On 14 June, something remarkable happened at the Coliseum, home of the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball (MLB). A season-high attendance of 27,759 fans came to the Coliseum. It’s a remarkable turnaround considering that just over a month ago, on 3 May, attendance was just under 2,500.
Once the Athletics, the MLB’s lowest-ranked team, rebounded, the crowd seemed to come back. In fact, in that game, the Athletics won their seventh straight game, their longest winning streak since 2021.
An Oakland fan protests inside the stadium.스포츠토토
The biggest target of the Oakland fans’ backlash is the owner. Photo: Getty Images
But the fans had a different agenda. Each fan carried a sign as they entered the stadium, and once the game started, they held them up in the air, most of which read: “SELL.
The incident generated a lot of buzz for a while. It’s called a “reverse boycott. It’s the complete opposite of what happened in 2002 when the Lotte Giants of the South Korean baseball league had the worst record in the league and fans boycotted games, causing attendance to plummet. Instead, they came to the stadium and protested in unison to show how incompetent the team’s leadership was.
The fans weren’t criticising the performance, they were criticising John Fisher, the “worst owner ever”. Fisher is the man behind one of the biggest stories in MLB this season: the Athletics’ relocation. The Athletics had previously purchased a stadium site in Las Vegas in late April. They then applied to the state of Nevada, where Las Vegas is located, for assistance in building the new stadium, which was approved on 16 June. This effectively sealed the deal for the Athletics to move to Las Vegas.
The revelation of the Athletics’ plan to move to Las Vegas was the final straw for fans, who were already seething like oil. They had every right to be angry. It wasn’t just the move, it was Fisher’s history with the A’s fans.
The Athletics had been beloved by fans since 1968, when the team had previously been based in Oakland. The team reciprocated with success. The Athletics finished atop the MLB four times, including three straight World Series titles from 1972-1974.
Even in the early 2000s, when the team’s budget was drastically reduced, the Athletics were a competitive “brand. The team did well under then-president Billy Beane, who started the “Moneyball” trend. Moneyball has since been made into a novel and a film, and it has continued to garner interest. The club seemed to be enjoying a second heyday.
However, the Athletics’ resurgence began to fade when current owner John Fisher took over in 2005. Fisher was a man of considerable wealth, ranked 258th on the Fortune 400 list of wealthiest Americans with a total net worth of $1.3 billion, but for a man who made his fortune in real estate, baseball was more of a money-maker than a business.
The Oakland Athletics have been one of the worst performing franchises in the league as a result of his disinvestment. Photo: Getty Images
After 2005, when Fisher took over as owner, the Athletics did well. They never finished above the league average in total team payroll, but they had a winning percentage above .500 for 19 seasons. During this time, there were few notable investments: the team performed well, but there was no one franchise star who stuck with the fans.
Nor was the money saved on roster construction reinvested in the fans. Instead, it went straight to Fisher’s wallet. A prime example is the home stadium operation. The Coliseum has been used virtually unchanged since 1968, when the Athletics first arrived in Oakland. The bleachers were changed in the middle of the decade when it was repurposed as a multi-purpose stadium. Even then, the internal facilities have been poorly maintained. The leaky stadium toilets are among the worst in MLB. Fans put up with it, believing that Oakland would one day get a new stadium, but Fisher kept the dilapidated stadium until he left Oakland.
COVID-19 further divided Fisher and Oakland fans. Before the 2022 season, the Athletics raised season tickets from $456 to $800 (75.4%), with no explanation for the increase. As mentioned above, reinvestment in the roster and facilities has not been forthcoming. Fisher’s personal wealth was $2.2 billion, up $900 million from 2005 when he bought the team, but he was unable to withstand the short-term damage caused by a shortened season and no games in 2020 and the aftermath of COVID-19 in 2021 and shifted the burden to the fans.
A reverse boycott by Oakland fans of Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, which will host the 2023 All-Star Game, followed. Photo by Getty Images
Overall MLB attendance increased from 45.3 million in 2021 to 64.55 million in 2022 (42.5 per cent). The aftermath of COVID-19 was a short-term phenomenon. However, attendance at the Coliseum only increased by 12.3 per cent as a result of ticket price hikes. Fisher’s greed was self-inflicted, and after proving himself to be one of the worst owners ever, he culminated his bad blood with Oakland this year with his relocation push.
This wasn’t just Fisher’s problem. When asked about the reverse boycott by local media outlet The Athletic, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “It’s cool. Isn’t it great that all of a sudden the number of people coming to the ballpark (for any purpose) is ‘about league average’.” Even the commissioner, who is supposed to maintain order and balance throughout the league, ignored Oakland and its fans.
The Coliseum’s lease with the Athletics expires next year, in 2024. The projected opening date for the new ballpark in Las Vegas is 2028. There’s a three-year gap, but the Athletics have a Triple-A team in Las Vegas. Rather than extend their unnecessary cohabitation with Oakland, the Athletics will likely borrow the Triple-A team’s ballpark. And just like that, Oakland is abandoned.