MLB Expansion: The Way of the Future!

8 11 2010

Posted by WAMCO:

Back in 2001, Major League baseball was considering contraction, going from 30 teams down to 28. At that time, the two teams that were to be contracted were the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins. Since 2001, the Expos have moved to Washington and are in the process of establishing their identity. The Minnesota Twins? They have won six central division titles. This is the biggest reason I do not believe contraction is the answer.

The Twins have come a long way in a short period of time, going from baseball’s chopping block in 2001 to multiple time central division champs in 2010

Major League baseball is a $6-$7 billion industry. The Twins looked like a hopeless franchise that could never compete and was on death’s doorstep. But given the chance, they have managed to persevere and enjoy a relatively dominant stretch. Now, they have a new ballpark and are in the top ten in major league payroll. As hopeless as any team looks, it can turn it around and be successful. The industry is big enough to support these teams while they do. In the majority of cases, once there is success on the field, attendance and television viewership will follow. In fact, with such a large income base across the entire league, I believe the time is right to expand and grow the game in new markets.

In order to properly balance the schedule (which is a topic for another day in another article), there needs to be an equal number of teams in each league. The obvious question is: where should the expansion teams go? It is important to look at more than a city’s population. The size of the media market, the population of the metropolitan statistical area, and the city’s current ties to minor league baseball should be considered. Below I will examine four potential expansion sites.

Before I get into the examination, I will explain some of the factors that I looked at. One, was the ability of the area to support other major professional sports teams. I chose the four traditional major sports. Perhaps I could have included MLS as well, but I did not in this case. I also reference average and total attendance for minor league teams in the area. The highest minor league average attendance in 2010 was the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs of the International league, who averaged 9227 fans per game. There were only ten minor league teams that averaged over 8000 fans per game, to give you a sense of what the below numbers mean. There will be many reasons a city has good or bad minor league attendance, but I did not get too much into that in most cases. I also considered looking at unemployment rates in the individual areas, but felt that this was mostly a non-issue, as there are places with high unemployment rates that still draw well (Detroit) as well as places with good unemplyment rates that do not draw well (its all about winning!). I also reference the size of the media market in relation to other metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, keeping in mind that Cincinnati and Milwaukee are 34th and 33rd respectively in media market size, for reference purposes.

Portland, Oregon: The area around Portland is underrepresented in professional sports. The only other major professional sports franchise in Portland is the Trailblazers of the NBA. The metropolitan statistical area of Portland/Vancouver/Beaverton had an estimated population of 2,241,841 people as of 2009, and the 23rd-largest media market in the United States. The Portland Beavers AAA baseball team drew an average of 4265 fans per game in 2010, and 294,332 fans in total, despite the knowledge that the team was leaving the city at the end of the year due to a stadium dispute. This attendance ranked 71st in the minors, which is obviously not terrific, but I believe their stadium issues would have largely contributed to this. A natural rivalry with the Seattle Mariners could develop here, which would be great for baseball in the Pacific Northwest.

Charlotte, North Carolina: It is hard to say that the sports market in Charlotte and the surrounding area is underserved. The Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA and the Carolina Panthers of the NFL are both quite popular in the area. Charlotte has the 27th-largest media market in the United States. The Charlotte Knights AAA baseball team in the International League drew an average of 4247 fans per game in 2010, and a total of 305,842, which ranked 73rd in the minor leagues based on average attendance. The metropolitan statistical area of Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord had an estimated population of 1,745,524 in 2009. Greensboro, NC, is less than 90 minutes drive from Charlotte, and this area had an estimated population of 714,765 in 2009. A potential rivalry with the Atlanta Braves is intriguing here. Despite the current number of teams located in the eastern United States, Charlotte would seem to be a decent fit, as there appears to be a geographical dead area in the Carolinas, which would be helped immensely by an MLB franchise.

Nashville, Tennessee: The home of country music is also the home of the Nashville Predators of the NHL and the Tennessee Titans of the NFL.  Nashville has the 30th-largest media market in the United States. The Nashville Sounds of the AAA Pacific Coast League drew an average of 4764 fans per game in 2010 (ranking 64th in the minors), and a total of 319,235 over the entire season. The metropolitan statistical area of Nashville/Davidson/Murfreesboro/Franklin, Tennessee had an estimated population of 1,582,264 in 2009. Nashville has often been criticized as a poor market for the NHL (I hear this a lot in Canada). However, their attendance numbers have been decent since the NHL strike in 2004-2005, filling their arena more than 85% capacity since then. Obviously this is a different sport, but it paints a picture that the city can get behind a major sports franchise. Nashville is directly between St. Louis and Atlanta, which could lead to an interesting rivalry between the cities.

Salt Lake City, Utah:  The home of the 2002 winter Olympics boasts one major professional sports franchise, the Utah Jazz. Salt Lake City has the 36th-largest media market in the United States. There is clearly interest in baseball, as the AAA Salt Lake Bees drew an average attendance of 7292 people per game, ranking 14th in the minor leagues, and a total of 510,484 over the entire season in 2010. The metropolitan statistical area of Salt Lake City had an estimated population of 1,130,293 in 2009. A franchise in Utah would be ideal, from the standpoint that the area does not really have any other franchise even close in proximity, and if paired with an expansion team in Portland, would really stretch Major League Baseball further into underserved areas of the country. A potential natural rival would be Colorado (battle of the four corners, anyone? I guess Arizona would have to be a part of that as well).

Obviously, there would be major and minor details to decipher (revenue sharing, ownership groups, ball park construction, territorial rights, etc.). We all know that these things would need to occur before any expansion would be possible. I feel that all of these sites would be viable major league towns, but there are many other factors that would need to be considered before an expansion team was placed in any of these cities. My preference? I think that Portland, Oregon is the first logical place, because of the geographical gap that it would close. For my second team, I am torn between Salt Lake City and Charlotte. I think Charlotte would be more successful from a monetary standpoint, but there is the potential for a place like Salt Lake City to rally around a team. Based on money, I guess I would go with Charlotte, but its really close. To me, though, the important thing to remember is that all of these teams can make money. The sport is a multi-billion dollar industry. I believe it is worth it to expand to areas without access to major league baseball, for the purpose of growing the game, and reaching more people. Isn’t that what this should be about? 

Would any of these sites actually work? Are there other sites that should be considered? Comments and discussion is appreciated.

*All data for metropolitan statistical areas obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov

**All data for minor league attendance obtained from Ballpark Digest, http://www.ballparkdigest.com

***Media market rankings obtained from Pro Advance, http://www.proadvance.com

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13 responses

9 11 2010
Alstein

I can tell you that the Bobcats are not that popular, and the Panthers are only popular when they win. Charlotte is just not a good pro sports town. (I’m from the area)

Portland is a no-brainer, then I’d go with either Vegas, Montreal (who deserves another shot) or Salt Lake City.

9 11 2010
WAMCO

I’d love Montreal, but I didn’t consider them because they’ve already been there and I assume MLB won’t want to go back, based on the way that MLB hosed the city of Montreal.

Keep in mind that most fan bases only provide strong support when the team is winning, but the more I think about it, the more I think Salt Lake City would be a decent place to try.

10 11 2010
Brady

I’ve always been a big supporter of baseball in Salt Lake City. I mean…shit. They’re in Utah. What else are they gonna do?

18 05 2012
Parker

Obviously you have never been to Utah.

10 07 2012
Jeff

He has a point. When I was growing up, I didn’t do much but play baseball…

3 12 2010
Hal Z.

I live in metro Charlotte and we could definitely support MLB. Half of the metro area is transplants mostly from cities located in the American league. That alone would fill the stadium until they build a stronger fan base. Also the population for the CSA as of 2008 population of 2,574,787. The population over 100 miles is 7.1 million as of 2004 and close to 9 million as of 2010.

7 12 2010
Nikiaf

Montreal makes the most sense because it is more than twice as large as any other metropolitan area that currently does not have an MLB team. The only problem is the MLB itself, which will likely be hesitant towards going back there. The city in my opinion would welcome the team with open arms, as long as they don’t make us sit in olympic stadium anymore, unless they get a working retractable roof on there and do a serious overhaul of the inside. Also, if you realign the divisions so that both Montreal and Toronto are in the same one, you’ll boost Jays attendance massively. The two cities are very competitive, just look at how often Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens games are sold out. (Hint: it’s more than 99% of the time :D)

26 04 2011
lipsalmon

SLC is the obvious choice here! Im not sure where you got your numbers from but the Salt Lake City metro area has 2.3 million people and thats just within a 40 mile radius, the Jazz draw fans from Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming in addition to what they get from the metro area. There is no question that an MLB franchise would thrive in Utah, baseball is very popular here! Hell, even our MLS franchise is thiriving and I never even hear about it, yet it is among the top teams yearly in attendance, as are the Jazz in the NBA. BYU and Utah football and basketball prgrams sellout almost every game, BYU’s stadium is 65,000+ and their Arena is 22,700.

26 07 2011
Peter Fleming

If you are going with Portland as an option you can not leave out San Antonio. Texas is a large state and San Antonio has many good sized markets close to it. I can almost guarantee that San Antonio would do well.

Also, though it has been some time since Buffalo NY had a large following for their AAA baseball club they did at one time lead AAA in attendance. I can see Buffalo being a solid third option after San Antonio and Portland.

Other cities I could see are Louisville Ky, Memphis or Nashville Tn, SLC Ut, New Orleans La. and a wild card in Las Vegas Nv.

Vancouver could not even support their NBA team so I am not so sure they would be a good choice.

Oh and I must say I am intrigued by the idea of a team in Brooklyn, However I think it would be best to see how the Nets do in Brooklyn before that can be considered. Since baseball will probably not expand for quite some time that will allow any prospective expansion panel to see how the Nets do.

13 12 2011
Francis

Montreal!
the problem of montreal is that there is no ballpark. The Labatt Park it was the solution went wrong because of the Canadian Government who did not pay the stadium, but had already paid the rogers center of tonronto.Then the owner, Claude Brochut had to sell the team popriétaire the worst in the world, Jeffrey Lorria who simply wanted to move the team to the United States. 😦

Today, The expos are missing a lot in Quebec and Canada who would like their back with love!

I’m sorry for my english, I’m a french expos fan!!

6 06 2012
Kelly

Nice article. The only current team I would consider relocating are the A’s from Oakland to Sacramento. I Never considered Utah before. Could work. Biggest problem w/ Portland I hear, is the city of Portland. They will not put any money into building a MLB park. Instead of Charlotte, NC, I’d go with Raleigh/Durham, NC. I agree with some of the replies, Montreal should get their team back. Other “baseball towns” to consider Louisville,KY (home of the Slugger museum and factory for all MLB bats); Omaha,NE (home of the college World Series since 1950); Rochester, NY (a baseball city since the beginning of the league); Birmingham, AL (huge negro-league history); and Baton Rouge,LA (best French name for a baseball franchise). Also worth considering, Mexico City,Mex; Monterrey,Mex; Santo Domingo, DR.

8 07 2012
Kelly Keeton

I’ve had some time to think on this….. There should be a complete Canadian division in MLB. It would promote the game tremendously within Canada and Canada has the population and money to support 5 of their own teams with Canadian dollars, Canadian fans, and Canadian T.V. The rivalries would be huge! The Bluejays would be perenial favorites instead of the perenial “wannabes” in the extremely tough AL East. For your consideration…. B.C. Smoke; Alberta Canadian Mounties; Ottawa Senators; and Montreal Athletiques to join the Bluejays in an American League Canada division. The Athletics and Rays are looking for homes so not all the teams would have to be expansion teams. The rest of MLB will not have to worry about renevue sharing, since these five would have there own Canadian revenue and TV deals to share amongst themselves plus MLB would gain in expansion fees and merchandise sales in new, untapped markets.

10 07 2012
Jeff

Having a separate Canadian Division could be interesting. However, to maintain the current playoff structure, there would need to be another division created somewhere to keep an even number in the playoffs…

But more to what the article spoke on, I’m from Utah. Born and raised. When people say that the SLC Metro area (or the entire state for that matter) is too small to support a MLB franchise, they aren’t taking into account what some of the other respondants have mentioned. Sure, we may not be the biggest market in terms of sheer numbers, but we have a love of baseball that not many places can match. In my high school, baseball was life. Football was popular, as was basketball, but if you look at championships, there are 5 state titles for football (I think…), one for basketball (1914. seriously.) and about 15 for baseball in the last 30 years alone. We are a baseball-loving state, and an MLB franchise would thrive there, as has been said.

Other locations: Portland would be good, as the western states (other than California) are under-represented as far as MLB is concerned. Vegas would be great, as they have no other ML sports teams, and the closeess to LA, SD, and Phoenix would help build a great rivalry. Nashville and Charlotte … meh. I guess I’m biased.

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