Kawakami: Las Vegas’ shaky future and signs of another John Fisher failure
The A’s would be on the verge of opening a brand-new stadium near Laney College in Oakland these days if even some of the things they planned and promised in 2017 came true. But no one did.
This might sound familiar: Even after the A’s admitted defeat in the Laney debacle, they would probably be in the final stages of building a new stadium on the Howard Terminal site right this minute if owner John Fisher and his lieutenants had their hands full. He cheered and announced that it had already happened. Then they delayed it and postponed it again, negotiated with the city of Oakland, and still kept promising.
All Fisher did all that time (and for three or four other failed efforts before that, dating back decades), was actually waste time. Very valuable time. His own time, his employees’ time, the politicians’ time and, most importantly, the fans’ time and their feelings. Lost. Just completely wasted. He could have had a stadium by now, many times over, if he had been willing to devote more of his vast resources than he wanted to.
You can blame whoever you want, but the common denominator in this is John Fisher. And failure.
And now we move on to the new situation in Las Vegas, which is starting to look like all the old Fisher positions in all the other postponed, frustrating and ultimately doomed stadium efforts.
That’s what I took away from the very interesting comments made by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on a Front Office Sports podcast, casting a bit of doubt on the planned move to the site of the soon-to-be-defunct Tropicana Las Vegas hotel, which, it’s important to note, is located in Clark County is unincorporated and not within Goodman’s jurisdiction. Additionally, Goodman moderately retracted her comments shortly after.
Again, Goodman was not speaking to any real authority on the matter. But just take her skepticism — she literally said that privileged people should know how to build in Oakland — as a representation of the Las Vegas demographic that never seemed excited about privileged people moving to Nevada.
Just as with any other demographic, business, or fan group: the more you know about Fisher’s process, the less you believe anything good will happen.
For me, the most telling point was not Goodman’s comments. The reason was that her apparent ambivalence about what was best in Las Vegas was met with almost complete silence among the powerful people in that area. Duplication upon duplication. Where was the rallying cry from all those companies and fans supposedly lining up to welcome superstar players? Where was the energy? Why didn’t anyone with influence step forward and declare that the mayor was wrong and that the Titans would storm this city in 2028, the new theoretical end date?
If there was a big vote of confidence in Fisher this week, I certainly didn’t see it.
Rosenthal: Why I remain skeptical about Vegas’ lavish plans
And I wonder if Fisher himself feels that way too. Because, if he was honest with himself, he might come to the same conclusions I just came to, sitting here more than six years after his plans at Laney College fell through and almost a year after he pulled out of the Howard Station talks to focus solely on Las Vegas.
We start with the big result:
Fisher is practically no further in Las Vegas Stadium than he was in the Howard Terminal project early last year.
Stop and review that sentence again. I’m not exaggerating the effect. Taking the mood of the locals into account, he would probably take a step or two behind This is a pace that must be somewhat frightening for Fisher and everyone involved in the situation in Las Vegas. This means that if anyone wants to be honest with themselves.
Of course, Fisher could accomplish this stadium if he did his best, got a real construction plan, mobilized financing and committed several hundred million dollars of his own money. Maybe he still does.
But this was also true of Howard Terminal, Laney College and the Coliseum. That’s always been true, especially at Howard Station, when the city was offering a deal that was more expansive than many insiders expected. He has always refused to make that kind of commitment. He rushes from one project to another and then the plans explode. He always found a way to fail. He’s doing it again in Las Vegas.
Yes, Fisher has MLB approval to move to Las Vegas. Unanimously, even! But he also got MLB approval to build anywhere he wanted in the East Bay. These locations were much more realistic than the small nine-acre plot of land the couple owned in Las Vegas.
That’s why the MLB relocation vote in November wasn’t the final step. It wasn’t even the first step of the final stage of it. There is so much to discover. There’s a lot up in the air.
Yes, Fisher will receive $380 million from the state of Nevada. But that’s only if “A” is built on the Tropicana site. It’s probably too small to fit under the retractable roof — there’s that backstory of a Vegas night — and generally seems too small for an indoor Major League Baseball.
There will be no greatness within this theoretical playing field. There will be no sunlight. It will feel small and cramped. It will be just another big, air-conditioned attraction vying for attention with parlor shows, mob museums, animal habitats, and, oh yeah, every type of casino imaginable.
At Howard Station, the playground was next to the bay, and would have been outdoors. There would have been, eventually, a mixed-use neighborhood surrounding the stadium. It was much better than anything that could be found at the Tropicana location. I don’t mean to say that, and the mayor of Las Vegas just did that.
Even if work begins on the stadium in Las Vegas, the estimated opening date of 2028 is too optimistic given all the delays so far — 2029 or 2030 seems much more realistic..
So, where will the first team play after this season, when their Coliseum lease expires? Oh my God, Fisher has no announced plans. He doesn’t know, other than it seems likely the A’s will become a touring team, perhaps playing some in Sacramento, some in Salt Lake City, some in a couple of small parks in Nevada.
Yes, looking and acting like a 4A team may not be the ideal way to market this franchise in a new city.
Of course, to help with marketing, the A’s have lost a total of 214 games the past two seasons. And they’re about to cut their TV payouts significantly because they’ll likely be playing most of their games outside of NBC Sports Bay Area’s broadcast territory. So you know Fisher will keep salaries as low as possible.
I can’t imagine how the A’s will be any better than they have been the last two seasons, and they may even be worse. Until 2029 or 2030.
Buy your Las Vegas season tickets now!
When I expressed my extreme cynicism about Fisher to high-ranking people in baseball throughout the Fisher Stadium saga, they usually shook their heads approvingly but tried to emphasize the positive side. This time, they said, he must do it right. This time he has to do it.
They said that again about the situation in Las Vegas, and I understand that. Fisher has no other options. MLB has shamefully rejected Oakland and opened the Las Vegas market to it. There’s no way out. If Fisher is going to get this done, it has to be done now. It would be very embarrassing not to. Any logical owner will accomplish this.
I keep saying: I’ve watched Fisher do illogical things every step of the way. I’ve seen him get lost So A lot of the time – the A’s are probably farther away from the field now than they were a year ago, when they were farther away than they were a year ago, and farther away than they were 10 years ago. We know other MLB owners don’t want to force Fisher to sell the team. But if there’s anything that will make them think about it, or at least strongly suggest to Fisher that it’s time to pass this team to someone else, it’s if he screws up in Las Vegas.
It may not be inevitable, but it will certainly be a betting option now.
(Photo of the potential future site of the Las Vegas Football Stadium, currently mostly dirt: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Tags for translation) Oakland Athletics