17 May 2007

Trading one casual fan for another

A couple of interesting news items before I rant a bit:
  • 106.9 Free FM (KIFR) is switching formats to classic rock, reviving the locally legendary KFRC call letters. Apparently there will be no change to A's coverage. Existing talk programming on KIFR will move to the weaker AM sister, KYCY-1550.
  • Hennepin County is prepping the Rapid Park site for August's groundbreaking of the Twins' new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis. They may be able to make the Spring 2010 opening date after all.
  • Mark your calendars for January 1, 2009. That's the date of the launch of MLB Network, which will be available on most major cable systems and DirecTV. MLB Network will reportedly be on either basic or digital tiers rather than on a sports tier, which means slightly higher monthly subscriber fees for those that get the channel. This positioning puts it on par with NFL Network (though Comcast is changing its arrangement with NFL Network). NBA TV only has such an arrangement on DirecTV, but is available only with League Pass on many cable systems. The deal is for four years with a three-year option that could bring the value of the deal up to $700 million. MLB is guaranteed $80 million per year ($2.3 million per team) with greater revenues coming with additional sales of the Extra Innings package. Ownership of the channel will be two-thirds MLB, the rest shared by the cable and satellite operators.
  • Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei on his company's purchase of the Braves (approved by MLB today): " 'The taxes clearly made it attractive... but we're interested in seeing the value of the asset grow.' Maffei said Liberty is a strong believer in the value of sports as television programming, but noted that the Braves' TV rights already are committed long-term. 'We believe there may be some promotional opportunities.' " Well, at least he's being honest about the tax dodge - the team and several other assets were placed in a Time Warner subsidiary and were swapped for Liberty Media's 4% stake in Time Warner. Nothing screams passionate ownership more than "tax free asset swap," that's what I always say. (A chronology of the sale if you want the gory details.)

Last night I sat in the Plaza Reserved section just to get a flavor for the $2 seat again. From the looks of the crowd, the announced 16,242 were evenly split between fans in the main bowl and everyone else in the bleachers and Plaza Reserved.

The experience reminded me of how disinterested the $2 seat crowd is in the game. During the game the following happened:
  • One or two aborted wave attempts
  • Call-and-response between groups of fans singing "Happy Birthday" multiple times
  • Call-and-response between groups of fans chanting the old high school football refrain, "We've got spirit! Yes we do! We've got spirit! How about YOU!!!!" (ends with fingerpointing)
  • Teenage girls trying to distract Hiram Bocachica, who had no ML at-bats this season entering the game. The girls succeeded at least twice. I shook my head in shame. Bocachica looked overmatched in his 0-for-4 day with 1 K.
  • Random fan yelling, "Hey! Where's (insert DL'ed player here)?"
  • Numerous fans asking, "Who's this Cust guy?"
  • Greater misplaced excitement than normal about various A's hitting pop-ups.

Now I'm not a hardcore elitist type of fan. I frequently bring my casual fan friends to games and I don't care about how little or much they follow the team. That's their prerogative. And I'm happy to explain why (insert DL'ed player here) went down to anyone who asks. But that got me to thinking about what occurs on the other side of the bay.

In SF, the Giants traded their younger, more boisterous, but unfocused casual fans for quieter, older, wealthier ones. Giants games without Bonds in the lineup tend to run similar in feel to Manhattan's Bryant Park during midday, with its lovely Parisian chairs and avid readers. It's gentrification in its most obvious form. Like Pac Bell, the first few years of Cisco Field will have numerous curiosity seekers and trendy types who simply want to be in the scene. Once the novelty has worn off they'll likely move on to something else. What will remain are the dwindling number of hardcore fans and the rising number of casual fans, and maybe some of the casual fans that have been converted into staunch supporters the process.

In the end, casual fans are casual fans. Some are louder than others. Some cause more trouble than others. Some fall asleep easily. They are all transient and replaceable by nature. True, the baseball IQ at Coliseum is inversely proportional to the number of fans there. But how much should that factor into the game experience?

Casual fans are there because baseball's a unique form of entertainment first, with "quality of baseball" being further down the list of desired attributes. So what does it really matter how many there are or what type? The younger crowd comes with more energy and inherent risk. The older corporate crowd is safer and duller. How is it possible to claim that one is better than the other without showing class/racial bias? And who's to judge? Certainly not me.

There are many who lament this particular path that baseball has taken. They're easy to point fingers at the commissioner or the owners for selling baseball out, and they're right to a great extent. But isn't it incumbent upon us, the longtime fans, the diehards, to evangelize about baseball? To bring those casual fans into the fold and mesmerize them with the game's wonder? I posit the notion that if we don't, we are derelict in our duty as fans. It is not just the owners or the players that are stewards of the game. As fans, we have our own rich histories with baseball, and unless we are content to be selfish with our own recollections of the sport, we also have the responsibility to shepherd the next generations of fans. If we are not to raise the next group of diehards, who will?

This rant was inspired by the dearly departed author David Halberstam, whose Summer of '49 sits dogeared and worn in my bookcase.


Georob said...

Well, that's good news for Bay Area radio. However, I'm concerned that 106.9 won't want baseball anymore. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if CBS flips 1550 over as well and tries to recreate the old AM/FM KFRC combo. I think they'd be better off bringing back the KABL standards format on 1550 instead. Whatever happens, the A's can't be just on 1550.

I say watch KTRB 860. It's new, it's powerful, and has only second tier syndicated talk shows. Lew Wolff needs to be talking with Pappas Broadcasting about either a partnership or long term deal. And since Pappas is much smaller than CBS or Clear Channel, they might amenable to something.

BTW, the station that replaced KTRB in Modesto, KMPH 840; is pretty strong itself, as I can pick it up 100 miles away in Fresno. I'm curious if the signal goes into the Bay Area at all. The format is big band/standards.

Anonymous said...

One thing you didn't mention ... those "casual" fans that go to fremont in the first year will drop off VERY quickly due to the big traffic nightmare they experience getting to the park.

anon-a-mouse said...

I'm all for the format change. It means no longer needing to change my garage radio when the game isn't on.

As for your rant, ML, it's not a bad thought, but the student needs to be willing. One thing that won't work is a bunch of us older folks shoving history down the throats of the youngins. For the most part, I don't concern myself with what others are doing in the ballpark unless it's interfering with my view and/or experience directly. Sure, the occasional loudmouth know-nothing can be annoying. But unless they're screaming in my ear, it's pretty easy to ignore.

Marine Layer said...

anon 8:23 - It's gotta be better than having only 12,000 show up on Monday and Tuesday. I was there Tuesday, and it was clear the number was padded. Frankly, that's pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Gerob, they have a three year contract.

And Wolff has said that he's looking to buy a station (finally) so I assume that by the time the contract is up, he might very well have found one (right in time for Cisco Field).

SexFlavoredPez said...

ML - I was there Monday night and the announced attendance was a shade over 14K. I thought the same thing. There's no way 14K people were at that game, it never took me more than 5 minutes to go get a beer.

I like your little rant about the casual fan. I try to bring each of my non-sports fan friends to at least two games a year. I've converted a few just by simply sharing my love of the game with them. A fireworks game or two doesn't hurt either :) I think the casual fan, at least the semi-rowdy one, adds to the gameday experience. For instace, because of the sedate fan base in AT&T park I've only gone there on dates and never actually spent more than a half inning in my seat due to the conversations about portfolios and trips to Tahoe, not to mention the plethora of non-basbeall related things one can enjot at AT&T park. Yet at the Coliseum I enjoy the time I spend at the stadium so much more - from the guy three rows back screaming "MULLET POWER!" everytime Swisher had an AB to the guy who made a turkey call every time Jimmy Gobble threw a pitch. These distractions add that little something extra to the gameday experience that, even when your team is losing, make the games more fun to attend. Class distinction and racial bias? That's probably true. But isn't that what makes the regional rivalries so great? The differences in culture even within the same geographical region add to the identity of the local fan base, not take away from it.

ESPN has been running a commercial featuring little kids going to their first game and it hit the nail right on the head. " was the bluest blue and greenest green you'd ever seen and that's how it started." If we, as lovers of the game, can share that enthusiasm I don't see how we couldn't bring more people to the games and produce a few more casual fans. Let's just also remind them about getting to their seats BEFORE first pitch and explain to them how to find their seats :)

Georob said...

"Casual Fan" has become a dirty word to a lot of A's fans, especially on Athletics Nation. It really bothers me when people say "We don't NEED those fans", and "I'd rather have 12,000 good fans in the park rather than 40,000 on their cell phones"

To expand on what ML said, for someone to become a fan, they often start out as casual fans and it's up to the rest of us to convert them.

And to those who are happy with the way things are, your day is almost done. Even if a park was being built in Downtown Oakland, it would still be like ATT or Cisco, so I guess you'd have to find some other reason to whine about the "peoples of Oakland being stepped on."

Anonymous said...

< 12K for a ML game is indeed pathetic no matter who the opponent is. but my point is moving to a facility that has by far worse access than the current one isn't going to solve the LONG-TERM attendance problems. it would at best provide a one or two year blip in attendance. it wouldn't address the underlying issue of a lack of significant fan base for the a's in the bay area. the giants were here first, have more of a loyalty in the whole bay area (esp peninsula and south bay) and have a great new ballpark with easy access for most all in the bay area.

the a's would be better served moving to sacramento where they could get a captive fan base in a growing region.

Marine Layer said...

Sac doesn't - and may never - have enough corporate support for a MLB team. End of story.

Anonymous said...

fremont doesn't and never will have enough infrastructure, access via public transportation, and most importantly fans.

end of story indeed.

Marine Layer said...

The difference between our arguments is that Wolff is out to prove you wrong, whereas no one is attempting to prove me wrong. If he's wrong, he's taking the lion's share of the risk.

Do a search for "Sacramento" on this blog for even more reasons why Sac doesn't cut the mustard.

Marine Layer said...

Excellent points georob and sfp. There's a tendency to pigeonhole that runs counter to the diversity within both fanbases.

For instance, I have a friend who bleeds Cubbie blue. He's a North-sider who works a decidedly blue collar job. Yet it's the Pale Hose faithful that are most often identified as blue collar. I'm admittedly a geek who works with several other geeks (including many Asians) who are A's fans. We make decent money. If we were to be pigeonholed we wouldn't be A's fans or even baseball fans, since we weren't raised to love the game as many multi-generational Americans have.

Anonymous said...

sorry ... fremont and alameda taxpayers will in the end be on the short end of the stick if this thing goes to hell.

(love that you just HAVE to get the last word on anyone that dares to disagree with you) ... "it's my website and I'm going to delete your posts if I you don't agree with me or I'll continue to act like my know-it-all self and just spew forth opinions and pass them off as facts because that's what wolffie wants me to do and I just love kissing his ass," says marineland.

Marine Layer said...

Actually I don't delete posts simply because I want to be fair to all comers. It's obvious you've already made up your mind about me and the project, so it's pointless to argue this further.

A reasoned debater wouldn't hide anonymously, that's for sure.

anon-a-mouse said...

Hey anonymous OAFC troll, shouldn't you be getting busy with following a new team since you'll never support that carpetbagging, Oakland-hating, Wolfe-in-sheep's-clothing, blah, blah, blah? It would be best if you would, so the rest of us can discuss the real world. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"fremont doesn't and never will have enough infrastructure, access via public transportation, and most importantly fans.

end of story indeed."

End of story?? Hardly, my OAFC trollish friend? You see, while Fremont ON ITS OWN may not have enough fans, the EAST Bay Area and SOUTH Bay Area most certainly WILL.

You then come on and accuse Vertigo/ML of deleting posts..LMAO, why dont you check with your Empress of NoWhere, Diamond Shrill and her fine work, deleting posts, and POSTERS who dare to challeng her verbose bullying ways with reasoned facts.

Now, scamper on back to OAFC and report on how mean this blog

ML has reported facts and encouraged reasoned debates. Last time I checked the OAFC board, several of you were "guaranteeing" that the Fremont Ballpark would "FAIL" after a few years.

Anonymous said...

Whatever you guys are talking about. In Da Freakmont, we got more drummers than the ones in Chokeland!!! We have more flagwavers too. We also have World Championships unlike Chokeland and plenty of fans that come to the games!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey that you, back from the game, still pining for Rickey?

GO back to OAFC...your sarcasm/satire really isnt working and just reflects poorly on yourself...

bbison said...

Anonymous said...
One thing you didn't mention ... those "casual" fans that go to Fremont in the first year will drop off VERY quickly due to the big traffic nightmare they experience getting to the park.

8:23 AM

Has it stopped Dodgers fans (even the casual ones) from coming? Hard to imagine Cisco Field being a bigger cluster than Chavez Ravine. But people still come.

If it does have an effect, will it drive attendance below the 24K the A's have averaged in 2006-07? Hard to say. Even if it stayed flat (after the novelty wore off), gross box office receipts would still be much higher than now. The A's would gladly make that trade.

Georob said...

You know, it's really facinating to read the comments of those who are against the Fremont ballpark. I mean no matter what, they're against it and will make pretty much any claim they want to back up their point. Still, we continue to try and reason with them.

In this respect you have to give credit to Diamond Lil. She makes no pretense about the fact that her discussion board is about keeping the A's in Oakland and that the only point of view that is welcome are those that agree.

It just doesn't make sense. As I used to say to JRBH: If you hate Lew Wolff so much, why do you continue to buy his product?