September Attendance is a Non-Issue

In September of 1997, when the San Francisco Giants were on their way to winning the National League West division, they had four home games where they drew just 13,100 fans or less. In fact, they had one game — on Sept. 4 — where they drew just 8,565 fans.

In the last month of 1998 — a year after winning the West — the Giants tied for the Wild Card. And they had seven home games where they drew just 16,795 fans or less. Game attendance bottomed out at 10,160 on Sept. 1, and even on Sept. 23rd — the season’s 158th game — the Giants drew just 13,915 fans.

The bad attendance in the heat of a pennant race had Giants owners, the media and MLB officials worried that the Giants were making a huge mistake by bankrolling their new downtown ballpark, which was set to open just 18 months after this very disappointing attendance.

Well, we all know how it turned out. Pacific Bell Park opened in 2000 and was (and still is) a huge success. The Giants did a 180 at the box office, drawing 3.3 million fans and winning the NL West.

Why do we care?

Well, as we get ready to post this 30 minutes before the A’s first game of the last home stand of the year, we know damn well that Lew Wolff is desperate to badmouth A’s fans and to make an issue out of attendance in these last six games. Just look at last weekend in the Big Apple, when instead of trying to sell tickets by talking about how excited he is by the team’s surprising success, Wolff just whined to the New York press.

No matter what the attendance numbers are this week, Wolff will try to blame it all on the city of Oakland and loyal A’s fans. Problem for Wolff is that his argument is baseless and doesn’t hold up. As the Giants owners can tell you, they were getting terrible attendance in September during pennant races right up until their new ballpark opened.

Wolff can have that in Oakland, too. But he stubbornly refuses to work with Oakland politicians on a new Oakland ballpark. Oakland isn’t the obstacle to a new ballpark and sold out crowds. Wolff is. He’ll try to make September attendance an issue. It’s not. Just ask the Giants.

A’s Attendance History Bodes Well for Oakland’s Future Ballpark

Lew Wolff often says attendance in Oakland is partly why he wants to move the A’s to the South Bay. Like every other excuse Wolff gives, it doesn’t hold up under factual scrutiny. The reason is simple. If San Francisco can take its image as a windblown, flake-filled terrible baseball town and transform it almost overnight into a great baseball city, then certainly Oakland can do the same. Before the Giants moved into Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park), their attendance was terrible as they shared the Bay Area market from 1968 to 1999. Meanwhile, A’s attendance in Oakland during this period was better than San Francisco’s, more often than not.

Oh, we’re not saying A’s attendance over the years has been perfect. Far from it. But we are definitely saying that the A’s attendance, when studied in a larger context, indicates that the A’s could match or exceed the Giants’ post-2000 success once they move into a new Oakland ballpark. How do we know this? Well, first, the answer definitely is NOT found by looking solely at the A’s attendance in a narrow vacuum. No, the answer instead is found by studying the issue in its proper context — that is, the history of Oakland AND San Francisco attendance — and by studying the A’s and Giants’ attendance when nearly all things were equal between the two teams and their similar multi-purpose stadiums. The last time that was the case was from 1968 to 1999 — pre-AT&T Park. Check it out.

The Giants’ attendance from 1968 to 1999 was remarkably awful. For single seasons, the Giants:

  • Drew more than 2 million fans only three times.
  • Drew above the National League average only once.
  • Drew above the National League median only twice.
  • Never drew better than 4th among National League teams, and they did that only once.
  • Finished in the bottom third among National League teams in 23 of 32 seasons.
  • Finished at least third-to-last among National League teams in 15 of 32 seasons.

By comparison, from 1968 to 1999, the A’s:

  • Drew more than 2 million fans six times. (Twice as many times as the Giants)
  • Drew above the American League average six times (Much better than what the Giants did in the National League)
  • Drew above the American League median at least seven times. (NOTE: You could argue it occurred nine times, but in two seasons, they’re just slightly above the borderline, so to be generous, we’ll toss those seasons out. Seven times is still way more than what the Giants achieved in the National League.)
  • Outdrew the Giants 17-15 in those 32 seasons, and outdrew the Giants 17-8 in the first 25 seasons they shared this market.
  • Drew 2.9 million fans in 1990, setting a Bay Area single-season attendance record that held for a decade. The New York Yankees did not reach that milestone until 1998, eight years AFTER Oakland accomplished this.

The difference is pretty clear. The A’s attendance was much better than the Giants in the 32 years they shared this market, when nearly all things were equal with the teams’ multi-purpose stadiums. As a result, San Francisco for decades was considered a terrible baseball town. The old joke was that San Francisco was the only city that would cheer Kruschev and boo Willie Mays. The joke was bolstered by the fact that the Giants (before AT&T Park) rarely made the playoffs and consistently had awful attendance. It’s no wonder they almost moved to other cities on several occasions, including 1992, when they were all but gone to Tampa.

What change occurred that allowed San Francisco to transform its image as a baseball town? Just one but crucial element: Ownership.

After the ’92 season, unpopular owner Bob Lurie sold the team to an ownership group led by Peter Magowan, who immediately did several things that Lurie never did. Namely, the new owners:

  • Announced that they would never leave San Francisco.
  • Stopped badmouthing their stadium and Bay Area fans.
  • Improved the Candlestick Park experience by serving better food, installing a new bleacher section in left field, playing more day games and having employees pick up food wrappers blown on the field to try to remove the stadium’s windblown image.
  • Spent money on players and consistently tried to win.
  • And marketed their team in ways that showed they had a good feel for their unique fan base.

In short, in a sport that is built almost entirely on nostalgia and tradition, Magowan & Co. rightly concluded that there was no need to throw away more than 40 years of San Francisco baseball nostalgia and tradition. In fact, they decided it was something on which to build. Even though the Giants attendance was mediocre-to-awful right up until they moved into their new ballpark in 2000, the team’s owners took a leap of faith and it has paid off beautifully for them.

The same thing easily could happen in Oakland. After all, the A’s in Oakland were more successful at the box office than the Giants in S.F. during the years they were on mostly equal footing in terms of ownership and stadiums. So, it’s logical to figure the A’s will match or exceed the Giants again in a new Oakland ballpark, as soon as their ownership and stadium situations are equal once more. The problem now is, the A’s ballpark situation will never improve until its ownership situation improves. And the A’s ownership won’t improve until Wolff and John Fisher sell the team — just as the Giants needed Bob Lurie to sell to Magowan & Co. in order for moving threats to stop and for AT&T Park to be built.

Last attendance stat of the day: From 1988-2005, the A’s drew 2 million fans in 11 seasons out of 18. They haven’t drawn 2 million fans since. Hmmm, who bought the A’s in 2005? Yep, Wolff and Fisher.

Long story short, Oakland can get this done. We just need the current A’s owners to get out of their own way. It’s all in the numbers.

Oakland Leaders Have Worked for Years to Keep the A’s

When people say Oakland leaders haven’t done enough to keep the A’s in Oakland, well, that is simply not true. As a reminder of that fact, we thought we’d dust off one of our blogs from earlier this year. Here it is:

Since 1995, the city of Oakland has tried time and again to reach out to A’s owners to build a new Oakland ballpark. And time and again, A’s owners Steve Schott and Lew Wolff kept chasing their South Bay pipe dream and refused to work with Oakland officials. Please check out this timeline, with links to verify the facts, of Oakland’s repeated efforts in trying to keep the A’s in town:
1995  Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann buy the A’s from Walter Haas Jr. Wally Haas said his family made “substantial sacrifices” in the sale to ensure the new A’s owners keep the A’s in Oakland. But almost immediately, Schott and Hofmann threaten to move and renegotiate their lease with Oakland, Alameda County and the Oakland Coliseum due to changes made to the stadium for the returning Raiders. Oakland and county officials try to please the new owners by agreeing to pay $11 million to Schott and Hofmann, and up to $20 million in baseball-related stadium improvements over the life of the lease. 
1998 – Schott and Hoffman put the team up for sale. The Oakland city council and Alameda County officials start working with Schott and Hoffman and MLB to choose a suitable buyer. 
1999 – Oakland/Alameda County officials spend a year working with A’s owners and the office of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig on finding a new local owner for the A’s. Oakland officials select a group led by ex-A’s marketing guru Andy Dolich and produce store magnate Robert Piccinini. In September 1999, Mayor Jerry Brown and other city officials fly to Cooperstown, N.Y., to support the local ownership group that would keep the team in Oakland. Instead of finalizing the deal, the MLB owners table the vote and make no decision. Needless to say, Oakland officials are surprised and A’s fans are furious. After getting nowhere for a few months after that, Dolich and Piccinini finally give up and the ownership group dissolves.  
2001 – After Steve Schott attends a Santa Clara City Council meeting saying he wants to move the A’s there, Oakland and Alameda County officials respond, saying again that they want to work with the A’s on building a new ballpark in Oakland. Schott does not publicly respond.
2001 – A report that Schott and Hofmann are on the verge of selling the A’s to Hollywood producers with Las Vegas ties shocks Oakland city officials like such as City Manager Robert Bobb, who had met with A’s owners just a week before about extending their Oakland lease.
2001 – City Manager Robert Bobb hires HOK Architects to study ballpark sites in Oakland and other parts of the East Bay with the goal of keeping the A’s in Oakland.
2002 – Robert Bobb tries to interest the A’s in the Uptown site, located in downtown Oakland. A’s owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann never publicly support the site and never show up at an Oakland City Council meeting. Since then, A’s owners and officials have appeared at city council meetings in Santa Clara, Fremont and San Jose in support of ballpark plans in those cities.
2002 – A’s fans hold a rally outside Oakland City Hall before a City Council meeting where HOK Architects gave a presentation on ballpark sites. No one from the A’s front office attends either the rally or the meeting. When asked about building a new ballpark in Oakland a few weeks later, Schott insults the city by saying, “Basically, they’re for 0 for 2” on stadium plans.
2005 – Ex-Oakland Councilman Dick Spees approaches Lew Wolff and offers to lead a booster group comprised of Oakland business leaders to help get a ballpark built in Oakland. Wolff rejects Spees’ efforts, telling him that he wants to do it alone. (Oakland Tribune 2/7/05)
2005 – Oakland Councilmen Larry Reid and Ignacio De La Fuente react favorably and enthusiastically to Lew Wolff’s presentation to redevelop hundreds of acres near the Oakland Coliseum. Yet, according to later news reports, Wolff almost immediately started negotiating with the city of Fremont for a new ballpark.
2006 – Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums meets with Lew Wolff to discuss keeping the A’s in Oakland. Wolff also rebuffs Dellums, telling him that he is focusing on Fremont and that Dellums shouldn’t “break his pick on this one.”
March 2009 – Dellums again reaches out to Wolff after the Fremont ballpark plan falls apart. But Wolff again rejects Dellums and makes it clear that the A’s now want to move to San Jose. Dellums and Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner respond by sending a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, as does U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who is an Oakland resident.
December 2009 – Oakland announces two new proposed ballpark sites (and an additional site that was previously examined) near the Jack London Square waterfront.
April 2010 – Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner and Let’s Go Oakland leader Doug Boxer release an economic report touting the benefits that a new Jack London Square ballpark would have on Oakland. Brunner and Boxer also hold a public meeting at an Oakland school to discuss and promote the proposed Jack London Square ballpark sites.
July 2011 – New Oakland Mayor Jean Quan reaches out to Lew Wolff and invites him to a meeting to discuss Oakland ballpark sites. Wolff accepts but reveals his negative attitude shortly before the meeting when he tells the Chronicle, “Don’t read too much into it.”
July 2011 – Quan meets with Wolff and spends an hour discussing the city’s ballpark plans. But Wolff refuses to talk seriously about specific plans and, when the meeting ends, he abruptly tells her she has nothing to offer him.  
May 2012 – Clorox CEO Don Knauss is joined by Oakland politicians and leaders of the Oakland and East Bay business community, saying publicly that A’s owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff should negotiate with Oakland on a new ballpark or sell the team to someone who will. A few weeks later, Knauss privately meets with Wolff.August 2012 – Mayor Jean Quan holds a press conference attended by several hundred A’s, Raiders and Warriors fans outside Oakland City Hall. Quan announces that “Oakland Loves Its Sports Teams Week” will be celebrated from Sept. 10-14, 2012.


Facts are stubborn things. So are Oakland baseball fans. Anyone saying that Oakland hasn’t done enough to keep the A’s are simply, factually wrong. Here’s to hoping that A’s owners soon start working with Oakland officials who are offering a helping hand. It would be the first time since 1995 that an A’s owner did that.