Honey > Vinegar

The Merc’s Ann Killion notes the bad timing of Lew Wolff’s anti-Oakland campaign, and reminds us what happened the last time a Bay Area owner trashed his hometown in the runup to the baseball season:

Almost two decades ago, Giants owner Bob Lurie originated the “I hate my ballpark and you should too,” public relations campaign.

In case Wolff, busy with hotel development at the time, overlooked Lurie’s campaign, here’s a brief summary of its effectiveness: an unmitigated disaster.

Lurie, frustrated with his own aging and shared facility, kept trying to move the Giants. To the South Bay. To Tampa/St. Pete. Anywhere but Candlestick Park. He let everyone know how much he hated his ballpark. And, in a stunning development, his words didn’t woo fans to games, but rather persuaded them to stay away. In droves.

The Giants’ average home attendance steadily declined from a peak of 26,074 in 1989, a year the team was in the World Series, to 19,759 in 1992.

That’s about what the A’s averaged last season, the fifth consecutive season of attendance drops. The A’s drew 27,179 in 2004, the season before Wolff bought the team. Last season, they were down to 20,559.

In our little baseball petri dish, we have proven that you can’t expect to draw well if you publicly hate your ballpark.

As Killion goes on to note, the turnaround for the Giants began long before they got their shiny new ballpark, and had a lot to do with new ownership that actually tried to improve and promote the product they had rather than simply run it down in the hopes of getting something better.

The A’s have improved their on-the-field product going into 2009, and should be doing everything they can to make the experience of attending a game in Oakland as good as it can be. The fans aren’t idiots. Having a nice time in the old Coliseum and not feeling like a dope for enjoying themselves isn’t going to blind them to the A’s need for a better ballpark. In fact, it may just make them support a new ballpark even more.

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  1. APBA Guy said...

    My family is from Orlando, and they often ask me why I live in California, with everything “wrong” with it, especially in Oakland, home of the beloved A’s.

    Fact is, the A’s play 2-3 day games per week per homestand. A traditional Saturday and/or Sunday game, then a mid-week “getaway” game to allow the visiting team to get to the airport and on their way at a reasonable time.

    And it is those mid week day games that are the incredible gems. Unless you’ve lived here or visited repeatedly, the sheer joy of playing hooky from work and sitting in the warm sun with an air temperature of around 68 just cannot be accurately described. Add to that, you can walk up and get terrific tickets (try that at Fenway or Wrigley). I typically sit 4-10 rows behind a dugout, depending on the A’s opposition.

    Also, my preference in beverage while sitting in the sun is fresh squeezed lemonade. They do that very well at the Coliseum.

    Finally, the fans are incredibly knowledgeable. There may only be 20,000 people there, but they are almost all glad to be there. And almost all of them will point out some interesting facet of team and player performance that helps add to the enjoyment of the game. I’m constantly amazed at hearing some old guy in a fishing hat with dozens of A’s pins in it talk about outfielder foot speed to a fly ball, comparing a string of left fielders back to Joe Rudi, or something like that.

    That’s a great atmosphere, and one I’m always delighted to be a part of.

    I think the A’s were going to lose attendance anyway, as part of the hangover effect from last year. Wolff’s comments don’t help, but I doubt that any A’s fan is going to stay away based on what he’s said so far. If he keeps it up however, that will be different.

  2. Mark Schick said...

    Do we really need to post the xkcd correlation/causation comic again?

    I’m sure that, to some extent, the attendance drops of the early 90’s Giants and the 2000s A’s can be attributed to the owners trying to move the teams. Surely there are other factors, however.

    One important one is that the Giants’ W/L record steadily declined between 1989 and 1992. The A’s have done the same, save for a blip in 2006 where they made the ALCS. But I suppose it’s just “***MORE CONTROVERSIAL!!!!***” to blame it on the machinations of owners instead of the product on the field.

  3. christopher said...

    The snarky overuse of the correlation/causation argument is one of my least favorite internet trends.  It sure makes it easy to shoot down somebodies observation or hypothesis, but does nothing to enrich the discussion.  No one is claiming that the uncompetitive product the A’s have put on the field hasn’t hurt attendance.  But there was a drastic (2,000 people/game) drop in attendance from 2005 to 2006, despite the fact both those teams were competitive (as were the teams from ‘99 onward) and they made the ALCS in 2006.  So there is a lot more to it than record.

  4. Craig Calcaterra said...

    My view—and it’s just a hunch—is that quality of play makes a huge difference to a point, but at some point fans will stay away when a franchise becomes dead team walking.  This happened with the Braves in Milwaukee and even the Dodgers in Brooklyn.

    Maybe there were other things going on in San Francisco in 1990, and maybe the A’s expected improvement this year will help matters, but I believe it entirely possible that Wolff could kill the A’s attendance if he continues to demonstrate disdain for Oakland.

  5. Pete Toms said...

    Don’t know about Bay area baseball specifically but in general, easily the most important factor in attendance is W-L.

    As for Wolff, I’ve read speculation that if the Raiders leave for a new shared facility with the 49ers that Oakland might consider renovating their stadium in to a “baseball only” park, a la what the Angels did with their park.  The same speculation notes that the current site is great for BART and some adjancent highway.

    APBA.  I’ve been to 1 A’s game and greatly enjoyed it.  It was a mid week day game vs the Rockies.  (it was also the last year for Candlestick, whenever that was).  Great weather, great seats (I was a walk up), great game.  And all courtesy of Enron!  On the BART ride to the game I hooked up with an Enron salesman who was entertaining a couple of his clients.  They were all mid western guys, in town for a convention, playin hooky.  So when it came time to step up to the wicket, the Enron dude said it was on him and please come sit with them.  Bought me the big pail o shitty beer in commemorative (sic?) A’s cup and the peanuts and popcorn (or whatever) that accompanied it.  Great day.  Kile pitched for Col, don’t recall who started for Oakland but IIRC Taylor k’d Bichette to end the game.

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