Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I wanted to be happy.
It's hard, though, when you've watched your team go from charmingly useless to entertainingly winning in the space of, what, 20 years. And then things drastically change again.
I started going to Golden State Warriors games as soon as I arrived in the U.S. In those days, the Warriors were more painful than a blistered armpit. Tickets were $5. Going to see the likes of Adonal Foyle and Vonteego Cummings wasn't quite like witnessing Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Regularly, however, large crowds would turn up just to be there. With each other. The atmosphere was local. The benign derision of the fans was palpable. The Oakland Arena was aging, but still graceful.
Now the Warriors have gone. They've moved to a (supposedly) state-of-the-art $1.6 billion arena -- the inevitably-named Chase Center -- in downtown San Francisco. It's just around the corner from the San Francisco Giants ballpark. It's a long way -- emotionally -- from Oakland.
The Warriors wanted me to know this was progress. They also wanted me to pay a fortune for the privilege of being able to buy season tickets. I declined.
I did, though, want to continue to support the team. Moreover, who wouldn't be excited by an arena that was more accessible from one's home than was the Oakland Arena? And, hey, it was supposed to be a sporting cathedral for the ages.
I resolved, therefore, to perform an experiment. My wife and I would go to a concert and a Warriors game. For one event, we'd sit upstairs in the less expensive seats and, for another, downstairs with the fancier crowd. We'd then compare. After all, at the Oakland Arena we'd sat upstairs and downstairs too.
Would both Chase experiences be better than in Oakland? Or would neither?
It's A Little Bit Funny. But Not Very.
First, then, we went to see Elton John. What could be more poetic than his farewell tour arriving in the first few weeks of the Chase Center's existence?
For this, we decided to sit upstairs, where the air was rarer and the seats were cheaper. I bought tickets in the front row of the upper bowl to see what it would be like.
First, though, the grand entrance. Walking up to the arena isn't exactly imposing. It's tucked behind a couple of office buildings.
Yes, the exterior is relatively dramatic, with a vast screen adorning it and lights seemingly flashing all around. Going inside, however, isn't quite so impressive.
It actually felt claustrophobic, with a large staircase -- going up, one imagined, to the private boxes -- but otherwise no sense of drama at all.
This wasn't exactly the finest hullo to a $1.6 billion edifice.
Still, we decided to go straight up to the top to bathe in the experience. What we found were astonishingly cramped corridors, with people desperately trying to push past each other, wishing they hadn't eaten so many French fries lately.
The walls were largely bare, the signage barely existent. You could argue this merely suggested something unfinished. I, though, was already having odd suspicions.
There were several food options, but it was hard to stop and observe them as the cramped conditions encouraged one only to get out of there.
We finally found our seats. They enjoyed perhaps a little more cushioning, but they felt narrower than a partisan politician's mind. (Or have I got bigger?)
We tried to peer down toward the stage. This wasn't so easy. In front of each of our seats was a piece of glass. They weren't aligned with each other and they were filthy. In essence, then, Elton's face was covered in fingerprints, unless we arched our necks or even stood up to look over the glass.
Thankfully, he sang almost every song he knew. The arena, however, offered a discordant suspicion of where the $1.6 billion could have gone. It couldn't have all gone to wealthy people downstairs, could it? It couldn't have gone to those people in the boxes below, performing the Dance of the Dystopian Dadbod, could it?
We walked out of the arena feeling disheartened. There was nothing inspirational about it, nothing uplifting. It was certainly no better than the Upper Bowl in Oakland. In fact, it felt worse. (The concert and the sound were good, by the by.) Perhaps, though, it would be different at a Warriors game. Perhaps it would be a rarer experience downstairs.
Down With The Warriors. Down Go The Warriors.
We tried to wash that first experience away. The best way was to have a decent glass of wine and a fine lamb chop at Ungrafted, a relatively new restaurant near the Chase Center, owned by two sommeliers who actually married each other.
As we walked toward the arena, we told ourselves to keep our minds open. Yes, the outside of the arena was still imposing. And yes, when we walked in nothing was.
Please let me offer a reference point. When you walk into the Sacramento Kings' relatively new Golden 1 Center, it's a truly dramatic entrance. You see the whole arena. You feel like you're entering a fine, large amphitheater. The Chase Center is chasing an impact, but not finding it.
Still, this time we'd be in the fancier seats. This would surely be better, but how much better?
We rode the escalator up and immediately noticed how much wider the corridors seemed. Together with the additional room to breathe, there also seemed to be more food options. Most moving was the bar area, which looked like it could water thousands. By the look on many of the faces, it already had.
As we walked to our seats, we realized how much easier an experience this had been than upstairs.
More strangely, the seats seemed just that little bit bigger, offering an excellent view of the court -- we always like to sit on the diagonal so we don't have to move our heads from side to side. (You won't spill your beer this way.)
Perhaps what was most extraordinary was that the screen hovering over the court was so big it actually drew you to watching it, rather than the live game. It was as if the desperation to create drama had overridden the notion of just watching the game.
Was this a better experience than the lower bowl at the Oracle? It certainly wasn't too much worse, even if the crowd was now even more full of the louche and the lounging, rather than true diehard Warriors fans with their wizened minds and caustic tongues.
Sadly, this was the night Stephen Curry suffered a large man landing on his hand and breaking it. Sadly, too, the Warriors were blown out by a team that has been hitherto known for its sublime incompetence. (We're talking the Phoenix Suns, should you not be an NBA fan.)
Walking out this time, we agreed that this had been a better experience. Next time, we might even try the food options, which did seem bountiful. But something still gnawed.
The Inequality Of Life.
We couldn't help comparing the Chase Center not to another arena, but to an airline. It was as if it was desperate to reward those who flew at the front of the plane -- more than before -- and test the tolerance of those who flew at the back.
The Warriors wanted to create a fine frequent-fan experience for those willing to pay at least $200 for a seat. The rest should be just happy to be there and reach their destination -- and stare down at the people in the boxes who had a lot of money and would never be good dancers.
That feeling was more pronounced that it had been in Oakland.
This was stretching the boundaries of inequality for the maximum return. It felt like a reflection of our times. It may be a very profitable business model, but is it a good one?
The Warriors have taken care to make watching a game involve many of the same intimate qualities as at the Oakland Arena. But have they taken enough care in making everyone happy? This has become much more difficult as the team is again -- suddenly -- one of the most desperate in the NBA.
Not so long ago, I received an email from a Warriors sales associate. He wanted to know which specific games I wanted to go to and he'd tailor a special package for us.
Well, we'd sat downstairs, hadn't we?