Would a New Ballpark Solve the Athletics’ Attendance Problem?

The Oakland Athletics want a new ballpark. The team’s current home, the O.co Coliseum, is the only multi-sport stadium in use in Major League Baseball. The A’s share the Coliseum with the Oakland Raiders; in August, September and October, that often means football lines across the baseball field and diamond dirt on the gridiron. The conditions aren’t optimum for either team.

The Coliseum is also the fifth-oldest ballpark in the majors: only Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium and Angels Stadium are older. It opened for football in 1966 and for baseball in 1968, when the A’s moved west from Kansas City. Renovations in 1995 — when the Raiders moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles — favored football conditions at the expense of baseball. The most egregious example, of course, was the erection of Mt. Davis where the open outfield vistas once stood. Click here for photos of the Coliseum before and after Mt. Davis.

A’s owner Lew Wolff says the team needs a new ballpark to stay financially competitive with other teams in the league. Wolff has said the Coliseum simply lacks the kind of technology, amenities and corporate sponsorships common in most — if not all — other major-league ballparks. Earlier this month, Wolff told CNBC that a new ballpark could generate $100 million in additional revenue for the A’s. The details behind that figure aren’t clear; in particular, we don’t know how much of that additional revenue is expected to come from ticket sales, concession sales, merchandise sales, advertising and corporate sponsorships.

As a refresher, read this article I wrote in September, discussing the Athletics’ plan to move to San Jose and build a privately-financed ballpark in the downtown area, close to HP Pavillion, which is home to the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks. The San Francisco Giants oppose the move to San Jose, claiming they own the territorial rights to Santa Clara County, in which San Jose is the largest city. The dispute has been pending before commissioner Bud Selig going on three years now, and no end is in sight.

The proposed San Jose ballpark would be known as Cisco Field. This link includes architectural renderings of the new ballpark. The seating capacity at Cisco Field would be in the range of 32,000. As currently configured for baseball, the seating capacity at the Coliseum for A’s games is 35,067, with the upper deck seats covered in a semi-permanent tarp.

The A’s have been at or near the bottom of the league in attendance since 2008. The team hasn’t averaged more than 21,000 fans per game since 2007. Wolff points to the Coliseum as the reason fans stay away. Others argue Wolff’s single-minded focus on a new ballpark, the limited player payroll he gives general manager Billy Beane and the team’s losing record since 2006 have depressed fan enthusiasm and ticket sales.

So what can we glean from this season, when the A’s pulled off a near-miraculous division title in the American League West? Do this year’s attendance numbers tell us anything about how the A’s would fare in a new ballpark?

The A’s ended the season with the fourth-lowest overall attendance in the league (1,679,013), which was ahead of the Astros, Rays and Indians. Average attendance at the Coliseum was only 20,728. In fact, the A’s sold out only seven regular season games in 2012: Opening Day, the three-game series against the Giants in late June, the July 2 game against the Red Sox, the Sept/ 14 game against the Orioles and the last game of the season against the Rangers — when the A’s and Rangers were fighting for the American League West title. The A’s reached the 30,000-plus mark in attendance in only four other games: July 22 against the Yankees, Aug. 3 against the Blue Jays, Aug. 18 against the Indians (which celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Oakland’s 20-game winning streak) and the second-to-last game of the season against the Rangers.

Winning helped the A’s this year, although less than what might have been expected. Attendance increased by 14 %, with an additional 202,221 in ticket sales. The A’s did pack the Coliseum during the American League Division Series, with sellouts all three home games against the Tigers. Ticket sales for a possible American League Championship Series in Oakland were relatively brisk, enough so that the A’s decided to remove the upper deck tarps and sell tickets to an additional 11,698 seats at $55 per ticket. At that price, it would have been interesting to see how many of those upper-deck tickets the A’s could have sold.

Which is more important to attendance: a new ballpark or a winning team? Below is a table detailing the attendance figures and winning percentages for all teams with new ballparks since 2000. The table includes data for the year before the new park opened, the first year in the new park and the second year in the new park.

Team Attendance Last Yr/ OldPark Winning % Last Yr/ OldPark Attendance 1st Yr/ New Park Winning % 1st Yr/ New Park Attendance 2nd Yr/New Park Winning % 2nd Yr/  New Park
Giants 2,028,399 .531 3,318,800 .599 (NL Wild Card) 3,311,958 .556
Tigers 2,026,441 .429 2,438,617 .488 1,921,305 .407
Astros 2,706,017 .599 (NL Central Title) 3,056,139 .444 2,904,277 .574
Brewers 1,573,621 .451 2,811,041 .420 1,969,153 .346
Pirates 1,748,908 .426 2,464,870 .383 1,784,998 .447
Reds 1,855,787 .481 2,355,259 .426 2,287,250 .469
Phillies 2,259,948 .531 3,250,092 .531 2,665,304 .543
Padres 2,030,084 .395 3,016,752 .537 2,869,787 .506 (NL West Title)
Cardinals 3,538,988 .617 (NL Central Title) 3,407,104 .516 (NL Central Title) 3,552,180 .481
Nationals 1,943,812 .451 2,320,400 .366 1,817,226 .364
Yankees 4,298,655 .549 3,719,358 .636 (AL East Title) 3,765,807 .586 (ALWild Card)
Mets 4,042,045 .549 3,168,571 .432 2,559,738 .488
Twins 2,416,239 .534 (AL Central Title) 3,223,640 .580 (AL Central Title) 3,168,116 .389
Marlins 1,520,562 .444 2,219,444 .426

Some key points:

  • The Cardinals, Yankees and Mets moved to ballparks with smaller seating capacities and saw attendance totals go down in the first year of the new ballparks, although all remained above the three-million mark.
  • The other teams also moved to parks with smaller seating capacities — except for the Marlins — and saw attendance totals rise in the first year. In the Marlins’ last season in SunLife Stadium, the capacity for baseball games was 36,331. The capacity for new Marlins Park is 37,000 — which essentially is the same.
  • Of the 13 teams for which we have second-year attendance figures, only seven teams saw attendance stay relatively stable in the second year. That includes the Yankees and Cardinals — the two teams that recorded attendance increases. Five of the seven teams with stable or increasing attendance had winning percentages greater than .500 in the second year. The exceptions were the Reds — which got close at .469, an improvement over the prior season’s .426 — and the Twins, which had an unexpectedly terrible 2011 season. The Twins attendance took a beating this year, the team’s third in Target Field, with a second consecutive losing season.

If this history is a guide, the A’s could reasonably expect to see an increase in attendance in the first year of a new ballpark, but will only maintain increased attendance by putting a winning team on the field. And this history comes with a caution sign for the A’s, as none of the teams with new ballparks since 2000 moved more than 40 miles from their old stadium, as the A’s propose to do. The A’s anticipate the move to San Jose would expand its fan base as it moves from a city with a population just shy of 400,000 to a city with a population just shy of one million. Whether the fan base simply shifts, without expanding, remains to be seen.

* * * * * * * * * * *

A quick update on the lawsuit filed by a citizens group called Stand for San Jose, which wants to stop the city from selling downtown land to the A’s to build the ballpark: We reported in September that the city and the A’s filed a motion to force Stand for San Jose to provide sworn testimony and documents detailing the group’s membership in an attempt to show the group was just a front for the Giants and did not have city residents as its members. Last week, the judge presiding over the case denied the motion. The case will now proceed on the merits of the group’s claims that the city must first obtain voter approval before selling land to the A’s for the purpose of building a new ballpark.

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Wendy is also a contributing writer for Sports on Earth. Her writing has appeared on ESPN.com, Baseball Nation, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Score, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

71 Responses to “Would a New Ballpark Solve the Athletics’ Attendance Problem?”

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  1. steex says:

    “The Coliseum is also the third-oldest ballpark in the majors: only Dodger Stadium and Angels Stadium are older. It opened for football in 1966 and for baseball in 1968, when the A’s moved west from Kansas City.”

    Wendy, I think you’re forgetting Wrigley and Fenway!

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  2. Bob says:

    “the O.co Coliseum, is the only multi-sport stadium in use in Major League Baseball.”

    The Jays share Rogers Centre with the Argos. Canadian Football might not count for much with Americans.. but it’s still a sport!

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    • Trevor says:

      For what its worth, the stadium does see a couple of American football games per year. To a lesser extent, it is also hosting the Vanier Cup this year.

      Not to mention concerts and conventions as well.

      At least O.Co has real grass!

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  3. Kinanik says:

    Sorry to quibble: third oldest ballpark in the majors? Do Wrigley and Fenway not count?

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  4. Mike says:

    The Giants “claim” that they own the territorial rights to Santa Clara County is based on the fact that those territorial rights are affirmed in Major League Baseball’s constitution.

    In a free speech case, you wouldn’t say “the appellate claimed there was something called the First Amendment that protects free speech in the US.” So why refer to the Giants’ rightful, constitutionally-protected assertion about their territorial rights as a “claim”??



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    • David says:

      That’s funny when I ride the east bay bound bart with Giants fans and I ask why are you Giants fans when you’re in A’s territory they look at me blankly. Usually followed up with “There’s no territory, come on it’s like a 10 minute difference.”

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    • matt says:

      That’s cool…most people don’t care to focus on how and why they were awarded those territorial rights. For all intents and purposes, without the A’s, the Giants would be the St. Petersberg Giants.

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      • Candlestick says:

        Wrong. The Giants obtained rights to San Jose prior to 1992.

        They would not have needed T-rights in order to build a ballpark there. T-rights are the right to prevent anyone else from building within the territory. In this case, the A’s were delighted to make that deal in order to induce the Giants to move to what was then considered the margins of the Bay Area. That could have put the A’s on a nearly equal footing to the Giants in the marketplace.

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  5. redrey says:

    Yes, Oakland has a much smaller population than SJ, but their metro populations are very similar.

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  6. noseeum says:

    Thanks Wendy. There’s attendance, but there’s also average ticket price.

    I assume a new stadium would increase revenue per attendee, so even if attendance stayed the same, there would be an increase.

    I could be wrong in my assumption, though. Any thoughts on what the A’s could expect when it comes to ticket prices?

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    • BGill says:

      There would also be new debt to pay off that would probably wipe out the benefit of higher ticket and concession revenue. And presumably higher payrolls will drive expenses higher.

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  7. Mike says:

    Also a quibble, but in 2000 the Giants won the NL West with the best record in MLB. You are a Giants fan! You should know that!

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  8. Krog says:

    I love the chart Wendy. It shows that ticket sales aren’t dramatically affected by new ballparks. But it leaves out the inevitable price increases associated with a new ballpark. The A’s want to sell more tickets, of course, but they would love to be able to double or triple ticket prices even more.

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    • BGill says:

      I don’t see why they need to move to justify higher prices. Put a more expensive and (hopefully) better product on the field and fans will pay the prices. Retrofit and renovate, and ask fans to foot the bill. Changing lower box tix from $25 to $35 is reasonable to me.

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  9. Paul AB says:

    Could the A’s and Giants swap Oakland for San Jose?

    I guess I’m not sure what territorial rights actually imply. TV rights or something? It’s not like people in San Jose today are prevented from going to an A’s game and are forced to go to a Giants game.

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    • JayT says:

      They could, but why would the Giants want to give up one of the richest cities in the country in exchange for a relatively poor city?

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      • Shawn says:

        Why should the giants hold San Jose captive? They used to share the rights to the South Bay and San Jose has more corporate$$ than Oakland/SF combined so its complete bullshit that the giants are preventing my city (SJ) from having our own team!

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      • JayT says:

        Oh, I’m not in agreement with the Giants. I’d like to see the A’s move there, even though I live about five minutes from the Coliseum, because I think that it would be better for the franchise’s health. It’s just that at the same time, I understand why the Giants are trying to block it. If you look around AT&T Park, half the ads are for Silicon Valley-based companies. I imagine they will lose some of those if the A’s move down there.

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      • Bhaakon says:

        “Why should the giants hold San Jose captive?”

        Well, I think it’s pretty simple. Baseball is a business, and the Giants’ current owners bought the team with the understanding that San Jose was their exclusive territory. It doesn’t take an MBA to see why fighting tooth and nail to protect a lucrative market from competition is a good for the bottom line.

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      • Jay Stevens says:

        In all the advocacy for the A’s to be able to move to San Jose, lost is the damage the move would do the Giants, who have done a lot of work reaching out to the San Jose market. From the location of the park, the train lines that run to the neighborhood from down the peninsula, and connections that the club made to Silicon Valley, the Giants have spent a lot of resources and energy maximizing its territorial potential. Given the Giants’ rights to the area in its contract with MLB and its reliance on that market, I’m scratching my head here wondering why people think the Giants are the black hats in this controversy.

        A couple of thoughts:

        (A) The A’s woes are not all related to its location and stadium. As far as I can tell, its ownership isn’t anywhere near as savvy as San Francisco’s when it comes to marketing the team, etc. In that way, Thurm is right. Building a new ballpark isn’t the silver bullet to the franchise’s financial problems.

        (B) But the thrust of Thurm’s argument isn’t really relevant. We’re not just talking about the As building a new stadium, we’re talking about the franchise moving to a new city. Oakland and San Jose may be both be in the Bay Area, but with the difference in demographics, the layout of transportation corridors, etc, they might as well be in different states. Moving to San Jose, means a richer, larger population to draw on, in an area that also boasts the seat of a deep-pocketed and thriving tech industry. Does moving to a new city boost money and revenue? I think it does, especially if it’s to a richer city more likely to purchase sponsorships, luxury boxes, and advertisement.

        (C) If the A’s are intent on moving, why not to other, available markets? Portland…San Antonio…Nashville? Heck, New York could easily support a third baseball team. The Brooklyn A’s?

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  10. Bob says:

    Shouldn’t have left Philadelphia.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      Thank you Gus Zernial or maybe Joe DeMaestri I can’t sse you clearly.

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    • Candlestick says:

      In all seriousness, if it weren’t for the Phillies’ T-rights, a move back to Philadelphia might be the one way for the A’s to develop a sustainable, large and passionate fan base.

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  11. David says:

    The A’s situation is different than any of the comps listed because they’re really somewhere between getting a new stadium and actually relocating. Although it’s only 40 miles from the House of Davis to downtown San Jose, they’d be moving to what is in many ways a new market, not just a new stadium.

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    • I can’t think of another baseball team moving this sort of distance – all previous moves have always been either a very short distance to a new stadium within the city, or hundreds of miles across country to a new city.

      The closest comparison is perhaps the New Jersey Nets moving to Brooklyn in basketball.

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    • AA says:

      Its 31.4 miles from Dodger Stadium to Anaheim/Angel Stadium. The Angels made that move.

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      • David says:

        Well yes, but they also played in the original Wrigley Field in LA before Dodger Stadium. Neither of those was ever intended to be a permanent home for the team.

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  12. George says:

    Crazy idea: how about moving the Athletics to a new ballpark at Candlestick Point?

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  13. Shawn says:

    Of course a new stadium would solve their Attendance problems! How dumb of a question is that? Winning helps 2 and keeping the young roster in tack can’t hurt and a new stadium only helps those 2 items

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  14. Shawn says:

    Wendy Therm is clueless, what a pathetic and pointless article

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  15. bSpittle says:

    Come to san jose, A’s.

    Bud, get moving already, dammit.

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  16. TruthHurts says:

    After the A’s fans cheered their team for losing in the ALDS I kept hearing that the A’s have the best fans.

    No. They do not.

    Good fans go to the ballpark. Even the crappy Mariners and Royals outdrew the A’s. If those teams had had a late-season run like the A’s did they likely would have had near sellouts during all of September. This is true of most cities, but not Oakland.

    A’s fans do not deserve Billy Beane and the amazing teams he’s built on the shoestring budget those same fans force him to work with year after year. Neither do they deserve to keep their team. I sincerely hope the team is moved far, far away. For most A’s fans it seemingly will make little difference. When game night comes, they’ll be sitting at home either way.

    -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • David Wiers says:

      I would advice against using blanket statements like saying “they’ll [A's Fans] be sitting at home either way.”

      I’m obviously bias here, but I hope the A’s find a way to stay in the Bay Area, and San Jose seems like the most likely scenario.

      As a parallel, didn’t the Dodgers suffer poor attendance for years before they moved to LA? The Dodgers had a winning team for years and years (similar to the 2000-03 A’s) before the clamoring for a new stadium popped up. The urban planning process in Brooklyn couldn’t be agreed upon and was dragged out for years and years. No agreement could be made with the city of New York (or in this case the Giants and MLB), so the Dodgers simply upped and moved after getting an excellent price and location in California. The Giants followed suit and the rest is history.

      It isn’t a perfect parallel as TV money changes everything, but to me it is still similar.

      Long story short: don’t insult a fanbase without knowing how terribly mis-managed this has been by Selig and company.

      (As an aside, if I were Lew Wolf et al, I’d just move to SJ and dare the Giants/MLB to sue me.)

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      • TruthHurts says:

        Oh, I’m sure there are some fans who went to a ton of Oakland games last year, but on balance attendance was shamefully low for a winning team. It’s one thing for a team to move out from under a fanbase that’s rabidly supportive and shows up rain or shine. But I really don’t think Oakland deserves a team if it can’t support them even when they’re winning.

        I don’t see how urban planning or Bud Selig make any difference. Those are excuses for why a new stadium can’t get built or a team might suck. What excuse do fans have for avoiding the ballpark like the plague when the team is within a few games of winning their division in September? Kansas City (.444, 16 games back) and Seattle (.463, 19 games back) should not outdraw Oakland (.580, AL West Champs).

        Only three teams had a better record than Oakland this year. And only three teams had worse attendance.

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      • hobbes2d says:

        The Dodgers didn’t suffer from poor attendence in Brooklyn, they actually had one of the most loyal fanbases around and were a consistent contender throughout the entire 1950s. O’Malley’s problem was that he wanted a new ballpark built due to the fact that Ebbets Field had become old and outdated. It was the Giants who suffered from poor attendance at the Polo Grounds. And with the huge success of the Boston Braves moving to Milwaukee and getting a huge boost in attendance other owners starting getting ideas about moving to St. Paul and other places further west in order to reap a windfall of profits.

        Obviously it’s not fair to compare these two scenarios since in the 50s, nobody played baseball west of Cleveland or St. Louis and now there are teams all over the West Coast and in Colorado and Texas etc. I would argue that the A’s moving to San Jose would not be anything but a temporary boost in attendance and if they continued to be run like a farm team for the rest of the majors that they would continue to draw on the lowest tier of revenue figures.

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    • Danmay says:

      You might be surprised how many fans have been put off by Lew Wolff’s handling of the stadium issue. His disrespect of Oakland fans in general, and his one-minded drive to get this team to move has left the Oakland fan base in shambles.

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  17. Matt Hunter says:

    Wow that Mt. Davis before and after is crazy! I’ve been to tons of A’s games but I didn’t realize how much nicer it would be without that monstrosity there.

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. R E P says:

    After viewing the pictures, you need a new ball park….

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  19. cold eels, distant thoughts says:

    Since the Warriors are moving to San Francisco in a few years it seems to me that the A’s should plan a nice jewel box where the Oracle Arena currently stands. The City of Oakland might like to see the arena stay there for trade shows or whatever, but I’d think keeping the A’s in town would do more for their image. The stadium complex in Oakland has nice weather compared to SF and is better located than anywhere in San Jose, which has no BART access.

    Whether the A’s can ever really draw in Oakland is a reasonable question, since they’ve been about as entertaining as a team with their financial picture can be, and for about 35 years. But I’d think getting SJ fans to adopt them is no more likely than their attendance picking up with a beautiful baseball-purposed stadium (which worked magic for the Giants). And as an East Bay native, I’d like to see someone stick around in Oakland.

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    • Baltar says:

      What Dorothy Parker said of Oakland is very true of the Coliseum, “There is no there there.”

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    • Kurtis says:

      There may not currently be BART access in San Jose, but there are plans to build a station in the parking lot of the proposed stadium.

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    • Bubba says:

      Take a little walk up to International Avenue (maybe a 1/4 mile away from the Coliseum) and you’ll wish you were NOT there.

      “There” is, at best, a run-down industrial ruin. More realistically, a crime-ridden slum.

      This is Oakland. It’s no place for professional anything.

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  20. Old A's fan says:

    The article is a bit Mom and apple pie. New stadium attracts initially but winning is the long term driver. Duh. Looking at this year is distortive and not fair to A’s fans. Over the last 3 years, Wolfe has marketed a move to SJ rather than promoting the investment in Oakland. For most of the year, it was the real version of Major League, the movie.

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  21. rory says:

    I believe Cisco field, and those renderings, are from the abandoned Fremont plan,

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    • hk says:

      They may have stayed with a similar architectural plan, but from the aerial view, it sure looks like the Sharks arena right across the parking lot from the proposed Cisco Field site.

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    • Kurtis says:

      They are not, the renderings are similar, but if you compare the two, these are obviously not the fremont ones, which would have the scoreboard and main entrance in dead center field.

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  22. whobob says:

    From 2007-2011 the A’s haven’t had a winning team. From 2000-2006 they did. Also, this year may be a little misleading as everyone expected them to continue to lose, and they did for a while, being 13 games back of the Rangers. They weren’t in first place until the last day of the season– then they sold out, along with the playoff games.

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  23. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    32 is weak sauce, they should at least make it 35k……if it ever happens.

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  24. Dave says:

    Wow this article is written by some one who lives in Frisco, go figure. Previous A’s ownership should have just let the Gnats move to Tampa.

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    • Candlestick says:

      Previous A’s ownership had nothing to do with preventing the Giants from moving to Tampa. The other National League owners blocked the sale because they realized the Giants were a potentially strong franchise hampered by an exceptionally bad stadium. A team in Tampa St Pete would have been financially weak regardless of the stadium quality.

      The question hanging over the A’s is will a new stadium be enough to generate sustained revenues. A winning team will draw fans in any market and any facility. But you can’t win every year. The A’s problem in the Bay Area has always been that when they are mediocre or bad, they have virtually no fan support at all, whether you measure it by attendance or broadcast ratings.

      The A’s have a relatively low ceiling, and no floor.

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      • Kurtis says:

        I think he was referring to the reason the Giants were given the Silicon Valley market in the first place, so they would have a place to move. That may not have been the determining factor, but it is the obvious connection.

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  25. J.T. says:

    Let the A’s move to SJ and give the MLB welfare check the A’s usually receive and give it to the Giants for five years.

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    • Bubba says:

      Wouldn’t even begin to cover it.

      Reminds me of ridiculous trade scenarios concocted by hopeless, inept fans:

      ie, “Why don’t the A’s trade Cocoa Crisp for Matt Kemp????”

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