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Can the Dubs Save Their Soul?

Oakland blessed the Warriors with years of loyalty. Here’s how the San Francisco–bound club can repay that debt.

 

If one thing became clear during the Golden State Warriors’ January groundbreaking for their new Mission Bay arena, it was that the Dubs—today’s glitziest, most flamboyant, most TED Talk–inspiring team—are not going to do this quietly.

Where perhaps a somber moment of reflection might have been called for—a thank-you to East Bay fans for their unwavering support through decades of mostly mediocrity—there were instead synchronized dancing excavators and Cirque du Soleil–style acrobats in construction outfits. So no, don’t expect the move from Oakland to San Francisco in 2019 to be carried out with much subtlety.

Fireworks or no, the Warriors would do well to avoid the fate that befell the last local team to pull up stakes—namely the 49ers, who ditched their decaying but beloved old stadium in favor of a charmless new shopping mall of a field down in Santa Clara and have suffered both between the lines and in the stands ever since. “The goal is to capitalize on new revenue streams without abandoning the people who helped you ascend to where you are today,” says David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC. “That’s the balancing act.”

Put another way, the Warriors have to avoid appearing as if they’re selling their fans out, while doing essentially that. Says Andy Dolich, the onetime COO of the 49ers and a former Oakland A’s executive, if the Warriors could bottle up the Oracle Arena vibe and “put it in an 18-wheeler and take it across the bay, they’d do that in a second. But they can’t.”

So what can the Warriors realistically do to reassure fans that the new Chase Center won’t fall victim to the same Levi’s-ification that undid the Niners? We asked around for a new-arena game plan.

Make It (Sorta) Affordable
First, the inevitable: Everything about the new arena is likely to be more expensive (although the Warriors have yet to announce a new pricing structure). But there are creative ways to offset that. Dan Rascher, a sports economics professor at USF, suggests that the team could offer a temporary discount on certain seats—a sort of loyalty program for longtime ticket holders. For instance, upon moving to what was then Pacific Bell Park, the Giants pledged that certain seats would always cost about the same as a movie ticket, even though the prices of most other seats went way up. And for the fans who do make the plunge, Dolich says, the team could offer a value-add that capitalizes on Chase Center’s other uses. (There will be approximately 220 events there per year, the team says.) Think of a 10-game Warriors plan, with Beyoncé tickets thrown in. “Make it the ultimate package for loyalists,” he says.

Don’t Go the PSL Route
If the Warriors want to avoid antagonizing longtime fans, the team should steer clear of the seat-licensing deal that so many other clubs—including the Giants, the 49ers, and the Raiders (who actually canceled their PSL, or personal seat license, program in 2005)—have embraced. In most cases, those teams force season ticket holders to pay a license fee, often tens of thousands of dollars, for either temporary or lifetime rights to a seat. When the 49ers moved to Levi’s Stadium, every single season ticket was subject to such a fee—imposing a steep cost on fans wanting to watch their team. “Certainly you don’t want to lose any fans in the transition,” says USC’s Carter. But by pricing so many people out, “you’re going to be doing precisely that.”

Teach the Commute
Probably the second-most-common complaint about any team’s move, after the sticker shock, involves transportation. Teams have to convince their fans that their new facilities are easy to get to. Says Marc Ganis of the sports consultancy Sportscorp—he’s also been referred to as the NFL’s symbolic “33rd owner”—teams must show fans that getting to the gates “doesn’t have to be a two-hour ordeal.” In advance of the Giants’ move to Pac Bell Park, recalls Staci Slaughter, the team’s vice president of communications, thousands of wallet-size maps were printed for fans to complement advertising that ran on Muni shelters. Slaughter says the team even invited members of its Citizens Advisory Committee to watch the Giants play in Denver to see how an urban park could work. “And they didn’t have nearly the public transit we do,” she says. For their part, the Warriors are expecting to offer rail service to the new arena via the Muni T line and the future Central Subway, have plans for a 950-spot parking garage, and are proposing a new, direct ferry line.

Reach Out, for Real
To avoid symbolically burning bridges after they physically cross the bridge, the Warriors will need to stay involved in East Bay philanthropy in a meaningful way. That means not just presenting checks to charities at halftime. Dolich points to his time with the Memphis Grizzlies as an example: When that team moved from Vancouver, they partnered with the local St. Jude headquarters to fund construction of the Memphis Grizzlies House, where families can stay while their children are admitted to the hospital. “Bricks and mortar,” Dolich advises. And fund some of those projects in East Oakland, the neighborhood the team will soon be abandoning.

Rep the Whole Region
The “Golden State” part of the team’s moniker harks back to the early 1970s, when the team was threatening to split its games between Oakland and San Diego (a move that never came to fruition). Ricky Ricardo, owner of the venerable Ricky’s Sports Theatre and Grill in San Leandro, says now’s the time to adopt a more Bay-centric name. “Make it the Bay Area Warriors,” says Ricardo, who’s counted Don Nelson and Rick Barry as clientele. Short of that, it’ll still be important for the team to market itself to the entire Bay Area, and not just The City—even if those throwback unis are as sweet as they come.

Just Win, Baby
The one thing everyone can agree on—and another place where the 49ers truly fell flat—is that winning solves all ills. Hanging a championship banner in the new barn will do wonders to smooth relations with fans on all sides of the bay. And as long as Steph, K.D., Klay, and Draymond are rocking the blue and gold, fans will keep showing up.

 

Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco 

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Email Ian A. Stewart at istewart@modernluxury.com
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