San Francisco Chronicle
Las Vegas likes odds on the A’s returning
LAS VEGAS — If the Oakland Athletics’ trip to Las Vegas in the heart of spring training showed anything, it’s that folks in the desert community absolutely believe the A’s are coming.
The “parallel paths” the A’s have promoted as they weigh one city against the other is a misnomer. For now, the path to Las Vegas seems far more direct than any path back to Oakland.
As a result, it’s more a matter of when, not if, Las Vegas joins Major League Baseball.
Local dignitaries get why A’s owner John Fisher (in town for the first of his team’s two games against the Reds) and President Dave Kaval continue to dance with Las Vegas movers and shakers, and why the A’s formed an 11-person lobbying group, including Kaval, to try convincing Nevada politicians that the state will benefit from the Las Vegas A’s.
“From an outsider’s perspective, it’s clear that the Oakland city mayor and City Council don’t want the A’s,” claimed Derek Stevens, a casino owner who operates the Circa, Golden Gate and The D properties. “With what’s happened with other teams that have left Oakland, I fully understand the A’s position. They need an alternative.”
It’s a common mindset in these parts, especially after Commissioner Rob Manfred’s comment last month that MLB’s focus is on finding a new A’s home in Las Vegas.
No site or funding plan for a ballpark has been finalized, but three property options on or near the Strip have gotten the most attention. While Gov. Joe Lombardo insisted he won’t push for new taxes to pay for a retractable-roof ballpark, he said he’s open to “a variety of existing economic development programs in the state” to advance the project.
“The governor has said no new taxes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t public revenues available,” Clark County Commission Chairman Jim Gibson told The Chronicle after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday at Las Vegas Ballpark. “We’ll look to the governor and legislature to see
what kind of appetite they have for whatever’s required.”
When the Raiders bolted Oakland for Las Vegas, owner Mark Davis was gifted $750 million in public funding for a new stadium, courtesy of a special session of the Legislature that approved a 0.88 percent Clark County hotel room tax to help fund construction. The NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights play in a privately financed arena, and their owner, Bill Foley, paid the $500 million expansion fee himself.
Fisher wants to follow in Davis’ footsteps and is seeking public money. He’s trying in both Oakland and Las Vegas, though Oakland has not secured the hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure costs that Fisher is seeking.
“Those out there saying the baseball business model might not work? It’ll work. We’re Vegas,” asserted Larry Brown, a Clark County commissioner for 12 years through 2021 and now director of business development for the Las Vegas Aviators, the A’s Triple-A affiliate and host of the weekend exhibitions.
Former A’s first baseman Jason Giambi called it “the wild, wild west. There’s a lot of things that get done here.”
Giambi, a Las Vegas resident since 1998, brought his travel ball team to Saturday’s game and hung out on the field with his players during A’s batting practice. While Giambi reminisced about his time at the Coliseum — “My wife’s from the Bay Area. I love Oakland. Greatest fans in world” — he’s skeptical that a stadium deal can get done in Oakland.
“I feel terrible for (Oakland fans), but to be relevant any more in baseball, you have to be competitive,” said Giambi, adding he’s confident MLB would thrive in Las Vegas. “The people are hungry for it here.”
Beyond the NFL and NHL, Las Vegas has the WNBA Aces and wants an NBA team. It’s a hub for college basketball tournaments and will host the NCAA West Regional. The NFL draft was here last year. A NASCAR event took place over the weekend. UFC fights and boxing matches are constant.
Unlike those other sports, baseball requires 81 home dates, but there’s momentum for the A’s to leave the nation’s sixthlargest media market for the 40th.
“There’s absolutely no question Major League Baseball can work in Las Vegas,” asserted Stevens, the casino magnate who owned the local Triple-A team, then the Las Vegas 51s, from 2008 to 2013. Stevens noted summer is a slower season with lower-priced hotel rooms, and speculated that could help draw baseball fans to the desert.
The Aviators play in Summerlin, nearly a halfhour drive from the Strip. According to Brown, about 95 percent of their attendance is based in Southern Nevada. A significant chunk of fans attending a Las Vegas MLB game along the Strip would come from out of the area.
“People love to go on vacations to see their team on the road,” Stevens said. “Cardinals fans travel like crazy. Dodgers fans and Giants fans travel like crazy. All teams. I always felt if Las Vegas had a team, weekends on calendars would be circled by a lot of fans of visiting teams.”
Standing in opposition to public funding, Ryan Lanier, a state government affairs associate for Citizens Against Government Waste, said a taxpayer-funded stadium in Las Vegas is “just a way for a billionaire sports team owner to be subsidized by the public. It was proven by the Golden Knights that a stadium can be funded in Vegas privately.”
Among the final sites considered, both Stevens and Brown favor the Las Vegas Festival Grounds property on the Strip near Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue, across from the Sahara Hotel.
“It’s technically in the county, but Sahara is (on) the boundaries between the county and the city,” Brown said, “so the impact of that stadium is going to be beneficial to both the county and the city. The proximity is important.”
Stevens added, “You’ve got to be near where the concentration of people are. Certain suburbs won’t work.”
Other possible sites are where the Tropicana now sits, at the other end of the Strip from the Sahara site, and just west of the Strip where the Rio is located.
The buzz isn’t quite the same in Oakland, where the A’s proposed a waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal. Aside from infrastructure funding, which Manfred calls the “threshold issue,” the extent of affordable housing included in the project remains unresolved. Newly elected Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao expressed support for the A’s remaining in town so long as residents aren’t on the hook for future financing and vowed to continue negotiating with the team.
Manfred wants a resolution this year. The A’s face an MLB deadline of Jan. 15, 2024, to have a “binding deal” for a new ballpark or they lose revenue-sharing funds. If a deal is struck, the A’s would continue to cash revenue-sharing checks until they open a new facility.
Another factor? The A’s Coliseum lease expires after the 2024 season.
The A’s ranked last in MLB attendance last season, averaging 9,849 tickets sold per home date. A relocation would leave all of Northern California to the San Francisco Giants.
At the A’s weekend games, there were more fans wearing A’s gear than Reds, perhaps anticipating that green and gold will become home colors in Nevada.
“I don’t feel there’s a future in Oakland anymore,” said Jojo Gonzales, 51, a former Antioch resident now living in Las Vegas. “If there’s going to be a team that comes here, bring the A’s already. It needs to be done. I’ve been following this stuff. Their future home was going to be Fremont. And San Jose. It’s tiresome.”
Tyler Polk, 33, another East Bay transplant, was even more direct.
“I was praying they would announce the Las Vegas A’s today. This team really means a lot to me.”