If the Warriors build it, will the fans, the victories, and the passion come too? | KALW

If the Warriors build it, will the fans, the victories, and the passion come too?

Sep 17, 2015

Victory for the Bay


When the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship back in June, fans across the Bay Area exploded with pure, rapturous joy. For Oakland residents like Jesus Yanex, the victory was about more than just basketball.


“It feels real good,” Yanex said. “Oakland needs this. We're tired of just having these homicides. We have a championship to our side. Oakland is the heart of the Bay. Forget San Francisco because San Francisco faces Oakland.”


But then the fireworks blasted, the parade died down, and the fans went home.

And the Warriors did not forget San Francisco. Fans looking to fill the void between seasons can pick up a copy of the 1600-page environmental impact report on the logistics of the team’s proposed move.


The team hopes for approval this fall, and to move into a new stadium in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood by 2018.


The report mentions parking lots, traffic control, and job creation. But it says nothing of the passion that flooded the streets of Oakland the night the Warriors won. And that passion matters: the power of fans is intangible but crucial to making big sports franchises work. So what happens when that power is tested?


Dubb Nation meets the Hello Kitty Supercute Friendship Festival

Dubb Nation doesn’t close down when Warriors season is over, but what’s inside the stadium does change. For example, earlier this summer it was home to the Hello Kitty Supercute Friendship Festival. Hundreds of children, and more adults than you would think, wore Hello Kitty headbands and sang their hearts out along with her.

Over the rest of the year, Oracle also houses Ricky Martin, the Who, and Frozen: On Ice.


Clearly, the arena itself isn’t the only place Dubb Nation lives. And yet, it’s a huge part of the team’s identity. Months before the championship, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams suggested that screaming Dubb Nation fans may have sent the decibel level at Oracle Arena soaring above legal limits. And when the Warriors finally won the title, they did it in Cleveland, while 17,000 fans packed a sold out Oracle to make noise for a team that couldn’t even hear them.


“Roaracle” and victory


The role fans play in a team’s success can be a little intangible. But don’t underestimate the power of those screams.


“The fact of the matter is that in the NBA a team at home is 7 - 10% more likely to win than a team on the road,” said Brett Green, a sport economics researcher at UC Berkeley.


Noise can play a role in victory. This season, the Warriors won 39 home games, compared to just 28 games on the road.


“One theory for why home court advantage exists is because of the fans. Oracle Arena, where the Warriors play, is known as being one of the loudest stadiums in the NBA,” Green said.


Fans actually call it Roaracle.


Inside the Mission Bay


PJ Johnson, spokesperson for the Warriors, says passionate fans, like sport stadiums, can be built.


“It’s sort of the thing where if you build it, it will eventually will come,” Johnson said.


Johnson says that, even without the team, Mission Bay is coming onto its own. It used to be a collection of warehouses, concrete plants, and muddy fields. Now it’s home to biotech companies like Illumina, Twist Bioscience, Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, and UCSF's new medical campus. It'll soon host Uber's huge corporate headquarters. Now, it just needs a little nightlife. And, he says, a team.


“What the arena will bring is not only the Warriors, this beloved basketball team, but also a number of restaurants and cafes and retail amenities that the Mission Bay just doesn’t have right now,” Johnson said.


The Mission Bay Alliance goes on the defense


When Sam Singer watched the Warriors in Game 5 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he watched them as a lifelong fan. But when he’s Sam Singer, UCSF stakeholder and well-known political operative, he’s prepared to fight. He represents the Mission Bay Alliance, a nonprofit group that wants the Warriors to stay in Oakland.


“We have no illusions that they're not a world class opponent,” Singer said. “But we're not playing the NBA champions themselves. We're playing the owners of the team, and we think we match up quite well in height and depth. We can go long. We can go short. We think we're going to beat the owners in the championship to keep them out of Mission Bay.”


The Mission Bay Alliance says the Warriors will bring massive traffic jams -- they actually call it “life-threatening congestion” -- to the neighborhood, plus crowds and noise.


Local nurse Cosima Singleton is also a lifelong Warriors fan. Like Sam Singer, being a fan doesn’t change her worries about the project. She lives in Russian Hill, and works at the UCSF Medical Center, just blocks from the Warriors plan to move.


“It may change the area. My top priority would have local stay local and to have residential areas available to people born and raised in San Francisco and normal people,” Singleton said.


Creating fans


The Warriors move has forced fans like Singleton to look at their team as a big business franchise instead of a favorite team. And sports economist Brett Green says that changed perspective could have a real effect on the games.


“I think that there's some concern that a move from Oracle from the area where the Warriors have been for 40 years, to San Francisco, will change the composition of people that attend games,” he said. “If they were to move to Mission Bay they would be more created fans, and less of the die-hard fans.”


These created fans would be the fans who like the idea of a winning team more than the team itself.


“The new stadium might not be as loud, as supportive, for the home team,” Green said.


Simmering down in Santa Clara


Not too many people have studied this. But we do have one local example. The new Levi Stadium that opened in 2014 was eerily quiet for most of the season. This was a sharp contrast to the chaotic Candlestick Park atmosphere where the 49ers played for 43 seasons. Their last year at Candlestick, the 49ers won six games at home and only lost two. The year they moved, they lost as many games at home as they won.


Still, more people attended games, and they paid more for them: 10,000 more fans, paying an average of $117 a ticket. That’s 40% more than they would have paid at Candlestick. Sports economist Brett Green says the Warriors may see a similar bump.


“I think that part of the reason for the team moving to San Francisco, besides getting the new stadium, would be to attract the sort of typical San Franciscan who is probably wealthier than the typical person from Oakland,” Green said.


If the Warriors move to San Francisco on schedule, the new stadium will open by 2018. Ticket sales will be one way to test fan devotion. Another will be the volume and quantity of their screams, when the diehards and the newbies sit side by side.