Billy Beane

Oakland Athletics’ attendance woes: what’s the cause, baseball or ballpark?

In the comments responding to yesterday’s post titled, “Why Giants fans should root for a new Oakland A’s ballpark,” there’s an interesting discussion about the Athletics’ attendance issues.

Some people think it’s the fault of Lew Wolff, Billy Beane and the A’s for their inability to put a winning team on the field. Others think the Athletics are doomed to play in an empty stadium until they move to a different one.

So I decided to peruse the Athletics’ home attendance figures since Pac Bell opened in 2000. I added the team’s record each season, just for fun.

2000: 1,603,744 (91-71, 1st AL West)
2001: 2,133,277 (102-60, 2nd AL West)
2002: 2,169,811 (103-59, 1st AL West)
2003: 2,216,596 (96-56, 1st AL West)
2004: 2,201,516 (91-71, 2nd AL West)
2005: 2,109,118 (88-74, 2nd AL West)
2006: 1,976,625 (93-79, 1st AL West)
2007: 1,921,844 (76-86, 3rd AL West)
2008: 1,665,256 (75-86, 3rd AL West)
2009: 1,408,783 (75-87, 3rd AL West)
2010: 1,418,391 (81-81, 2nd AL West)
2011: 1,476,791 (74-88, 3rd AL West)

Average attendance when the Athletics finish…
1st in AL West (4 yrs): 1,991,694 – 24,589 per game
2nd in AL West (4 yrs): 1,965,576 – 24,266 per game
3rd in AL West (4 yrs): 1,618,169 – 20,060 per game

While there is a correlation between winning and increased attendance, the difference isn’t all that great.

The A’s averaged 97 wins per year in their AL West title years (five division titles in seven years is amazing, by the way, even if they didn’t manage to win one ALCS game) and didn’t even average 25,000 fans per game over those seasons. If you own the team and your tickets already cost less than the Major League average, 5,000 more tickets sold per game when the team wins isn’t a game-changing difference.

Plus, the stadium has only gotten worse since those winning years, just like the team. It’s to the point now where even if the A’s won 100 games in 2012, they’d still have trouble selling over 2 million tickets.

I used to attend at least 3-to-6 games at the Coliseum every season, but two years ago we went to see A’s/Orioles on a Saturday afternoon. Almost every concession stand was closed, leaving a few extremely long and slow lines to get any kind of refreshments. The scoreboard stopped working in the first inning, meaning the only way you could see the score was by checking out the narrow scoreboards on the facade of the heavily-tarped upper deck. It was depressing, and not just because the Orioles were in town. I haven’t been back since.

Winning brings some people to the stadium more often, but season tickets are an investment. Giants season ticket holders might complain about ever-escalating prices, but they’re not canceling because they paid for a seat license. Why did they pay for a seat license? Because the Giants and their park aren’t going anywhere for the next 50 years, and probably far longer. The A’s can win division titles and even a World Series, but until MLB figures out a solution to this mess Athletics fans still won’t know where their team will end up. Or if they’ll end up anywhere at all.

The Bay Area is an elite market. Not that it’s better than anywhere else … just that we like elite things around here. People will pay top dollar for great experiences, but will take quality over quantity almost every time. Whole Foods over Walmart. Boutique mac ‘n cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches over Kraft Mac and Velveeta. Blue Bottle over Folgers. When the Giants played in Candlestick, the better team drew more fans. With AT&T Park across the Bay, the Coliseum looks less inviting every inning.

While it’s frustrating for A’s fans to see the national media fawn over Beane and the Moneyball movie in the midst of the Athletics’ fifth consecutive season where they failed to win over half their games, winning isn’t the only answer. Until the Athletics get a new ballpark, they won’t draw the 30,000+ fans per game necessary to compete in today’s MLB.

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