Who needs Cambridge Analytica when all you need to get people’s data is put on a Major League Baseball game for free?
Last September, when the Oakland A’s announced plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their move to the west coast by letting fans into Tuesday’s game against the White Sox for the bargain price of $0, it was easy to see the brilliance of the idea. Get people in the ballpark, spend several hours selling them overpriced food and souvenirs, and hope that they also stop by the advance ticket window and purchase a few tickets to future games with tickets that cost money, in addition to the food and souvenirs at those games.
The A’s drew a crowd of 46,028 non-paying customers to enjoy a 10-2 rout in which both teams wore outstanding 1968 throwback uniforms. The turnout actually was somewhat underwhelming – the A’s issued 200,000 free tickets and were expecting somewhere around 70,000 people to actually show up to a stadium with a capacity of 56,782. But for the A’s, the excitement was about the 200,000 – really, a segment of the 200,000 – rather than the 46,028.
Susan Slusser, the San Francisco Chronicle’s ace A’s beat writer – and subject last month of one of the best and funniest pieces of sportswriting you’ll read, a profile by her husband, Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News – reported that she was told “20-25% are new account holders; meaning we did not have them in the system before.” In other words, thank you for signing up for tickets to the free A’s game, and even if you didn’t come, you will be receiving e-mail from the A’s to try to get you to buy tickets for the rest of your life.
Exactly how much it helps the A’s to have the information of thousands of people who didn’t come to a baseball game when they had tickets and it was free, well, that’s hard to say. But they also did have did have thousands of actual new customers in the mix, and the A’s need to try whatever they can, seeing how they play in one of baseball’s largest markets in the Bay Area, and despite having a ton of seats to fill at the Coliseum, have not been in the top half of the American League in attendance since 2004. In not unrelated news, the A’s had a higher payroll in 2006 than they do in 2018.
All of this is important because the A’s continue their efforts to get a new stadium built, one of the few times when even the most hardened opponents of ballpark construction have to admit that there is a necessity for it, given the Coliseum’s infamous sewage issues, among other things. That does not mean it has been or will be easy, though creative ideas like gondolas from parking facilities to a stadium are now getting some hype.
The more people the A’s get to go to their games now, the more support they can generate in Oakland, not only for getting a building built, but for filling it once it is, at which time the team will have to spend some money. And when that does happen, those fans are going to have to pay, too. That’s how they get you.