Organizations, especially ones in the vibrant Bay Area, experience positive public image when leadership is poised, passionate, and communicative. On January 27th, I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Kaval, the President of the Oakland Athletics, at the team’s annual FanFest. The A’s offered the 25,000 people in attendance free food, player autographs, photo sessions, and audience-led Q&As. Some of the current and former players in attendance were Jed Lowrie, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Stephen Piscotty, Sean Manaea, and the legendary Rickey Henderson. On my way to get Jed Lowrie’s autograph, I noticed Dave Kaval near the team merchandise store. He graciously took a few minutes out of his busy day to speak with me.
Dave Kaval gained experience as the President of the Major League Soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes. Then he became the newest executive of the A’s in 2016. Under Kaval’s leadership, the Oakland A’s hope to turn their losing team into a thriving and competitive franchise. Dave Kaval promised fans that the team will build a new baseball stadium in Oakland by 2023 despite ongoing struggles to provide a concrete plan to replace the aging Oakland Coliseum. The Kaval era has already brought the fan-favorite Rooted in Oakland campaign to life, and he hopes that igniting local passion will bring good fortune back to this once glorious team.
Below are a few highlights from my serendipitous conversation with Dave Kaval. Unlike most high-profile professional sports executives, he communicates directly with fans to better understand the community’s concerns and general ideas about the team. He displayed a number of attributes that make him a strong professional communicator and the perfect leader for the A’s.
A humble leader:
Dave Kaval displayed sincere gratitude when I thanked him for providing the free-admission FanFest. As a fan of the Oakland A’s, it’s nice to know that the team’s president genuinely cares about creating a good experience. However, he didn’t take sole credit for the success of the event. He thanked me for coming and commended the fans who joined together at Jack London Square in Oakland to celebrate the A’s. Then I told him about how much I enjoy the steps he made to strengthen the team’s talent and public image, and he humbly thanked me for my support. Dave Kaval seemed genuinely thrilled that I was optimistic about the future of the A’s.
This past fall, the team announced that their new ballpark will be built near Laney College in Oakland. However, this plan faltered due to lack of support from the college’s stakeholders, so fans, like myself, were disappointed not to have a concrete stadium plan as promised. The A’s then announced that three locations are in the running for a new stadium: the Oakland Coliseum site, Jack London Square, and, again, Laney College. To my surprise, Dave Kaval asked me where I wanted the new stadium to be located. I feel certain that the new park should be in Jack London Square because of its energetic downtown vibe. His response to my preference was surprisingly candid: he explained that the A’s recently moved their offices to Jack London Square, and the area is selling itself to him quickly. Though he didn’t make any official statement, he did seem to love the atmosphere that the Oakland waterfront can provide for fans on game days. He made it clear to me that he’s dedicated to picking a location that is both viable for the community and enjoyable for fans.
My conversation with Dave Kaval wasn’t planned or set up like a formal interview. It was on-the-spot, and he was ready and willing to talk with me about the franchise. I could hardly believe that the President of a Major League Baseball team would take time to talk directly with fans. Later in the day, I noticed him in another deep yet fun discussion with enthralled fans. However, he wasn’t just trying to dispense ordinary corporate missions and values; he made meaningful two-way conversations with fans a priority for his day. That’s the sign of a leader who understands that sincere communication between an organization and its community can benefit everybody involved. Based on our conversation, it’s clear that Dave Kaval cares about actively engaging with his audience.