Understanding the markets

Most of you should be pretty familiar with the following map:

This is basically how we in the nine-county Bay Area view ourselves. There are some who consider parts of Marin County essentially an extension of San Francisco, and there are those who consider parts of San Mateo and Alameda Counties to be part of Silicon Valley, making them an extension of the South Bay. Many commuters come from cities like Tracy and Hollister, which are outside these county boundaries. This is the population breakdown by area, based on 2004 estimates:

  • SF/Peninsula (red): 1,443,446
  • North Bay (gray): 1,259,804
  • East Bay (green): 2,464,379
  • South Bay (blue): 1,685,188
  • Total Bay Area Population: 6,852,817

The 6.85 million total puts the Bay Area at #4 in the country among metropolitan areas. For some reason the US Census has chosen to break the Bay Area into two regions, one including only Santa Clara county, and the other including everything else except for Sonoma, Napa, and Solano Counties. If you look at the Bay Area based on that division, the population of the larger area (called SF-Oakland-Fremont) is 5,167,629, while the separate South Bay stays as is. With the split, the SF-Oakland-Fremont area is #12 in the nation, while the South Bay is #28.

If you think that lacks uniformity, take a look at this map showing how MLB has divided the Bay Area with respect to stadium building:

The five orange counties represent Giants territory, while the two green areas represent A’s territory. Not shown is Monterey County, which was up until recently part of the Giants’ territory. Lew Wolff mentioned during his August press conference that Monterey County may be part of the A’s territory, though it’s likely he misspoke – not that anyone’s going to build a ballpark in Carmel or Salinas. The three gray North Bay counties are unassigned. Based on this form of gerrymandering, here are how the individual territories compare to the other California teams’ defined territories in terms of metro population:

  • Giants – 4,039,941
  • A’s – 2,464,379
  • Padres – 2,931,714
  • Dodgers/Angels – 13,723,029 (the two teams share LA, Ventura, and Orange counties)

The A’s territory, while not a result of an equitable split, still compares favorably to Pittsburgh (#20), Tampa-St. Petersburg (#21), and Denver (#22). Yet by limiting the A’s territory to Alameda and Contra Costa counties, it gives the appearance that the East Bay by itself is a small market. But is it?

The problem with this definition of territories is that it makes it appear that residents of one territory do not travel outside their counties to work, shop, or enjoy entertainment such as a baseball game. This is obviously not the case in the Bay Area, where residents are used to driving a half-hour to get to an event, whether it’s held in San Francisco, Oakland, or San Jose. San Jose and Oakland television stations all try to broadcast from towers near San Francisco because Mt. San Bruno’s central location allows them to capture more of the Bay Area. The Giants and A’s draw from all over the Bay Area, though both have entrenched fanbases in their respective communities. Only one conclusion can be made from this analysis:

The Oakland Athletics are not a small market team.

If the A’s aren’t a small market team, what is responsible for the attendance problem? Can it only be blamed on the ballpark?

Next up: A comparison of attendance prior to and following: A) a World Series win, and B) the opening of a new stadium.

Chavez chimes in on ballpark

By now, many of you have already seen yesterday’s article by Joe Roderick in the Merc about third baseman Eric Chavez’s continued puzzlement with the lackluster attendance at the Coliseum. The important thing to note is that Chavez doesn’t blame the fans, he blames the venue.

Chavez has been both praised and criticized for his candor and at times too-honest demeanor, so this should come as no surprise. Consider, for a moment, Chavez’s history. He’s a born-and-bred San Diegan, going far enough to name his newborn son Diego (though the inspiration could have come from Diego Rivera or Maradona instead, I suppose). His ties to the San Diego area are still strong despite the fact that he and his family live in Scottsdale in the offseason. San Diego opened Petco Park last year, leaving Oakland as the only multipurpose facility to host a MLB team in California.

Since the A’s are the only team left in this predicament, it’s almost guaranteed to finish last among the five California teams in attendance every year until a new ballpark is built. Here’s how we can expect them to finish this season based on current totals and per-game averages:

  1. LA Dodgers (#2 in MLB, 3.6 million projected)
  2. LA Angels (#3 in MLB, 3.4 million total – season completed)
  3. SF Giants (#5 in MLB, 3.18 million projected)
  4. SD Padres (#6 in MLB, 2.88 million projected)
  5. Oakland A’s (#19 in MLB, 2.12 million projected)

When the numbers are presented in this manner, the difference between the A’s and the other four teams is stark. I’ll go into this further in the next post.

The Trouble With Transit

There were a slew of articles in the last week about different BART projects and their respective funding difficulties. Here’s a recap:

  • Oakland Airport BART Connector – BART is looking to private sources to build and fund the remainder of the Airport Connector. For now the project is a 3.2-mile people mover or monorail on an elevated track between the Coliseum BART station and Oakland International Airport, with a couple of stops in between along Hegenberger. For whatever reason, federal funds for it were not included in the huge transportation bill passed earlier in the summer. The problem here is that privatizing the connector will increase the cost to riders, to the tune of $5 per ride. The effect on the ballpark project is that this effectively eliminates the connector as an option for service from Coliseum BART to the ballpark development area, due to its cost and the fact that no one is intervening to propose a ballpark development area extension. Just for comparison, it should be pointed out that the current fare from Millbrae to the Coliseum station is $4.65.
  • BART-to-San Jose Extension – VTA just came out with new ridership and cost figures. The cost of the project is now $4.7 billion instead of the $4.2 billion projected in 2003, and ridership estimates are up 33% due to higher density development plans. While the project would mostly be funded by a 1/4-cent sales tax that could go for 25-30 years, VTA is also looking for $973 million in federal funding as well. VTA also revised its service opening date from 2015 to 2018. Should that proceed on schedule, there would be an 7-8 year gap between the opening of a ballpark in downtown San Jose and the start of BART service to the area.
  • BART-to-Warm Springs Extension – The above link also indicates that the Warm Springs extension is dependent on the eventual extension to San Jose, even though Warm Springs would be built first. If WSX doesn’t get built, that’s one selling point Fremont ballpark proponents won’t have at their disposal.

Oddly enough, since none of these projects were being funded in the recent transportation bill, none could be cut or delayed as a result of post-Katrina/Rita cost-cutting efforts.

AP article – little new

An AP article that appears in Saturday’s Chronicle provides another recap of the ballpark situation. Most of it is available in other reports and on this blog as well. There was one new piece of info that I found telling:

Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente said the city is committed to evaluating the potential of the area where the A’s want to build and will dedicate someone to the job but there are many hurdles.

“More than money, there are definitely going to be other issues. You have a lot of challenges in that site but that doesn’t mean that that cannot be done,” De La Fuente said. “We’re going to be working with them and hopefully we’ll arrive to some great solution.”

“Committed to evaluating the potential” and “will dedicate someone to the job” do not sound promising. I understand that both the city and the county are in a budget crunch, but someone should have been steering this in City Hall two weeks ago.

AM ownership chart

To illustrate how difficult it may be to get a quality radio deal, I’ve assembled a chart that lists every Bay Area AM radio station, signal strength, owner, and other information. The stations in gray are not considered likely candidates for the A’s due to existing programming incompatibilities or lack of signal, or previous history. The stations in blue appear to be the best candidates. That isn’t to say it can’t change – the sale of Disney/ABC and Susquehanna stations may alter the local radio landscape significantly. Click on the graphic to download or view a larger version.

An explanation of the data:

  • Power is listed in kilowatts (kW)
  • The FCC has a good explanation of station classes here.
  • Sale pending indicates that the station or its parent company is for sale.
  • Applied “xxkW-Day” or “xxkW-Night” indicates that the station has applied for an approval for signal boost. Because of the various issues involved, changes have to go through a lengthy review and commenting process.

The station candidates:

  • KSFO – Many of you may remember KSFO’s lengthy run as the A’s flagship. That ended when their format switched from oldies to talk. Last year KSFO started broadcasting Raiders games. KSFO may be interested in broadcasting the A’s again, but that would be largely dependent on the sale of station as part of Disney’s radio portfolio. KSFO is managed by KGO’s Mickey Luckoff.
  • Both KNEW-910 and KQKE-960 (formerly KABL) had turns broadcasting the A’s in the recent past. Both received complaints due to their weak signal. Both are owned by Disney and run out of Oakland. Both are also run by former KNBR helmer Bob Agnew. Either could be a candidate for the A’s when the dust settles. KQKE may be more likely due to the financial status of the Air America network.
  • There’s a good chance that KTCT (KNBR-1050) will stay as it is because of the numerous deals KNBR has with local teams. Having two stations reduces the chances of overlapping programming, but it’s also expensive to fill in programming during other hours. The next owner may decide sooner or later to either reprogram or sell KTCT because it’s too expensive to keep the status quo.
  • KNTS is a pretty small station out of the Peninsula. It probably won’t be a player unless they get the FCC’s approval to pump 50,000 watts 24/7. If they do, they’ll move their transmitter to the other side of the bay in Hayward. Right now KNTS is mostly a talk station, but they have the most game broadcasts of any station other than KNBR, which makes them a potentially compelling candidate.
  • KMKY is the Radio Disney station targeted to kids and Disney aficionados. Since the station was more of a constant promotional tool for the mother ship than anything else, it’s likely that the new owner wouldn’t be interested in continuing the same format.
  • In May, Infinity converted former “young country” station KYCY into KYou Radio, the first station in the United States to broadcast podcasts. They ran into some legal difficulty soon after that, but as of now they’re still kicking. Oddly enough, the station accepts podcasts, but does not make podcasts of its broadcasts available to the public . If the experiment fails, Infinity may look to sell since the station historically hasn’t been much of a ratings powerhouse. Infinity also applied for a signal boost and transmitter move to the South Bay.
  • KLIV is a small news station out of San Jose. I can’t see KLIV being a flagship station due to its limited range, but if the A’s wanted to have lower power North Bay and South Bay stations to cover the entire Bay Area, it’s a possibility.

The corporate suitors have some restrictions as dictated by the FCC. The most important one is that no one can own more than 8 stations in the same market or 5 of the same class in a single market. That has forced both Infinity and Clear Channel to make station swaps and sales for the sake of compliance. If one of those behemoths ends up buying either the Disney or Susquehanna properties, one or more stations just might become available. Another company considered a frontrunner is Citadel Broadcasting, which has stations in mostly smaller markets.

Neil Hayes column

Contra Costa Times columnist Neil Hayes has a pretty scathing indictment of the fanbase and the attendance woes in today’s edition. Like Hayes, I don’t have an explanation for it. The worst part of it is that it’s the one negative that the local media immediately latch onto here. I’ve heard comments from Gary Radnich and Raj Mathai, and I had tuned into other local newscasts, I probably would’ve heard the same from their counterparts.

Here’s a different perspective on attendance:

  • The A’s drew 48,203 total during the three-game series against the Twins, including a large number of no-shows on Tuesday night due to the storm remnants that came through the area.
  • The Yankees yesterday drew 50,382 on Wednesday night alone, and have averaged more than 50,000 for the season.
  • The A’s will be down in total season attendance for the second straight season unless they average 40,000 per game for the final seven games of the homestand. I project the final number to be slightly over 2.1 million for the season, which places them 2-5% below either 2004 or 2003 figures.

In attempting to analyze the situation, I posted a diary on Athletics Nation, along with a poll that asks which group is hardest to market to: the casual fan, the fringe hardcore fan, the small business person, or a large corporate entity. Take a look at it and vote. I don’t think the situation can be solved by simply winning a playoff or World Series, or even by building a new ballpark. My feeling is that there needs to be a bigger effort to build the die-hard fanbase along with a push to promote the family experience at the ballpark, which is far underrated and isn’t exploited enough.

Some appear to be either content with or resigned to the idea that the A’s won’t draw more than 2.1-2.2 million per season in the current situation. Frankly, that shows a lack of creativity. There needs to be more done to build the culture that is the A’s fanbase. There are no simple or automatic ways to do this, but it should be what the A’s ownership shoot for. The ownership group can’t be happy with this, and there has to be a renewed focus in the offseason. As clever as the “A’s Brand” ad campaign has been, it’s had a limited effect on attendance. People still come for the usual promotions and giveaways.

Here’s an idea for A’s marketing: Put fans in the ads. Interview the diehards. Have them explain why they love the A’s and the game. Show shots of parents raising their kids to be A’s fans. Do a TV ad of a local East Bay family who has 3 generations of proud A’s fans. Promote the culture. More than any other sport, baseball mines the mythology and history of itself. Sometimes it goes a little overboard in that respect, but there are ways to tap into those emotional links without appearing smug or aggrandizing. There’s room for the A’s Brand campaign as well.

One item from the column that could get easily overlooked: Hayes’ plea for the A’s to invest in their own radio station. With Bob Agnew hinting at changes at KNEW and KQKE, there may be some interesting news about that in the offseason.

News roundup

Some bits of news from here and there….

… but first, I’ve had this asked of me frequently the last couple of weeks, so I should answer it: I haven’t heard anything new regarding stadium plans. In fact, I doubt we’ll hear anything significant for the rest of the regular season, and throughout the playoffs for that matter. November is when the business operations side of the team takes precedence over the baseball side, so we should hear more then. After that, the hot stove league starts going, then the winter meetings, free agent signings and trades, and before you know it, April 1 will be upon us.

Two items from the same Matier and Ross column last Saturday:

  • Ex-KNBR program director Bob Agnew has resurfaced to helm Clear Channel AM stations KNEW-910 (right-wingers) and KQKE-960 (left-wingers). Though both are talk stations, both also have sports programming, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the A’s on one (or even both) stations next season. Now, if you told me in April that Agnew would be fired and would end up with a competing station with the possibility to broadcast A’s games, I know what I would’ve said.
  • Ron Dellums is expected to announce whether he’ll run for the Oakland mayoral position by October 1. The IDLF camp is keeping close tabs on Dellums, who is probably the council president’s only significant opposition right now.

From Reuters: Contrary to my previous update on Susquehanna, buyers for the different media properties (radio/cable) may be chosen by the end of the week.

San Diego and Washington are both mulling over ballpark village projects. San Diego is deciding on tall housing towers, which have their opponents in the project’s nearby neighbor, the Port of San Diego. Washington is still in the conceptual phase, as there’s still disagreement on everything from the orientation of the field to the facade to the height of buildings near the ballpark. Yet the District is contractually obligated to have it open by the beginning of the 2008 season, which is only 29+ months away. Tick tick tick…

That brings us back to the Oakland ballpark situation. If there’s going to be any hope of having a ballpark open by the start of the 2009 season, Oakland officials are going to have to make serious progress on the land acquisition and rezoning effort. It’s going to be much more difficult in Oakland because of the sheer size of the land to be acquired – 100 acres as opposed to only 20 for the DC project and 7 for the remaining San Diego ballpark village land, which has already been acquired but is going through final approval.

Chip Johnson’s column on the Hegenberger Wal-Mart notes that something is being planned for the HomeBase (Coliseum South) location. I’m trying to find out more about this.

Attendance last night was an abysmal 15,262, and don’t think that Wolff, who was in the audience last night, didn’t notice. To reach last season’s attendance total, the A’s will have to average over 34,000 per game for the rest of the homestand. I’m doing my part by going tonight and I’m bringing coworkers tomorrow for an “offsite team building session.” People, let’s get out there!