By Hugo Kitano
The Golden State Warriors made the National Basketball Association playoffs only once between 1994 and 2011. For decades, poor management seemed to condemn the team to mediocrity year after year. Only in 2007, when the ragtag “We Believe” team upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, were we given any expectation for success. But that hope was short lived, the Warriors never returned to the playoffs with that roster.
During this time, however, the Warriors had arguably the most passionate fan base in the NBA. Attendance rates for home games at Oracle Arena were among the highest in the league. Fans built Oracle’s reputation as one of the NBA’s toughest road venues. Often dubbed “Roar”-acle, the arena was so loud that it’s been said that just half an hour inside could cause hearing loss.
This year the Warriors will finish with the league’s best record for a third straight year; and they will be the favorites to win a second NBA title in three years. With this success has come a surge in ticket prices that has made attendance impractical for many die-hard “Roar”-acle fans. Like the community itself, many are getting priced out. If you want a snapshot of how gentrification has affected the Bay Area, just go to a Warriors game.
They have become the NBA’s third most valuable team, worth 2.6 billion dollars. Ticket prices have risen substantially over the past few years: the median ticket price has increased from $140 to $293 in the past three years. And with the Warriors’ impending move to San Francisco in 2019, many fear prices will continue to increase.
These changes have been especially tough for many non-white Warriors fans. Mercury News columnist, Marcus Thompson, recently detailed his conflicting feelings on the team’s move to San Francisco, asserting that over the years, the franchise has tried to distance itself from its African American fan base in Oakland.
As ticket prices have risen, the Warriors’ loyal black fans have struggled to attend games, and their concerns have never been earnestly addressed. Thompson is frustrated by the way the Warriors have instead catered to fans from a predominantly white tech industry in San Francisco for higher profitability. In the process, the Warriors are losing much of its working class fan base, including those of Caucasian, Latino and Asian descent.
I fall in the Asian American demographic, which is unique in the Bay Area, home to the third largest Asian American population in the country according to the 2010 census. Like no other place in the U.S., I’d argue that Asian Americans here are known for our fervent obsession with basketball and the home team. We have been at the heart of Warriors fan culture for decades.
The “We Believe” slogan was coined by Chinese American Bay Area resident Paul Wong, who printed out thousands of signs near the end of the 2006-2007 regular season, spending over $5000 of his own money to launch the motto. He personally handed out the signs himself in an effort of unadulterated fandom.
“I didn’t want the ‘We Believe’ campaign to be confused as another Warriors’ promotion. [It] was a 100% grassroots effort by a fan for the fans.”
Warriors official hype man, Franco Finn, is a Filipino-American from San Francisco’s Sunset District. “Every Warrior home game 24/7, 365 days a year it’s Filipino Heritage Night for the Warriors period,” Finn joked in 2014, referring to Golden State’s large Filipino fan base.
“We love our hoops. We love our team. We are smart basketball fans. We’re passionate fans and I’m just an extension of that.”
On SB Nation affiliate blog, Golden State of Mind, I put out a call for readers to comment on just how much rising ticket prices have affected their ability to attend home games. The readers who commented unanimously said they could afford fewer games now than in the past, and have pretty much given up on attending playoff games.
One fan pointed out that even weekday games against bad teams were expensive, and another even half-joked that flying to other NBA cities and buying Warriors tickets at road games is cheaper than simply buying home game tickets at Oracle.
While Wong has been fortunate enough to be able to continue going to games, he acknowledges, “it has been difficult for the usual die-hards to afford and attend today’s games due to the price of success.”
Herein lies a bit of a conundrum for Asian Americans. The tech industry that is pricing out the Warriors die hard fans has no shortage of Asian American employees. According to this Mother Jones story on diversity in Silicon Valley, Asian Americans are well-represented in the industry. And if you watch any Warriors games now, there isn’t exactly a shortage of Asian faces in the crowd either.
Which makes it harder, perhaps, to point at a lack of diversity as problematic for how the Warriors cater to its new fans. The organization has recognized its diverse base in the past when it comes to its Asian-ness. They are one of the first NBA franchises to host Asian Heritage Night promotions. But this kind of superficial nod to Asian culture seems only play up the idea of diversity while overlooking the Asian American fans that have been left by the wayside.
Long-time Asian American residents are deeply affected by the incoming tech industry as well, according to Diamond Leung, a former Warriors beat writer. Traditionally Asian American neighborhoods like Chinatown are becoming increasingly gentrified, and rent prices citywide are skyrocketing.
As a result, poverty among Asian Americans in San Francisco is rising quickly. Ticket prices might be the least of their concerns now, but this is where much of the Warriors’ original Asian American fan base comes from.
And if there are those who would say that this is the cost of doing business, the Warriors’ approach may have adverse affects on the product itself, the team.
During the 2016 playoffs, reporters noticed that the Oracle crowd was disturbingly silent whenever the Warriors were struggling. According to Andy Liu, a native San Franciscan who writes for WarriorsWorld, the players noticed the depressed crowd energy.
“The crowd refuses to stand up unprompted when the team is struggling and even the best moments only elicit a golf clap in the regular season,” says Liu. He has noticed that the arena doesn’t fill up by tip-off like it used to; it takes fans half a quarter to get to their seats.
As Thompson suggests, business decisions like these will always be personal to those who can no longer attend the games. As for the uniquely dedicated Asian American fan base I grew up in, we may be getting replaced by richer Asian Americans looking for the hottest ticket in town.
Maybe the Warriors will come around and recognize how ticket pricing has alienated their most ardent fans. Or maybe, when the Warriors fall off–not that I could ever root for that–but maybe when the tickets aren’t selling so well, they will come back for us. And if we can still afford to live here, maybe we’ll go back.