As Giants and A’s meet, the future of the Bay Bridge Series doesn’t look so bright
The Oakland Coliseum is practically empty, the roster has been gutted and the A’s are openly discussing a move to Las Vegas.
Owner John Fisher is doing his best to alienate A’s longtime fans, yet Oakland isn’t the only Bay Area team struggling to sell tickets these days.
When the A’s made the short trip across the water on Tuesday for the latest installment of the Bay Bridge series, Oracle Park was unlikely to be filled to the brim. The Giants, coming off a 107-win season and their first National League West title since 2012, may struggle to draw like they once did all summer long.
After announcing a paid attendance of 40,853 fans on Opening Day, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Giants’ first sellout of the 2022 season was also their last. By the fourth game of their first homestand, attendance had dipped to 23,279.
Yes, the team is off to a red-hot start, and yes, players such as Logan Webb, Carlos Rodón and Joc Pederson are seemingly worth the price of admission, but the reality is there’s reason to believe that attendance will never recover. It’s not that Barry Bonds and Tim Lincecum aren’t walking through the doors at China Basin again, it’s that we’re already seeing the long-term ramifications of COVID-19 on our society, on cities and with the ways fans interact with their favorite teams.
The Giants aren’t going to trade their most recognizable stars, slash payroll to a level that’s insulting to season-ticket holders or flirt with a move to Portland, but we’re beginning to notice a meaningful shift in the way the organization operates.
It’s one that still gives the franchise the potential to create a sustainable model for long-term success, but it’s also representative of a philosophical shift that suggests the Giants are making a concerted effort to cut their budget.
The first meaningful signs of change came during the 2018 season, less than a year after the franchise’s National League record-setting sellout streak came to an end after 530 consecutive home games. In July 2018, then-general manager Bobby Evans traded outfielder Austin Jackson, pitcher Cory Gearrin and prospect Jason Bahr to the Rangers. The trade enabled San Francisco to stay below MLB’s competitive balance tax threshold, but forced the organization to part with a prospect, who at the time, was well-regarded.
Simply put, it was a cost-cutting measure, or a transaction that was relatively unbecoming of a franchise that was not far removed from the days of experiencing record revenues.
When the Giants fired Evans at the end of the season and ultimately named Farhan Zaidi president of baseball operations, the choice proved pivotal for a wide variety of reasons. At the top: Zaidi is one of the smartest executives in baseball and possesses a mastery of how to maximize strategic advantages using every nook and cranny of his 40-man roster. Near the top: Zaidi has proven he doesn’t need a wealth of resources to turn the Giants into a contender.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise Zaidi’s first job in baseball came under Billy Beane in Oakland or that he’s publicly professed that reading Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball,” changed his life.
Beane’s ability to open windows of competitiveness amid constant pressure to suppress the team’s payroll isn’t exactly the model Zaidi has followed in San Francisco, but it’s clear he isn’t operating with the same level of financial resources as his predecessors, Evans and Brian Sabean.
After the Giants opened the 2018 season with a $200 million payroll under Evans, Zaidi started the 2019 season with a $170 million payroll, the 2021 season with a $149 million payroll and the 2022 season with a $155 million payroll.
To be clear, these are numbers Beane and A’s general manager David Forst could only dream about, but this deep into Zaidi’s tenure, it’s fair to assume Giants ownership is no longer comfortable spending like the Dodgers or Mets.
So what does the future hold for the Bay Bridge series?
If Fisher gets his way, it seems increasingly likely the A’s will be headed to Las Vegas. A’s president Dave Kaval continues to tweet about a desire to open a waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal, but public trust in the business side of the franchise has almost completely eroded.
In San Francisco, where the Giants were so insecure about the A’s that they refused to cede territorial rights and allow the A’s to attempt to build a stadium in San Jose, concerns about attendance may continue to mount. And try as the organization might, there is no magic pill that will suddenly lead to a ballpark that’s consistently full.
The prices associated with going to a game aren’t coming down, workers aren’t suddenly returning to downtown offices in droves, and couches with huge televisions in front of them aren’t becoming less comfy. The Giants should never reach the point where they’re cycling through stars and rebuilding twice a decade, though, because as long as resources remain relatively strong and Zaidi stays at the helm, the team should be able to contend.
The bottom line is this: Over the next few years, barring any August or September weekend matchups in which one team is chasing a World Series ring, it’s unlikely the atmosphere at the Coliseum or Oracle Park will be reminiscent of the best Bay Bridge series affairs.
Whether it’s the A’s ownership’s open disdain for the team’s longtime fans or the Giants’ inability to recapture the pre-pandemic spirit inside their waterfront ballpark, the best days of the Bay Bridge series are probably behind us.
And if the A’s skip town, consider the rivalry dead altogether. Sorry, no one is strapping a trophy into seat 7A on the next Southwest flight to Vegas.