LOS ANGELES — John Fisher has been thinking a lot about tourists lately.
Las Vegas runs on tourists. Fisher, the owner of the presumptive Las Vegas Athletics, would like to cater to them. He has pondered whether his A’s should start home games at 4 p.m., the better for tourists to catch a game in the afternoon and a show at night.
The legislation proposed to lure Fisher’s team from Oakland to Las Vegas runs 44 pages. The bill does not mention the A’s. The title of the bill: “The Southern Nevada Tourism Innovation Act.”
The public-private partnership proposed between the A’s and Nevada, in which the team would get hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies toward a new stadium, does not involve much in the way of public input.
The bill was introduced on the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend, with public comment reserved for a hearing on Memorial Day. Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo could sign the bill into law within a week or in a special legislative session soon after.
The governor’s chief of staff, Ben Kieckhefer, kicked off Monday’s hearing by declaring in no uncertain terms: “The state general fund will make money on this deal.”
Those are the kinds of comments that make economists roll their eyes, because academic studies repeatedly have shown that states and cities rarely make money on stadium deals. Jeremy Aguero, a Las Vegas-based consultant working with the A’s, bluntly addressed that issue in pitching the A’s deal during the hearing.
“If you build a stadium in most places around the United States,” Aguero said, “it is going to have a negative economic impact.”
Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, must be thrilled. Good luck with expansion.
What makes Las Vegas different from any other market, Aguero said, is the tourist infusion. Las Vegas runs on 40 million tourists per year, and a baseball team could be another marquee attraction on the world-famous Strip.
With tourists come revenue and jobs, but baseball teams do not offer the number of jobs that Aguero and the A’s are pitching.
The A’s have about 200 full-time employees. Perhaps that number would double with the ticket sales and marketing that would surround a move.
The Angels have about 200 concession workers on an average game day, union spokeswoman Maria Hernandez said. Security, parking, ticket operations and other positions outside that union account for more game-day jobs — but not thousands more.
Aguero told me Tuesday that his projection showed the A’s ballpark would result in 5,400 jobs per year in team and stadium operations.
“I don’t know that I necessarily agree with your numbers,” he said.
Aguero said the Las Vegas difference revolves around the nongame events, the private parties and corporate events that can fill a stadium when the team is not playing. He said the A’s stadium could have 200 private events per year and said he did not consult with other major league teams about job numbers.
“I think it’s very much an apples to oranges comparison,” he said. “We’re looking at other facilities that we have here in Las Vegas, to get a sense of what it might look like.”
Aguero provided legislators with estimates that 30% of fans would be tourists, including 16% who would not have to come to Las Vegas if not for the opportunity to see a major league game. In a stadium with a proposed capacity of 30,000, that would mean as many as 9,000 tourists per game.
Aguero estimated the NHL’s Golden Knights, whose winter season is much more tourist-friendly, sell 10% to 20% of their tickets to tourists. He said the popular team has instituted restrictions on ticket sales.
He said the baseball attendance estimates were informed by surveys of fans of other American League West teams, and by data from what legislators were told were “comparable Major League Baseball teams.” He told me those comparable teams included the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
“I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we somehow said the A’s are instantly going to be the Yankees or the Dodgers or the Red Sox,” Aguero said.
The Yankees and Dodgers and Red Sox are national brands. The A’s are a punchline, at least this season.
They could flourish in Las Vegas, or they could flounder. Greg Maddux and Bryce Harper stand for a blossoming baseball heritage in a town where even triple-A baseball draws well. But the Golden Knights and Raiders — and the NBA team that awaits on land already secured for an arena — could suck up so many fan and corporate dollars that there might be too few left for the A’s in what still is a small market.
That would make success with tourists an imperative, not a bonus. This likely is Las Vegas’ best chance at a major league team, because expansion would be far more competitive and far more expensive. Still, the hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies essentially mean legislators would be gambling with taxpayer money.
A World Series would be worth it. But the Stanley Cup Final is just as thrilling, and it opens Saturday in Las Vegas.
Tweeted Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom: “ironic that the best men’s team in las vegas is the one that didn’t receive any public subsidy.”