25 July 2006

Third Deck Closure Revisited (again)

Articles from both the Contra Costa Times and the Sacramento Bee attempt to assess at midseason the effects of the third deck closure. In both pieces, A's President Michael Crowley explains that the decrease in average attendance is what was expected, as long as the customer experience was enhanced - which according to them, it has. The Bee's article has quotes from a Vacaville fan who misses the ability to walkup on gameday to get third deck seats - as do I. The net effect - increased advanced ticket sales - was alluded to but not expounded upon.

There's a sense of overstatement when looking at the numbers, especially because anyone who looks at them will have a particular perspective - that of a lamenting, displaced fan, or that of a fan who likes the crowd feel more, or even a person like me who dispassionately views the change. With that in mind, here are a couple of (uh-oh, here it comes) graphs that might give you a better understanding.

The graph above (click the pic for a larger version) shows the volatility of the A's attendance over the last 1 1/2 seasons. Also included is the Giants' 2005 trend, which thanks to high numbers of season ticket holders is not nearly as volatile as the A's. I wrote in April that one of the big points was to make the demand curve less elastic, and while that's happened in part due to the artificial capping of the Coliseum's capacity, I imagine that the effect may not be as good as desired. Excuses abound from the wet, cold spring to the A's usual May slide to the lack of a big time, in-his-prime slugger. Frankly, if Eric Chavez had 25 HR and 75 RBI by now the A's attendance would be better, since their record would probably be better as well.

This graph shows the change in average attendance over the season. In this case, it's much easier to see how the May doldrums affect the A's and how things trend up as the weather heats up. Normally, the A's go on a tear in June and July that translates into increased interest for August. Injuries resurface towards the end of August, and despite the team usually being in a pennant race, performance and attendance both tend to peter out by the end of September. The occasional blip or uptick comes from one of the big series with the Giants, Yankees, or BoSox, or from a promotional night such as a fireworks show or bobblehead giveaway.

From the average attendance graph, the picture doesn't look as bad since the difference between the A's attendance this season and last season at the 47-game mark is less than 1,800 per game, or a whopping 7%. However, the A's would have to average 31,000 per game from now until the end of the season to eclipse last season's total - though that's not the goal. The problem is now the same as always: will the A's turn on the jets in the second half and pull away, or will the injuries and generally poor hitting bite them come the last two weeks of the season? That will be the true deciding factor. This is the Bay Area, after all. We are a fickle bunch (Sharks fans aside) and we don't suffer mediocre play gladly. And with the BoSox offering retribution for the A's surprising performance last week at Fenway, it's just more reason for fans to scratch their heads and sit on the fence. Fencesitters don't always head out to ballgames, not even during a heatwave.