2021 Freitas Awards: Las Vegas Aviators (Triple A)
Las Vegas residents and visitors have many competitors for their entertainment dollar.
In addition to the bright lights of the casinos on the famed Las Vegas strip, major league sports are now a part of the city’s landscape. The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights began play as an expansion franchise in 2017. The NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders relocated from Oakland in 2020.
Just 11 miles west of the strip and seven to 10 degrees cooler, sits one of the finest ballparks in the minor leagues.
Las Vegas Ballpark is home to the Aviators, the Triple-A affiliate of the Athletics. It is an 8,196-seat, state-of-the-art ballpark located on eight acres in downtown Summerlin.
The Aviators averaged 6,590 fans per game in 2021 despite a 50% seating capacity early in the season due to Covid restrictions. There were six sell-outs, including a season-high crowd of 10,190 on July 3 against Sacramento.
The amenities at the ballpark rival those at major league parks. There are 22 suites, 400 club suites, 350 party-deck seats, berm seating overlooking the bullpen, a kid’s zone and an outdoor pool overlooking center field.
Las Vegas Ballpark is central to the Aviators’ selection as this year’s Triple-A Freitas Award winner, which recognizes minor league franchises for their community involvement, long-term business success and consistent operational excellence.
In 2019, the Aviators, in their first season at the new ballpark, led the minor leagues in attendance, which included 47 sellouts and 23 crowds of 10,000 or more fans. But then the Covid pandemic struck, eliminating the entire 2020 minor league season.
“I’m the eternal optimist,” Aviators president and COO Don Logan said. “In 2020, the world got turned upside down. All the backflips you had to do to get your Covid plan in place—there was just layer upon layer of logistical things that had to get done.”
The prospect of going to an empty ballpark in 2020 was difficult for Logan and his front office staff, many of whom have been with the various iterations of minor league baseball in Vegas for more than 10 years.
“It was surreal,” Logan admitted. “This is my 38th year in the game and to have that much down time, it was odd. When Major League Baseball started in July, we at least were able to watch some games, but it was obviously not the same.”
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Logan kept his entire staff intact during the cancelled 2020 season. He laid off no one.
“I believe in a smaller staff,” he said. “We can pay better. It’s not your typical old school minor league operation.”
The Aviators have a season-ticket base of 3,750 fans. Logan said he wants to keep enough tickets available for individual and group sales.
“We’ve got the finest facility in minor league baseball,” Logan said. “That really helps. The location, it’s very accessible. It’s a desirable place. It’s safe and clean. The ingress and egress are great, and we don’t charge for parking.
“We have great people who are out in front of technology. We have embraced the way sports business has changed.”
The Aviators were also successful on the field in 2021. The club sent 11 players to MLB, including righthander Daulton Jefferies, who ranked as Oakland’s preseason No. 3 prospect.
Oakland is paying attention to the Aviators’ success. The A’s recently emailed a survey to Aviators fans on the prospect of MLB coming to the Vegas area. Among the questions asked was fans’ ballpark preference: open-air, enclosed or with a retractable roof.
The Athletics’ lease with RingCentral Coliseum, the franchise’s home since 1969, expires after the 2024 season.
“Vegas is really a great sports town,” Logan said. “The success of getting a new ballpark eased the minds of the A’s and MLB in general. It’s another feather in the cap of our baseball team.”