MLB owner vote clears path for Oakland Athletics’ relocation to Las Vegas
Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously on Thursday to permit the relocation of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas, marking only the second instance of a baseball team moving in the past 50 years.
The approval, obtained at the quarterly owners’ meetings, signifies a major development after more than two decades of unsuccessful attempts to secure a new stadium in Oakland. The ageing Oakland Coliseum has been a longstanding issue, prompting the need for a change. Despite lingering uncertainties about the team’s immediate future and stadium plans, the move garnered unanimous support from the 30 team owners.
Expressing mixed emotions, Athletics owner John Fisher acknowledged, “Today is an incredibly difficult day for Oakland A’s fans. It’s a great day for Las Vegas.”
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred echoed these sentiments, recognising the heartache for Oakland fans but emphasising the unsustainable circumstances in the city.
“I know this is a terrible day for fans in Oakland. I understand that,” Manfred said.
“And that’s why we’ve always had a policy of doing everything humanly possible to avoid a relocation. And I truly believe we did that in this case.
“I think it’s beyond debate, that the status quo in Oakland was untenable. Those of you who have been in the building understand what I’m talking about. And I absolutely am convinced that there was not a viable path forward in Oakland.”
Fisher later released a statement via social media:
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) November 16, 2023
Although the move is not yet finalised, potential legal challenges from a Nevada teachers union regarding the state’s $380 million commitment to a $1.5 billion stadium on the Las Vegas Strip could pose a hurdle. Obtaining approval from team owners marks a crucial step toward Oakland losing its last major men’s professional sports team.
The city’s NFL franchise, Oakland Raiders, relocated to Las Vegas in 2020.
Before confirming the move to Las Vegas, the Athletics considered stadium deals in both Oakland and Las Vegas, eventually choosing the latter in April 2023. MLB Commissioner Manfred announced that the league would waive the estimated $300 million relocation fee.
The decision has faced immediate backlash from A’s fans, with chants of “sell the team” directed at Fisher during home games. Despite the team’s poor performance in 2023, Fisher, who acquired the franchise in 2005, defended his ownership, citing on-field success and attributing low payrolls to the stadium’s poor conditions.
The Athletics’ lease with the Oakland Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, leaving uncertainty about their playing location until the Las Vegas stadium is ready in 2028.
“We are disappointed by the outcome of this vote,” Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said in a statement.
“But we do not see this as the end of the road. We all know there is a long way to go before shovels in the ground and that there are a number of unresolved issues surrounding this move.
“I have also made it clear to the commissioner that the A’s branding and name should stay in Oakland and we will continue to work to pursue expansion opportunities. Baseball has a home in Oakland even if the A’s ownership relocates.”
We are disappointed by the outcome of this vote. I have made it clear the A’s branding & name should stay in Oakland. Baseball has a home in the Town even if the A’s ownership relocates. https://t.co/aso3RAJlk3 pic.twitter.com/dkM1tWMc1Y
— Mayor Sheng Thao 盛桃 (@MayorShengThao) November 16, 2023
Concerns about the move include leaving for a smaller media market, remaining a revenue-sharing recipient, and the stadium’s smaller size in Las Vegas. The lack of a dome or retractable roof in the proposed Las Vegas stadium raises questions about coping with the city’s summer heat.
Despite these reservations, the vote received unanimous support after the league’s relocation committee championed it. Legal and logistical challenges continue to surround the Athletics’ move, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the team’s future.
The Athletics’ prolonged search for a new stadium dates back to 2001, with various attempts falling through, including a failed move to Fremont in 2005 and blocked efforts in San Jose. The most recent promising deal for a stadium at Howard Terminal in the Port of Oakland proved financially unviable, leading to Las Vegas stepping in to secure the A’s.
The team’s initial request for $500 million in public funding faced scrutiny, but a $380 million bill was passed in Nevada after the A’s made commitments to community engagement and support for local issues. The lack of a relocation fee was deemed crucial to the deal, with Manfred emphasising the importance of making an investment in the market and fostering public support.
As the process moves forward, a political action committee, Schools Over Stadiums, seeks a public vote on stadium funding in November 2024, adding another layer of uncertainty to the Athletics’ relocation. The team must also finalise plans for the construction of a 33,000-seat stadium in Las Vegas, addressing concerns about its size and dependence on tourism to fill the ballpark. Despite these challenges, the unanimous approval by team owners marks a pivotal moment in the Athletics’ potential move to Las Vegas.
Two days prior to the vote on Tuesday night, three Athletics fans, donning ‘SELL’ t-shirts, occupied seats near Fisher at a restaurant by Loews Hotel, the venue for the owners’ meetings. One of the fans reportedly said to Fisher as he was leaving the restaurant, “Keep the A’s in Oakland. Do the right thing.”
Fisher muttered, “I am doing the right thing,” as he walked away.
Image credit: Keith Allison