Here’s A Radical, Better Idea For Las Vegas Than Importing The Losing Oakland’s A’s

Written By Steve Friess on May 4, 2023Last Updated on May 9, 2023
Las Vegas Oakland A's Relocation

Las Vegas has long had a mystifying inferiority complex. Back in 1996, when I first arrived to report for the Review-Journal, it already seemed a bit restless, a bit whiny about its place in the world. It saw itself as the Pinocchio of cities, always yearning to be a real boy.

Growing faster than any American city founded in the 20th century wasn’t enough. Watching its senator rise to become the most powerful Democrat in Congress wasn’t enough. Eclipsing New York’s Times Square as a New Year’s Eve destination wasn’t enough. Embedding its tourism slogan indelibly into the nation’s psyche wasn’t enough. Becoming the critical population center of one of the few genuine swing states in presidential elections wasn’t enough.

Nothing, it seemed, could scratch the city’s itch to be taken seriously, to be “more than” a wildly successful tourist destination and worldwide synonym for gambling.

Except this: Sports franchises. The former mob attorney Oscar Goodman, in his first successful run for mayor in 1999, insisted that having some major pro teams would be a clincher to becoming what he called a “world-class city.” He and his successor, wife Carolyn Goodman, have spent the decades since his first election advocating for this from their thrones in City Hall. They, perhaps more than
anyone else, have literally willing it into existence.

Now, there’s the NHL’s Golden Knights, the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. And, in all likelihood, the Oakland A’s will be relocating within a few years. It won’t be cheap; the team with the worst home attendance in the league is looking for a public-private partnership to build a $1 billion, 35,000-seat partially domed stadium just west of the New York-New York resort.

But, of course, they’ll get whatever they want because A’s President Dave Kaval is playing the same old song that desperate-to-be-loved Vegas cannot seem to resist. Here’s what he told the Las Vegas Sun:

“Having a baseball team is awesome for the quality of life, and it’s exciting to really cement Las Vegas as basically the sports capital of the world.”

All I can say is: What a missed opportunity.

A better idea: Las Vegas as major-league Switzerland

I don’t, of course, object to pro sports being played in Las Vegas. But I’m saddened by the appalling lack of imagination that leads to the notion that there’s only one way to do this.

Las Vegas and Nevada didn’t get to be the things they are by behaving like every other city and state. And yet here they are, planning to beset taxpayers once again with the costs of building huge structures to host teams that will, inevitably, go through good years and bad, popular years and maddening ones.

It doesn’t have to be like this. It can be so much better.

Just imagine if, instead of the Raiders, Allegiant Stadium existed as neutral turf for the entire NFL. Imagine if every Saturday night of the football season, two teams from somewhere else came to play. Imagine if every weekend, the sports-mad populations of other cities flocked to the Strip see their guys.

No “away” weekends with an empty stadium. A surefire sellout for both teams to feast upon. Thousands of hotel rooms filled, flights booked, meals eaten, slot machines cha-chinging. The same boost in local jobs but with more work, more concessions to be sold, more sales taxes to be reaped. And the TV rights to “Saturday Night Football in Vegas” would pay for the stadium a dozen times over.

That ship, obviously, has sailed for the NFL now that the Raiders are there and it’s unlikely the NHL ever had fans passionate enough to make such a scheme worthwhile to anybody.

But MLB or the NBA? You betcha.

How about weekend games between rivals in Vegas?

Kaval and others tout estimates that the A’s would bring in an additional 400,000 tourists a year by playing at the envisioned stadium. Perhaps he believes the proximity to California will retain some loyalty from the A’s current fan base which, if Reddit is to be believed, has mostly given up on them after years of mistreatment by the ownership. Oaklanders (Oaklandites?) are about as likely to transfer their baseball loyalty to Las Vegas as the Quebecois did when the Expos moved to Washington D.C.

Instead of all of that, a major casino-resort company should build the stadium on the understanding it would host weekend games between teams with hot rivalries. The money that could be made from a Yankees-Mets weekend? Or Dodgers-Giants?

And, again, no “away” weekends. Sold out crowds. Every. Single. Week.

Would teams be willing to give up home games for this? For enough money, they’d play on the moon.

Is having a bad team in Vegas better than no team?

But what about Vegas residents? Don’t they deserve the same civic pride as the denizens of other major cities?

Oh, grow up.

A “legitimate” city is not legitimate because of its sports teams. It is legitimate because of its population, its industry, its economic prowess, its unique flavor and character. I appreciate the unity and solace that the first, solid years of the Golden Knights brought to Las Vegas after the 2017 massacre across from Mandalay Bay. But look around the country at how years of futility have actually humiliated so many cities and ask what good a team would be to Vegas if it sucked. Detroit, for one, is known for so many years of failed football, baseball and basketball teams we’re now turning to a soccer squad for the thrills of victory. I’m also a lifelong Mets, Jets and Knicks fan, so I do know of what I speak.

There’s one thing worse for Vegas than not having any teams: Having crappy ones. Who wants to go see the Vegas A’s lose their 80th game of the year in the middle of August?

I appreciate the notion that the Goodmans have pushed for all this time that there is something unifying for a community about having teams to rally around.

That’s true — for the common, old-school sort of metropolis.

Vegas is different. Better. New. Novel. Experimental. Modern. Most of the population is either born or has roots elsewhere. They already have sports loyalties nurtured over decades. Most sports franchises take more than they give from their communities in terms of publicly funded stadiums, obscene tax breaks and fan disappointments in questionable trades and hires.

Vegas should tell the A’s what the A’s must’ve told Josh Donaldson, Carlos Gonzalez, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and every other fan favorite they traded away over the past 20 years: “Thanks, but we think we’re going to go another way.”

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is the national gambling industry correspondent for Playin USA and its related local sites. He is also a contributing writer for Newsweek. A Long Island native who earned a journalism degree at Northwestern University, Friess worked at newspapers in Rockford, Illinois, Las Vegas, and South Florida before launching a freelance career in Beijing, China, where he served as chief China correspondent for USA Today. After his return to the U.S. in 2003, he settled in Las Vegas, where he covered the gambling industry and the American Southwest regularly for The New York Times, Playboy, The New Republic, Time, Portfolio, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. During that time, he created and co-hosted two successful and groundbreaking podcasts, the celebrity-interview show The Strip and the animal affairs program The Petcast. In 2011-12, Friess was a Knight-Wallace Fellow for at the University of Michigan. That was followed by a stint as a senior writer covering the intersection of technology and politics at Politico in Washington, D.C., In 2013, he returned permanently to Ann Arbor, where he now lives with his husband, son, daughter and three Pomeranians. He tweets at @SteveFriess and can be reached at [email protected]

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