LAS VEGAS — Let me start by saying I love baseball.
Ever since my grandfather took me to the original Yankee Stadium as a 4-year-old in 1960, my passion for the game has been strong. Even despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s best efforts to destroy it.
So it pains me to say that this attempt to bring Major League Baseball to Las Vegas, the place I’ve called home for more than half my life, is wrong.
It has been done in a haphazard, strong-arm, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants fashion with no guarantees the public will be protected in the Oakland Athletics’ attempt to secure public funding for a new stadium.
Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo ordered the legislature into special session a week ago to debate and support him in passage of Senate Bill 1 which would give John Fisher, the billionaire owner of the A’s, $380 million towards a $1.5 billion, 30,000-seat stadium.
It took a week, give or take a day, to get a deal done. But on Wednesday, the Assembly and Senate approved SB1. Lombardo signed off on it Thursday.
“This legislation reflects months of negotiations between the team, the state, the county, and the league,” Lombardo said in a statement upon putting his signature to the bill. “Las Vegas’ position as a global sports destination is only growing, and Major League Baseball is another tremendous asset for the city.”
Once Major League Baseball’s owners approve the move, it will mean the sports scene in Vegas just got a little more crowded.
Actually, a lot more.
Be prepared to pony up a lot more money to watch a baseball game here. Much more than the Triple-A Aviators, who’ve been providing affordable family entertainment in the valley for 40 years. You’ll be paying big-league prices to watch a substandard product, the A’s recent seven-game winning streak notwithstanding.
Mind you, the new stadium on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue won’t open its doors until 2028. But you’ll get a taste of how pricey a trip to a MLB game will be perhaps as early as next year if the A’s skip out on the final year of their lease at the Oakland Coliseum and set up shop temporarily at Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin. By the way, don’t plan on parking for free like you do now for the Aviators.
Apparently, Joe isn’t the only governor who fancies himself a sports fan. You may recall when Brian Sandoval was in charge, he helped facilitate the move of the Raiders from Oakland to Vegas with the securing of $750 million in bonds and convincing the legislature to pass a hotel tax increase to build what would be Allegiant Stadium.
Steve Sisolak, who would succeed Sandoval as governor and at the time was a Clark County supervisor, wholeheartedly backed the plan to bring the NFL here. After all, the guy is a Vegas Golden Knights season-ticket holder, had befriended Raiders owner Mark Davis and was a big booster of the WNBA’s Aces, who were shifted from San Antonio after starting out in Salt Lake City.
Sisolak also helped bring the F1 auto race to the Strip this November. Of course, the F1 folks would now like to be reimbursed by Clark County for the upgrade to the streets the races will be run on to the tune of $40 million.
So we have a history here in Nevada of governors who happen to be sports fans. And that’s fine. Apparently what Joe wants, Joe gets. Never mind the guy said no new public money for a Major League Baseball team. But he semantically worked the verbiage to say that existing funding might be available to Fisher and the A’s.
The legislature, which has a majority of democrats in both the Senate and the Assembly, talked tough. But in the end, they caved, no doubt to some political pressure from powerful interest groups and the unions, who saw this as an opportunity to create jobs for their card-carrying members and happen to be registered voters. Funny how that works.
That was good enough for Fisher. He will wave goodbye to Oakland, which was trying for several years to get a deal done to keep the A’s in the East Bay and build them not only a ballpark at Howard Terminal, but restaurants, bars, hotels and even some housing. Total price tag? $12 billion. Jobs? There’d be more than enough work for anyone who wanted it.
So those jobs will likely go to the construction guys and gals in Vegas, which will be nice for them. But there won’t be as many of them as we’re only talking about a ballpark on nine acres. No retail or housing to build.
Manfred said a a news conference Thursday in New York that the situation in Oakland was untenable long-term.
“I feel sorry for the fans in Oakland,” Manfred said. “I do not like this outcome. I understand why they feel the way they do. I think the real question is what is it that Oakland was prepared to do? There is no Oakland offer. They never got to the point where they had a plan to build a stadium at any site. It’s not just John Fisher. … The community has to provide support, and at some point you come to the realization that it’s just not going to happen.”
For me, this entire process has been flawed from the get-go. First there was a deal with the Fertitta family for land where the Wild Wild West casino once stood on West Tropicana off the I-15 freeway. Then they backed away and cut a deal with the Bally’s folks and the Tropicana. And this after the folks who own the Rio on West Flamingo Road were willing to sell the A’s land for a ballpark at their site for a buck.
Then there were the dog-and-pony show hearings on Memorial Day Weekend with public comment coming on Memorial Day itself. Nice.
The Governor kept the inning alive with the special session after the legislature said enough already with this nonsense.
And let’s remember all the lobbying the A’s did to cajole the Assembly and Senate to support this crazy notion. Team president Dave Kaval himself registered as a lobbyist, a cover-your-ass move if there’s ever been one so he could legally work the politicians over.
Originally, the ask was $500 million for public funding. The politicians countered with $175 million. Then the A’s dropped it to $400 million. Still no dice. Finally, they settled on the $380 million figure that has been debated for a day, then put on hiatus for four days for resuming on Monday.
Basically, it was an encore presentation of the Memorial Day rollout, with a tweak or two about community involvement and how folks can walk to the ballpark, even in late July when the temperature is in the triple-digits. And how having the A’s will create all these great jobs.
Of course, it didn’t address the true challenge of developing a stadium within a nine-acre site, traffic issues, the parking, the price of admission, concessions, etc. Or the fact the majority of jobs at the ballpark would be part-time at minimum wage once it is built.
To me, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. In this case, it didn’t pass the smell test in my mind. But I doubt Fisher and Kaval care. In the end, they got their wish.
However, maybe there’s a silver lining in all this. Fisher will watch the valuation of his franchise’s worth jump up from its current $1.18 billion according to Forbes. Maybe it triples and Fisher decides to cash out, recouping his investment and turning a profit while leaving the task of trying to put a winning team on the field to the next guy, who hopefully would be committed to winning the way Bill Foley, the owner of the Golden Knights has been from Day One.
Whether or not the current owner decides to improve his on-the-field product, maybe this turns out to be a good move for Las Vegas and its baseball fans in the long run. If the city waited for expansion, there’s no guarantee it would land a franchise. And if it did, the cost would have been significantly higher than if the A’s came here. And you still have to build a stadium for that team to play in. The likelihood is far more public funding would be needed than $380 million.
So as much as it hurts to give Fisher a cent, it would be substantially more affordable to pay now than later to add a team to the city’s major league sports roster.
With the major hurdles having been cleared and the funding apparently in place when Lombardo puts pen to paper, maybe the A’s can get their act together, get the Tropicana ballpark plan and design figured out, make their exit from Oakland a swift one and get things going here in Southern Nevada. Because there’s still a lot of work to be done for this to become a reality.
So limber up that throwing arm, Governor. And when the A’s invite you to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in Las Vegas, you’ll want to heed the advice Derek Jeter gave former President George W. Bush at the 2001 World Series — “Don’t bounce it.”