Sunday, May 16, 2010

Slap Hitter: Why Nobody's Coming to See the A's

By Kibby Kleiman
Sun, May 16, 2010 at 11:46 AM

After another sub-par road trip, the A's return to the indifference of their East Bay home. This week is sure to be another serious downer when it comes to counting attendance, starting with a night game tomorrow against Seattle under gloomy or drizzly skies. And that might be the best attended Mariner game of the series. I'm calling Tuesday night's game at about 9,000 fans, some of whom might be lured by the latest "promotion", free parking.

What gets a fan to a ballgame? Conventional wisdom says, winning. But that isn't what the Giants are marketing. It's personalities. Gag me with a "Benji" or a "Timmy", but until Braden threw a most perfect game, there isn't anything or anybody the Athletics have as as such. The team's finances definitely work against it, since the guy you're touting may be traded for six minor leaguers in June. But the cost is at the box office. I know that there is an Andrew Bailey bobble-head giveaway, but has there been any attempt to capture for the fans what Andrew Bailey is like?

When the A's tickets were hard to come by in the late 80's, it was more because of the characters we were pitched. Rickey, Jose, Big Mac, Stew, Hendu, etc. Their images were probably constructs and composites but it built ties that translated into tickets. Commercials aired that exploited the personnas of the ballplayers. Part of what Barry Zito made the biggest of the "Big 3", was not his skill as a hurler, but rather a hook that was easier to get with than the one he threw. It's not that Kurt Suzuki or Brett Anderson or Daric Barton are necessarily colorless and bland, but that there has been little to no effort to educate us or market them either. Braden seems like as big a bad-ass as Giambi, but it took a national media spotlight, not the A's themselves to let us see it.

To the A's credit, now they are going to try to ride the Braden bandwagon for as long as it will go, a T-shirt giveaway celebrating his perfect game is coming up soon. But they should go farther, and let the wisecracking lefty narrate the next advertisement or voice radio come-ons. The more we get to see the Mad Dog of the 209, the better we like him. So let's play ball and play up the charms of our squad. Does one of the A's play the kazoo? Bowl? Do magic? Mountain bike? I have no idea, and neither do you. I get that the A's brass fears getting too close to somebody who may be a free agent out the door, but here's the thing. Every one of the great A's listed above LEFT TOO. So, rather than create a generic product where the players in your ads are interchangeable drones, spend some time figuring out what makes them unique and ride that for as long as they're here.

This postponed gratification stuff has run its course. We don't like just getting a guy who's going to be great in a couple of years, because it usually turns out to be Ryan Sweeney, it's understood from a cost-benefit analysis, but refusing to get fans to buy into this year's model now results in 50,000 empty seats a night, and the players themselves have expressed frustration and disappointment. Wish I could tell you which players we have who shoot from the lip so boldly, but the A's don't seem to be in the business of bringing them to our attention.

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