The Oakland Athletics have signed a binding agreement to purchase land for a new retractable roof ballpark in Las Vegas after being unable to build a new venue in the Bay Area.
It’s a development that could also be a milestone in Salt Lake City’s bid to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to Utah one day.
On April 12, a coalition led by the Miller family and The Larry H. Miller Co. and backed by Utah politicians and investors launched an official campaign to try to bring a big league ball team to Utah’s capital.
The Athletics’ pending move to Vegas helps SLC’s chances of landing an MLB franchise in two ways.
First of all, while MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has publicly expressed support for his league expanding from 30 to 32 teams, he also has stated that expansion will not become a realistic consideration until the long-term futures of the Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays are settled.
Second, having Vegas drop off the potential expansion list because it’s instead taking on an existing, relocating franchise can only bolster SLC’s chances.
One bookmaker’s odds of various North American cities — updated earlier this week — listed Nashville and Charlotte as the two favorites to land an expansion team, followed by Salt Lake City, Portland, and Las Vegas.
The A’s had been looking for a new home for years to replace the outdated and run-down Oakland Coliseum, where the team has played since arriving from Kansas City for the 1968 season. They had sought to build a stadium in Fremont and San Jose before shifting their attention to the Oakland waterfront.
Average attendance through 12 home games in Oakland this season is 11,027 for the lowest mark in the majors and less than half of the league average of about 27,800. The A’s haven’t drawn 2 million fans at home since 2014 — their only year reaching the mark since 2005.
The A’s attendance issues at the Coliseum in recent years aren’t entirely owing to the stadium’s dilapidated infrastructure, though, as owner John Fisher has slashed payroll and many of the team’s most recognizable stars have been traded away. Oakland had the lowest opening day payroll in baseball at $58 million — less than the combined salaries of Mets pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who tied for the major league high of $43.3 million.
The A’s would be only the second MLB team to change cities in more than a half-century. Since the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers for 1972, the only team to relocate was the Montreal Expos, who became the Washington Nationals in 2005.
Las Vegas would be the fourth home for a franchise that started as the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901-54.
Team president Dave Kaval said Wednesday night the team finalized a deal last week to buy the 49-acre site where the A’s plan to build the stadium close to the Las Vegas Strip with a seating capacity of 30,000 to 35,000.
The A’s will work with Nevada and Clark County on a public-private partnership to fund the stadium. Kaval said the A’s hope to break ground by next year and would hope to be moved to their new home by 2027.
The Rays, like the A’s, have long had a stadium situation they consider untenable. They have played at the domed Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., since their inaugural season in 1998, but have considered moving elsewhere amid consistently low attendance.
In January, plans were unveiled for a new Rays ballpark to be built near the existing one as part of a massive redevelopment project that also includes affordable housing, plus office and space. Still, there are many issues there to be worked out.
When those two stadium situations are sorted, MLB can turn its attention to expansion.
The group known as “Big League Utah” is hardly alone in seeking a new MLB franchise. Retired Nike executive Craig Cheek has been pitching the Portland Diamond Project in Oregon for more than five years already, and former major league star Dave Stewart is leading a coalition of his own in Nashville.
The SLC contingent’s bid includes the 100-acre Rocky Mountain Power property along North Temple across from the Utah State Fairpark on the west side as the preferred location for a future stadium and mixed-use development — known as the Power District. When announcing the bid, Gail Miller noted that Salt Lake City could be helped by MLB’s geographical preferences for expansion.
“We know the league is considering expanding from 30 to 32 teams — a new one in the East and the new one in the West,” she said. “And it only makes sense that Utah is on deck to become that expansion team [in the West].”
If that is indeed the plan, those two aforementioned favorites — Nashville and Charlotte — would be vying against one another for the East team, leaving Salt Lake City and Portland to compete for the new team out West.