06 August 2007

Column conundrum

Remember this?

It's from the original animation pack the A's released in November. I guessed (correctly) that the comparison showed Cisco Field (yellow/red) against AT&T Park (gray). To me, this has always been the most impressive part of the presentation. Unfortunately, it's not easy to visualize the advantage, and for two decades now fans in other cities have been accepting extremely set back second and third levels despite being told the experience was better just because, well, they were no longer sitting in a multi-purpose stadium. Or some rickety joint with 16-inch seats.

The 3-D nature of the graphic above sort of detracts from the message, as all of the visual elements make the comparison fade into the background. There is a better one shown recently, and it makes the contrast stark, as it should be. This came from the city council preso a couple of weeks ago:

That's better. Ah, but now there's a wrinkle, and it's smack dab in the middle of the pic above. A big, purposeful, and truly retro - column. Unlike any other recently built ballpark's main grandstand, this one dives right into the lower deck.

Before you react, I'm already ahead of you. The dreaded words obstructed view immediately come to mind. There's nothing about an obstructed view seat that says modern. A seat behind a column promises to be pretty crappy. There may be some back-and-forth about what fans consider an obstructed view and what the team considers an obstructed view. It may not even have a discount, although it most certainly should be cheaper. So I'm not going to make excuses for the A's out of respect for the poor souls who make be shocked when, upon getting to the seating bowl for the first time, are treated to a nice view of green painted steel. Yes, it is that bad.

Then again, it isn't really that bad. Why not? Consider this:
  • Look at the cross-section, dammit! Upper deck folks will be twice as close as anything built since WWII. Translated into an A's fan's current experience, it's the difference between sitting in 317 and sitting in 326. What, you say those sections don't exist? Ummm...
  • The not-so-ultimate sacrifice. Those 10,000 upper deck fans don't sit as close if not for the sacrifice of a few lower deck patrons. I'll make a rough estimate that less than 1% of seats qualify as obstructed view - defined as those with the hitter and catcher blocked. That's about 300 seats, or about 10 seats per lower deck section, which may be overestimating things a bit. The best way to deal with this would be to never sell these as advance seats - no season tickets, no phone/web/package sales. Instead, sell them as "day of game" only seats at an appreciable discount, say 20-25%. Chances are those fans won't spend too much time in those seats anyway, as they'll migrate over to one of the many standing room areas, or if the place is far less than packed, they'll "keep someone else's seat warm."
  • Intimacy invites noise. Having fans closer to the action should make the place more naturally noisy. That effect will be counteracted by the increased number of cell phone squawking, gameplay ignoring attendees. Still, the potential's there.
  • It's cheaper to build and run. Pulling the main grandstand about 25 feet conserves nearly 1/2 acre in terms of the ballpark's footprint. That should also translate into reduced overall use of concrete and steel, plus more efficient systems from field lighting to air conditioning. Best of all, the saved space could be used for other uses, such as landscaping or ancillary buildings such as a museum or some of the village structures.
  • Ready for expansion. Should the ballpark prove so popular that an extra 3,000 seats (4-5 rows) are needed, it shouldn't be too difficult to add to the back of the upper deck. All the designers have to do is build sufficient load bearing capacity into the skeleton and devise a method for adding rows. They could even use an aluminum upper deck (Stanford Stadium) that could be quickly torn down and replaced by a larger structure.
This doesn't mean that columns are guaranteed. In fact, I haven't seen a drawing that actually shows columns. However, that column isn't in the cross-section for show, so there must be something to it.

That brings us to this week's poll question. It's a pretty simple one, and there are only three choices. The question is: What do you think about columns at Cisco Field?
  • Works for me
  • Whatever
  • They suck
I was going to use "Panther" as the first option, but I realized over the weekend that the team that's supposed to use "Panther" should be using "Rat" instead.
Last week's poll question shows an overwhelming number of fans want more than 32,000 seats. I didn't vote myself, but I'd like to see at least 35,000.