A’s betting Nevada politicians and their voters are idiots

A’s betting Nevada politicians and their voters are idiots

Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo and A's Owner John Fisher.

When the news broke late Wednesday night that the Oakland A's had signed a binding agreement to purchase 49 acres (with an option for additional land) near the Las Vegas Strip, several media outlets reported that it was the final nail in the coffin for the city of Oakland's chances of keeping the A's. That is simply not true.

Critical thinking must be exercised at all times when analyzing moves made by the A's organization. The reality is that owner John Fisher has done nothing more than start a real estate transaction to purchase an empty lot. This is something anyone could do with the help of a real estate agent. Go on Zillow and see just how much land is available for purchase right now in Las Vegas. It’s quite substantial.

Now it's time for the critical thinking part. After years of running into brick walls in an effort to finalize a new stadium deal in Oakland, the A's are tired of waiting around. The Las Vegas land purchase is a brilliant 4D chess move to truly see where things stand in both the Oakland and Las Vegas markets. Fisher must have been chortling with delight after enacting the first step of his plan.

Here are two possible goals John Fisher is aiming for with this purchase of land on the Las Vegas Strip, starting with the most likely to succeed.

Fisher sells team to group that keeps them in Oakland

Believe it or not, John Fisher is human. He is one of the few owners in professional sports who can't be seen at his own team's games without being cursed at or having objects thrown at him. That would wear on anybody after a while.

Make no mistake, the A’s are for sale. The only reason Fisher hasn't publicly stated so is that, despite his flaws, he is a shrewd businessman. Fisher’s family founded The Gap, Inc. in 1969, a global clothing and accessories retailer. According to Forbes, his estimated net worth in 2021 was $3.9 billion.

The Las Vegas land purchase has generated the local and national outcry that Fisher was hoping for. Whether it's a certain Warriors owner who wants to swoop in with his Superman cape, or a group of local investors scrambling to put something together, you better believe that Fisher's phone will be ringing soon.

The lack of visibility from Fisher since he and a group of investors purchased the team from Steve Schott and Ken Hofman in 2005 is telling. It was clear from the beginning that he is a businessman first and a sportsman second (or third, or fourth). Based on the available data from the fiscal year 2019, the Oakland A's reported a net income of $50.5 million. In contrast, Fisher’s The Gap, Inc. reported a net income of $351 million in 2019.

The baseball business hasn’t been as profitable to Fisher as the global clothing company he inherited from his parents, Donald and Doris. You can bet that Fisher was taking notes when Chris Cohan sold the Golden State Warriors for an embarrassingly low sum of $450 million in 2010. As of 2021, the Warriors franchise is estimated to be worth approximately $5.2 billion according to Forbes. This makes them the third most valuable NBA franchise, behind the Knicks and Lakers.

Fisher wants to be in a position of strength, unlike his former Coliseum Complex counterpart Cohan was in 2010. If Fisher is even mildly concerned about his legacy and reputation, he can sell the team for more money than he could have gotten before the Las Vegas news. The A's are almost certain to be contacted by eager investors inquiring about the team in the near future. Fisher can then cash out with his head held high and be known as the man who showed some last-minute compassion to A's fans and the city of Oakland.

As for what Fisher would do about the Las Vegas land purchase, he could either sell it or add it to his portfolio. Several MLB teams, most recently the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins in the 1990s, purchased land with the intention of building a new stadium or relocating, but ultimately did not follow through.

Those teams didn't sell the land and used it for non-baseball revenue. The Indians repurposed the land for other ventures, such as a Marriott hotel, a Sherwin-Williams paint factory, and an office complex. The Twins built a Target store and parking ramps on the land they purchased. Maybe what Las Vegas really needs is a giant Gap clothing store on the Strip. It’s hard not to get a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about it.

A's and Nevada agree to build new stadium in Las Vegas

Perhaps the most amusing part of the land purchase near the Las Vegas Strip is the long odds facing the A's to build a stadium there. This is despite MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's overwhelming support for the A's to move to Las Vegas.

Manfred’s endorsement of the team’s departure from Oakland should come as no surprise. It is another example of Manfred promoting actions that hurt African American communities in urban areas, despite past comments about wanting to increase access and exposure to baseball within those communities.

The most prominent example of Manfred’s hypocrisy was when he moved the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. This was done in response to claims that Georgia enacted voter suppression laws designed to decrease turnout among African Americans. These laws actually increased voter turnout in the African American community. A survey indicated that 0% of African American respondents said their voting experience in Georgia was poor in the 2022 midterm election.

Some estimates suggest that Georgia may have lost up to $100 million in revenue as a result of Manfred’s decision to move the All-Star Game. That disproportionately affected their most populous city, Atlanta, which has a 49.7% African American population. In contrast, African Americans only make up 9.7% of Denver's population. Manfred advocating for taking the A's away from Oakland would result in a loss of jobs, tax revenue, and cultural significance for a city with a 23.7% African American population. Taking stances like these really makes you wonder about Rob Manfred.

Despite Manfred putting his thumb on the scale, the A’s face nearly as much of an uphill battle breaking ground on a new stadium in Las Vegas as they do in Oakland. Unlike the Golden Knights and Raiders, there is no grassroots movement or group of local investors clamoring for the A’s to move to Las Vegas. The political will in Clark County and Nevada doesn’t exist at the moment. The A's purchasing land near the Las Vegas Strip actually caught many Nevada lawmakers off-guard.

One problem the A’s immediately face is the lack of approvals and legislation attached to the land they purchased in Las Vegas. They are literally starting from scratch. The A’s and Nevada state lawmakers have approximately six weeks before the current legislative session concludes to finalize the specifics of a $500 million public financing contribution for a retractable roof ballpark with a capacity of approximately 35,000.

The Nevada State Legislative Session takes place every two years. The next session will begin in 2025 after the current session ends. That means if no legislation is passed during these next six weeks, the A's will be stuck in a two-year holding pattern if they want tax dollars, unless Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo — the man who promised to "never" raise taxes — calls a special session to raise taxes.

The issue Lombardo and Nevada state lawmakers face is that they will have to abandon a major campaign promise that got them elected if they ran on a “no new taxes” platform. Voters have become more savvy on fiscal issues in the past two years. Most of them understand that statements like “transferable tax credits” equate to the government raising taxes later to make up for the lost revenue.

Without any approvals or legislation, there is no path forward for the A’s in Las Vegas. John Fisher is betting that Nevada politicians and the people who vote for them are idiots. Come to think of it, that might not be the worst wager you could place in Nevada.

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