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Another update on the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas situation

Just when you thought it couldn’t get messier, it has.

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Fans at the Oakland Coliseum in September 2022
Al Yellon

Gonna say this right now, off the top, so we’re all on the same page: If this topic doesn’t interest you, go pass it on by and click on some other BCB article.

I think the issues surrounding the Oakland Athletics’ proposed move to Las Vegas are important for the entire future of baseball, and that’s why I keep writing about it. For those here who concur with that, and want to hear some more information and reaction, here it is.

Tim Kawakami, who covers the A’s for The Athletic, has written an article that sums up all those issues, and the article is excellent for both its breadth and depth. He’s covered the A’s for more than 15 years and is one of the most knowledgeable writers on this topic. I’m going to quote some parts of the article, then my comments, and conclude with some remarks yesterday from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Even after the A’s had to admit defeat in the Laney debacle, they would still likely be in the concluding stages of constructing a new stadium on the Howard Terminal site right at this moment if everything owner John Fisher and his lieutenants had trumpeted and declared had actually happened. Then they delayed that one and delayed again, negotiated with the City of Oakland, and still kept promising.

But … nope.

All Fisher did in all that time (and for three or four other failed stadium efforts before that, dating back decades), really, was waste time. Very precious time. His own time, his staff’s time, the politicians’ time and, most importantly, the A’s fans’ time and emotions. Wasted. Just absolutely squandered. He literally could’ve had a stadium by now, a few times over, if he just was willing to commit more of his vast resources than he wanted to.

COMMENT: Kawakami is absolutely correct. A’s owner John Fisher could have had his stadium now, or in a year or so, if he hadn’t just stalled and delayed over and over and over, and then over and over and over after that. This will become a theme in this article.

Fisher is practically no further along with this Las Vegas stadium than he was with the Howard Terminal project early last year.

Stop and go over that sentence again. I am not exaggerating for effect. Factoring in the mood of the local population, he’s probably a step or two behind that pace, which ought to be fairly scary for Fisher and everybody involved in the Las Vegas situation. That is, if anybody wants to be honest with themselves.

Of course, Fisher could get this stadium done if he buckles down, gets a real construction plan, lines up financing and commits to paying out several hundred million dollars of his own money. He might still do that.

But folks, that was also true at Howard Terminal, Laney College and the Coliseum. It’s always been true, especially at Howard Terminal, when the city was offering a deal that was more expansive than many insiders ever expected. He’s always refused to make that kind of commitment. He just rushes from one project to the next and then the plans blow up. He’s always found a way to fail. He’s doing it again in Las Vegas.

COMMENT: Again, this is all true. Fisher has just been stalling, stringing everyone along when there are no plans, no renderings, nothing but a vague promise that there will be a stadium appearing in Las Vegas, ready to go for the A’s in 2028.

Fisher will receive $380 million from the state of Nevada. But that’s only if the A’s build on the Tropicana site. Which is very likely too small to fit a retractable roof — there goes that dramatic backdrop of the Vegas night — and generally seems too small for indoor Major League Baseball.

There would be no grandeur inside that theoretical stadium. There will be no sunshine. It’d feel small and cramped. And it’d be just another large, air-conditioned attraction competing for attention with lounge acts, mob museums, animal habitats and, oh yeah, every kind of casino imaginable.

COMMENT: This, exactly, is the crux of the problem. A site has been chosen that is not suitable for Major League Baseball. It’s too small. Yes, there are other ballparks on a site this small: Wrigley Field and Target Field, to name two. But neither of those parks has a retractable roof. You need more land to hold the structure for such a roof — just go look at how large Chase Field in Phoenix is, for example.

Beyond that, there’s no allowance for the sort of parking a ballpark like this would need. There’s no real public transit in Las Vegas, apart from a monorail that’s not suited for baseball-sized crowds. Where are all the locals who would supposedly support such a team going to park? Does Fisher really think he’s going to get 30,000+ tourists who are randomly walking down The Strip every day to just say, “Hey, let’s go to a baseball game!”

That’s not gonna happen.

So where are the A’s playing after this season, when their Coliseum lease runs out? Gee, Fisher has no announced plans. He doesn’t know, other than it seems likely that the A’s will become an itinerant team, maybe playing some in Sacramento, some in Salt Lake City and some in a couple of minor-league parks in Nevada.

Of course, to help the marketing, the A’s lost a total of 214 games the last two seasons. And they’re about to get their TV payment drastically reduced because they’ll likely play most of their games outside of NBC Sports Bay Area’s broadcast region. So you know Fisher will keep the payroll as low as possible.

COMMENT: Kawakami goes on to say that cutting payroll would likely make the A’s even worse over the next three years than they are now — a team that was a contender from 2018-21, making the playoffs three years during that four-year span, stripped down to a team that lost 102 games in 2022 and 112 last year. Think it’s going to be any better? How would a team’s ownership and management sell such a team to corporate sponsors and fans in Las Vegas?

Kawakami concludes:

Fisher has no other options. MLB has shamefully spurned Oakland and opened the Las Vegas market to him. There’s no way out. If Fisher’s ever going to get it done, it has to be now. It’d be too embarrassing not to. Any logical owner would get this done.

And I keep saying: I’ve watched Fisher do illogical things every step of the way. I’ve seen him waste so much time — the A’s are probably further away from a stadium now than they were a year ago, when they were further away than they were a year before that and further away 10 years before that. We know that the other MLB owners don’t want to force Fisher to sell the team. But if anything’s going to get them thinking about it, or at least to suggest quite strongly to Fisher that it’s well past time to pass this team to someone else, it’ll be if he blows this Las Vegas situation.

Which might not be inevitable, but it sure would be the betting choice right now.

COMMENT: Kawakami is correct. Fisher has backed himself into a corner. There are no renderings of a stadium that could take a couple of years to finish, so they aren’t even at the architectural planning stage, much less shovels in the ground. And as noted above, the $380 million from the Nevada legislature — never mind the pending lawsuit trying to stop that — is only going to be given if the A’s build on the Tropicana site, which, as noted above, probably isn’t suitable for the kind of stadium the A’s need.

The article is also correct in stating that it is getting toward the time where the other MLB owners might want to start nudging Fisher to sell the team. Kawakami says “if he blows this Las Vegas situation,” and I say he’s pretty much already blown it.

You’d never know that based on these comments from Rob Manfred, though:

This “clarity” is needed because the MLB schedule for 2025 will be released sometime in July, as it was last year. That’s only about five months from now, and clearly they’re already working on it. The A’s can’t possibly play anywhere east of the Mountain time zone, because that would really mess up other teams’ travel schedules. Here are some of the cities likely being considered:

So they’d actually stay in Oakland? Who would go to those games? Fisher has already alienated the entire A’s fanbase. Also, this:

This would likely be a consideration only for the Triple-A park in Las Vegas. The MLBPA would likely not want players having to play outdoors for three months or more in 110+ degree heat. Lastly:

Prepare to be disappointed, Rob.

Also yesterday, Ken Rosenthal posted this article at The Athletic, all of which is worth your time. I found this to be the most important passage, quoting Oakland mayor Sheng Thao:

“We’re seeing that he has the same issues going to Las Vegas,” Thao told The Athletic on Thursday. “There was a thought that this plan he had in the beginning was viable. And now we’re seeing that actually, maybe the plan isn’t viable. The question becomes, are the plans not viable or is it that the ownership’s not viable?”

As concern over the A’s relocation to Las Vegas mounts, Thao said her city remains eager for the team to stay in Oakland – and that she is talking with prospective ownership groups willing to accept the city’s proposal for a new ballpark at Howard Terminal or possibly one at the same location as the team’s current home, the Oakland Coliseum.

Thao is correct. This is all a John Fisher issue — he’s definitely doing the same thing to the folks in Las Vegas that he did in Oakland, stall, deflect, not have plans ready to go.

And please note: Thao would love to have the A’s remain in Oakland, and there is, in fact, a plan ready to go there.

As always, we await developments.