Should Utah want Oakland A’s to make stop before Las Vegas stadium opens?

Utah could be home to Major League Baseball as soon as 2025.

Should it be?

That’s what I’ve been asking myself when thinking about Utah’s sports future over the last couple of months. In January, Oakland A’s officials met with the Larry H. Miller Co. about potentially playing in their currently under-construction stadium in Daybreak from 2025 through 2027, while the team waits for their Las Vegas stadium to open in 2028. (The A’s have also met with Sacramento to have the same discussion, along with making overtures to their old home in Oakland and new home in Vegas.)

Those discussions continue.

“I think they’ve got a few things they still need to answer. We talk to them regularly and update them.” Amanda Covington, LHM’s chief corporate affairs office told me this week at an event hosted by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “We would love to see them come here but we want to also be supportive of their plan. … We want to support MLB and we would love to support the A’s if that were an opportunity for us.”

But I don’t think hosting the A’s in Utah is as much of a home run as Miller officials believe. Let’s break it down. Allow me, if you don’t mind, to argue with myself in classic point-counterpoint fashion.

The baseball

A’s Andy: It would be exceptionally cool to have Major League Baseball in Utah. Salt Lake Bees games are one thing, but bringing the highest level of competition in the sport from April to September would give Utahns a new pastime all summer long.

Imagine the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Dodgers, the Braves coming to Utah, playing here. Shohei Ohtani, back to his pitching and hitting self by 2025. Aaron Judge hitting dingers in the altitude. Ronald Acuña Jr. with his nearly-unprecedented combination of power/speed. All would be a spectacle we’ve never seen before.

Leave-Us-Alone Larsen: But what you’re forgetting is the most common team we’d be seeing — the A’s. They are the worst team in baseball, having won only 50 games last year.

Quick, can you name the A’s best player last year? Can you name any A’s player? Their best player by the analytics last year was a 24-year-old second baseman named Zack Gelof. He hit .267. Their best pitcher was a 26-year-old named JP Sears, who has been in the majors for only two seasons. Last year, he had a 4.54 ERA and a 5-14 record in 172 innings. That’s literally their best arm.

Yes, Utahns would be seeing MLBs most interesting teams. They’d also be seeing them cream the home team. The A’s are once again projected to be the worst team in baseball in 2024, and while the Miller group says that they’d push ownership to spend more on the team during a stay in Utah, the gap between the A’s and competitive baseball now is big enough that even a substantial injection of funds would likely not be enough.

Those losing vibes will permeate the discussion of Utah as a home for baseball — and prevent us from getting an expansion team in Salt Lake City that would have more success under new ownership.

The stadium

A’s Andy: Having the A’s play in a small, brand-new stadium in Daybreak would be a wonderful experience. Where else are you going to have such close, intimate quarters to watch MLB stars play? Heck, when else would you have such intimate quarters? Having a major league team play at a minor league ballpark just doesn’t happen, these are extremely novel circumstances.

Plus, the A’s short-term stay would mean great long-term consequences for the stadium. The Millers say that they’d build out their 7,500-seat stadium to 11,000 should the A’s come. While that seating would largely be temporary, some of the major-league touches they’d put on the ballpark as a result would be forever.

The Millers also say they’d make the stadium’s branding and colors fit the A’s — a cool historical legacy that would be fun to tell your grandkids about.

Leave-us-alone Larsen: Come on now. You’re going to make Major League Baseball players, fans, and executives go out to suburban Utah? Out to Daybreak? I mean, traffic is already hideous enough out there, but then you’re going to add MLB action on top of it?

What kind of experience are those players, those visiting fans, those executives going to have? They’ll see Utah as a minor-league experience, not befitting a new major-league expansion franchise. They’ll see us as small-town rinky-dink dorks. When expansion votes come, they’ll want a new start elsewhere.

And what about when they leave? Just tear down every “A” in the stadium and put up a “B” instead? How ridiculous.

The finances

A’s Andy: Having an MLB team in Utah for a few years would benefit everyone financially — both the A’s and us in their temporary home.

For one, the A’s would actually have fans attend again. Attendance at the Coliseum in Oakland was as low as 3,700 fans before the temporary “reverse boycotts” run by the fans attending games en masse artificially boosted numbers. The A’s ownership could count on ticket revenue, concessions revenue, parking revenue and more. The A’s have been at the bottom of the MLB payroll standings for a while, but the partnership could kickstart their path back to relevancy.

And for Utah and the Daybreak, they’d see the benefits of hosting an MLB team. Hotel rooms night after night in the spring and summer. More jobs for concessionaires, ushers, and other employees. Property values rising as A’s employees seek to live near their work.

Leave-us-alone Larsen: Over and over again, studies have shown that areas simply don’t see substantial economic benefits from hosting major league sports. When teams leave or arrive, overall wages, income, or employment aren’t impacted in either direction. People simply change their use of entertainment dollars.

In this case, that would hurt Utah: When a family skips a night out to eat at a restaurant to attend the A’s game instead, that money would not go to a local restauranteur and instead go to A’s owner John Fisher. Not good.

But the math doesn’t really make sense for the A’s, either. Yes, attendance is small in Oakland — but it still averaged 10,276 fans last year. How much more are they really going to get at an 11,000-seat stadium in Daybreak?

Most critically, their media rights deal with NBC Sports California earned the A’s $68 million last season. How in the world will they make that up in Utah? There’s not even a regional sports network here anymore after AT&T SportsNet closed up shop last year.

The fans

A’s Andy: Baseball’s an incredible sport. But it’s an acquired taste, one a lot of Utahns don’t have right now. Introducing Utahns to Major League Baseball via the A’s for a few years would get the water cooler conversation going, getting fans interested in baseball in a new way by unlocking the social element of the sport. We’d watch the standings, the All-Star Game, the playoffs, the World Series, with much more interest than ever before.

It’d also introduce Utahns to our new rivals. While it’s not clear how realignment might work in the wake of expansion, there’s a good chance the new Utah team would be paired up with at least some of the AL West. The A’s home games would give fans the chance to know the Angels, Rangers, Mariners, and of course the hated Astros as well as any fan base in the league.

Then, a new MLB team in a new stadium in the Power District would have the chance to gently shift those fans over to a similar, but better experience in Salt Lake City.

Leave-us-alone Larsen: We all know the lure of something new. As the lines for Jack In The Box showed, Utahns love something new to the area and will flock to it. And then they’ll go back to business as usual.

Three years of hosting the A’s is a long enough time for the new car smell to wear off. Just like with the Jack In The Box, those lines will fall quickly, leaving the A’s at Daybreak as a cautionary tale for MLB expansion in Utah. What happens if the Daybreak stadium isn’t even full? Why would MLB think a major league franchise would work?

No, it’s better to start with the best foot forward — a new team in a major-league quality stadium in an area easily accessed by fans from Ogden to Provo. With a good ownership group in the Miller family, not one of the most despicable in John Fisher’s team. They’ll be able to design branding designed to Utah-specific tastes, something like the Gulls look.

And most of all, fans will know what they’re rooting for will be in Utah for the foreseeable future, that their financial support and buy-in go towards a long-term community asset, not a short-term squatter.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

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