Last night’s crowd

When the weather turns bad, it makes hard core night (Mondays) seem like a piece of cake.

From Chris Townsend's (@townsendradio) Twitter feed last night

The announced paid attendance was 10,670. Obviously the number of people that actually showed up was only a small fraction of that. Blame it on a number of things: rain, ownership, team, stadium, whatever. The real implications of something like this happening are that teams lose money and fanbases look bad. 8,000 no-shows equates to $100,000 in lost concessions revenue. The walk-ups that didn’t occur and the parking passes that weren’t sold also add up. And it makes us look like we’re a bunch of fair weather fans, literally. Are we? I’ll be there today.

One other thing – Tuesday’s are pretty much out for me, so yes, I was secretly rooting for a rainout so that I could see a double-dip today.

Opening Day or Night?

I put out a couple of questions on Twitter, and I figured I should have the conversation here as well.

and…

The way the schedule is currently formatted, with the season starting on Wed-Fri and ending on Wed, it’s practically impossible to schedule a Sunday opener. This format is fairly new, so if MLB were to go back to starting on Sun-Tue and ending on Sun, there might be an opportunity for a day opener. Cincinnati used to always have the first game of the season, sometimes on a Sunday, almost always a day game before everyone else as a nod to Cincy being the most senior of senior league franchises.

Lone Stranger replied to my second question, saying, “Anything earlier than 6pm or so would need to be near people who can leave work early and still see first pitch. i.e. Downtown.” Other responses to the two questions were mixed, some citing favorable weather for day games, others wanting a night game as a better chance for a sellout.

FWIW, The Giants have done day openers going back to their days at the ‘Stick.

News for 9/26/11

Haven’t done one of these for a while. Good links in here.

  • Governor Jerry Brown will, in fact, sign that LA football stadium bill. Guess he’s not such a sports hater after all. /s
  • The Merc’s Mike Rosenberg profiles Jack Hill, the Texas guy who gets things built. What things? Cowboys Stadium and American Airlines Center to name two.
  • At Grantland, Malcolm Gladwell juxtaposes the NBA’s talk of financial ruin with the Nets/Atlantic Yards deal.
  • According to Biz of Baseball’s Rob Smith, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg needs a stalking horse to get the ball rolling on a new ballpark in Tampa-St. Pete.
  • Bleacher Report’s Brandon McClintock has his own debate about what the Willingham situation means for the A’s.
  • The NY Times reports that there are red flags over Cal’s ability to pay for the Memorial Stadium makeover.
  • As the season ends, Bryan Stow is getting better.
  • Oakland Unified School District plans to close as many as 13 schools by the end of the school year, and up to 30 more over the next two years.
  • Yesterday’s sellout crowd of 61,546 at the Coliseum was the largest for a Raiders home game in two years (via CSN’s Paul Gutierrez).
  • Also in the NY Times is an article that asks if we are in a new dead ball era.
  • Rangers Ballpark finished the season with 228 home runs hit there, leading baseball. The Coliseum had 109.
  • San Rafael approved a deal to bring a North American League club to the city’s Albert Park.
  • It’s worth checking out Merc writer Dan Brown’s chat segment about Moneyball.
  • There is expected to be a press conference today in Seattle to announce the 2012 opening series between the A’s and M’s in Japan.
  • Added 6:22 PM – The NY Mets know how to play the T-rights game too, having denied the Yankees’ request to temporarily host their AAA affiliate in Newark, NJ for a year while their permanent home in Scranton-Wilkes Barre is renovated.

I’ll add more if I see anything else worth mentioning.

Can’t give these tickets away

The Merc’s Daniel Brown wrote a bleak article on A’s attendance, grabbing a few choice quotes from Andy Dolich and A’s sales/marketing veep Jim Leahey. Dolich reflected on how the Coliseum used to be packed during the Bash Brothers era, and pointed a finger at how ownership’s constant desire to move out of Oakland has hurt attendance.

“Really, it just made me sad,” he said. “There was a time – and it’s getting harder for people to remember – when the Coliseum was the place to be. It was the Giants who were an afterthought. It was the Giants who were playing in a dump and waiting for high-profile opponents to come into town. It’s completely flipped.”

There are also the numerous things done over the years that have effectively reduced the team’s exposure over time.

  • Closure of A’s Clubhouse stores (ca. 2000)
  • Consistent difficulty in getting a decent radio deal in place (not really ownership’s fault)
  • Elimination of Fanfest
  • Tarping off the third deck
  • No improvements to the Coliseum other than visual changes (vinyl signage)

Of course, there are cases like the Tampa Bay Rays, where $35 million of improvements were made that – even when combined with a winning ballclub – had very little effect on attendance. Sometimes a dump is a dump, and a competitive situation with the Giants only highlights the dumpiness. The A’s are really getting left behind due to their stadium malaise, and nothing’s gonna change as long as the Coliseum is home.

Brown also lists all of the promotions being offered just for the upcoming nine-game homestand.

  • Tuesday vs. Florida: Free Parking Tuesday.
  • Wednesday vs. Florida: $2 Wednesday.
  • Thursday vs. Florida: Root Beer Float Day and Free Hot Dog Thursday.
  • Friday vs. Arizona: Friday Family Pack.
  • Saturday vs. Arizona: Fireworks Night (watch from field).
  • Sunday vs. Arizona: None.
  • July 4 vs. Seattle: Fourth of July Visor giveaway.
  • July 5 vs. Seattle: Free Parking Tuesday.
  • July 6 vs. Seattle: $2 Wednesday.

This actually leads me to wonder if there are too many different types of promotions and discounts. It sure doesn’t look like Free Parking Tuesdays has any great effect on attendance. The novelty for BART Dollar Wednesdays, which was strong a decade ago, has thoroughly worn off. The Yankees, Giants, and to a lesser extent, the Red Sox bring in other teams’ fans. Fireworks nights bring in casual fans and families. Giveaways are great to bump up paid attendance, but take a look at the steady stream of “fans” leaving the Coliseum on the BART ramp before the first pitch is thrown and tell me that it helps in terms of real fan support. Would the A’s be better served by across-the-board ticket price drops? Would it even matter?

Blame it on the rain

Lately baseball writers have been looking far and wide to figure out what is keeping fans away from ballparks this year. Poor weather is the most often blamed culprit, thanks to 30-and-counting rainouts this season, 9 more than the entire total in 2010. Frank McCourt is also shouldering much of the blame, since the malaise hovering over the Dodgers is driving fans away from Chavez Ravine. Worse, the optics of ballparks with much worse (unannounced) turnstile counts than ticket sales makes the problem that much more apparent.

MLB isn’t alone in this regard. The NFL posted two straight annual attendance declines before bouncing back last year. NBA attendance has been flagging while the NHL has surged post-lockout. With the economy still spotty in many places, on-site pro sports consumption is considered something of a luxury for many consumers, making long-term commitments a tough sell in tough times.

We’re just past the quarter pole of the season, so I figured it was a good time to take a look at this. I’ve sampled off attendance statistics throughout the league, cutting off the last two seasons at May 20, 2010 and yesterday, respectively. The high number of rainouts this year and the generally irregular nature of the schedule makes it difficult to get a completely even comparison, so this was as close as I could get. While the Dodgers are the obvious trending team, when you look at the table below you might see something different.

Gains for last year’s two World Series participants, Texas and San Francisco, have more than made up for the Dodgers’ decline. In fact, the top five gainers have surpassed the losses incurred by the top five losers. Yet league attendance has gone down nearly 1% per game. The Dodgers are part of the economic foundation of the league, and once McCourt is rightfully ousted and a another owner enters the picture, the team’s attendance will be well on its way to recovery. So what’s the real problem?

If anything, the problem is the number of no-shows. Only the league and the teams know the actual number of people entering each stadium. If the announced crowd is double that of the actual number of people who show up, that could add up hundreds of thousands lost each game in terms of concessions and merchandise revenue. Take the A’s, for instance. The last two crowds were announced to be over 10,000, even though it was abundantly clear that far less than 10,000 were present. 5,000 no-shows x $10 per fan spent = $50,000. The A’s are used to this, so they staff accordingly for it and make it up on the back end thanks to revenue sharing. On the other hand, the Dodgers might have as many as 20,000 no-shows for a home date. 20,000 no-shows x $10 per fan spent = $200,000, and that might be conservative. Get 50 home dates like that, and suddenly the Dodgers have lost $10 million over the course of the season. If there’s anything that should provide impetus for Bud Selig to act on getting the Dodgers settled ASAP, that’s it.

As for the weather, that’s going to remain a tricky issue as the season progresses. The May 11 A’s-Rangers rainout had only one realistic makeup date thanks to complexities within the schedule. That date was July 7, which was confirmed earlier this week. Since teams can’t play more than 20 dates in a row and off days are scheduled to prevent that, putting a makeup date in one of those late season off days creates a risk of playing that kind of really long streak. The unbalanced schedule doesn’t help either because there’s no guarantee that one team will play an interdivisional opponent late in the season in a way that a makeup game can be accommodated. Worse, rainouts that are made up the following day as part of a doubleheader aren’t counted as part of attendance, which makes them a net loss on their own. Teams in the Midwest and East Coast are going so far as to preemptively postpone games, with upset fans reporting that the actual conditions at the cancelled game time weren’t as bad as feared.

We could run into a situation in which this season, which is to end on a Wednesday (September 28), may be strung out one or two days later to properly account for all teams in contention fulfilling a 162-game schedule. That would incredibly ironic because this season started on March 31/April 1 to ensure that the regular season part ended early and the postseason wouldn’t stretch too far into November. Looks like Selig and the competition committee might run into a solution for the rainouts that doesn’t solve their postseason problem. Maybe Selig is looking forward to a prolonged NFL lockout, which would cause MLB to be the only major pro sport on broadcast TV come November (NBA/NHL are relegated to cable then, and the NBA may also be in a lockout).

48 hours and a bobblehead

On Saturday I sat in section 130. This was the crowd during the game.

For today’s game I sat in my regular Value Deck seat in section 317. This was the crowd as the A’s took the field just before first pitch.

The announced paid crowd was 9,193, easily the smallest crowd of the season so far. The actual number of in-house attendees may have been as few as half that number. The unusual wraparound series configuration and the 12:35 getaway day start time both conspired to depress attendance for today’s tilt. It also didn’t help that unlike the previous three games in the series, there were zero promotional ties or giveaways for this game.

I fear that this upcoming Cleveland series will also fare poorly in terms of attendance. A friend from NYC is in town on business this week, and I got two $2 seats for Wednesday’s game. The game was not on my original schedule, and I have no idea if we’ll actually be able to go. Still, it was just a $4 expenditure at the box office, so no big deal, right? (Note: Plenty of $2 tickets remain for Wednesday night.) That absurdly high availability and cheapness of A’s tickets is a double-edged sword. It’s great for those of us who want to go at a moment’s notice. It’s not great for the A’s and it definitely doesn’t impress MLB.

As much as I want a beautiful new ballpark for the A’s, I’ll miss the “no big deal” accessibility of the A’s and the Coliseum right now. Actually, no I won’t. As amusing as it was to hear Grant Balfour swear (yeah, everyone heard it) after missing his spot on yet another pitch, I’d rather have a bigger crowd. And frankly, we shouldn’t need bobbleheads to get people to come out – many of whom only show up to get the swag and leave.

One thing I saw in the stands gave me a little hope. An (East) Indian man and his young son sat a row below me. They were immigrants. The son was wearing a rugby shirt. The kid loved baseball. His dad was doing his best to stay interested. The kid watched every pitch and was with the wedding-white-clad warriors the whole way. After Godzilla’s walkoff blast, I ran down the aisle and high-fived the father and son and everyone else within reach, which wasn’t a big deal because there were only eight people in the vicinity. I don’t know how the boy started loving the game, I just love how he and has were trying. Despite the lack of a crowd or a roster full of stars, we got a new fan. Hopefully for life. Hopefully, a lot more just like him soon.

Phil Taylor on Mr. T & Byrnes show

New KNBR host Eric Byrnes filled in for Ralph Barbieri on the blowtorch’s afternoon drivetime show on Thursday. Byrnes and Tom Tolbert interviewed SI’s Phil Taylor, who is writing a feature for the magazine on how difficult it is to be an A’s fan amidst the Giants’ recent success (sounds like a must-read). The interview can be found here (MP3). The arguments coming from the three participants are familiar, and rather than selectively quoting them I suggest that you listen to the whole thing and then come back here and comment if you feel like it. The best comments will be excerpted and placed in this post.

It’s up to the fans

Trib reporter Angela Woodall’s writeup of the Keep the A’s in Oakland tailgate ends with the following quote by Let’s Go Oakland’s Doug Boxer:

“Now it’s up to the fans.”

He’s absolutely right. It is up to the fans. It has always been up to the fans. If the A’s had 34,000 – heck, 30,000 – filled seats every night, there would be no question as to whether or not the A’s could and should stay in Oakland. It’s really that simple. 30,000 a night would show that there were enough season tickets, walkup sales, suite and club buys to make it work. That is the challenge. That is why the question exists.

We can go on all day and night about ownership, or marketing, or the stadium, or a roster without huge stars. What about the fact that the team we love is the Oakland Athletics? Our team. Our passion, which for me has been for 30 years, for the guy sitting next to me tonight at least a decade more. If – and this is a big if – MLB’s process is legitimate, there’s a very simple way to prove that the fanbase here is that rabid.

I’ll gladly trade a little elbow room for some butts in seats. After all, there’s no passion in an empty chair.

News for 3/24/11

Quick housekeeping note: If you were not aware, this blog is a self-hosted WordPress site. Ever since I moved to this platform in November 2009 after years with Blogger, I have been astonished at the rapid pace of third party development for WordPress. One feature came out today in the form of a server-side plugin called Onswipe, which can automatically reformat any WordPress site into an iPad/touch-friendly format. If you’ve used iPad apps such as Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite, you’ll feel right at home. Here’s a screenshot:

If you have an iPad, your browser (Safari) will show this version of the site automatically. I’m going to leave it up for now, but if any iPad users would prefer to go back to the original version of the site with the sidebars, I’ll heed your words. No other browsers or platforms should be affected. If you are, let me know in the comments. I’ve experimented with a mobile version of the site, but I’ve chosen not to launch it because nobody’s asked for it, so I didn’t want to penalize readers who are happy with the full site on their smartphones, etc.

Now the news:

Evan Weiner has a good overview of how the landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986 impacted the ways stadiums and arenas could be financed.

Jorge Leon was interviewed by Oakland North, a three minute clip in which he manages to dismiss economic viability concerns in Oakland as easily as he does train safety.

Press Democrat columnist Robert Rubino bashes the Giants in consecutive weeks – first the fans, then the team over T-rights.

Bleacher Report’s Brandon McClintock seems to buying into a Wolff conspiracy theory – nevermind the millions spent in Fremont, the lack of interest or cooperation during the Brown administration, or the Coliseum Authority’s lack of willingness to explore a ballpark plus development at the Malibu/HomeBase site.

As for the fate of redevelopment? The legislature is steeling themselves for the fight over tax extensions. Redevelopment will have to wait.

Added 2:27 PM – Speaking of trains, the Harbor Drive Bridge, a pedestrian/bike span that goes over heavily used heavy and light rail tracks near PETCO Park in San Diego, has finally opened. It’s lovely and it only cost $12.8 million $26.8 million to construct. A Victory Court-to-Jack London Square bridge shouldn’t cost as much. It will probably cost many millions of dollars to build, and yes, it absolutely is necessary.

Picture from San Diego Union Tribune / CCDC

Requiem for a Finley (or Peterson complains about Wolff’s complaining)

One of the problems I have with Lew Wolff pleading his case in the media is that it gives the media plenty of fuel for columns – columns that are almost invariably anti-Wolff. Such is the case today, with a Bloomberg article followed up by a rejoinder by Tribune columnist Gary Peterson. None of it moves the conversation forward, and it creates a cloud over a team at a time when all teams should have unfiltered hope on their side. You’ve got pro-Oaklanders and most local columnists on one side and Wolff, Beane, and the national columnists on the other side. And there isn’t much room for convincing either.

Peterson has plenty of good points (the beer size scandal) and some bad ones (the non-existent big development in SJ), but he makes one rhetorical mistake in comparing Wolff to Charlie Finley. In no way is Wolff as cheap, colorful, or rebellious as the maverick Finley. MLB wouldn’t have a Finley in the current era. As much of a mixed bag as Finley was, his honeymoon in Oakland may have ended as early as April 18, 1968. That was the date of the second ever home game for the Athletics in Oakland. After a sellout, 50,000+ crowd on opening night, game two brought in a whopping 5,304, most of those probably season tickets. Out of curiosity, I did a check of every first and second home game ever played in Oakland, and the results are only marginally better, sometimes worse.

Bold/italic figures indicate doubleheaders. Blue years are in Kansas City, Green years are in Oakland. Home games played outside of Oakland were not counted. Data source: Baseball Reference

There’s a story – possibly apocryphal – of how Finley said that he made a mistake in moving the A’s to Oakland when he saw the crowd for that second game (that may be how Selig got the basis for his famous quote). To be fair, BART was under construction. On the other hand, traffic was not nearly as bad on the Nimitz, then also known as Highway 17. Seriously though, 5,304? And less for the second games the next few years? The Haas era bumped things up, but even then the A’s had two years whose second games had four-figure crowds. Increased season ticket sales this year should ensure that a <10,000 crowd won't occur this year. Still, no matter how much Oaklanders and columnists despise Lew Wolff, hate alone won't save the A's. Showing up just might. I know that many of you will be there on Opening Day. What about the following day?