18 April 2006

Third deck closure (again)

A new piece in Slate by SF Weekly contributor Tommy Craggs provides a nice forward for today's upcoming post on ticket prices. Craggs bemoans the loss of the Coliseum's upper deck, especially section 310, where he and his friends frequently sat during games. Perhaps a little too romantically he writes, "Underpoliced and sparsely populated, the coliseum's scruffy upper deck was perfect—the ballpark equivalent of Wyoming." There's value in being able to stretch out, place one's jacket on an adjacent chair, or use the next row of seats as a footrest. It's also nice to be able to render a printed row and seat assignment useless. Plus it doesn't hurt that vertical circulation in the Coliseum has always been excellent, making "trading up" quite easy.

Of course, Craggs doesn't mention that sitting in 310 often made one feel like he was watching the game while actually sitting in Wyoming. Believe me, I'm a cheap guy who loves my bleacher seats and used the "View level" as a reliable fallback when the bleachers were sold out, but the seating bowl's curvature was not conducive to actually watching a ballgame. I've had a chance to sit in every section in the Coliseum, even the odd Loge boxes in the corners that act as not-quite skyboxes. I absolutely sympathize with AN's Brian in 317 and FreeSeatUpgrade, who have championed the upper deck ever since the announcement to close it was made. Unfortunately, they're a small subset of A's fandom, and their counterparts in other cities have been slowly becoming extinct over the past two decades - or at the very least homeless.

The funny thing is that the upper deck vibe hasn't completely evaporated. It appears to have moved to the Plaza Outfield area (formerly Plaza Bleachers). While these sections are more likely to be sold out for high-demand games, the typical weekday series against Texas or Kansas City will render the Plaza Outfield a veritable pasture. There are far fewer desirable seats (front row for the most part) in Plaza Outfield because so much of the outfield is obstructed by the sheer height of the deck. It's still an interesting vantage point, especially if one get there early enough to sit in dead center.

My cynical side points to a strictly business ethos in the closing of the upper deck, in that sections 315-319 were too good. Similar seats in other stadia cost upwards of $20. Yet A's fans were only paying $9, or $1 on Wednesdays. For many, the price of a View level ticket acted as a cover charge, and upon entering the stadium they made a beeline for the Field level. If not trading up, finding a slightly better perch in the upper deck was likely as long as there were plenty of empty seats in the area.

Last September, Craggs also wrote about the ballpark design Wolff unveiled in his August press conference. He alluded to the scarcity issue in that piece as well, though in the throes of a pennant race I doubt anyone was even considering the idea that Wolff would experiment with the stadium in such a drastic way. The days of an A's being an inexpensive social scene are coming to an end.

Or are they? Certainly there are potentially innovative ways to bring these fans in without completely destroying their wallets, right? The A's transitioned several season ticket holders from the 300's during the offseason, but what about the young, spur-of-the-moment types? For them, I think there is a good solution: student sections. It works in college basketball and football, why not at an A's game? The student sections could be specially designated areas of either the bleachers or upper deck, with discounted tickets and special green T-shirts. Student sections at college hoops and football games tend to be loud, so they'd naturally work for cheering and heckling in baseball. Non-students would be welcome too, but a certain percentage of those seats would be set aside for students - say 500-1,000. At the new ballpark non-premium bar could be built into the stadium for the kids to visit after games - with a ticket stub acting as free admission. The best part is that it would be easy to market ticket packages to schools and students.

Some may argue that this environment is already in place at the Coliseum, but not the way I've defined it. The LF bleachers are always raucous due to the culture that's been there for decades. When the A's move to new digs, tickets will become even more scarce, which could further push fans away. Why not take a proactive approach and give it a new marketing twist? The more of those young fans can be kept in fold, the more likely they'll sign up for better seats as they get older, earn more money, have families, etc. Wolff said he likes the "neighborhood" concept being deployed at many new ballparks. Well, Lew, here's a group of fans just waiting for a neighborhood. What can you do for them?


drummer510 said...

I totally agree. What's so great about the Colesium is the fact that you do get rowdy students and other loud fans who might not be able to afford season tix at a new park. Thats what happened to Giants fans. The Stick used to have some of the rawest fans, now At&t fans are fine wine corporate fans who arrive in the 3rd inning and leave in the 7th. Obviously the idea of having a section for students would be great and would make the A's experience more exciting and pure, but I doubt if Wolff builds a stadium with a small capacity would disuade Wolff from giving up 1,000 seats for a cheaper price. I hope they have a section for the left field fans.

By the way Marinelayer what do you think of Wolff's design for the new park? It seems sorta clostraphobic. Do you think Wolff will come up with a new design if he decides to use the fremont site?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the empathy, ML. We'd all do well to offer more of that particular quality, and I always appreciate your respectful approach.

The part that really hurts is that baseball in general, and the A's specifically, have been the only major sport seeking out working class fans. If you could handle nosebleeds, most parks would sell you a ticket, with a view of the whole field, for the price of a downtown lunch or two.

Boutique ballparks changed that, with scarcity by design. Where once Candlestick might’ve priced 40% of its seats at affordable levels, Phone Co Phield has maybe 5-10% tops in that range. The insidious part is of course that not only do the former Candlestickers get priced out of their seats, but that resulting revenue disparities mean that your team also feels compelled to price you out of your seats. The A’s, Pirates, Orioles and even the mighty Yankees make the claim that they must also have a new park to remain competitive. Pricing out more low budget fans. And their kids.

I happen to believe this is a false dilemna, which owners repeat so often that everyone believes it must be true. A weapons of mass destruction or missile gap thing. But that’s not my point. What I fear, besides seeing my A’s games cut by 90%, is that baseball is cutting off its staying power by kissing off the proletariat. It’s often said that baseball is so strong even it can’t kill itself, surviving breathtaking greed, gambling and drug scandals, and pigheaded labor unrest. I submit that this is true at least in large part because of baseball’s easy access. You could be a part of it…in fact, baseball needed you to be part of it. Nearly anyone could go to games, often lots of them. Parents could bring kids, again and again, and pass the generational torch. My kids will see half as many games this year as last just because of the deck closure; a scarcity-driven new park might see them once or twice a year. Maybe.

I’m way too cynical to go much further down this maudlin path. But even this calculating heart wonders if baseball will still be the charmed, unsinkable sport with which I’m madly in love after it has bid farewell to a couple generations. Workers made baseball, and continued to sustain it long after the others had become “TV sports.” Baseball will never be that kind of TV sport…but who will go to the games?


swirlinabc said...

I have just recently returned from Phoenix. While there, we had an opportunity to attend a Diamondbacks game. While their stadium is quite nice, I must say that the fan support is nowhere near the Oakland fans. There were 19,000 there that night, but judging by the crowd noise, you'd think there were half that many. It was an open roof night and all the left field windows were open. Did that have something to do with the quietness? Probably not. The fans were just plain sedate.

Personally, I'll take the raucous A's fans in an older stadium any day over the nice stadium/quiet fans of Arizona.

Message to Mr. Wolff...wherever you end up putting the new stadium, don't stifle the great fans of the Oakland A's. Keep it affordable for a younger crowd. Make sure you still have areas for signs,the flag carriers, and the drummers in the bleachers. These are elements that make Oakland a fun time. No beautiful stadium can replace the environment that is created by the great fan base.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of the many fans of sections 316-319, and made a point to go to Fan Fest to purchase tickets to 15 games throughout the season. The view of the field from above home plate was excellent, and perhaps the best value in MLB. The "party line" that $10 bleecher seats are better than upper deck seats is rediculous.

The closing of the upper deck changed my baseball economics completely. Instead of 15 games @ $8-10 per ticket, I'm going to only 4 games @ $30-38 per ticket this season. Total A's revenue from ticket sales may not suffer, but total attendance certainly will go down.

I still love the team, but Wolff has done A's fans no favor, and this does not bode well for the future.

jrbh said...

GREAT post, FSU. I couldn't agree more.

I think it's inevitable that MLB ticket prices are going to fall from where they are, and quite dramatically. If we can weather the current storm of yuppie ticket hysteria and overpriced new ballparks drawing rubes who'll pay anything, I think we'll be just fine in Oakland.

But Wolff doesn't see it that way, of course. I think that we'll end up with something like Milwaukee or Pittsburgh: very high ticket prices, an alienated fan base, a team losing touch with the heart and soul of it's community, and a not very competitive team on top of that.

Georob said...

Places like Milwaukee and Pittsburgh can get away with that because they're one-team markets. Neither the A's or Giants have the luxury of letting it all "go to hell" because the fans have alternatives, not all of which are baseball.

Do you think that the Warriors would have been stuck in perpetual mediocrity for 30 years if there was a second Bay Area NBA team? (Sorry Kings fans, Sacramento's just a little too far)

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how people automatically assume that if the A's get a new stadium the A's will go to hell and not be a winning team. Call me optomistic but I think that extra revenue, with Billy Beane at GM, will make us better. No more watching the Tejada'a and Giambi's leave.

Anonymous said...

The Superbowl is the most widely viewed pro sports event in the US, yet how many people can actually afford and/or land their hands on tickets to watch it at the stadium? The scarcity relative to the demand sure hasn't hurt the Super Bowl, has it? What MLB wants is the same thing. They want stadium crowds to consist of a premium-paying elite, while the masses tune in to watch the games on TV. The result is more money for the teams. Like ML says, the business of baseball has changed.