December 16, 2004

Vegas, baby: A baseball jackpot

Las Vegas holds all the right cards for Major League Baseball, but can officials see past the showmanship?

J. Michael Weitzel / BPF
When I read the Las Vegas Review Journal article about mayor Oscar Goodman showing up to baseball’s winter meetings with two showgirls hooked to his arms, my initial reaction was, "what happened to the pockmarked kids with pennants?"

Vegas is certainly the buzzword around baseball these days when the word "Beltran" is not. With no stadium plan in place, baseball operations in Washington have officially been put on hold, and Las Vegas has reentered the picture as a buzz-worthy baseball contender.

If the Washington bid fails, the Expos will enter a third-consecutive season in limbo. That's three years of highly-paid MLB executives trying to sort out this team's future. The latest gaff confirms what fans have speculated for years: that Major League Baseball is run by idiots.

If I ran baseball and wanted to plant a team somewhere, I'd keep a sharp eye out for two fairly simple things: kids, and money. My gut feeling is baseball awarded the bid to D.C. for the wrong reasons: tradition and politics.

As it stands, I would consider the best candidates to be D.C. (still), Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas.

In searching for the kids, replace the pennants with Gameboys and I can tell you where those pockmarked kids are not: Washington, D.C.

Assuming the cut-off age to be pockmarked is 14, 17.1 percent of D.C. is pockmarked and ready to wave the pennant for the Nationals, based on 2000 Census data. That's not as good as Portland, boasting 17.6 percent cheering on the Lumberjacks. And how about Las Vegas? Try 22.2 percent pulling for the Gamblers.

A pockmarked kid

That's a lot of irritating kids, but baseball is about fun for the whole family, and if kids could drive themselves to the game, then they can drive themselves to the mall, to hockey practice, to dance lessons, to Erin's house, and to wherever else they "need" to go and give the parents a little peace and quiet.

Talking salt-of-the-earth married couples with children under 18, in Washington, they account for a stingy 8.4 percent of households, in Portland, 16.2 percent, and in Vegas, try 21.6 percent on for size.

Wow. Who knew Vegas could be so … wholesome?

Las Vegas may not be as big as the other contenders, but it offers the right climate. The suburb of North Las Vegas adds 150,000 bodies to the mix, and the fact that there’s no other major sport around, we're not just talkin' bodies, we're talkin' bored bodies.

Well, what about money? Las Vegas has it, with the median household income of $44,093, based on 2002 estimates. That's better than the suits in Washington, $43,682, and the fine people of the great northwest, $39,016.

For a little perspective, Miami, a failed baseball experiment, earns just $20,883.

Now, families are great and everything, but they can’t fill luxury boxes. Goodman has a plan for a privately-funded ballpark which would rely heavily on the gaming industry’s willingness to buy into suites.

I never liked the idea of taxing people for their city’s sports, but the Review Journal Op-Ed page, truly jaded from not having any major sports ever, put the public vs. private financing issue in perspective best.

"Las Vegas Valley residents disappointed about losing to Washington, D.C., in the Montreal Expos relocation sweepstakes can look at the fleecing that awaits taxpayers in the nation's capital and be grateful that Major League Baseball wanted no part of Southern Nevada. Council members have floated different stadium ideas, different sites and different financing plans - all of which rely on huge amounts of taxpayer financing - behind closed doors.

If baseball interests have learned anything from their efforts to enrich franchises with state-of-the-art ballparks, it's that public scrutiny tends to put a wrench in their ability to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies.

It would be premature to guess whether owners might one day find their way back to Las Vegas, where they rejected a privately financed stadium plan in favor of Washington's disjointed, political mess. But the capital's environment seems appropriate for the Expos, a team that resembles a neglected vehicle left propped on cinder blocks."

BPF Take
As a Phillies fan, I'd love to see a geographic, NL East rival in D.C., but I'm sick of empty stadiums and sick to death of the Montreal Expos. The situation in D.C. is quickly unraveling and it's baseball's fault. In selecting the city with the most leverage, both historic and political, they made a blind choice and forgot to ask a simple question: Where is baseball needed most? Washington is still a good choice, but Las Vegas has earned the right, and respect, to wave a banner for Major League Baseball.


At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Las Vegas Gamblers? How 'bout the Las Vegas Roses...

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fun post J-Mike....I have a question on your demographica data: Did you include the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia (Loudon, Fairfax, etc.) and MD (Chevy Chase, Rockville, etc.). If you didn't the income will certainly go up and the ages will certainly go down.

Tom G

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Jason Weitzel said...

Tom: Good question, and I know I'd be asked that. The answer is, no, I didn't include it, but I also didn't include the data for the Vegas suburbs either.

I used a 2002 census report for North Las Vegas and South Nevada to form some of this article and remember seeing that the income for South Nevada was something like $46,000 per household. That's awfully high. I didn't browse and stats on the D.C. suburbs but they're certainly higher than the city in regards to income and families.

I still like Washington better than I like Northern Virginia as a site for baseball. I initially thought Northern Virginia would be better, then I read more about it. Traffic is really horrible, and "Northern Viginia" isn't so much a place, as it is a sprawl. Baltimore is already there to fill the need for baseball. Plus, it won't get the support they need because there's no central body of government influence.

I'm convinced baseball is destined for at least two places: Washington and Vegas. Goodman has already been contacted by two teams besides Florida, said to be Oakland and Minnesota, on picking up and moving to the dessert.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Jason Weitzel said...

One other thing about baseball: I think they've proven they need a plan that’s nice and simple. San Juan, PR, Monterey, Mexico, would be financial and logistical nightmares. Las Vegas is the nice, tidy package baseball can understand.


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