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Athletics halfway point: Observations on the A's fan experience

Some random observations on the in-game fan experience in Oakland in the first half of 2014.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Most good teams really don't have much to talk about off the field. They probably have a new stadium and stability in where they are going to play. They typically have at least a solid budget and attendance. For the fans, the ballpark experience is usually good.

The A's keep it all interesting for us, though, and there's no shortage of off-field topics to discuss.

New Food Vendor: After many years of A's fans hating on Aramark, the Coliseum has a new food vendor, Ovations. Maybe it's just me but I feel that the lines have moved faster most of the time and the food is ever so slightly better. The fries are actually worse somehow but everything else seems to have improved. At least the brick oven pizzas and microbrews in the West Side Club seem to be a step up from the usual fare, still ballpark-appropriate and not crazy overpriced. Thoughts?

They also have been opening up a couple of stands under Mount Davis for weekend games. Great move.

First year of MLB Metal Detectors: This is the first year the A's have had to use metal detectors, mandated by MLB. Metal detectors suck, as a rule. They invariably slow everything down and inconvenience fans. At the airport, one can understand them, because with a weapon a person can hold an entire plane hostage. However, it just doesn't seem logical to me at the ballpark. There are plenty of OPD officers at every game. 300,000 people ride BART every day, and there are no metal detectors there. Crowds are everywhere and this obsession with fear is getting out of hand.

If we must live with these stupid things, the A's need to figure out a better way to manage this. The machines go off on the slightest thing. And then of course they have to use the wand on you anyway. Every. Single. Time. Also, with the way it's laid out with all the new fencing to corral the lines, it's almost impossible to find the point where you can split the metal detector lines and get to will call. Anyways it now takes forever to enter a game where it used to take seconds. It also has turned a fun moment (getting into the ballpark) into a tedious chore. Blech.

Psycho Ushers: The ushers at the Coliseum have turned into militant defenders of their own territory. Nowadays you can't move up into empty seats even within your section without catching the evil eye of a bulldog usher. I'm not advocating going back to the completely open free seat upgrade days, because that basically disincentivizes fans from buying premium tickets. However, a little mellowness would be appreciated. On a Tuesday night with 18,000 people in the 6th inning, take a lighter tack, will ya?

Signage: Although the Wolff Lied, He Never Tried sign is long gone and they shut down one pro-Oakland sign earlier this year, the A's seem to have been relatively fine with the signs overall. There is even an Oakland Fan Pledge sign in right field. As annoying as they are about the seating situation, it's nice that fans can still bring in flags, banners, drums, horns and the like to support the team. I still don't understand where the inspiration for the "Callaspo Diehards" sign came from (odd choice but cool).

Stadium Shenanigans: As Lev Facher has so effectively chronicled, the A's stadium situation is once again front and center. Somehow Lew Wolff has not learned to stop talking to the media about this; Bud Selig, after years of inactivity, decided to rear his ugly head just to stir up the pot; the city of San Jose is apparently still in the midst of suing Major League Baseball (look out for a potential appeals court ruling later this year on some important preliminary aspects of the case); the A's don't have a lease to play in the Coliseum long-term; the City of Oakland hasn't been able to move on Coliseum City or Howard Terminal; the Raiders still want to stay in Oakland; and no one knows what the hell is going on. At least we haven't heard much about the sewage. Oh wait.

Long story short, same old same old on the stadium front.

Attendance and Revenues: Last year through game 81 (37 home games) the A's averaged 22,022 at the gate. This year, in 39 games, they are at 22,860. A modest uptick, but not huge. That being said, revenues are likely greatly increased. I know my season tickets went up in price. As a crude conservative measure, if ticket prices have increased about $5/ticket, then revenues from ticket sales alone would have increased $114,300 per game. That comes out to almost half a Jim Johnson through the midway point of the season. Between this (conservatively $10 million) and the new national TV deal (rumored to be $20-26 million per team), the A's have $30-$40 million more to play with this year. That may be why Billy Beane recently said that money will not be an issue on a deadline deal.

Take the tarps off: Well, take at least 2 of them off. That would open about 1,000 more seats in the value deck. On normal games, they wouldn't cannibalize sales. The value deck is not sold out on the weekdays. However when the Coliseum is bursting at the seams, adding 1,000 more seats would likely bring in 1,000 more fans, and the added noise and revenues that come with that. Right now the O.Co is artificially limited to the second-smallest capacity of any MLB stadium. The result is that when the A's have sellouts, they don't get the windfall that other teams do. Taking off all the tarps would probably spread fans too thin around the stadium but taking a couple off would look better and allow more fans to see the big games.

On the note of in-game experience: I am expecting to have an in-depth article on the new Coliseum food selections coming in the second half, with the cooperation of the A's organization (I specialize in hard-hitting news). I need 1 or 2 iron-stomached volunteers who love ballpark food and have no dietary restrictions when it comes to processed ambiguous meat and dairy. Send me an email if you are interested.