Oakland Athletics: Ownership’s failings lead to low attendance

The Oakland Athletics fan base was shamed by media outlets across the country on Tuesday morning after a low attendance turnout for the A’s vs. Mariners on Monday evening at the Coliseum.

The official attendance numbers for the Oakland Athletics divisional game on Monday came in at 10,400, a shockingly low number for a team contending for the division lead.

Drawing even more attention to the attendance issues plaguing the Athletics was a plea from Matt Chapman to come out to the park.

The A’s are one of the hottest teams in baseball over the last two months and are challenging Houston for the division lead. The roster is full of talent and personalities that are easy to embrace from a fan perspective.

It’s commonly believed that winning cures all, and the A’s are winning… so what’s the problem?

Now, I’ll admit, I posted about this very topic on Tuesday afternoon; however, after further consideration, I’ve realized my piece fell short. It didn’t properly illuminate the complexities involved when assessing Oakland’s poor attendance figures.

So here it is for all to read. No fluff. No frills.

Just a long time A’s fan pouring his heart out and doing his best to illustrate why fielding an incredible team still doesn’t equate to increased attendance in the East Bay.

Distinctions

To be clear, the issue isn’t the players. It’s not the magic of future Gold Glove winner Matt Chapman keeping people away. It’s not the machine-like precision of Blake Treinen slamming the door closed in the 9th inning repeatedly that causes empty seats.

It’s also not those in the front office who are keeping people from buying a ticket. Billy Beane and his staff are tireless in their efforts and continue to deliver impressive results season after season. Especially when you consider the constraints of the parameters they’re required to work within.

It always comes down to money

The burden of blame with this issue falls on the ownership. There’s no need to mince words here. It’s all very black and white for Oakland fans, both past and present, who have lived through the last decade and a half of broken promises.

The promises of a new stadium in Oakland that have yet to materialize. The threats of moving the ball club south to San Jose, or 80 miles northeast to Sacramento. The annual send-off of fan favorites to other ball clubs. Athletics fans have been battered by storm after storm.

Ownership has consistently demonstrated that money, and not the fan base, is the priority.  It’s not even close to being a secret. The current Athletics’ ownership has always taken a bargain-basement approach to every facet of the game.

There’s no need to turn over every rock to see where ownership is saving money. A quick glance at the books will suffice.

Since 2008 the Oakland Athletics have been one of the bottom five teams in the league for payroll in every season but one. This season, the A’s are dead last in payroll.

Ownership has always played the victim card here. The A’s are a small-market team. Team payroll reflects what the market bears. This is the song and dance ownership has served up to A’s fans for years.

My personal favorite… as a small-market team, we are forced to play Moneyball.  Please. This is the one that cuts deepest for A’s fans. Let’s call Moneyball what it is… a creation born from Billy Beane’s sheer determination to field a playoff team in spite of severe budget restrictions.

Restrictions that serve to line the pockets of ownership while still providing the illusion that a commitment to fans is what truly matters.

Billy Beane

Now, I’m not diminishing Beane’s accomplishments or successes within the A’s organization. In fact, quite the opposite. The fan base that remains and still attends games today is a credit to his ability to regularly place competitive teams on the field with a bare-bones budget.

Billy Beane is the reason I am still a fan. I applaud his genius, but at the same time, I also recognize the unintentional crippling effect it later had on the fan base. Moneyball was a loophole in the system. It was a back door into the playoffs without having to pay top dollar for it.

It was a means of competing made possible by exploiting statistical areas overlooked by the larger market teams. The Yankees of the world had no such need to find a needle in a haystack. With their budget, they could buy the whole farm.

Moneyball was so successful that ownership used it to squeeze out every dime they could from a fan base whose season attendance was once above league average back in 2003.

After A’s ownership realized Moneyball was sustainable, every veteran player that approached elite status, and the salary that accompanied such a performance, became expendable.

The exodus of veteran A’s players at the trade deadline every season quickly became a running joke among die hard Athletics fans. And it had to be a joke, because humor masks pain.

The disconnect

The majority owner of the Oakland Athletics, John Fisher, is a businessman, so let’s put this in business terms. Mr. Fisher, there is a problem with your product. It lacks the ability to create an emotional connection with fans.

It is indeed a competitive team we see on the field but we know the cost of getting attached is far too much to bear.

We know this because we have routinely suffered through the angst of having to say goodbye to a player with whom we became emotionally invested in… only to watch him traded away once he began to realize his potential.

We know how it plays out from here. Even as one of the last A’s fans standing (and there aren’t as many as there used to be), I find myself gun-shy about fully embracing the brilliance that is Matt Chapman.

I finally rationalized through purchasing a Chapman jersey the other night after doing some research and finding out that he’s under team control through at least the 2020 season.  Such is life for your fans Mr. Fisher.

Athletics fans must weigh out the purchase of a jersey based on the length of time they believe the player still has with the club.

This next man up mentality employed by current ownership deprives A’s fans of watching players develop. An Oakland Athletics’ fan rarely gets the opportunity to watch their favorite player grow into his greatness while still wearing the green and gold.

This approach fails to foster the type of environment that builds fan loyalty.  Instead, it only serves to push them away.

Being a fan of the Oakland Athletics has become an at arm’s length exercise in cheering only for the colors Oakland players are wearing on the field. To go any further only invites further heartbreak.

The critics

To suggest apathetic fans are the root cause of Oakland’s attendance issues is laughable. Dig in a little further before you admonish the existing fan base for failing to show up to the park.

The more accurate account here is that A’s fans care too much. That’s why the fan base has dwindled. It became too difficult to hold onto an empty bag of promises.

The remaining fan base consists of those who have weathered the hard times, yet still understand the value of loyalty.

Next: Matt Chapman makes a plea for fans to come out to the ballpark

If there is a story to be written, it should be that Monday’s attendance was 10,400 people in spite of the ownership consistently failing its fans.

 

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