On September 4, 2002, the Oakland Athletics crammed a season-high 55,000-plus fans into the then-named Network Associates Coliseum for what is often fondly remembered as the climactic epoch of Moneyball—the night that the Athletics frittered away an early 11-run lead at home against the lowly Royals, followed by a classic incredulity-fueled Billy Beane tantrum, followed by Scott Hatteberg's heartwarming pinch-hit blast in the bottom of the ninth inning to win it. At the outset of the chapter devoted to that particular game, Michael Lewis painted a surreal picture of a "traffic jam extraordinary even by Northern California standards stretched as far as the eye could see" leading up to the sea of concrete surrounding the Coliseum on all sides.

On Wednesday night, the Coliseum played host to the playoff-bound Rangers and a comparatively exciting pitching matchup (Brandon McCarthy vs. C.J. Wilson). The announced crowd of 19,589—a figure that would rank somewhere between subpar and miserable in virtually every other major-league market, but actually constitutes the 27th-best showing in Oakland's first 80 home dates of the season. In case you were wondering what such an announced attendance total actually looks like, here was the scene from what is now named the Coliseum less than five minutes before first pitch on Wednesday:

[Deeper research into the A's promotional schedule indicates that they have been running a promotion called "BART $2 Wednesdays," which enables fans to purchase seats in the outlying sections of the upper deck (in center field and around the foul poles) for $2 a pop. I'm assuming that promotion accounts for a substantial number of the fans pictured above that are perched in the second deck. And during the course of researching that, I also realized that the A's have been running a season-long promotion called "Free Hot Dog Thursdays." Having experienced first-hand the joys of navigating "Dollar Hot Dog Wednesdays" at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (which the Texas fan base tends to approach with the same voracious gusto displayed by Fat Albert when he ate the Cosby Kids), I'm inclined to wonder how that promotion has ended up working out for Oakland.]

Down the coast some 400 miles, the desperation-fueled Angels zeroed in on their ninth consecutive season of three million fans clicking through the turnstiles, which says a great deal about what a World Series win combined with perennial playoff contention can do for team revenues. (Although with that said, the Angels' per-game home attendance is down slightly more than one thousand fans per game this season, and they would require an impossibly phenomenal final homestand to bump their present 39,018-fan average showing into the 40,000-fan club for an eighth consecutive season.) Up the coast a piece, the sad-sack Mariners stumbled ever closer to a 90-loss season, as well as their fourth consecutive season where their average home attendance per game fell. The future bears promise, but it's unclear whether that promise will manifest in the form of major-league results quickly enough to materially reverse their ill-trending attendance totals as early as next season.

And down in Texas, the Rangers' ballpark staff furiously prepared for a final three-game homestand that should easily bump them into the 2.9 million range, with an outside shot at surpassing the single-season franchise record of 2.945 million fans set back in 1997. In addition to bolstering both season and total ticket sales and luxury suite sales, the Rangers found their 2011 television ratings inflated by 35 percent at the midseason mark relative to last season, signifying the second-highest increase in baseball. It’s an impressive feat, even when considering that the Rangers were starting from a below-average TV ratings baseline coming into the season. What isn't quite so impressive, though is the fact that the Rangers' attendance totals still don’t hold a candle to those of the Angels and Mariners over the last 11 seasons (American League attendance rankings are listed in parentheses):






2011 (projected)

3,160,448 (2nd)

1,479,946 (14th)

1,953,353 (8th)

2,927,760 (5th)


3,250,814 (2nd)

1,418,391 (13th)

2,085,630 (8th)

2,505,171 (5th)


3,240,386 (2nd)

1,408,783 (14th)

2,195,533 (7th)

2,156,016 (8th)


3,336,747 (2nd)

1,665,256 (13th)

2,329,702 (7th)

1,945,677 (11th)


3,365,632 (2nd)

1,921,844 (12th)

2,672,223 (6th)

2,353,862 (8th)


3,406,790 (2nd)

1,976,625 (12th)

2,481,165 (6th)

2,388,757 (7th)


3,404,686 (2nd)

2,109,118 (8th)

2,725,459 (4th)

2,525,221 (6th)


3,375,677 (2nd)

2,201,516 (7th)

2,940,731 (3rd)

2,513,685 (6th)


3,061,094 (3rd)

2,216,596 (6th)

3,268,509 (2nd)

2,094,394 (7th)


2,305,547 (7th)

2,169,811 (8th)

3,542,938 (1st)

2,352,397 (6th)


2,000,919 (8th)

2,133,277 (7th)

3,507,326 (1st)

2,831,021 (5th)

Total (projected)





[A couple of theories propose themselves for the Rangers' inability to jump from the fifth spot from 2010 to 2011. First, there's little denying that the especially oppressive Texas heat this past summer had at least a minor detrimental effect on attendance. Case in point: the Rangers played 27 games this season with first-pitch temperatures of 100 degrees or hotter, but played just 24 such triple-digit games from 1998-2010… combined. Second, the continued decay of the Twins' new stadium attendance bounce combined with their flirtation with the 100-loss mark will probably knock them a few rungs down the attendance ladder next season. As far as whether Texas can overtake the Red Sox, Yankees, or Angels—well, the jury's still out on that. I won’t be counting on it, unless the Rangers win another pennant or the Reapers descend on Yankee Stadium during their mass invasion of Earth.]

But the real, pressing attendance problem in the AL West continues to be found in Oakland, where players, executives, and owners alike doggedly wait for a stadium resolution that will seemingly never come. The commissioner has gone so far as to acknowledge that the A's do not have a future in Oakland, and has ostensibly received some amount of meaningful input from the blue-ribbon committee he assembled more than two years ago to assess the Athletics’ situation and recommend a blueprint. To this point, however, no action has been taken, and each day lost to inertia is another minute setback for a franchise that is mortally crippled in terms of its revenue streams, its ability to attract free-agent talent, its ability to dump money into the rich gold mine of amateur talent…

In June,'s Howard Bryant painted an honest but frightfully bleak picture of the A's-Giants stalemate, laying out the crumbling relationship between the A's and Oakland and the primary reasons for the interminable delays. The issue isn't simply that San Jose, the Athletics' intended destination, falls within the boundaries of the Giants' territorial rights; it's that the Giants apparently consider those rights to be non-negotiable and non-obtainable even if the A's were willing to amply compensate the Giants for their undercut revenue streams. That strikes me, the relative novice to this extremely complex and nuanced problem, as a marvelously difficult roadblock to overcome.

Said Giants president Larry Baer of the territorial-rights dilemma (again, from the Bryant column): "Once you begin talking about negotiating a dollar figure, the horse is already out of the barn. The South Bay was a core piece of our business model when we bought this team. We based much of our entire business strategy on Santa Clara County being a piece of our territory, and I don't think it is overstating it to say that allowing another franchise into our territory would set a dangerous precedent and have a traumatic effect on this franchise. … If we were to go down to 2.5 million [in attendance], we'd be in the [expletive]. This franchise would be completely destabilized. So, for me, the question is this: Is baseball willing to have two teams receiving money from the revenue-sharing pool or one that is so financially healthy that it paid $30 million into it?"

 I don't have a very good handle on the truth-to-spin ratio in what Baer is saying, but shedding my personal allegiances and speaking purely as a fan of the game, I have to say that this is absolutely painful to watch unfold. I know that the synchronous timing of Oakland's poor season with the release of Moneyball (the movie) has been remarked upon by countless commentators, both baseball-educated and not… but the Athletics' misfortune extends beyond a mere poor season, in that this situation is simply hopeless. And there isn't a single fan base in baseball that I would wish such a terrible, joyless plight upon.  

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The A's payroll this year was higher than 8 other teams, including several who have been very competitive, such as Arizona and Tampa Bay, as well as others who appear to be much closer to building successful teams, such as Toronto and Washington. It seems to me to be an excuse for persistent poor performance to say that the situation is hopeless. Several other teams are in a significantly worse situation, and appear to be making a better go of things.

The attendances show that people are willing to come out for a winning team, but that the As don't seem able to put one out there. I get the impression that they are using the whole ballpark issue to avoid dealing with other problems, such as their farm's apparent inability to produce hitters that can contribute at an MLB level. Yeah, they can't go out and buy in expensive free agents, but there are many other teams in the same situation there. I'm not really seeing why their situation is as hopeless as they make out, except perhaps that Billy Beane can't fix it, so it must be unfixable. Maybe it's time to get someone new in instead.
I'm not sure a winning team could fix Oakland's problem. While on summer vacation 6 years ago, I took my family to a game in Oakland. We're from Montana and love baseball - we've been to every ballpark west of Denver. Long story-short, the experience was like no other for us. It was a day game in the middle of the week and we experienced general rudeness (my son was wearing his Vladdy jersey - he was 7 at the time) drunks, F-bombs, and total indifference by the ushers to do anything about it. We weren't sitting with the bleacher bums; we had seats even with 3rd base and about 10 rows up. If this is an everyday occurance at this ballpark, I can see why attendance is down. We did not have a positive, fun, family baseball experience in Oakland. While this would be difficult to verify, check out the stands on a televised game and see how many kids are there - my bet is that families are few and far between at these games. Maybe this team really does need a change of scenery.
We too are seeing games in every major-league park we can reach (18 of 30 franchises so far), and also can report a negative impression of watching a game in Oakland (on one occasion -- on the other, things really weren't complainable). Thing is, though, that's something that the franchise really can do something about. Certainly they can make clear to ushers and other employees what their job responsibilities are, i.e., making the experience enjoyable through treating people decently and in a friendly manner, removal of obnoxious drunks who cross boundaries, etc. They can't necessarily keep fans from being boorish to start with, but by refusing to tolerate boorish behavior, they could make a dent in the problems that you experienced.

In general I am left with the feeling that the franchise doesn't really _care_ if they draw crowds. This also shows up in the way the physical plant is getting run down, the rather diffident advertising, community outreach that appears far less effective (I don't live in the bay area, so I'm not completely sure about this, but that's the way it "looks") than many franchises have, and so on. Isn't this too a front-office function? If so, and if my perception is accurate, then I think it's a failing of the Beane regime, as much as a "simply hopeless" situation.
Or, alternatively, they could, you know, try to make the best of it, and deal with the bad behaviour, make it a better place for families and so on. They aren't going to be moving to San Jose any time soon, so they would do much better just getting on with things.
"allowing another franchise into our territory would set a dangerous precedent"

For what, exactly, I'd like to ask Baer. If MLB lets the A's into San Jose, does that suddenly mean expansion into more Giants territory so before they know it, there are four teams into from the same pie that used to belong entirely to San Francisco?
The A's have never drawn all that well.

In 1973, the 2nd year of their 3peat, they drew just over 1 million fans. AL average was 1.1 million. They have very rarely been over 200,000 fans above the AL average (88-92). They will at best draw about AL average now (e.g. 2001-2005) and only if they're good.

A more pressing concern for me is that when I was living on the peninsula, my cable TV package never had the channel the A's were on (CSCA I think?). I couldn't watch the team on cable and I couldn't watch them using MLB.TV because of blackout restrictions. I think they only get TV exposure in the east bay and it's really hard to grow your fan base in your own area if you aren't on TV where most of the people are living.
I think montana's experience is the result of what behemoth discusses. The A's are hardball with the stadium in order to try to force change. They are so enamored with the supposed corporate riches to be had in Santa Clara that they will screw everyone else. Build a nice bb only stadium and good things will come, not the other way around. It's not like Santa Clara rocks or anything. It's bleak in it's own way - miles & miles of it. The A's would be better off staying north & building something cool. Nobody complains about games at UC Berkeley. Something to think about.
As an A's season ticket holder, I'm always puzzled by people's negative impressions of the behavior at the Coliseum. Perhaps I'm just inured to it, but it's never struck me as very bad--certainly not as bad as my one game at Yankee Stadium, where the entire crowd chanted 'fuck you Rickey' every time Rickey Henderson came to the plate. (Yes, he was with the A's at the time, but still...)
I have some friends with a mini season seat plan with the A's for midweek day games. Their seats are by the visitor's bullpen down the first base line. Everyone I've seen there has always been friendly. Never had any kind of problem.

Have to say I also don't get the attraction people have to the new mallparks. AT&T park is nice enough I guess but I find the commercialization to be overwhelming to the point of distraction. I go to games to watch baseball, enjoy a cold beer and hangout with my friends. Nothing about the fancy stadiums really adds to that at all. And watching (for instance) Tyler Florence do a Food Network promo at 110 decibels on the jumbotron seriously detracts from it.
I don't have all (or most of) the facts, but it seems bizarre that, given that the A's are already in the Bay Area, they could be barred from moving elsewhere in the same area. I've heard some conspiracy theorists speculating that the A's are blowing smoke, and that in reality they are perfectly happy with staying where they are, getting the league subsidy and not spending any money.
Not at all familiar with the A's ownership, but it sounds much like the jerk in Florida. Spend as little as necessary, say no whenever Beane asks for more money, and complain as loudly, and frequently as possible about the stadium holding the team back. Oh, and continue to suck up the revenue sharing dollars, as fast as possible. It might be interesting to see the "real" books.
Lew Wolff isn't a great owner but he has shown at least some willingness to spend (for example, the 2007 payroll was 79 million). The A's tried very hard to sign Adrian Beltre last winter as well. Beltre took less money to play elsewhere as I recall. Free agent hitters don't want to come to Oakland because they will put up lesser numbers there, hurting the value of their next contract. There's a little bit of chicken and egg scenario going on there.
That's actually an oft-repeated bit of misinformation. The A's offered Beltre $72m for 5 years and he held out for more, with the Angels bumping it to $76m/5 then the Rangers going $96m/6 with the last year a vesting option. Scott Boras correctly guessed the market would come up to his target eventually.
Per Ken Rosenthal, the A's topped out at six years, $78.6 million on Beltre:
The problem with Lew Wolff is he's never been serious about building a new stadium. The man is a real estate developer looking for a publicly funded handout.

He's never made a real effort to invest in anything in the Bay Area and if you go to an A's game, you'll see it. Terrible food, terrible policies, a complete lack of effort on the business side.

He has no interest in succeeding in Oakland. He wants to move the team to a place that will gift him land and public improvements and perhaps even cash so he can develop an area around a stadium and make money.

Contrast that to how new Warriors ownership is behaving and you'll see the difference and fan response (once the lockout is resolved).
Move the A's to New Jersey. Someone there will build them a stadium.
The foul territory in Oakland is immense. Even people sitting the first few rows are a long way from the field, certainly farther away than in any other ballpark. The foul out is probably the most boring play in baseball.

Here's my solution. Allow the A's to move to San Jose, but stipulate that they have to give the Giants 5% of their gross revenues for 20 years. If the Giants don't like it, tough. Selig can invoke the best interests of the game power that he possesses.