June 23, 2024

Before A’s move to Vegas, they’re negotiating how many games they can play elsewhere

Before the Oakland A’s move to Las Vegas, they’re working to negotiate the number of “home” games they’ll be allowed to play anywhere but Las Vegas.

The team is asking the Las Vegas Stadium Authority in Nevada for the freedom to play up to seven games away from their planned stadium in Las Vegas, which the team hopes to open in 2028. Every MLB club’s schedule calls for 81 home games per year.

It’s a peculiar discussion at first glance, but one described by officials involved in the negotiation as standard and aimed at ensuring the A’s can participate in rare events held overseas or at unique locations. This weekend, for instance, the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies are playing a pair of games in London.

“We need some accommodation for the ability to play some of these international matches that are very important for Major League Baseball,” A’s president Dave Kaval said in an interview. “It’s pretty customary.”

But critics wonder if the allowance could be used in ways not foreseen at the moment, and whether those relocated games are properly accounted for in revenue projections that the A’s used to secure $380 million in public financing for their stadium.

The Nevada Independent first reported on the terms, which are contained in a non-relocation agreement that the Stadium Authority is expected to vote on next month. Talks are still underway, and a different number could be settled on, said Steve Hill, chairman of the Las Vegas Stadium Authority.

In “most or many years,” Kaval added, the number of relocated home games the A’s expect is none or “way less” than seven. 

The Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners both recently reached deals extending their stays in their current venues. Baltimore’s deal calls for an allowance of six games away from their stadium, while the Mariners are required to play 90 percent of games in their home park. Both, then, appear in line with what the A’s seek.

But Jeremy Koo, an attorney and A’s fan in Sacramento, Calif., who does not want the team to move to Las Vegas, wrote a letter to the stadium board pointing out that in situations where a new stadium has been built, the language has looked different. Baltimore and Seattle were renewals. But in 2014, the Atlanta Braves agreed to a limit of six games in a consecutive three-year period in “an international or other location as requested by MLB.”

Ultimately, Koo argues, the team “should not be arriving in Las Vegas with one foot already out the door.”

A few years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays hawked a plan that would have had them split their home slate between two locations: Montreal and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area in Florida. Kaval denied the A’s were seeking something akin to the Rays’ Florida-Montreal gambit, on a much smaller scale.

“That’s not what this is about,” Kaval said.

Yet, as currently written, the allowance is not specifically worded around international or “jewel” events, a term broadly encompassing special MLB games.

Seven games is also well more than any one team would typically play.

The sport’s collective bargaining agreement limits the number of “special events” that MLB can schedule in a season to four series of one or two games apiece. That’s across the entire league, not per team.

Hill — who in addition to his role on the stadium authority is also CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and advocated for the A’s to receive public funding — pointed to a sense of future-proofing.

“We’re looking at a 30-year deal here, so what things are like today doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be that way, 25 years from now,” Hill said. “From a common sense standpoint, you might get to the point where a team is playing a series or two someplace else, largely internationally.”

Steve Hill promoting the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix in 2023. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

The possibility also exists that baseball might someday attempt to hold a midseason tournament, a la the NBA.

Koo’s largest concern, though, is that the financial projections the A’s used when securing public funding for their new Las Vegas stadium, slated to open in 2028, were predicated on playing 81 games at home.

“The legislature was sold a different thing than I think what they’re ultimately getting sold through this agreement,” he said.

Hill acknowledged that the number of games the A’s are afforded away from Las Vegas could impact their bond financing, which is determined by the amount of tax revenue expected to be generated.

“The county ends up issuing the bonds, they’ve got financial advisors that advise them on how to view that,” Hill said. “ But if the A’s have the ability to play, say the seven games that they proposed in this round, I think the bond market is going to look at that and say, ‘Well, we’re not gonna take any risk, we’re going to kind of assume they’re going to play all those seven games someplace else.’ And so we’re going to reduce the amount of money that we’re willing to loan them.”

Koo brought up one other possible scenario, also involving baseball in Montreal.

In 2003, the Montreal Expos played 22 home games in San Juan. At the time the decision was made, the Expos’ eventual home, Washington D.C., was considered a front-runner for relocation, but a decision hadn’t been formally made, and some in Puerto Rico viewed the 22 home games as an audition.

Koo noted the proposed non-relocation agreement in Las Vegas gives the A’s a seven-year window with which they could begin to flirt with other cities, at the end of the 30-year deal.

Hill said he was not concerned the A’s would attempt to use the allowance to leverage the area toward the end of the lease.

“No, not really,” Hill said. “One, it’s not enough games to have much leverage. And if we have gotten to the point in that period of time where they feel like they need to use something like that as leverage, we’ve got a relationship that is headed toward real problems anyway.

“Major League Baseball and all the leagues … care about the relationship between all the teams in the cities they’re in, and they push back hard on doing something like that. I don’t think there’s any way in the world, the league would let a team, while they’re still under lease, and there’s all kinds of time to work something out, mess with the city that they’re in. I mean, that just doesn’t happen.”

The A’s, Hill said, are an example of this.

“It’s why you see frankly a fairly extended period of time where things weren’t going well from a relationship standpoint in Oakland, because there was real work and real pressure there to work that out,” Hill said. “You start doing that, and other cities start to pay attention to things like that.”

(Top photo of Dave Kaval: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)