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No, Las Vegas would not work for Major League Baseball

Jun 24, 2010, 10:10 AM EDT

Everyone thinks Vegas is a sure-bet major league city. They couldn't be more wrong.

The other day I wrote about the Rays’ desire for a new ballpark in Tampa instead of St. Pete. At the time, Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg said that there are at least five better cities the Rays could move to that don’t already have baseball teams. Which kind of got my brain whirring.

On the one hand I’m kind of skeptical because the Tampa-St. Pete area is pretty big. Indeed, unless you count the Inland Empire area of Southern California — which may very well be Dodgers or Angels territory anyway — there is no metropolitan statistical area in the United States that is (a) bigger than the Tampa Bay area; and (b) does not already have a baseball team. And the area is growing, so that’s not going to change any time soon.

On the other hand, Sternberg may be right, because there could be factors other than just size and growth trajectory. He could simply be talking about city size + demographics + willingness to build a stadium + a zillion other factors to which we’re all not really hip.  Those are all relative unknowns because you really can’t say what a city and its taxpayers would be willing to do unless and until a professional sports franchise actually knocks on their door.

But we can try to guess some of the main contenders, can’t we?  Let’s do, in order of large MSAs that don’t currently have a baseball team: Portland (23rd largest), Sacramento (25th), Orlando (27th), San Antonio (28th), Las Vegas (30th), Columbus (32nd) and Charlotte (33rd). I dunno, maybe it makes more sense to list them in order of media markets, because ultimately it will be eyeballs on televisions that make the deal workable or not. We’ll likely get the same suspects, however.  Maybe Indianapolis shows up above a place like Columbus, but these are the cities everyone talks about.

Each of those places has its pros and cons, but for now, though, let’s talk about the one people always seem to want to talk about the most: Las Vegas: it’s always everyone’s favorite because there’s so much money floating around the town, entertainment is the leading industry and everyone wants to go there.

But you know what? I’ve never been convinced that Las Vegas would work for baseball.

I think the biggest problem is that unlike boxing, which is Vegas’ biggest sports calling card, baseball is not driven by big, single night events. Football isn’t a good comp either in that there
are 10 times as many home baseball games as there are home football games. Season ticket sales matter more in baseball, and season ticket sales are all about attracting the locals who will come on Tuesday and Wednesday
nights, not the folks who drive up from L.A. on the weekend to gamble a bit.  And if you haven’t noticed, the locals in Las Vegas are in serious economic peril these days.

And even if you assume that you could get the people, where are they gonna watch the game? This is a big issue, because the ballpark economics in Las Vegas seem way more problematic to me than they do to most people who talk the place up.  The assumption is always that MGM or Steve Wynn or someone would simply build a ballpark next to a casino as if it were just another phony volcano or fake pirate battle, but I find such a proposition ridiculous.

Why? because while pedestrian-snaring eye candy is one thing, casino owners have zero incentive to create something that will draw their patrons off the gambling floor for three hours at a time 81 nights a year. Sure, there’s a lot of money in $8 beers and $5 hot dogs, but it pales compared to how much money someone sitting at a slot machine will give you over the course of an evening.  And while I think Major League Baseball would get over its gambling aversion to let a team play in Vegas, I also think they’d draw a line at people playing Keno from the bleacher seats.  The upshot: baseball fans would be a net loser for the casinos. (UPDATE: and if you think public money would work in Vegas, just ask the people behind the arena proposals that were just shot down there last week).

So, if the locals couldn’t support a team — which they couldn’t — and the casinos wouldn’t be into the idea — which they wouldn’t — what does Vegas have to recommend it?

Nothin’ as far as I can see.

  1. Jonny5 - Jun 24, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    I’m with ya. Tourists, which probably outnumber by far, the residents wouldn’t likely go see a game when there is the chance of “winning” tons of money. Plus there are these cool ranches for bunnies that draw a ton of folks there. I just don’t understand why people would pay so much to go see a ranch of bunnies, i’m hearing it could be 100-300 bucks a pop per person. I mean don’t people have rabbits where they come from?

  2. malmstorm - Jun 24, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    I would think that a team in San Antonio would interest a good portion of the Austin population as well. As it is, it takes 3-3.5 hours to get to Houston or Dallas from here. San Antonio is just a little over an hour from where I live and maybe an hour and a half (depending on what part of Austin).

  3. Bill@TDS - Jun 24, 2010 at 11:25 AM

    Portland first. Then put a third team in New York. Then maybe San Antonio or Sacramento (don’t know enough about either to know which would be better). I don’t think Orlando is a good fit for a lot of the same reasons going against Vegas, but that would still have to come before Vegas too. There are a good seven or eight mroe expansions/relocations to be made before Vegas starts looking like a good idea.

  4. Alex Poterack - Jun 24, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    I’m going to disagree, though admittedly by relying on anecdotal things I’ve heard in the past and not doing much research. Vegas is, if I’m not mistaken, the fastest growing city in the country (Phoenix, where I grew up, is number 2), and it’s not growing so fast because tourists keep coming and not leaving, it’s growing for the same reasons other Sun Belt cities are growing. From what I understand, there’s really two Vegases now; the tourist destination that we all know and love, and the actual city, which sounds not too different from other Southwestern cities, whose residents really aren’t going to casinos that often. Casino owners may be reluctant to support a stadium that would keep people away from the casinos for three hours a night, but they may support it on the grounds that it would draw in residents who aren’t really going to the casinos in the first place. You’re right to point out that people there are currently in economic peril, but that’s not going to last forever. I feel there’s no reason the residents of Vegas wouldn’t be able to support a team, and I think they, in many ways, represent a largely untapped source of income for casino owners.

  5. YankeesfanLen - Jun 24, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    There’s an awful big gap between Washington DC and Atlanta. An AL team in Charlotte should certainly draw, there would be a lot of transplants from the Northeast wanting to have some MLB action, and if nothing else Yankees and Red Sox games would sell out. Particularly since the Rays aren’t the “expansion” team they once were. No divisional realignment necessary.
    Also agree with Malmstorm, something on the Austin side of San Antonio seems feasible.Many years ago, drove from Houston to San Antonio with a born-and-bred Texan and as we were on the beltway, or whatever they call it down there, and he asked me “Where do you think the Alamo is- haven’t seen an exit for it?” Kept a straight face to some degree when replying “Could be in the middle of downtown”.
    Of course, I’ve also met native Chicagoans that didn’t know here Navy Pier or the Water Tower were.

  6. Old Gator - Jun 24, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    I agree, especially if they put the stadium just north of the city, say near New Braunfels. And installed a Salt Lick concession and a Round Rock Doughnuts concession. They would prolly change the name of the team to something like “The San Antonio Sidewinders,” since “San Antonio Rays” sounds idiotic.

  7. Cru11 - Jun 24, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    I’ve been pitching this idea forever it seems like. I am glad someone finally sees eye to eye with me. A team in the SA metro area would draw fans from Austin all the way down to SA.Btw, SA is freakishly loyal to the (los) Spurs…I can only imagine a baseball team where I assume many Hispanic players will take the field.

  8. scatterbrian - Jun 24, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    I don’t know, OG. They sure seem to love that sunburst thing poking out from behind their logo. So they could still be the Rays, just of the UV variety. At least PETA won’t bitch…

  9. malmstorm - Jun 24, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    Agreed on the Salt Lick concession. The Pok-E-Jo’s stand was hoppin’ when we were at the Dell on opening night, but they don’t offer anything beyond two sandwiches. I can only imagine what an SL stand would bring.

  10. JayT - Jun 24, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    The casinos don’t have any problem with creating shows like Cirque du Soleil, and those keep people out of the casino for a couple of hours. Also, maybe the MLB will look the other way and let them have betting booths next to the concessions stand, so the people will be able to pay for the show, and gamble at the same time! Also, getting a casino owner to tack on a $300 million dollar stadium to their billion dollar casino probably wouldn’t be too hard of a sell. Obviously, a lot will have to change with the economy before this happened, but I think that is pretty much the case with any city.
    I don’t think Las vegas would be a great choice, but it might be the best available choice. I think San Antonio would be better, but the Rangers and Astros would complain. I think New York would be better, but there is no way the Yanks will let that happen.

  11. Ratpee - Jun 25, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    Useless article by an ignorant informant.
    Having lived in St Pete and outside of Vegas.
    Vegas is complete for MLB.
    Florida–whether if be Tampa or Miami -is a complete joke. They do not deserve any MLB franchise.
    Building a new stadium in Miami for 9,000 people is a farce.
    Vegas is struggling economy wise —but it still 10 times better than othose two cities I mentioned.
    Vegas will rebound and is a sports fan haven. The Rays would be welcomed. They would draw 3 times the amount than in St Pete, plus with the Yankee and Bosox fans in Vegas, it would be much much better.
    Vegas has engergy along with tons of things to do. A 24 hour city.
    San Antonio and St Pete are complete jokes, these cities close at 5pm.
    If Miami ,Phoenix and D.C. can have MLB teams……………..So should Vegas!

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