Normally, a pair of split-squad games in spring training between two MLB teams projected to finish with the worst records in their respective divisions would not be worth much attention. But last weekend, some of the Oakland Athletics played baseball games against some of the Cincinnati Reds in Las Vegas. The A’s were Sin City’s designated home team Saturday and Sunday, and many hope it won’t be the last time that’s the case. Maybe next time the games will count — in fact, you can bet on it.
“It’s a better opportunity here in the long term,” Don Logan, president and COO of the Las Vegas Aviators, the Athletics’ AAA minor league affiliate, told ESPN. “It makes sense. My perspective, make the best deal you can in Vegas and start to turn this community on. And every other [fan base] on.”
He observed the unique position Las Vegas is in to host a professional sports team. Of course, the city already has the Golden Knights of the NHL, the WNBA’s Aces franchise and the NFL’s Raiders. All three of those teams arrived in the Southern Nevada desert town since 2017, capped off by the Raiders’ move from Oakland three years ago. They each welcome fans from far and wide into their respective arenas during home games. While Las Vegas has about 650,000 year-round residents, it attracts tens of millions of visitors a year. In 2022, as COVID-19 fears diminished, Las Vegas saw 38.8 million tourists arrive, which was still a few million people shy of pre-pandemic levels.
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“Las Vegas offers a dynamic that no other team has,” Logan, a member of the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, said. “[T]hat’s what we want — heads in beds. That’s what Las Vegas is about.”
A potential move from Oakland to Vegas has infiltrated the Athletics locker room. “It’s no secret that we’ve been pursuing paths in Oakland and Vegas,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay in the run up to the exhibition games against the Reds. “So maybe there’s more buzz around [this series]. I think it’s a great thing to take in for fans, a weekend of baseball in Vegas.”
A permanent weekend in Vegas wouldn’t be great for A’s fans based in Oakland. However, it’s hard to tell if there’s enough people in that city who care. Last season, the A’s were dead last in MLB in attendance, and by a wide margin. They finished with the worst record in the American League and, if that wasn’t enough to turn fans off to the team, the Oakland Coliseum, their home stadium, is a construct befitting of such a terrible squad — its grounds feel “apocalyptic,” which is not ideal for a fun day of baseball. If it’s not the worst stadium in MLB, it’s probably second only to the Tampa Bay Rays’ home, Tropicana Field. It has arguably the worst food offered at any MLB stadium and perhaps the single worst seat.
And things aren’t looking up for the franchise. Though they’ve had recent success in the standings prior to last season, always budget-conscious, the A’s are fielding a 2023 team with MLB’s lowest payroll and are projected to again finish at or near the very bottom of the standings. For now, the A’s might even kind of like it this way. Just like the plot of Major League, the franchise’s relationship with the city seems frayed because the local legislature can’t (or won’t) come to terms with the team on a new stadium. So the A’s leadership, according to reports, took steps to actually discourage fans from attending home games, by not only cutting payroll but jacking up costs. (If they could’ve put a dead guy on the roster, maybe they would have.)
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said the A’s are devoting more energy into a move to Vegas than they are bothering with Oakland. He seems to believe a move is imminent, and it appears it’s something he supports.
Even all-time-great former A’s players want the team to move to Las Vegas, expressing as much with enthusiasm that borders on lunacy. Jason Giambi — a now-retired first baseman who finished first and second in AL MVP voting in his final two seasons with the A’s — said when he played in Vegas as a minor leaguer, it was “the best five days of my life.” “You can wake up in the middle of night, 2 o’clock in the morning, go get breakfast, go watch a show, anything you want to do,” he told ESPN. “It’s a little bit of the Wild, Wild West. It’s not like that anywhere else.”
Though he called the A’s faithful (however many there are) “some of the greatest fans in the world,” he also said Vegas folks really want baseball. “[T]he people are hungry for it here,” he said. “Every night is sold out at the Knights. Every night is sold out at the Raiders. Not only are you drawing your own fans, but you’re drawing everybody else, too.”
So even if the future of Major League Baseball in Las Vegas is a new arena full of people who don’t have a vested interest in the home Athletics, that’s alright by a number of team, league and city stakeholders. I suppose that’s at least an improvement over a falling-apart stadium in Oakland that’s completely bereft of fans.