doubt Bonds sells tickets (the Giants dropped from the second-most fans both home and on the road in '04 to seventh in '05 during his injury-plagued season to prove as much) but Baer notes four factors besides Bonds are important to the financial health of his franchise: sentimental attachment to the team, competitiveness, appeal of the ballpark and the star power of players.