Kawakami: The A’s, the $500 million demanded from Las Vegas and John Fisher’s long losing streak

If we follow the very reliable formula of concluding that the actual result will be the opposite of what John Fisher says, there is a better chance of keeping the A’s in Oakland now that Fisher announces his intention to move the team he there was for he was theoretically committed to stay.

I mean, have you ever bet on the sun not coming? Or there not be the afternoon traffic on the Bay Bridge? In the same way, we should probably not bet too much on Fisher and Lieutenant David Kaval avoiding a final failure. If they say they’ve finalized a stadium site, well, let’s just say they have a winless streak on this and nothing about their latest attempt makes it feel like they have to end it quickly.

Now it’s supposed to be 100% Las Vegas, backed by a ‘binding’ land deal just off the Strip and, in a late-night announcement last week that apparently surprised a few of Nevada’s politicians who have to approve such a thing, all of this is based on access to $500 million in public funds.

Hmm. Wasn’t Fisher committed to Fremont not too long ago? So in San Jose? Then to rebuild at the Colosseum? So on the Laney College website? Then at Howard Terminal until last week? It’s the Death Lineup of wasted and clumsy stadium efforts.

Basically, you can almost never go wrong assuming that Fisher is going to be wrong. And the louder his lieutenants bellow, the muddled the details always seem. Can you imagine how boring it is to negotiate with Fisher and Kaval? The smart, less aggravating way to play is to disengage, step back, and watch it fail. That’s what Oakland’s new mayor, Sheng Thao, is doing, and I salute her.

Because the Las Vegas plan, too, will run into problems; the first evidence, unsurprisingly, is that it was put together with the same haphazard desperation that marked all of A’s previous stadium plans. And getting to the finish line will likely require the same kind of money and commitment that Fisher and Kaval failed to produce time and time again during this adventure.

Could this be Fisher’s last failure? Maybe so, especially with an MLB countdown hanging over Fisher’s head – get a stadium deal done before 2024 or you’re in trouble! Could a mistake in Las Vegas lead to Fisher selling the team to someone willing and able to build a stadium somewhere, maybe Oakland? Yes, I think so, especially because I think the A’s should being in Oakland and I believe there are some very wealthy people who agree.

This is how Oakland can get the ultimate win the Home A fans deserve. But that’s still a long way from a full Fisher surrender, of course. He could do it in Las Vegas. It is not impossible. Public money is definitely more accessible in Nevada. And even if things are delayed or stopped, Fisher could get stubborn. He’s already refused to sell the team long after everyone in the universe realized he had to. But I think he knows Las Vegas is his last option, the last time MLB will patiently let him try, and Fisher’s last chance to end the stadium’s losing streak.

This goes back many years and many other announcements, of course, but there are two moments I want to circle to add complete context to the complete pointlessness of Fisher’s vision.

The first: remember when Kaval’s predecessor claimed less than a decade ago that the Colosseum was the only viable site in East Bay? Yes, it really happened. At the time, Lew Wolff emailed The Associated Press to say that “Howard Terminal as a potential stadium site has been and is totally rejected by MLB and the A’s”, so they were putting their all into it. emphasis on the reconstruction of the Coliseum.

Then a few years later, after a few more failures, Fisher and Kaval were saying only Howard Terminal could operate and they needed full government support for a multi-billion dollar project; it’s how much they loved Howard Terminal and how silly it was for anyone to think they would ever want to build somewhere else.

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Incidentally, that was the time when the A’s were essentially stopping the Raiders from building a new stadium on the Coliseum site, as Mark Davis vividly recalled in these scathing comments about Fisher and the A’s this week at Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“I won’t forget what they did to us in Oakland,” Davis said of the prospect of the A’s joining the Raiders in Las Vegas. “They squatted a 10-year lease and stopped us from building on this stadium.”

Later Davis said, “They marketed the team as ‘Rooted in Oakland’, that’s been their mantra all along. The slogans they used were a slap in the face for the Raiders, and they were trying to earn that type of mentality in the Bay Area. Well, all they did was f— the Bay Area.

You can judge Davis any way you want for moving the Raiders out of Oakland, but he was always very clear that all he wanted was a new stadium. He tried it in Carson, California, he tried it at the Coliseum. He had a genuine affection for the site of the Colosseum. But he didn’t have the money to build a stadium himself, and he couldn’t make a deal in Oakland as long as the A’s blocked him.

And now Fisher wants to follow the Raiders to Las Vegas? Because Fisher failed in Oakland when the A’s are the only major pro team in town? Yes, I understand what Davis is saying. I think everyone who has to deal with Fisher understands.

Second: Remember back in 2017 when the A’s announced plans to build on the Laney College site adjacent to downtown Oakland before it was smashed a few months later by the Peralta Community College District?

Fisher and Kaval advertised the site but did not have the land. They did not have the agreement to negotiate for the land. They did not have the right to vote on the district board of a community college. They just opened their mouths and made proclamations and hoped.

Sound familiar from the events of the past week? It was desperation that drove this announcement to Las Vegas and desperation usually makes bad plans.

Backtracking a bit: I think the A’s did a lot of serious work on the Howard Terminal plan. Fisher wanted to build there. Kaval wanted to build there. Oakland politicians were willing to accept the right deal. But ultimately, Fisher didn’t have the stomach for the bottom line. He wanted this massive project to go as risk-free as possible. And it is not possible to do so without risk.

Fisher, I was told, kept insisting that all construction of retail, housing, and commercial development occur concurrently with stadium construction. This is how he was going to raise funds to finance his share of the costs of the stadium. He wasn’t going to dig deep into his own money. He needed this massive project to finance himself in part.

But that’s not how these things tend to work. The stadium itself is complicated to build. You need to focus fully on the stadium just to make sure your team has a nice place to play as soon as possible. You fill in the rest of the stuff later. The stadium is by far the most important thing. But it wasn’t for Fisher, who has always been as much or more interested in the real estate deal than he ever was in a stadium.

That’s not how the Warriors built Chase Center. Where the 49ers built Levi’s Stadium. Where the Giants built Oracle Park.

Someone should have told Fisher. Someone very close to him. But again, David Kaval is not Rick Welts, Gideon Yu or Larry Baer. And Fisher, one of baseball’s wealthiest owners, isn’t the guy who’s willing to keep writing checks until the thing is done.

So what if he doesn’t get everything he wants in Nevada? If the $500 million isn’t made available to him, I don’t think there’s a deal to be made. Frankly, he walked away from the Howard Terminal negotiations for less. And even if Clark County and the Nevada Legislature are good with that number, who pays for potential overruns? Who pays for the infrastructure around the stadium (roads, car parks, etc.)? What if the A’s don’t draw huge crowds to the stadium every year? Will Fisher commit to a top-10 payroll if he gets all that money to move to Las Vegas? Or will he happily continue to keep it at the equally embarrassing bottom of the ladder as he does now and just stuff the profits into his pockets?

I don’t know the answers to these questions and I guess Fisher doesn’t want Nevada politicians to ask any. But not too long ago, Nevada offered $750 million to help Davis build Allegiant Stadium for the Raiders. It works, but even in Nevada, the coffers sometimes run dry. And I suspect a few Nevadans will wonder why they have to bankroll the cheapest billionaire in North American sport.

If I’m the town of Oakland or an A fan in the Bay Area, I suspect the Las Vegas effort, much like all previous Fisher/Kaval efforts, will run into trouble at some point. If it gets bad enough, Fisher may have to sell the team. And if you’re the city of Oakland or an A fan in the Bay Area, you absolutely know that rooting against John Fisher is better than trying to build a stadium with him.

The Traditional Knowledge Fair: Head over to Tim Kawakami’s podcast page on Apple, Spotify and Athleticism application.

(Photo: Suzanna Mitchell/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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