Will changing cities dilute the team’s fan base even further?
April 18, 2019
Last Sunday, the Golden State Warriors played their final home game of the regular season. That is not particularly newsworthy in itself, but the night was especially significant for the entire Warriors organization and its loyal fans.
Why? Sunday marked the team’s official goodbye to their home of almost 50 years in Oakland’s Oracle Arena. Relocating to a new arena in San Francisco next year, the Warriors will have a new home with a new name, but I can’t help but fear something more than the name will be left behind in the move.
Oracle Arena is the oldest arena in the NBA, having housed the Warriors since the 1971-72 season. Over the years, the venue eventually earned the nickname ‘Roaracle,’ which described the atmosphere of fans in blue and gold yelling, “WAAAAARRRRIOOOOORRRSSSS!”
As a Bay Area native born into the fandom, I watched this environment develop. In 2007, the team kindled a new fire amongst fans, making their first playoff appearance in 13 years. They went 16-5 in their last 21 regular season games to clinch the playoffs with a record just over .500. Although they were eliminated in the conference semifinals, the “We Believe” mentality that arose from their end-of-season conquest restored and strengthened fan loyalties. People were increasingly excited to leave the comfort of their own couch and contribute to the newfound Oracle energy.
In 2013, the Warriors earned a spot in the playoffs again, but the real reward arrived two years later: a title. The Warriors finished their franchise record-breaking most wins in a season with the first championship victory since 1975. Thus, the dynasty began.
The Warriors remained dominant in the following years with the addition of 10-time all-star and 2014 NBA MVP, Kevin Durant, and they won two more titles in 2017 and 2018. With these milestones, I expected the fanbase to grow stronger than ever and surely enough it did expand. But, as fans flocked Oracle, the degree of loyalty was curiously disappearing.
The last Warrior home game I attended was in 2013. I was lucky enough to witness one of the playoff games that year, the first Warrior postseason appearance since the “We Believe” era.
I was overwhelmed (in the best, most exciting way) by a sea of gold shirts, gold foam fingers and inflatable gold noisemakers. The energy in the arena was unlike anything I had ever experienced. A sign hung at the front of Oracle that read, THE BAY’S TEAM PLAYS LOUD. They weren’t kidding. When the team was fired up on the court, the crowd would translate that energy into volume. I am normally not a loud spectator at sporting events, but you can hardly help it when everyone around you is yelling. We went ballistic for our team.
That night was forever cemented in my brain and manifests itself every time I hear the word ‘Roaracle.’ Even at the regular season game I went to later the next season, Oracle had preserved the same energy and tight-knit feel in the Warrior home. Then for five years, I didn’t return to Oracle.
Between 2015 to 2018, the Warriors made four Finals appearances, coming out victorious in three of them. Because of this continued success, ticket prices rose significantly over the course of just a few years. According to Statista, the average Warriors ticket price was $26.6 during the ‘We Believe’ era in 2007, $35.7 in 2013 when I last attended a game and $79.8 the season following their championship win in 2015. In my family, Warriors games were never cheap but they were affordable, so I was lucky enough to watch multiple home games in one season. Now, tickets have become a symbol of privilege.
Many loyal fans have not been able to watch their team at Oracle in years because even a nosebleed seat is too expensive. As ticket prices have skyrocketed, the comfort of watching at home has become more practical, at least for longtime fans like myself.
This finally leads me to the Warriors’ future home arena: Chase Center.
The relocation of the Warriors organization to an updated, modern arena sounded appealing when I first heard the news. Then, I considered the more significant aspect—the move from Oakland to San Francisco. According to USA Today, both Oakland and San Francisco have two of the highest costs of living, but San Francisco soars above Oakland in living costs as well as average income—a fact which has the potential to bring a different demographic to Chase Center than seen at Oracle.
There will also be more competition when buying seats (and more traffic), since the stilldeveloping center has already gained popularity due to its location in the heart of the city.
A demographic shift is a big deal because, as I have already seen happen, it can take a toll on the spectator presence at home games, the reputation of the fanbase and very likely the response by the players on the court, especially when the energy is no longer exchanged between them and the crowd.
In early March of this year, the Warriors lost at home to the worst team in the Western Conference and the second-to-worst team in the league: the Phoenix Suns. It was their first loss at Oracle to the Suns since 2011.
It was a close game, and no one really understood why the Warriors didn’t come out on top. Klay Thompson, starting shooting guard for the Warriors, had his own idea. In the postgame press conference, he admitted his team fell short in some aspects while the Suns capitalized in others, but he also expressed his disappointment in the home crowd. It turns out I’m not the only one concerned.
“I expect our crowd to be a little more into it too,” Thompson said. “I know it’s not the playoffs, but it is our last go-around at Oracle. At least you could stand up when someone makes a good play, especially in the beginning when we need that energy, especially this time of the year.”
During the 2013 games I attended, there was a lot of standing because cheering while seated just wasn’t enough—for me or for anyone. This season, Santa Clara gave me the opportunity to watch a regular season game at Oracle, and I can’t say it felt the same. I had urges to stand up after every dunk, every deep three-pointer, every block or just any incredible play. But because no one around me did, I was embarrassed to do so and complied with the new Oracle atmosphere that was so foreign to me. Higher prices and lower energy. I can only imagine the trend continuing in the new arena.
It may seem that the conclusion I am making is that the more affluent people are not as loyal to the fanbase—this is not at all what I mean.
Every Monday morning, I listen to the Bay Area sports radio station, KNBR 680 on my way to school, and the day after the Suns game, they responded to Klay’s comments, which help me put into words what I was observing.
The radio host pointed out the difficult truth that more and more people are watching the Warriors not to attend a sporting event or root for their team, but to see what all the fuss is about. With the “Warriors Dynasty,” consisting of three rings in four years and the development of a roster containing 6 AllStars, people, who have never been a part of the franchise’s history, suddenly want to witness history in the making and will pay high prices to do so.
An arena of fans is now having to compete with these incoming spectators, who are merely curious. The upcoming Chase Center has people growing even more interested.
There’s a phrase that I remember hearing throughout the Warriors 2013 postseason: “All in for Golden State.” The word “all” is now read like a question in my mind. The physical audience at home games is only a small fraction defining the Warrior fanbase but since it interacts most with the actual team, I find it extremely important.
“We need that energy from them because we feed off that,” Thompson said.
It devastates me that we may never go back to the old fan loyalty, and the Warriors need to rely now on the new wave of spectators. The new arena is coming soon, and as we say our goodbyes to Oracle Arena, us Warriors fans who have grown up with this team, can only hope the Roar of Roaracle as we know it will be heard again.
Contact Annika Tiña at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.