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Crowley discusses A's short-term, long-term vision

Club president talks new ballpark efforts, fan base in Presidents' Day Q&A

PHOENIX -- He may not draw as much attention as, say, general manager Billy Beane, but Mike Crowley is a vital piece of the day-to-day operations in the small-market confines of Oakland.

The 49-year-old A's executive, whose tenure as president since 1998 is the longest in Oakland history, works directly with Beane and owner Lew Wolff in facilitating the functioning of the organization on both the business and baseball sides.

Crowley and Beane essentially grew up in the business together, with Crowley solidifying the position of president at the conclusion of Beane's first season as Oakland's general manager.

"I think we work well together, and we have a common goal in mind," Crowley said. "Obviously we want to win and put an exciting team on the field. At the same time, we're running a business like any other business. Baseball just happens to be our product, and the the Minor Leagues just happen to be our development area. I talk to Billy if not every day, then every other day, and Lew most days."

Among several other ventures in his role, Crowley has served the A's well in their ongoing efforts to build a new ballpark, which he discussed, among other topics, with as part of Presidents' Day coverage. How would you describe your business model that comes with putting a quality product on the field with limited resources?

Crowley: Obviously the job of the organization is to generate the resources that that side of the business needs. There are challenges that we have here, but this year, our payroll is going to be one of the highest we've had. I think we've done a good job of that. Billy realizes, and we do, too, there's a time to spend money, and a time not to spend money, as we've gone through these rebuilding cycles over the years. Unfortunately that's the market we're in, and when you do a really good job and you start winning, obviously you're picking at the back of the Draft again, but at the same time, really good players get really expensive.

You talk about the team we had in 2001, and it would've cost us probably $300 million to keep those guys intact. So we do a good job, and the consequences obviously come with that. In some ways, do these challenges make the job more fun?

Crowley: It certainly allows us and forces us to be creative. We have to make a decision, and sometimes a very tough decision, and often times an unpopular decision, at least for the short-term. At the same time, it's rewarding when you have success, and myself and Billy and Lew and everyone in the organization, we're all competitive by nature, and we want to win. There's no excuses. We want to win even with the limited resources we have, and I think that mindset is one of the reasons we've been successful.

Billy has a very talented group under him, through the scouting and player development system, and they buy into that as well. As you can see, we're constantly looking to improve the club, and sometimes it's not a sexy name we get, but it's a guy that really fits our team well.

I think we're all very excited about some of the moves we made this offseason. You look at the bullpen, and it should be really good, right? It should be the strength of our team. [Craig] Gentry should be a good player for us. The kid can run, and he plays defense. [Nick] Punto is kind of an under-the-radar guy but should be a real good addition for us and play a lot of positions. We're excited about the team. About half of your gross revenue is dedicated to player payroll. How does that fit in with your business model?

Crowley: The Major League payroll and everything that entails is our largest expense by far. Billy spends where he believes in, but we certainly don't want to lose money. As we have increased our revenue with the success in recent years, we've reinvested in the team, and you'll see this year some of the giveaways and such, we're really trying to get people to come out to the ballpark. When they're in the ballpark, it's a great experience. The energy when the crowd is into the game is second to none, really.

We're working really hard on the business side, especially the sales and marketing sides, through promotions, ticket opportunities, all these things, to enhance that experience in the stadium and get people out to the ballpark. I think once they're out here and see these guys, they're going to fall in love with them. Would you say that the fan base has modestly improved over the last couple of years?

Crowley: I think it has improved. FanFest is kind of the first way to tell, and the vibe of it the other day was pretty electric. It was sincere and fun, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Certainly, on the business side, that's our focus. That's our customer, and everything we do is geared toward the customer and trying to improve the experience. We offer various season-ticket packages. One of the reasons is we have a fan base that extends a great distance geographically, and where we're located and the freeway system makes it difficult, so you see a lot of fans only coming on the weekends, so we try to adapt programs and packages to suit the needs of those various season-ticket holders. How tough is it to plan with an uncertain future, given the ongoing talks of a new stadium?

Crowley: It is uncertain in the long-term, but in the short-term it's very certain. Even if we broke ground today, we're not in the new building, best-case scenario, another four or five years. So in the short-term, it's very certain, and we're operating that this is our home. Given its shortcomings, it can still be an enjoyable place to play. If you put a good product on the field and have the in-game elements, with the crowd creating its own identity, with the folks in the bleachers and other antics, it can be a fun place to be. Certainly I think that's one of the reasons we're starting to have some success. How much have you been involved in the push for a new stadium?

Crowley: That's our future, right? It's inevitable. At some point in time, a building can't sustain itself. Plus, I think our fans deserve it in a sense. We don't have all the amenities that all the ballparks have for our players or the visiting teams that come in here. We're focused on it, obviously. That's the single one thing that we can do to kind of really change our course dramatically.

We haven't been able to explore that market, though. It's the territorial rights issue. Do you see anything changing anytime soon in that regard?

Crowley: I don't know. I can't answer that and won't answer (laughs).

In the short term, this is where we're going to be. This is where we're going to play our 81 games and hopefully more if we're fortunate enough to be in the postseason, not only this year but the next year and the year after that. And you can certainly operate on parallel paths. We're operating here as we have for the many years I've been here. Billy's doing the same thing, and so is everyone else. It's the status quo. At some point in time, the goal is to open a new ballpark, but in the short-term we're focused here, focused on 2014.

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

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