Mayor Thao’s insistence on keeping the name and badgering the MLB for an expansion team likely killed any real chance of saving the A’s.
Following comments made this week that if the Major League Baseball Oakland Athletics were to stay in the city past their 2024 lease expiration at the Oakland Coliseum, the city would keep the name and be allowed to have a front spot for any expansion in the league, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao ruined any chance for the A’s to remain in Oakland.
This article was written by Evan Symon and originally published by The California Globe.
Since the early 2000’s, the Oakland A’s, one of the Bay Area’s two Major League Baseball (MLB) teams along with the San Francisco Giants, have been looking to build a new stadium somewhere in Northern California because their current ballpark, the Oakland Coliseum, proving to be outdated and literally crumbling around them. As the team brings in millions to the city each year through taxes, fees, and fans spending money at nearby businesses, the city always made it a priority to try and keep not only the A’s in town, but also the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
However, plans for a new stadium in Fremont were blocked by city leaders in the mid 2000’s, with a potential stadium in San Jose being shot down because of being in the Giants’ media area. A stadium on the campus of Laney College was also rejected by College leadership. The most recent attempt for a stadium was back in Oakland itself at Howard Terminal. However, years of negotiations turned out to be slow, with taxpayers being outraged at the hundreds of millions being thrown at the team for the new stadium. While the city forged ahead, many port and rail officials soon also noted that the new stadium could really interfere with operations. Detractors said that the city just wanted to give the team a waterfront spot for a stadium to try and keep them.
In 2022, things had been looking good for the stadium until the city fell through on plan deadlines, causing the MLB Commissioner to raise doubt that the team would stay in Oakland. By this time, the city had already lost out on its two other teams, with the Warriors moving to a new arena in San Francisco and the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, with both teams getting new stadium and arena deals. This led to the announcement in April that the A’s would in fact be moving to Las Vegas sometime between the 2025 and 2028 seasons.
Since then, the move has crawled along at a snail’s pace. The spot on the Las Vegas strip where the new ballpark is supposed to go, where the Tropicana hotel and casino currently stands, has delayed demolition as the votes and paperwork are finalized. The baseball owners are also yet to vote on the move, as well as additional red tape and other okays to formally move the team. That said, it is close to being a pretty much done deal, with a slight chance that the Howard Terminal site can still pull through in Oakland.
This week, however, things radically changed. On Tuesday, the Mayor’s office announced that after a meeting with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, she would be willing to negotiate a temporary lease extension so that the team could stay in the city past 2024 until a new stadium is built. However, the terms were anything but generous. Thao noted that the first choice would be to keep the team in Oakland and urged owners not to approve relocation. But if it was approved and the Las Vegas move was pushed forward, Thao said she wanted to keep the team name for a future team, as well as the city being first in line for an expansion team.
Thao’s talk with Rob Manfred
“The mayor was clear that in order to negotiate the terms of that lease extension we would be looking for many of the same things that we had been discussing with the A’s,” said the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Leigh Hanson. “Those included the team obviously remaining in Oakland and insisting the owners do not approve the relocation application. If that did not work, we would want to have conversations about retaining the brand of the A’s, similar to the Cleveland Browns and other teams that kept their name. Then finally the guarantee of an expansion team in Oakland.”
Complicating matters was that the Athletics could circumnavigate any deal like that, and instead play temporarily at Oracle Park in San Francisco, a minor league stadium in Las Vegas, or at another nearby site for a few years while waiting. As the Athletics said in in a statement, it is what the league and players union decide on, not the City of Oakland.
“It really comes down to the league and the union and their decision to what makes the most sense,” said Athletics team president Dave Kaval. “We’re kind of deferring to them on that. We’re providing all the necessary information that they need. But in the end, we’re going to take direction from the league in the interim.”
The MLB itself has also challenged Thao’s claims on discussing a lease extension, saying that it had not been discussed during meetings last month. Thao’s office fired back this week that it had been discussed.
“I think it’s disingenuous and unfortunate,” said Hanson. “I’m trying to give the benefit of the doubt. We didn’t have the lease agreement in front of us, we were not discussing specific terms, it was a conversation about the mayor’s goals, and the topic of an extension of the Coliseum lease definitely came up. I was in the room.”
“Well, I won’t make it specific to MLB, but Mayor Thao is a young woman of color in a position of power, and she’s quite used to being underestimated. Manfred agreed that Oakland was an exceptional site for an MLB team, and that he, over the last 10 to 15 years, had been advocating for the A’s to make every last possible effort to stay in Oakland, because of the history of the team, and also because of the media market, and of the number of other cities that are on the short list for expansion, Oakland is certainly one of the most attractive.”
However, experts on sports team relocations and expansion told the Globe on Friday that Thao’s insistence on keeping the name and badgering the MLB for an expansion team likely killed any real chance of saving the A’s in Oakland outside of the Las Vegas deal going belly up.
The Athletics to Las Vegas
“Whenever a Mayor or other public official starts making demands like that a league, nine out of ten times the owner decides to move,” explained Roger Pataki, who studies sports team relocations. “Maryland lawmakers in 1982 and 1983 began making more and more demands of the NFL’s Baltimore Colts, and were even attempting to keep them in Baltimore through eminent domain. well, in 1984, the day before it was to be enacted, the owner literally moved the team to Indianapolis overnight.”
“It’s funny that she mentions the Browns, because the same thing happened. Local officials were failing to keep the team in the 90s, made a bunch of threats, and they lost the team. This is all very general, and in both cases, the owner became such a pariah that they are still hated in those cities respectively today. I have personally witnessed someone saying something good about former Browns owner Art Modell in Cleveland and that person being punched. And now it is al eerily similar now with the Athletics and John Fisher trying to move the team.”
“But what Thao did, threaten to take the team name and try to bully the MLB into giving them an expansion team, is just hurting the team. For any A’s fans, yes, Fisher is the main reason here why the team is going to Vegas. You have every right to be mad with him and want him to sell the team. But Thao sort of just screwed the city too.”
“She didn’t realize that the Athletics is not an Oakland name. It’s a legacy name of the team. The team played as the Philadelphia Athletics for 53 years. Kept the name. Then they moved to Kansas City. Kept the name. Then, in 1968, they moved to Oakland. Kept the name. There is no way they are going to ruin that 122 legacy run like that. The Browns kept their name during the move, sure, but they had always been in Cleveland. This is the Athletics third city, soon to be fourth.
“Even worse is demanding an expansion team. Oakland has proven for years that they can’t figure out a new stadium, and the MLB will not give an expansion team unless it is approved. Right now, several teams have mentioned relocation, with the Tampa Bay Rays the next most likely to move because of stadium issues. The MLB needs to figure those out first before any expansion.
“Mayors before Thao are solely known as the Mayors who lost the Raiders and Warriors. She does not want her defining image to be that of the person who lost the Athletics. But she is playing it all wrong, and she just might have ruined any real chance to keep the team as a result. It’s just sad because the A’s really do have a lot of fans in Oakland and don’t deserve this. They deserve better than Fisher and Thao.”
The owners vote on the A’s relocation is likely to be held soon.