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Andy Dolich — A Sports Lifer

By Bruce Macgowan

Andy Dolich

Andy Dolich

Longtime sports executive Andy Dolich has more than four decades of experience in the professional sports industry, mostly spent in the San Francisco Bay Area. This includes stints in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. He operates his consulting business, Dolich Consulting, in Los Altos.

The Brooklyn-born Dolich, 64, received his undergraduate degree in government from American University in Washington, D.C. He went on to earn a master's degree in sports management from Ohio University.

Dolich, along with his wife, Ellen, make their home in the Bay Area. Son Cory is VP of business operations for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. The couple also have twin daughters. Caryn is manager of premium services for the New York Yankees and Lindsey is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford.

At last report, Andy was still playing full court basketball with 25 year-olds. (The guy has game!) He is also part of an investment group bidding for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I never worked a day in my life," Andy Dolich says, reflecting on a lengthy career as a highly respected executive in professional sports. In the volatile world of today's multimillion-dollar sports industry, Dolich is a rarity. He has had the pleasure of working for teams in six professional American sports leagues, including stints in the Bay Area in the front offices of the Golden State Warriors, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland A's. The secret to Dolich's success has been his versatility and the ability to be highly creative while working in a variety of areas, including business and stadium operations, advertising, ticket sales, promotions, community relations and dealing with corporate sponsors.

For Dolich, following a career in sports management seemed a natural fit. After spending his undergraduate college years as a government and international affairs major at American University in Washington, D.C., he found he was more drawn to sports than to the serious business of world affairs. Perhaps it was his stint as a benchwarmer in college that whetted his appetite. Although he had no illusions about competing at any higher level, he knew he wanted to be involved with sports on some level. Or as he modestly puts it: "I didn't think I was smart enough to work in international relations, so I gravitated toward sports."

During this period, Dolich became acquainted with the sports information director at American University, Mike Trilling, who also did a lot of freelance work behind the scenes for the local pro teams. As a result, Trilling opened the door for Dolich to get experience with the Baltimore Bullets, Washington Redskins and Washington Diplomats.

Shortly after graduating, Dolich was accepted into Ohio University's nascent sports management program, which came to be regarded as the Harvard of sports management schools.

After obtaining his graduate degree, Dolich became involved with sports management when he began working with the Philadelphia 76ers in the early 1970s. He later gained valuable experience with teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies, the pro soccer Washington Diplomats and the NHL Washington Capitals. However, it was his 15-year stint with the A's that was the highlight of his professional life. It was in Oakland that Dolich combined his creative efforts with some of the best and brightest minds during what was a golden era for the A's in the 1980s and '90s.

"Working with the Haas family and people like Roy Eisenhardt, Sandy Alderson and Tony LaRussa was a great experience," Dolich says. "For nearly a decade and a half, the A's were the dominant baseball team in the Bay Area in terms of quality on the field and continuity among the fans."

One would have a hard time arguing against that, as the A's went to the playoffs five times during that period, won three American League pennants and beat the Giants in the famous Earthquake Series of 1989.

Dolich joined a newly formed A's front office in 1981, the year the Haas family bought the team from cantankerous owner Charlie Finley. It was to become one of the most magical years in team history. The A's stunned the baseball world by winning 16 of their first 17 games to run away with the AL West. Calling the shots from the dugout that year was another local product, the tempestuous Billy Martin, who had turned around teams in Detroit and Texas, and had also guided the Yankees to a World Series title in 1977. Martin was the last manager hired by Charlie Finley, so the flamboyant former owner didn't leave the cupboard completely bare.

"We knew from Billy's past experience that he was probably not going to be here a long time," Dolich remembers, "But while he was here we knew we'd get something classic and great from him. Whatever downside there was going to be, Billy was recognized as a local guy from Berkeley and he had a mom who still lived here. But Billy also loved railing against the establishment and would often create a speed bump, even if it wasn't there."

Dolich was in charge of business operations for the club, and he put together a very successful radio and TV ad campaign that spring which featured several award-winning commercials that caught the public eye. Martin actually starred in several of the spots, which coined "Billy Ball" to describe the new style of aggressive baseball the A's would play under their fiery skipper. Martin, who guided the A's only for a little over three years before returning to the Yanks, was big news nationally, and he enjoyed the attention that the promotional campaign generated.

With the A's sudden reversal of fortunes, fans suddenly began flocking to the Oakland Coliseum in numbers never before experienced by the club. And the Haas family augmented the club's success on the field by reaching out and connecting with the East Bay community.

During this period, Dolich demonstrated his versatility, working not only in promotions and community relations, but also with corporate sponsors, and negotiating broadcast contracts. His efforts to create creative marketing campaigns, combined with a winning team, turned things around in as dramatic a fashion as has ever been seen in pro sports, as the A's made the Coliseum a destination spot for Northern California sports fans. When the Haas family bought the team, the A's were barely surviving, with scarcely 500 season-ticket holders. But within 13 years, the A's attendance vaulted from 850,000 fans attending in one season to nearly 3 million people clicking through the turnstiles to watch the green-and-gold in 1992.

The Golden Age

The year 1981 also ushered in what many have called the "Golden Age" of Bay Area professional sports. The Niners won the first of their five Super Bowls that year, the Giants had very good teams that went on to win divisional titles in the late 1980s, the Warriors had exciting times with their "Run TMC" teams of the late 1980s and early '90s, and of course that A's team enjoyed plenty of moments in the sun.

"It reminded me of something that Sonny Werblin [owner of the New York Jets when Joe Namath played there] once said," Dolich recalled: "That it's better to have several successful Broadway shows going well at the same time."

Not only did Oakland field some of the game's best ballplayers, but their front office became a collection of all-stars as well. From Eisenhardt, the innovative team president, to GM Alderson and his trusty assistant Walt Jocketty — and of course Dolich — the A's front office brought together some of the brightest minds in the game. Other notables included Steve Page, now president of Infineon Raceway and Alan Ledford, former president of Sacramento River Cats. And teaming up to tell the club's story on the radio were the incomparable Bill King and Lon Simmons, arguably the two best play-by-play broadcasters in Bay Area sports history. It was truly a magical era for Oakland baseball fans.

"By today's standards, we didn't have fancy luxury boxes or gourmet food at our concession stands, but we gave the fans a great product on the field," Dolich says proudly. "I always felt that people behind the scenes of a baseball teams are like stagehands, and we had to make sure that the focus remained on the field."

A's in limbo

Dolich says it hurts him to see the current A's struggling for attendance.

"I think a big reason many of their fans are so turned off is the current ownership hasn't let them know whether they're staying or leaving. Plus, it's been two and a half years since Bud Selig and his Blue Ribbon Committee has studied the stadium situation while not coming up with a solution, which is ridiculous."

Dolich also believes the A's should try to push for a stadium in Oakland, as he claims the area is more than capable of supporting a team it so enthusiastically embraced not that long ago. And he believes there are no guarantees that the A's would draw huge crowds if they ever move elsewhere.

"The solution to the current problems isn't Fremont or San Jose," Dolich says. "The A's haven't had a quality product on the field for much of the last several years, and fans aren't going to support an inferior team that isn't committed to staying in the area."

Dolich believes most A's fans misconstrue what's going on behind the scenes: "I know that the A's can be a profitable, successful team again. John Fisher [A's primary owner] is one of the richest men in baseball. But if you quizzed average fans and asked them, Who is the team owner? Can this team draw in Oakland? Are the A's making a profit? All of their answers would probably be incorrect."

Dolich believes the A's could survive in Oakland if they'd do as the Giants owners did and build a stadium in the East Bay with private money.

"Give the current Coliseum to the Raiders to fix up the way they want to and build the new stadium right there next door in the Coliseum parking lot," he says.

Dolich says the current location of the ballpark is a good one because of its convenient proximity to mass transit and the freeway system, and he knows that if fans were showing up back in the 1980s in great numbers, there is no reason they wouldn't return if the team were good and the ownership reached out to the media and the public.

Candidly refreshing

Dolich isn't afraid to tell it "like it is" and his expertise has been appreciated by other local teams, including the 49ers, where he worked as COO before leaving in 2010 to return to the private consulting business he had run briefly earlier in his career.

Although he worked for the Niners for only two years and left when young owner Jed York became team CEO, Dolich doesn't have any regrets about how things turned out. "I have no hard feelings about my two years with the 49ers. It gave me an insider's view of the No. 1 sport in America."

Dolich also spent a brief period working in the front office of the Warriors early in the ill-fated regime of Chris Cohan. Cohan's arrival as team owner was a harbinger of bad things to come for the Warriors, as the club floundered in the standings for the better part of the next 16 years. Dolich quickly saw the handwriting on the wall and left the Warriors after only 10 months to work for the Memphis Grizzlies, where he oversaw the running of day-to-day business operations for the club. During this time the Grizzlies enjoyed their finest moments as a franchise, making their only three postseason appearances in franchise history.

While Dolich enjoyed his time in the NBA, he sees the league facing some major challenges ahead. "The NBA has to find a more equitable distribution of revenues from big market to small market. Local broadcast revenues can differ by as much as $100 million. The owners are asking the players to take a cut and the players want the owners to get their own revenue-sharing model in place before they put this on their bill."

While the fortunes of the league remain in limbo, there are plenty of reasons for local sports fans to get excited. Dolich believes the next big story in local sports might arrive in just a couple of years. "The next big success could be the America's Cup, which in 2013 will attract global attention to the Bay Area and visitors to Northern California," he says.

Dolich has had good times and great memories over his long career. "Success to me is being in the sports biz for 40 years and making positive contributions, creating stadium and arena environments that fans seem to enjoy."

But he also admits that, like anyone who's been involved in a highly competitive field for this long, he's experienced a few bumps in the road: "Not winning World Series with the A's in 1988 and 1990 hurt," he admits. The A's were upset both those years by teams they were expected to beat.

On a lighter note, he says: "Other failures? Not being able to dunk and no holes in one."

Looking ahead

Perhaps the greatest reward in Dolich's career comes from working with some of the best minds in the business and becoming good friends with athletes such as Dave Stewart, Johan Cruyff and Shane Battier. The experience has given him a feeling of being a part of a special community.

Dolich also enjoyed friendly competition in the area of promotion with his good friend from across the bay, longtime Giants' executive Pat Gallagher. Back in the 1980s and '90s, both men put together award-winning ad campaigns that complemented winning teams.

Former A's GM Alderson, now the team president of the New York Mets, still values Dolich's friendship and advice. "It was great working with Andy," Alderson told me recently. "He was a high-energy guy who brought creativity and risk-taking to baseball marketing at a time when Oakland and Major League Baseball both needed it. I learned a lot from Andy."

If the current A's offered him the opportunity to help out again in the front office, it's hard imagining that Dolich would turn them down. But then, it's also difficult to imagine that even Andy Dolich, with his many years of creativity and experience, could lift the A's franchise out of its current malaise. And because of problems with the Dodgers and the Mets' financial imbroglio, which has left that franchise in shambles, Dolich believes the A's status might remain in limbo because MLB must make it a priority to solve the problems of teams playing in the country's two largest markets.

The good news is that if anyone wants to use the services of a highly respected man who has years of experience in the front offices of professional sports, Dolich is always available to lend his counsel.

"Years after we've both moved on from the A's, I still often ask for Andy's advice," Alderson says.

"We could use more people like him in pro sports."

San Francisco native Bruce Macgowan has worked in radio and TV and as a freelance sportswriter for over 35 years. Currently Macgowan is the co-host of the Oakland Raiders pre- and postgame shows on LIVE 105.3 FM and he contributes sports reports to KGO, 810 AM.

Macgowan is best remembered in Northern California for his 17-year stint at KNBR, 680 AM, the "Sports Leader," during which time he worked as a talk- show host, reporter, backup play-by-play announcer and sideline reporter. He traveled extensively with both the Giants and the Raiders, and has covered over 4,000 major pro and college events, including 10 Super Bowls, five World Series, two NBA finals and all or part of 10 NCAA basketball tournaments. Each month Macgowan presently hosts a series of live interviews with Bay Area sports legends at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley.

Macgowan lives in Fairfax, in Marin County, with his wife and daughter.