River Cats’ Affiliation switch unfair for A’s fans

Mike McGough

The Sacramento River Cats inked a deal in mid-September to become the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate beginning in the 2015 season.

The move is a sensible business decision by both organizations. But for Sacramento-based fans of the River Cats’ previous MLB parent organization, the Oakland Athletics, the affiliation switch is a bitter reminder of the Giants’ dominance of the Northern California market.

Since the birth of the River Cats 15 years ago, Raley Field in West Sacramento has been a place where fans could go to see A’s prospects in action or watch A’s big leaguers rehabilitate from injuries.

When the River Cats season opens April 9 next year, this will no longer be the case. The team will retain its colors, logo and the majority of its staff—but the A’s will be out of the picture.

The switch was, according to the River Cats organization, a fan-centered decision.

“Our mission here at Raley Field has always been, and always will be, giving the Sacramento community the best fan experience possible,” said River Cats President Jeff Savage, according to a news release from the Giants.

The River Cats’ prevailing logic is that, compared to the A’s, the Giants are a bigger-market team that has seen success embodied in its two World Series titles since the start of the decade and has many fans in the Sacramento area. A bigger market means bigger revenue and, potentially, more ticket sales.

But what makes things tough for A’s fans is that they have supported the River Cats—ticket sales were never a problem. The River Cats average attendance has been either the highest or second highest of the 15 teams in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) every year since 2005, according to Minor League Baseball.

It is, therefore, unfortunate and slightly unfair to these supportive fans that the River Cats chose to end their affiliation with the A’s Sept. 15, three days before signing a two-year contract with the Giants.

Not everyone who attends River Cats games is an A’s supporter. But for those who are—season ticket holders and frequent game-goers who love their A’s—the affiliation switch is a sad and sudden blow.

The fans aren’t the only ones hurt by the switch.

The new Triple-A affiliate of the A’s in 2015 will be the Nashville Sounds.

This move will increase the cost and logistic difficulties faced by the A’s as they call up and send down players over a distance of more than 2,000 miles between the Triple-A and MLB stadiums. It is sure to make for more administrative headaches than the roughly 90-mile affiliate proximity the A’s have enjoyed for a decade and a half. 

Meanwhile, the move is an upgrade for the Giants, whose previous Triple-A team, the Fresno Grizzlies, have had their attendance hover around the middle of the pack among PCL teams over the past few years.

“Sacramento is a great baseball town and the area has traditionally produced top baseball talent for the Major Leagues,” said Giants General Manager Brian Sabean, according to the news release.

Ultimately, it is a business transaction. Affiliation changes are frequent and unlikely to leave every team happy.

Nonetheless, it is unfortunate that Sacramento-based A’s fans who were, by measures of attendance, supporting their team’s Triple-A affiliate will have to see a 15-year era come to an end.

Perhaps more frustrating for A’s fans is that this is all part of a bigger and sadder picture.

The affiliation switch is not the first time in the recent past that pressure from the Giants has had a negative impact on the A’s organization. The Athletics, who have expressed interest in replacing their concrete coliseum with a new stadium in San Jose, have been shut down by the Giants, who insist that they maintain territorial rights to the city.

The reality—an unfortunate one for die-hard A’s fans—is that the A’s lack the organizational power of a team like the Giants that is necessary to come out on the winning side of issues like Triple-A affiliation or stadium disputes.

Given the recent developments between the two teams, there is no reason to think that this will change anytime soon.