Way to go, A’s fans! In 2012, stadium attendance was up ~15% compared to 2011! We had our best stadium draw since 2007!
This would be great news for most franchises….but wait…. hold the cheers. Further details reveal that the A’s ranked 27th in overall league attendance. Despite the 15% bump, the crowd for the year was a sluggish 1,679,000. Our neighbors across the pond, the Giants, had 3,377,000 fans this year. Yes…we all know they have a shiny waterfront baseball stadium in posh San Francisco while the A’s share infield dirt with the Raiders. Although it’s not exactly a fair comparison when it comes to venues, the fact that the Giants had more than double the amount of fans see their games is quite eye-opening. The attendance difference between the two Bay Area teams is especially more discouraging seeing how the A’s had a really good year and wound up winning the AL West. To begin analyzing the A’s stadium and attendance saga it is important to realize what kind of relationship the A’s have with their current community.
In my opinion, a team and community can effectively choose to be “married” to each other. For example, teams and communities share emotions, accomplishments, failures, successes, revenue and expenses just like any married couple would. Only when the proposals came up for the A’s to relocate OUT of Oakland (divorcing, essentially) has there been any response from the City of Oakland or County of Alameda. Throughout the decades the A’s have had success at the Coliseum by winning 4 championships, the Bash Brothers, and Moneyball to name a few. During these highs the community embraced the team in commendable fashion. However, lately for the A’s, who delivered the last championship to Oakland in 1989, they have largely been on the back-burner in this relationship despite their successful history. It turns out that this saga is a deeper story that is not known to every A’s fan.
The A’s have been at the Coliseum since 1968, and now that they flirted with Fremont (unsuccessfully) and are now romancing San Jose (indefinitely), the City and County are at a stage where they have to take drastic steps to save the relationship. Their proposal to the A’s: Coliseum City – a massive sports complex with stadiums for football, baseball and basketball. If built, it would cost anywhere from $1 billion on up. While the City and County proclaim their desire to keep the A’s, is Coliseum City even feasible? The City of Oakland itself is up to $2 billion in debt prior to taking on the Coliseum City project. Jointly with the County, Oakland still has an outstanding loan of $150 million on the Oracle Arena and O.Co Coliseum for monumentally expensive renovations. In short, the Coliseum City proposal to the A’s is the essentially similar to promising a $50,000 wedding ring to upgrade your long term relationship into marriage. The only problem is you already spent your savings to impress a couple of hotties you met around town. Now one of those hotties is leaving you for an old flame in San Francisco (Warriors). The other already had a 10 year separation from you and is now going through a 10 season streak without delivering you a trip to the playoffs (Raiders). Meanwhile, the team that was spouse material all along in the A’s has essentially been forced to give you and your proposal the silence treatment, and it is hard to blame them.
The Coliseum is the last professional baseball/football combo stadium in the nation. The 1996 renovation changed the stadium but did not enhance any major baseball qualities. Having sat in Mount Davis several years ago during an A’s and Yankees game, I know that the atmosphere is just not conducive to a great fan experience due the height and distance of the seating above center field. Even in the rest of the stadium fans sit further away from the action than at any other baseball venue due to the seating arrangements. The bathrooms are pungent. The amenities are outdated. And in the later summer months the field is striped with yard-lines and end-zones for the Raiders. Quite frankly, the Coliseum has aged beyond its optimal use period and now is in dire need of replacement. Replacement may have been a good option 18 years ago, however…
The County of Alameda and City of Oakland issued $120 million in bonds in 1995 for the Raider’s renovations which included 22,000 new seats (Mount Davis). On top of that, in 1996 the County and City took out additional $100 million in bonds to upgrade the Oracle Arena for the Warriors and other concerts. We can put those hefty sums in perspective by showcasing the city of Cleveland: The ENTIRE construction cost of Jacob’s Field (now Progressive Field) in Cleveland was $169 million in 1992-1994. Around the same time the Cleveland Cavaliers built their ENTIRE arena for $100 million. Remarkably, Alameda County and Oakland city managed to spend a whopping $220 million without actually making new venues and have saddled themselves with long term debt. For $269 million Cleveland built a new baseball stadium and basketball arena which have been extremely serviceable for years and will be for many more. In Oakland, the bulk of the $220 million went to appease the needs of the arena and the Raiders.
To further analyze the surprising lack of commitment the City and County have made for the A’s we can take a simple revenue and fan traffic approach. How much revenue and fan traffic would each team generate in a season based on actual ticket sales? I will attempt to make this as conservative as possible for the A’s. The A’s play 83 times at the Coliseum. The Raiders play there 10 times. The Warriors play at Oracle Arena 43 times – no consideration for playoff games. I am including 2 home exhibition games for each team. I’ve completed the chart below with some calculations based on 2011/2012 average ticket prices. I’m considering that the Raiders and Warriors sellout every game, and that the A’s get 20,000 each game (roughly 60% capacity) – which is actually less than what they averaged in 2012.
Even at 60% capacity, the A’s are within $1 million of the Raiders in annual ticket revenue using the calculations above. However, the A’s would draw over A MILLION more fans than the Raiders for the County and City’s taxing pleasure: parking fees (currently $3 tax), sales tax on merchandise, beer, hot dogs, memorabilia, clothing, gifts etc. Figures for 2,000,000 attendance and sold out attendance are also listed above. The A’s are a small market team, no doubt, but the magnitude of the business they bring is enormous when compared to Oakland’s other 2 professional teams. Imagine if the A’s had a pure baseball stadium with fresh, clean amenities, craft beers, dynamic hot dog pricing, upgraded suites and dining, and other modern functions. With their success, even if they kept the ticket prices even, I am betting the A’s could attract an audience higher than last year.
(Now, the obvious: Do the Raiders sell out EVERY game? No. The Raider’s attendance numbers in my chart above are inflated to the best case scenario. The Warriors actually generally outdraw the Raiders. This only magnifies that the renovations made by Oakland and Alameda County in the mid 1990’s has been a monumentally disproportionate bust economically and for the A’s interests).
Taking this into consideration, the City of Oakland and County of Alameda could have forged a stronger relationship with the A’s when they had the chance any time before the current ownership group took over. It not only would have been good for the community, the numbers make sense.
I don’t think that the A’s, and in particular Lew Wolff, hate Oakland. The relationship should be salvageable, hopefully. While Wolff has not been very popular, remember that neither was the previous ownership group, or those before who tried to move the A’s far away. Wolff, however, has not once declared he wanted to leave Northern California despite stalled efforts for a stadium in Oakland, Fremont and San Jose. Remember, back in 1978 the A’s were going to move to Denver. In 1979 they were going to Louisiana. In both instances the city of Oakland refused to let the team out of its lease, especially after the Raiders were bolting for Los Angeles. Wolff, to his credit, has done some under the radar positive deeds. He proposed stadiums with primarily private financing as opposed to crippling bonds which impact tax payers. He smartly locked up Billy Beane with a 4% ownership stake and contract through 2019 (Beane would have been at the helm for 22 years by then). The team’s ticket prices have remained below the league’s average to encourage attendance and remain affordable. He has remained patient with Bud Selig during the new Stadium journey. And, lastly, is working on staying in Oakland for 5 more years at least.
I’m all for keeping the A’s in Oakland. Both Oakland and the A’s have a lot of good memories together, and it would be nice to see them work it out. With that being said, the A’s desperately need a new stadium. Hopefully they will get one sooner rather than later from a city that truly wants a long-term relationship and is willing to prove it. Who knows? Maybe the A’s do wind up getting a new stadium at the current Coliseum site? Maybe then while it gets constructed the A’s can play in Candlestick Park during the 2014 – 2015 seasons.
That is, if the Giants let them.