Major League Baseball Commissioner Says Rays or A’s Might Move to Las Vegas
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said his sports association would be open to an MLB franchise moving to Las Vegas. The announcement reverses a decades-long policy against having a franchise so close to the gambling capital of America.
Commissioner Manfred said franchises like the Tampa Bay Rays or the Oakland Athletics would be given consideration, if they wanted to move to Las Vegas. Both franchices play in outdated stadiums at present; neither Tampa nor Oakland want to provide public funding to maintain their baseball teams.
Las Vegas “The Number One Choice”
Rob Manfred’s statement came during the league’s annual meetings at the MLB headquarters in New York City last week. The Chicago Tribute reported that the commissioner said, if MLB decides to move a franchise, Las Vegas would be at the top of the list of relocation spots.
Presumably, the baseball franchise would play its 81 home games each year in the $1.9 billion NFL-ready sports stadium being planned. When the stadium opens in 2020, it will be located a bit off the Las Vegas Strip. The Las Vegas Raiders (Oakland Raiders) and UNLV Football Team will play in the stadium.
MLB Relocation to Las Vegas
The top American sports associations — including the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB — have been against locating franchises in Las Vegas, because of its sports betting industry. The Raiders’ move to Las Vegas made an impact on Rob Manfred and the MLB owners. So did the NHL’s move to Las Vegas; a “Las Vegas Golden Knights” expansion franchise is now in the works for the National Hockey League.
The commissioner of baseball said he planned to keep a close eye on how the NFL and NHL franchises do in Las Vegas. That means attendance figures and revenues as much as it means legal issues stemming from players being in proximity to legal sportsbooks.
Smartphone Sports Bets
In the age of in-play betting on smartphones, most sports executives no longer see proximity to Las Vegas sportsbooks as the immiment danger it once was. The American public also is less concerned about the integrity of the game, simply because players could gamble online, if they chose to do so. The proliferation of gambling throughout the United States also is changing attitudes, due to lottery gambling in 45 states and tribal casinos in over 40.
The attendance figures likely are more of a concern for Rob Manfred. The greater Las Vegas metropolitan area has only around 2 million residents, which is much smaller than most MLB cities. Las Vegas’s smaller population might be mitigated by the fact that 43 million tourists visited the area last year, but no one knows how many visitors to the city would want to go to a Major League Baseball game instead of visiting the casinos, sportsbooks, nightclubs, and Vegas Strip shows.
Tampa Bay Rays to Las Vegas?
Low attendance is another reason the Tampa Bay Rays would consider moving. Even when the Rays were a perennial playoff team, attendance of playoff games was dismal. As the team’s on-field performance has dipped, the Tampa Bay Rays’ attendance figures have gone from troublesome to disastrous. From a peak year average attendance of 27,906 in 2009, the average gate in 2016 was only 15,855. Such figures are unsustainable over the long haul.
The Tampa Bay Rays were the first franchise mentioned by Rob Manfred, so the Rays are likely to be the team likeliest to move. The Oakland A’s have been plagued by a limited budget since the 1970s under Charlie Finley, when the team won 3 straight World Series titles, only to have the owner trade away world class players like Reggie Jackson. The Rays, on the other hand, have less history in the Tampa Bay area, so their ownership likely would be more willing to move.
Oakland A’s to Las Vegas?
If the Oakland A’s moved to Las Vegas, it would be a double-blow for Bay Area sports fans. A city like Oakland losing both a Major League Baseball and an NFL franchise to the same rival city would be an especially hard pill to swallow. Oakland politicians are taking a principled stand they likely deem to be wise and frugal, but such a stance could put a black mark on any local politician’s career.
Given the fact Oakland is just across San Francisco Bay from the 49ers and the baseball Giants, Oakland’s leaders might face less of a reaction from local fans. A generation of sports parents can take their children to San Francisco Giants and Niners games, so it is not quite the same as if a city in the midwest or deep south lost a franchise.