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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Oakland A’s fans protest, but Nevada passes stadium bill

A thin crowd at the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Oakland Athletics, on May 13, 2022. On June 14, 2023, as fans of the Athletics gathered at Oakland Coliseum in a long-planned reverse boycott of the team’s ownership and its plans to move the A’s to Las Vegas, Nevada’s State Senate voted in favor of a bill to provide public funding for a Major League Baseball stadium on the Las Vegas Strip. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

By Benjamin Hoffman

A day after fans of the Athletics gathered at Oakland Coliseum in a long-planned reverse boycott of the team’s ownership and its plans to move the team from the city, the Nevada Legislature approved a bill that would provide public funding for a Major League Baseball stadium on the Las Vegas Strip.

The bill, which allows for up to $380 million in funding for a stadium, passed through the state’s Senate on Tuesday and its Assembly on Wednesday. After the Senate confirmed an amendment from the Assembly, the next step was for the bill to be sent to Gov. Joe Lombardo for his signature. With his approval expected, the A’s will have cleared the largest hurdle yet in their quest to leave the Coliseum, the run-down multipurpose stadium in Oakland, California, they have called home since 1968.

The A’s, who have been unhappy with their stadium situations in three different cities for much of the franchise’s 123-season history, hope to use the incentives provided in the bill to help them build a $1.5 billion stadium on the site of the Tropicana Las Vegas casino and hotel.

Once the financing is secured, the A’s will seek the approval of MLB’s other 29 owners to relocate — a process Commissioner Rob Manfred said could come together quickly when he was asked about it last month. In the past, Manfred has cited finding new stadiums for the A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays as priorities for the league, as it cannot consider expanding beyond 30 teams until those clubs are settled.

The A’s, with a roster gutted in recent seasons of any recognizable players, were expected to be terrible this year. They spent more than two months on a pace to shatter the 1962 Mets’ modern era record for losses in a season. Their play has improved, though: Tuesday night they won their seventh game in a row, and second in a row against the Rays, the best team in baseball, beating them, 2-1.

In a rare sight, the Coliseum, which had averaged a major-league-low 8,555 fans a game entering Tuesday, was packed with a season-best crowd of 27,759, many of whom wore green T-shirts that said “Sell” across the chest as part of the protest. The fans, who believe they have been unfairly blamed for the team’s attendance issues, came back for one night to prove that they are still there and would return to games if team owner John Fisher were to sell the team.

“I’ve been to only one game this year,” Scott Finney, a Sacramento resident, told The Associated Press. “I saw this game and I knew I had to come because I knew it was going to be very monumental and would send a message to the owner that this is what the fan base wants. They want the ownership to sell the team so they can remain in Oakland.”

But with Nevada approving public funds for a new stadium, the hopes of building a new park in Oakland, at Howard Terminal or elsewhere, have most likely vanished, even as the city of Oakland worked to keep the door open.

While Tuesday had been purposely picked for the protest at the Coliseum to illustrate that fans would come even on a mundane weeknight game against a visiting team not known for drawing fans, it ended up coinciding with the special session of the Nevada Legislature, which was called by Lombardo to settle the stadium bill after the regular session adjourned on June 5.

Questioning of the team was intense at times over the last two weeks as the state’s Senate and Assembly, both of which are controlled by Democrats, tried to nail down the details of a deal that was brokered with help from the state’s Republican governor. The plan calls for the A’s to provide $1.1 billion toward the development while agreeing to certain provisions of how the team will interact with the community and how revenue will be generated and distributed over the coming years.

The Senate attached two amendments to the bill ahead of its vote Tuesday, locking down the Tropicana as the location and including language from other bills Lombardo had previously vetoed concerning wage laws and family leave. The Assembly added one amendment Wednesday, increasing the contributions to the community that the team must make per year and changing some language in other parts of the bill.

“I assure every Nevadan, even those of you who have concerns about this bill — I assure you that if you see where the bill started and where it is now, that there’s not a single Nevadan that won’t say this bill was much better,” state Sen. Edgar Flores, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday when discussing the amendments added by the Senate.

While A’s representatives have not provided details about how their end of the funding would come together, they have pushed a consistent line that the project will provide jobs and tax revenue to the state, while allowing major events to be held at the venue beyond the 81 regular-season home games the A’s would play there each year.

Several issues related to the Nevada project still need to be addressed, including whether the stadium creates any issues for the Federal Aviation Administration because of its proximity to Harry Reid International Airport. And lawsuits could potentially delay the deal as well. But all indications from the team and the state are that the stadium, with a retractable roof and easy access to some of Las Vegas’ most famous casinos, could be ready for the 2027 season. The team’s lease at Oakland Coliseum runs through the 2024 season, which would leave two seasons in which the A’s might need a temporary home.

The team and the league commissioner have suggested that Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Class AAA Aviators — the Athletics’ top minor league affiliate — could be the solution. The venue, which can hold around 9,000 fans, would most likely need some improvements to host MLB games, similar to the process the Toronto Blue Jays went through when they renovated their Class AAA ballpark in Buffalo, New York, to use for major league games when travel to Canada was restricted by the pandemic.

Should the A’s leave Oakland, the city would have lost each of its major pro sports franchises over a handful of years, with the Raiders of the NFL having moved to Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors of the NBA having moved to San Francisco.

A’s fans, at least on Tuesday, were not going out quietly.

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