September 18 had all the makings of a great day for the Oakland Athletics, especially in regards to the enthusiasm of their fans. Playoff tickets went on sale earlier in the day, and the three divisional round games that the A’s would host if they should clinch the AL West all sold out within a few hours, prompting the team to announce they’d be lifting the tarps off of the upper deck to accommodate as many fans as they could.
This stood in stark contrast to last season, when the A’s decided to leave the tarps, leaving people wondering why exactly you’d turn away anyone that wants to spend their hard-earned dollars to go and see their favorite team play on a playoff stage.
So when they announced that the tarps were coming off this year, for a moment you thought that maybe, just maybe this was a sign that the front office is starting to cater to the embattled group that call themsleves A’s fans. The fans who keep showing up to games despite a decaying stadium, sub-par concessions, a total lack of pre- and post-game activities in the surrounding area, and promises from an ownership group that as soon as they get the OK to move the team out of the east bay, they’re gone.
And then A’s owner Lew Wolff opened his mouth, and any inkling of good will that the removal of the tarps brought vanished in an instant.
Wolff was quoted extensively by Bob Nightengale in a piece in USA Today that focused on attendance issues at ballparks where teams are either wrapping up a playoff spot (Oakland) or fighting to secure one down the stretch (Cleveland, Tampa Bay).
Among the highlights (or lowlights):
“It’s depressing,” Wolff said. “I really expected the crowds to be huge this week. I had a player come up to me and say, ‘I feel sorry for you, Mr. Wolff.’
I told him, ‘Just keep pitching. And whatever you do, don’t look into the stands.'”
Earlier, Wolff expressed dismay at the fact the fans weren’t out in full force for the series against the Angels:
“Even if you’re not a loyal fan, you would think this time of year, where the teams are in the standings, and where every game means something, people would come out.”
Good stuff. He could have followed the example of Indians president Mark Shapiro, who put the onus on the organization to draw the fans in:
“There’s not just one large lever we can pull,” Shapiro says. “We’ve got to do 1,000 things extremely well. The biggest thing we have to do is win, and we have to do everything else to make our experience a spectacular one, and compel people to come.”
You hear that Lew? COMPEL PEOPLE TO COME. What a concept.
Instead, Wolff insulted the fans who do come to the park on a regular basis and came across as the out of touch, rich owner that he is. After years of moaning about the need for a new stadium and showing a total lack of interest in keeping the team in Oakland, he’s going to express disappointment in the fans for not lining up to hand over their money for a late-season matchup against the out-of-contention Angels?
“I’m doing everything I can to move the team out of your town, but in the meantime you should show up and see how well we’re doing!”
You didn’t have to be a PR expert to know that this wasn’t going to sit well with the fiercely defensive A’s fan base. There was a healthy dose of Wolff-bashing on Twitter not long after the article was published, and the consensus was clear: An owner should never touch the topic of attendance unless it’s something along the lines of, “We very much appreciate all of our loyal fans, and while we’d love to see the stands full every game, we’re going to do everything we can to make it a great experience for everyone that does show up.”
Josh Reddick also had some words regarding the small crowds, lamenting the lack of attendance on Twitter for many of the A’s homestands. While it certainly didn’t go unnoticed by fans on social media, it’s a little more understandable coming from the players. They get juiced playing in front of a full house, and after the electric environment they experienced at home in the 2012 playoffs, the players want to enjoy that kind of advantage every time they take the field.
But Lew Wolff should know better. Let this be a lesson to any and all professional sports owners. Next time a big-time publication asks you for a quote on your attendance woes, play it safe and just say thank you to the people who you’re lucky enough to call your paying customers.