Ever since we saw it as part of our daily trawl through the internet, we've been wondering about that map of baseball team loyalties that the New York Times put out this morning. Does it really, as it appears to do, show that there are basically no A's fans in the Bay Area, not even in Oakland?
No, not really. Like a pitcher's win-loss numbers, this way of presenting the data hides as much as it reveals. And if you're willing to dig a little deeper, you can get a better sense of it. So let's go hella sabermetric on this.
Ignore the article. Click on the interactive map and scroll all the way in until you see the Bay Area. If you hover over each zip code, the visualization tells you the proportion of Facebook likes for each team there. So for, example, in the 94601 area—the zip code that houses the Coliseum—you'll see that Facebook preferences run 63 percent Giant to 18 percent A's.
Oh. Could this be right?
If you check the numbers across Oakland, you'll find that the average of the zip codes works out to be 57% in favor of the Giants against 20% in favor of the A's. The zip that tilted the most in favor of the home team is 94621, which is East Oakland south of the Coliseum. The zip that's the least favorable to Stomper was 94612, which is downtown.
Some more interesting patterns emerge when you head outside of the Second City. The A's pull down 5 to 10 percent of fans in zip codes in San Francisco itself. In Alameda (94501), an island surrounded by Oaktown, the A's get a mere 18 to the Giants' 59. And way out in the white-flight regions of Lamorinda (94556) the A's score 20 percent to the Giant's 57 percent. The A's biggest clusters of fans are just to the south of Oakland proper, like 94577, in which they lose to the Giants 48-34; 94579 (50-35); and 94578 (the region's best for the gold and green at 48 to 36).
The A's do the worst in the North Bay, where there's a zip code (94965: Sausalito, of course) where they actually place third behind the Giants and the Red Sox. The Red Sox!!! Sacramento, where the A's have a Triple-A affiliate (Go River Cats!) is pretty bleak too, with the team pulling down numbers in the tens and low teens. And good luck with that San Jose plan. The team doesn't even break single digits in most of the South Bay.
So what's up with this data? One possibility is that it's just incorrect somehow. After all, shouldn't the very zip code where the team's stadium is located post better numbers? But if you look at the rest of the nation, the data seems to pass the face validity test. The Yankees are more popular than the Mets in most parts of New York. The Cubs rule the north side of Chicago and the Sox rule the south. Most of LA bleeds Dodger blue until you get to Orange County: Angels country. And so on. Everything seems to fit pretty well.
So what's the deal with the poor A's? Could it be that Giants fans tend to be on Facebook more? That big famous study found that lower economic classes and minorities had lower rates of use, but that was way back in 2009. (Heck, they were comparing it to MySpace.) Part of the disparity could be the team's lack of success in the playoffs over the past few decades, or its dearth of star players, or the fact that its stadium is a concrete bunker that only a Soviet architect would love. The ownership clearly wants out. The Giants have won two World Series titles in the past few years. The last time the A's did was in 1989.
But other than all of that, it's a mystery why the Athletics aren't more popular in their own stomping grounds.