Striking Out: Nevada Legislature Leaves Oakland A’s Stadium Funding on the Bench

2023 is becoming a very bad year for the Oakland Athletics. The A’s have gotten off to one of the worst starts of any team in any season of Major League Baseball. Home game attendance at the Oakland Coliseum is so bad that a collegiate baseball team, the Portland Pickles, is outdrawing them in the 2023 season.

If that’s not enough, the Oakland A’s biggest fans are planning a “reverse boycott” for the team’s June 13th game against the best-in-baseball Tampa Bay Rays. What’s a reverse boycott? It’s when thousands of fans attend a game wearing special T-shirts printed in the team’s colors with a message urging the team’s owner to sell the team to anyone who will run it better.

Get Out of Town

Perhaps sensing he’s not very welcome in Oakland, team owner John Fisher wants to move the team to Las Vegas. But because he is who he is, he wants the city of Las Vegas to put its taxpayers on the hook for up to $380 million of the cost of building a major league baseball stadium and entertainment complex.

The Nevada state government would provide a big part of that funding. State lawmakers, however, just killed the A’s new ballpark by not voting on the bill to fund it before its 2023 regular session ended.

But it’s not dead yet. Nevada’s governor supports the measure and may call a special legislative session to move it forward. But that would ignore why state lawmakers let the bill that would fund it die.

A Tough Sell

Here is what’s in Nevada’s Senate Bill 509:

SB509 would have earmarked up to $380 million in public funds for the construction of the A’s planned 30,000-seat, $1.5 billion Strip ballpark on the site of the Tropicana Las Vegas resort.

The public funding includes $180 million from the state in transferable tax credits, of which $90 million would be repaid via a sports entertainment improvement district set up around the 9-acre stadium site. Clark County would contribute $145 million, of which $120 million would be repaid by revenue generated by the tax district, with $25 million going toward infrastructure improvements.

The use of the sports entertainment improvement tax district is a novel approach. If it works as advertised, it will cap how much taxpayers will pay to support a professional sports team by funding the construction of its stadiums. I’m only aware of one example where it has been used to fund a minor league baseball stadium and entertainment complex in Wichita, Kansas. There’s not much information about how successful it’s been so far.

Last month, Tempe, Arizona residents voted against supporting a similar arrangement to fund a professional hockey arena and entertainment district in their city. Nevada state lawmakers may be taking their cues for whether they should support the A’s stadium project from that recent vote.

Which they should. For the Oakland A’s, that reluctance will almost certainly mean that whatever deal might eventually get passed will not be as good as what was in the bill state lawmakers killed. Why should Las Vegas and Nevada lawmakers gamble on any bill they don’t think is a smart bet?

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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