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Planned Obsolescence

The Oakland Athletics’ record-low attendance on Wednesday is absolutely embarrassing and totally by design

April 21, 2022

For years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been owners of baseball’s most-viral lack of fans. Sports media has chortled repeatedly at the empty seats, while owner Stuart Sternberg has roasted his own franchise for its attendance and repeatedly threatened to move the team to Montreal, a city that didn’t like baseball all that much in the first place. The perception that “Rays Fans” are more concept than actual entity is certainly earned, but as it turns out, they’re not even bottom of the barrel in terms of turnout. Not quite.

The honor instead belongs to the Oakland Athletics—paltry attendance runner-ups to the Miami Marlins in 2021—who have began 2022 on a mission to become the worst of the worst. On Tuesday, in just their second home game of the season, the Athletics set their lowest attendance mark since 1980, drawing a paltry 3,748 lukewarm bodies to their showdown with the lowly Orioles. Not content with those depths, however, the Athletics dug even deeper on Wednesday, breaking the fabled 3,000-fan threshold with an official attendance of 2,703. This was the scene at first pitch.

In fairness to the Athletics (not that they deserve it) weekday day games against the Orioles are a tough enough sell in Baltimore, let alone 3,000 miles away. Compounding the issue was the fact first pitch had also been moved up three-and-a-half hours due to impending weather. If that seems a little fishy to you, that’s because it is.

This is not an isolated incident. The As have been bottom five in attendance four of the past five seasons (excluding 2020) and were even outdrawn by their Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas Aviators, during the aforementioned Tuesday snoozer.

This isn’t some ‘90s expansion team we’re talking about here. This is a legacy franchise and the only remaining professional sports team on this side of the bay. What’s really going on?

Well, all of this serves to amplify a frequency that has already become unignorable: The Oakland As need a new ballpark. The quest for a new venue has bridged multiple regimes in Oakland, but current president Dave Kaval has turned his tactics into a psyop. He’s discontinued rewards programs and jacked up ticket and parking prices at The Coliseum, in some cases more than 50 percent. The organization has then presented the results of those determents (such as Tuesday and Wednesday, when the attendance figures were proudly announced for everyone to hear) as evidence that the $12-billion Howard Terminal project—a shopping mall/baseball stadium for which Oakland taxpayers would foot much of the bill—is the only way forward. Short of that, both Kaval and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred have threatened relocation, with the word “Vegas” coming out of their mouths at one point or another.

So point and laugh all you want—it is kind of funny—but there’s more to this than meets the eye … even if it is just empty seats.