Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Giants Vs. A's – Again

by Glenn Dickey
Feb 27, 2006
WHEN I WROTE on February 16 that the A’s inability to get an AM radio station with a strong signal was the chief reason they remain the second team in the Bay Area market, readers insisted there were two other reasons the Giants are No. 1:

–They were here first, coming to San Francisco in 1958. The A’s came to Oakland 10 years later.There is no doubt this is a factor. Living in Oakland, I still meet people who are Giants fans, and even some A’s fans who have residual feelings of loyalty for the Giants. But, those are all older fans. Only those born before 1968 were alive when there were not two teams in the area. Even if you figure that kids can remember games from the time they were six, which is stretching it, that means nobody under the age of about 44 would remember when this was a one-team area.

Moreover, the Giants did not start here, coming from New York, so they don’t have the pull that the 49ers do as the only pro team which has always played in San Francisco. The loyalties are nowhere near as strong, which is why there have been two deals which would have moved the Giants out of San Francisco, to Toronto and St. Petersburg.

–More people in the Bay Area identify with San Francisco than with Oakland.

Again, there’s no question about this. San Francisco has a glamorous image, not just in this area but throughout the country and even the world. No other Bay Area city, including Oakland, has that kind of image. When Corey Busch was working as an aide to George Moscone, when Moscone was mayor of San Francisco, he was on an airplane with a man who said identified himself as being from San Francisco. Busch asked him where he lived in the city. “Actually,” the man said, “I’m from Walnut Creek.”

It’s similar to the situation in Anaheim, where Angels owner Arte Moreno calls his team the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,” to identify with the more glamorous city. (Moreno successfully defended that label in a lawsuit but I still think it’s ridiculous that sports sections use the Los Angeles identification in standings.)

The Warriors also shun the Oakland label, sticking with the silly Golden State identification which was first adopted in the early ‘70s, when the Warriors played some league games in San Diego. As the only NBA team in the Bay Area, the Warriors draw throughout the area and prefer not to identify with Oakland.

But San Jose isn’t exactly a glamorous location, either, and the Sharks haven’t suffered from having that city’s name as part of their logo.

Having Oakland on their uniforms didn’t hurt the A’s either in the 1988-92 period, when they drew well over two million each year, including what was then a Bay Area record 2.9 million in 1990. In each of those five years, they outdrew the Giants.

OBVIOUSLY, THERE are more important factors than the city in which a team plays or when the team arrived in the area.

The first factor is the team’s record. In the period cited above, the A’s won three straight American League pennants and one World Championship – beating the Giants in the “Earthquake Series.”

As the only team in the area, the Giants drew very well in their first seven years at Candlestick, starting with 1,795,356 in their first year, 1960. At that time, when baseball economics were much different, anything over one million was gravy for an owner.

That first year at Candlestick was not an artistic success, but the Giants won a pennant in 1962 and were an exciting team to watch throughout the decade, with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marchichal, Orlando Cepeda (part of the time) and Gaylord Perry, all of whom have been elected to the Hall of Fame since. But fans grew weary of watching the Giants fall short in the pennant race, after ’62, and attendance dropped more than 400,000 in 1967, the last year the Giants had the area to themselves. It dropped another 400,000 in the A’s first year, and the Giants went over a million in attendance only once more in the Horace Stoneham years – in 1971, when they won a divisional title.

But winning alone isn’t enough. The A’s won three straight World Series, 1972-74, but went over a million only one year in that time. Owner Charlie Finley was known as a great promoter, but in truth, Finley promoted only himself. He had virtually no front office, so he sold almost no season tickets. He didn’t staff the ticket windows properly, so for big games, fans would be standing in line until the fourth or fifth inning to get tickets. Not many of them returned.

The first year the Haas family owned the team, 1981, a strike cut the season by a third, but the A’s attendance of 1,311,761 was 200,000 more than any of the Finley champions drew.

The park is also a huge factor, and the Giants have been on both ends of that spectrum. At Candlestick, the horrible weather conditions, especially for night games, put the Giants in a feast or famine pattern: They’d draw 60,000 for a Dodgers game, less than 10,000 for games against lesser opponents – the same kind of pattern the A’s have been battling lately. The A’s have sold only about 10,000 full and partial season tickets, and they’ve had the biggest walkup in the majors for big games. To combat that pattern, they closed off the upper deck this season, reducing capacity to less than 35,000. I’ll be writing more on that in the future.

The Giants equation changed when they moved into PacBell, with a solid team which was a contender and very nearly won the World Series in 2002. They have been at or near the top in attendance for each of their six seasons at PacBell.

That hasn’t made the Giants management complacent. They followed the Cleveland example by having a good team ready for their new park. The Indians were a great success story when they drew more than 3.4 million for four straight years, 1997-2000, at Jacobs Field. But Giants executives have told me emphatically they don’t want to follow the most recent Cleveland model: When the Indians broke up their club and went for a youth movement (which finally started to pay off last year), their attendance dropped to just over 1.7 million, just about half the figures in the great years.

THE GIANTS are right to worry about what would happen if they fell out of contention because the bottom line is that relatively few fans in this area are really devoted to their teams. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the Giants or the A’s. Each team has Only a few thousand devoted fans. The rest of the audience is affected by the park, the performance of the teams – and, yes, the radio station and announcers.


1 Anonymous { 03.01.06 at 10:46 pm }

The Giants were the beneficiary of three things coming together at the same time: Barry Bonds, New Stadium, and the Dot-Com boom that fueled so much money into the Bay Area during the 90’s. I doubt Pacific Bell Park would have had the impact it had if even one of those elements not been there.

Of course, the tech boom has passed and Bonds will soon be retiring. Yet, the mortgage is still due on the stadium and the A’s might ultimately move to San Jose and take a lot of those fans.

Looks like the only thing the Giants may have left is KNBR

2 Anonymous { 08.21.06 at 5:34 pm }

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