The Blunt Reality Facing Oakland Sports Fans

About two weeks ago, the Nevada legislature, called into special session by Governor Joe Lombardo, passed a financing package for a new ballpark on the Las Vegas Strip for the Oakland Athletics, making that venerable franchise’s relocation to Las Vegas seemingly a fait accompli. Not since the Seattle Supersonics were inexplicably sold to a group of Oklahoma businessmen and needlessly stolen from the Pacific Northwest has a professional sports franchise relocation been more controversial and hated. Admittedly that covers a period of relative stability in franchise locations in the traditional four major sports with no teams moving after the Sonics until the NFL got serious about re-colonizing Los Angeles, and I don’t mean to denigrate the hard feelings the people of St. Louis and San Diego have about losing their NFL teams, but the backlash to the A’s pending relocation is definitely up there with the biggest ones in pro sports history, with A’s fans staying away from the stadium and their terrible team in droves except for a “reverse boycott” where over 20,000 fans swarmed the stadium in a massive show of support for keeping the team in Oakland. Owner John Fisher has been accused of following the “Major League” playbook for moving a team, intentionally driving away fans by making the team stink to better justify moving the team, while not seriously negotiating with the Oakland and Alameda County governments on a new stadium project at Howard Terminal that would have had more capacity than the Vegas stadium and given Fisher the opportunity to benefit from miscellaneous redevelopment in the area not possible in Vegas. And while sports commissioners are expected to stand by their owners no matter what, Rob Manfred’s aggressive and antagonistic remarks have further inflamed tensions and raised questions about just how good a commissioner he really is.

It’s an especially bitter pill to swallow for the people of Oakland, which stands to go from three major professional sports franchises to none in less than five years. The loss of the Raiders to Vegas and the Warriors across the bay stung, but they had their own logic to it and didn’t seem quite so unnecessary or cruel as what’s happening with the A’s. Folks in the East Bay argue that Oakland is its own city with its own culture and shouldn’t be lumped in with San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, and deserves its own teams separate from it. A number of commentators have made the argument that, contrary to Fisher’s and Manfred’s claims, the A’s may well actually be better off as the second team in the Bay Area, a top-ten media market, than as the one team in Las Vegas, one of the smallest markets in professional sports.

All of that may be true, but nonetheless I can’t bring myself to feel as bad for the people of Oakland as in the case of other infamous franchise relocations. When you understand how the businessmen in the front offices of the major professional sports leagues think, it becomes apparent that Oakland is just too close to San Francisco, and the Bay Area as a whole not large enough, to justify having its own separate teams, especially considering the geography of Northern California as a whole, and it’s actually a minor miracle that MLB and the NFL put up with having teams in both Oakland and San Francisco for so long. 

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