Moneyball Pt. 2? The A’s Bet on Cryptocurrency

Last Sunday, the Oakland A’s announced that they would be selling their luxury suites, normally priced at $64,000, for a single bitcoin. When I heard the news, I was a little confused — after all, isn’t crypto, along with Big Tech and venture capital, kind of San Francisco’s thing? 

Many are familiar with class-based stereotypes surrounding the A’s and the Giants: Oracle Park is a place where spectators sip chardonnay and nosh on gluten-free flatbread at The Garden, while The RingCentral (huh?) Coliseum is a place to chow down on a loaded hot dog, slurp on a warm domestic, and stare out at that taxpayer-funded boondoggle known as Mount Davis.

Since it’s opening in 2000, the Giants’ ballpark has changed names four times, always taking on the moniker of its latest telecommunications overlord: Pacific Bell, SBC Global, AT&T, and now Oracle. So forgive me for thinking of McCovey Cove — located in the SoMa neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from Lyft headquarters — as a more natural habitat for crypto bros than East Oakland.

But maybe that was a classist assumption. When it comes to the history of The A’s, crypto is actually right on brand. 

Cryptocurrency, like any currency, is a form of payment one can use for goods and services. What makes it different is that it runs on an entirely decentralized system. No bank, government, individual, or company has authority over cryptocurrencies. Rather, it uses a distributed ledger, called blockchain, to give it real-life value. Cryptocurrencies have value because a bunch of people, around the world, all agree that they do — and every time a crypto “token” is exchanged, that exchange is verified on the publicly accessible ledger. Bitcoin is the most famous token, currently valued around $60,000. 

Cryptocurrencies, though gaining in popularity, are still a pretty niche trade. Most investors stick with the stock market and real-world companies. But some are floored by cryptocurrencies’ liberatory potential, unconstrained by corrupt financial interests or federal regulation. Because blockchain is so complex and data-driven, the biggest fans are often people who love to play with numbers — engineers, mathematicians, and financiers, primarily. Blockchain technology has gained a lot of popularity in the last year, however, after being embraced by famous moneymen like Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, Mark Cuban, and even Snoop Dogg. 

The A’s, of course, have achieved success by playing the numbers game before. In the early 2000s, the team was transformed by general manager Billy Beane and his Yale-educated bean counter, Paul Podesta — who came up with a winning formula by nerding out Nate Silver-style. Leaning almost entirely on data, rather than the antiquated and more subjective tools of traditional baseball scouts, the pair maximized the team’s comparatively miniscule budget to select overlooked players and outsmart their far richer competition. They ended the 2002 season with a 103-59 record, including a 20-game streak of wins.

For those who are unfamiliar, the 2011 film Moneyball, based on the 2003 book by Michael Lewis (author of The Big Short), tells the story in biopic form and stars Brad Pitt (as Beane).

Just as with Beane’s gamble on sabermetrics The A’s big bet on cryptocurrency may be a total flop. The price of bitcoin fluctuates at a nerve wracking rate, and often crashes at unpredictable times. For those who truly believe in crypto, however, investing in bitcoin is almost like a vote of confidence — and given the inspirational stories of everyday investors who have made it big in crypto, this could turn out to be a very profitable wage for The A’s.