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Oakland A’s should borrow from the Peter Magowan-era SF Giants

OPINION: As the Oakland A’s ownership takes on a new direction, they would be wise to look back into Bay Area baseball’s past for a roadmap.

Oakland A's / Photo by Chris Lockard

The news cycle from the past few months has been dominated with stories about regime changes. While the biggest news is coming from a skyscraper in New York, there has been plenty of buzz emanating out of 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland, as well. Roughly a month ago, the A’s announced changes to their ownership and front office, with John Fisher taking over as the managing partner of the ownership group and Dave Kaval stepping in as team President.

Since then, the messaging from the team has been very positive. For the first time in 30 years, the organization appears fully committed to finding a stadium site in Oakland. Kaval has taken the fan-friendly step of hosting office hours to allow fans a direct line of communication with the team. These are both commendable steps towards repairing a relationship between the team and the community that has frayed over the years thanks, in large part, to the constant threat of relocation.

The A’s shouldn’t stop here, however. While the stadium push appears to have some legitimate momentum, it is still going to be a long process towards finding a new site and starting construction. In the meantime, I recommend the A’s take a look backwards in Bay Area baseball history to carve out their next steps.

I say this begrudgingly, but the A’s can take a page out of the San Francisco Giants’ playbook for how to approach the next few years until the new stadium opens (see, Dad, I CAN say something nice about the Giants). As many may recall, the Giants were in much the same place that the A’s are in now back in 1992. Team owner Bob Lurie spent years trying to get a new stadium built, but after several failed attempts, he gave up on the idea of keeping the team in San Francisco and the Giants were set to move to Tampa-St. Pete. The 1992 season for the Giants was more about off-the-field drama than on-the-field heroics. The team was bad, the fan morale was worse thanks to the impending move and Candlestick was falling apart. Meanwhile, the team across the Bay was coming off of its fourth AL West division title in five years and featured some of the biggest stars in baseball while playing in a ballpark that was full and fun to watch a game in.

Sound familiar?

A few months into the 1992 off-season, the Giants got an unexpected reprieve. Major League Baseball wasn’t too keen about losing the San Francisco market, and when a local ownership group, led by Peter Magowan of Safeway fame, stepped up with an offer, MLB nudged Lurie to sell the team to the local group. The San Francisco Giants were once again committed to staying in the city by the Bay.

Magowan’s group from the jump dedicated itself to finding a new, privately financed home for the Giants in the city. However, they didn’t remain content to keep the status quo while they waited for the stadium to materialize. The biggest splash the ownership group made was to sign the top free agent in the market that year, Barry Bonds, to a then-record-breaking deal. That development, of course, unlocked a whole new era for the Giants in terms of revenue, as Bonds would chase record-after-record during his time with San Francisco. That part of the Giants’ history isn’t something the A’s are likely to be able to replicate. Re-signing veteran stars like Sonny Gray to extensions may help replicate that to an extent, but, realistically, there isn’t a Bonds-like figure in the market right now that it would make sense for the A’s to target in that way.Where the A’s can copy the Giants from that era is how they treated Candlestick Park. Despite their firmly stated intentions to leave the ‘Stick as soon as humanly possible, Magowan and company made a pledge to make Candlestick as pleasant as it could be for the fans while the team was still there. Much like Kaval has done with the A’s, Magowan took fan suggestions – one of which was adding padding to the god-awful chain link outfield fence. The other was to re-do the bleachers. The Giants lowered the prices on certain concession items and generally aimed to make the ‘Stick a more family-friendly environment. The changes didn’t go unnoticed by a fanbase that had felt largely neglected in the previous years. Those changes – combined with the team’s improvement in the mid-1990s on the field – put the Giants in the perfect position to capitalize on their new environs when Pac Bell Park opened seven years later.

The A’s can make similar micro improvements to the Coliseum to improve the environment for fans over the next few years. The new scoreboards were a good start, but there are a few fundamental changes that would make a world of difference to the fans. Especially during a year when payroll isn’t going to be high, investment in the literal infrastructure of the team would be a solid allocation of assets.

1) Tear down the tarps

The tarps are a visible reminder of the A’s fractured relationship with its fanbase. The tarps were designed to create a sense of artificial scarcity for ticket purchasing, but instead all they have done is serve to make even the fullest days at the ballpark look empty. The third deck at the Coliseum has beautiful sightlines and wide concourses. Even simply having those concession stands open so that fans have options when the main stands are crowded would be a big boost to the fan experience.

Which brings us to my next suggestion…

2) Open more concession stands

Every year it seems that more and more of the concession stands are closed, making the lines longer and the first deck concourse more difficult to navigate. Opening more spots for fans to buy food would greatly enhance the fan experience.

And while we are at it…

3) Pick a popular concession and lower the price

When Arte Moreno bought the Angels, one of the first things he did was lower the price of beer. It was his way of saying thank you to the fans and it went a long way towards connecting that ownership with its fanbase. It doesn’t have to be beer, but if the A’s choose a popular concession and lower the price from the 2016 list, it would send a similar message.

4) Upgrade the bathrooms

This one will take a little money but I think it would be well worth it. Fans spend a lot of time in bathrooms, and a little sparkle can go a long way towards making fans feel like their stadium is a clean and pleasant place to be. Maybe a corporate sponsorship could help to defray the cost. How does “Bathroom renovations brought to you by Oakland’s own Clorox Corporation” sound?

5) Patch the “brick and mortar

There are obviously structural issues with the Coliseum that cannot be addressed without very expensive repairs, but there are plenty of places that could be made to look better simply with a new layer of paint, a patched crack or a better covering for a mess of wires. A few of those types of repairs, especially along the entrances to the stadium, would make a big difference aesthetically.

6) Make for a better exit

Believe it or not, but there was a time back in the day when it wasn’t that hard to exit the Coliseum after a game. However, over the past decade, more and more of the exits from the parking lot have been closed, creating a nightmare to leave the stadium even during a moderately attended game. Re-open those exits – especially for big attendance games – and hirer a few more traffic control people. Leave people with a positive last impression as they exit the game and they are more likely to return.

While some might say that throwing money into a facility marked for destruction is like putting lipstick on a pig, I’d argue that even a pig deserves her day at the prom. Honor the Coliseum’s history and its fans with a little rouge and lip liner during its final years. A little bit of polish could go a long way towards generating a positive buzz for the next stage in the history of the Oakland Athletics franchise.

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