A’s approved to move to Vegas

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously Thursday to allow the Oakland Athletics to move to the Las Vegas Strip.

LAS VEGAS — Philadelphia. Kansas City. Oakland. And now, Las Vegas.

Thursday, Major League Baseball gave the Athletics the green light to relocate from the East Bay to the Vegas Strip for the 2028 season. It may be even sooner if the A’s can find a suitable place to play while their $1.5 billion, 33,000-seat ballpark at the Tropicana Hotel site gets built.

The vote at the owners’ meeting in Arlington, Texas was unanimous, 30-0, thanks to commissioner Rob Manfred’s support for the move. This despite relocating to a smaller media market (40th compared to the Bay Area’s 10th according to Sports Business Journal) and a smaller population base (2.3 million in Clark County compared to 7.54 million in the greater Bay Area) and still no definitive plan for how the ballpark will look.

A’s owner John Fisher won’t have to pay a hefty relocation fee to abandon Oakland. The state of Nevada is giving him $380 million toward construction of the stadium on the Strip. 

There’s still a few hurdles remaining, such as Fisher’s securing financing for the new ballpark, signing an agreement to stay in Las Vegas for 30 years minimum and finalizing the design for the ballpark itself along with figuring out a plan for a place to play once the A’s lease with Oakland expires after the 2024 season. 

And it’s possible the anti-ballpark Schools Over Stadiums initiative and petition by the Nevada State Education Association to make the public money a ballot referendum still becomes reality. And if the voters were to reject spending public money for the A’s, that could muck things up considerably. Manfred has said as much.

But for those of us who live in Southern Nevada who love baseball, this is a big day. Let’s assume all the hurdles are cleared. There’s still one fly in the ointment. By the time it’s Opening Day in 2028, will Fisher spend some money on players and put a competitive team on the field? President David Kaval claims that will be the case. But I wouldn’t bet on it. 

It was just three years ago the A’s played winning baseball, going 86-76. And before the COVID-shortened season in 2020, they won 97 games in 2018 and 2019. So Fisher has been willing to finance a competitive team on the field, even if the payroll wasn’t in MLB’s upper echelon. In fact, Oakland has had among the lowest, if not the lowest payroll in baseball for several years now thanks to declining revenues.

Maybe that’s why they’re on the move yet again. No MLB franchise has moved more than the Athletics. They’ve been in Oakland since 1968 after Charlie Finley moved them from Kansas City after they had moved from Philadelphia in 1955 where Connie Mack had been in charge going back to 1901. The Braves have come the closest to matching the A’s when it comes to moving, having gone from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta. 

Some of you are excited about Las Vegas getting a Major League Baseball team. Most of you probably wish it wasn’t the A’s, given their sorry recent track record and prefer MLB put an expansion team when and if it decides to grow from 30 to 32 franchises. And no one can blame you for tempering your enthusiasm.

You saw what happened when Las Vegas got an NHL team. It was an expansion team, it was Vegas’ from Day F’n One to paraphrase Golden Knights center William Karlsson. And you saw what happened when the owner was committed to winning and was willing to do whatever it took in order to bring a championship.

Not only did Bill Foley deliver (Cup in Six), his franchise’s valuation has more than doubled since he joined the NHL in 2016.

Why bring that up? Because that might be the way for everyone in this town to ultimately get behind the A’s.

According to Forbes, the A’s are currently valued at $1.18 billion. When they begin play in the new Tropicana ballpark in 2028, you can expect the franchise’s worth to be 3-4 times that. And if Fisher is ready to get out of the baseball business at that point, he will recoup his investment and then some, allowing him to have made a profit from a money-losing baseball team.

The new owner or owners would likely be willing to invest in the on-the-field product and make the A’s competitive again. In 55 years in Oakland, the A’s have four World Series championships. Of course, Fisher can prove me wrong and start upping his payroll now and have a successful team before it plays here in 2028. 

If Las Vegas had the option of waiting for MLB to expand, the cost would be far higher and it would likely take longer to win on the field. Remember, the NHL provided the Golden Knights ample opportunities to succeed early on and Foley hired the right people to run the hockey side of things and the decisions made by then-general manager George McPhee and assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon ultimately led to hoisting the Stanley Cup last June.

But more often than not, expansion teams struggle. That’s particularly true in baseball, where good farm systems, a component critical to long-term success, take time to build. The A’s already have their farm system in place and ironically, their Triple-A team, the Las Vegas Aviators, plays here in Summerlin. So theoretically, they should be miles ahead of an expansion team in terms of competitiveness.

But will they be competitive? Will you go to the Strip to watch if they are? We saw what happened with the WNBA. The team moved from San Antonio to play at Mandalay Bay, rebranded themselves as the Aces, invested in putting a competitive team on the court and have won back-to-back titles. Not surprisingly, they’re wildly popular. The Aces lead the league in attendance and nobody complained about getting to Michelob Ultra Arena. 

If the NFL’s Raiders can start winning consistently, we could see a similar metamorphosis. We got a glimpse of what could be last Sunday as Allegiant Stadium was full with mostly fans in Silver and Black against the Jets and you could hear and feel the edge the home team had.

Even UNLV football, a doormat for the majority of its existence since the school began playing in the late 1960s, has undergone a renaissance under first-year coach Barry Odom. The team is 8-2, will finish with a winning record for the first time in a decade, is battling for the conference title and is headed to a bowl game. Oh, and attendance is up significantly from the last few years thanks to the on-the-field success the Rebels are enjoying.

So in this town, winning matters. It always has. And Fisher and Kaval should take note of that now that they’ll be joining our community. That sorry excuse for a ballclub they’ve perpetrated on the good people of Oakland won’t fly here.