Oakland reportedly a ‘top two expansion site’ once A’s leave

Oakland will be an attractive expansion city, sure, but what does that mean exactly, and who does this information actually benefit?

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According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Oakland might not be without a baseball team for long after the A’s eventually vacate for Las Vegas. It’s just a little note in a longer article, so, here it is in full:

Although the Oakland A’s will be moving to Las Vegas, the city may not be without a team very long.

High-ranking executives say that if Oakland officials and an ownership group secure a site to build a new ballpark, they will join Nashville, Tennessee, as the top two expansion sites in the next five years.

This shouldn’t be surprising for a number of reasons. Commissioner Rob Manfred can go to bat for A’s owner John Fisher all he wants, but he does that because it’s his job to help Fisher accomplish whatever goal or complete whatever scheme he has in mind. Fisher wanted to be god-king of Las Vegas with a newspaper that would fete him while he collects revenue-sharing dollars with no proof he’ll reinvest them in the team, so, no matter how good the city of Oakland’s offers were for a publicly financed stadium, Fisher wasn’t going to be as interested as he should have been. That has nothing to do with Oakland’s viability as a baseball town, though: if Vegas, which automatically becomes the smallest media market in MLB and has a metro population of 2.3 million — putting it right alongside the likes of Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Cleveland — is capable in MLB’s eyes of hosting a club, then Oakland, even splitting its fifth-largest media market with the San Francisco Giants, is one, too.

As I wrote for Baseball Prospectus back in June, the A’s could have made money in Oakland, and the reason they didn’t is because they stopped giving fans a reason to spend it on them:

These are all self-inflicted wounds. The A’s didn’t have to try to game the system with this constant trading and rebuilding, but ownership put them in this position. John Fisher, who became majority owner in 2005, is responsible for the A’s Way—being cheap—and was even happier to put in less effort financially once they no longer received revenue-sharing checks. They were no longer eligible, by the way, because they play in a top-five media market: they just happen to share it with the Giants. Still, this is the kind of thing that can only stop a franchise if they let it, and the A’s, well before Fisher, were happy to let it. The fans lost interest, because there was nothing to interest them any longer: a sustained attempt at success could have changed things, but the only constant with the A’s is pressing the reset button a year too early to avoid pressing it a year too late. Moving to Las Vegas won’t mean a higher gate if the team is still operating this way, because, most years, it still won’t be worth watching; once that initial new-team honeymoon is over, the A’s better be actually trying. Just because the team will be in Vegas in a couple of years, though, doesn’t mean you need to bet on them doing so, and it will become clear very soon to everyone that Oakland was never the issue here.

Which is a long way of saying that a new team in Oakland could do better, so long as they try to be better. It’s not going to be a very high bar to clear!

And the city of Oakland seems aware of their own potential as a baseball town, given their mayor is trying to negotiate the retention of the name “Athletics” for an expansion team down the road, in exchange for continuing the stadium lease the A’s could use while their new home in Vegas is under construction.

This is all well and good, but there’s one thing left to wonder about here. Is expansion actually going to happen? MLB likes to talk about it, sure, and those expansion fees of over $2 billion would be a great way to replace some lost television revenues until the league figures out what’s next for broadcasting, but there are so many reasons to never expand and leave it as a dangling carrot, as well. Back in May, also for BP, I wrote a piece titled, “Will MLB’s Stadium Renovation Tour Ever Leave Room for Expansion?” I didn’t have a definitive answer there — I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this question — but the scales are tilting more in one direction than the other, for sure:

Maybe we’ll get that return to Montreal or the first team in Mexico someday, but the chances that the team in question is a relocated one instead of an expansion one are probably greater than you think. Maybe not equal, but still, more than is implied by Manfred bringing those cities up all the time as expansion candidates would suggest. Expansion would be great—sure, on the one hand there are a million concerns to address about quality of competition and how to build the expansion team rosters and hey didn’t the league just shorten the draft and shrink the minors, but on the other, two more teams in a league that’s back to record-setting success and can afford to attempt to grow in new markets. As much as the current 30 owners would love to split some 10-digit expansion fees, they’d also love to be able to threaten to take off for Nashville or Charlotte whenever they aren’t getting as much taxpayer money as they’d like for a new stadium or renovations of an old one. And if new teams fill those slots, well. Threatening to move to Manchester, NH just doesn’t carry the same weight, you know?

Nightengale used “high-ranking executives” as sources for his story on Oakland being an attractive expansion destination. High-ranking executives from where, of what? Doesn’t matter, really: if they’re within MLB, then it’s to their benefit that Oakland remains seen this way even after the A’s bailing on the city. So of course you’d want to plant stories saying Oakland is an attractive destination, because it will inevitably make Nashville have to step up their game that much more if the time comes for expansion, or, as said above, the more likely candidate of relocation. And even if the A’s are the only actual team to be relocating both now and for decades to come, the threat of relocation can be effective — ask Jerry Reinsdorf about that one. Hell, that could even be the anonymous high-ranking executive Nightengale spoke to for this story: someone like Reinsdorf would love nothing more than to have another city to pit Nashville against in his bid to get yet another new White Sox stadium paid for in Chicago. See what I’m getting at here?

So, Oakland is very likely the top or close to it for potential expansion sites. But whether expansion is a real thing MLB wants to do, or just a word they like to throw around because they know it generates interest and eventually drums up some public funds for whatever stadium scheme they’ve got going on remains to be seen. Regardless, you shouldn’t get too excited if you’re in Oakland, though, given the history of people in that city and their relationship with MLB, they probably don’t need to hear that from someone else.

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