Fresh off of a disappointing wild card elimination at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this month, the city of Oakland received more unpleasant news, this time from MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred. The former lawyer and business exec warned Oakland Mayor, Libby Schaaf, that the Athletics could relocate to Las Vegas if the city did not drop its lawsuit that would stop Alameda County from selling its shares of the team’s stadium, the Coliseum, to the team.
The Athletics have long shared the Coliseum with the Oakland Raiders, but are seeking to build a new stadium at Howard Terminal on the heels of the Raiders’ 2020 move to Las Vegas. The city of Oakland and Alameda County share ownership of the coliseum, however, because Oakland cannot match the Athletics’ $85 million dollar offer for Alameda’s share of the stadium, the city sued to block the sale. A judge issued a temporary hold on the transaction, prompting Manfred’s response, a sign that his patience with the situation is running thin.
The Coliseum has always been regarded among the MLB’s worst ballparks given its outdated, dual-sport accommodations. In turn, the Athletics consistently rank bottom five in the league in attendance despite making the playoffs in five of the last eight years. With the Raiders on the way out of town, the Athletics are looking to seize the opportunity of acquiring a new ballpark and have drawn up plans for a new, cutting-edge stadium that would be located on the Oakland Waterfront. While the initial projections have pegged this project to cost upwards of $500 million, the good news is that it will be privately financed. Moreover, the Athletics have already crossed a hurdle as the stadium proposal was passed unanimously last month in the Senate 34-0.
Though the bill was originally headed to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for final approval, the lawsuit has halted any momentum for the moment. However, as the MLB and the Athletics have a vested interest in moving forward with an established plan for the new stadium, Manfred’s pressure on city officials is justified. The commissioner’s calculated warning also strikes a chord with Oakland sports fans, who have already witnessed the Warriors’s last game in the city and are awaiting the same with the Raiders. While Manfred’s caution about a potential Vegas move is more hot air than a near reality, it certainly represents a plan B for the Athletics, and the prospect of losing three professional teams in two years is too much for Oakland to bear.
The next hearing in the city’s lawsuit is scheduled for November 14th, and while the city still won’t be able to match the $85 million offer at that point, it is reasonable to expect that their approach to the situation will have changed substantially as there is a lot to lose. The Athletics’ official site has published a summary of the economic impact the new stadium should expect to generate over the next ten years and it blows the $500 million construction figure out of the water. Between the 2,000 development jobs, local investments, and game-day attendee spending, the report estimates roughly $3 billion in total economic impact for residents and businesses once construction begins in 2021.
It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the Athletics are pushed to the point of relocation as all parties involved, the team, league and city, are in agreement of a new ballpark, but are still ironing out the finances. With a rich baseball history, a solid young core and arguably the best general manager in the league, the Athletics have all the makings of a strong baseball franchise. They struggle, however, with their status as a small market team, and have not had a payroll that ranked higher than 26th, out of the 30 teams, since 2014. Yet, a new stadium – one that is actually intended for baseball – could be just what the Athletics need to spark their fanbase and vault themselves into a consistently profitable revenue stream. It’s no secret that the city of Oakland needs the Athletics just as much as they need it, so expect both sides to come together and put this lawsuit, and the threat of Las Vegas, behind them.