LAS VEGAS – Las Vegas will become the smallest TV market in Major League Baseball if the Oakland Athletics relocate, and it will by far be the tiniest to be home to three major professional sports franchises.
But Las Vegas is unlike probably any other market, as the presence of the NFL's Raiders and NHL's Golden Knights have shown.
The city doesn't just rely on the local populace to pack its sports venues, but also draws heavily on the nearly 40 million tourists who visit annually. That doesn't mean the A's would be an automatic success at the turnstile like the Knights and Raiders, but the club and MLB see that visitor count as an enormous advantage.
“It’s a smaller market in terms of households and so forth, but I think it is clearly the fastest-growing market and clearly on the ascension in terms of interest from fans all over the country,” said David Carter, sports business professor at the University of Southern California. “So (the A's) will certainly benefit from a lift to their brand from being in that market.”
The A's have purchased 49 acres of land close to the Las Vegas Strip for a retractable-roof stadium that will seat up to 35,000 fans. The club still hopes to secure $500 million in public financing, so there is still significant work to be done before the A's can officially announce they are moving.
“I’m excited because I know they’re going to do well,” North Las Vegas resident Bryan Hernandez said last week outside T-Mobile Arena before a Golden Knights playoff game. “If you look at the Aviators, they sell out games for a farm team. Imagine when the Oakland A’s come.”
The Aviators, Las Vegas’ Triple-A team and the A’s top farm club, led the league in attendance the past two seasons. When Las Vegas Ballpark opened in 2019, the Aviators led all of Triple-A baseball with 9,299 fans per game.
Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of B Global, an international consulting firm based in Las Vegas, said the team can anticipate building on that support while also pulling in fans from visiting teams.
“One, you’re going to have a strong local base, and we’ve seen that with the Aviators and what they’ve done at their new stadium," he said. "But, secondarily, you’re going to have people ... if they’re playing the Yankees or the Royals or anybody else to be able to (watch them).”
Team president Dave Kaval told AP last week that he hopes to break ground next year and move into the new stadium in time for the 2027 season. The A's lease at Oakland Coliseum expires after the 2024 season. Kaval said it's possible the club will share Las Vegas Ballpark with the Aviators in 2025 and 2026.
According to Nielsen's TV market rankings, Las Vegas is 40th nationally with more than 870,000 homes with televisions. Only six other cities with major professional teams — not including those in Canada — have smaller markets. The Bay Area ranks 10th.
Las Vegas also was easily the smallest that would be home to three teams. Pittsburgh, ranked 26th, is the smallest at this point. The smallest current MLB city is Milwaukee at No. 38.
Carter said defining cities by TV market size won't be easy in future years as consumers continue to move to streaming services. Two major regional sports networks could soon be out of business, with AT&T Sportsnet planning to shut down and the parent company of Bally Sports filing for bankruptcy.
Las Vegas has already proven itself as an NHL and NFL market.
The Golden Knights were the first team into the city, and they pack T-Mobile Arena. It didn't hurt the Knights won from the beginning, making the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season and this year capturing the top seed in the Western Conference.
The Raiders, who missed the playoffs last season, have been a moneymaker, leading the NFL in ticket revenue in 2021. The numbers for 2022 are not yet available.
Lack of attendance is a key reason the A's have stated for their desire to leave, but they haven't given fans much reason to show. They had the MLB's lowest opening-day payroll at $58 million and, at 5-19 through Tuesday's games, baseball's worst record.
Carter said one major advantage is the A's will have the city to themselves during the summer months when the Knights and Raiders are on hiatus, but that's not the only difference.
“The pricing will have to be different," Carter said. "How they attract corporate sponsors will not be the same, so it’s a little bit of an apple to an orange, whereas with the NBA coming to town — if that ever happens — that might be more similar to what the Knights have been through.”