Originally created 12/17/05

A's owners wants to buy expansion team



SAN JOSE, Calif. - The owners of the Oakland Athletics expressed a keen interest Friday in purchasing an expansion franchise from Major League Soccer to quickly return the sport to San Jose.

The owners of the two-time MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes announced Thursday that the franchise will move to Houston before next season, citing money losses and a difficult arrangement with Spartan Stadium in San Jose. Anschutz Entertainment Group repeatedly tried to sell the Quakes to local investors, but couldn't strike a deal.

San Jose could get an expansion franchise as early as 2007, according to MLS commissioner Don Garber, who already agreed to a letter of intent with the city. The new team would retain the Earthquakes' name, colors and history.

Lewis Wolff is the managing partner of the A's ownership group, which includes billionaire investor John Fisher and A's general manager Billy Beane. They purchased the A's on April 1.

"I believe getting involved in another major league sport is a logical addition to our management's skills and interests," Wolff said in a statement. "I am familiar with the San Jose area and consider the community a great sports market."

In an intriguing subplot, San Jose has long been interested in welcoming the A's, who say they need a new, revenue-generating stadium to replace Oakland's aging Coliseum. But Wolff repeatedly has said he will honor the wishes of Major League Baseball, which has ruled the San Francisco Giants have territorial rights to San Jose.

Wolff didn't comment on the possibility of building a soccer-specific stadium in San Jose. Such a project was discussed repeatedly this year, but deals with the city fell apart over funding battles.

In a conference call Thursday, Garber said any expansion team's prospective new owner needed "a stadium plan."

Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, the ownership group of the San Jose Sharks, also entered discussions with AEG about buying the Earthquakes before talks collapsed last weekend. SVSE also could be interested in owning an expansion franchise, president Greg Jamison has said.

After playing the first four MLS seasons as the San Jose Clash, the Earthquakes won MLS championships in 2001 and 2003 with former star forward Landon Donovan. Led by MLS coach of the year Dominic Kinnear, they were among the league's best teams this season before losing to Los Angeles in the Western Conference semifinals.

Kinnear, a Bay Area native, and the players currently under contract are headed to Houston in the deal.