If indeed the Golden State Warriors complete a deal with the WNBA to buy the Los Angeles Sparks and relocate the franchise to the Bay Area, one of the things they'll have to figure out is where they'll play.
A source has indicated that the likelihood of the relocated team playing at Oracle Area in Oakland is "about 5%" - it's very unlikely, though certainly not impossible, that the organization will look to house both its NBA and WNBA team at Roaracle. The reasons why they'd look elsewhere are similar to the criticisms people have discussed regarding the Sparks playing at Staples Center in L.A.: it's too big for a WNBA team to fill nightly and the cost of renting it might be a bit steep for a league with teams that struggle to break even.
The organization does have Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz - where their NBA D-League franchise plays - but with a capacity of about 2500 there's no way the WNBA team will play there. The organization is also planning to build an arena in San Francisco with 2017 as a target but it's not likely that they'd leave the Sparks in L.A. until that is complete (and it's currently mired in political red tape stemming from long-standing tensions about land use in S.F.).
So what are the other options? Here's a brief rundown of what's available in declining order of size and with the help of comments from folks at Stadium Journey and Yelp.
Arena: Oracle Arena
Arena website: OracleArena.com
Advantages: There probably shouldn't be much debate about ROARACLE being the best basketball arena in the area. It isn't the newest facility in the NBA - it was opened in 1961 - but it has undergone renovations in recent years that make it a great place to watch a game.
Most of all, when the place gets full it's LOUD(ER) and provides the Golden State Warriors with a massive homecourt advantage, especially in the playoffs. We could debate whether it's the biggest (postseason) home court advantage in the league, but I'm not capable of doing that objectively so I'll leave that to others.
In terms of accessibility, it's about a 10 minute walk from the BART station, which also helps those who would like to park elsewhere and avoid traffic.
Disadvantages: There is literally nothing to do within walking distance of the Coliseum complex beyond going to BART (and getting bacon wrapped hot dogs or churros from the venders on the overpass, which can be tempting given the exorbitant cost of concessions). This is why the Golden State Warriors moving to a San Francisco waterfront location makes sense to begin with, even if the idea of abandoning Oakland (which fits into a much larger local socioeconomic/political discussion) bothers people: there will be something to do in SF before and after games for those looking for a real "Great Time Out".
Arena: SAP Center (aka "The Shark Tank")
Location: San Jose
Capacity: 18,549 (for basketball)
Arena website: SAPCenterAtSanJose.com
Advantages: SAP is definitely the only other option in the area that "feels" like a "pro arena" - whatever that might mean to you - not in Sacramento. In addition, it's a pro arena in a city close to Stanford and its vibrant women's basketball fanbase that will certainly show up to support Nneka Ogwumike and whatever other Stanford alums come through the Bay. On top of all that, it's the city that once supported the San Jose Lasers, which drew right around average ABL attendance in its three seasons of existence.
It's right near a public transportation hub across the street with access to many points in the Bay Area. For Sharks games, the last CalTrain (headed to San Francisco) even waits for 15 mins after games on Monday - Sunday.
With ample public transportation options and downtown location, there's no shortage of entertainment options in the area either.
Disadvantages: Like Oracle, SAP is shared by another major pro franchise - the San Jose Sharks - and the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena League, which could create conflicts throughout the WNBA schedule (especially when the Sharks FINALLY make the Stanley Cup Finals). And it's really about the same size as Staples Center, which means it might be one of those arenas that would be hard for a WNBA team to fill on a regular basis.
And even if some people on Yelp might say that this arena is starting to feel dated just before its 21st birthday, it's new enough that rent can't possibly be cheap.
With this arena south of Oracle, it may be a bit of a chore for East Bay Warriors fans to make the trek to games: rush hour traffic on I-880 can be brutal and it's not near BART (though there is a bus from BART that East Bay riders could use). This is a point that sometimes gets overstated because there are Warriors season ticket holders all over the Bay Area - and the proximity to Stanford fans could certainly be seen as a higher priority anyway - but it's not an easy trip for fans near where the Warriors are currently located.
Arena: Cow Palace
Location: Daly City
Arena website: CowPalace.com
Advantages: The primary advantages that the Cow Palace really has come down to size - it's really the only truly mid-sized arena not on a college campus - and the fact that it's not far from public transportation (BART to MUNI busses functioning as "shuttles"). But if the ability to fill an arena - or at least minimize the number of empty seats - comes into play, then it really can't be dismissed.
As an additional advantage, the only sports team currently playing there is the SF Bulls in addition to the Grand National Rodeo and most major events (e.g. concerts, circus, etc.) are far more likely to go to Oracle or head to the South Bay; in terms of scheduling, a WNBA team playing in the Cow Palace wouldn't have to deal with the embarrassing story of being bumped by Sesame Street.
As a minor advantage, with the organization planning to build a new arena the team could easily be branded as the San Francisco Warriors - a name that has historical roots in the area - and easily transition into the new waterfront arena.
Disadvantages: The Cow Palace opened in 1941 and the place feels every bit as ancient as its age. As much as WNBA fans might want to avoid the stories that the Atlanta Dream endured from being bumped by Muppets, the very fact of playing at the Cow Palace would likely be an everyday story for any lunkhead sports writer out to find something negative to add to his game story. A few of the reviews on Yelp mention that the place is "damp" or "musty" and that's not a particularly inaccurate description.
Arena: Haas Pavilion - University of California
Location: Berkeley, CA
Arena website: CalBears.com
Advantages: Like the Cow Palace, Haas is a mid-sized arena that might not be too cavernous for a WNBA team and, being in Berkeley, it's very accessible via public transportation.
Although it's unmistakably a college facility, it's also worth noting that the Yelp comments about it being "clean" and "modern" are not just prideful comments from college students who don't know anything beyond dorm life - it's rather well-kept and still manages to keep that "new" feel.
Entertainment and food options abound in the campus/downtown Berkeley area, which is also an asset.
Disadvantages: There's little mistaking that this is a college facility and that probably begins with the fact that seating includes sections of benches with no backs and very limited leg room. Playing on a college campus, would make this the only team to play in an arena on a college campus, which not help perceptions that the WNBA is a second-rate league. (On the other hand, the San Jose Earthquakes play at Santa Clara University and it's not the most comfortable experience but not the end of the world either. And they're moving.)
It has to be noted that parking near Haas Pavilion on a game day - or even a sunny day when activity on Telegraph Avenue is at its height - can be a pain.
A minor point, but one worth noting in comparison to other options: there's no central video display at Haas, with there being two screens at either end of the court. Does that really matter? Perhaps not, but it also probably doesn't measure up to many people's idea of a pro experience. And the view of those scoreboards can be obstructed from the upper level.
Arena: Maples Pavilion - Stanford University
Location: Stanford, CA
Arena website: GoStanford.com
Advantages: Well, there's one pretty obvious one here: Nneka Ogwumike played her college ball here and every time a Stanford alum came to town it would be like a homecoming. That could be fun and would certainly generate some easy storylines for local media.
And if selling the place out is the goal, a WNBA team could likely do that at Maples with some frequency. In comparison to Haas, the sight lines for the floor and the scoreboard are pretty good
Disadvantages: Like SAP, this is not the easiest place to get to from the East Bay via public transportation (and you're forcing them to patronize the 'Furd!).
And although linking so directly to the Stanford fan base could be construed as a positive, there's still that issue of putting a pro team in a women's basketball league on a college campus.
Fans probably shouldn't expect any adult beverages to be sold at Maples either.
Finally, as a Berkeley native, I just have to post my favorite Yelp comment: "Stanford has gone corporate in everything now."
Arena: Event Center at San Jose State University
Location: San Jose, CA
Arena website: San Jose State site
Advantages: Like SAP, this is a) not far from the Stanford fan base, b) a return to the city the Lasers played in, and c) within walking distance of public transportation and entertainment options. For a little added nostalgia, the Lasers also played at the Event Center during their tenure.
Adding to those points, the Event Center would be a more intimate facility and that can be of great benefit in creating the type of fun, family atmosphere that Golden State ownership has created with the Santa Cruz Warriors.
For those concerned about the availability of adult beverages at a college facility, have no fear - beer and wine are sold here.
Disadvantages: In addition to the concerns about being in the South Bay shared by the nearby SAP Center, this is a college facility and a number of Yelpers seem to lament that it really feels like a "gym" that isn't adequate for a major concert. And strangely, there were a few complaints about the place getting uncomfortably hot when filled.
As the Golden State Warriors ownership is aware, there is value to selling out a venue and adding to the fan experience by generating a vibrant atmosphere - Kaiser Permanente Arena supports some really fun basketball games. But is even 5000 selling a WNBA team short?
Where do you think a Bay Area WNBA team should play? Let us know in the comments and feel free to write up a fanpost if you have an extended commentary about any one arena.
For more on the potential relocation of the Sparks to the Bay Area, check out our L.A. Sparks offseason storystream.
Update at 10:30 PM ET - Poll's below!
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