Figures of Attendance, Part III—the Genius Can’t Conjure Fans to Come to the Park

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When discussing attendance and its connectivity or lack of connectivity to publicity and results, how can we ignore the Athletics? They’re still pining for a new park in San Jose with the Giants an example of how a new, fan friendly park can help attendance. Would a new ballpark in Oakland help the A’s replicate what the Giants have done? No. The A’s have rarely drawn fans when they were on top of the world and not; when they were the subject of creative non-fiction like Moneyball to turn their GM Billy Beane into a deity or when they were awful for years and living off their GM’s reputation of being “smarter than the average bear”. A new ballpark in Oakland isn’t going to fix that. It’s a football town and the current population doesn’t have the money to pay for the seats no matter how reasonably priced some of them are. The A’s of the late-1980s were an anomaly because they were the highest-paid team in baseball despite not having the resources to be that if the owner ran the club as a business. The Haas family saw the team as a local and public trust; they were willing to take a loss financially to win on the field and they did. When the landscape changed, so did the attendance and payroll. When the Beane-A’s were in their heyday and winning 100 games in 2003, they still wound up 8th in attendance. The 2012 A’s have a good, young team and are 12th in the AL in attendance. That won’t change unless they get the new park in San Jose, something the Giants are understandably resisting.

The Giants did it right for their market. They build around Barry Bonds when he was the home run king and putting up cartoon numbers to go along with his cartoon muscles; they let it decline to 90 losses when they were making the transition from “build around Barry” to “build around pitching” and they’re drawing near the top of the NL again.

Much like the simplistic nature of the argument from stat people who suggest that every team should be run a certain way, it’s a logistical impossibility for the Yankees or Red Sox to allow their clubs to degenerate to 100+ losses and maintain fan attendance, advertising, concession sales and other ancillary moneymakers as the Rays, Astros and Athletics have. Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to maintain a winning club while preparing for the future with a deep farm system when he basically exchanged Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay and prospects in a frenzied series of deals. But it didn’t work and fan anger was palpable enough, team struggles so evident that the plan was abandoned in the middle of the 2010 season when he traded for Roy Oswalt and re-signed Lee as a free agent after the 2010 season. He signed his veteran players like Ryan Howard to ludicrous contracts; imported Jonathan Papelbon; ignored the draft and gutted the system. The team has come apart and the Phillies’ oft-mentioned sellout streak has ended.

No kidding.

The Phillies’ fans are quick to jump on and off the bandwagon and boo everything that goes by while on it. The team is 10 games under .500 and has conceded the season with their trades of Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and by again listening to offers on Lee. Of course the fans are going to find other things to do.

With these clubs, it’s win and they’ll come back. Simple.

The Rays are allowed to run their team as they do because of the lack of interest on the part of the fans; because the media isn’t hounding them to do something; because they’re not maintaining attendance—there’s no attendance to begin with.

The Astros are in total flux right now and are tantamount to an expansion team preparing to play in the American League in 2013; they’re on the way to losing 110 games and GM Jeff Luhnow has cleared the decks of every veteran on his roster. He’s getting a pass because the team was so rancid when he arrived and there’s a new owner in place and they’re as bad as a team gets right now. He’s new and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Read Part II here.

Read Part I here.

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