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Greener Grass, Episode 5: Attendance Fact and Fiction and Why Should We Care Anyway?

Me and the frog in my pocket are tired of hearing some stuff.

We are tired of people saying "Oakland can't support big league teams." But we are also tired of hearing "If the A's had an owner who embraced Oakland the attendance wouldn't be so bad, The A's were one of the best when the Haas family owned the team." Another tired phrase "The A's attendance only looks bad now because of all the other new ballparks. Before those, the A's were always a good draw." And the related "If you build it, they will come."

To be honest, we are tired of this stuff cause no one ever backs it up with any sort of detailed evidence. We are just supposed to accept it as fact because it is, you know, conventional wisdom. I HATE conventional wisdom. Queue Deftones "My Own Summer" we are getting medieval on this stuff.

First and foremost, I think people who talk about attendance in Oakland are missing a large deal of the point. Not all of the point. People showing up in the stands is one of the key revenue streams of any team. It just isn't the key driver for any potential A's move away from the city that has been their home for more than 40 years.

The real reasons are lack of realistic sites and lack of corporate base. Specious as those claims may be (or not), we came today to talk attendance. Would a new stadium in Oakland be a big draw or a colossal dud? Can we gain any insight by looking back at past attendance trends across MLB? If so, which teams should we compare them too?

Let's start with the macro view, shall we? Since 1968 it is a fact that no other team has been below the median for season attendance more often than the A's. A chart, since we all love them so much.

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Notice the pretty green cones. Excel charts are fun.

I could have used average attendance as a measure, but median is a bit more fair. If you don't know the difference the easiest way to explain it is that median removes outliers from the equation. Basically, median is measured in two equal parts of 50%. Half below, half above whereas averages can be whacked out by having two teams with 4 million spectators through the turnstiles while most other teams were below 3 million. This chart shows that since the A's came to Oakland they have been in the bottom 50% more than any other team. That sucks. But does that tell the whole story?

The Oakland A's didn't exist until 1968. Of this we can be certain. And almost immediately there was talk of relocating. To New Orleans, to Dallas, to Denver, to Portland... the Bay Area simply wasn't big enough  for two teams. If you look at the 70's, a decade when the A's were in the playoffs 5 times and won the whole damn thing 3 seasons in a row, the numbers sort of back that up. Both the A's and Giants were in the bottom half for most of the decade, if not the whole decade.

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This time I used green pyramids!

An age old axiom in baseball is "the best marketing plan is winning on the field." I call hogwash. Or at least hogwash as it relates to the 70's in Oakland. In the Decade of the Dynasty, the A's had the most impressive World Series record and still went a perfect 10 for 10 in sucking at the gates. The other dynastic teams, the Reds and Yankees, managed to stay out of the bottom 10. The Yankees had 3 seasons below the median in the decade, the Reds had zippo.

Wait?!?!?!?! Did I just say the Yankees were in the bottom half of attendance in three seasons in a single decade? You are damn tootin'! And dare I say it wasn't even their worst showing in a single decade? But this brings to mind an interesting question. Which team(s) has/have not been in the bottom half since 1968? Maybe even before 1968 for all I know, I didn't feel like looking. The answer shall come later.

Even with the Yankees being in the bottom half for 3 seasons, the 70's are hard to celebrate from an attendance perspective. As much as I love celebrating Yankees failure, A's failure makes it less cool.

Some arguments i have heard about the A's crappy attendance in the 70's: "The Bay Area became a two team market one decade too soon." Or "Charlie Finley sucked as an owner."

The veracity of these theories can be tested in the 80's, no? I smell a chart!

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This time it's 3D columns!!!

First... The A's weren't amongst the 10 worst performers!!!! Hooray! The truth is, since I picked the bottom 10 (really 11 since we had so many ties) and they were tied for 12th it is kind of my arbitrary cut off line for the chart that we should be celebrating. But any reason to bust out Kool and the Gang is a good one.

Side note, related to Kool and the Gang: I knew i was not a huge Schott and Hoffman fan when they replaced "Celebration" with "Rock and Roll All Night." The nerve of some people. I remember the first game I was at when the A's won and nary a note of Kool and the Gang was heard... it took me a minute before finally realizing why I was pissed. Back to the relevant information now, sorry.

So, theory 1... The Bay Area became a two team market one decade too soon. I would argue that this is false. The Bay Area became a two team market at least 2 decades too soon, but I am not complaining! Primarily because the A's tied for 12th in being below the median, whilst the Giants just missed a perfect decade (they tried sooooo hard). 1989 was the only season that neither team in the Bay Area was in the bottom half. It could have been worse though... Through the 80's the Seattle Club (That's Bud speak for Mariners) had never had a season in which they weren't part of the bottom feeders. And they had a market all to their lonesome.

Theory 2. The Haas family took over in 1980. While they still had a decade with more below median years than above, they (with the help of Andy Dolich) grew season ticket holders from 300 to 13,000. I'd say there might be something to this theory. Wouldn't you? I don't know if this has anything to do with embracing Oakland, but someone from the current sales and marketing staff should call Andy Dolich and ask him about what strategies he used back in the 80's. Just saying it couldn't hurt.

But... What about the 90's? The Haas family still owned the team for part of that decade, no? Another chart you ask? Of course:

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3D bars. I think the pyramids are coolest.

First, can I just say that part of those 5 other teams tied with the A's at 7 seasons below the median is the Yankees? I can, and I wouldn't even be lying. But something else is kind of funny. Is there a chart yet that hasn't included the Giants, Brewers, and Twins? Nope.

It's sad to see the A's back on the suckitude chart. To round out the tale of the Haas Family, they owned the team from before the 1981 season up until the 1996 season. That is 15 seasons. In that time the A's were above the median 7 times. I am not sure what that says about Oakland, though I am pretty sure it says a great deal about what good owners the Haas Family were. Especially considering the futility before despite winning records and championships and... well shall we look at the next decade?

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I went retro with an oldschool excel chart. I love this stuff.

The bottom 10, sadly including our Green and Gold heroes, is led by a 6 way tie for a perfect decade. Heck, if it wasn't for the novelty of the first season in Washington, Los Natspos would have made it a 7 way tie. 9 seasons of suckitude across 3 different cities... Mind boggling. I look at these teams and I try to find some sort of commonality... Teams that have done fire sales? Check, but not all of them. Teams that have sucked for the most part? Check, but not all of them. Teams that have won division titles and been to the playoffs more than once? Check, but what the heck are they doing on here? Teams with brand new stadiums? Check... wait, what? Teams with World Series crowns? Check... It's like crazy the huge differences in circumstances between these 10 teams. So what does it tell us about the A's in Oakland?

I look at two teams on the list as potential barometers for the A's. The Pirates and White Sox. Why? Well because before the new stadium boom, those two teams were neck and neck with A's in the race for attendance futility. They have similar circumstances. The White Sox are team number 2 in a shared market. The Pirates new stadium has a reduced capacity (only slightly larger than the tarped Coliseum). Through 1999 the A's had 25 below median seasons. The White Sox had 23. The Pirates 24. Look at those teams as the cautionary tale that says, "a new stadium in the same place doesn't change any of the dynamics that existed before in a meaningful way."

But we, the frog in my pocket was napping through most this diatribe but is awake now, choose to look at the Giants (28), Indians(25), and Padres(21). Those teams were also neck and neck with A's and found their way entirely off the bottom 10 without leaving the city they play in. It's possible in Oakland. I doubt no matter what happens that the A's will go 40 consecutive years in the top 50%, like the Dodgers.

PS- I started a facebook page that is regional in nature as opposed to the San Jose or Oakland facebook pages. It is my goal to keep people up to speed with what is going on regionally through that page. Keep the A's in the Bay Area!

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