The Oakland Athletics have submitted their application for relocation to Major League Baseball, owner John Fisher told ESPN on Thursday, putting the team one step closer to a future in Las Vegas. The fate of the team now resides in the hands of MLB’s owners.
MLB’s three-man relocation committee, consisting of Kansas City Royals chief executive officer John Sherman, Philadelphia Phillies CEO John Middleton and Milwaukee Brewers chairman Mark Attanasio, will review the application and make a recommendation to commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB’s eight-man executive council. Ultimate approval requires a three-quarters vote of the 30 team owners. No vote has been scheduled.
Fisher, in his first national interview since purchasing the A’s in 2005, attributed the decision to move the franchise to a number of factors — primarily, the inability of the city of Oakland to make good on its promise to provide public funding for the offsite infrastructure at Howard Terminal, a $12 billion, 55-acre waterfront ballpark/real estate project.
“In the end, we concluded that the city had not raised sufficient money to cover the commitments it made,” Fisher said. “We also had a deadline imposed by the collective bargaining agreement from a year and a half ago that required the A’s have a binding agreement on a new stadium by January of 2024 or we would lose our revenue sharing, which would be hugely detrimental to the organization.”
A spokesperson for Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao pushed back on Fisher’s assertions Thursday night, saying the city had raised $475 million and was just $101 million short of reaching its goal. In addition, two grants totaling another $65 million are due to pay out in the next month, bringing the city to within $36 million of its share.
The A’s lease on the Oakland Coliseum, the team’s home since 1968, expires after next season, and the Las Vegas stadium will not open until 2028 at the earliest. Fisher said he is unsure where the team will play in the interim, adding that he’d be open to an extension of the Coliseum lease.
The A’s have the lowest payroll in baseball and have not signed a prominent free agent during Fisher’s 18-year tenure. They are in the midst of one of the worst seasons in big league history, at 37-91. After winning 97 games in 2021, the A’s tore down a young and promising team, trading All Stars Matt Olson, Sean Murphy and Matt Chapman before the start of the 2022 season.
That will change once the team moves to Las Vegas, Fisher promised, citing the proposed $1.5 billion in private financing for a 33,000-seat ballpark on nine acres on The Strip.
“We would not be making that kind of investment if we weren’t planning on putting a team on the field that can win the World Series,” Fisher said. “We understand that Vegas wants a winner and demands a winner.”
Fisher and Lew Wolff purchased the A’s in 2005 for a reported $180 million. Forbes estimates the current value of the team at nearly $1.2 billion. Fisher on Thursday reiterated a claim he made earlier in the week to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, saying the A’s lost $40 million last year alone. Given the available revenue streams, especially from local and national media rights, the figure raised eyebrows among sports economists.
“I’m the one writing the checks,” Fisher said, “so I think I know what things cost.”
Fisher has been a target of the fans’ wrath in Oakland since announcing the Las Vegas plan in April. Green T-shirts with “SELL” written across the chest in white are prominent at every game, as are chants for Fisher to sell the team.
Asked what he thinks of the protests, Fisher said, “I take it personally, as I should. It’s my decision to move the team. The decision was mine. And so I understand and appreciate the way fans feel about that decision.”