- ESPN MLB insider
Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”
After years of failed attempts to find a new ballpark location that would keep them in Oakland, the Athletics announced Wednesday night that they have signed a binding contract for land in Las Vegas where they intend to build a new ballpark for the team.
The agreement signals that the franchise, which has been in Oakland since its 1968 move from Kansas City, intends to relocate to Vegas in the near future — but there are plenty of questions to answer. What still needs to be figured out ahead of a move? Are there any obstacles that could get in the way? When could the Oakland A’s officially become the Las Vegas A’s — and would they actually keep that nickname in their new home?
Here’s what we know (and don’t know) about the potential move.
So are the A’s officially moving to Las Vegas?
It’s not a done deal. But it almost certainly will be soon. The team’s purchase agreement on a 49-acre parcel of land off the Strip made clear what people around the sport had long speculated: After more than two decades of failures to build a stadium in Oakland and the surrounding area, the A’s are close to becoming the latest major professional sports team to move to Las Vegas — following the NFL’s Raiders, who also relocated from Oakland in 2020.
The shovels to break ground on the new ballpark aren’t quite ready. Some not-insignificant details that involve politics remain. But the A’s are confident, and in an interview with ESPN, team president Dave Kaval said: “This is a massive deal for our franchise and for the whole league.”
What details still need to be figured out?
Only $500 million worth of them. The A’s, who had spent the past two years engaging with Las Vegas and Oakland on what it deemed “parallel paths,” have forked off at Las Vegas. They have pledged $1 billion, as well as cost overages, on a new stadium on the land they bought this week. The project is expected to cost $1.5 billion, leaving half a billion dollars in public funding up to the municipalities involved.
Kaval said the A’s have worked with Clark County, the state Legislature and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, calling the conversations with the parties “ongoing and positive.” They are using Allegiant Stadium, the home of the Raiders that received $750 million in public dollars, as a proxy.
What’s the timeline for this move?
The Nevada Legislature session ends in July. If the A’s and the government can strike a public-private partnership, the next step will be for the A’s to file for relocation with MLB. If the commissioner’s office approves, the A’s will need a vote by owners to codify the move. If all of this gets done before January, the team can break ground on the new stadium by next year in preparation for the 2027 season.
Of course, the A’s lease in Oakland is up after 2024 — so even if all goes according to plan, where they’ll play in 2025 is currently unclear. Kaval said the A’s have negotiated a deal with the Las Vegas Aviators, their Triple-A affiliate, to potentially use Las Vegas Ballpark for home games starting in 2025. (The Aviators, he added, will remain in Las Vegas, similar to the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in St. Paul.) Or maybe even earlier, if the A’s and the Coliseum come to an agreement to terminate the lease early. The team also could temporarily extend the lease agreement in Oakland, like the Raiders did before they moved.
Whatever the case, MLB will have a significant say in it, as the league will help shape the interim plan. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s first public comments after the move was announced were positive. “We support the A’s turning their focus on Las Vegas and look forward to them bringing finality to this process by the end of the year,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday.
Why Las Vegas?
It’s not the population or the TV market size — because both of those are far smaller than the metro area from which the A’s are moving. One of the most transient franchises in sports — with moves from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland in the past — the A’s have long sought the shiny new city as a panacea, often for the failings of ownership and management. And there is no shinier city than Vegas.
“When you think about what makes for a successful market, you have to have a strong local fan base,” Kaval said. “The 2.3 million people are rabid sports fans. … That’s one reason we picked the site we picked: It’s easy to get to for locals.”
The stadium and parking will take up only 15 or so acres of the site, Kaval said. The rest of the area can serve as a mixed-use development — perhaps baseball-themed — that encourages locals and tourists to spend time in bars, restaurants and other attractions, a la The Battery in Atlanta.
Kaval said the Raiders were estimated to bring 800,000 extra tourists to the city annually. He suggested the A’s would bring 400,000.
“The secret sauce to Las Vegas is you have the tourists,” he said. “Those people can come in and spend big dollars. You create a business model that’s resilient and powerful.”
Will they be the Las Vegas A’s — or are we looking at a potential name change?
The A’s name is here to stay, according to Kaval.
“We’ve been around since 1901,” he said. “Charter member of the American League, the Athletics. We’ve already been in three markets. We feel strongly that the A’s are such a powerful brand, it’s something we’re going to continue with the Las Vegas A’s.”
Was this move inevitable?
“Once the league set the deadline of January 2024 to have a binding deal, it really made it an inevitability in some ways,” Kaval said. “It made us get a binding deal on a timeline that wasn’t on offer in Oakland.”
Kaval pointed to $100 million the team spent trying to stay in Oakland. “In spite of all that,” he said, “we’re looking at eight more years before we can open [a new stadium]. It’s impossible to move forward with that with a facility in the Coliseum that’s 10 years past its useful life.”
Oakland council president Nikki Fortunato Bas said the city was in “active negotiations” with the team when the Vegas deal was announced. “Oakland has worked incredibly hard to come to an agreement with the A’s,” she said in a statement. “Our city council created a framework to support a win-win deal to keep the A’s in Oakland.”
While it’s true that public money was more difficult to come by in Oakland than other locations, Las Vegas included, the idea that public funding is necessary to build a stadium is a false premise. Across the Bay, the San Francisco Giants built Oracle Park entirely privately.
A’s owner John Fisher never entertained the idea of a privately built stadium in Oakland. The A’s fans, despite years of on-field success, lost faith. The narrative of inevitability became the reality, and the city of Oakland has lost its last major professional sports team.
“We feel for our fans in Oakland,” Kaval said. “It’s a sad day for the community and our fan base. We’ve been here more than 50 years.”
The A’s have been very bad in recent years. Does this speed up their timeline or boost the budget for putting together a winning team?
Theoretically, sure, but the Athletics have the sport’s lowest payroll this season and have ranked higher than 25th in the majors only once in the last decade, so the idea that suddenly upon the A’s arrival in Las Vegas they’re going to morph into a bigger-budget team is no guarantee. Oakland’s longtime baseball operations chief, Billy Beane, and his successor, David Forst, have done yeoman’s work in keeping the team competitive on a skinflint payroll — they’ve made the playoffs in six of the past dozen years. But Oakland’s dreadful 2022 — and an even worse start this season — speak to the difficulty in that approach.
“Once we get certainty about the timeline of a new building, it allows us to plan,” Kaval said. “Right now, for David Forst and Billy as our senior adviser, there’s too much uncertainty. With the declining revenues, it’s a precarious situation. We need to get by that and have a plan we can work against so we can develop the talent. I have full confidence in our baseball-operations team, and once we get through the relocation process with the league, we can put a plan together.”
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