Giants, A's: A Tale of Two Parks
And, that’s what the ballpark drive is all about. Every time this comes up, I hear from people who say there’s no need for a new park, they like the current one, etc., but that’s not the issue. The question is: Do you want the A’s to stay with a new park, or do you want them to leave? His fellow owners have told Lew Wolff that they want to see a solid plan for a new park ready by the start of next season. The “or else” that’s implied is that the owners will start looking for a new location for the A’s, with Las Vegas and Portland the most likely.
They won’t be moved to San Jose because the Giants have a solid territorial claim; commissioner Bud Selig wouldn’t even bring that up at an owners meeting, and he sets the agenda. They won’t move to Sacramento, either; that city is not on baseball’s short list.
THERE ARE other problems with the Coliseum, but the major one is that it doesn’t produce the revenues the A’s need to be competitive at the box office.
General manager Billy Beane addressed that problem when he said, speaking to the Coliseum Authority last Friday, “Every year we ask our fans to believe in us even though we’ve lost star players.”
Fans get attached to individual players, as well as to the team. A’s fans were rocked when Jason Giambi left for the Yankees, perhaps even more so when Miguel Tejada went to the Orioles. This year, there was a double loss, as Beane traded Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder.
When the A’s started slowly, attendance was very low. There’s been a resurgence in this latest home stand, with four crowds of more than 40,000, but even that brought the A’s up only to a virtual eighth-place tie with Minnesota for average home game attendance in the American League. The A’s are neck and neck in the AL Western Division race (and the wild card) with the Angels, but that competition doesn’t extend to the gate: The Angels are averaging more than 42,000 a game, the A’s 26,000.
Because the Coliseum is a relatively large facility – the A’s can get more than 50,000 in the facility by using football seats – the team’s season ticket sale is low, around 7000. Fans know they can wait until virtually the last minute to get tickets, so they don’t buy in advance.
The attendance figures don’t even show the extent of the problem, because to get even those numbers, the A’s have to use promotions and discounted tickets; two of the big crowds last week came for a game that had fireworks after and another one that had $2 tickets.
In comparing the A’s and the Giants, Wolff noted that the Giants get about $70 million a year in ticket revenue, the A’s about $35 million.
Beane and his baseball people have done a remarkable job, and this season may be their best ever. None of us could have believed that the A’s could rebuild so quickly that they would make the playoffs, but they’re in position to do that now. They’ve got three rookies who are big contributors: right fielder Nick Swisher, first baseman Dan Johnson and closer Huston Street.
But you have to wonder how long this can continue. The Twins are much like the A’s with their limited revenue and ability to develop young players to replace the stars, but the Twins have fallen back this year.
GIANTS FANS with short memories are smug now, laughing at the A’s with their attendance problems, but the Giants had the same kind of problems for years when they were at Candlestick.
In fact, the Giants have figured in two of the three attempts to move a team out of the area. In 1976, Horace Stoneham had made a deal with the Labatt’s beer company to move the team to Toronto, but Bob Lurie and Bud Herseth stepped in to keep the team in San Francisco. In 1992, Lurie had made a deal with Tampa businessmen to move the team to St. Petersburg, but a local group, originally headed by Walter Shorenstein, bought it to keep it in San Francisco.
That ownership group – Peter Magowan took over as the head when Shorenstein dropped out – was told by the National League that a condition of keeping the Giants in San Francisco was that a new park be built, the same kind of gauntlet thrown down to Wolff now.
Magowan and his people, with Larry Baer the point man on the money issues, did a great job of getting corporate money and selling “charter seats,” a code name for the dreaded Personal Seat Licenses, to build Pacific Bell Park, an absolute jewel.
But Magowan said before the park opened that he thought San Francisco and New York were the only cities in the country where a park could be built that way, with such corporate support. Baer said it was the “perfect storm,” because he was raising money during the dot.com boom. Those days, of course, are long gone, and it will be much more difficult for Wolff to get the financial support he needs for an A’s park.
Since they’ve been in their new park, the Giants have prospered. They have a season ticket base of more than 27,000, which creates a ticket scarcity. As the big games, like those against the Dodgers, sell out, fans move to the lesser attractions. So, that midweek game against the Pirates which drew 7000 at Candlestick now gets close to 40,000 at PacBell.
MAGOWAN AND company have feared, with some justification, that one bad season could melt a lot of the support. We’ll see next season if the fans who have come to games just for the experience will return if there’s little hope the team will be better than this year’s dreadful one.
But there’s no question the Giants have the upper hand in the Bay Area with their park. If just one team remains in the area, it will be the Giants. For the A’s to stay, they must have a new park. It’s as simple as that.
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