2013: Time for some tarp removal

It all started as an experiment in forced scarcity. The reasoning: to create a more intimate environment for fans. Instead of improving the atmosphere, the tarps on the old upper deck have become a symbol of the great philosophical divide between A’s ownership and A’s fans. Ownership made the change to better control staffing levels and associated costs. They wanted to get fans accustomed to a two-deck ballpark concept that they were hoping to transition to in a few years. We’ve now had six seasons with the tarps on the upper deck with no ballpark forthcoming. A few changes were made over the years:

  • 2009: All You Can Eat sections introduced for 316-318
  • 2010: AYCE sections converted into Value Deck, where all tickets include $6 of food/merchandise credit

Regardless of the changes, fans looked at the installation of the tarps as a change done to spite the fanbase or drive down attendance. While the former is more of an emotional argument that can’t be proved, the attendance effects can’t be argued. Over the years, some of the youth culture that liked to hang out in the upper deck were displaced. They didn’t relocate to the Plaza Reserved level en masse. Some of the heartier types went to the bleachers. Many just left.

(One side effect of the current layout is how much more cramped the Coliseum is for fireworks shows. My friends and I got in line for the grass far too late sit there, and ended up sitting in the lower deck. Since so many sold seats face away from the display, those fans are forced to move down to the field or relocate elsewhere in the stadium to properly view the show.)

As the two sides remained divided over swaths of vinyl, the team on-the-field suffered through fits and starts trying to rebuild the roster, with seemingly endless cycles of player development followed by heartbreaking trades.

All that brings us to today, where a resurgent A’s franchise is showing great improvement on the field and steady improvement at the gate. The tarps haven’t changed season ticket and advance sales in any meaningful way. Whatever data the business side wanted to gather from this scarcity experiment is probably in a large enough sample to make some sort of declaration or judgement about the upper deck. Any revenue potential for ads on the tarps evaporated as they became enormously unpopular. The limited availability Value Deck has settled in as a popular, affordable seating option.

Come 2013, it should be time to turn the page. The tarps can come down permanently. That would add 11,000 seats back to the Coliseum, bringing its capacity to 46,000 – too large for a ballpark. However, the Plaza Reserved (East Side Club) could be closed in conjunction, removing 3,000 seats from inventory. That puts the capacity at 43,000, which is still rather large for MLB but sufficient for the premium games. Use of Plaza Reserved has always struck me as backwards if the aim is to improve the fan experience. Sight lines are terrible because of the cut-off outfield, and the tier is all in the outfield, so it’s not particularly close to the action. It requires its own security and concessions staffing, as well as its own restrooms. The club behind the seats is typically underutilized during the baseball season, only coming into play for special functions such as the Root Beer Float Day.

Tarps extending from Section 316 out along the original upper deck

Chances are that Wolff and Crowley (who originated the tarp idea) will stick with the status quo, since they’re already made the investment. But there is a third way that ownership could move that makes sense for both fans and ownership. The idea involves removing tarps on 12 additional sections in the upper deck (310-315, 319-324), adding 4,600 seats in the process. If those sections are added and Plaza Reserved is closed, the offset is a net 1,600 seats, bringing the Coliseum’s capacity to 36,600. That’s roughly the minimum that MLB supposedly wants for the next A’s stadium, so the change adds seats while retaining some level of scarcity. It also works from a staffing standpoint, since the “new” sections are accessed from the upper concourse. That allows the use of the same concession stands, restrooms, ramps, and elevators. The minimal security used for Plaza Reserved can be brought to the upper deck, so no change there. Sightlines will be better compared to Plaza Reserved, and some of that feel of the old upper deck can start to come back, even if part of the tier remains cordoned off or tarped.

Whether we’re talking about the 36,600 or 43,000-seat alternatives, either one is much better than the status quo. One of the problems with dealing with MLB or other pro sports leagues is that the leagues often mandate a single fixed capacity per year. The A’s aren’t allowed to remove and replace tarps on a per-game or per-series basis, which is why you get the same capacity for Giants or Yankees games as you would vs. the Royals or Rays. That rule is unlikely to change, so the A’s should consider taking at least a conciliatory step (or half-step) towards addressing the real problems caused by the existing seating configuration. No, it’s not going to suddenly convert those who have a deep-seated hatred towards Wolff/Fisher/Crowley. What it can’t do is degrade the experience any further. It might actually help. It’s worth some consideration.

 

45 thoughts on “2013: Time for some tarp removal

  1. It’s really less about the scarcity at this point and more about the money. Those are the cheapest seats in the house and aren’t going to net them much money. In fact, it may cost them quite a bit because they not only have to staff a largely empty space, but people are already purchasing the cheapest tickets and performing a free seat upgrade. The only reason the value deck works at all is because they’re right behind home plate. They’re not going to want to go back to the daily “do we staff the sections or not” game and the amount of money that costs them. While the scarcity issue may have been one of the driving forces/arguments behind the tarps in the first place, it’s not the key thing keeping them up.

  2. Hearing reports on 95.7 that the A’s and the Coliseum Authority are in talks to extend the Coliseum lease for five years, leaving them in Oakland until 2018 at least

  3. I love third deck, and would love to see some removal of some tarps. I can’t remember off the top of my head, would removal of those few sections allow for stair access to the second deck concession/restroom area? One of the things I dislike about value deck is having to use the ramp to go down for better concessions.

  4. @daveybaby – the very ends of 310 and 324 could have stair access to the plaza concourse if it was allowed.

  5. Personally, I’ve never minded the tarps. I think it’s a slight improvement having them compared to a nearly empty 3rd deck. In any case, it’d be nice if they put some eye candy on the tarps instead of the solid green. I’d like to see projected dynamic images. But, whatever. Remove them. Let the anti-tarp fans get what they want.

    Anyone going to today’s game? I took the day off; never seen a clinching game.

  6. Seems a reasonable idea. And frankly on that makes a lot more sense than those horrible plaza reserved seats ever did.

  7. Long before Wolff/Fisher the A’s wanted tarps, after they lost their fight to prevent the Mt. Davis renovations. They couldn’t find material that would withstand the wind, etc., up there. New technology, I guess, became available. Perhaps in the 90s, the A’s wanted to tarp only the east-side monstrosity itself, which is a pretty good idea, if they can keep the fabric taut and scrub off the guano. It’s not a bad place for that big A’s emblem.
    .
    Now it’s time to open up the rest of the upper deck. The one section that is open, the feed-your-face slice of the upper deck, over home plate, is actually a decent place to watch a game. In the old days, when Little League night at the park got assigned upstairs seats, that spot was preferred. Farther down the lines the upper deck’s not ideal; but for playoff baseball, as part of a 50K or more crowd? Those seats would be just fine.
    .
    Back in December who would’ve foreseen meaningful games in Oakland in September? As to October–right. Million to one. What a season.

    • Back in December who would’ve foreseen meaningful games in Oakland in September?As to October–right.Million to one.What a season.

      Is XS becoming an A’s fan? /gasp ;)

  8. I’ve always liked the A’s. Back in the early 80s, I used to BART to the $2 LF bleacher seats and watch RHenderson steal bases. Of course, the Giants would be out of town on those days . . . .

  9. This isn’t a popular view, but I strongly believe that the fully untarped, 46,000Kish capacity stadium is a safety issue. As a teenager, I was part of the young, boisterous upper-deck crowd ML’s post refers to, about 5-10 games per summer. I was at a game when a guy in a seemingly vacant upper-deck section dropped a firecracker down into the lower levels.

    Imagine you’re a partial or full-season ticket holder who makes high-five figures, or low six. You bring your family of four to a game in a lower level seat, and then a firecracker drops from the upper deck right next to you. Is that guy gonna renew his season ticket package next year? It makes more sense to protect his safety than it does to accommodate the rowdy, $2 walk-up ticket fan, doesn’t it?

    This website has linked to an article on Deadspin where camera crews caught couples in empty, cavernous stadiums canoodling (use your imagination) in the upper deck.

    In both examples, the team doesn’t want that kind of activity at their park. And having a wide-open, difficult-to-supervise upper deck inarguably makes that type of activity more likely.

    The issue of safety should probably at least be mentioned any time we discuss the tarps and their effect. And the trouble with safety is sometimes we don’t notice it or appreciate it until we finally have something disastrous happen. Getting hit with a firecracker at a game would definitely qualify.

    I can still buy walk-up tickets to almost any game I want all season long, and I feel safe at the Coliseum. Because of those things, I see no reason to complain about the tarps.

    (My Coliseum complaining relates to soft drinks with no lids, and ketchup stands that inevitably never have any ketchup).

  10. @xootsuit the original plan was tarps on the top of Mt Davis. The concept art that accompanied the 1996 schedule had tarps on the structure.

  11. Zachary: I know some people who were deeply involved in the legal wrangling between the various parties to the Mt. Davis deals. Those people told me about the difficulties encountered in finding suitable tarp material then.

  12. Will the tarps be removed for the postseason?

  13. Keep the tarps on the sections that mark the years with World Championships and open the rest. Tarp the plaza reserved.

  14. ML the 43,000 option makes sense. The third deck is superior to the plaza outfield. Get rid of the tarps and, if necessary for security, rope off the sections that aren’t sold.

    Combined with an improvement to the concessions (Peet’s or Peerless Coffee, Everett and Jones Barbeque, Grilled dollar dogs on the third deck, souvenir soda on the third deck), removing the tarps would do much to reclaim good will from the fans. Okay, the American League West Division Championship has already reclaimed the largest portion of good will from the fans.

  15. I believe Dodger and Angel Stadiums sell each section one at a time, and will not let fans move into unsold sections. The A’s used to kick me out when I was a kid and would go up to Section 300 with no one there. Why can’t they just do that?

  16. At a minimum, untarp enough of the third deck to get rid of the plaza bleachers… Even if it keeps the capacity at 35,000ish. Those seats are at least meant for baseball.

  17. The A’s ownership desperately needs some positive PR. Untarp the seats and let’s see if the seats sell out. Otherwise it’s the big bad owner screwing Oakland again. Seems like more and more people are jumping on that bandwagon lately.

  18. I see myself in your pic :)

  19. Heard Papa on the radio today. Still harping on the tarps, stadium, ownership, and even management saying that the only credit was to the players (without naming any particularly). He has some serious issues with the A’s, yet when it comes to the Gnats, he knows everything about them including the ideal candidiate to close, go to the 7th or 8th inning….jeez!

  20. Bay Area writers are bored today. I’ve read two nothing articles about the possibility of a 2012 Bay Bridge World Series. Thinking realistic, you know the Coliseum will be packed with Giants fans. I can live with that, but it’s an unfortunate reality. If the tarps come down for the WS, it’ll only amplify their presence.

  21. pretty amazing to me that a guy who wants to invest $500M of private money and build a ballpark in an area that can support this level of investment so our beloved A’s can stay in the Bay Area is getting any flack whatsoever—what other current owner in all of sports has done the same thing?

    I also find the tarp issue a joke–how many games did we sell out this year–maybe 4—and on average there were 15k empty seats a night–

    Finally, besides a few bay area sports writers who continually play the victim card for Oakland I dont find alot of dislike of LW or JF among A’s fans—most, like me, want a new ballpark and increased revenue streams—these guys just happen to have a way to get their message out their but it doesn’t mean they are the majority

  22. agreed that the tarps with the ws years should remain and remove the other ones.

  23. I’d like to see the A’s celebrate their division and league championships on the tarps.

  24. “I dont find alot of dislike of LW or JF among A’s fans’
    That’s hard to believe. There is a reason ESPN rankings had this ownership as one of the worst (they work for the Giants, too?) The perception is DEFINITELY out there, right or wrong.

    • “I dont find alot of dislike of LW or JF among A’s fans’
      That’s hard to believe. There is a reason ESPN rankings had this ownership as one of the worst (they work for the Giants, too?) The perception is DEFINITELY out there, right or wrong.

      Yes, because ESPN knows all about the A’s fanbase… /rolleyes

  25. Some interesting tidbits on tix prices for the playoffs (http://blog.tiqiq.com/2012-mlb-playoff-ticket-price-breakdown/):

    Average home price (*= if necessary)
    Oakland-$192.03
    Detroit-$148.25
    San Francisco-$228.23
    Cincinnati-$215.73
    Washington-$189.53
    New York-$226.45
    Atlanta-$93.51*
    St. Louis-$130.35*
    Baltimore-$188.29*
    Texas-$158.05*

  26. If you don’t think there is discontent among a sizable portion of A’s fans, concerning this ownership group, well, it’s your world…

    • If you don’t think there is discontent among a sizable portion of A’s fans, concerning this ownership group, well, it’s your world…

      No one said there wasn’t any discontent, just that most do not care and (rightfully) concentrate on the team. If you pro-Oaklanders want to spin it any other way, that’s your perogative….

  27. SF charges more than the Yankees?! Wow. Those are interesting numbers.

  28. division champions, would there be enough room? amazing that the 2012 al west division is the 15th time the a’s have won the western division which is about doubled the amount of the nearest competitor. the history the a’s franchise both in oakland and in their whole history has been severely undertilized in showing the a’s franchise as a whole is one of the most storied in baseball.

    wherever a new park is built and believe and have always believed both in the up and down moments in the past years that it’ll eventually be in sj, hopefully the a’s org starts doing a better job of relaying their great history to the general population. retiring #s of some of the great a’s players of the past like foxx, simmons, grove, cochrane, and others would be a good start.

  29. Discontent without emotional investment, huh? We can agree to disagree.

  30. My face value for the ALDS section 118 is $28. My father in laws face value for his NLDS Giants tickets in an equivalent section is $50. For the League Championship it’s $50 vs. $130. World Series is $200 vs $250.

  31. My face value for the ALDS section 118 is $28. My father in laws face value for his NLDS Giants tickets in an equivalent section is $50. For the League Championship it’s $50 vs. $130. World Series is $200 vs $250.

  32. Lew is getting obliterated over at SFGate. Is he just stubborn or oblivious to PR?

  33. eb, dude… c’mon. He’s proven PR is not his strong suit. I tend to agree with folks who are skewering him. At least as far as he is a figure head for the inept marketing/PR crew that is the Oakland Athletics management.

  34. ps- reading comments at sfgate is bad for one’s sanity.

  35. For the most part, I’ve agreed with many of the decision made by ownership, but their latest decision not to remove at least a portion of the tarps has me shaking my head. What the hell is wrong with you people?!!! Here’s your chance to make available thousands of seats to potential new A’s fans, captivated by the teams success, and instead of allowing them in your front door, you slam the door in their faces. PR blunders like this is why you never catch a break with the local media, and you know they are going to run with this one.
    .
    As far as I’m concerned, the damage has been done. Even if they were to change their minds at this point and remove the tarps for the ALDS, their initial decision shows they just don’t get it, and I wonder if they ever will. They had a chance to seize upon the excitement and really make this something special, but instead, they managed to piss fans off even more.
    .
    A word of advice to Mr. Fischer and Mr. Wolff, for the next week or two, put San Jose aside. Don’t think about what the Coliseum will look like, or sound like, just allow your fans the opportunity to experience this magical ride.

  36. @eb I’m asking myself the same question. Wolff may be bad at PR, but what about the people surrounds himself with? I just don’t get it.

  37. @fc: great, great point. Well put.

  38. One other thing for Wolff: Let Billy do the talking-
    .
    “Say what you want about this place, but when you get a day like today, this is as tough a place to play for an opposing team as any place in baseball,” Beane said. “I was looking at the crowd. This stadium is very special. Today was special. We had another player out there. Even when we were down 5-1, I thought we were going to win.”
    .
    That is the classiest thing anyone has said about the coliseum in a long time and it’s the approach they A’s should have been taking from the beginning.

  39. @Jeffrey Seriously. Why is it so hard? I’m just asking for a little more respect. It’s for his own good!

  40. I’m amazed the tarps are remaining for the playoffs, in spite of the greatly increased demand.
    .
    Sure, when the A’s were drawing 15,000 a night during the regular season, the validity of having the tarps is obvious.
    .
    But when you’re turning away paying customers? C’mon.
    .
    Also, it’s inarguable that doing so alienates the fan base.
    .
    It’s sad, because it’s a missed opportunity, not only for short term increased revenue streams, but for just creating a good feeling among the fan base and media. Wouldn’t a full, tarpless, coliseum look great? It would certainly garner more positive media attention, and draw the attention of more casual fans.
    .
    Instead, we get ownership turning fans away. And this isn’t going to help the way to San Jose. If Bud Selig is “working the room” for votes in the Lodge, this turning fans/paying customers away is going to turn off a lot of the other owners, as in “WTF? Why should we overturn Trights for this guy who is turning away fans?”.
    .
    I’m very disappointed in Lew Wolff.

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