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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 24, 2006

Oakland A's owners buy option to bring soccer to Bay

SAN FRANCISCO -- Major League Soccer and the Oakland Athletics announced a deal Wednesday to bring a soccer team back to the Bay Area if the team's owners can develop a stadium plan.

The team would replace the San Jose Earthquakes, who moved to Houston following last season after public financing for a new facility in San Jose fell through.

Lew Wolff and John Fisher, the A's principal owners, will have three years to buy a team and develop a stadium solely for soccer.

The location of the new stadium has not been determined but the new offices will be located in downtown San Jose. The price of the contract was not disclosed.

Wolff said the decision was motivated by growing interest in the sport and is not related to his bid to move the A's out of Oakland over financing squabbles for a replacement for the aging Coliseum.

San Jose has long wanted to welcome the A's but Wolff has reportedly said he will honor Major League Baseball's rules that say San Jose territorial rights belong to the San Francisco Giants.

"We think we're hitting the soccer world perhaps at exactly the right time," Wolff said. "It's not a simple task even to find land in the Bay area, but we think there's lots of opportunities, and we can be creative if we have to."

The two-time MLS champion Earthquakes were unhappy sharing San Jose State's Spartan Stadium and blamed money woes and slumping attendance on the lack of a dedicated facility.

The Quakes won MLS championships in 2001 and 2003 led by former star forward Landon Donovan but attendance slid to an average of just 13,037 fans last season.

City Council officials objected to using public funds to finance a new stadium but wanted to keep the team, even trying to persuade the owners of the Sharks' hockey team to buy the Earthquakes.

Talks collapsed after the Sharks demanded money from the city to help finance the facility.

A mix of public and private funding is planned for the new soccer stadium, but Wolff said he hopes to avoid sending the matter to voters.

The initial search will focus on San Jose and the South Bay, he said.

"San Jose is a terrific place for sports if they can get their acts together," he said. "We love the interest in soccer from local people, both from the South Bay and East Bay area, and we're hoping to find a way to make it acceptable."

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said local ownership and a new facility will re-ignite fan zeal and help reverse sinking attendance and revenues.

"We're well aware through our previous experiences of the passion and knowledge of the sport in the Bay area, but we believed from the beginning we needed a local owner and we needed a stadium plan," he said.