Vagabond MLB franchise finds its halfway house for next three seasons

The Oakland Athletics, who have operated on a shoestring budget since signaling their desire to leave their home city, will call a minor-league ballpark home for the next three seasons.

A’s owner John Fisher announced Thursday that his franchise will play the 2025-2027 seasons in West Sacramento’s Sutter Health Park, home of the San Francisco Giants’ Class AAA ballclub, in advance of an expected 2028 opening of their ballpark in Las Vegas.

The agreement includes an option for a fourth year in the event the club’s Las Vegas ballpark is not yet ready. The club still has several logistical hurdles to clear, most notably a suit from the Nevada teachers’ union to block $380 million in public funds approved by the state legislature for the estimated $1.5 billion ballpark.

The A’s and city of Oakland met on multiple occasions to explore lease extensions at the city’s Coliseum, where the team’s lease expires after this season, their 57th in Oakland. The franchise also considered temporary homes in Salt Lake City and at the club’s Class AAA site in suburban Las Vegas, which does not have a roof.

The city, still smarting from the A’s relocation to Las Vegas after attempts to construct a waterfront ballpark in Oakland, held some surprise leverage with the club, particularly since the team receives a reported $70 million per year from NBC Sports Bay Area, with a portion of that sum contingent on the club residing in the region.

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But maximized TV revenue combined with three more years of purgatory in the Coliseum – where disgruntled fans have boycotted and the club drew crowds between 3,800 and 5,400 for three weekend games – apparently did not outweigh the welcoming arms of Sacramento.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé – also the majority owner of the RiverCats – is a longtime Fisher friend and quickly struck a deal for the club to play in the 10,000-seat park.

“We explored several locations for a temporary home, including the Oakland Coliseum,’ Fisher said in a statement released by the club. ‘Even with the long-standing relationship and good intentions on all sides in the negotiations with Oakland, the conditions to achieve an agreement seemed out of reach. We understand the disappointment this news brings to our fans, as this season marks our final one in Oakland. Throughout this season, we will honor and celebrate our time in Oakland, and will share additional details soon.

‘We extend our appreciation to the Kings and the City of West Sacramento, and look forward to making Sutter Health Park our home until our new ballpark opens in Las Vegas.”

The A’s lost 112 games in 2023, second-most in franchise history, and opened this season with a $60 million payroll – lowest in Major League Baseball. Their move to Las Vegas has been met in lukewarm fashion, with mayor Carolyn Goodman opining at one point that the club would be better off staying in Oakland.

Now, they’ve got their halfway house, 85 miles east of the Coliseum and, generally, headed toward Las Vegas.

‘I’m thrilled to welcome the A’s to Sutter Health Park, where players and fans alike can enjoy a world-class baseball experience and create unforgettable memories,” Ranadivé said in a statement. “Today marks the next chapter of professional sports in Sacramento. The passion of our fans is second to none, and this is an incredible opportunity to showcase one of the most dynamic and vibrant markets in the country.”

The A’s franchise is familiar with minor-league accommodations, though on a far more temporary basis. In 1996, the club played its first six games at Las Vegas’ Cashman Field while renovations to the Coliseum to accommodate the Raiders’ return were completed; the stadium still resembled a construction site once the A’s returned.

That Raider return set forth a series of events over the next three decades that culminated in the A’s Vegas gambit, wtih the Coliseum renovations rendering it a far less viable baseball facility.

The A’s began a quest for a new ballpark in the mid-2000s, but Fisher and predecessor Lew Wolff failed in efforts to claim San Jose as a territory, to gain traction in nearby cities like Fremont and ultimately to strike a realistic deal in Oakland, where the club’s Howard Terminal proposal was far more complex than the eventual package they received in Las Vegas.

In the past decade, the city of Oakland has lost the Raiders (Las Vegas), Warriors (across the Bay to San Francisco) and eventually the A’s.

Fisher is still seeking minority investors to infuse cash into his portion of the club’s stadium cost in Las Vegas.

Said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: ‘On behalf of all of MLB, I want to express my appreciation to West Sacramento, Sutter Health Park, the Kings and the greater Sacramento region for their excitement to host the A’s for interim play, as the A’s new permanent home is built in Las Vegas.’

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