MLB owners approve Athletics’ planned move to Las Vegas, sources say

Jeff PassanESPN16 November 2023 at 9:45 a.m. ET4 minute reading

ARLINGTON, Texas – Major League Baseball owners voted Thursday to allow the Oakland Athletics to move to Las Vegas, paving the way for the second relocation of a baseball team in the past half century, sources told ESPN.

The potential move, which comes after more than two decades of failed efforts to secure a new stadium in the city to replace the aging Oakland Coliseum, needed the support of three-quarters of the teams at the quarterly owners’ meetings. It received unanimous support despite unanswered questions about the team’s immediate future and stadium plans.

Legal challenges by a Nevada teachers union over the $380 million the state has committed to building a $1.5 billion stadium on the Las Vegas Strip could still prevent the move, but winning approval from owners marks a significant step in direction of Oakland losing its last major men’s professional sports team.

Before the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, DC in 2005, the last MLB team to relocate was the Washington Senators, who became the Texas Rangers in 1972. The A’s moved to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968 and have won four World Series in their 55 years in the city.

After announcing in 2021 plans to pursue a “parallel path” in which it would weigh stadium deals in Oakland and Las Vegas, the team chose Vegas in April 2023, with commissioner Rob Manfred saying MLB would waive its relocation fee, estimated to be around $300 million.

The backlash from A’s fans was immediate and consistent. Chants of “sell the team” directed at owner John Fisher — a Gap heir who bought the franchise in 2005 — served as background noise at most home games for the A’s, who went an MLB-worst 50-112 in 2023 and carried. lowest salary in the league. More than 27,000 fans turned out in June for a so-called “reverse boycott” imploring Fisher to sell. In a letter sent to half of MLB owners last week, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said the city had procured $928 million in financing for a stadium and surrounding development and wanted to keep the team.

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The Athletics’ lease with the Oakland Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and the team has not yet finalized plans for where it will play until the Las Vegas stadium is ready to open in 2028.

The lack of a home for three years is far from the only reservation for Atletikken’s move. Not only would they be leaving for a smaller media market, but the team would also remain a revenue share recipient, a point of contention in recent years. The new stadium, located on the site of the old Tropicana Hotel, is slated to be built on a 9-acre parcel, which would be one of the smallest in MLB. While the A’s released renderings of a Las Vegas stadium, it did not include a dome or a retractable roof, either of which are needed to combat the city’s summer heat. With Las Vegas long believed to be a contender for MLB’s inevitable expansion from 30 to 32 teams, leaving a market the size of Oakland’s, one owner said this week, “it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Nevertheless, the vote received unbridled support after the league’s relocation committee championed it.

Uncertainty about the future of athletics had hung over the league since 2001, when the team first sought to build a new stadium. An attempt in 2005 to move to nearby Fremont fell apart, and efforts to pursue a stadium in San Jose were blocked by the San Francisco Giants, whose territorial rights extend to the southern Bay Area.

Potential stadium plans in Oakland stalled, with the team and the league blaming politicians and vice versa. The most promising deal was a massive reimagining of Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, a 55-acre parcel that would have developed 6 million square feet of commercial buildings, residential units and a 35,000-seat stadium. However, the $12 billion price tag proved too much, and Las Vegas — which had already taken the NFL’s Raiders from Oakland in 2020 — stepped in to do the same with the A’s.

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Securing public funding was not easy. The A’s originally sought $500 million in public money. On June 14, the Nevada Senate passed a $380 million bill after the A’s agreed to allow the use of a suite at the stadium for community groups, pledged a $1.5 million annual donation to the community and offered resources to help alleviate homelessness in Las Vegas. Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo signed the bill into law two days later.

A political action committee, Schools Over Stadiums, is pursuing a referendum in which the public would vote on stadium funding in November 2024. A judge recently rejected the referendum, saying the language in the petition filed by Schools Over Stadiums was “legally flawed.” The PAC plans to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, and if that effort fails, it may refile the petition. If successful, Schools Over Stadiums will need to collect 102,568 signatures — 25,647 from each of Nevada’s four congressional districts — by July to ensure the referendum is on the ballot.

Meanwhile, the A’s still have yet to finalize plans for the construction of a 33,000-seat stadium in Las Vegas, which would be the smallest in MLB by nearly 2,000 seats and relies heavily on tourism to fill the ballpark. The lack of plans did not deter owners and the objections of fan groups who lobbied them to reject the move did.

On Tuesday night, two days before the vote, three A’s fans wearing T-shirts that read “SELL” sat near Fisher in the restaurant at the Live! At the Loews hotel, where the owner meetings were held. As Fisher got up to leave a few minutes later, a fan said, loud enough for Fisher to hear, “Keep the A’s in Oakland. Do the right thing.”

As he walked away, Fisher muttered under his breath, “I’m doing the right thing.”