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Las Vegas Expos?
It’s worth ’05 test run

Feb 3, 2004 5:11 AM

The Las Vegas Expos? It just may happen next year.

A recent ESPN poll on the subject of moving the Montreal Expos to a permanent site in 2005 showed Las Vegas drawing the most nationwide support among five cities mentioned as possible replacement destinations for this "orphan" franchise.

The Expos call Montreal home in name only, having played over 20 games the past several seasons in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Major League Baseball currently runs the baseball operations for the Expos and Commissioner Bud Selig plans to have new ownership and a new home for the National League vagabonds in 2005.

Now, there are viable arguments why Las Vegas would be a risky choice to handle a major league baseball team. And, this admission comes from someone who believes baseball can work here.

Certainly if ever there was a test-tube case for pro sports succeeding in Las Vegas, an Expos move to Sin City would be the perfect choice.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has not been bashful about his commitment to bring major league sports to Clark County. Baseball would be the most likely to succeed here based on the gambling situation.

"While baseball takes in the most money during the summer months, it doesn’t compare with football or basketball," said Chuck Esposito, assistant vice president of race and sports book operations at Caesars Palace. "There are certainly ways around the gambling issue. The money generated from a major league baseball team here would overcome anything lost here through the lack of gambling."

Caesars Entertainment Inc., in fact, is talking to major league baseball about moving the Expos to Clark County. The Las Vegas 51s, Triple-A franchise of the Los Angeles Dodgers, calls Cashman Field home and that stadium has hosted spring training games along with an MLB-sponsored home run hitting contest. But Cashman’s location and insufficient seating makes this site irrelevant in any serious negotiation.

Caesars reportedly would like to build a new stadium behind Bally’s, which certainly would be a boon for the hotel and the entire Strip. Imagine what a field day the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce would have promoting a major league baseball team for the nation’s No.1 rated tourist locale and fastest growing U.S. city.

Vegas would be the real life "Field of Dreams" and not the Iowa cornfield where "if you build it, they will come." The premise worked in the movie and could here. For those who believe Las Vegas is not a large enough media market to warrant a pro sports franchise, the same was said in Portland, Phoenix, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Orlando, Raleigh, Columbus and Nashville. All those cities have pro teams either in the NBA or NHL.

It would seem Vegas would be more suited to basketball or hockey, but those sports have dragged their feet in future expansion discussions. With Selig committing to a new home in 2005 for the Expos during the quarterly meeting of team owners last month in Scottsdale, Ariz, the path is set for Las Vegas to act as a "foster home."

Give Vegas one year to prove worthy of a permanent pro franchise. The Expos are drawing an average of under 20,000 fans per game ”” a figure Las Vegas should be able to attract with plenty of hard work. Vegas is a city still evolving, with many of its residents coming from all parts of the nation and numerous foreign countries.

It makes more sense placing a team in Las Vegas than San Juan. Even Selig should see it’s a no-brainer of a move and a no-lose situation for both this city and baseball. If Vegas can support pro baseball, then pursue plans for a permanent stadium on the Strip. If not, relocate the Expos somewhere else.

Just do it or shut up!