I’ve long been skeptical of the idea of Major League Baseball moving to Las Vegas. Mostly because I don’t see the economics working out.
The economy is in the toilet. Those who do have jobs and homes that aren’t in foreclosure work a disproportionate number of nights. While there are a lot of moneyed tourists coming through, they’re coming to gamble and party, not sit at a ballpark. And even if they were so inclined, you can bet that the casinos would try extra hard to keep them away from doing things that take them off hotel property for three prime time hours each night. Baseball is not event-driven like boxing or even football. There are 81 home games a year and attendance and television ratings are built on locals buying in to the product day-in, day-out, and that’s not really the Las Vegas profile.
But that doesn’t mean that someone won’t try. Reader Rob Browne alerted me to this story that appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal over the weekend. It’s about developer Chris Milam’s plan to buy the Las Vegas 51s (which he just did) and use them — as well as a Major League Soccer team and, hopefully, an NBA team — to anchor a mega sports complex west of Mandalay Bay, right across the freeway. There’s an artist’s rendering of the complex in the linked article. For baseball purposes, here’s the kicker:
With a 9,000-seat ballpark for the 51s, the proposed center, which will be located on a 63-acre parcel, will feature a 17,500-seat arena designed to house an NBA basketball team and a 36,000-seat stadium for a Major League Soccer squad … The two partially enclosed stadiums will be designed to allow expansion. The ballpark could expand to 36,000 seats to accommodate a Major League Baseball team.
None of that eliminates the demographic challenges baseball in Las Vegas faces. And, if you read the article you can see that such a plan faces all of the usual political and economic hurdles that prevent sexy artist’s renderings from becoming reality.
But the notion of a half-step on the stadium side with an existing, ready-for-expansion building could move the needle a bit in Las Vegas’ direction as far as Major League Baseball is concerned, making a relocation there a bit less of a risk for whoever might consider it.
Veteran hurler Jake Peavy has not signed with a team. It’s not because he’s not still capable of being a useful pitcher — he’s well-regarded and someone would likely take a late-career chance on him — and it’s not because he no longer wishes to play. Rather, it’s because a bunch of bad things have happened in his personal life lately.
As Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports, last year Peavy lost millions in an investment scam and spent much of the 2016 season distracted, dealing with investigations and depositions and all of the awfulness that accompanied it. Then, when the season ended, Peavy went home and was greeted with divorce papers. He has spent the offseason trying to find a new normal for himself and for his four sons.
Pitching is taking a backseat now, but Peavy plans to pitch again. Here’s hoping that things get sorted to the point where he can carry through with those plans.
This is fun: The San Francisco Giants recently made their last payment on the $170 million, 20-year loan they obtained to finance the construction of AT&T Park. The joint is now officially paid for.
The Giants, unlike most other teams which moved into new stadiums in the past 25 years or so, did not rely on direct public financing. They tried to get it for years, of course, but when the voters, the city of San Francisco and the State of California said no, they decided to pay for it themselves. They ended up with one of baseball’s best-loved and most beautiful parks and, contrary to what the owners who desperately seek public funds will have you believe, they were not harmed competitively speaking. Indeed, rumor has it that they have won three World Series, four pennants and have made the playoffs seven times since moving into the place in 2000. They sell out routinely now too and the Giants are one of the richest teams in the sport.
Now, to be clear, the Giants are not — contrary to what some people will tell you — some Randian example of self-reliance. They did not receive direct public money to build the park, but they did get a lot of breaks. The park sits on city-owned property in what has become some of the most valuable real estate in the country. If the city had held on to that land and realized its appreciation, they could flip it to developers for far more than the revenue generated by baseball. Or, heaven forfend, use it for some other public good. The Giants likewise received some heavy tax abatements, got some extraordinarily beneficial infrastructure upgrades and require some heavy city services to operate their business. All sports stadiums, even the ones privately constructed, represent tradeoffs for the public.
Still, AT&T Park represents a better model than most sports facilities do. I mean, ask how St. Louis feels about still paying for the place the Rams used to call home before taking off for California. Ask how taxpayers in Atlanta and Arlington, Texas feel about paying for their second stadium in roughly the same time the Giants have paid off their first.