A’s co-owners John Fisher Lew Wolff could do a million things to market the franchise better. Even ex-A’s hurler Dallas Braden agrees, saying in a recent radio interview, “They’re (A’s owners) not interested in paying players. They’re not interested in building a fan base.”
That’s all too true. Fisher and Wolff (and Billy Beane, too) have a bad habit of whining about “the challenge of competing in this market.” Yet, they do so little and hardly spend any resources to, you know, actually compete in this market.
Beane tried a variation on that recurring complaint this week, when he told the Oakland Tribune’s John Hickey, “We have a small fan base, but it’s an extremely passionate one.”
Beane got it only half right. First, the A’s drew 2 million fans last year for a franchise that constantly rips its own stadium and has been threatening to move for 20 years. Hardly small. Second, the fan base would show up in much larger numbers if the A’s owners actually tried to market to the team properly.
In reality, “this market” is the nation’s 5th largest. Also, population studies predict that, in about a decade, the Bay Area will leapfrog Chicago and Philly and become the 3rd biggest media market, behind only New York and L.A. There are no small markets in the Bay Area — only small owners.
In other words, there are millions of potential baseball fans in the East Bay and all around Nor-Cal, waiting to be wooed to the ballpark. Most Bay Area pro sports franchises do just that by marketing their team and fan-favorite players to the region’s rabid sports fans. But instead of working hard to market the A’s at the Coliseum, Fisher and Wolff play dead, spending little money and having almost zero advertising presence in Oakland and the East Bay. And as soon as the fans grow attached to a favorite player, Beane trades them — often long before it makes sense to. (See “Donaldson, Josh” and “Cespedes, Yoenis”.)
Fisher and Wolff have been content to play the role of a slumlord, lazily doing very little to attract fans because, regardless, they know each year they’ll collect a yearly $30 million welfare check from MLB owners.
The poor marketing goes back to 1995, when Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann bought the Athletics. That means A’s owners have been failing at marketing the team for nearly 20 years. The problem with that? The hated Giants work very hard at marketing their product to all nine Bay Area counties, so they have begun to fill the void left open by Wolff and Fisher.
[NOTE: In no way is this a knock on the rank-and-file A’s marketing employees, who work hard with the meager resources given them by their billionaire bosses.]
It doesn’t have to be like this, of course. The A’s owners could do a million things to market the franchise better. They could open a restaurant/sports bar that could be a veritable A’s ad with menus — like McCovey’s Restaurant is for the Giants in Walnut Creek. Fisher and Wolff could re-open A’s Dugout stores throughout the East Bay. [Schott closed them in the ’90s.] They also could blanket the Bay Area with billboard ads once spring training starts, getting fans excited about the upcoming season. Unfortunately, Wolff and Fisher do none of these things. Which means they (and Beane) forfeit the right to complain about their “market” or their fan base — because they do so little to cultivate fan interest or boost ticket sales and TV ratings.
In short, Wolff/Fisher/Beane are complaining about problems they alone have created. Even worse, every penny-pinching decision they make makes their problem worse, not better.
Given all of this, it’s a small miracle that the A’s draw as well as they do in Oakland. Just think what attendance will be if we ever have a real owner with a real marketing plan and a sincere interest in staying in Oakland. We can dream.