Blips and trends
A popular refrain is emerging from the Oakland-only camp, in which the A’s should stay in Oakland because the team’s playoff run, thereby proving that the team can be competitive in Oakland. During the Wheelhouse today, Greg Papa and John Lund mentioned Chris Townsend’s argument that Wolff could go to Selig and the owners and claim, “This is as good as it gets, now let me move the team.” Both arguments are guilty of the most shallow, gut-reaction analysis and are as strong as a wet paper bag. In fact it was Papa who, when Lund asked him if the A’s resurgence changes the equation in any way, correctly pronounced that this season is meaningless in terms of the Oakland/San Jose debate because it doesn’t take into account the big picture.
The fatal flaw with the Oakland-only argument is that they’re arguing against something that wasn’t ownership’s argument to begin with. One season is an outlier, an anomaly. It may start a trend of great success, which would in turn engender greater fan support, which would be great if that happened. If the team can continue to be successful, if it can get season ticket subscriptions past 10,000 for next season, then there’s a very good argument that the fanbase can not only support the team by the loudness of their voices, but also by their sheer numbers. The success may also be a blip, in the way that success couldn’t be sustained over multiple or even consecutive years. No owner, no matter how much he spends on payroll, can guarantee playoff appearances let alone championships, every single year. To expect that of any owner is wholly unrealistic.
Ownership’s argument about moving to Silicon Valley’s better economic environment has always been about being able to sustain a competitive team. Any team can be successful for a year – Oakland and Baltimore this season are testaments to that kind of randomness. It takes incredible skill, luck, and just as important, money to sustain success. Anyone who has been a lifelong fan of A’s baseball has seen this play out several times. Over their 45 years in Oakland, the A’s have lost Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson (twice), Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, the Big Three, and most recently Gio Gonzalez because of ostensibly economic reasons. No ownership group was immune from this inevitability, including the great Walter Haas. If the A’s don’t have a ballpark deal in place the next couple of years, guess who’s going to join that illustrious list? Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, they of the nearly 8 fWAR combined this season. They’re both young, cost-controlled, and will net significant young assets in trade.
Now maybe there’s a legitimate economic argument to keep the A’s in Oakland. If there is, it needs to involve vastly improving season tickets and FTEs (full-season equivalents) past that 10k figure. The Giants are flirting with 30k season tickets thanks to their ballpark and World Series win. The A’s don’t need to match that number, but they need to get to something approaching 20k if anyone wants to take them seriously, whether they’re talking Oakland or San Jose. The thing that is killing the A’s right now is the major swings in attendance. Sure, we can pull in a full house for a Star Wars fireworks night, or what appeared to be 27k for last night’s wild card game clincher. The problem is that the baseline attendance is that season ticket/advance sales figure, which absent of promotions or giveaways hovers around the 10k level. Last night the paid attendance was 21k, including 5,000 walkups. The crowd looked fuller, which can be explained several ways:
- $10 Plaza Level/Outfield seats from the night’s Dynamic Deal
- Much of the Field Level outfield seats taken by season ticket holders who redeemed unused tickets for the last available, designated home date for exchanges. Those tickets count as comps, not as new paid admissions. (thanks to Lone Stranger for that observation)
- Great weather inviting more people out to the yard on a warm, indian summer night
- A meaningful game against a division rival
That said, the 27k I cite is just an estimate based on previous observations of crowds. The Coliseum’s capacity is 35,077. So why wasn’t it completely full? Well, you can’t count on 15k walkups for an A’s game at the Coliseum, no matter how good the team is. Where were all the empty seats, then? Take a look…
No discounts were available for the Plaza Reserved tier, though the A’s will frequently fill the deck when discounts are made. Tonight a similar Dynamic Deal to last night’s was made available. Couple that with the ritual free parking on Tuesdays, and it’s easy to see the announced attendance tonight being 28-30k. These loud, and potentially sizable crowds don’t prove anything other than that people will come out to see a good A’s team when the conditions and price are right. To prove that the market is viable will take a much greater commitment among the fanbase. Don’t call a blip a trend, Start a trend. Without that measurable improvement, that greater commitment, there’s really no discussion to be had.
P.S. – Tomorrow I’ll discuss a way to make improve attendance and renew fan goodwill. Yes, it will involve removing tarps.