Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

New owner. Here’s hoping to a new stadium.

Lew Wolff may be the grandfather-like owner A’s fans have sought since ownership of the team passed from the hands of Walter Haas and his family in 1995. Wolff, the new Managing Partner of the A’s has responded to the concerns of fans by making two items in his agenda as owner perfectly clear.

First, by extending the contract of GM Billy Beane until the 2012 season, Wolff is committing to the man (and local icon) largely responsible for the rebirth of the A’s as a competitive baseball franchise. The A’s have won three Western Division Championships under the reign of Beane and have been in playoff contention for the past six seasons. Only the Swingin’ A’s of the early 1970’s and the La Russa edition from 1988-1992 have had a span of successful teams that can compare to Billy Beane’s accomplishments while GM.

Along with extending Beane’s contract, Wolff has offered ownership stakes in the A’s to Beane and team President Mike Crowley. While GM, Beane has limited the autonomy of post-La Russa managers, choosing to view them as replaceable cogs. Clearly, the new ownership group doesn’t view the front office staff as simply “middle-management” and have properly rewarded Beane and Crowley with the equity status they deserve.

Second, Wolff publicly announced the new ownerships group’s full commitment to Oakland. This is a stark contrast the policy line drilled by Steve Schott while serving as the public mouthpiece for the organization. The best expression of Schott’s commitment to Oakland came early in his ownership when opening day for the A’s occurred at Cashman Field in Las Vegas during the 1996 season due to construction at the Coliseum.

This event, combined with Schott’s continued interest in relocating the ballclub to the South Bay, branded the A’s as a gypsy club in the eyes of many fans. How can fans be expected to wholly support a franchise when relocation is used as a bargaining chip? It’s hard to imagine a clandestine dawn-lit operation akin to the Colts rolling out of Baltimore with Mayfield moving fans as a motivating image to increase season ticket sales.

Major League Baseball’s attempt to hatchet fledgling municipalities such as Oakland, Minneapolis and Florida with the specter of contraction and relocation has not resulted in new stadiums, but certainly has undermined fan support. It’s reassuring to hear Wolff make his attentions 100% clear: the A’s will remain in Oakland and will look to build a new stadium with limited public financial support. Such a commitment to Oakland and the East Bay had not been public since the ownership days of the Haas Family.

The A’s drew 2.9 million fans in 1990 coming off a World Series sweep of the Giants and securing a third straight trip to the October classic. The Schott-owned A’s have only been able to reach the 2.2 million fan plateau. If the A’s are able to combine recent on-field success with a genuine commitment to Oakland displayed by Lew Wolff, it should be possible to push attendance to the 2.5 million mark.

The A’s have expanded payroll every season in a response to expanding attendance and revenue sharing. While improved attendance will allow the A’s to expand payroll further, the pot of gold eyed by Wolff is a new stadium. Even if they A’s were able to draw 3 million fans at the Coliseum, revenues would lag in comparison to new stadiums.

At Monday’s home opener, the A’s drew nearly 45,000 fans. The first deck was nearly full where ticket prices range from range $28-$35. The second seating section was full with tickets priced from $18-$26. The third deck was half full ($10 tickets), with the lower bleachers ($9) sold out, forcing many to sit in the obstructed view plaza bleacher section. At every A’s game, whether 45,000 or 15,000 fans attend, has a similar attendance breakdown—most fans are willing to spend more in order to have the best seats in the house. The remaining block of fans prefer to sit in the bleachers, rather than the nosebleed inducing third deck.

The Coliseum field level seats are the furthest from the action in baseball. A new stadium will allow fans to be closer to the action, allowing ownership to charge a premium for these highly sought seats. In addition, many new stadiums such as Safeco Field and SBC Park charge premiums for second deck seats—which are further from the action than field level seats—because they offer entry into a club level which offers a lounge-like setting off-limits for the rest of the ballpark fans.

PNC Park, a 38,000 seat stadium home to the Pirates is a two-deck stadium that should be a model for the A’s to follow. PNC offers a seating arrangement close to the action and the second-deck club lounge needed to expand revenues for the A’s. A third deck is not needed by the A’s and would allow the team to keep construction costs manageable. The only problem found at PNC Park revolves around a distant press box. For the sanity of Bill King, that feature will have to be redesigned.

A new stadium will increase revenues for the ball club, but the A’s need to remain accessible to working families and young fans prevalent in the East Bay. The Coliseum is one of the few professional stadiums where you can catch a weeknight game and see a mass of kids and teenagers catching a ballgame. A new stadium with premium seating will generate much-sought revenue, but unfortunately many new stadiums lack the bleacher and outfield seating so prevalent in stadiums of the past.

Old Comiskey, Tiger Stadium and Ebbets Field offered broad outfield seating which expanded capacity and provided cheap seats for fans. These stadiums were all two deck designs, guaranteeing close vantage points for fans. A new A’s stadium should combine the premium offerings of PNC Park’s two-deck design with a classic outfield concourse that conjures images of these urban parks.

The infamous “wave” was of course invented at the Coliseum by Crazy George in the early 1980’s. The circular concourse of the Coliseum allowed the wave to travel through the ballpark unaffected. It would be a shame if a new stadium for the A’s didn’t accommodate the wave, Oakland’s contribution to stadium pop culture.

Without a doubt, the Bay Area sports media has been busy reloading in the direction of the Niner Empire during Dr. York’s off-season of discontent. While the Niners get ready to rebuild, it appears the Oakland A’s have finally found a new owner that is willing and capable (with the financial backing of John Fisher) to invest in a new stadium for the A’s that will help to remedy the clubs revenue wows. Just imagine what Billy Beane could do with another $30 million.

By Josh Brown


1 Anonymous { 04.15.05 at 3:50 pm }

Josh, excellent commentary on the new ownership and the stadium issue. Two things: first the new ownership should bear the expense of constructing the stadium. The city should donate the land for the project, this ownership will develop so much land around the stadium that the city or county will make up the cost of the donated land in increased property tax revenue.
Two the stadium should be in a business district in Oakland where the stadium can be the center piece of the redelevopment.
This concept has worked in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and SF although SF is the only one privately financed.
I firmly believe that the A’s would draw 3 million in a new stadium plus increase all their ancillary income in an amount that would allow them to increase payroll and not have to wait two years for young players to pay dividends as they might be doing right now. One cycle of the young players not panning out and two years turns into five and that is not a good idea.
Look forward to being back on the air Monday with Right Off The Bat, hope you enjoy the interviews I have on the shows tonight honoring Jackie Robinson.
Barcelona is some wonderful city but it’s baseball season and I’m anxious to rejoin the pennant race.
Marty Lurie

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