On Monday afternoon, National Football League owners approved the relocation of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. The move is at least two years away, possibly three, but it has been agreed to. .
Whenever the Raiders do move, they will become the second major sports franchise in Las Vegas. The city was approved for an expansion National Hockey League team, the Golden Knights, last June. They’ll begin play this fall for the 2017-18 season, and the league designedto help make the club as competitive as possible right away.
Now that the NFL and NHL are in Las Vegas, it stands to reason Major League Baseball could soon follow suit, right? Sure, it’s always possible, though there are several reasons why MLB could stay away from Las Vegas. Here are three:
Las Vegas isn’t a very big market
Needless to say, Las Vegas is a tourist town. There are roughly 620,000 residents in the city per the United States Census Bureau’s 2015 estimate, making it the 28th-largest city in the country. There are more residents in non-MLB cities like Austin, Texas, (930,000), Jacksonville, Florida, (868,000) and Charlotte, North Carolina, (827,000), among others. Is Vegas large enough to support a big league fan base? The success of the Raiders and Golden Knights will lend some clues these next few years. There are many larger available cities -- 12 cities with a larger population than Las Vegas do not have an MLB franchise -- the league figures to explore first.
Gambling is a major concern
Thanks to the Black Sox scandal and Pete Rose, gambling is a major concern for baseball. It’s a concern for every sport, of course, but baseball especially because it already has two black eyes. There is no better place to gamble in the country than Las Vegas, and I’m sure MLB will be jittery about sending a bunch of wealthy players (and executives!) to a place where so much temptation exists. The last thing the league wants is some sort of mass gambling controversy. That would do massive damage to the game.
There’s already a Triple-A team in town
The Las Vegas 51s, in fact. Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets. Putting a big-league franchise and a Triple-A franchise in the same city isn’t going to work. Putting an MLB team in Las Vegas means the 51s, who have played in the city since 1983, would have to relocate, which further complicates things. A new ballpark would also have to be built -- Cashman Field, home of the 51s, seats fewer than 9,500 fans -- which adds another layer of complication.
There’s also this: Las Vegas is an insanely hitter friendly environment. The elevation is roughly 2,000 feet above sea level, which helps the ball carry, as does the dry desert air. Park Factors at StatCorner say run scoring is inflated to more than 13 percent of the league average at Las Vegas. The 51s hit .291/.365/.452 as a team in 2016. It was a lineup of nine “Xander Bogaertses” each night, basically. (Bogaerts hit .294/.356/.446 in 2016.)
Moving to Las Vegas would essentially give MLB two Coors Field situations, and hey, maybe that’s not a problem. I do love home runs and offense, personally. That said, the Rockies have had a difficult time building a sustained contender in their quarter-century of existence, largely because it’s so difficult to develop pitching in that environment. Does MLB want to create another situation in which a franchise struggles to build a contender because it plays in such a hitter-friendly environment?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has insisted the Athletics and Rays need new stadiums before MLB will consider expansion, which makes sense. You have to take care of the teams already in the league before adding new ones. Of course, the A’s and/or Rays situations could be addressed by relocating the team, possibly to Vegas. Both the NHL and NFL consider it a viable market, obviously. For MLB though, it might be a less than desirable destination.