MLB owners approve Oakland Athletics' planned move to Las Vegas, ESPN sources say

ByJeff Passan ESPN logo
Thursday, November 16, 2023
MLB owners unanimously approve A's relocation to Las Vegas
Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher is getting the green light to relocate his franchise to Las Vegas after MLB owners unanimously voted 30-0 Thursday morning.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Major League Baseball owners voted Thursday to allow the Oakland Athletics to move to Las Vegas, paving the way for baseball's second relocation 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 backing from three-quarters of teams at the quarterly owners meetings but received unanimous support despite unanswered questions about the team's near-term future and stadium plans.

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

Prior to the Montreal Expos moving to Washington, D.C., 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 the league's lowest payroll. More than 27,000 fans showed up in June for a so-called "reverse boycott," during which they implored Fisher to sell. In a letter sent to half the MLB owners last week, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said the city had procured $928 million in funding for a stadium and surrounding development and wanted to keep the team.

The A's lease with the Oakland Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and the team has yet to solidify plans where it will play before the Las Vegas stadium is ready to open in 2028.

The lack of a home for three years is far from the only reservation about the A's move. Not only would they be leaving for a smaller media market, but the team would also remain a revenue-sharing recipient, a point of contention in recent years. The new stadium, located at the site of the old Tropicana hotel, is slated to be built on a nine-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 retractable roof, one of which is necessary to combat the city's summer heat. With Las Vegas long believed a candidate for MLB's inevitable expansion from 30 to 32 teams, leaving behind a market the size of Oakland's, one owner said this week, "doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

Nonetheless, the vote received unfettered support after the league's relocation committee championed it.

Uncertainty regarding the A's future 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 part of the Bay Area.

Potential stadium plans in Oakland stalled, with the team and league blaming politicians and vice versa. The most promising deal was for a massive reimagining of Howard Terminal in 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. The $12 billion price tag, however, proved too large, and Las Vegas -- which already had taken the NFL's Raiders from Oakland in 2020 -- swooped in to do the same with the A's.

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

A political action committee, Schools Over Stadiums, is pursuing a referendum for the public to vote on the stadium funding in November 2024. A judge recently rejected the referendum, saying the language in the petition submitted by Schools Over Stadiums was "legally deficient." The PAC plans to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, and if that effort fails, it could refile a petition. If successful, Schools Over Stadiums would 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.

In the meantime, the A's still need to finalize plans on the construction of a 33,000-seat stadium in Las Vegas, which would be the smallest in MLB by nearly 2,000 seats and rely heavily on tourism to fill the ballpark. The lack of plans did not dissuade owners, nor did the objections of fan groups that lobbied them to reject the move.

On Tuesday night, two days before the vote, three A's fans wearing T-shirts that said "SELL" sat near Fisher at the restaurant at the Live! By Loews hotel where the owners meetings were held. As Fisher stood up to leave a few minutes later, one fan said, loud enough for Fisher to hear: "Keep the A's in Oakland. Do the right thing."

Walking away, Fisher muttered under his breath: "I am doing the right thing."