Seven years ago, Southern Nevada really was a desert when it came to major league professional sports. Well, look at it now.
Las Vegas is on the cusp of welcoming baseball as its fourth major league professional franchise. A unanimous cusp at that.
It was a 30-0 sweep of votes, Major League Baseball owners on Thursday agreeing that the Oakland Athletics could move to Las Vegas. It’s not the final hurdle to scale for such reality — there are more than a few serious ones remaining — but the finish line is in clear sight.
I came to town in 2006, when UNLV basketball was considered the pro team and UNLV football was losing (a lot) at Sam Boyd Stadium and the Triple-A Aviators (then the 51s) were holding things together via some serious glue and duct tape at decrepit Cashman Field.
If you would have told me then that Las Vegas would eventually be one of just 20 American cities with at least three of the big four major sports teams, I would have predicted a local soccer team would one day drop thousands of dollars from a helicopter to its fans. Oh, wait.
It’s happening. The Sports Capital of the World just got even bigger.
We’ve joined an elite group of cities, and Las Vegas is the smallest among them as the country’s 40th market, which tells you how much people want to be here. And don’t think for a second the NBA isn’t on its way.
We always have been among the best one-off places for sports. NASCAR. National Finals Rodeo. Prize fights. College basketball tournaments. Now a Formula One race. Soon a Super Bowl and Final Four.
But it’s a different taste, an idea the A’s would join the Raiders and Golden Knights and Aces as major sports teams here. And you want that if it works. The publicity. The different ways to showcase yourself to the world. The manner in which your city can bask under those shiny lights that come with the presence of such things.
Now, the A’s have much to prove. More specifically, owner John Fisher.
The company line has been that with a new ballpark here — tentatively scheduled to open in 2028 — and the revenues generated from it, Fisher will reinvest such funds back into his team’s payroll. That things like 112-loss seasons will be a thing of the distant past.
We’ll see. Since 2015, the A’s have had MLB’s 24th lowest payroll or worse. It has been last the past two years. It’s a bad pattern.
Aviators president Don Logan has never wavered in his belief publicly or privately, claiming from the beginning this would eventually occur. Never thought for a second the A’s wouldn’t one day make Las Vegas home.
“To me, you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist, and I’m not one of those,” Logan said, “We’ve proven we’re a great sports town. Period. Baseball lends itself to this market because it’s mostly played at a slow time of year for us. I just knew in my gut it would happen. They just couldn’t get anything done in Oakland.”
Logan was at a Dodgers-Diamondbacks game in Phoenix a decade ago when more than half the ballpark was decked out in blue and not red. And he thought: With all Las Vegas had in terms of entertainment, it had as much or more to offer than most for baseball.
It’s true the Dodgers will draw here. The Yankees and Red Sox and Cubs, too. But what about the Royals on a Wednesday day game? What about the Pirates for a three-game weekend series? What will the mix of tourists compared to locals really be?
The market must prove it can support another team, but media rights deals with streaming and other such avenues are different in 2023 than before. Winning would help a lot. Always does around these parts. Look at UNLV football right now.
Some will love the idea of the A’s coming. Some will loathe it. But nobody can deny the strides Las Vegas has made in becoming a major sports town in such a short time.
You couldn’t have seen it seven years ago. Couldn’t have imagined it.
But it happened. Look at it now.
Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.