Where Will Money for A’s Vegas Ballpark Come From?

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The Oakland A’s have reportedly signed a purchase agreement on property in downtown Las Vegas for a potential move to that city as early as 2027.

The agreement would secure close to 50 acres for the A’s, freeing them to negotiate a move to Las Vegas and abandoning the Oakland Coliseum, which has been its home since 1968. For many years, the A’s have griped about the ballpark, which is owned by the City of Oakland and Alameda County. Once in 2013, a sewage backup delivered waste water into the clubhouses and other areas of the facility. Critics have pointed out the lack of luxury suites and modern amenities. But county and city officials have defended the ballpark, calling it “simple” and “sufficient.”

One thing for sure is it’s cheap: the A’s have had to kick in very little to play there or assist in renovations in the more than five decades the team has been a tenant. Still, the A’s, urged by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, has for years pushed Oakland to build a modern ballpark.

But civic leaders and taxpayers have balked at footing the bill for a baseball stadium for a valuable MLB franchise. Now, after years of bickering between the team and city, the Oakland A’s seem to be taking a step to leave the state. If that happens, the A’s would become the latest major professional team to make Las Vegas its new home. In 2020, the Oakland Raiders moved to a stadium in downtown Las Vegas.

MLB and the A’s seem to think it’s a no-brainer to move the franchise to Las Vegas. But, would it be a good financial decision for the city and Nevada taxpayers?

Subsidized Sports Stadiums Do Not Deliver Return on Investment

In 1997, the Brookings Institution published a study on the impact of sports stadiums on cities that subsidize that development. In an exhaustively researched paper and subsequent book (), the authors found no evidence that pro sports teams are a financial boon to the local government, certainly not enough to justify asking taxpayers to foot the bill for stadiums and arenas.

“A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment,” found Andrew Zimbalist and Roger G. Noll, researching for Brookings.

While the findings from Zimbalist and Noll were published more than two decades ago, nothing has changed that makes it wise for a city or county to pay for all or part of a stadium. The promise of jobs and increased economic activity, such as hotel stays, is a lot of hot air. A study published in the University of Michigan Journal of Economics in 2022 came to the same conclusion.

“Tourism does not see an increase as the result of a sporting event, as often a similar amount would be spent by that city’s residents in a different city, thus creating no real net gain,” said the Michigan Journal study, written by Rob Lucas. “This results in cities bankrolling these new stadiums, without bringing much economic benefit back to them. Instead of helping out their city, sports teams hurt their hosts because “none of this revenue goes back into the community”

If Las Vegas taxpayers are asked to pay for a stadium for the A’s, and/or hand out a sweetheart deal on the land where a stadium would be built, it would be another case of corporate welfare.

Take the Raiders as an example. From 2001 to 2015, the value of the NFL franchise increased by 500%. But, the city of Oakland footed the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars of renovations to the stadium. The municipality saw none of those gains for its investment.

Why Should Billionaire Team Owners Get a Handout from Tax Payers?

The Oakland A’s and MLB aren’t advertising the reality of the Las Vegas move: the city would spend tens of millions, and possibly much more, to help build a stadium or develop the land for the ballpark. Why?

John J. Fisher is the controlling owner of the A’s. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth: it was gold. Fisher, helped by mommy and daddy’s money, worked hard and became a real estate and investment tycoon. He bought the A’s in 2005, and became majority owner in 2016. In 2022, Forbes estimated Fisher’s net worth at $2.2 billion.

That’s BILLION with a “B.”

Why should taxpayers help a billionaire build a baseball stadium?

In what other industry do the taxpayers happily agree to fund and build a place for a business to operate? To be fair, it happens when large industry (like tech, medical, or transportation) moves to a city. But in those cases there are oodles of new jobs t come. Nothing like that happens with a baseball team. The A’s will employ less than 100 full-time office staff, many of whom will relocate from Oakland or elsewhere. And the bulk of the money the A’s spend on payroll will go to about 25 professional athletes, the majority of whom will not even live in Vegas.

It’s crazy to pay for a ballpark for a man like Fisher, who could easily finance it himself.

What say you? Will you support the A’s moving to Las Vegas? What do you think about cities paying for stadiums for professional teams? Tell me in the comments section below.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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