The Las Vegas Athletics?
Xs and Arrows
May 13, 2023
A few weeks ago, it was announced that the Oakland Athletics, "my team" since childhood (with a little San Diego Padres mixed in from my time living there), entered a binding agreement to purchase land in Las Vegas with the intention of building a new stadium and relocating to Sin City.
This announced move was not surprising, for over two decades the Athletics have been trying to work with Major League Baseball, the City of Oakland, Alameda County and several other stakeholders to build new digs in the East Bay. Unfortunately, whether it was a territorial rights issue with the neighboring Giants across the Bay, a special-interest issue with the City of Oakland (who were requiring affordable housing be built on two stadium sites), unions, or environmentalists, the A's could never get traction in the Bay.
Fans will be fans, and much of the blame for the move is being sent the owners direction for allowing a once proud franchise to slip into ruin and eventual relocation. Just a few years after making the playoffs and winning the division, the Athletics are firmly the worst team in baseball. To quote Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in the film "Moneyball" (which was about the early 2000s A's) "...there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there's 50 feet of crap, and then there's us." The Athletics are once again firmly planted under that 50 feet.
As a fan and someone who understands the business side of the game, I am not sure this relocation lands firmly on the shoulders of ownership. When John Fisher purchased the team, relocating to Las Vegas was a non-starter. At the time, no professional sports league, especially the firmly anti-gambling MLB, would touch Las Vegas with 10-foot pole. Then the NHL took a chance with the Golden Knights and dang near won the Stanley Cup in the first year, then the Raiders came knocking and they have found new life. It was just a matter of time before MLB, who is always the last to adopt any idea in pro sports, went looking in the desert as well.
From a business perspective the second that Las Vegas started welcoming pro teams, or pro teams started welcoming Las Vegas, Oakland city leaders should have put aside their politics and special interests and made a real attempt at keeping the Athletics in the Bay Area. Instead, they let the Golden State Warriors move to San Francisco, the Raiders to Vegas and then doubled down by asking the Athletics to throw extra money at redeveloping the Oakland Coliseum site and then pouring millions of dollars into affordable housing project on their proposed waterfront ballpark while also requiring they build a gondola across the highway since the BART train didn't have a stop close by. Noble projects? Sure. Realistic in today's competitive sports market? Not at all. There is the reality that John Fisher is very wealthy, and why give a wealthy man money when he can spend his own? Truth is, wealthy people stay wealthy by leveraging other people's money. It is a fact as old as time in pro sports.
Las Vegas, Nashville, Salt Lake City and others are now booming destinations for sports and entertainment. They are rolling out the red carpet by understanding that professional sports teams bring revenue, they support small business, tourism, hotels and more. That is especially true with an MLB franchise with 81 home dates a year and a chance at playoff games. Die hard fans will fly in from all over the country to watch their team for three days in Las Vegas, mark my words.
As a lifelong fan I realize that this potential move to Las Vegas was inevitable and frankly welcomed in my book. I have seen firsthand the impact that the Golden Knights have on Las Vegas on game night, or the Raiders for that matter on Sundays in the fall. Lots of money and time is invested in the greater Las Vegas area by these fans. It should also be noted that companies and people are moving to Las Vegas, the same cannot be said about Oakland who is losing on average 1% of its population each year for the last decade. It is not the power it once was while Las Vegas continues to be one of the hottest real estate markets in the United States as it received the second-most new residents nationwide last year. It offers a tax climate of 0% for personal income tax, estate tax, business income tax, franchise tax and inventory tax. Couple those with an estimated $500 million in offset expenditures to build the $1.5 billion stadium on the site near the strip and any smart business man and team owner would agree, this is the best path forward if the State of Nevada and Clark County agree to the $500 million offset in stadium assistance-still a major hurdle before the ink is dry on this move.
Las Vegas offers a fresh start, fresh corporate support and a fresh option for those of us even here in Tehachapi. With highway improvements from here to Nevada, the average Las Vegas drive is 3.5 hours (not counting coming home on Sunday, ugh), but a drive to Anaheim is anywhere from two and a half to four hours depending on traffic, Dodger Stadium is closer but one is still investing a couple hours just to get there with no convenient food or lodging options near the stadium for an extended weekend.
Despite being in Southern Nevada, the potentially soon-to-be-minted Las Vegas Athletics might as well be in Southern California for the sake of those of us who have options either way. The long history of the Athletics is one of a vagabond, starting in Philadelphia, then Kansas City, Oakland and now potentially Las Vegas.
Tradition may hate it, but the businessman in me says this is one hand worth playing.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter, broadcaster and athletics administrator. He advocates for the value of athletic competition and serves as the President of the Tehachapi Warriors Booster Club. He can be reached at email@example.com.