The Oakland A’s are on the clock to conclude negotiations for a new $1 billion ballpark at Howard Terminal in Oakland, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said at a press conference with baseball writers on Tuesday, the second day of MLB’s Winter Meetings.
He also noted that if those talks break down, the A’s wouldn’t be charged a relocation fee if they are forced to move to Las Vegas, which they also have been exploring.
“We’re past any reasonable timeline for the situation in Oakland to be resolved,” Manfred said. “If you read the collective bargaining agreement, there’s a natural trigger in there. I think it’s Jan. 15, 2024. They need to have a deal by then. So this is a very, very important year if Oakland wants to keep the A’s.”
The A’s have proposed a privately funded new ballpark as part of a $12 billion entertainment village that would include housing, office space, restaurants and shops.
As far as Las Vegas is concerned, the A’s have not designated a spot to build a domed stadium or detailed how its $1 billion cost might be financed. Current Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak was adamantly against using public dollars on the project, but he lost the November election, and his replacement, Joe Lombardo, hasn’t weighed in on the matter.
The A’s have a lease to play at the decaying Oakland Coliseum for the next two seasons.
MLB has only had one franchise move since 1971—the Expos from Montreal to Washington in 2005—and there’s not a specified relocation fee in the Major League Agreement between the owners.
Unlike the other major pro sports leagues in North America, MLB is still protected in a limited fashion from antitrust laws and has complete control of franchise movement. It would take a 75% vote of the 30 owners for the A’s, or any other team, to be able to move.
Manfred said that under current guidelines he has control of charging a franchise fee and has already gone to his executive council, which has endorsed the position.
“That’s why I was prepared to say it publicly,” Manfred said. “If they can get it done in Vegas, there will not be a relocation fee for them.”
The Oakland City Council has been studying the stadium issue but has yet to take a formal up-or-down vote. It voted 6-1 last year to approve a modified term sheet to move forward on the project.
Complicating the decision has been Oakland’s inability to fund its share of infrastructure money and the recent November election in which the mayor and several councilmembers were voted in.
Sheng Tao, who replaced Libby Schaff as mayor, said that she, like her predecessor, is a strong proponent of keeping the A’s in Oakland as long as it doesn’t cost city taxpayers any money. Schaff had been trying to arrange for federal and state grants to cover about $300 million in infrastructure costs.
“I have not spoken to the new mayor yet,” said Manfred referring to Tao, a former councilmember. “I will in the near future. I’m pleased to report that she’s supportive of the project. My source on that is Libby. I find that to be encouraging. It’s challenging for a new mayor to come in and deal with the fact that 2023 is crucial to the future of the A’s.”