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A visit to the Oakland Coliseum and an Athletics game

I had the chance to go Thursday, so now, dear reader, you’ll see some of the issues the A’s face.

Al Yellon

OAKLAND — As most of you know, my dad lives in San Francisco and I am currently there visiting him. Since the A’s were playing the Mariners Thursday afternoon and I had a bit of free time, I thought I’d head over to Oakland and see what the Coliseum looks like and attend the game so I could tell you from first-hand experience what some of the issues facing this franchise are.

I rode a BART train from downtown San Francisco to the Coliseum. Right away, on coming out of the tunnel under San Francisco Bay, you notice the difference between the glitz of downtown SF to Oakland, where you see block after block of industrial territory and the shipping areas where container ships drop off much of the stuff we buy here in the US. The Coliseum isn’t far from these areas, and the feeling you get when you leave the train isn’t “ballpark” so much as “big concrete stadium dropped in the middle of parking lots and near a freeway.”

This is the view from the BART stop:

Al Yellon

There have been lots of jokes made about the Coliseum and sewage, as stories (here’s one from 2016) of such sewage backing up into dugouts have been posted over the years. I saw no evidence of that. While the Coliseum is nearly 60 years old, the A’s have done a reasonably good job of keeping it clean for fans and players, though even with that, it’s tired and dated and even the lower-deck seats are far from the playing field. Here’s the view during the game from my seat, row 14, for which I paid $19 on StubHub:

Al Yellon

Pretty good, but even from there you can see the large amount of foul territory, made necessary because this stadium, like most built in the 1960s and early 1970s, was constructed for both baseball and football. The Oakland Raiders decamped for Las Vegas after the 2019 season so this stadium is all A’s. The team pays respects to its Philadelphia predecessors:

Al Yellon
Al Yellon

The concourses are kind of dark and concrete and a lot of the concession stands are closed:

Al Yellon

It was 73 degrees at game time, but the place is a heat sink. It’s (nearly) completely enclosed and the field is below street level (you enter at the top of the 200 level of seats, and my seat was in the 100 level), so around the fourth inning I was getting pretty hot and so moved up into an area that was shaded. The view of the game from there was still just fine:

Al Yellon

That also shows you the A’s problem. What you see here is pretty much everyone who was at this game. There were a few school groups that had departed by then, but the announced paid attendance was 4,696. It was the 20th time this year the A’s have announced a paid crowd of under 5,000. By comparison, the last time the Cubs had an announced paid attendance of under 5,000 at Wrigley Field was September 23, 1986, a late-season pre-lights Tuesday to see a bad Cubs team play the Montreal Expos. The total number of 4.696 for Thursday’s game could comfortably fit in the Wrigley Field bleachers — with about 800 seats remaining empty.

Most of the issues with A’s attendance have to do with the stripping down of the team before this year. I recognized only a couple of A’s players in Thursday’s game, and that’s because one was a former Cub (Tony Kemp) and the other a former Cubs prospect (Vimael Machin). Spotrac says the A’s have the second-lowest team payroll this year, about $48 million (the Orioles are lowest at $43 million).

It’s not the fanbase — these fans are passionate:

And so I believe if the A’s do get their new stadium in downtown Oakland and put together a better team, this fanbase will return to the ballpark. As recently as 2014 they drew over 2 million, but will not get to 800,000 this season (and they didn’t last year). A’s management and ownership seems to be trying its best to keep fans away. I have access to a car and could have driven to the game — but parking is $30! Why pay that when I can (and did) ride the BART train for a round trip price of $4.60?

About that new stadium, the most recent reporting about the A’s quest for their ballpark in the Howard Terminal area of downtown Oakland is here — a court rejected a challenge to their Environmental Impact Report. On the A’s website you can read about the plans, including renderings of the ballpark which look pretty nice. The team will finance the ballpark themselves — the issue is the money for infrastructure, which is part of a larger plan to revitalize downtown Oakland.

Here’s why I think that’s a better idea than moving the team to join the Raiders in Las Vegas.

It’s the TV market. The San Francisco Bay Area is the No. 6 TV market. Las Vegas, while it is the fastest-growing city in the US, is 40th. The A’s have their own local TV channel carrying games, NBC Sports California (the Giants are on a parallel channel, NBC Sports Bay Area). Why would you give up that TV market for a much smaller one? Las Vegas would be the smallest TV market in MLB (currently, it’s Milwaukee, 37th).

There’s also the issue, if the A’s were to move, regarding a regional sports network (RSN) to carry their games. Currently, AT&T Sports Rocky Mountain serves the Las Vegas area and carries games of the NHL’s Golden Knights. But that channel also carries Colorado Rockies games. They’re not going to also carry A’s games if the A’s were to move to Vegas, and the Vegas TV market is too small to support two RSNs.

So I continue to support the A’s staying in Oakland and getting their new stadium built. Even if everything were approved right now, today, we’re still likely talking about 3-4 years to get the infrastructure and stadium built, and final approvals might still take a while. The mayor of Oakland is optimistic:

Incidentally, the “$12 billion waterfront ballpark” noted in the San Francisco Chronicle tweet isn’t quite right. $12 billion is the cost of the entire project, including infrastructure. The ballpark’s cost, per the A’s website link above, is in the $1 billion range.

I enjoyed my day in Oakland and the ballgame, which the Mariners won 9-5, an important game for them as Seattle continues its quest for its first playoff berth since 2001. And I spotted another Cubs fan outside the stadium before the gates opened:

Al Yellon


The Oakland Athletics...

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  • 75%
    ... should continue their push for a downtown stadium in Oakland and stay there
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  • 13%
    ... should move to Las Vegas
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