The Oakland A’s New President
Dave Kaval wants to keep the team in town—and build a new ballpark to play in.
Just when things were looking bleak for fans of the Oakland A’s, a new president came to town.
A’s President Dave Kaval has provided a shot of green-and-gold adrenalin to the team’s loyal followers. After a decade of speculation that the A’s owners wanted to move the team to Fremont or San Jose, or even out of the Bay Area entirely, Kaval says the organization is now determined to keep the A’s in Oakland and build a new neighborhood ballpark to replace the antiquated Oakland Coliseum within the next five years. In the meantime, Kaval plans to upgrade the experience at the Coliseum with food trucks from the Oakland food movement and free wi-fi.
“I think that in another 20 years, people might come to Oakland and see the new ballpark the way that people see Wrigley Field—a way that is unique and intimate in its neighborhood,” says Kaval, who speaks with the passion of a lifelong baseball fan and an ambitious entrepreneur. “We want to have a stadium like those old places [that’s] closer to the action, and focused on the atmosphere and energy the fans bring. I think that’s the right type of ballpark for Oakland.”
Kaval’s enthusiasm is matched by his résumé and an unstoppable work ethic. After graduating from Stanford University in 1998, Kaval visited all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums in a 15,000-mile, 38-day road trip, documenting the experience in a book he coauthored, The Summer That Saved Baseball. “One thing we really liked about [the Oakland Coliseum] was the atmosphere,” he says about his experience visiting the stadium at the time. “[The fan base] is very authentic and unique; we don’t want to lose that energy and excitement the Oakland community brings to games.”
A few years later, after an internship helping manage national security budgets for the George W. Bush administration, Kaval cofounded the Golden Baseball League, an independent league with teams in Mexico, the Western United States, and Canada. Working out of San Ramon, he served as the league’s CEO, president, and commissioner for six years. (It merged with other independent leagues a few years after he left and is now defunct.) Kaval is also considered a top expert in sports management and teaches classes on the subject at Stanford.
Most importantly, the 41-year-old executive has experience opening a professional sports stadium in the Bay Area. Avaya Stadium, the $100 million, 18,000-seat home of the San Jose Earthquakes, opened for business in 2015, five years after Kaval became president of the South Bay soccer team. The stadium, which was privately financed and has been sold out since Day One, is a model of high-tech innovation: It is the first cloud-enabled stadium ever built, with a digital wall allowing fans to show off Instagram photos and Twitter reactions to the game in real time. A robust stadium app keeps fans connected to everything happening on and off the field. And the stadium is completely sustainable, powered by solar panels. That’s not even mentioning its TCL 4K Bar, the largest outdoor bar in North America.
It’s no surprise that Kaval brought a much-needed tech upgrade to Avaya Stadium—his brother works at Apple, and his wife works at Oracle—but more than the cutting-edge advancements and high-profile events, he finally provided the Quakes with a home.
“People came up to me crying and saying they never thought this day would come,” says Kaval, who continues to serve as the soccer team’s president. “For 40 years, the team had been a vagabond. They moved from San Jose, Santa Clara, Stanford, the [Oakland] Coliseum. Finally, they had their own place, and it was a huge deal. Avaya became the epicenter for soccer in the Bay Area.”
Kaval plans to run the A’s the same way he’s run the Quakes—by tapping into the brain trust of the team’s fans. Immediately after joining the Athletics, Kaval created office hours to meet with fans, face to face.
“It’s been great to sit down with folks [and] hear their passion for the Athletics. There are so many nuggets of baseball history here in Oakland, and the community is proud of that,” says Kaval. “There has been great input—creative ideas about the kind of food we should serve and players we should get. Someone even brought in plans to build a stadium that would float around the Bay.”
It’s safe to say that Kaval has made a good first impression on fans, but challenges lie ahead—and none is as big as the talk of a new A’s stadium. Building a new stadium is expensive, and Oakland doesn’t have swaths of land ready for development.
Kaval is not deterred, though. He spends a good amount of time scouting four or five Oakland locations—including Lake Merritt and Howard Terminal—that could serve as home for a new stadium. He likes to walk around each area, imagining an afternoon game or a first pitch at sunset, and think about how traffic patterns and public transit systems would serve each location.
“You have to look through the lens of a fan,” Kaval says. “Where are fans going to come from? Where are they going to park? I was walking the streets of Oakland recently and thinking, ‘If I took BART to that station, how long would it take to walk here?’ And ‘Is this a walk I would take with my kids?’
“A lot of the newer stadiums have been built without a good regard for [how people will get there],” he continues. “That creates an atmosphere that is not inviting. So, when I have been in and around Lake Merritt, or at Howard Terminal, or downtown, or even here at the Coliseum, I’m trying to understand how [a new stadium] would all work as part of the whole plan.”
While many of the details about the new stadium are still in the works, it’s clear the job is in the right hands.
“I have been to something like 40 Major League ballparks. I have spent my whole life in and around ballparks, seeing them as a fan, seeing what works and what doesn’t,” says Kaval. “To have that experience and now be involved with building a new ballpark in Oakland is really a life’s dream.” .