OAKLAND -- If somehow, some way Oakland holds on to the A's, Raiders and Warriors, it might be fitting to celebrate at the Denny's by the Coliseum.
It was there on an even colder-than-usual January morning that a few super fans read the tea leaves of the Bay Area sports scene and decided to fight for Oakland and the East Bay.
The 6:30 a.m. breakfast meeting produced Save Oakland Sports, an outfit committed to preserving all three of the city's major league sports teams, even the two that have already declared their intention to leave.
Last week, the group, whose members include a former Raiders player and an A's fan once booted from the O.co Coliseum for criticizing ownership, had its coming-out party when it helped Mayor Jean Quan with a pro-sports rally outside City Hall. This month it's sponsoring a fundraiser and participating in fan events at the Raiders home opener and the A's last fireworks night of the season.
"We're hoping to not just be a fan booster group, but a group that could get something done," said co-founder Jim Zelinski, a public relations specialist.
Focus on owners
Save Oakland Sports isn't a typical stadium booster group because Oakland's stadium situation is anything but typical.
During the stadium-building boom of the past two decades, most team owners followed a standard playbook: They declared their intention to stick around so
Booster groups often were formed as an arm of the team lobbying politicians and voters to pony up for the new facilities.
But in Oakland, only the Raiders want to stay, and no one expects taxpayers to pony up for new sports facilities while the city and Alameda County are still paying $10 million apiece every year on the 1995 stadium bonds that brought the Raiders back from Los Angeles.
Aware that there's no public money left for stadium construction, the A's and Golden State Warriors are intent on moving to wealthier corners of the Bay Area -- the A's to San Jose and the Warriors to San Francisco -- where at least there is more corporate and individual wealth to pay for premium seating.
With Oakland reduced to a fallback option for two of its teams, Save Oakland Sports is trying to pitch the city's and the East Bay's merits to the team owners.
Alameda and Contra Costa aren't the richest counties in the Bay Area, but they are home to Chevron, Safeway, Clorox and Kaiser, Zelinski noted. And they're home to more than 2.5 million residents that have helped all three of Oakland's teams turn a healthy profit.
"Our fundamental goal is to convince the teams that Oakland is the best location," Zelinski said. "If you don't have that you don't have anything."
The group is working to energize the fan base, line up political and business support from throughout the East Bay and encourage politicians to have a plan in place if the teams' plans fall through and they need to give Oakland a second look.
"We feel we can be the glue to get everyone working together," said Chris Dobbins, an Oakland school board member who also sits on the commission that runs the Coliseum complex.
It hasn't been difficult for the group to find political support. Because two of the teams want to move elsewhere and aren't demanding Oakland make financial concessions to keep them, there's no downside for city leaders to say they support keeping the teams.
Potential for success
Oakland already has several fan groups. Baseball Oakland is a grass-roots effort to keep the A's in town, and Let's Go Oakland is a more politically potent outfit that is pushing for the A's to move to the Port of Oakland's Howard Terminal near Jack London Square.
Save Oakland Sports supports any Oakland site that the A's would accept and envisions the Raiders as the anchor of the city's ambitious Coliseum City plan for private investors to pour billions of dollars into transforming the Coliseum site into a sports and entertainment center.
Group leaders have met with county and Raiders officials and are hoping to mobilize the team's worldwide fan base in support of keeping it in Oakland. It's even proposing fundraisers to help raise money for stadiums.
"A cynic might laugh ... but it all adds up," Zelinski said.
Organized fan groups can help save teams, said Neil deMause, a critic of publicly funded stadiums and the author of "Field of Schemes."
"They may not be hugely powerful," he said of the group. "But it's a perfect time to be out there and present ideas for an Oakland stadium that maybe will work."
The group has grown since there were just six of them meeting over coffee at Denny's. It draws about 25 people to its twice monthly meetings and has an email list of more than 3,000.
One of the charter members, Jorge Leon, understands both the value of having a hometown team and the entrenched obstacles to keeping the A's.
As a high school student in Oakland, he counted on help from the Green Stampede, a volunteer organization that takes students to A's games and tutors them before the first pitch.
Leon, who now leads the volunteer organization, is the only Save Oakland Sports member to have had a private audience with A's owner Lew Wolff in the O.co Coliseum's owner's suite. Wolff invited Leon two years ago not long after Leon made headlines for being tossed from the stadium a month earlier for unfurling a banner that read, "Wolff lied. He never tried."
Inside the owner's box, Wolff showed him the plans to keep the team in East Oakland he came up with several years back, but had since discarded.
Leon wasn't buying it, and Wolff apparently didn't take kindly to the skepticism. "He said, 'I'm too old for this,'" Leon recalled. "If you don't want to believe me, don't believe."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.
What: Save Oakland Sports fundraiser
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13
Where: Ricky's Sports Theatre and Grill, 15028 Hesperian Boulevard, San Leandro.