Monday, September 27, 2010

Ratto: A's Owners' Strategy is the Problem

The A's just held Fan Appreciation Day, which is ironic, because no owners show less day-to-day appreciation for their fans than Lew Wolff and John Fisher.

Example: The A's keep few concession stands open at the Coliseum, which contributes to unnecessarily long lines. And if you sit in the bleachers, then you have to walk literally halfway across the stadium just to wait in one of those long lines to get something as basic as a hot dog. What if you're a senior citizen with creaky knees, or a single mom taking your rambunctious young kids to the ballpark? What should be fun is instead quickly made very inconvenient. That's not fan-friendly. It's called running things on the cheap and having little regard for your customers. And it's just one of many different examples of how Wolff and Fisher mismanage the A's and then scapegoat Oakland and loyal A's fans.

So, when Wolff's apologists say the A’s need a new stadium to solve their problems, they're putting the cart before the horse. Yes, we all want a new ballpark. But the A's need new owners first. Because this ownership group is deeply, deeply flawed and their problems will follow them wherever they try to take the team.

In a recent column, Ray Ratto called out Wolff and Fisher. Ratto essentially stated that the Oakland Coliseum isn't the problem. The A's owners and their weak marketing strategy are the problem. Here’s a Ratto excerpt:

In the meantime, the fan base is withering away because it is on to the other part of the problem – it knows when its emotional needs aren't being catered to, and though this team was better than any of the previous three, it still doesn't grip the fan's heart the way it should because the A's have become a way station. That won't change until the wait-for-the-ballpark philosophy is abandoned.

As the 43,000 fans on Let's Go Oakland's Facebook page partly proves, the vast majority of A's fans in the Bay Area want the team to stay in Oakland and build on its rich 43-year history with the city. After all, baseball is all about tradition and the A's winning tradition in Oakland is second only to some team called the New York Yankees. Wolff's apologists — they're dwindling, but there still are a few left — say that once Wolff gets a new ballpark, then all of the A's problems will be solved. They'll draw more fans and they'll win more games.

It's not that simple, of course. First of all, new ballparks aren’t some magic pill for attendance problems — just ask Washington, San Diego, and several other teams whose attendance plummeted after a very brief honeymoon. Plus, Wolff is on the record as saying that the team won't change its penny-pinching ways even after getting a new ballpark. If it's going to be "business as usual" after the A's get a new stadium — Wolff's words, not ours — then why does he need a new one?

In the meantime, A's fans all over the Bay Area are staying away from the Coliseum because Wolff and Fisher have turned off fans through their constant bashing of Oakland, through bad anti-fan-friendly ideas like tarping the third deck, and by making not so subtle threats to move the A's "out of California," even though there's really nowhere for them to go. But Ratto puts it best:

A's fans in Oakland keep waiting for the San Jose shoe to drop, having been told repeatedly that they, through their current location, stand in the way of progress. That's another excellent way to be convinced to love the team at a safe distance.

For the past five years, Wolff and Fisher have never really tried to sell tickets, nor have they consistently tried to put a winner on the field. If they do, then fans will come like they did earlier in the decade — when they averaged 27,000 fans per game at the same maligned Coliseum. But then Wolff won't have a rationale for moving. See, just like an unproven player who keeps disappointing when given a chance, Wolff and Fisher remain unproven as owners. They’ve never proved that they will work hard to draw fans and corporations, so why do we trust they will work hard — or even know how — to sell tickets and suites with a new stadium in the future? Truth is, we don’t.

Or, as Ratto wrote:

The A's current model isn't working for anyone, and that's the truth. They may be harder to hit, but at this pace, they're going to become harder to love.

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