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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

With Las Vegas land deal, Athletics may finally leave Oakland

The view from the broadcast booth at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., Aug. 31, 2018. The often-empty home of the Athletics is the fifth-oldest active stadium in Major League Baseball. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

By David Waldstein and Benjamin Hoffman

For more than half a century, the Oakland Athletics were one of the signature professional sports clubs in the Bay Area, a consistent presence alongside Interstate 880, while other teams in the city like the Oakland Raiders, the Golden State Warriors and even the California Golden Seals came and went.

Last week, the A’s announced that they also plan to leave, abandoning Oakland just as those other teams did, for what they hope will be a more lucrative and successful future on the Las Vegas Strip.

The club announced it had reached an agreement to acquire land near the famous street of casinos and hopes to begin playing games in a new billion-dollar retractable roof stadium there by the 2027 season.

The deal on the 49-acre site in Nevada, which the team’s president, Dave Kaval, confirmed Wednesday night, will seemingly end years of tense negotiations for a new stadium in the Bay Area, an investment the team insisted it needed to remain financially viable and competitive with its peers in Major League Baseball.

“The reality is that despite six years of very hard and sincere work for a visionary stadium in Oakland, the progress necessary for it to succeed is just not occurring,” Kaval said in an interview Thursday. “We just are not able to see a path where we would be able to open a stadium in Oakland any sooner than seven or eight years from now. That is just too long, and it doesn’t work on anyone’s timeline.”

The A’s would become the first MLB team to relocate since the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, D.C., in 2005 to become the Nationals. Before that, a team hadn’t moved since the Washington Senators left for Arlington, Texas, and became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.

For baseball, it is a chance to follow the NFL, the NHL, the WNBA and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament into a Las Vegas market long coveted by sports leagues and team owners, even as it was once considered taboo because of its strong association with sports gambling, which is now legal in many states.

Attendance at Oakland Coliseum has plummeted in recent years to untenable levels, with the team consistently ranking toward the bottom of MLB. Since 2006, the A’s had either the lowest or second lowest average attendance six times. Last season, the run-down and cavernous Coliseum was the only venue in baseball to average fewer than 10,000 fans a game.

In the past decade, the A’s have explored moves to Fremont, California, and San Jose, California, before settling on a detailed plan for a waterfront stadium in Oakland. Two years ago, they announced, with MLB’s blessing, that they would simultaneously investigate the possibility of moving to Las Vegas, a two-pronged approach that appeared to many skeptics as predestined to leave Oakland behind.

The news that the team had a land deal in Las Vegas drew an angry response in Oakland. Mayor Sheng Thao of Oakland issued a statement saying the city would no longer negotiate with the A’s, whom she contended had “simply been using this process to try to extract a better deal out of Las Vegas.”

“I am not interested in continuing to play that game,” Thao said. “The fans and our residents deserve better.”

The decision is also sure to infuriate A’s fans, who have bemoaned the team’s unwillingness to spend the money required to field a competitive team that would rival its championship clubs of the early 1970s; the home-run-bashing A’s of the late ’80s; and the more budget-conscious teams that followed — clubs that introduced baseball to the cost-cutting, value-centered approach known as Moneyball.

Kaval said he saw the mayor’s statement and said the team was willing to maintain a dialogue with the city, even though the decision had been made to move.

“We are focusing our efforts on Las Vegas at this time,” he said. “We feel that there is a path there to get an approval on a timeline that MLB has dictated, and we are putting all our effort into that at the current moment.”

The Athletics still need to secure an agreement to finance the stadium through private and public funding, Kaval said, and to get formal approval from MLB, which has repeatedly signaled it supports the move.

“There are still material steps left to get to a point where we can formally move and relocate to Southern Nevada,” Kaval said, “but this is a big milestone and one that we understand from all parties is building momentum in Southern Nevada.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, in a statement provided to The New York Times, said, “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.”

If and when the team moves, Las Vegas would become the fourth city the Athletics franchise has called home. Originating in 1901 as the Philadelphia Athletics, the team moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1955 and to Oakland in 1968. The Athletics have often struggled on the field, but they have always been mobile.

In recent years, the situation grew more dire, as Oakland faded as a competitive force, selling off all of the team’s prominent players without developing suitable replacements, resulting in an MLB-low payroll of $58.2 million for 2023.

In an affront to the fans, the team increased ticket prices in the Coliseum. As a result, attendances fell further, sometimes to fewer than 3,000 fans a game.

Those who did show up were among the most loyal in baseball. To try to signal to the team that interest still existed, a group of A’s fans this week announced plans for what they said would be a reverse boycott: an effort to show the team their numbers and commitment by filling the Coliseum for a weeknight game in June. It now appears the initiative may have been in vain, and the group called the decision “a slap in the face.”

“We are absolutely disgusted and heartbroken to hear the news that the Oakland A’s will be building a new stadium in Las Vegas,” the group, Rooted in Oakland, said in a statement. “It is truly a heartbreaking day for Oakland A’s fans.”

Now the A’s will have to contend with a near future in which their relationship with fans in Oakland could be harmed even further. The team’s lease at the Coliseum runs out after the 2024 season, and possibilities include a short-term solution of playing games in San Francisco’s Oracle Park or moving early to Las Vegas Ballpark, currently occupied by the Las Vegas Aviators, a Class AAA affiliate of the A’s.

“That is an option,” Kaval said of the possibility of relocating to the Las Vegas minor league field, which holds fewer than 10,000 fans.

The A’s impending departure will signal the end of an era for major professional sports leagues in Oakland, a port city that has in recent years become an extension of California’s Silicon Valley.

The NFL’s Oakland Raiders, who were founded in 1960, moved to Los Angeles in 1982 for 13 years and then back to Oakland before settling in Las Vegas in 2020 inside a glittering new stadium. After 47 seasons in Oakland, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors slipped across the bay to San Francisco in 2019, and the NHL’s Golden Seals abandoned Oakland for Cleveland in 1976.

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