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The A’s marketing strategy: Actively keep fans away

Covid has crushed attendance to MLB games all around, but the A’s have gone above and beyond the Delta variant to keep their fans from coming back.

Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics
God bless the bleacher crew
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

2019 was a banner year for A’s season tickets, when they scrapped the season ticket concept entirely and created the A’s Access membership plan.

In the first year of A’s Access, the team doubled its previous season ticket base, to over 9,500 members, and the average member was 11 years younger than the previous year. Like a gym membership, it was an auto-renewing monthly fee, that gave access to every home game, set seats for at least 10 games, and nice discounts on food, drinks, parking and merchandise. It was a smashing success.

Attendance improved by over 6% year over year (overall MLB attendance did not change in the same time period). That improvement was despite playing in the same old stadium in the same old location.

Moreover, more loyal fans were being cultivated, while making it incredibly easy to bring new fans into the fold. The scene at the Treehouse was poppin’ every game. The team finally started to hit the cool dive bar vibe, and fans were proud to be fans of a team that was winning and treating their fans well.

Beyond the tangible financial benefits, there was a warmth that came with the A’s Access. That the fans felt welcome, appreciated, and not (like almost all modern sports) stratified according to wealth level.

The program was wildly popular. For 2020, 95% of current members confirmed their renewals, nearly immediately. Likely a good number of new memberships were added.

Sadly, covid hit and killed the party, and fans couldn’t go to games for an entire year. The A’s of course couldn’t do anything about that. However, when fans were finally allowed back, it was under a very murky set of circumstances.

Parking was raised to $30, because...covid?

Seats were sold only in sets of 2 or 4, because...covid?

Tickets were priced insanely high (in some cases $50 and up for bad seats), because...covid?

Concession prices went up, because...covid?

No membership discounts were to be had, because...covid?

In an already nervous environment, coming off a year of economic hardship and slow recovery for many folks, the A’s decided to push an expensive and confusing “Flex” Tix package rather than just keep things simple, cheap, and welcome fans back who were willing to come back to games.

The results have of course been disastrous.

The bottom line is that even Giants tickets, in a much more desirable ballpark environment in the same market, with a much higher payroll, have routinely been cheaper than A’s tickets. In what world does that make sense?

The A’s delayed their full reopening, stuck with the vastly expensive parking and concessions, refused to sell memberships to people who would have gladly bought them again, and ticket prices were minimum $25 per ticket for the least desirable 3rd deck seats, and more for some games. The 3rd deck of course remained very, very empty, save for the three games of the Bay Bridge Series.

The $30 for parking was especially galling, given that for the majority of the season, BART was not even running trains past 10:00-ish, and therefore a dicey option if you wanted to take BART to any night game.

Now we’re seeing cringe-worthy attendance numbers like 4,100 (Monday) and 4,500 (Tuesday). Sad numbers for a team in the thick of the playoff race.

Everywhere you go or turn the dial in the Bay Area, you see and hear ads for Giants tickets. I don’t even see the A’s advertising on BART anymore, it appears they’ve completely stopped trying to market the team outside of their email blasts.

Unless you count the type of “PR” Team President Dave Kaval did the other day, hammering the possible Las Vegas move to reporters the day of literally the highest-attended game of the season.

Overcharging, gouging the loyal fans who bother showing up, talking about Las Vegas while the City of Oakland is pushing to get a final deal done, not advertising anything, and cancelling all popular fan programs...because...covid?

The excuse runs thin.

The A’s are never going to draw hugely well at the aging Coliseum, but the A’s attendance was growing. In addition, A’s TV ratings had the second biggest jump of all franchises during 2020’s lost covid year. There was clearly a pent-up demand when games were restarting. However, if covid had you nervous to show up, the obscene and confusing ticket prices, endless relocation chatter, and laughable parking fees made the decision to stay home easy.

Not only that, on the days that fans actually did show up, they couldn’t even run a parking lot at a basic level, leaving the fans to stew in an hour or more of traffic just to be allowed to pay $30 for the privilege.

The average MLB attendance this year is down 37% year over year. If we want to call that the result of covid, that’s fair. The A’s attendance is down 59%. I WONDER WHY?

The fans who are showing up despite covid fears and relocation threats deserve a lot better than they are getting right now. The players deserve to have more fans in the seats while trying to rally to the postseason after multiple setbacks. The team should make it easy, affordable, fun and accessible for the fans to return to games, and right now they’re 0 for 4.