Major League Baseball has had talks of expansion over the last several days, and one city continually enters any expansion talk. Could Vegas work for MLB?
When new commissioner Rob Manfred attended a Baseball Writers Association of America luncheon earlier this week at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, he touched on a topic that hasn’t been visited in quite a while in the world of baseball: expansion.
The NFL went to 32 teams several years ago, while the NHL just opened up their formal application process to explore the likely possibility that the league will expand to 32 teams within the next few years. If other major pro sports leagues in North America are expanding, then why not baseball?
The other 30 owners could cash in on the expansion fees that the two new teams would bring, the talent pool seems to have caught up to the last rounds of expansion from the 1990’s, while the new franchises would allow baseball to cash in on bigger television rights contracts that are already quite lucrative.
One of the markets that has already been mentioned as a possible landing spot for any expansion franchise is Las Vegas. Besides Montreal (which some say is a prime candidate to get a baseball team back), Vegas might be the most intriguing of all potential markets.
- Why Las Vegas Works
There’s no doubt about it – a team in an edgy, aggressive city like Las Vegas is kind of an “out of the box” idea for baseball, especially when safer or more traditional bets like Northern New Jersey and Montreal are out there (although if Vegas gets a team, it doesn’t necessarily mean these two markets will lose out). But make no mistake about it, while it’s an edgy city, a Vegas expansion team could be a great traditional entertainment option for local families in a market that seems to sometimes solely cater to tourists and adults.
When one thinks of Vegas, one of the first things they think about after the gaudy casinos and nightlife is the fact that the city does not have any major professional sports franchises.
A Vegas baseball franchise would only have UNLV athletics to compete with. Even if the National Hockey League decides to set up shop there, as many expect is inevitable at this point, there is very little overlap between the MLB and NHL seasons and there should be just enough of the city’s sports dollars to go around.
Unlike the NHL, which is hoping to lead a grassroots development of youth hockey in Las Vegas if and when the league gets there, there is already very good homegrown baseball talent coming out of the area. Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant, who are both part of the youth movement that is taking over the sport, both hail from the Vegas metropolitan area.
- Why Las Vegas Does Not Work
When someone thinks about the idea of baseball in Sin City, one of the first questions that gets asked is “where would this team play?”
Taking into account the city’s climate, a retractible roof ballpark that seats 40,000 to 45,000 would need to be built. But who would pay for it? The local casinos? How does Manfred feel about having a ballpark on the Strip next to casinos, especially when the Pete Rose situation is still a hot topic for the sport? If the ballpark is in another part of Vegas, it would likely need some type of public funding. Is there an appetite there for such a project?
And speaking of the issue of gambling in baseball, what kind of message would the game be sending to fans by setting up shop in America’s gambling capital when Manfred and the league are already overly conscious of the game’s relationship with gambling?
Additionally, is there even an appetite for Major League Baseball in the city? According to attendance numbers at the All-Star Break, the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s have the fourth-worst average attendance in the Pacific Coast League, averaging 4,955 fans-per-game and trailing other larger PCL markets like Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and Nashville.
The fact that many locals also work odd, untraditional hours could be a hinderance to the 51’s attendance numbers now and could also be a potential concern for Manfred and Major League Baseball in any potential expansion process.
It’s clear that Las Vegas has plenty to offer to the sporting world, whether it be baseball or otherwise. That said, like any city, Vegas has its drawbacks. For Major League Baseball in particular, those drawbacks could cast serious doubt about the viability of putting a team there, and the league knows all too well that it could be a public relations nightmare. One thing is certain, however; Major League Baseball is discussing expanding, and Las Vegas is going to enter the discussion – and stay there – as long as that discussion remains open.