A Pox On Their Ballpark

A little bit of follow-up on last week’s trip to the Oakland Coliseum. Non-believers and heretics, indulge me on this one, because it’s not really a baseball post, okay?

First, and just to get it out of the way, the Mariners’ possession of a playoff spot lasted two days. By Friday, they were half a game out, and today, after losing five straight games, they’re two and a half back, behind the Angels, Twins, Royals, and Orioles. With forty-two games left, they’re not out of it–there’s that hope thing again–but it sure ain’t looking good.

Second, I sent a polite email to the As pointing out the incorrect information they had given me, and, I presume, everyone else who bought tickets online. (If you’ve already forgotten last Thursday’s post, they sent an email announcing that the parking lots would open at two, when they didn’t actually open until four.) I didn’t expect much; a bedbug letter at most. But to date–a week later–I’ve received absolutely nothing. Not even an acknowledgment they’ve received the note, much less an empty promise to look into my concern.

This is not the behavior of a company that cares about its customers. One might think that with MLB blocking the As from leaving town, the team’s ownership might want to hang onto the fans they have. Apparently one would be wrong–perhaps since the Warriors and Raiders are fleeing Oakland, the As think they’ll have an automatic monopoly on sports fans. Here’s a hint guys: it doesn’t work that way.

But that brings us to the third item.

On Friday, I got an email from “Oakland Arena Events” sent on behalf* of “our good friends at the Oakland Athletics”. The email asked me to take a survey about my opinion on their new “ballpark efforts”. Okay. I may be a Mariners fan, but I live in the As’ territory and if they ever get the new stadium built, I’ll go to games there, so I might as well let them know what I think.

* I guess that explains why I haven’t heard from the As. They clearly don’t do email. Maybe I should have Instagrammed them or something. What are the cool kids using these days?

San Francisco Chronicle Sports Columnist Scott Ostler got the same survey. Today’s Chron has his take on it. It’s well worth the read, but for those of you in a hurry, the bottom line is that he thinks the survey is pointless. Fans don’t care, he says, about the stadium and its amenities. All they care about is whether there’s a competitive team playing there.

He’s right. But he missed the point about the survey.

See, when you go to the survey online, the first ten pages ask demographic questions. Some of it’s relevant. It makes sense for the team to ask respondents whether they live in Oakland and how many games they’ve attended this season. However, if the survey is really about where to put the new stadium, the As have no need to know how much money I make, how old I am, or what color my skin is. And there was nothing on any of the pages suggesting that the questions were optional.

Actually, I misspoke. The previous paragraph should have said “at least the first ten pages”. I stopped at page ten.

If the team was really interested in people’s opinion about the stadium, they would have asked those questions first. And, had they done that and put the demographic questions at the end, clearly marked as “optional” I would have been fine with it.

But the way they laid out the question makes it clear that the information they can use to target future marketing pitches is what’s really important to them.

I sent another email, this one to Oracle Arena Events, asking them to share it with their good friends. In that email, I expressed my displeasure at receiving a marketing survey thinly disguised as a request for my opinion.

I’ve gotten no response to that email either.

The current ownership’s approach to communication makes it clear that they have little or no interest in their fans as fans; their interest begins and ends at our wallets.

So here’s my opinion about the As’ new ballpark, if it ever happens: enjoy it. I won’t be going to any games there. Nor will I buy tickets for games at the Coliseum while the As are there.

Unless the team’s owners make it clear that they have some interest in baseball beyond how much money they can extract from fans’ pockets.

It wouldn’t take much. As Scott Ostler suggests, making a visible effort to field a better-than-AAA quality team would be a good start.

Or just reply to customer complaints–even if it’s with a bedbug letter.

Downs and Ups

I wouldn’t have thought I’d have reason to be thankful to Chevrolet.

Sunday night, I happened to notice that not only was Chevy paying for parking at Tuesday’s Mariners/Athletics game, but they were also partially subsidizing tickets in one section of normally-cheap seats. So, in theory, one could attend the game and pay only the cost of an abnormally-cheap seat: $5.

I decided to go.

That five dollar ticket wound up costing $10.25 by the time all the various fees were added, but considering that parking alone is normally $20, I was still well ahead.

The expedition didn’t start well. On Monday I got an email from the As informing me that the parking lots would open at 2:00, and they expected the lots to be filled to capacity. So I left earlier than I normally would have for a 7:00 game, figuring to watch batting practice, and generally groove on the experience. When I arrived at 3:15–and, for the record, there were a half-dozen cars lined up when I got there–the gates were locked and the guard was adamant that they wouldn’t open “until sixteen hundred”. He liked that phrase, and repeated it several times during our brief conversation.

Once they finally let us all into the parking lot, we had another wait because the gates to the stadium didn’t open until 4:30. And yes, we had to go through metal detectors. Empty pockets, let them search our bags; at least we got to keep our shoes on. The new normal.

Finally inside, I made my way to the food truck plaza. Back in February I expressed some concern about traffic flow in and out of the plaza. I didn’t have any trouble, but the only entrance I found was through a narrow hallway where ushers and food service workers were gathered and clocking in. I can’t imagine that the hallway clogs with pedestrians closer to game time.

Once you make it out to the plaza, though, it’s quite nice.
10-1
I don’t know if I was too early or if plans have changed, but the promised “eight to 16” trucks were actually five. But they all looked good. I eventually settled on a catfish po’boy from Southern Comfort Kitchen.
10-2
Very tasty, though a bit more vegetation would have been nice. Catfish needs roughage.

In retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t go to the regular food stands. Wednesday, Sports Illustrated released their health ratings of MLB stadium food sellers. They only got data for 28 of the 30 ballparks, but the Coliseum’s food stands ranked 27th. (Note to Jackie: Camden Yards ranked 26th. Bring your own dinner!)

I knew my seat wasn’t going to be the greatest, but it turned out to be worse than I feared.
10-3
Okay, not quite that bad. Here’s another look with enough zoom to more accurately represent how it was with the naked eye:
10-4
Not so bad as all that, you might think. The problem is that I’m somewhat acrophobic. Every time I leaned forward, I saw this:
10-5
I didn’t even make it all the way through batting practice. Fifteen minutes after I sat down, my arm was aching from the death-grip I had on my chair. Since there didn’t seem to be any chance of installing a seat belt, I admitted defeat and paid to upgrade to a seat on the lower level.
10-6
That red asterisk marks my original seat as seen from my upgraded spot.

On the bright side, they only charged me the difference in price and didn’t add any new service charges or handling fees.

I’m going to digress here. I know, what a surprise, right? The rise of electronic and print-at-home tickets is robbing us of emotionally-valuable souvenirs. Would you really want something like this as a keepsake?
10-7
Too big to keep pristine, flimsy printer paper, three different barcodes, and an advertisement. Not the stuff of which memories are made, not when compared to the real thing, printed on cardboard, crisp and shiny.
10-8
It screams “Baseball!” where the first example could be a ticket for anything.

Okay, digression over. Surrendering the cheap seat was the low point of the evening. I was the only person in the entire section in my original seat; downstairs I was sitting right behind a group of four Mariners fans taking a mini-vacation. In front of them was a family of five from the Netherlands taking a decidedly non-mini vacation. They were rooting for the As, but the kids, all under ten, were so happy to be at the ballpark that I forgave their sin. It was the last day of a tour around California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada and the parents were obviously tired. But they stayed for the entire game–and, I can’t help but point out, the kids stayed awake and involved the whole time. Better than all too many adults in these benighted times.

Not that the game started well for the Mariners. The As scored three in the first, and by the end of the fifth inning they were leading 6-2. Adding insult to injury, the As’ final run came on a homerun, after which everyone in our section of the stadium was awarded a coupon for a free pizza. Or at least something resembling pizza.
10-9
(Pardon the added text. I wouldn’t want anyone to be tempted to try to scam a freebie from Round Table by printing a copy. Or at least not without doing some work to clean it up first.)

In fairness, my objections to Round Table have more to do with their advertising slogan than their food. The latter is unobjectionable at worst. The former–“The last honest pizza”–is offensive at best.

Then the evening improved. The kids from the Netherlands made it onto the big scoreboard screen, much to their delight. And the Mariners stopped giving up runs and started scoring them. It was 6-4 after six innings, 6-5 after seven, and tied at six after eight. No scoring in the ninth, so we even got extra baseball before the Mariners won it in the tenth thanks to a two-out homerun. Can’t write it any better than that.

Earlier in the evening, around the time the As were taking that 3-0 lead, Kansas City and Tampa Bay were losing their games. So Wednesday morning the Wild Card standings looked rather interesting, and not just from the perspective of a Mariners fan.
10-a

Mind you, with the Mariners winning again Wednesday and both the Rays and Royals* losing again, the standings are even more pleasant now, but that’s beside the point.

* In case you weren’t watching the Royals lose to the Cardinals last night, it took a cat to give the Cards the victory:

Heck of a roller coaster ride Tuesday.

Thanks, Chevy.

Buy Me Some Alka-Seltzer and…

I trust you all–at least those of you in the US–had a pleasant Presidents’ Day holiday. I did, though I’ll admit that I accomplished the feat by completely insulating myself from any information about the current possessor of that office.

It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I skipped a large chunk of the front section of the newspaper, stayed off Facebook and Twitter, and left the TV and radio off. The result was quite relaxing: exactly what a holiday is supposed to accomplish.

Look, no matter how you feel about the current administration, following what’s going on in the world today is stressful. And nobody can run at full throttle all the time–that way lies burnout. So take a day off here and there. Unplug, tune out, and drop off the radar.

Moving on.

One newspaper article I did read was (no surprise) in the sports section. It seems the Oakland As have finally realized that the food choices at the Coliseum are offal. Pardon me. Despite the occasional flow of raw sewage through the stands and dugouts, the correct word is actually “awful”.

So they’ve spent something on the order of $1.7 million upgrading the “West Side Club”–now the “Shibe Park Tavern”*–and the food stands. It’s now possible for food to be prepared at the stands instead of in kitchens buried deep in the bowels of the stadium. Since we all know what else lies deep in the Coliseum’s bowels, this is unquestionably a change for the better.

* The changes at the Club/Tavern don’t have much to do with food, apparently. They’re largely to commemorate the Athletics’ glory days in Philadelphia with memorabilia, photos, and 24 beers on tap.

But the bigger change is that the plaza between the Coliseum and Oracle Arena will now host “eight to 16 gourmet food trucks”. And yes, there will be vegetarian and gluten-free choices. There will also be bocce ball courts and a “big video board”.

While I applaud the As for finding a way to bring higher quality (and, one hopes, safer) food to the fans, I can’t help but think that promoting bocce ball is a misstep. Why would I pay the outrageous price to go to a baseball game and then spend my time playing bocce ball and watching the game on TV?

To be fair, the As’ ticket prices aren’t as bad as many other clubs. Depending on the day of the week, the opponent, and the seat location, single game tickets can be as cheap as $14. But still. I’d be willing to bet that few bars offering big screen TVs and bocce ball courts have cover charges higher than the price of a baseball game.

I also worry a bit about crowd flow. The lines for beer and hot dogs on the stadium concourse are bad enough. If the food truck lines bottleneck through a single set of doors, the lines could easily get so slow that getting your gluten-free barbequed tofu wrap and GutBuster Pepperoni Pizza Burger* would take several innings. And, since the plaza is outside the stadium, they’re going to need to figure out how to handle re-admissions. With poor organization you might go out for your food before the third inning and not make it back until after the seventh inning stretch.

* Not real products. I think.

Mind you, this is all of theoretical concern to me. For the past several years, I’ve brought food with me to the Coliseum. While many parks have rules against fans carrying food in, the As have resisted that trend, and I don’t see anything on their website suggesting that’s going to change. Though, to be pessimistic, I don’t see anything about the food trucks either, so it’s possible that a rule change is in the works, and the website just hasn’t been updated yet. We’ll see.