MLB owners approve Athletics' planned move to Las Vegas

MLB owners vote to move Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas (2:12)

Jeff Passan reports on MLB owners voting unanimously to allow the Athletics to relocate from Oakland to Las Vegas. (2:12)

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously Thursday to allow the Oakland Athletics to move to Las Vegas, paving the way for the second relocation of a baseball team in the past half-century.

The potential move, which comes after more than two decades of failed efforts to secure a new stadium in the city to replace the aging Oakland Coliseum, needed backing from three-quarters of teams at the quarterly owners meetings. It received unanimous support despite unanswered questions about the team's near-term future and stadium plans.

"Today is an incredibly difficult day for Oakland A's fans," Athletics owner John Fisher said. "It's a great day for Las Vegas."

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred echoed Fisher's sentiments, saying: "I know -- I know -- this is a terrible day for fans in Oakland. I understand that. And that's why we've always had a policy of doing everything humanly possible to avoid a relocation. And I truly believe we did that in this case. I think it's beyond debate, that the status quo in Oakland was untenable. Those of you who have been in the building understand what I'm talking about. And I absolutely am convinced that there was not a viable path forward in Oakland."

The move is not yet finalized. Legal challenges from a teachers union in Nevada regarding the $380 million the state has committed to the construction of a $1.5 billion stadium on the Las Vegas Strip still could scuttle the move, but winning approval from owners marks a significant step toward Oakland losing its last major men's professional sports team.

Prior to the Montreal Expos moving to Washington, D.C., in 2005, the last MLB team to relocate was the Washington Senators, who became the Texas Rangers in 1972. The Athletics moved to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968 and have won four World Series in their 56 seasons in the city.

After announcing in 2021 plans to pursue a "parallel path" in which it would weigh stadium deals in Oakland and Las Vegas, the team chose Vegas in April 2023, with Manfred saying MLB would waive its relocation fee, estimated to be around $300 million.

The backlash from A's fans was immediate and consistent. Chants of "sell the team" directed at Fisher -- a Gap heir who bought the franchise in 2005 -- served as background noise at most home games for the A's, who went an MLB-worst 50-112 in 2023 and carried the league's lowest payroll. More than 27,000 fans showed up in June for a so-called "reverse boycott," during which they implored Fisher to sell.

After giving a short statement Thursday, Fisher left a news conference without taking questions.

Asked whether he considered Fisher a good owner, Manfred pointed to the A's on-field success (seven playoff appearances since 2005), pegged the low payrolls (never higher than 18th in his 19 years owning the team) to the stadium's poor conditions and said: "My answer is, over the long haul, yes, I think he's been a good owner."

In a letter sent to half the MLB owners last week, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said the city had procured $928 million in funding for a stadium and surrounding development and wanted to keep the team.

The Athletics' lease with the Oakland Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and the team has yet to solidify plans for where it will play before the Las Vegas stadium is ready in 2028. Manfred said extending the lease in Oakland is an option, though the city -- which owns half the stadium, while the Athletics own the other half -- has said in order to do so that it would need to keep the A's name and move to the front of the line for a potential 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."

The lack of a home for three seasons is far from the only reservation about the Athletics' move. Not only would they be leaving for a smaller media market, but the team would also remain a revenue-sharing recipient, a point of contention in recent years. The new stadium, located at the site of the old Tropicana hotel, is slated to be built on a 9-acre parcel, which would be one of the smallest in MLB. While the A's released renderings of a Las Vegas stadium, they did not include a dome or retractable roof, which would be necessary to combat the city's summer heat.

Nonetheless, the vote received unfettered support after the league's relocation committee championed it. Manfred adopted the recommendation, the league's executive council voted unanimously to greenlight it, and the remainder of owners joined Thursday.

Uncertainty regarding the Athletics' future had hung over the league since 2001, when the team first sought to build a new stadium. An attempt in 2005 to move to nearby Fremont fell apart, and efforts to pursue a stadium in San Jose were blocked by the San Francisco Giants, whose territorial rights extend to the southern part of the Bay Area.

Potential stadium plans in Oakland stalled, with the team and league blaming politicians and vice versa. The most promising deal was for a massive reimagining of Howard Terminal in the Port of Oakland, a 55-acre parcel that would have developed 6 million square feet of commercial buildings, residential units and a 35,000-seat stadium. The $12 billion price tag, however, proved too large, and Las Vegas -- which already had taken the Raiders from Oakland in 2020 -- swooped in to do the same with the A's.

Securing public funding wasn't easy. The A's initially sought $500 million in public money. On June 14, the Nevada Senate passed a $380 million bill after the A's agreed to allow for the use of a suite at the stadium for community groups, pledged an annual $1.5 million donation to the community and offered resources to help mitigate homelessness in Las Vegas. Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo signed the bill into law two days later.

The lack of a relocation fee, Manfred said, was a "really important" element of the deal.

"We felt that a relocation fee in this particular situation was inappropriate, where there was significant expenditures by John Fisher and his family to get the stadium built," Manfred said. "It's a billion-and-a-half-dollar project. That was really important. We also felt that, in terms of the public support that was available, the waving of relocation fee made that support stronger. We wanted to go into the market in a way that the people in the market felt like we were making an investment in them and looking to grow the game."

A political action committee, Schools Over Stadiums, is pursuing a referendum for the public to vote on the stadium funding in November 2024. A judge recently rejected the referendum, saying the language in the petition submitted by Schools Over Stadiums was "legally deficient." The PAC plans to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, and if that effort fails, it could refile a petition. If successful, Schools Over Stadiums would need to collect 102,568 signatures -- 25,647 from each of Nevada's four congressional districts -- by July to ensure the referendum is on the ballot.

In the meantime, the A's still need to finalize plans on the construction of a 33,000-seat stadium in Las Vegas, which would be the smallest in MLB by nearly 2,000 seats and rely heavily on tourism to fill the ballpark. The lack of plans did not dissuade owners, nor did the objections of fan groups that lobbied them to reject the move.

On Tuesday night, two days before the vote, three A's fans wearing T-shirts that read "SELL" sat near Fisher at the restaurant at the Live! By Loews hotel where the owners meetings were held. As Fisher stood up to leave a few minutes later, one fan said, loud enough for Fisher to hear: "Keep the A's in Oakland. Do the right thing."

Walking away, Fisher muttered under his breath: "I am doing the right thing."