Three franchises address a perplexing future

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – With apologies to the renowned English writer Charles Dickens, who penned, “These are the best of times; these were the worst of times,” the expressions could not be reserved solely for conditions within his universe.

Rather, there is a rather strong suggestion that these words apply to a dilemma facing three major league teams. While the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Oakland A’s, and the Tampa Bay Rays are separated by post-season success and distance, there remains a convincing commonality.

Concerning their playing venues, all three face a precarious future. For each, this could be the best of times, and related to a new stadium and improvement to the surrounding area or needed renovations. At the same time, this could be the worst of times. If deals currently under discussion or proposed fail to materialize, times could be near catastrophic.

Each faces a unique set of challenges. One confronts a needed renovation; one desires a new stadium in the shadow of their current venue, and one seeks a new stadium based upon relocation.

Within each set of these circumstances, such issues are far from resolved. The tug-of-war between the clubs, the fans, and the municipalities continues and when a possible resolution is made public, that commences stark opposition.

Consider –

The Arizona Diamondbacks have played in Chase Field since the stadium was built in 1998 for this expansion team. Currently, the facility, nearly 30 years old, remains in need of essential upgrades to plumbing and likely improvements for electrical requirements to bring the facility up to code. Two out-of-town scoreboards, down the left field and right field lines, are inoperable and covered with Diamondbacks promotional banners, Plus, major repairs to the roof, which remains closed, are essential.

From a cosmetic vantage, there is the installation of LED lighting and a new sound system for the upcoming 2024 season.

Those surface touches are part of an overall master plan. Effectively, there are no out-of-town scoreboards, and one could argue that’s not necessary. All major league stadiums are now equipped with standard wi-fi apparatus and upgraded social media platforms. Yet, the Diamondbacks created a wish list of $400 million-$500 million to upgrade Chase Field.

At this point, the club would like an agreement with the Maricopa County Stadium District which owns the facility and partner for future improvements.

“We don’t have a deal,” Diamondbacks’ general partner Ken Kendrick told local Arizona media last week. “There is no deal in which the city, the county, and us could be partners. We simply do not have a deal which works for them or for us.”

The current lease held by the Diamondbacks expires at the end of the 2027 season and Kendrick threatened to move the team if there is no agreement on the needed repairs and upgrades.

The situation appears less chaotic for the Tampa Bay Rays. There remains a common refrain that Tropicana Field, built in 1990, and the only home the Rays have known, remains equal in need to the Arizona facility.

Here, the Rays are out, not to renovate, but to build a new stadium near the present Tropicana Field site in St Petersburg.

The overall plan calls for a $6.1 billion economic development blueprint and the new Rays stadium would be considered the centerpiece. The proposal includes a 30,000-seat stadium surrounded by affordable (the keyword, affordable to the residents) housing and improved infrastructure. Earlier this year, St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welsh explained in his “State of the City” address the project is ready to move forward. Like the Diamondbacks, the Rays’ current lease expires at Tropicana Field with the conclusion of the 2027 season.

“I think it’s time for a new stadium or else it would not be getting done,” said Rays’ starting pitcher Zack Littel. “I enjoy coming to the park. The facilities are very nice, and there is everything you could possibly need. The fan base in Tampa is still very large and when you’re out and about in the area, we see a great deal of fans. A new stadium will incentivize the experience a little bit more, so it should be really interesting.”

While the Diamondbacks and Rays address issues indigenous to themselves, the plight of the Oakland A’s is a bit more complex.

At this point, the A’s are “preparing” to move the franchise to Las Vegas. Because the situation remains fluid, “preparing” is likely the optimum word. All parties agree that the Oakland Coliseum, home of the A’s since 1968, is outdated and, for practical baseball purposes, useless. The Oakland Raiders recognized that reality a few years ago when they bolted the Coliseum for Vegas.

The A’s loyal base would like the franchise to remain in the present Bay area and an argument has persisted for years on a proposed site, The most-discussed venue was a new stadium and development initiative in the Howard Terminal section of Oakland. That’s near Jack London Square and a popular tourist location.

One issue here is transportation. The closest rapid-transit station of BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit system) is 12 blocks from the Howard Terminal site. However, an Amtrak station is nearby and could house a rapid transit line. With site development, that mode of transportation would have been considered. Plus, parking in the area is a nightmare and the ability for fans to get to and from the site would be difficult.

Simply because A’s officials expressed a desire to move to Las Vegas, there is consideration opposition.

First, the Nevada State Education Association is suing the state over proposed funding. The plan, at this point, is to build a new stadium on the site of the old Tropicana Hotel, which imploded early this year. That site is located at the southern end of the Strip and can accommodate cars and a bus line.

In June, 2023, Nevada Senate Bill 1 passed through the legislature and authorized $380 million for the stadium.

Not so fast, said that Nevada State Education Association. Our objective, explained the Education Association, is to challenge the legality of the bill and declare that law unconstitutional. The purpose would prevent the state from issuing municipal bonds for the project.

To complicate matters, Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman opposes the move and told Front Office Sports, “I personally think (the A’s) got to figure out a way to stay in Oakland.” Baseball owners voted unanimously in Nov, 2023 to approve the move from Oakland and would like the A’s to begin playing in Las Vegas with the 2028 season.

While the legalities play forward, the view from Major League Baseball remains positive.

“I’m confident the relocation to Vegas is solid,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said during a recent media day for Florida-based teams. “The A’s are committed to the stadium and are working toward making that happen.”

The A’s lease on the Coliseum expires at the end of the current 2024 season, and then the franchise becomes essentially vagabonds. If the proposed stadium in Las Vegas clears financial and legislative hurdles, the proposed time for construction would be two-three years. That would put the A’s in their new stadium sometime in the latter part of the present decade. Until that time, the A’s would have no permanent home.

There could be options.

One would commit the A’s to a year-to-year lease at the Coliseum. Another consideration is to share Oracle Park in the Bay area with the Giants. At this point, that seems unlikely. That’s because of various commitments to the site. Also, the A’s could play in Salt Lake City, which expressed a desire to gain an expansion franchise. That’s when and if Major League Baseball decides to expand.

All of which has decision-makers of these franchises carefully watching sand slowly but surely drift significantly through the hourglass.

Related Articles

Back to top button