John Fisher, owner of the soon-to-be-former Oakland Athletics and billionaire son of Gap clothing moguls Doris and Don Fisher, is tired of seeing teams reap success from his franchise’s talent pool.
Year after year, former A’s have reached the pinnacle of performance in Major League Baseball—the most recent being Marcus Semien winning a title with the Texas Rangers.
Fisher contends the problem has been the ancient relic known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which was constructed two years before the A’s moved from Kansas City in 1968 and is the fourth oldest venue in the league—behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium—but with none of the same mainstream allure.
Fisher’s dream of a shiny new ballpark is one step closer to being a reality as Major League Baseball owners on Thursday morning unanimously approved the relocation of the A’s from the East Bay to Las Vegas.
Moving the A’s is, in Fisher’s words, imperative to increase his franchise’s competitiveness by keeping homegrown talent instead of constantly having to reinvent the team.
Since Fisher bought the team in 2005, the A’s have posted an overall win-loss record of 1478-1497 with coming in short windows of two- to three-year spurts—2006, 2012 through 2014 and 2018 through 2019—alongside massive roster turnover.
“We want to be able to sign these players to longer-term contracts and not see them go to other teams and create World Series success for someone else,” he said. “This is one of our goals.”
Frustrated by failed efforts to secure public funding for a new stadium in Oakland, Fisher plans to relocate the A’s to a $380 million ballpark on the Las Vegas strip and backed by Nevada government bonds.
In Fisher’s view, Oakland was holding his franchise back.
“We have not been able to hold on to our younger players nor have we been able to play a major role in the free agent market because we needed a new stadium to be able to do those things,” he told The Standard over the phone just hours after the vote was announced. “Now I think we have a path and an incredible opportunity in Las Vegas to have one of the best ballparks in sports.”
In a recent interview with Nevada Sports Net, A’s President Dave Kaval said the approved move would launch the franchise into the top half of the MLB in terms of revenue and payroll—one which hasn’t ranked above 18th in the league since 2005 when Fisher took over.
There is also the immediate income boost the team would receive thanks to the MLB’s revenue-sharing distribution, which for the A’s would position Fisher to receive up to $50 million combined in 2024 and 2025 if there’s a stadium agreement in place, according to Forbes.
Yet critics of the move, like Byan Johansen—A’s fan and part-owner of The Last Dive Bar, an online store which sells merchandise celebrating the history of the Coliseum—believe Fisher hasn’t shown willingness to invest into the product he puts on the field, a mentality he believes will carry over to the Las Vegas market.
Johansen was one of the organizers involved in this past season’s “Reverse Boycott” game in which thousands packed into the ruins of the Coliseum to call for Fisher to sell the team.
“He’s been in the bottom 10th percentile of the league in payroll and it’s not going to change if they go to Vegas,” Johansen said. “The way John Fisher operates, it is not to attract fans. He’s a professional and the best in baseball at turning fans away—as evidenced by the low payroll.”
Not just the low payroll, Johansen added, but Fisher’s doubling of season ticket prices on fans and the discarding of almost $1 billion for infrastructure offered by the city of Oakland for the Howard Terminal waterfront site—the last in a laundry list of locations the team proposed for a new stadium which ranged from Fremont and San Jose to Laney College.
What made things untenable in Oakland, Fisher said, was simply that the city ran out of time. Ownership was focused on having a new stadium completed and opened before 2031.
Fisher cited one of the influences in pursuing the Las Vegas move was opposition from Oakland maritime interests—groups representing truckers, terminal operators, dockworkers and other port-related businesses—which threatened the franchise’s timeline for a new stadium.
“Those risks and those challenges of not seeing sort of an end in sight as compared to what we had in Nevada—which had us concluding that we should go forward with Las Vegas,” he added.
After Thursday’s vote, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said the city is still hopeful that—even if the A’s finalize a move—the branding of the team should stay in the East Bay.
“We all know there is a long way to go before shovels in the ground and that there are a number of unresolved issues surrounding this move,” she said in a statement. “I have also made it clear to the commissioner that the A’s branding and name should stay in Oakland and we will continue to work to pursue expansion opportunities. Baseball has a home in Oakland even if the A’s ownership relocates.”
Although he defended the move as the correct decision, Fisher admitted that he had mixed feelings about what will be considered one of the most impactful days in his franchise’s history.
“I think it is a difficult day for Oakland A’s fans who are passionate about our team, so I understand how our fans feel,” he said, comparing it to his hopeful expectation that Las Vegas sports fans will embrace his team.
Johansen said A’s fans this past year have done a good job at letting Las Vegas sports fans know what kind of owner Fisher has been in Oakland with their “Sell” social media campaign on Twitter and Instagram as well as the “Reverse Boycott” game which garnered national attention.
“You don’t see anyone saying ‘Oh my God, we’re the Las Vegas A’s. We’re getting a baseball team,’ nobody, because they know what they’re getting in John Fisher,” he said. “I think that is one thing that us as A’s fans have done a phenomenal job at is actually telling everyone the truth about who he is and what you’re getting.”
For former A’s season ticket holder Efrain Valdez, the problem isn’t with the Coliseum. It’s Fisher.
“It’s been more than a sad day, it has been sad years,” Valdez said, laughing. “It has been a sad state of affairs with him being the owner. It hasn’t mattered.”
The impending move—one which East Bay A’s fans like Valdez and Johansen have dreaded for years—now has the league’s blessing although some hurdles still remain for the stadium project to be realized which includes figuring out where his team will play from 2025 to 2027 while the stadium is constructed.
In August, Kaval told the Nevada Independent there are three viable options returning to the Oakland Coliseum: playing in Las Vegas where the A’s minor league affiliate is located and sharing the San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park.
“Our stadium isn’t going to be done until 2028,” Fisher said. “We have one more year on our lease in Oakland. We have to resolve the question about interim play. It is something we are very focused on.”
Johansen is hoping Thao kicks the team out of the Coliseum if the A’s somehow are without a venue prior to the Vegas stadium’s construction.
He has canceled his season tickets—along with his business partners with Last Dive Bar—and he is encouraging other A’s fans to do the same while also unfollowing the team’s social media accounts. Twenty-four hours after the relocation was approved that A’s had lost over three thousand Twitter followers.
A planned parking lot boycott is also in the works for the 2024 season opener.
“The encouragement is for nobody to go in, nobody to pay for parking—take BART and fill as many people as we can in that parking lot,” he said, adding that he doesn’t fault anyone who still wants to go to games. “Everybody is going through this grieving process in their own way. I just find it hard to believe anyone would want to give a dollar given the treatment we’ve received.”
Unlike Johansen, Valdez said as long as the A’s have their flag planted in Oakland, he will remain a supporter of the team although once the team leaves he may not follow them.
“I’m a part of it till they are gone but once they are gone, I don’t know—it ain’t like the Raiders,” he said, pointing out that the Raiders move to Los Angeles in the early-1980s affected how the community felt about them when they returned. “They (the A’s) have been here for 55 years now. It’s multigenerational the A’s impact on this community unlike the Raiders.”
Although he hopes the Vegas deal falls apart, Valdez isn’t holding his breath.
The A’s are still awaiting various approvals in Nevada with Clark County officials and the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, according to Fisher.
“It is easy to be a bad businessman in general but it is hard to be a bad businessman as a billionaire,” Valdez said. “I think he could mess up in terrible ways but he’s a billionaire. There’s always solutions when you have that kind of money.”