Oakland mourns loss of team, but owner calls it ‘great day for Las Vegas’

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher sat back in a chair by the massive windows of the second-floor suite Thursday afternoon overlooking the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, and slowly exhaled.

The day began when Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously at 8:11 a.m. CT to approve the A’s move to Las Vegas and 4 ½ hours later, Fisher was standing at a podium uttering the words that left Oakland cringing:

“Today is an incredibly difficult day for Oakland A’s fans,’ Fisher said. “It’s a great day for Las Vegas.’’

Later in the day, in an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Fisher said it’s painful leaving the A’s passionate fanbase heartbroken, but after 18 years, simply felt there was no choice.

“When you when you work on something for a very long time,’ Fisher said, “and you put your heart and soul into it, and then sort of you have this kind of momentous occasion with the vote itself, just a lot of different emotions going on.

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“Obviously the first emotion is this understanding, you know, just what what this means for the Oakland community and our local fans. The feelings of sadness and anger that they that they have about the situation.

“But at the same time, there’s this other side to it, which is a lot of excitement in Las Vegas, a path forward to building a new great stadium on the Strip, and a future for the Athletics.’

The team’s fanbase blames Fisher for the departure. The A’s payroll has ranked among the bottom eight teams in baseball every year since 2007, and easily the lowest the past two years. They went 110-214 in that stretch, finishing a combined 86 games out of first place, while drawing just 1.6 million fans.

If Fisher had spent the money, and the team won, their fans insist, they would have shown up. They drew more than two million fans from 2000 to 2005 when the team reached the postseason five times in seven years. Yet after Fisher purchased the team in 2005, they surpassed 2 million in attendance just once.

Fisher insists the payrolls would have been higher if they had larger attendance, and the fans say they would have come to the ballpark if the payrolls were higher to field competitive teams.

“Our attendance numbers had been declining over the years,’ Fisher said, “regardless of the quality of the team. And I think that was probably based on a lot of different things, one of which, of course, was the stadium itself. … I did what I thought was everything possible to get a new stadium built in Oakland, and then when it was over last two and a half years, we started spending time on Vegas under the view that if Oakland wasn’t going to be able to get this done, we needed an alternative.’

Fisher, who must pay a substantial portion of his profit to his fellow owners if the team is sold any time in the near future, promises that things will be dramatically different in Las Vegas. He went to an NHL Golden Knights’ game last year in Las Vegas, and was blown away by the atmosphere, believing they can replicate it at their new ballpark.

“I was in awe of not just the success of the team on the ice, but also the passion of what was a predominantly local group of fans,’ Fisher said. “So, I know that the bar is set very high for what it means to be successful in Las Vegas. There are a lot of opportunities for great entertainment in that market. And, and sports is one form of entertainment. You better make sure that it’s a that it’s great.

“So, our intention is and our whole reason for trying to move to a new stadium here is because that will allow us to significantly increase payroll, which will allow us to keep the Matt Chapmans, the Matt Olsens, the Shawn Murphys, as opposed to having them leave and be really successful with other teams.

“That will also allow us to be much more competitive in the free-agent market, and to make trades for higher-payroll players, which just gives us a lot more opportunity.’’

For now, the A’s will spend the 2024 season playing at the Oakland Coliseum and thenenter a world of uncertainty. They could continue playing in the Oakland Coliseum in 2025, play 30 to 40 games at the Giants’ Oracle Park, and perhaps just as many at the A’s Triple-A facility in Summerlin, Nevada.

The Athletics could divide their time among the three sites, just as the Toronto Blue Jays did during the pandemic, but Manfred said but they prefer to spend their entire season in one facility until moving to their new $1.5 billion ballpark in Las Vegas.

“You know we tried very hard to make a deal,’ Manfred said. “There was an effort over more than a decade to find a stadium solution in Oakland. It was John Fisher’s preference. It was my preference. We did that out of respect for the fans in Oakland and I hope they understand that at some point. A facility deteriorates in the long run. If you’re looking at the situation objectively, you really have no choice but to relocate.’

Several owners and executives privately say they have no idea if the team will succeed in Las Vegas or not, but it’s the best alternative. Manfred believes that the Las Vegas tourism and revenue from the casinos will make the A’s a huge financial success.

“I know, I know, this is a terrible day for fans in Oakland,’ Manfred said. “We’ve always had a policy of doing everything humanely possible to avoid relocation, and I truly believe we did that in this case. I think at the end of the day, the status quote in Las Vegas was untenable. I think it’s beyond debate that that the status quo in Oakland was untenable. I am absolutely convinced there was not a viable path.

“We look forward to being in Las Vegas. There are two professional sports franchises there [the Raiders and the Golden Knights] that have been wildly successful. We do believe in the long haul, that Las Vegas will be a great asset for baseball.’

The A’s fanbase, who long braced themselves for the news that would come this day, but still, it stung.

Jorge Leon, president and founder of the Oakland 68s fan group, got the news early in the morning on Twitter, and immediately felt nauseous.

“It was a gut-punch,’ Leon said in a phone interview, “and it left me angry. Not so much sadness, but anger. I had to get up early to get my kids dressed for school, and I had to compose myself.’

He then spent the next few hours calling for a boycott of the A’s season opener, and asking that all Giants’ season-ticket holders give up their season tickets out of protest if the Giants permit the A’s to games at their ballpark.

“We will challenge this relocation and seek to disrupt it,’ Leon said, “in any way possible. We won’t let them dictate the end of pro baseball in Oakland.’

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao says that the city will continue to fight for the A’s, and once the move becomes official, will lobby for an expansion franchise.

“We are disappointed by the outcome of this vote,’ Thao said in a statement. “But we do not see this as the end of the road. We all know there is a long way to go before shovels in the ground and that there are a number of unresolved issues surrounding this move.

“I have also made it clear to the Commissioner that the A’s branding and name should stay in Oakland and we will continue to work to pursue expansion opportunities. Baseball has a home in Oakland even if the A’s ownership relocates.”

There are no immediate plans to expand, Manfred said, and once MLB starts to even explore it, expanding from 30 teams to 32, including massive realignment, may not happen until at least 2028.

Privately, MLB doesn’t believe that Oakland is a serious candidate considering that city officials never were able to reach a binding agreement. And, even if an owner does step up in the East Bay, the cost will be nearly double, having to pay an expansion fee of at least $2.2 billion while funding a new ballpark.

“When, and if, we have an expansion process,’’ Manfred said, “every city that’s interested in having an expansion franchise will have an opportunity to participate.’’

The easiest solution to the A’s mess, one owner said, would simply have been to permit the A’s to move to San Jose years ago. The Giants, however, refused to give up their territorial rights, blocking a potential move. Manfred confirmed that the Giants’ territorial rights will remain the same, leaving no viable solution for a potential expansion team.

This is the first time since the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, D.C., in 2005, and only the second MLB relocation since 1972. Meanwhile, the A’s become a footnote in baseball history, playing in their fourth city of existence, starting in Philadelphia in 1901, Kansas City in 1955, and Oakland in 1968.

“It’s tough, real tough,’’ Fisher said, “because I’ve seen enough history to see how these moves have affected communities. I feel for them, I really do.’

This post appeared first on USA TODAY