As widely expected, MLB owners unanimously approved the potential move of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas–though there’s plenty of uncertainty about whether a Nevada move will happen.
The approval of a move, which came today at the owners’ meetings in Texas, had indeed been widely regarded as a done deal–there’s no way MLB Commissioner Ron Manfred calls for a vote if not assured of the outcome. While some of the owners may indeed not be enthusiastic about a move to the nation’s 40th-largest media market–as opposed to Oakland, part of the tenth-largest U.S. media market–John Fisher and crew obviously see a new Oakland ballpark as a dead-end endeavor with a better financial position awaiting in Las Vegas.
But is it?
Right now the A’s are still at the beginning of their journey to the desert. Yes, the state legislature passed a ballpark funding plan–one that relies very heavily on private financing. The current plan is for a $1.5-billion ballpark at the Tropicana resort site on the south end of the Strip, backed by $380 million in public funding. Yes, owners have signed off on the potential move of the A’s, but the vote doesn’t require a move–though it will certainly help the A’s in their quest for private financing. Yes, there’s a lawsuit from a Nevada teachers union challenging the constitutionality of state financing for a new ballpark as well as a separate legal effort challenging the Clark County bonding for the ballpark, but the challenges encroach on new territory and represent some huge unknowns.
The owners vote doesn’t address some other white elephants in the room. Where will the A’s play after 2024? A new ballpark won’t open sooner than the 2028 season, but the team’s lease at the Coliseum ends at the end of the 2024 season. In the meantime, the A’s could share Oracle Park with the San Francisco Giants (allowing them to keep their current TV deal) or set up shop at Las Vegas Ballpark (a huge unknown on the TV rights front). Both pose some issues: the Giants may not be thrilled about the wear and tear on the ballpark for three seasons, and while Las Vegas Ballpark is a top-notch MiLB facility, it would need upgrades for three seasons of MLB play. Staying at the Coliseum could be a huge challenge: Oakland officials say they won’t approve a lease extension for the Coliseum unless they have some assurances that they’re first in line to receive an expansion team–which just reopens talks about the unsuitability of the Coliseum as a long-term MLB facility. (Take it for what it’s worth: USA Today says the A’s told MLB owners the team plans to rotate games between Oracle Park, Las Vegas Ballpark and the Coliseum beginning in 2025. Let’s see what the players association says about that.)
The A’s would be the first MLB team to move to a new market since MLB moved the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. for the 2005 season. Before that the last team to move was Bob Short’s transfer of the Washington Senators to Dallas-Fort Worth for the 1972 season. The move also makes the A’s the most-transferred franchise in MLB history. Las Vegas would be the fourth home market for A’s, following Philadelphia, Kansas City and Oakland; right now the A’s are tied with the Braves at three home markets, represented by Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta.
UPDATE: Here’s the statement from Athletics Managing Partner and Owner John Fisher on the MLB owners approval:
“I want to express my gratitude to the owners and Commissioner for their thoughtful deliberation and positive votes in favor of our relocation to Las Vegas.
“Today marks a significant moment for our franchise, and it’s met with mixed emotions – sadness for this change and excitement for our future. I know this is a hard day for our fans in Oakland. We made sincere efforts to keep our team in Oakland, but unfortunately, it did not work out. I am grateful to the fans who have supported our team throughout the years and the home Oakland provided. The storied history of our franchise includes three cities over the past century: Oakland, along with Kansas City and Philadelphia, will always be part of this franchise’s DNA.
“We are excited to begin this next chapter in Las Vegas. I want to thank the Las Vegas and Nevada community for welcoming us. We will continue to work hard to bring home more championships for our fans and for our new home in Vegas.”
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