Dwindling Attendance : Bay Area No Paradise for the Major Leagues
San Francisco Giants owner Horace Stoneham accompanied Walter O’Malley’s Dodgers out West after the 1957 season and had no regrets for a decade.
In 1958, the Giants played in 22,900-seat Seal Stadium and drew 1,272,625 fans, nearly twice the number of fans the club drew at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1956.
San Francisco drew an average of 1,355,985 fans a season for the next 10 years. Times were good for the both the Dodgers and Giants. It was the era before free agency and huge salaries. The large gates helped make both O’Malley and Stoneham wealthier men.
Encouraged by the economic success of the Giants and the Dodgers, other baseball franchises began operations in Seattle, Anaheim, San Diego and Oakland in the ensuing years.
The move of the Athletics from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968 created the smallest two-team market in professional baseball. Stoneham’s economic wonderland began to crack from market saturation.
The A’s drew more than 1 million fans only twice in their first 10 years and they drew just 306,763 in 1979. The Giants only managed to draw over a million once from 1968-1977.
The dwindling gate was not the only concern for the Bay Area franchises. The advent of free agency helped the average player’s salary to jump from $51,000 in 1976 to almost $329,000 in 1985.
Other costs also escalated so much so that by 1983, 18 of 26 teams in Major League baseball lost money, according to the owners. A recent article in Fortune Magazine estimated the league’s overall loss in 1983 after tax breaks to be $45 million or $1.7 million a team.
Another factor in the dismal future of baseball in the Bay Area started as a mere flicker in the late 1950’s. Television had come onto the scene and changed the lifestyle and trends of Americans.
Baseball was apparently caught off guard by the changes. While the NBA and the NFL decided to divide the total television revenues between their franchises, baseball allowed its teams to make whatever money they could from local television stations.
The result is a split in the industry between the haves and haves not.
According to a recent survey in Broadcasting Magazine, the 1985 rights to the New York Yankees broadcasts brought the club $14 million and the New York Mets received $12.1 million. Meanwhile, the A’s received just $2.5 million, Giants $2.75 million and Seattle Mariners $1.6 million.
“It’s become a television game in the sense that the revenues derived from television exceed the gate,” said A’s president Roy Eisenhardt.