The Oakland A’s are looking to leave Oakland for Vegas, after failing to extort more money from the city
By Ken Reed
It appears John Fisher, owner of the Oakland A’s, is going to move his MLB franchise to Las Vegas. The A’s have struck a deal to buy land near the famous Strip in Las Vegas for a new stadium. The plan is for the stadium to seat between 30,000 and 35,000 fans.
Fisher is looking to leave Oakland because, after several years of trying, he ultimately couldn’t extort the amount of public money from the city of Oakland and the state of California he desired. The move to Vegas has several hurdles left to clear, and Fisher’s offer for land near the Strip may yet be nothing more than a leverage play on Oakland politicians. But Oakland mayor Sheng Thao says she is no longer interested in playing that game.
“In the last three months, we’ve made significant strides to close the deal,” Thao said. “Yet, it is clear to me that the A’s have no intention of staying in Oakland and have simply been using this process to try to extract a better deal out of Las Vegas. I am not interested in continuing to play that game – the fans and our residents deserve better.”
Pro sports owners have long told their host cities, “Build us a new stadium (arena) or we will move the team to another city.”
Consider what’s happened in the last couple of decades:
• Hamilton County increased its sales tax by .5 per cent to build the Great American Ballpark for the Cincinnati Reds (and Paul Brown Stadium for the Bengals).
• San Diego used bonds and hotel taxes to help build Petco Park for the Padres.
• Philadelphia raised rental car taxes and pleaded for state money to build Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies.
• Busch Stadium was said to be “privately financed” — one of the few stadiums that can even make that claim — and it was to an extent. Still, St. Louis offered major tax and interest breaks that will save the Cardinals hundreds of millions of dollars, and Missouri offered all sorts of infrastructure.
• The District of Columbia sold $610 million in bonds to build Nationals Park for the Nationals.
• The city of New York paid more than a billion dollars in public money and tax breaks to cover the cost of the new Yankee Stadium.
• The city of New York paid about $600 million in public money and tax breaks to cover the cost of Citi Field.
• After many years of wrangling, Hennepin County — Minneapolis is the county seat — slapped a .15 per cent sales tax on its folks to build Target Field for the Twins.
• Overcoming a lawsuit challenging the public money spent, Miami-Dade County provided the land and bonds covering almost the entire cost of building LoanDepot Park for the Marlins.
• Cobb County issued about $400 million in bonds to help pay for the Braves’ move from downtown Atlanta to Truist Park and a brand new entertainment district in Cobb County.
• The City of Arlington added a bunch of taxes (sales tax, car rental tax, hotel occupancy tax) to go halfsies with the Texas Rangers on Globe Life Field less than 20 years after the city had built what was then the shiny new Ballpark at Arlington. This came after the Rangers threatened to move to Dallas.
Buffalo, New York and Nashville, Tennessee, have recently agreed to give multi-millions to the wealthy Bills and Titans owners, respectively, for new stadiums.
“This is the reality of American sports,” according to sports columnist Joe Posnanski.
“The story remains the same. Cities and counties continuously come to the voters with inflated promises (economic development!) and big dreams (imagine the Super Bowl coming to town!) and fear-based concerns (we are in danger of no longer being a Major League city!) and new stadiums get built and the wheels keep turning.”
Oakland played this game years ago to lure Al Davis and the NFL’s Raiders back to Oakland from Los Angeles. Nevertheless, the Raiders quickly weren’t happy in Oakland and are now based in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Oakland taxpayers continue to pay for the upgrades to their stadium that were made so the Raiders and Davis would call Oakland their long-term home.
It appears Thao, and Oakland’s city leaders, no longer want to play the stadium extortion game.
— Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
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