Ten Years Later, AT&T Park Still Going Strong

by Harrison Chastang on April 13, 2010

Fifteen years ago San Francisco Giants Managing Partner Peter McGowan told the press, public and city officials that if you build a downtown stadium for the San Francisco Giants, they will come. Fifteen years later, as the San Francisco Giants celebrate the 10th anniversary of AT&T Park this year, McGowan’s predictions has exceeded all expectations.

McGowan was head of an investment group created to prevent the Giants from moving to Tampa Bay. The group headed by McGowan bought the Giants on the condition that the number one priority for the Giants would be to build a new downtown stadium that would not repeat the mistakes of the Giants original home at godforsaken and frigid Candlestick Park.

McGowan & Company believed the harsh conditions at Candlestick contributed directly to the Giants low attendance that in the 1970s and 80’s averaged around 11,000, but as low as 1,000 fans per game in 1973. In nearly 40 years at Candlestick the Giants only twice exceeded attendance of more than 2 million in a ballpark with the capacity to exceed 4 million.

For McGowan’s dream to come true he would have to defy conventional logic of the sports business world by coming up with $250 million dollars to self finance the stadium, a feat that had not been done in major league football or baseball since Dodger Stadium in 1960. McGowan was forced to go the private route because unlike many cities outside of California where city councils and state legislators have the only say in public stadium funding, public funding for stadiums in San Francisco and other California cities must be decided by voters.

Bay Area voters had already rejected four Giants stadium bond measures (two in San Francisco, one in Santa Clara County and another in San Jose) so McGowan was convinced that the only way to get a downtown stadium built was to propose building their own stadium on city owned land at China Basin. The Giants had no problem winning a 1998 ballot measure allowing the stadium to exceed city mandated height limits on the Embarcadero.

Even though McGowan said his plan would not cost city taxpayers a dime, the Giants faced opposition from a variety of community groups worried that a downtown stadium would cause massive traffic jams and that despite McGowan’s promises, the stadium would wind up being financed with public dollars. Critics also questioned whether how many city dollars would be spent for police and extra Muni light rail trains to and from the stadium.

McGowan countered with his assessment that the stadium would be built as a transit first facility within a block from the Caltrain terminal, a Muni light rail line stop and four Muni bus lines; and a short walk or light rail ride to BART and Amtrak connections. Stadium supporters said the park’s unique waterfront location would encourage fans to ride ferries from Marin and the East Bay.

Well it’s been 10 years, and they are still coming. Unlike many of the new baseball stadium in places like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, where attendance has dropped dramatically after the novelty of the new ballpark wore off, the fans are still coming to AT&T Park. While the Giants are not recording the daily sellouts that occurred during the stadium’s first few years, the 35,000 average attendance at AT&T has kept the Giants among the top ten teams in attendance ever since the stadium was built.

The stadium has remained popular with not only to die hard Giants fans who have more than a few Croix de Candlestick (the pin issued to fans after extra inning night Candlestick games) but to a whole new generation of Bay Area residents who might not necessarily be serious baseball fans but are more concerned about having a good time than Barry Zito’s ERA. City transit officials estimate that today at least half of AT&T fans take public transportation or walk to Giants games.

Someone who was at the ballpark on opening day of 2000 was Renel Brooks-Moon, the first African American and the second female major league stadium PA announcer. Renel has been credited with exposing the Giants and Major League Baseball to the critically important demographic of 18 to 50 year old African Americans via the popular Renel in the Morning radio show Renel hosted until a few years ago.

Renel’s daily commentary about her experiences at AT&T encouraged many of her listeners who previously had no interest in baseball to attend Giants games at a time when Major League Baseball has lost millions of African American fans to football and basketball, and most African American athletes are opting to play football and basketball rather than baseball. Renel was at the ballpark on Opening Day 2010, introducing another “voice” of the Giants, play-by-play announcer Jon Miller, who was recently voted into the baseball Hall of Fame.

The team promised 10 years ago to provide jobs and vendor opportunities to San Francisco residents, particularly to African American and Latin residents of the Mission, Fillmore and Bayview-Hunters Point communities. If you stroll around the ballpark today will find many of the same employees at the park and many of them are still riding Muni from the Mission, the Bayview and the Fillmore to the stadium.

A few folk instrumental to the team’s success at AT&T during the past 10 years are no longer with the Giants. The manager who led the team on Opening Day 2000 and took the Giants to their first World Series since the earthquake marred 1989 BART Series, Dusty Baker, left the Giants after the 2002 World Series and is now the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Another member of the 2000 opening day team was Barry Bonds, the controversial slugger who made history by breaking Hank Aaron’s all time home run record at AT&T park in 2007. Bonds was released by the Giants after the 2007 season. McGowan, the man responsible for bringing Bonds to San Francisco and building AT&T Park, no longer plays an active role in running the team. McGowan retired as managing partner at the end of the 2008 season, replaced last year by former Microsoft general counsel William Neukom.

At 10 years old, AT&T Park has won over many non-sports fans, progressives and community activists who 10 years ago worried that the expected noise and congestion from the ballpark would ruin the quality of life along the waterfront, and that the cost of police, Muni and paramedic service for the ballpark would divert needed city dollars from programs for the poor, homeless and seniors. The stadium has sparked a wave of new development in China Basin and South Beach that has been criticized by some for gentrification, but city officials say that AT&T generates more than $2 million dollars in ticket taxes, and tax revenue on the estimated $70 million dollars spent by fans at nearby businesses created since the AT&T was built generates more than enough revenue to pay the cost of gameday police and Muni services.

The success of AT&T comes at a time when there’s talk about the Golden State Warriors moving back to San Francisco and playing in an arena that coulbe be built across McCovey Cove from AT&T Park. Many City Hall insiders, community activists and others who have previously opposed any San Francisco downtown arena say they may be much less likely to oppose a downtown arena if it’s financed and operated on the same model of AT&T Park.

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