A tale of two stadiums: Oakland after the A’s

Right now, the Oakland Athletics, often known as the A’s, are the leaders of two contrasting visions of the city of Oakland: one to revitalize West Oakland into an economic and social asset to the city, and another of a sportless Oakland and a profitable and popular team in an untapped Las Vegas market. In two and a half years, one of those visions must come true. After the 2024 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, the Oakland Athletics’ lease of the Oakland Coliseum will run out, and the nine-time World Series champions will be homeless. The Athletics are among a trio of sports teams to leave the Oakland Coliseum complex in the span of 2019-2022. The Athletics are currently holding a phantom bidding war between the cities of Oakland and Las Vegas; they are buying land in Las Vegas while proposing a twelve billion dollar ballpark and development plan to Oakland.
In May, the commissioner of MLB pressured the team to develop a new ballpark or relocate. In response, the Athletics proposed the development of a new ballpark at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square. However, the president of the Oakland Athletics, Dave Kaval, visited Las Vegas at least six times, culminating instead in the Athletics’ bid for land currently occupied by the Tropicana Hotel for the purposes of building a ballpark. The MLB’s decisions only came long after the fear of the A’s leaving had begun; maybe it was the low attendance and nearly permanently closed top deck of the stadium, the clogged toilets and maintenance costs, or maybe it was the Warriors’ and Raiders’ flight from the Coliseum complex.
Oakland has a history of struggling to maintain sports teams. The now-Las Vegas Raiders were in Oakland from 1960-1981 before they moved to Los Angeles. Upon their return, the city of Oakland was hesitant to welcome them back. From 1995-2019, the Oakland Raiders were once again a focal point in Oakland culture, only to leave for Las Vegas in 2019. In Las Vegas, the team seems to have been a success: the Raiders have seen a nearly 10,000 person increase in average attendance since 2019, per ESPN’s National Football Leage (NFL) attendance database.
Since the Coliseum’s opening in 1966, the Warriors have acted as another strong community in Oakland. Constantly the underdog, the Warriors were a popular — but not very successful — franchise. Viewed as the underdog, they garnered the nickname “We Believe Warriors” in the 2006-07 run in the playoffs as the bottom seed. Yet the team left for San Francisco in 2019 after years of the ownership targeting a move.
Associate Director of Admissions and Equity & Outreach Coordinator Chris Williams, an Oakland resident and Athletics fan, spoke to the feelings of Oakland residents regarding the movement of local teams. “It’s like a trend of everyone leaving Oakland. And so with the Warriors leaving and the Raiders leaving the way they did… it’s like, ‘Oh, nobody wants us,’” said Williams.
According to ESPN, the Oakland Athletics haven’t been in the top half of the league in attendance since 2004, averaging under 25,000 fans per game in a stadium with a 63,132 person capacity. Shayna Rubin, San Jose Mercury writer on the Oakland Athletics and Urban alumna, spoke about the Athletics’ desire to increase attendance through creation of a new ballpark. “People go to football games, it’s an event… Baseball, they want to get you for 80 games in a year,” said Rubin. “The A’s are saying… that they need to build a place that is more like what the Giants have, which is more conducive to the everyday person’s daily life.”
Matt Kawahara, San Francisco Chronicle beat writer on the Oakland Athletics also spoke about the Athletics desire for a new stadium. “It comes back to the point that they’re running out of time to figure out where they’re going to play next,” said Kawahara, “because their current stadium is old and outdated and the facilities are poor. Major League Baseball has also expressed concerns about the state of that stadium, so they do need to move.”
Despite the outrage over the Athletics’ potential departure, the team is still putting in the effort to push forward with the Howard Terminal stadium and revitalization plan. This particular agenda stems out of a desire to spur the development of the Jack London Square area as much as the desire to keep Oakland baseball. “It would be part of a larger development project,” said Kawahara, “that the A’s and some city officials, including the mayor, have been pretty optimistic would really transform sort of that area down by Jack London Square.”
To do so, the Athletics and MLB are proposing a 12-billion-dollar development plan. The project would feature 18 acres of public parks, over 3,000 private residences, a gondola system between Old Oakland and the park and countless business developments. By some, it has been hailed as a way to rapidly aid the development of a financially impoverished neighborhood. By others, it has been labeled as an intrusion.
KTVU Fox 2 interviewed Clark Manus, chairman of the Oakland Design Review Committee. “The concern was about the fit of it relative to Oakland as a city and its image, and that’s the basis for the concern on the right,” said Manus.
Another major contention with all sports stadiums is the price tag placed upon local residents. The Athletics are once again seeking support through taxes, but this time under a new principle. Kawahara said, “the money that the city is going to be putting into the project and into infrastructure costs is going to be… the result of creating these tax infrastructure districts… [where] they wouldn’t be raising this same amount of tax revenue if the project wasn’t happening.”
Even so, there is significant financial risk to the entire financial wellbeing of West Oakland. One worry is disruption of the Port of Oakland, which currently dominates shipping in and out of the Bay Area. “And also one aspect of it is… the wildness of having residential units built up, down there next to a working port and a lot of different wrinkles there,” said Kawahara.
Even Williams has his concerns about the permanence of the attraction. “People are going to go because it’s a new attraction. And then what happens when that attraction, that dust fades away if the team’s not good? Right? Then you lose all that, then you’re back to where you were before,” said Williams. Others have expressed concern, with one of the members of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voting against allowing the Athletics to even submit plans to the board.
Williams wonders as well if the opportunity to be financially sound was already available. “I’ve always been a proponent of just keeping the Coliseum building in the back of the Coliseum like where the arena is, you can just rebuild… make some community space. I felt like they should just reinvest in what we had, especially once they paid off their debt to the city. So I was like, well, let’s just work what we got,” said Williams.
Additionally, Williams sees the Athletics as having an impact on the Oakland economy. For him, baseball has an important social and economic place in the community.. “I feel like without having sports, it wouldn’t, you know, shut everything down. But it would definitely be… what we do socially? You know, we gather to go watch a game… and we frequent those businesses,” said Williams.
However, many see Howard Terminal’s more central location as a guarantee of better attendance. “The Coliseum, even though it’s with its own train stop… it’s completely out of the way of where you’re naturally trying to go,” said Williams.
Rubin echoed the sentiment. “It’s right in the backyard, as opposed to driving to a stadium in the middle of nowhere, off the freeway,” said Rubin.
In Las Vegas, the proposed stadium at the Tropicana Hotel would be surrounded by the southern end of the Resort Corridor of Las Vegas, a strip of the city packed full of hotels, resorts, casinos, and other attractions. Surveys by the Athletics and MLB of Las Vegas market fans have already shown higher interest in attending games than Oakland has demonstrated. The Athletics have already submitted a bid on the land and launched an effort to create proposals.
Many doubted the seriousness of the possibility of moving at first, according to Kawahara. “I think when it was first suggested that they could potentially move to Las Vegas, there were a lot of people who looked at that, as you know, it’s kind of a negotiation ploy… that would put pressure on officials in Oakland to pick up the pace a little bit in getting the open project approved. But as they’ve gone further, further into the process… they have maintained… that they are serious about this possibility,” said Kawahara.
Athletics fans are concerned about the impact on Oakland-San Francisco dynamics. “People who live in San Francisco don’t really come to Oakland, and people who live in Oakland don’t really go to San Francisco,” said Williams. “If the A’s leave… I’ll be like, Oh man, I’ve got to go to San Francisco to do all my sports now.”
Rubin, however, says the A’s have their priorities. “I don’t think that the A’s appear to care much about what the A’s fans are going to do [if the team leaves],” said Rubin.
Baseball has a particular place in the community, providing equitable sports experiences for Oakland residents.“The thing about baseball is that… it’s the most accessible sport. It’s outside, it’s cheap, you can bring in your own food. So that community aspect is really dope,” said Williams. “The reason they call it the town is it’s like a big community… the circles run deep.”
Kawahara sees them as part of the community as well due to their longtime success in the area. “The Raiders are the Raiders. And they moved once before… I think people up here might even still feel a connection to the team now even though they’re playing in Vegas,” said Kawahara, “But the A’s have been in this community for more than 50 years, and they’ve won several World Series… they just have a really long-standing kind of connection with the community.”
Currently, the Athletics are multifunctional within the community. They are a major section of the entertainment sector. “The social aspect of sports… having that as an option is huge in terms of nightlife in terms of just like society,” said Williams. “And not having that is really hard.”
But the Athletics have a stake in the community as well. The team is deeply involved in service in the community. “Having a team with sort of the resources that the team [has] and having that large entity in the community is that’s going to have a whole ‘nother level of impact,” said Kawahara. “If the team were leaving that would, that would go away.”
Williams agrees, and sees a particular void being left in the educational sector. “If the A’s leave the Bay Area, they are taking away hella resources from especially children in education,” said Wiliams.
Kawahara points out the role the Athletics play in the future of baseball. “The Babe Ruth [Youth] League… [has] seen declining numbers of participation in recent years. And there’s kind of a question of like, why that is. And… what opportunities are afforded to kids in different areas in terms of getting into baseball… if you see players in the community, then maybe you will have more kids thinking, hey, I want to give that a shot,” said Kawahara, “so that could be a big loss.”
However, on the 17th of December, the Athletics made a significant step towards the development of Howard Terminal and towards the vision of a revitalized West Oakland community. After years of speculation and sketched ballparks, a 3,500-page environmental impact report was released by the City of Oakland. Athletics fans have reason to be optimistic. Amidst negotiations, it is yet to be seen where the Athletics will be playing beyond 2024, but the City and Port of Oakland’s binding votes are likely fast approaching. Only once both boards’ votes are cast will we know the eventual fate of the Athletics.
“At the Coliseum, I have been on the big screen, pretty much every time I’ve gone to a game in the last four seasons,” said Williams. “So if the A’s leave, I will miss out and there will never be anything else like that in my life. So the short-term celebrity status I get to have while I’m at the Coliseum is something I’m chasing every time I go.”