Friday, April 21, 2023 | 2 a.m.
While the Athletics have shifted their focus to building an ultramodern baseball stadium and relocating in Las Vegas, the move isn’t likely to force their top minor league affiliate out of the city.
The Las Vegas Aviators, the Triple-A affiliate of the A’s since 2019, would need to ultimately sign off on sharing the market, team president Don Logan told the Sun Thursday. Additionally, the A’s and Aviators would need the blessing of Major League Baseball and commissioner Rob Manfred.
But bringing the A’s to town will be beneficial to both parties, Logan said.
“Major League Baseball always takes precedence,” said Logan, adding that rule changes in 2020 make it easier for a pro team and its affiliate to coexist in the same market. “The fact that the A’s are our affiliate makes it pretty simple. We’re all on the same team. We all want the best for the A’s organization because getting the right kind of stadium where they can generate the appropriate revenues to be able to compete for better players, from a dollars-and-cents standpoint, is going to make us better.”
A’s President Dave Kaval said Wednesday the team signed a binding purchase agreement last week for 49 acres off the northwest side of Tropicana Avenue and Dean Martin Drive. The deal was for the land only, but Kaval said the team is no longer focusing on Oakland, where the team has played since 1968, as a tenable option for a new ballpark.
“For us, that is way preferred because it’s awesome to have your Triple-A affiliate in the same market as the Major League team,” Kaval said.
Having a minor-league team in close proximity to its professional sister team is nothing new, Kaval pointed out. The St. Paul Saints serve as the Triple-A affiliate for the Minnesota Twins, which play in nearby Minneapolis; and the Sugar Land Space Cowboys are the top affiliate for the Houston Astros. Outside of baseball, the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights have their American Hockey League affiliate, the Silver Knights, based in Henderson.
Derek Sharrer, general manager of the Saints, told the Sun in a phone interview that he and Twins front office management agree having the two teams so close to each other is a plus for player development, and also allows for some roster decisions to be made instantly.
“The flexibility that it provides the Minnesota Twins having their Triple-A affiliate only 10 miles away is an incredible value for them,” Sharrer said. “They can move players on a moment’s notice. They can have a player in our lineup at 3 o’clock in the afternoon that can be transitioned to their lineup by the 7 o’clock game if necessary.”
It’s also a quality-of-life enhancement for the fringe Major Leaguers or so-called Four-A players, who don’t have to worry constantly about being relegated back and forth, Sharrer said.
“A player that knows they’re going to spend some time with the Major League team and with the Triple-A team has the ability to sort of settle in a little bit more than they would in another situation if the Triple-A franchise was further away,” Sharrer said. “So they can maybe settle into a house as opposed to an apartment.”
There’s also a benefit for fans, who will be able to be more familiar with highly-touted prospects before they make their big league debut, Sharrer said. That’s also been the case in St. Paul.
“There’s more of a connection with the major league team in St. Paul as a Triple-A affiliate of the Twins then there would be for a Triple-A team outside of Minnesota that our fan base, for the most part, are Twins fans,” Sharrer said. “So they’re following the prospects as they work their way up the ladder.”
Sharrer continued: “So there’s an excitement level when that player gets called up from Double-A to Triple-A. And then they’re going to not only are they going to have an opportunity here in St. Paul to watch that player as a minor leaguer, but then they can follow them across the river to watch them at the major leagues level as well.”
Sharrer points out the trend of a minor league club in such close proximity to its professional counterpart, at least in MLB, is still a relatively new development. St. Paul and Sugar Land were both independent semi-pro teams that weren’t affiliated with MLB before the 2021 season.
The traditional line of thinking wasn’t that the minor league affiliate would take away from the pro team’s market share, but actually the inverse, Sharrer said. But like the Aviators, which are celebrating their 40th anniversary of minor league ball in Las Vegas, the Saints have been rooted in St. Paul since 1993, meaning they have a long-established relationship with fans and corporate sponsors.
“We had built market equity over a 28-year window prior to becoming an affiliate of the Twins,” Sharrer said. “Over time, I think those fears have been alleviated.”
Logan agreed, adding that spectators largely attend major league games to catch marquee matchups and star players, whereas the minor leagues are tailored to providing a fun game day experience for all.
It’s a different business model at this level,” Logan said. “But, obviously, it’s still about the baseball.”
Over the past six years, the A’s and the city of Oakland have been negotiating to build a $12 billion waterfront stadium district along the San Francisco Bay, known formally as the Howard Terminal project. The A’s were able to agree on a framework for a deal with the city, but haven’t been able to agree on a community benefits package for surrounding infrastructure and affordable housing, which is required for new developments in Oakland.
Las Vegas was first identified as a possible relocation spot for the A’s after MLB Commissioner Manfred gave the team the OK to search for new cities in July 2021, and made it clear conditions at its current home, the nearly 60-year-old Oakland Coliseum, highlighted the need for a new stadium.
The A’s lease at the Coliseum ends in 2024, and it’s not immediately clear where the A’s will play for the 2025 and 2026 seasons, a team spokesperson said. One option, Kaval told the Mercury News in a recent interview, would be to play at Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Aviators.
But options remain, Kaval said.
“We could potentially extend the lease here in Oakland if that was interesting for the local community,” Kaval told the Bay Area-focused paper. “We do own a 50% ownership stake in the Coliseum site. There’s a variety of options, we’ll defer to MLB on the best path there and working hand in hand with the scheduling team to determine the best course of action.”
Should the A’s play in Las Vegas Ballpark, Logan said the Aviators wouldn’t need to find a temporary home elsewhere. Housing the A’s would also entail some stadium renovations, but Logan said he believed both teams would be able to share the stadium until the new ballpark is ready.
“We’ve talked about it from day one, that we will figure out a way to play concurrently here for that interim period,” Logan said.
Those modifications, he said, might range from changing the field from grass to artificial turf, adding new locker rooms, and improving the existing stadium lights.
Oakland ranked dead last in MLB attendance in 2022, according to the sports information website baseball-reference.com. The A’s averaged about 9,849 fans over 81 home games, giving them a cumulative total of 787,902 visitors last year.
The Aviators, meanwhile, are among the most popular destinations in the minor leagues, and averaged just under 6,910 fans per game last season. That adds up to 518,221 over their 75-game home schedule.
Las Vegas Ballpark can seat up to 10,000. And the prospect of having the A’s play in Downtown Summerlin while the new stadium is underway is an exciting one, Logan said.
Ultimately, Logan hopes it will prime valley residents for life with a new professional franchise.
“If we put it together thoughtfully, and we will, everybody’s working for what is going to be the highest and best exposure for the A’s organization in the market,” Logan said. “And I think it works great.”