With the dog catching the car, the next phases of Oakland Athletics ballpark planning are at hand, including MLB approval of the move to Las Vegas, a decision on an interim venue, and updating venue design to match the promised ballpark site.
These are multibillion decisions for any business, but with the team committed to Las Vegas for 2028, they are decisions that need to be made rather quickly by a thin front office. Complicating things: there are plenty of stakeholders who need to provide input or approve each decision. Building consensus on each of these decisions won’t be easy, and unlike the quest for public funding of a new Las Vegas ballpark, where local lobbyists and state politicos carried much of the load, these are issues where the A’s ownership will be expected to provide leadership. Let’s look at each:
MLB approval of the move: While this is expected, other MLB owners may make the A’s squirm a little. Many MLB owners just despise the notion of revenue sharing and luxury taxes, and the A’s have received plenty of criticism for their reliance on MLB money. In addition, we’ve heard of grumblings that the A’s are going too small in Vegas with only 30,000 seats at the Tropicana resort site on the Las Vegas Strip. So expect the MLB owners reviewing the A’s application for a Vegas move to pore over the details with a fine-toothed comb, with the A’s needing to convince MLB that the new ballpark will generate enough revenue for the team to thrive.
The interim venue: This decision also has plenty of stakeholders, including MLB and the MLB Players Association. The A’s lease at the Coliseum ends at the end of the 2024 season, and with a new Las Vegas ballpark not likely to open until 2028, that means the team needs to find a new temporary home for at least three seasons. As noted, the decision affects more than just the play on the field: any temporary venue needs to meet with player union input. Realistically, there are only three options on the table; no, we don’t consider a move to Reno to be a realistic or smart option past an exhibition series or two. Here are the three:
- Work out a lease extension for the Oakland Coliseum. While the team would undoubtedly struggle at the gate and to attract sponsors, it allows the A’s to keep a decent TV contract. It would also provide stability for players and front-office personnel. We don’t think it likely Oakland or Alameda County would object heavily to an extension.
- Move temporarily to an MiLB venue. Las Vegas Ballpark has been mentioned frequently as a landing pad for the team. There’s a lot of appeal to this plan: it lets the team presell the new ballpark both in terms of sponsorships and season tickets in a very real way, building a new identity as MLB’s Vegas outpost. A temporary move to Sacramento would also keep the team in the greater Bay Area and continued access to the television contract. (We covered it here.) As we’ve detailed, the media market in Las Vegas is in a state of flux, and while Las Vegas Ballpark is one of the best, if not the best, ballparks in Minor League Baseball, there’s still a wide gap on the player and fan fronts between a mediocre MLB ballpark and a great MiLB ballpark. Here’s where MLB and the players association come in: MLB to review the financials and the players to review conditions both on and off the field.
- Share Oracle Park with the Giants. This would be the easiest route: the A’s would just be a tenant in a San Francisco Giants ballpark. It does have the appeal of keeping the A’s in Oakland with access to a cable deal, and it would keep players in their homes. It does delay the total takeover of the Bay for the Giants, and there’s some logistics involved for both teams.
Finalize the ballpark design. When the deal to bring a new $1.5-billion A’s ballpark to the Tropicana resort site became public, it was announced by Bally’s that the facility would sport a retractable roof on a nine-acre site. We immediately questioned that plan. Eight acres is pretty much the smallest you can go in building an MLB ballpark–Target Field and Fenway Park both occupy eight acres. At T-Mobile Park, home of the Mariners, the roof canopy alone take up nine acres and doesn’t cover the entire ballpark site. The loanDepot park roof covers over five acres, but the total ballpark footprint is 17 acres. Globe Life Park sits on 13 acres, but that’s a drastically different design than what we’re seeing out of Vegas. As we’ve seen in every retractable-roof ballpark, it takes a larger footprint to support the infrastructure needed for the roof.
And sure enough, MLB folks seem to be finally realizing that a nine-acre retractable-roof ballpark site may not be feasible. Bally’s has since announced more than nine acres could be available for the ballpark, with the actual site design in flux. But here’s the thing. The current financial plan–bonds being issued by Clark County will be backed by revenues generated by the entire ballpark site–rests on assumptions that the ballpark will occupy nine acres and development will occupy the rest. Take away the land available for development on the 36-acre site and the revenues could be impacted.
Yes, there are a lot of issues for the Athletics front office to consider and address. Most of these decisions need to be worked out pretty quickly: 2028 seems to be a long time away, but the groundwork needs to be laid by next year.
Rendering courtesy Oakland A’s.
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