It remains an open question whether the Oakland A’s stay in the Bay Area or eventually move to Las Vegas, but it is a pot that keeps being stirred. Or to use a Vegas metaphor, the possible move is a pair of dice being rattled and ready to be tossed.
The most recent news is that billionaire casino owner Phil Ruffin, well known as a friend to and business associate of Donald Trump, is engaging A’s management this week to discuss the possibility of shifting the team to Vegas.
Published reports observe that Ruffin’s holdings in Las Vegas include casinos TI (Treasure Island) and Circus Circus, and – perhaps more to the point as it applies to the A’s – the Las Vegas Festival Grounds near Circus Circus.
The festival grounds account for 37 acres on the northern stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard on the west side of the street just south of Sahara Avenue.
For some time, the A’s have had officials in Las Vegas scouting potential sites for a ballpark. One area that has been mentioned is at the other end of the Strip to the south on land that is currently associated with the Tropicana Casino.
While the team has been flirting with Las Vegas, there have been concurrent efforts to keep the A’s in Oakland at a site that is referred to as the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal. The Oakland project has been reported to be a potentially ambitious effort with a mixed-use development.
Central to any deal will be who pays for what, regardless of which city lands the baseball team.
Oakland’s AAA affiliate already plays in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin as the Aviators. And for a time earlier this season, the Aviators were drawing crowds at their new 10,000-seat ballpark near a shopping district that rivaled the attendance of the parent club in Oakland. With an American League-worst 39-65 record and after years of talk about the team moving, the Athletics are by far last in MLB in attendance, averaging 8,306 fans per home game at Oakland's RingCentral Coliseum.
An irony in the fast-moving evolution of Las Vegas as a major sports hotbed is that, heading into the 21st century, it was pure fantasy that any big-time franchise would move to Las Vegas. Now, Las Vegas has an NHL franchise, the Golden Knights, and an NFL team, the Raiders (who also left Oakland). Also, Vegas will host the Super Bowl (LVIII in February 2024) after already being the site of the NFL Draft this year.
A further interesting twist is that when the notion of any big-time franchise moving to Vegas was being discussed in hypothetical terms, it was thought that the NBA would be the first mover. That notion was furthered when Vegas landed the 2007 NBA All Star Game at the Thomas & Mack Arena.
However, what should have been a giant step in getting the NBA to Vegas turned out to be anything but as the local newspaper described “chaos” on the Strip following the game. Fighting and disorderly behavior was so rampant that the published estimate on arrests was 400. A bouncer was shot and paralyzed.
Still, the NBA Summer League has thrived in Las Vegas since 2004 and gets full attention in the local sports pages as all 30 NBA teams participate in the 10-day tournament-style event in July. And, after all, the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces have been in town for several years and have become a winning franchise.
Plus, as more states offer gambling websites for sports betting as well as other online wagering opportunities, the old stigma among sports leagues about Vegas and its relationship to gambling is quickly fading.
Fair or not, in America, the sign that a city has arrived is measured by its sports profile. Having a hometown big-time team, regardless of sport, seems to stamp a community as big-time also.
In Las Vegas, two big-timers are already in town, the NFL and the NHL. Snagging an MLB team – along with full confidence that a Major League Soccer team is in the offing – means that the NBA has slipped on the Vegas sports landscape from “most likely” to outlier. But that won’t stay the case for too long.