By all accounts, Dave Kaval is sincere about wanting to be proactive, and flat out active, in luring back A’s fans who may have given up on the current ballpark experience.
The current experience features a losing team, but there is not much Kaval or anyone can do about that short of a "Time Machine Night" that fast forwards life to 2018. However, whether the team is winning 90 or losing 90, there are absolutely ways the A’s could make the experience more alluring for more than their most loyal and ardent fans.
The A’s need to lure back the more casual fans — fans that are in between the RF bleacher crew you can’t keep away and the bandwagon fans who don’t really like baseball — and here are some suggestions for appealing more to that sizable group in the middle:
Artist Showcase Tie-Ins
I think there’s great potential, in a talented metropolis like the Bay Area, for an ongoing promotion featuring amateur or up-and-coming artistic talent to be showcased at the ballpark.
Imagine a set-up such as this: Every Friday night home game, a different local band is featured. (Groups would be invited to submit demo tapes for consideration.) The featured band gets to perform one of their songs live as the A’s are about to take the field, followed by their rendition of the National Anthem. Then they get to showcase 90 second samples, e.g. "first verse and chorus" of 2-3 other songs during selected between innings breaks. They also get to set up a table where they can sell their CDs and make connections with any interested/impressed producers and agents. What an opportunity for local talent and a way to offer additional live entertainment to the main draw of baseball.
There are thousands of music lovers in the East Bay who might be inclined to choose Friday nights to attend games if those home dates had a "local band/mini-concert" musical tie-in. And it reinforces the local angle — this is Oakland A’s baseball and this is the community of Oakland.
Furthermore, this kind of "discover local talent" promotion has potential beyond music. Artists could be invited to present anything from paintings (imagine an artist sketching, in real time, portraits or caricatures of players, fans, or ballpark scenes, and presenting them between innings) to poetry.
Friday night bands? Sunday poetry slams? Thursday artist showcases? Now we’re talking.
Mix It Up Already
The A’s need to recognize that recycling the same exact between-innings routines day after day after day essentially says "Come once, but don’t bother to come back because it will be the same." Every single game is a cavalcade (there’s a Kaval-cade joke in there somewhere) of tired acts, from the "cap caper" to dot racing to kids racing to a base while the timer stops if they’re inconveniently slow to Kara’s insufferably chipper contests that should be named "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grade Classroom Pet?" If I ever cared whether some stranger knew Khris Davis’ uniform number, I sure don’t care the 7th time.
It’s as if the A’s are sending the message that they don’t want return business, yet return business is the bread and butter of any business. Pick 2-3 staples, such as dot racing (which at least has a long history) and the Eck-Rickey-Rollie race (at least it’s live and not canned), throw out or rotate the rest and stop recycling a script that is so predictable I sure don’t need to come out to the ballpark to see it. I already see it in my worst alcoholic nightmares.
As for what to replace those tired bits with? First and foremost, how about being one of the few teams to harken back to the good old days when you could enjoy the sound of "real baseball" between innings free of music, video, and gimmick? "Peanuts, getcher peanuts!" and the sound of the ball going "thWAP!!!!" as a warmup pitch hits the catcher’s glove (or, in the case of Josh Phegley, tips off of the catcher’s glove and rolls away). Less is more, and unless it’s "Industrial Ear Muff Day" -- and yes, my mom actually brings those to games to survive the time between innings — lean towards simple and pure, with less canned electronic assaults on the ear drums.
My goodness, who thought this could work? In an era where other ballparks have advanced to fresh sushi and char-broiled burgers, the A’s offerings are almost entirely the choice of "greasy, unhealthy, or both!" What stuns me is that it really doesn’t have to be this way. Operating on a shoestring budget does not limit you to hot dogs that look like my grandfather just out of the shower, expensive BBQ that tastes ok and whose portions leave you hungry, greasy pizza that tastes good for the 3-4 times you’ll taste it throughout the rest of the day, and other assorted ballpark crap.
In Mesa, the spring training facility outdoes the Coliseum. There is a noodle stand that stir fries its dishes Benihana style and it’s quite tasty. You can actually find a cup of coffee more easily than you can find Waldo. Upgrading the menu at the Coliseum would not be challenging.
Just start with basic concepts like a Chinese food stand where you can get just a decent meal at a decent price. Ideally, expand that to a "food court" of several options a la Emery Bay Public Market — it is so easy, cheap, and efficient, to offer, for example, Chinese, Indian, and Mexican food stands, be it stand alone carts or a court of several windows in one area.
We’re not talking gourmet here, we’re talking Panda Express level with maybe 3 menu options. Broccoli beef, sweet and sour pork, garlic chicken. Tikki masala, curried chicken, samosa. Burrito, taco, tamale. Right there you have exponentially upgraded your cuisine while better reflecting the ethnic diversity and culinary majesty of the Bay Area.
There’s your start and by and large it does not require vast outlays of money that the A’s don’t have at their disposal. It just requires looking at who lives here and what makes a ballpark experience more dynamic, interesting, and varied from game to game. Give us a reason to come back and we will. Perhaps Dave will consider some of these ideas in his Kaval-cade of improvements.