The whole thing stinks. Smells Fishy, even.
As a baseball romantic, the A’s moving to Las Vegas seems like a bad idea. As a financial analyst, the A’s moving to Las Vegas also seems like a bad idea. I’m no economist like my podcast co-host Hal Gordon – but let’s take a look at some numbers I cooked up, via CensusReporter.org.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s pretend like the A’s actually marketed their team, and their geographic footprint is the entire East Bay – call it Alameda County (1.65 million people) and Contra Costa County (1.16 million people).
East Bay – 2.81 million
Vegas Metro – 2.29 million
Per Capita Income
East Bay – $52,218
Vegas Metro – $33,387
Oakland – $375 million (reported)
Vegas – $325 million (reported)
Oakland – 35,000 seats
Vegas – 30,000 seats
So, you’re telling me the A’s spent the past three years (and supposedly nine figures) working earnestly on the Howard Terminal ballpark plan … jumping through all those hoops, negotiations, marathon public meetings and red tape … and now they want to throw together a Vegas deal in a matter of days? For a smaller market? With less money? Less public funding? And less seats? With no ballpark district attached?
The A’s would also be cannibalizing their own market. Their Triple-A outfit, the Las Vegas Aviators, play just 20 minutes away in Summerlin, in a sleek four-year-old stadium with 10,000 seats.
Make it make sense.
As this rabbit chase for a new stadium in Las Vegas twists and turns by the day, you have to stop and think – what is the end game for A’s owner John Fisher in all of this? What carrot is dangling in front of him?
Even though the A’s sent out a press release Wednesday declaring a public financing agreement with Nevada lawmakers, the details are severely lacking. In fact, the proposed site at the nine-acre Tropicana Lot – which they picked on May 15 after backing out of the 49-acre Wild Wild West site – isn’t even a sure thing.
According to Jaclyn Schultz of FOX5 in Las Vegas, Nevada Sen. Scott Hammond said the tentative deal is “site agnostic” (lol, that’s a new one). Casey Pratt ABC7 also reported the A’s surveyed another site after the Tropicana lot was announced.
NO SITE IN STADIUM 🏟️ BILL?⚾️
State Sen Hammond says the bill proposed is not tied/specific to any site— though a deal is progressing towards the Tropicana site.
Note the interesting development below 👇@FOX5Vegas https://t.co/umESUlfvZs
— Jaclyn Schultz (@JaclynFOX5Vegas) May 25, 2023
As TENTATIVE ⚾️BALLPARK DEAL:
The joint statement has no numbers.
Fox5 is told by officials:
$180 million in state bonds
$120 million @ClarkCountyNV bonds
$25 million in funding
Lawmakers want some “guarantees” from the @Athletics .@FOX5Vegas pic.twitter.com/wn5MuLCV8O
— Jaclyn Schultz (@JaclynFOX5Vegas) May 24, 2023
In other words, they don’t have much of anything concrete – no location, no renderings, no finalized financing, no infrastructure plan. Just a bunch of ideas and a loose outline of the public funds available.
The state legislature ends its 2023 session on June 5, which is fast approaching. The A’s need to move the deal at warp speed, even by Nevada’s green-light standards, or call for a special assembly to get it done. For a decision so monumental to the franchise and its long-term future, it sure seems like a desperate dash to just get out the door.
A’s brass and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred think they have a built-in excuse for an Oakland exit, as they love to point their finger to the dire attendance at the crumbling Coliseum. But it’s the result of self destruction, by way of negligence.
I can’t help but think back to an embarrassing display the A’s put on a few years ago, which crystallized how far they’d fallen behind the Giants in terms of marketing their team. As the two local rivals geared up for the Bay Bridge series in 2018, the A’s carpooled their employees and a big trailer truck to the Giants team store in Walnut Creek, an upper-middle class East Bay suburb that should be ground zero for the A’s market.
They set up camp outside of the entrance, before berating and booing innocent customers who walked into the store to buy orange and black gear.
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) July 13, 2018
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) July 13, 2018
Bad look for the A’s. Absolutely bush league.
The A’s thinking: Let’s not make any commercials with Matt Olson or Matt Chapman. Let’s not build our own brick-and-mortar store in our own market. No, let’s go to the Giants team store in Walnut Creek and boo their customers.
The whole episode was indicative of the B-level effort the A’s have put into promoting their product over the years. Couple that with the 2022 fire sale, doubling-season ticket prices and two years of openly flirting with Vegas? You’ll eventually get the smallest crowd at the Coliseum since 1979, which the A’s did a couple weeks ago with 2,064 die-hards.
Fisher could have rolled out of bed today, called up his boy Manfred, sold the A’s and made $1 billion. He could rid himself of all the headaches and all the public scorn. By now, it’s apparent he’s immune to such thoughts.
There are only 30 MLB franchises. The monopolistic nature of the product inherently drives up values without having to lift a finger.
You don’t even have to try to win, make good faith efforts with your fans, or take any accountability – and the price of the franchise will still go up. All you need are parents who created a global clothing brand. Just ask Fisher, who has nosedived the A’s since taking over as majority owner in 2005, when he led a $180 million purchase, and now controls an asset worth $1.18 billion.
Fisher probably sees the $1 billion profit and wants more. And fast. Especially when the main source of income – his parents’ GAP brand – is going belly-up on the stock exchange.
My guess is that Fisher is just trying to find the quickest, dirtiest way to build a stadium to pump up the value of the franchise for a future sale. Oakland, Vegas, the moon, wherever. Forget the feelings of his customer base, Fisher is just trying to get another buck.
It’s not like the A’s were that far apart in the Bay Area, though.
When the A’s stopped talking with Oakland on April 20, there was just an $88 million funding gap for off-site infrastructure, per Pratt’s reporting. After initially “ceasing negotiations,” Oakland mayor Sheng Thao has left the door open for talks in case the A’s have to backtrack.
Another option we have to consider is that the Howard Terminal ballpark district was/is just a fantastical lie Fisher couldn’t afford to finance.
The A’s claimed the $1 billion ballpark in Oakland would be completely privately financed, while saying they’d come up with $5.8 billion in private investment, or 95 percent of the $6.1 billion ballpark district. Now they can’t scrape enough investment together to get a $1.5 billion ballpark … hmm.
It’s also worth noting the A’s have repeatedly touted the Howard Terminal project as a $12 billion dollar endeavor – is everything a lie? Here’s a slide the City of Oakland provided during a public hearing in October 2021.
Either the A’s have a lot more financial support in the Bay Area for their vision, or they’re lying about the size of the investment they’d make at Howard Terminal.
At this point, there’s been so much fibbing from the A’s, I don’t know what to believe.
My instinct? Fisher felt the heat from the national attention that A’s fans were getting for their “We Are Here!” reverse boycott game planned for June 13. As the pressure piled up from outlets like The New York Times, The Athletic, CBS Sports Radio and Jomboy in late April, Fisher got emotional and decided, ‘Eff Oakland, we’re going all in on Vegas.’
If this Vegas deal blows up, Fisher and Dave Kaval would look like absolute clowns. Even if it goes through, Vegas might not be the better deal for Fisher or baseball, given the framework of both projects.
Then again, Fisher has burned too many bridges with his fanbase, and could be scared off by the dip in attendance at Oracle Park in San Francisco. If he builds it at Howard Terminal, fans might not come.
You have to wonder how much longer of a leash Manfred will give Fisher, because he doesn’t seem fit to figure out this massive problem. If Fisher’s objective is to make more money with a new stadium, he looks completely out of his league. He has for decades.
The A’s could revitalize Jack London Square, downtown and West Oakland with the stadium, an 18-acre park, a 3,000-seat performing arts center, hotels, commercial space and residential buildings. Or they could be just another act on The Strip.
Slapping together an 11th hour deal like this – when you’ve done so much leg work in Oakland, and created a bigger, more lucrative vision here – simply seems sloppy and irrational.
I don’t know John Fisher’s end game here. I don’t know if he does either.