Could the A’s really play in Las Vegas’ minor league park? Recent history says yes

Could the A’s really play in Las Vegas’ minor league park? Recent history says yes

If they move to Las Vegas, the Oakland Athletics will play in a minor league stadium, which was unheard of a few years ago.

A prominent professional team recently made a similar transfer while waiting for the new venue. After moving from San Diego to Los Angeles, the NFL’s Chargers played in an MLS stadium, and the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes played in a collegiate arena while awaiting a new structure.

A’s president Dave Kaval wants to commence ground next year and move into a new Las Vegas stadium for the 2027 season. Bally’s and Gaming & Leisure Properties have agreed to create a $1.5 billion park on the Tropicana hotel site on the Las Vegas Strip. The Nevada Legislature may vote this week on the A’s request for roughly $400 million in public support.The A’s lease at Oakland Coliseum expires in 2024, and they may play 2025 and 2026 at Las Vegas Ballpark, home of their Triple-A affiliate, the Aviators.

Las Vegas Ballpark, 53 years younger than the Coliseum, has been named Ballpark Digest’s finest Triple-A stadium three years in a run (excluding 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic). It seats 10,000. The A’s Strip stadium would seat 30,000.

Oakland is the only team with fewer than 10,000 fans per game. The A’s may move sooner than 2025 if another lame-duck season in Oakland doesn’t improve those figures.

“Any time you’re a short-timer like this, that final season is going to be terrible no matter what it is, so most teams try to move as quickly as they can,” said sports economist Victor Matheson, a professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Once they say, ‘Hey, we’re going,’ you know you’ll lose it in your local market.”

In 2005, the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals. With a stripped-down lineup that won only 67 games, their Montreal and San Juan home games averaged 9,356 people.

Other teams have played in lesser venues while waiting for a new stadium.

The Chargers played three seasons in the LA Galaxy’s 30,000-seat stadium after leaving San Diego in 2017. Construction delays at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood caused the Chargers to stay an extra year.

They played before crowds applauding the opposition team for three years after leaving San Diego’s hostile fan base for an area that was at best apathetic to the Chargers. The Chargers play second at SoFi to the Rams, who returned from St. Louis in 2016.

Unlike the Chargers, the Rams played at the University of Southern California’s spacious but aging Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was better for football.

The Coyotes played their inaugural season at Arizona State University’s 5,025-seat Mullett Arena, which is perfect for collegiate hockey but not NHL hockey. After a lease renewal failed, the Coyotes will play there for two more seasons.

Unlike the Chargers, the Coyotes may not build a new arena. Tempe voters rejected a $2.3 billion entertainment district including a Coyotes arena this week.

The Chargers and Coyotes share a temporary move to venues significantly below league standards. The A’s might try that, thinking Las Vegas fans will support them even without a big league ballpark.

“For the most part, this is a little unusual of not having the facilities,” said University of Nebraska sports history professor Scott Stempson. “I haven’t heard of Vegas residents clamoring for A’s.”

When the NFL’s Oilers left Houston in 1997, Memphis was the same. The Oilers committed to two years at Memphis’ Liberty Bowl while Nashville’s stadium was completed.

One issue: Nashville and Memphis share only a state. Memphis residents weren’t going to cheer on a team that would become Nashville’s, and Music City residents weren’t eager to make the six-hour round-trip travel eight times a year.

The Oilers went to Vanderbilt Stadium early one season after low attendance. The Oilers became the Titans the next season, played in front of sold-out crowds in their new stadium, and lost the Super Bowl by a yard.

That may help the A’s. The long-term plan is most important as they play in Oakland in front of diminishing crowds and consider playing in a minor league park for two years.

It could be bumpy before they arrive.

“They have totally destroyed that (Oakland) fan base,” Matheson added. “When you finally say, ‘OK, we’re done with you people,’ what do we expect ‘you people’ to do?”

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