Oakland Athletics

Bandwagoners? Study shows Oakland A’s fans have third-highest “win sensitivity”

Oakland A's fans

Emory Sports Marketing Analytics released a study this week that ranked Major League Baseball fan bases in a variety of ways, including “win sensitivity.”

Instead of focusing on how the folks at Emory used the Giants logo from 1983-93, let’s look at their methodology.

These models are built to estimate team-level response to price and winning percentage. We use data from 1998 to 2013.

The win elasticity provides a measure of the importance of quality in driving demand. For example, if the statistical model finds that a team’s demand is unrelated to winning rate, then the implication is that fans have so much of a preference for the team that winning and losing don’t matter. For a weaker team (brand) the model would produce a strong relationship between demand and winning.

This benefit of this measure is that the results come directly from data. A possible issue with this analysis is that the results may be driven by omitted variables. For example, prior to conducting the analysis we might speculate that demand for the Chicago Cubs might only be slightly related to the team’s winning percentage. This speculation is based on the fact that the Cubs never seem to win but always seem to have a loyal following. Our finding would, however, need to be evaluated with care since the “Cub” effect is perfectly correlated with a “Wrigleyville Neighborhood” effect.

Fans of the Oakland A’s, who’ve been known to throw the “bandwagon” label around liberally when it comes to fans of the baseball team across the bay, are pretty high on this list.

A lot of baseball stats are “park adjusted,” so we can better compare players and teams independent of whether they play in a launching pad like Coors Field or a so-called pitcher’s park like AT&T or Safeco. That’s where we need to be careful when assessing the current state of the A’s fan base.

“If you build it, they will come.” That’s not just a take on a familiar movie quote, it’s also something that many believe would occur if the A’s got a new stadium. A look at Emory’s list would tell us otherwise — Citizen’s Bank Park was built in 2004, and while Camden Yards started the new/retro trend for new baseball stadiums back in 1992, it’s a place that has aged tremendously well. Progressive Field in Cleveland is much like Camden in that way. Comerica was built in 2000.

But I’m going to stick up for A’s fans right now, because much like the “Wrigleyville Neighborhood” effect the Emory researchers alluded to, the Bay Area has its own unique set of entertainment values. We love events and premier experiences. AT&T Park is beautiful, comfortable and as convenient as an entertainment experience gets in this region.

If this study was done 20 years ago, the Giants’ attendance figures would put them right alongside where the A’s are now.

1983 record: 79-83
1983 attendance: 1,251,530

1984 record: 66-96
1984 attendance: 1,001,545

1985 record: 62-100
1985 attendance: 818,697

1986 record: 83-79
1986 attendance: 1,528,748

1987 record: 90-72
1987 attendance: 1,917,168

1988 record: 83-79
1988 attendance: 1,785,297

1989 record: 92-70
1989 attendance: 2,059,701

In 1960 — the year Candlestick Park opened — the attendance was 1,795,356. Far fewer people went to baseball games in those days, which makes that figure comparable to 3,000,000+ today. It was also the Giants’ highest home attendance until 1987, because Candlestick Park was the new, cool (literally) place to be in 1960. Then everyone realized it wasn’t nearly as great as advertised, and Giants fans held out for winning teams.

The A’s drew over 2.5 million fans per year in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and not just because the team was full of stars. Compared to Candlestick, the Coliseum was Disneyland back then. It had better food options (personal pizzas and chicken strips at the ballpark were a HUGE deal in 1990), better weather, even a decent view.

Also, our expectations were lower. But the Coliseum was a very pleasant place to watch a ballgame … before the Raiders came back and convinced Alameda County to muck it up with that concrete monstrosity in center field. Ever since, the park has not been a draw in and of itself.

That’s not to say the A’s would sell out nearly every game in a new stadium, regardless of win-loss record. The Giants took advantage of the enormous amount of curiosity that surrounded the construction of AT&T Park, and convinced thousands to pay for seat licenses that have helped to prevent most season ticket holders from bailing even during the lean years (2005-08) and despite some pretty hefty price increases in recent seasons.

We have a tremendous amount of entertainment options around here, but there’s a caveat — it’s a pain in the ass to get anywhere. BART is an option, but one still has to get to a station somehow and tickets aren’t exactly cheap (especially when you often have to fight for seats that in many cases are stained/crusty/moist). Every freeway in the Bay Area besides 280 is a mess from 3-8 pm on most weekdays, and even 280 gets clogged fairly often.

For A’s fans, the stadium keeps regressing and the team doesn’t possess household names the way it did back when Tony La Russa and Sandy Alderson formed a near-dynasty. A new stadium would create new revenue streams, allowing the A’s to market differently and keep stars around longer. It would also give AT&T Park some competition for the first time, meaning we might see the Giants’ attendance drop during losing seasons, which in turn would give A’s fans a legitimate reason to call Giants fans the b-word for once.

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