As A’s Fans Protest, Nevada Closes In on Stadium Bill

On Tuesday, as fans of the Athletics began to gather en masse at Oakland Coliseum in a long-planned reverse boycott of the team’s ownership and its plans to move the A’s to Las Vegas, Nevada’s State Senate voted in favor of a bill to provide public funding for a Major League Baseball stadium on the Las Vegas Strip.

The bill, which allows for up to $380 million in funding for a stadium, will be considered by the state’s Assembly on Wednesday and if it passes there it would go to Gov. Joe Lombardo for his signature. The bill, if signed, would be the largest hurdle cleared thus far for the Athletics in their quest to leave the run-down multipurpose stadium in Oakland, Calif. that they have called home since 1968.

With incentives provided by the bill, which passed the Senate, 13-8, the team hopes to build a $1.5 billion stadium on the site of the Tropicana Las Vegas casino and hotel.

Should the bill be approved and signed, the A’s would then seek the approval of M.L.B.’s other 29 owners to relocate — a process Commissioner Rob Manfred said could come together quickly when asked about it last month. In the past, Manfred has cited finding new stadiums for the A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays as a huge priority for the league, as it cannot consider expanding beyond 30 teams until those clubs are settled.

The A’s released renderings of their proposed stadium on May 26. It would sit on the Las Vegas Strip on the site of the Tropicana Las Vegas hotel and casino.Credit…Oakland Athletics, via Associated Press

The A’s, with a roster gutted of any recognizable players over the last few seasons, were expected to be terrible this season and spent more than two months on pace to shatter the 1962 Mets’ modern era record for losses in a season. Their play has recently picked up, with the team taking a fairly shocking six-game win streak into Tuesday night’s game against the Rays, which they continued with a 2-1 win over the best team in baseball.

In a rare sight, the Coliseum, which had averaged a major league-low 8,555 fans a game entering the game, was packed on Tuesday with a season-best crowd of 27,759, many of whom were wearing green T-shirts that said “Sell” across the chest as part of a planned protest. The fans, who believe they have been unfairly blamed for the team’s attendance issues, came back for one night to prove that they are still there and would return to the games if the team’s owner, John Fisher, were to sell the team and the A’s were able to get back to playing competitive baseball.

“I’ve been to only one game this year. I saw this game and I knew I had to come because I knew it was going to be very monumental and would send a message to the owner that this is what the fan base wants,” Scott Finney, a Sacramento resident, told The Associated Press. “They want the ownership to sell the team so they can remain in Oakland.”

But should Nevada approve public funds toward a new stadium, the hopes of building a new park in Oakland, at Howard Terminal or elsewhere, would likely vanish, even as the city of Oakland has worked to keep the door open.

Fan groups distributed green t-shirts ahead of Tuesday’s game that said “Sell.”Credit…Brandon Vallance/Getty Images
Oakland Coliseum, which has been largely empty this season, had a huge crowd on Tuesday.Credit…Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

While Tuesday had been purposely picked for the protest to illustrate that fans would come even on a mundane weeknight game against a visiting team not known for drawing fans, it ended up coinciding with the special session of Nevada’s legislature, which was called by Lombardo to settle the bill after the regular session adjourned on June 5.

Questioning of the team has been intense at times over the last two weeks as the state’s Senate and Assembly, both of which are controlled by Democrats, tried to nail down the details of a deal that was brokered with help from the state’s Republican governor. The plan calls for the A’s to provide $1.1 billion toward the development while agreeing to certain provisions of how the team will interact with the community and how revenue will be generated and distributed over the coming years.

The Senate attached two amendments to the bill ahead of its final vote, locking down the Tropicana as the location and including language from other bills Lombardo had previously vetoed concerning wage laws and family leave.

“I assure every Nevadan, even those of you who have concerns about this bill — I assure you that if you see where the bill started and where it is now, that there’s not a single Nevadan that won’t say this bill was much better,” said Sen. Edgar Flores, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday.

While A’s representatives have not provided any details of how their side of the funding would come together, they have pushed a consistent line that the bill would provide jobs and tax revenue to the city, while allowing for other major events beyond the 81 regular-season home games that the A’s would play each year to be held at the venue.

There are still several issues related to the Nevada project that will need to be addressed, even if the bill passes the Assembly, including whether the stadium creates any issues for the Federal Aviation Administration because of its proximity to Harry Reid International Airport. But all indications from the team and the state are that the stadium, with a retractable roof and easy access to some of Las Vegas’ most famous casinos, could be ready for the 2027 season if the bill passes. The team’s lease at Oakland Coliseum runs through the 2024 season, which would leave two seasons in which the A’s might need to find a temporary home.

Both the team and Manfred have suggested that Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Class AAA Aviators — the Athletics’ top minor league affiliate — could be the solution. The venue, which currently holds around 9,000 fans, would likely need some improvements to host M.L.B. games, similar to the process that the Toronto Blue Jays went through when they renovated their Class AAA ballpark in Buffalo to temporarily use for major league games while travel into Canada was heavily restricted because of the pandemic.

Should the A’s leave Oakland, the city would have lost each of its major pro sports franchises over a handful of years, with the Raiders of the N.F.L. already having moved to Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors having moved to San Francisco. But A’s fans, at least on Tuesday, were not going out quietly.

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