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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Damage Control and Billy Beane

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Athletics manager Bob Melvin convinced his friend Chili Davis to take the job as hitting coach—ESPN Story.

Melvin’s a good manager.

Davis is a respected hitting coach and man.

But, but…doesn’t this render obsolete a sacrosanct tenet of the Moneyball story?

In what world does the manager have any say whatsoever about anything?

Perhaps this is Billy Beane‘s attempt—in a geniusy sort of way—to prop his manager’s credibility and put forth the concept that he’s letting Melvin influence a hire to make it appear as if he’s not a middle-managing functionary and faceless automaton whose mandate is to carry out orders from the front office.

It could be a brilliantly devised diversionary tactic.

Or Moneyball could be a fantasy filled with exaggerations and outright lies designed to come to the conclusion that Beane is something other than what he is.

And what that is is an overhyped and slightly above-average GM who took great advantage of the onrush of fame that came his way for allowing Michael Lewis to document his strategies when they were working and for Lewis having the motivation and writing skill to frame them in such a way that they were salable to the masses.

It’s laughable how the media uses Beane’s supposed cleverness as a shield for everything; as the basis for a story that will accrue them webhits for the simple reason that Beane’s name is mentioned.

Just this past week it was said that Beane accompanied Athletics owner Lew Wolff to the meeting with Bud Selig regarding a potential A’s move to San Jose.

Yeah?

So?

What does Beane’s presence imply? Was the power of his big brain going to hypnotize Selig to ignore the viability of the Giants territorial rights just because Beane was there?

Peter Gammons later suggested that Beane might end up as the GM of the Dodgers once the sale of the team is completed.

Never mind that the Dodgers already have a competent GM in Ned Colletti and that MLB needs an industrial machete to hack through the jungle vines of legalities in selling the franchise and divvying up the bounty between everyone who has a claim on Frank McCourt’s litigious massacre—no one knows who’s going to own the team!! So how is it possible to speculate on whom the GM is going to be? If the great and powerful “Hollywood” buys the Dodgers, I guess Brad Pitt playing Beane is a possibility as GM, but not Beane himself.

There’s always an excuse with this guy and the media is more than willing to lap it up as if it’s gospel.

He fired Bob Geren because the attention being paid to his situation was a distraction to the team.

He accompanied Wolff because the stadium issue is influencing the team’s off-season planning.

He has options like the Dodgers.

Blah, blah, blah.

It’s the stuff of a damage control-centric public relations firm hired specifically to put their clients in the best possible light regardless of reality and circumstances.

Geren did a bad job as manager; had he been treated as Beane callously and subjectively did his prior managers, he would’ve been fired after his second year on the job.

Beane’s name falsely lends credence to any kind of endeavor for those who still believe the Moneyball myth, but his attendance at the meeting with Selig was window dressing to garner attention to the story. The Giants are fools if they relinquish their territorial rights.

Beane has no options. He wanted the Cubs job and his mininons were tossing his name into the ring with such paraphrased, between-the-lines inanities as, “Billy would listen and Lew wouldn’t stand in his way.”

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

He’s trapped with the Athletics. Because of the stadium problems, the foundation is laid for another housecleaning and rebuilding phase due to finances, thereby absolving Beane of all responsibility again. Before, when he dealt away his stars, it was because of some grand scheme he’d concocted along with the Ivy League-educated acolytes of his revolution; now he doesn’t have any money so he has to listen to offers on his stars.

It’s garbage.

The team is terrible; his genius was never genius at all; and the informercial-style opacity of his tale is coming clearer and clearer as an increasing number of observers open up the box and see that the gadgets don’t work.

Return the gadgets.

Ask for a refund.

Or stop purchasing them to begin with.

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Giants/A’s—Same Area, Different Universe

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The Athletics problems are not going to be solved by the planned new ballpark in San Jose because the supposed “last hurdle” is a one that the Giants are not going to remove.

After reading this piece from Ken Rosenthal, I’m left wondering why there’s such ill-will at the Giants choosing to protect themeslves by refusing to give up their territorial rights to San Jose and allowing the Athletics to build a new ballpark.

Why should they?

These quotes from Rosenthal struck me:

The Giants, who draw a significant part of their fan and corporate bases from the counties south of San Francisco, remain adamantly opposed to relinquishing their territorial rights to San Jose and the South Bay region.

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The Giants, projecting a payroll of about $130 million next season, will need to draw at least 3.2 million to break even, one source said. The team, which drew nearly 3.4 million last season coming off its first World Series title, cannot afford much slippage.

If their profit margin is so narrow and they have a large payroll directly as a result of their success in recent years, they’re faced with the prospect of taking the chance of surrendering a significant portion of their game attendees and giving them to the Athletics. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are going to root for the Athletics if they move to San Jose—some would—but if they’re Giants fans, they’ll remain Giants fans; despite that, a closer park would provide an option for those who might have gone to AT&T Park to watch the Giants to go to the nearer venue to watch a baseball game, any baseball game. Even the A’s.

Because the Giants have become a star-laden team with a budget, they’re going to have an even smaller window to remain competitive and financially stable. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are both going to make substantial sums in the coming years as they head for free agency and if the Giants want to keep them, they’ll have to pay them. They’re still on the hook for Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito; Rowand’s been released, Zito has been atrocious and injured.

The difference between the Giants and A’s is that the Giants have fans that will come to the ballpark to watch the team whether they’re good or not and the A’s don’t. That star power of Lincecum and Cain now and Barry Bonds 5 years ago washes away the pain of a non-contending team.

Who do the A’s currently have that fans are going to want to go to the park to watch? They can’t blame fiscal difficulties for a series of horrible drafts and bad trades.

Charlie Finley put together one of the best teams in the history of the sport from 1972-1974 as they won three straight World Series. They never drew well.

Apart from the late 1980s-early 1990s when they were a star-studded, highly-paid club managed by Tony LaRussa and with recognizable personalities Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, they were never in the top-tier attractions in baseball. You can blame the miserable ballpark, but it’s questionable how much a new park would fix matters for them now. If the fans weren’t enthused enough to spur them to finish any higher than 6th in attendance from 2000-2006 when the team was consistently good and run by a supposed “genius” who was becoming a worldwide celebrity, Billy Beane, what difference is a new park going to make?

Fans would apparently prefer to go to the movies to watch Brad Pitt play a fictional genius—as was the portrayal in the movie Moneyball—instead of the on-field train crash that the real Beane built in 2011.

Propaganda-crafted fame aside, fans are not going to go to the ballpark to watch a GM do his GMing, so the Beane lust is essentially meaningless.

We’re going to get a gauge on how a new ballpark influences a baseball-disinterested population in Miami in 2012 with the Marlins. What’s going to make the judgment clearer is that the Marlins are intent on spending money to put a better product on the field in an effort to legitimize the franchise and justify the new park. The spending spree has been tried before with the organization and the Marlins won a World Series in 1997 after buying a load of star players, but when there wasn’t any immediate off-field rise in attendance or attention as anything more than a passing fancy for fair weather and “be here to be seen” fans; after 1997, then-owner Wayne Huizenga ordered a dismantling of the team and sold it.

Another championship under Jeffrey Loria in 2003 didn’t yield a drastic increase in attendance and then that team was torn apart.

Despite the amenities and non-baseball distractions inherent with a new park, a segment of fans might’ve been avoiding the Marlins games because of the constant threat of rain and a football stadium or because they’re not interested in baseball. Owners really don’t care why people are coming to the park as long as they purchase tickets, pay for parking, buy food and souvenirs; but if they’re not into baseball then they’re not into baseball and the new ballpark novelty wears off rapidly if the team isn’t winning. The Mets are proving that now and the Mets have a larger reservoir of hard core fans than the A’s do.

They don’t like baseball in Oakland.

Don’t think that an influx in money from a new park would guarantee a marked improvement in the on-field product either. Beane hasn’t distinguished himself in putting a club together since the rest of baseball caught onto what he was doing; the sentiment about Oakland that was expressed by C.J. Wilson—amid much vitriol—during the past season is shared in a less overt fashion amongst the players. They’ll only join the A’s if they have no other choice. Beane was once able to take advantage of that with former stars like Frank Thomas who needed the A’s to rejuvenate his career; the A’s could offer him a place to play everyday on an incentive-laden deal and hope to hit lightning. Many times they did. Now other teams are thinking the same way and with that revelation, Beane’s “genius” disappeared.

At least Florida is a year-round home for many players and has the absence of a state income tax to make it a sound personal choice. What attraction is there to go to the Athletics and Oakland?

There are none.

There are other venues that could support a team, so why is there this desperation to stay in Oakland where they can’t get a new park and the fans don’t care?

Either eliminate the team or move it to a place that won’t infringe on a healthy club. The casual fans in Oakland didn’t appreciate them when they were good and they’re definitely not invested in them now that they’re bad and not getting better anytime soon.

You can’t help those who don’t help themselves and if they lose their franchise, it’s because they never bolstered it to begin with.

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