Hello and Welcome to a new feature we’re doing called In Defense Of,where we take a look at something in the world of sports that’s been perceived as questionable and/or wrong and stand up for that particular party,person,or thing.
Since 2000, the Oakland Athletics have had a lot of winning seasons,winning six division titles and making eight postseason appearances. While none of those appearances in the playoffs ended with the A’s winning a World Series,they’ve been touted as the team that does more with less (though if you’ve read what I’ve written about them about that very thing,that’s highly questionable).
What hasn’t improved is the team’s attendance figures. In that same time frame the team finished no better than sixth in American League in terms of overall attendance. In 2009 and 2011, the A’s finished dead last in all of baseball in attendance. If you were to go back even further than 2000, you’d find even worse figures. In 1979, the A’s finished with 306,763 paid customers for the season, an average of 3,787 fans per game. In contrast,their crossbay rivals,the San Francisco Giants, have had it pretty good at the box office. Since AT&T Park opened in 2000,the club has finished no worse than seventh place in the National League in overall attendance. Since 2011, the Giants have sold out every single home game and have been among the top three teams in all of baseball in attendance behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals,respectively.
From the outside looking in,it probably looks like the Giants have a more devoted fan base than the A’s. Giants fans come to games and rock their orange and black while their team wins championships,but only when the good gets going is when you find A’s fans coming out of the woodwork to cheer on their squad.
Today I’m going to do something that,as a longtime Giants fan,I thought I’d never do: Defend A’s fans for why they don’t show up to games.
Reason #1: Oakland Coliseum
Since 1968, the A’s have called the Coliseum home and over time the concrete structure has become old,outdated,and inferior. Not only is it the only stadium in North America that still houses both an MLB team,but also an NFL team, it’s a stadium that looks like a mess. From Mt. Davis in the outfield blocking what were once beautiful views of the Oakland Hills to the tarp covering the entire third deck to the frequent sewage leaks in the dugout and clubhouses, the Coliseum should’ve been demolished at least a decade ago with something new for them and only for them.
Across the bay is AT&T Park where the Giants have called home since 2000. It’s beautiful,it has it’s place among baseball’s best ballparks and is the gold standard for baseball stadiums. The Coliseum,meanwhile,is considered an eyesore,it’s ugly. On the outside it looks like a prison or a parking garage,take your pick. It’s way too big and not the place many A’s fans (or Bay Area baseball fans for that matter) want to go spend three hours and watch a game.
Reason #2: Moneyball
Since Billy Beane took over as general manager of the A’s in 1997, the team has no doubt had success on the field with eight playoff appearances and six division titles. However, Beane has constructed his teams with the littlest of means.
Under the tutelage of his predecessor Sandy Alderson, the A’s, in an effort to slash payroll, began using sabremetric principles to find undervalued players. It’s a method the A’s have sworn by and has led them to moderate success.
However, using sabremetrics has its downfalls. For one, it means players get traded away once they’ve performed well and are coming up for contract extensions. It also means that fans of the A’s don’t have a consistent team to root for year after year. It means that they don’t have a marquee player to latch onto for seasons to come. It also means that fans are less likely to not only come out to a game to watch a team with players they don’t know,it also means they’re less likely yo buy a player’s jersey, it also means they might be less likely to be a fan of that team very much longer (and yes,I do know a few people who were once A’s fans and are now Giants fans. It’s something I frown upon,but I get it).
When players like Josh Donaldson, Josh Reddick,and Yoenis Cespedes are shipped out for prospects,it makes you look like a major league farm team and warrants nicknames like the “Yankees farm team” and the “Triple-A’s.” It also drives fans away from the stadium on game day.
Reason #3: The San Francisco Giants
Part of the reason that A’s fans aren’t showing up to the Coliseum is the San Francisco Giants. Since 2010,the Giants have had baseball’s best success,winning three world championships and building teams that are able to contend every season. With players like Buster Posey,Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford,Brandon Belt, and Joe Panik coming through the Giants’ minor league system, they’ve been a fun group to watch. It’s even fun to see a Madison Bumgarner at-bat. The Giants also have sold out every game at AT&T Park since 2011.
How do the Giants affect the A’s fans not going to see their team play? Well, for starters the Giants have kept the territorial rights to the South Bay that Oakland released to them in the 1990s so the Giants could possibly build a stadium in San Jose. This never happened. Fast forward to recent times and the A’s have hinted at wanting to move to San Jose, but stopping the A’s in their tracks are the South Bay rights the Giants have and won’t release so that the A’s can move down Interstate 880 and possibly call San Jose home.
Basically it comes down to two things: The Giants’ success is making the way the A’s do business look petty and cheap,but at the same time the A’s and their fans feel that being at the Coliseum is not giving them a fair advantage in not only having a fan-friendly place to watch their team play like the Giants have,but also to sign potential free agents that want to come there. As of right now,top players aren’t going there to try and win.
If you’re a fan in the Bay Area who’s just getting into baseball and there’s two teams, one is competitive and winning championships and the other team goes through players faster than the average person goes through shoes, chances are you’re picking the former team,and that team is the Giants.
Reason #4: Lean Years
While the A’s have had recent success winning their division in 2012 and 2013 and being a 2014 Wild Card team, there have been lean years where the A’s have been far from competitive.
During the 2014 season, the A’s traded away fan favorite Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Jon Lester in an effort to try and contend for a championship. It didn’t work and following the season,the A’s either traded away or didn’t re-sign key players (Josh Donaldson,Jeff Samardzija,Lester,among others) from the 2014 team. In 2015,the A’s finished with a 68-94 record.
Before their latest run from 2012-14, the A’s didn’t win any more than 81 games from 2007-11. Attendance figures during that time were at or near the bottom in all of baseball.
I think the main reason that is is because fans are far from interested in watching a losing product on the field with players they don’t know and won’t really get to know because once they’ve performed too well in Oakland,they’ll be on another team. Why spend any money to go to a ballpark to watch a team who’s losing 90 games a year with an ownership group not placing money into the team to put quality players on the field? Not only that,but the good players they do have will more than likely not be there after this season. If I was an A’s fan,I’d pass as well unless someone had tickets they absolutely couldn’t use and I was free to go watch a game. There are other things to go and do besides watch a baseball team that isn’t winning.
Reason #5: Ownership doesn’t care
Honestly,A’s fans,the owners of your team,Lew Wolff and John Fisher don’t give a shit if you come to the ballpark or not. Ann Killion said it best in a 2010 column for Sports Illustrated:
“Wolff’s marketing strategy has been to not so subtly let potential ticket buyers know that they would be foolish to go to games at the rundown Oakland Coliseum…The A’s aren’t just losing their existing fan base and tradition, they’ve lost an entire Bay Area generation.”
It’s become well known that the owners of this team haven’t marketed them very well at all and if you don’t make a good effort to market your team,chances are the fan base isn’t going to build up. Wolff and Fisher seem content to do the bare minimum with this team,not only with the product on the field,but also with marketing and advertising.
Think about it,besides CSN Bay Area and CSN California,where else do you see TV commercials for the A’s? Or even outdoor advertising? How long does it stay up on local billboards before it’s gone?
If ownership spent more money and effort on establishing a proper brand and giving fans a reason to come and watch the A’s,their attendance figures,and profits,may go up and maybe,jusy maybe you don’t lose fans to the team on the foggy side of the Bay.
So there you have it,the reasons I’m in defense of Oakland A’s fans not going to games. Maybe it will change one day when the A’s get a new ballpark in downtown Oakland,only time will tell.