The Giants have some clear advantages, the most obvious being that they arrived 10 years before the A’s. There are still large pockets of Giants fans in the East Bay, but you’d have to do a real search to find A’s fans in San Francisco.
San Francisco certainly has a more glamorous image than Oakland, though as an Oakland resident since 1969 who lived in San Francisco prior to that, I’d say Oakland is a much more pleasant city in which to live. Perhaps the A’s should follow the Angels’ example and label themselves, “The San Francisco A’s of Oakland.”
When the Giants played at dreadful Candlestick Park, the A’s competed on an equal, and sometimes more than equal, basis at the gate. Before 2000, the Bay Area attendance record was the 2.9 million the A’s drew in 1990.
Many of my colleagues have apparently forgotten that, because they always mention the crowd when the A’s draw 10-12,000 for a mid-week night game. If they’d do their research and check the Giants attendance during their Candlestick years, they’d see the same pattern. It’s only since their move to PacBell that the Giants have been selling out their games.
Now, though, the Giants have a clear advantage in their park, both in revenues and enjoyment. PacBell is a delightful place; I enjoy just walking around during games there. So do many of the fans, who are often there for the experience as much as for the game.
The Coliseum was a decent place to watch a game, certainly much better than Candlestick, before it was changed to accommodate the Raiders. At least, the A’s have finally gotten smart and closed off the vast expanse of Mount Davis, where tickets were sold only for the very biggest games, but it clearly suffers in comparison with PacBell.
Interestingly, the fans – at least, those who go to the games – have changed, too, because of the Giants’ change in parks.
At Candlestick, the Giants had a hard core of dedicated fans; they had to be dedicated to watch games in what frequently was very harsh weather. At night games, especially when the Dodgers were in town, some fans would fortify themselves against the cold with liquor, and fights were frequent in the stands.
Now, at the new park, there are many more casual fans. They cheer for the Giants, of course, but the violent passion of Candlestick days seldom emerges. On Opening Day, when I walked around the park, I saw many fans with Dodger jerseys, but nobody was bothering them. Later, a fan ran up an aisle behind the third-base dugout waving a Dodger flag, again without incident. That would never have happened at Candlestick.
Now, the more passionate fans seem to be at the A’s games. There is a group of women, for instance, near the A’s dugout who absolutely love their A’s. I often talk to other fans who are also very passionate about their team, and who feel that they're a beleaguered minority, battling against the Giants surge.
The Giants have a clear advantage with their propaganda machine, a.k.a. KNBR, which broadcasts the games and promotes the Giants relentlessly during the week, with Ralph Barbieri, who never saw a Giant he didn’t love, leading the way. Though A’s fans hate that, it’s good business for KNBR, which has thrived on its link to the Giants – and now, the 49ers, as well.
The A’s, who are now on KFRC, have bounced around from station to station, but they’re always going to have a lesser audience because only a station with an all-sports format, like KNBR, can do the relentless promotion during the week.
The teams share revenues from Fox Sports Bay Area telecasts, but the Giants consistently have higher TV ratings, both on FSBA and other stations. Why? Probably because their history and San Francisco image give them a wider fan base.
When he was general manager of the A’s, Sandy Alderson used to be enraged by what he thought was preferential treatment of the Giants by newspapers. He was right, but as with KNBR, there’s a business reason for that.
The Chronicle, with the largest circulation in the area, has “San Francisco” on its masthead, though it circulates through northern California. From my own experience, I can tell you that stories on the Giants have generated considerably more e-mails than those on the A’s, though I always tried to give both teams equal treatment in my column. The San Jose Mercury, with the second-largest circulation, is based in an area midway between the teams, but it has a large segment of subscribers on the Peninsula, which is solid Giants/49ers territory.
The one advantage the A’s have enjoyed is competitive. The A’s won three straight World Series, 1972-74, during the Charlie Finley years, and won divisional championships in the years immediately preceding and following that stretch. In 1988-90, they won three straight American League pennants and one World Series. The Giants have only gotten to the Series three times: 1962, 1989 and 2002, and lost each time. In ’89, they were swept by the A’s.
Now, the teams are going in much different directions. The Giants have assembled a starting lineup which can segue from career to Social Security. The A’s are almost like a college team, losing stars to free agency (or having to trade them) and replacing them with young players from the farm system.
The Giants have become the “Barry Bonds Show” in recent years, and with Bonds out, they’re frankly not much fun to watch. The A’s have a lot of questions, but they are always fun to watch, as the young players develop, often into stars.
As you can tell, I prefer the A’s style, but then, I’ve always rooted for the underdog.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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