The Fremont Athletics 

How the deal went down, and why it was inevitable

Page 6 of 7

Given the nature of revenue-sharing from TV and radio contracts, teams such as the Yankees, who play in the highly lucrative New York media market, start off with profoundly larger resources than the A's. Higher revenues equal a higher payroll and, Moneyball notwithstanding, studies show a direct correlation between player salaries and games won. Advantage: Yankees. "Just because of television markets alone, we're never going to be able to spend the type of money the Yankees or Red Sox spend," A's president Mike Crowley laments.

But certainly the A's will hope to fill their new stadium, which would increase annual ticket sales from their current 2 million to about 2.6 million. They're also likely to raise ticket prices above their current average of around $20 a pop. Advertising rates are based on attendance, so those, too, would be expected to climb a bit.

Still, concessions may be the one revenue source with potential for the greatest expansion. Can smaller-market teams really narrow the revenue gap — and the resulting achievement gap — selling spicy tubers? Teams today think so, especially once fans throw in an imported lager at the bar, lunch at the fancy club, and an embroidered jacket at the fan-gear shop. Remember the days when people sat in the bleachers for the whole nine innings? No more, says Victor Matheson, a College of the Holy Cross sports economist. "Once they have you in the ballpark, the last thing they want you to do is watch the game," he says. Today's new stadiums are designed for milling around and near-constant spending, and to appeal as much to casual watchers as to diehard baseball fans.

That means children's play areas, bars where people can catch a few innings, sit-down restaurants, and high-end concessions such as AT&T Park's famous ahi tuna sandwich. It means keeping fans in or around the park, wallets out, as long as possible. That's hard to do at McAfee Coliseum, Crowley notes. "Right now, our stadium is pretty much a destination," he says. "You get in the car or on BART and you come to the park, watch the game, and leave." The new A's stadium, he said, will boost the number of attractions inside and nearby the park. "We're hoping people will show up earlier, stay later, and obviously have an opportunity to enjoy the game," he says. "But we're looking for them to spend more."

It's no coincidence that the A's are heading for a tonier neighborhood, where fans can afford to drop more dough at a game, and where, they hope, the surrounding business community will finally fill the team's luxury boxes. The new stadium will be even smaller than the Coliseum, pressuring fans to buy season tickets to ensure they'll have seats for postseason games. This past season, the A's closed off the upper deck and created an artificial seating shortage for just this purpose. This will further bifurcate the audience, says Stanford University sports economist Roger Noll. "Ordinary people will be watching on television — hopefully paid television — and the people in attendance at the games will be upper-income people paying high ticket prices and will be the best candidates to buy the fancy food instead of the hot dogs and go to the clothing store and buy team jewelry," he says.

Will bigger merch sales mean better baseball? Crowley is hopeful. "People have seen, these last few years, what we've been able to do with a payroll south of $70 million," he muses. "If I could have added ten or twenty million dollars, would that have made a difference? It might have." Although higher payroll often means more wins, Noll cautions that the match-up isn't perfect. An aging superstar can draw a princely salary and plenty of fans, but not help win games. And sometimes, the key player is really a good general manager. "The move to Fremont isn't going to cause the A's to become the Yankees in terms of revenue," Noll says with a chuckle. "But their management will be the same, and hopefully Billy Beane will live to be 150."

We asked some hardcore A's fans what they think about the team's Fremont aspirations.
Interviews by Kara PLATONI

Shane Higginbotham, Albany
"I love the move to Fremont. The A's will finally have a venue all to themselves, and the designs look awesome. No offense to them, but Oakland cannot demand loyalty from the A's when in their entire history, the citizens of Oakland haven't shown up at the games, and the leadership of Oakland has ignored and snubbed them, favoring the Raiders' return more than an already-there Athletics franchise. When the A's move to Fremont, they can finally shed the unfortunately bad image Oakland has, and start afresh. Besides, most of the people I've met at A's games were from outside of Oakland."

Jill Olson, Oakland
"The A's going to a craptastic new stadium in Fremont is an example of the continued Disneyland/Big New Mall/McMansionization of America. Fremont is a series of strip malls, parking lots, and fast-food restaurants. Thanks, Oakland city managers! We lose again."

Debbie Li, Piedmont
"As a business decision, I congratulate the A's on potentially maximizing their profits and whatnot. As a baseball fan, mindful of the history of the A's in Oakland, it makes me sad to see the direction that the A's, and baseball in general, is going. The blatant ass-kissing of corporate dollars? Ignoring what used to be the bread and butter of the A's fanbase? The San Jose Athletics of Fremont, or, God forbid, the Silicon Valley A's of Fremont? A little bit of my soul dies every time I hear that."

Owen Bly, Oakland
"Sure, Fremont is only 25 miles away, but it's a world apart. Those who buy into this awful high-tech stadium are being distracted by a shiny object. Oakland Athletics baseball has soul, which trumps the Silicon Valley Generics every time. Shame on Jerry Brown, Lew Wolff, and everyone involved with this travesty."

Teddy Miller, Berkeley
"At least they are not moving to Tampa or Las Vegas or Walla Walla. Fremont is only an iPod playlist down the BART line. Plus, economically, there's something to be said for tapping into the San Jose fan market without exposing themselves to the higher real-estate prices. They are going to get higher revenues, which will translate into more Monopoly money for Billy Beane to play around with as he adjusts to the league catching up with his Moneyball technique. This could be the way that we parlay our miraculous low-money run of the 1990s into a true dynasty of playoffs and fun. Honestly, how else are we going to be able to afford to hold onto Nick Swisher, Huston Street, or Jeremy Brown when they make it big?"

Beverly Thompson, Milpitas
"I have commuted to A's games since 1968, first from Sacramento, now from Milpitas. I am thrilled they will be closer. Regardless of where they moved to, I would still be a fan. Now I will be able to go to even more games, since going to nonweekend games was a major problem due to traffic and time required."

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