The Oakland Athletics have spent years trying to get a new stadium while watching Bay Area neighbors like the Giants, Warriors, 49ers and Raiders successfully move into state-of-the-art venues, and now they’re running out of time.
The A’s lease at RingCentral Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and while they may be forced to extend terms, the club and Major League Baseball have deemed the stadium unsuitable for a professional franchise.
They are looking for a new stadium in Oakland or Las Vegas, but have had difficulties in both areas. The A’s missed a key deadline in October to finalize a deal in Oakland, and there’s little sign they’ll get the kind of funding they want from Las Vegas.
“I think the A’s need to look at it in different ways,” said Brendan Bussmann, managing partner at B Global, based in Las Vegas. “Obviously in Oakland they struggled to get a deal across the line. It’s not due to a lack of effort. … You have an owner who is willing to raise money, you have a club that wants to sit there and find a way to make it work, and you keep encountering obstacles along the way.
“It’s time to fish or cut bait. Oakland, do you want her or not? And if not, where can the A’s get the best deal? is it vegas is it somewhere else They have to find out.”
What the A’s think is a bit of a mystery. Team President Dave Kaval was chatty early in the process, saying the A’s are pursuing two different paths with Oakland and Las Vegas. But he was silent on the subject a few months ago. A’s spokeswoman Catherine Aker recently said the club would be reluctant to comment for the time being.
The A’s have negotiated with Oakland to build a $1 billion stadium as part of a $12 billion redevelopment deal.
Newly-elected mayor Sheng Thao said it was important to reach an agreement as long as it made economic sense for the city. Her predecessor, Libby Schaaf, led earlier efforts to reach an agreement, but after the City and the A’s missed that October deadline, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed reservations that a deal would ever go through.
“The pace in Oakland wasn’t high, number one,” Manfred said at the time. “We’re in a stadium situation that’s really unsustainable. I mean we have to do something to change the situation. That’s why I’m worried about the lack of pace.”
Recent California history justifies his concerns. SoFi Stadium in Southern California and Chase Center in San Francisco were built with private money, and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara was 90% privately funded.
“And then I think there was some contagion when people across the country realized that these deals could be done well privately and could generate a return for these investors,” said David Carter, a professor of sports business at the University of Southern California. “Why are we even throwing public money at it?”
It’s also a question asked in Las Vegas, despite the Raiders receiving $750 million for a stadium from the Nevada legislature in 2016. That was the largest amount of public funding for any sports facility at the time, but was surpassed last March by the $850 million pledged to build a new stadium for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Another deal like the one for Allegiant Stadium, where the Raiders play, seems unlikely in Nevada. The T-Mobile Arena, which opened in 2017, was privately financed. Even a planned arena south of the Las Vegas Strip would not be dependent on public funds.
However, Las Vegas has shown funding creativity. Its Triple-A ballpark received $80 million in naming rights from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in 2017. Room taxes fund the agency, so it was public money in a backdoor way.
Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who is on the board of congressional agencies, spoke to A’s representatives about their interest in Las Vegas and said he was aware of the club’s discussions with other Nevada officials. He said the A’s are taking a very different approach from the Raiders, who identified Las Vegas as their preferred landing spot early on after many years without getting a new stadium in Oakland.
“When the Raiders decided to come to Las Vegas, they had a clear plan,” Naft said. “They had a clear panel tasked with assessing value and value and they were committed to the goal. I haven’t seen that from the Oakland A’s at any level and it’s not really our place to go out and ask them to come here because we’ve earned the reputation of being the biggest arena in the world. We have invested both the dollars and the work to make this happen.
“I think I made myself clear, but from talking to others I don’t think I’m alone in this.”
New Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo “will not collect taxes” to attract the A’s or any other team, his spokeswoman Elizabeth Ray said in a statement. But she said the club could qualify for other ongoing “economic development programs,” which could mean tax breaks similar to those Tesla received in 2014.
Manfred said in December the A’s relocation fee would be waived if they move to Las Vegas, reportedly saving the club up to $1 billion.
“We have exceeded any reasonable timeframe to resolve the situation in Oakland,” Manfred said.
Naft said Allegiant Stadium filled a hole beyond landing an NFL team. It allowed Las Vegas to attract big sporting events like the Super Bowl and Final Four, and big concerts like Garth Brooks and Elton John that “in many cases wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
He said he didn’t think a ballpark would do that, and sports economist Victor Matheson agreed.
“I think it really begs the question of how many people are willing to watch baseball in Las Vegas,” said Matheson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It’s not that locals don’t have a large number of entertainment options right now, nor is it exactly clear how much people are traveling to see baseball in Vegas.”
If the A’s really want to be in Las Vegas, Naft said they need to get that straight.
“I just don’t think you can play destinations off against each other,” Naft said. “If you want to come here and be welcomed with open arms, you have to get involved.”
Should the A’s fail to reach an agreement in Oakland or Las Vegas, they could consider other destinations such as Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville; and Portland, Oregon. Whether they would have the time to consider such options is another question.
Oakland has already shown it will watch the Raiders move to Nevada and the Warriors go to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge.
Las Vegas, Matheson noted, is hardly in a desperate situation. He also warned that Las Vegas could go from being one of the largest metro areas without a major professional sports team to one of the smallest with three franchises.
“So they went from kind of undersport to oversport in a short period of time if the A’s were going to go there,” Matheson said.
– Mark Anderson, Associated Press sportswriter