The Athletics, who have called Oakland home since 1968, announced they have entered a binding agreement to purchase land in Las Vegas for a $1.5 billion stadium and their efforts for a new ballpark will be focused there. There are still hoops to be jumped through, including approval of a funding mechanism by the state legislature and approval by MLB owners, but those parties seem to be supportive of the project.
“We support the A’s turning their focus on Las Vegas and look forward to them bringing finality to this process by the end of the year,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement.
If approved, the Athletics would play in a stadium seating 30-35,000 fans with a retractable roof on a 100-acre site just west of the Strip near Tropicana Boulevard and Interstate 15. There are plans for some ancillary development similar to what the Royals have proposed for a downtown ballpark district, although few details have been offered on that thus far. The stadium would be funded through a special tax district that allows the ballclub to recoup all sales taxes, plus a transfer of $500 million in sales taxes. The earliest a stadium would be ready for play would be 2027.
According to club president Dave Kaval, the A’s have a lease with Oakland through 2024, but indicated that the team could relocate after that and play at Las Vegas Ballpark, the home of the minor league Las Vegas Aviators until a new stadium is completed. That would still require them to play lame duck seasons in Oakland this year and next, although attendance has already cratered. The A’s are averaging just 11,026 fans through 12 home games so far this year, and averaged under 10,000 fans last year.
The Athletics had worked on a number of ballpark proposals in the Bay Area over the last 15 years before deciding on Las Vegas. They were rebuffed in efforts to relocate to San Jose by the Giants, claiming territorial rights. An effort to move to nearby Fremont ran into objections from local leaders and residents. They briefly targeted a site near Laney College in Oakland in 2017, but were blocked by the Peralta Community College District. A recent proposal to build a ballpark district at the waterfront at Howard Terminal seemed like the most promising proposal, but regulations held the project up and negotiations fell apart over public infrastructure costs. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao claims the team was not operating in good faith.
“At every opportunity, the A’s have made increasing demands on Oakland,” she said. “And at every opportunity, we have risen to the challenge and overcome the hurdles placed before us.
“Instead of working with us, they have announced a land deal in another city. And I want to be very clear, this announcement happened mid-negotiations and it shows they had no interest in making a deal with Oakland at all.”
The Athletics were up against a January 2024 deadline set by MLB to determine a new stadium deal, or else they would lose revenue sharing money.
Will Las Vegas be able to support Major League Baseball? It is the 29th largest metropolitan market in the United States, roughly the same size as the Cincinnati or Kansas City metro areas. It is also one of the fastest-growing metro areas, although there are some questions about how sustainable that growth is between how badly he city suffered through the economic downturn in 2008 and the low levels of Lake Mead and other water scarcity in the west. The population tends to be made up largely of transplants who may have allegiances to their hometown team, and the A’s are counting on 30 percent of the fans to be tourists, who will be cheering their hometown team. That could make building a fanbase difficult.
The Athletics would be the third major sports team the city has landed in the last six years, with the expansion Golden Knights of the NHL beginning play in 2017, and the NFL’s Raiders moving from Oakland in 2020. The Golden Knights have been very well supported, with an average of over 18,000 fans packing games. But MLB clubs rely more on local revenue from regional sports networks than the NHL or NFL which has 50/50 revenue sharing. The Golden Knights currently air on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, which also airs Colorado Rockies games. The Las Vegas Athletics would either have to find a way onto that network, or find a new regional sports network to air games. There is also the question of how many eyeballs such a network could attract. Almost 5 million people live within 150 miles of the Kansas City metro area, many of which have cable providers that carry Bally Sports Kansas City (or at least could, if Sinclair weren’t a bunch of jerks!) Only about 2.8 million people live within 150 miles of Las Vegas, giving the A’s a pretty limited reach.
For longtime A’s fans, the announcement was a punch in the gut. In 54 seasons in Oakland, the Athletics had made the playoffs 21 times, winning six pennants and four World Championships. They built a dynasty in the 1970s, winning three consecutive titles, then built another juggernaut in the late 80s with the “Bash Brothers.” In the 90s, ownership began cutting back on player payroll, the General Manager Billy Beane still found a way to win division titles with good pitching and a “Moneyball” approach. More recently, ownership has gutted the team, trading away stars Matt Chapman and Matt Olson and employing the worst pitching staff in baseball.
SB Nation began with fan Tyler Bleszinski and his blog Athletics Nation. Although he no longer writes for the site, he returned to end his fandom with the A’s.
I’ve been fond of saying that everyone’s life is like a book, containing so many different chapters. Some chapters are fun, happy and buoyant. Some are dark, scary and foreboding. Some are just downright sad. All chapters come to an end, much like a book does. The stories in your book sometimes overlap in different chapters, but often times, the main focus of a portion of life is contained in a single chapter. The chapter of my life that was so intensely dominated by Oakland A’s baseball has finally and sadly come to a close. I will not be starting a Las Vegas A’s chapter.
Baseball has seen far fewer franchise relocations than other sports. The last franchise to move was the Montreal Expos to Washington, DC in 2005, and before that it was the Washington Senators to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 1972. The A’s of course moved to Oakland from Kansas City through a very similar process as the one we’re seeing now. Owner Charlie Finley put out a terrible product on the field, no fans showed up, he negotiated in bad faith with local leaders, then bolted at the first opportunity he could play in a shiny new stadium.
Could this happen to Royals fans? It seems unlikely. Owner John Sherman is a local Kansas Citian, which wouldn’t make it impossible for him to move the club, but makes it far less likely than if he was say, a Nashville businessman. He has been a civic booster for years and said at one forum that he could promise the team wouldn’t leave Kansas City. If the Royals don’t get a downtown ballpark in Kansas City, it seems more likely he would shop the team to other jurisdictions in the area - to Clay County in Missouri or possibly on the Kansas side - rather than move the team out of Kansas City altogether.
Still, this is another sober reminder of how baseball owners can tear the heart out of fans in the name of money.