Oakland to Vegas ... again: Comparing the Raiders and A's relocations

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The Oakland Athletics are a charter member of the American League, a franchise that dates to 1901, and in their nomadic century-plus of existence they've bounced from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland. Now, they'll head to Las Vegas. With a pair of rubber stamps from the Nevada Assembly and Senate on Wednesday, all that is needed to make the Las Vegas A's a reality are approval from the governor of Nevada and the owners of the other 29 Major League Baseball teams, both at this point formalities.

They are the second team to move to Vegas from Oakland since the NHL's Golden Knights became the city's first major sports franchise. However, the A's path to the desert hasn't had the twists and turns like the route of the Raiders. Comparing and contrasting the two offers a fascinating study in a city's embrace of an MLB team next to one in the NFL and reminds that no matter how much politicians try to squeeze sports franchises and restrict the use of public tax dollars, in the end, the allure of having a new team always outweighs the alternative.

The background

Raiders: ​​The Raiders, who moved back to Oakland in 1995 after a 13-year sojourn in Los Angeles, had long been hoping for never-to-come-to-fruition improvements to the Oakland Coliseum, but by the mid-2010s had mostly given up hope. The team initially hoped to be part of a plan in which the Oakland Coliseum was demolished, replaced by a baseball stadium for the A's in the northeast parking lot, a Raiders football stadium in the southwest lot and a hotel with restaurants, shops and bars in the middle. The A's nixed it.

Then the Raiders' eyes turned to Los Angeles, in a joint plan to share a stadium with the Chargers in Carson. Though it was originally backed by an NFL owners committee, the plan was scuttled in favor of the Rams' move from St. Louis to Inglewood, California, with the Chargers joining the Rams in L.A. Raiders owner Mark Davis said his team finished third in a three-team race.

The Raiders -- who had already put together a pair of stadium proposals in two years -- then focused on Las Vegas, all the more prepared to put together their plans. -- Paul Gutierrez

A's: For more than 20 years, the A's have been trying to extricate themselves from the same dingy, plumbing-challenged, possum-infested Oakland Coliseum from which the Raiders ran. First, they wanted to go to San Jose and were blocked by the San Francisco Giants, who invoked their territorial rights. Then they wanted to build a new stadium in Oakland, and between organizational blundering and governmental intransigence, that failed, too. Whether it was flirtations with Fremont or all the different sites in the Oakland area, whatever the A's considered, they always wound up in the same place: limbo.

That changed in May 2021, when Major League Baseball allowed the A's to pursue potential relocation outside of the Bay Area. A's owner John Fisher and team president Dave Kaval focused on Las Vegas, and while A's officials spoke publicly about "parallel paths" -- one in Vegas, one in Oakland -- the decades of botched efforts to remain in the Bay, where they'd been since 1968, suggested that perhaps they weren't so parallel after all. While the project to build a waterfront stadium at the Howard Terminal site in Oakland had more momentum than past efforts, a confluence of factors -- chief among them, the success of the Golden Knights and Raiders in Las Vegas and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred waiving a $1 billion relocation fee for the A's -- made a move their primary path. -- Jeff Passan

The announcement

Raiders: On April 28, 2016, Davis announced in a meeting of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, which boasted the star power of international soccer star and Las Vegas Sands Corp. pitchman David Beckham, that he was pledging $500 million toward the construction of a $1.4 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium near the Las Vegas Strip. Davis said he hoped to turn the Silver State into the Silver and Black State.

"We have made a commitment to Las Vegas at this point in time, and that's where it stands," Davis said that day. "If Las Vegas can come through with what we've been talking about, and we can do a deal here, then we're going to be the Las Vegas Raiders."

When less than a year later, NFL owners voted 31-1 in favor of letting the Raiders relocate from Oakland (the Miami Dolphins were the lone dissenting vote), an ashen-faced Davis seemed stunned at the inevitable conclusion. Making his way to lunch at the Arizona Biltmore resort, where the owners meetings were occurring, Davis was stopped by the likes of NFL Hall of Famer John Elway to offer congratulations, and Davis' first two calls to share the news were to his mother Carol and then-UNLV president Len Jessup. After all, the Rebels would be "sharing" the stadium with the Raiders.

"My father always said, 'The greatness of the Raiders is in its future,'" Davis said. "And the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is a significant step toward achieving that greatness. ... The Raiders were born in Oakland, and Oakland will always be part of our DNA." -- Gutierrez

A's: All of this started April 20, when the A's announced they'd entered a "binding agreement" to purchase a 49-acre parcel of Las Vegas land on which they would construct a new $1.5 billion retractable-roof stadium to open in 2027. The city of Oakland, already forlorn after the Golden State Warriors' move to San Francisco and the Raiders' to Vegas, were facing the extinction of professional sports in its city.

Then again, it almost felt like Oakland had lost the A's already. The team that prided itself on being competitive despite miserly payrolls had gone from "Moneyball" to "Major League," trading all of its best players in a fire sale that foretold a terrible 2023 season. On the day of the announcement that they would move to Las Vegas, a city that sells dreams of winning, the A's were an MLB-worst 3-16. The A's pledged to contribute $1 billion toward a $1.5 billion project, leaving $500 million to wheedle in public funding.

Despite the support of Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo and other government officials, the timing of the announcement left the team with a finite window to secure funding: The Nevada Legislature's 2023 session would end in early June. And only a few weeks after the A's laid out their plans, when in mid-May they left behind their "binding agreement" and pivoted to a smaller site on the Las Vegas Strip, it left some wondering if the A's had missed their window. -- Passan

The governmental approval process

Raiders: On top of the $500 million pledged by Davis for the new stadium, Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson pledged an additional $150 million. The remaining $750 million would be raised by public taxes. "We're going to make them an offer they can't refuse," Davis often quipped of the Nevada government. Four and a half months after his announcement, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously to recommend and approve $750 million for the stadium on Sept. 15, 2016. The Nevada Senate voted 16-5 on Oct. 11, 2016, to approve the funding bill, titled Senate Bill 1. It barely passed, as the bill needed 14 votes. On Oct. 14, the Nevada Assembly passed it, 28-13, and two days later, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the bill into law. The Raiders, in the midst of a 12-4 season and their first playoff appearance since 2002, were riding a wave of goodwill, both on the field and in the political spectrum: The same party controlled the governor's mansion and the state legislature at the time. -- Gutierrez

A's: Less than two weeks after the A's shifted sites, the Nevada Legislature introduced a bill that would put $380 million in public money toward a new stadium. The bill, called the Southern Nevada Tourism Innovation Act, was for $120 million less than the A's were seeking -- and would need a majority vote from the 21-person Senate followed by the same in the 42-person Assembly before being signed into law by Lombardo.

In a hearing, Democrats who control the Senate grilled the two men the A's hoped would sell their vision: Las Vegas tourism executive Steve Hill and Jeremy Aguero, an analyst whose projections for the A's invited even more skepticism. The A's are seeking a 30,000-seat stadium, which would be the smallest in MLB, and Aguero projected attendance at 28,000. Only one team in MLB this year, Atlanta, fills its stadium to a higher percentage of capacity than Aguero's projected 93.3% for the A's.

The Senate's dubiousness did not last. After Lombardo mandated a special session, a new bill was introduced and included two non-baseball-related, Democrat-backed provisions that Lombardo, a Republican, had previously vetoed as well as minuscule concessions from the A's -- including a suite at the new stadium for community groups and a $2 million pledge a year for the same. On Tuesday, the Senate passed the new bill by a 13-8 vote. A day later, after a few minor amendments of its own, the Nevada Assembly did the same. And now Lombardo, long a proponent of the Las Vegas A's, needs only the swoop of his signature to make it law. -- Passan

The build timeline

Raiders: In an emotional ceremony paying tribute to the 58 lives lost in the Oct. 1 mass shooting less than two miles away, the Raiders broke ground on Allegiant Stadium on Nov. 13, 2017. The team would hold its first practice in its new home on the corner of Al Davis Way and Dean Martin Drive less than three years later, on Aug. 21, 2020. Davis, lording over the scene from beneath the 95-foot tall Al Davis Torch on the Los Angeles Coliseum peristyle-inspired end of the stadium with lanai doors that open to the Strip, addressed the team. "Welcome to the Death Star," Davis said, "where our opponents' dreams come to die."

It had been an awkward three-year farewell to Oakland, as the Raiders played three lame-duck seasons at the Coliseum, sharing it with the A's, who had removed several sections of Raiders season-ticket holders seats to the Raiders' dismay. The team also saw its Coliseum rent triple at the same time that money from stadium naming rights was lost. And while Davis said he hoped to leave the Bay Area with a Super Bowl championship before departing for the desert, the Raiders were a combined 17-31 in their last three years in Oakland (they went 12-12 at home). Fans booed quarterback Derek Carr off the field in the Oakland finale, a dispiriting loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and threw trash and food at players as they left the field the final time. Carr said it was time for some "fresh air." -- Gutierrez

A's: In 2014, after getting stonewalled in their attempt to move to San Jose, the A's signed a 10-year extension on their lease at the Coliseum (it expires after the 2024 season). The team says it plans to spend the 2025 and 2026 seasons at Las Vegas Ballpark -- the 10,000-capacity stadium that houses its Triple-A affiliate -- before moving into the new stadium for the 2027 season.

Timelines, of course, are met most easily when there is a deal in place. (There isn't.) Or when there are plans for a stadium. (Public officials have seen only renderings.) Or when an organization has approval to move, and that timing is entirely unclear: While the plan was for MLB owners to vote on the A's moving to Las Vegas at the owners' meetings this week, that vote is now off. A 2027 opening for the new Vegas park remains the goal. But much like the lack of forethought led to the legislature's public disillusionment, the longer the A's take to firm up their plan, the less likely a well-executed one becomes. -- Passan

The public response

Raiders: Fans gathered at the iconic WELCOME TO FABULOUS LAS VEGAS sign at the southern end of the Strip and celebrated after the vote was announced in 2017. And while Davis made the decision to not allow fans into Allegiant Stadium in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Raiders have averaged 61,590 fans in 17 regular-season home games since -- despite some continued COVID restrictions in 2021 (they averaged 62,045 in eight games last season, when no restrictions were in place).

It is a decidedly more mellow atmosphere than in Oakland, where Raider Nation and the Black Hole cut an imposing image. Allegiant has a true Las Vegas club vibe, with halftime concerts befitting a Super Bowl halftime show, from Santana to Ice Cube to John Fogerty performing. Alas, while the Raiders did a pre-move study to show that most season-ticket holders would be Raiders fans, Las Vegas is a destination city, and those personal seat licenses and accompanying seats are expensive. So if/when the team is not doing well, it's easy enough for those fans to recoup some of those costs by selling seats to visiting fans, as evidenced by Bears fans overtaking Allegiant Stadium in 2021 and Broncos, Chiefs and 49ers supporters doing the same last year. -- Gutierrez

A's: To be clear, this is not like when the Raiders, an iconic brand in the dominant American sport, were coming to Vegas. Nor is it like the Golden Knights, who built their identity around becoming the first major professional sports team in Las Vegas.

Here is the reality about the A's. Even after a recent seven-game winning streak, they are 19-50 -- on pace to go 45-117 this season. They have the lowest payroll in baseball, and it's not really close. Fisher, their owner, is widely regarded inside the game as one of the worst in the sport, loath to devote the proper resources -- payroll, infrastructure, manpower and other areas -- to winning. The team's farm system can't provide immediate help. Las Vegas, which could have potentially gotten an expansion franchise, instead stands to inherit a team whose problems go well beyond a dreadful stadium.

Though there are plenty in Las Vegas who want the A's to come -- casinos, commerce wonks, labor unions -- the loudest voices belong not to the advocates but the aggrieved. Oakland fans are livid. They believe that if Fisher would sell the team, the new owner could work with Mayor Sheng Thao and make Howard Terminal a reality. Fans gathered Tuesday at the Coliseum for a so-called reverse boycott, when more than 27,000 fans showed up and feted Fisher with booming, relentless chants of "Sell the team." They were there to say that Oakland is a baseball city and that their refusal to show up to the stadium isn't an indictment on the fan base. It's the natural reaction to an owner who treats them like John Fisher does. -- Passan