April 17, 2018

Bats, Balls, And Bozos

As a resident of Oakland, CA and a baseball fan, I have more than a passing interest in the health and welfare of the Oakland A's baseball team.

Like all sports franchises, the A's have had their ups and downs. But in recent years they have become one of the most hapless franchises in all of American sports.

For years the ownership of the A's have turned off fans by trading excellent players for "prospects," hinting that they were going to leave town, constantly whining about their predicament, and making one false start after another trying to build a new stadium. They have also had lousy teams.

But the end of last season was hopeful. Although they finished in last place in their division, the final month of the season they played .586 ball with a 17-12 record. This would have placed them in 2nd place in their division and earned them a playoff spot (a .586 winning percentage would have won the division in the American League East.) They had some good young players and showed promise for an exciting 2018.

With that as background I went to an A's game last week. It was very depressing. It was a night game in which parking was free (saving fans $30) and still the park was empty. There was one other person in my row. The A's announced attendance of about 7,000 which means there were probably fewer than 5,000 people really there. The stadium holds over 50,000. And this was the first week of the season when fans are at their most hopeful and interest is high. Something, I thought, is terribly wrong.

And then I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle...
"For many years, the A’s had the best television ads in the game...This season, the A’s have moved their advertising in-house, and the TV spots are no more...The A’s have decided to focus on targeted marketing this season rather than mass advertising, and they’re segmenting their advertising campaigns to customized audiences..."
"advertising in-house...targeted marketing... customized audiences...?" This ol' boy doesn't need an interpreter to know what that bullshit means -- social media crap to millennials. It's the default advertising strategy for everyone who knows nothing about advertising.

So far in this early season the A's have missed every advertising and marketing opportunity they've had. In the first week they had potentially the most exciting player in a generation - Shohei Ohtani - come to town. Did they tell the market about it? No, they were too busy doing "targeted marketing to customized audiences."

They have a player, Khris Davis, who has more home runs than everyone in baseball except the much ballyhooed Giancarlo Stanton the past two years. Have the A's told the 5 million or so people in their market about him? No, they've been too busy doing "targeted marketing to customized audiences."

So I did a little research to see how well their new strategy is working.

All of last year the A's averaged 18,446 people per game. The first eight games of this year they averaged 15,212. A drop of almost 20%. And it's really a lot worse. Last year's attendance figures include the dog days of August. And this year's small sample include both Opening Day and Opening Night, often the biggest crowds of the season.

Which leads us to tonight. The A's are staging a generous, but potentially misguided marketing stunt. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first game in Oakland they have distributed 200,000 free tickets for tonight's game -  200,000 tickets and fewer than 60,000 seats. What could go wrong?

And what for? So they can have a meaningless PR claim -- "the biggest crowd ever to watch an A's baseball game." Which proves what? That if you give something away for nothing people will take it? This stunt has a marketing value of zero. In the best case scenario it will be forgotten in 48 hours.

The Oakland A's problems go way deeper than marketing incompetence. But when you're in the toilet the last thing you need is amateurs screwing around with the plumbing.

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