Golden State Warriors: How a Move to SF Could Potentially Change the Fanbase
If there's one thing Joe Lacob has been in his short tenure as Golden State Warriors owner, it's bold. He's made outlandish promises and bold statements, but none may be bolder than the one he made today.
Just a couple days after news broke of a potential Warriors move across the Bay, the team held a grand press conference announcing their intentions to build an arena on the Embarcadero and have it be ready by 2017, in front of the likes of David Stern, SF Mayor Ed Lee, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and even, Ahmad Rashad.
I will say this—the renderings for the new arena are beautiful, and the plans for a state-of-the-art arena at Pier 30/32, an almost perfect location for fans traveling to the game, would be amazing. But what gets lost in the shuffle is exactly how this move will affect the home crowds at Warrior games.
It's been said quite frequently during the times when the Warriors are actually on national television that Warrior fans are 'the best fans in the NBA. That reputation may change with this impending move to San Francisco.
Here are some reasons why this may happen.
Hardcore Fans Will Get Priced out
With a cool, new arena comes increased ticket prices, and that's the logical place to start when talking about how the fanbase could change. Warrior tickets aren't exactly cheap, but one can imagine that the prices will be that much more expensive at the new SF arena. With higher ticket prices come less of the diversity you would normally see at Oracle Arena.
What you might see in the first few seasons at the proposed new arena is a collection of wealthy businessmen trying to catch a game with some co-workers at the Embarcadero.
You won't see the diehards who have spent years filling Oracle Arena when the Warriors had no chance at a playoff berth and were spitting out starting lineups featuring the likes of Clifford Robinson, Vonteego Cummings, Calbert Cheaney, Bimbo Coles, Cherokee Parks, Danny Fortson, Bobby Sura and you get the picture.
Part of what made those Oracle crowds so hostile and amazing to be a part of were the diehards who knew their basketball. They spent years watching such horrible basketball, that there were ready to ERUPT at any given moment that the Warriors showed any basketball competence whatsoever. That's what makes Warrior games special. That could very well disappear after 2017.
The Fans Will Be Front-Runners
Not saying that San Francisco Giants and 49er fans are front-runners at all, but with a team that hasn't had a winning tradition the past 20 years, I could see the casual SF fans who will go to games at the new arena quickly growing bored and disinterested in the product on the floor. Now, this is assuming the Warriors are still bad five years from now, which hopefully will not be the case.
But if the Warriors are STILL a losing team in 2017, don't expect near-sellout crowds like you get at Oracle. That may last for a season or two at the new arena just because of the location and the fact that it's going to be a drop-dead gorgeous coliseum, but SF fans will not be nearly as forgiving and loyal as Oakland fans, and that's just fact.
San Francisco loves a winner, and they can easily get behind superstars and winning teams, and when they do, they're as great a fanbase as almost any in professional sports (see the 2010 Giants and last season's 49ers).
But when things aren't so great, watch out. This is especially true with a franchise moving INTO the city trying to establish themselves like the Warriors. The fans won't have as long a leash as they do with the long-established franchises like the 49ers and the Giants.
Fans Won't Be as Interested in the Game
Oakland fans love their basketball, and that's a fact. It's a big reason why they're such great fans. Oakland's passion and love for basketball is arguably only rivaled by New York, Chicago and Philadelphia—old-school fans who were raised on the soul of the game.
San Francisco...not so much.
Part of what makes Oakland fans so special is not only their love for basketball, but the fact that they're accustomed to seeing such bad basketball. The mere sight of the Warriors playing good basketball drives us wild. It truly makes for a one-of-a-kind basketball atmosphere.
Expect SF fans to not be as interested in the basketball as Oakland fans are at Oracle. Games will likely serve as socializing events for business professionals that work around downtown and the financial district.
They could end up becoming more of a "scene" like it is in Los Angeles than a legitimate basketball atmosphere. Like one of GSW's promos for the Lakers said, "Laker fans go to Staples to be seen, Warrior fans go to Oracle to be heard," this is exactly what will happen at the new SF arena.
It's really what I fear most for the Warriors. There's an edge at Oracle that isn't duplicated at many other NBA arenas. Leaving Oracle will surely lead to a lost home-court advantage.
Oracle fans were ruthless and passionate. I can picture many of the fans in the high-priced seats at the new SF arena appearing uninterested and there for the social aspect rather than truly appreciating the Dubs and the game of basketball.
They Won't Be as Ruthless or Vicious
Joe Lacob getting booed during Chris Mullin's jersey retirement ceremony was regrettably one of the most memorable moments of the 2011-12 Warriors season. Lacob will be happy to know that nothing like that will happen to him in San Francisco.
This is a city that's undoubtedly softer than Oakland. Just look at the San Francisco Giants. Can you imagine an Oakland crowd embracing their star players portrayed as cute and cuddly animals like Pablo Sandoval (Kung Fu Panda) or Brandon Belt (Baby Giraffe) are in SF? Probably not.
Like what was said earlier, there was an edge and a ruthless nature that fans at Oracle have that SF fans will never have with the Warriors. It stems from the basketball culture in Oakland and a long history of mostly frustrating basketball.
Fans Will Be Less Forgiving
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Harping back to a point made earlier, if the team isn't good in 2017, don't expect the near-sellout crowds that the Dubs get at Oracle even with the sub-par product on the floor.
East Bay fans will likely still find a way to make it to games in San Francisco, but there's no incentive for them to make the trek and pay higher prices if the team is still bad. It'll only add to the bitterness, and therein lies the risk of moving out of Oakland for Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.
All I'll say is the Warriors better be perennial playoff contenders in about five years, or things might not be as sunny on the other side of the Bay as it seemed like it was at today's press conference.
Sure, the new arena will be awesome and grand, but by moving to SF, they'll lose the biggest identifier of the Warriors of the past 20-plus years—the fans. That unique fan experience likely won't be duplicated in San Francisco, and it's a shame.
A beautiful arena on the dock of the bay will be amazing, but a fanbase like what the Warriors have is irreplaceable.