Back in the days before tarps and sewage leaks, there was a culture to the Coliseum’s third deck — one that people who aren’t A’s fans simply can’t understand. Often times, when the rest of the stadium was empty, the third deck was a party. Most people know about the spirited fans in the outfield bleachers who come to every game and cheer like escapees from the insane asylum, but the cameras never caught the die hards on the third deck.
As a kid, I grew up sitting field level with my family. When I hit high school and started going on my own with friends, it was always in the third deck. For years I would see 20+ games from my beloved perch. It got to the point where I chose to sit there — not because it was cheaper, but because that’s where you’d find the best atmosphere. The fans up top were loud and proud, and boy did they like to get down. Almost every section had a fan or two who would instigate cheers throughout the game, almost competing with other sections to see who could represent Oakland better. The Oakland Coliseum may have been the only stadium in all of baseball where fans with lower box tickets would choose to sit in the third deck.
When Lew Wolff decided to cover the top with green plastic, it was a slap across the face for many A’s fans.
The idea behind tarping off the upper decks was to try and force fans down into the lower sections so they’d be caught on camera. Alienating a large portion of the fan base was the unintended result. Wolff took away the most affordable seats while at the same time showing he didn’t understand his fans, many of whom loved the third deck for reasons other than price alone.
Yet there was yet another aspect to the tarpage that was tough for A’s fans to handle. Not only did the A’s drastically decrease the number of “cheap seats,” they also cut down the number of tickets that would be available on game day. Walk up fans were huge in Oakland — in fact, the majority of the games I attended were the result of spur of the moment decisions. I distinctly remember being turned away from a number of games in 2006 that were not sold out. The stadium had plenty of room, yet I was not allowed to buy tickets … or the only tickets available were more than I could afford to pay.
Gone were the days when I could afford to regularly go to games on a whim, as I had done since I was a kid.
The A’s were not a playoff team in 2005, but they managed to win 88 games. Their attendance was 2.1 million, below the MLB average by 260,000 — not exactly impressive, but hardly embarrassing. Not surprisingly, attendance dropped every year after the tarping of the third deck until 2010. Fans were upset and insulted by Wolff’s decision to tarp off the third deck and it showed.
However, the battle between the fans of Oakland and A’s ownership dates back to before Lew Wolff was even a part of the team. In 2002, when A’s attendance was on par with the league average, the owners decided to charge more for postseason tickets than any other team in the playoffs. In fact, the cheapest tickets for the A’s Divisional Series against the Twins were more expensive than the cheapest seats at Pac Bell Park for the Giants’ Divisional Series against the Braves.
In response to pricing complaints, then-owner Steve Schott had this to say: “I have to laugh about the $35. Give me a break, if you really have loyal fans.”
Many have claimed in recent years that Oakland fans cannot sustain a Major League Baseball team, even though “The Town” is also the home of the “Black Hole” and “Roaracle.” Plus, the A’s led all of baseball in attendance in 1990 with 2.9 million, in the middle of a five-year period (1988-92) where the team averaged over 2.6 million tickets sold per season.
Oakland is full of proud people who feel they have been insulted by A’s owners for over a decade. They’ve shown their displeasure by refusing to give money to those owners, who have responded with tarps and empty threats to leave. But anyone who says A’s fans can’t support their team are those who don’t understand the culture. There is a reason why you literally can’t walk two blocks in Oakland without seeing someone wearing the local brand Oaklandish. Oaklanders are passionate about their city and its teams. To think otherwise is ignoring a long history of feuding between fans and owners that would negatively impact the attendance of any professional sports team.