Image credit: Oakland Coliseum (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
It was a Triple-A lineup masquerading as a major league one, with predictable results. The A’s managed just two hits and were shut out in a 4-0 loss to the Cubs. It was their 15th loss in 18 games to open the season and took place in front of just 5,196 fans in attendance.
Twenty-four hours later, the A’s announced they had signed a binding agreement to purchase land for a future ballpark in Las Vegas.
The news, while disheartening, is not surprising. Under owner John Fisher, the A’s in recent years have shamelessly run the tried-and-true playbook for relocating a professional sports franchise: strip the team of its best players, allow the stadium to fall into disrepair, raise prices for an inferior product to deter attendance and then use the lack of fan support to justify the “need” to relocate.
It’s the same playbook the NFL’s Chargers used to leave San Diego. It’s the movie “Major League” come to life, except without the laughs.
The A’s ran it to a T, out in the open for all to see.
“For a while we were on parallel paths, but we have turned our attention to Las Vegas to get a deal here for the A’s to find a long-term home,” Athletics president Dave Kaval told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Oakland has been a great home for us for over 50 years, but we really need this 20-year saga completed and we feel there’s a path here in Southern Nevada.”
Left unsaid, of course, is the A’s responsibility for the saga.
The A’s drew 2 million fans as recently as 2014, the year they made the last of three straight postseason appearances. The last time the A’s hosted a postseason game in 2019, they sold out the Oakland Coliseum with a record-setting crowd for a Wild Card Game.
Despite limited resources, the A’s have made 11 postseason appearances since 2000, tied with the Red Sox for fifth-most of any team. Only two years ago, they came within a second-half slump of reaching their fourth consecutive postseason.
But a winning team with fan support doesn’t get to relocate. With purpose and intent, ownership torpedoed both.
After the 2020 season, the A’s declined to make Bay Area native and franchise pillar Marcus Semien a qualifying offer and floated a contract idea so insulting Semien had no choice but to leave. After the 2021 season, the A’s traded cornerstone players Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea for appallingly light prospect packages and let revered manager Bob Melvin leave for the Padres with zero compensation.
The demolition of the roster would have sufficed to alienate the fan base. But ownership left nothing to chance.
Ed Silveira, an A’s season-ticket holder since 1988, saw the price of his season tickets increase from $40 to $70 each when the Coliseum partially reopened to fans in 2021 after the coronavirus pandemic. Worse was the fact his longtime seats behind home plate had been blocked off, and he was only given the option to sit down the left or right field lines. The A’s charged him 75% more to sit in worse seats, a proposition he reluctantly accepted.
In 2022, with the Coliseum reopened to full capacity, Silveira was once again not given the option to purchase his longtime season seats. Again, he was relegated to worse seats at a higher price than he previously paid.
“I was nowhere near behind home plate,” Silveira said. “They wouldn’t sell it. Basically the ticket reps were telling us ‘We’d rather you not buy them. We can make more money selling them at the box office than we can selling them to you guys.’ I couldn’t even get anything close to what I had.”
He was not alone in his frustrations. Longtime A’s season ticket holders saw the price of their seats nearly double between 2021 and 2022 despite the team blowing up its roster. The A’s intentionally and willfully charged their fans more money for an inferior product.
Those are not the actions of a business trying to retain its most loyal customers. Those are the actions of a business trying to repel them.
A’s fans were put in a no-win situation. If they stayed away, they’d give Fisher ammunition to justify relocating. If they showed up, they would be financially rewarding ownership’s actions.
“It’s like every turn of events, this management has socked our face,” Silveira said. “The maintenance on the stadium has been abysmal. I just can’t fathom how (Commissioner Rob) Manfred and the other owners are going to let this guy take revenue sharing, put all this money in his pocket and put this kind of product out.”
Ownership got exactly what it wanted. The A’s went 60-102 in 2022, the franchise’s worst season since 1979. They drew an average of 9,973 fans per game, the fewest with the stadium open at full capacity since 1980.
It’s been even worse this year. The A’s are 3-16, equaling the worst start in franchise history. They have been outscored by 86 runs, the majors’ widest margin by 35 runs. Their pitching staff has a 7.71 ERA. Their offense is batting .225. One could credibly argue fewer than 10 players on their roster actually belong in the major leagues.
And again, ownership got exactly what it wanted. In the last two seasons, the A’s have had six of the 11 lowest-attended home games in the 21st century. The other five belong to the 2001-02 Montreal Expos, who relocated and became the Washington Nationals in 2005.
This all could have been avoided if Fisher and A’s ownership truly wanted it.
Ownership could have chosen years ago to repair the broken stalls and rusted fixtures in the Coliseum’s aging bathrooms. Instead, they’ve been left to rot and serve as a repellent to fans of all ages.
The possum living in the Coliseum’s visiting broadcast booth and press box could easily be removed with a call to a pest removal service. Instead, ownership has chosen to leave it because it makes the Coliseum further uninhabitable.
Ownership could have taken the $9 million it received in revenue sharing in 2022 and the $20 million it received in 2023 and put it toward player salaries. Instead, it chose to slash payroll to less than $56.9 million on Opening Day this year, down from $83.8 million on Opening Day 2021—a year it didn’t receive any revenue sharing.
Basic solutions have been ignored. The goal is, and has been, to make going to the Coliseum and attending A’s games as unpalatable as possible.
Let’s not forget Fisher initially declined to pay A’s minor leaguers during the 2020 coronavirus shutdown when the minor league season was canceled. A man with a reported net worth of $2.2 billion willingly chose to let his team’s prospects—the literal future of his organization—live in poverty.
Only after nearly every other team committed to paying their minor leaguers were Fisher and the A’s shamed into reversing their decision. Still, the message was clear: Fisher had no interest in investing in the A’s future, no matter how desperate or dire the circumstances.
These were conscious, strategic decisions made by Fisher and A’s ownership. Whatever platitudes the A’s voiced about being “Rooted in Oakland” and staying loyal to the city and their fans, their actions speak louder than words.
Every roster move, every business decision, every action (or inaction) they took led to their agreement with Las Vegas. They ran the playbook to perfection, at the expense of A’s fans, the city of Oakland and the entire East Bay.
Since taking office in January, Oakland mayor Sheng Thao engaged in regular negotiations with the A’s to build a new ballpark and keep the team in Oakland. In the aftermath of the announcement the A’s had reached a binding agreement with Las Vegas, Thao called the negotiations out for what they were.
“It is clear to me that the A’s have no intention of staying in Oakland and have simply been using this process to try and extract a better deal out of Las Vegas,” Thao said in a statement. “I am not interested in continuing to play that game—the fans and our residents deserve better.”
Now comes the awkward part. The Athletics’ lease with the Coliseum runs through 2024. Their plan is to have a stadium built in Las Vegas in time for the 2027 season. They will play at least this year and next in Oakland as lame ducks.
As bad as attendance has been, it’s likely about to get worse. The A’s are an MLB-worst team that has severed its last remaining bonds with its fans. The specter of games with less than 1,000 fans in attendance looms large, especially as the season progresses and the A’s fall further from relevance.
This team, and this season, will likely mark the low point of the A’s history in Oakland. For Fisher and A’s ownership, that was the goal all along.