The Next MLB City: "The Top 10"

Oakland's Current Stadium is a primary reason for their relocation attempts - Jed Jacobsohn

When discussing what metro areas stand the greatest chance at hosting a MLB franchise, there are ten that stand out above the rest. In a new feature to the post, I will rank these metro areas in a countdown and explain my reasons why.

Of all of the metro areas analyzed in this study, there are ten that begin to stand out above the rest. These cities are large, affluent, have a history of baseball, and have their own unique qualities that make them appealing candidates. If MLB were to relocate one or more teams within the next 15 years, it is likely that these cities would be among the first considered. Without further ado, let's get into "The Top 10":


City #10: Sacramento, California

It is very interesting how little Sacramento is brought up in discussions about where the Oakland Athletics could move. The city is 81.8 miles from Oakland and it sits within Oakland's territory--in a location presumably far enough away from the Bay for the Giants to not care. However, it stands to reason that the A's may want to do everything possible to stay within the Bay as to not relocate away from their strongest section of the fan base.

Key facts: Population of 2.15 million, 32% GDP of average MLB metro area, 83.55% GDP/Capita of average metro area in the study

Sacramento is no San Jose, but it certainly would be a viable location for a team to move to. The problem here is that it sits in the shared territory of San Francisco and Oakland, so the only team with a viable shot at relocating there would be the Oakland Athletics.

City #9: Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis comes in at a size similar to a city already seen in this study: Columbus, Ohio. Unlike Columbus, Indianapolis is home to several different major sports teams. The Colts of the NFL and Pacers of the NBA have a longstanding history of success within the city, so Indianapolis is a prime candidate to be able to host a MLB team, in theory.

Key facts: Population of 1.89 million, 107% GDP/Capita of average metro area


The biggest concern for Indianapolis is potential strain on the market. If Indianapolis were to get a team, it would be the second smallest three-sport city in America--next to Cleveland, which has nearly 200,000 more people and already struggles with attendance. People only have so much disposable income to put towards sports entertainment. Another thing to consider with Indianapolis is that it sits in a state with a very deep basketball history, though this hasn't seemed to hurt the NFL's Colts.

When run through the attendance predictor, an average team in Indianapolis would draw an average of 29,322 fans per game. However, when accounting for potential market strain it is entirely plausible that this average would be lower.

City #8: Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City comes in at number eight, because a move to Mexico City is a big step for a league like Major League Baseball. To this point in history, no North American sports league has ventured into our neighbor from the south, despite Roger Goodell's--he's the commissioner of the National Football League--statements that he would like to see a team in the market.

Key facts: Estimated population of 20.14 million, GDP of $422,400,000

In terms of size, Mexico City is a monstrosity that is on par with the New York City metro area. With 20 million people, there is certainly no concern about finding enough people to fill a stadium. However, it is important to remember that despite its size, Mexico City is not estimated to be affluent at all. Despite being a similar size, Mexico City produces one third of the total GDP that New York City does as a metro area. Mexico City also comes in with 39.5% of the GDP/Capita of the average metro area in the study.

This lack of production per person puts Mexico City dead last in terms of affluence. While this is a truly major concern, the sheer size of the population and GDP of the city cannot be ignored, which is why Mexico City is in the top ten. Until the market is tested by an American sports league, it is hard to predict exactly how much of a struggle there would be for attendance. Another factor involved in attendance is the fact that Mexico is a nation very much attached to soccer--like a lot of the rest of the world that isn't the United States--which is a cause for concern.

When Mexico City is run through the attendance simulator, an average team in the market would draw an average of 32,550 fans. More than any other market in the study, this number has to be taken with a grain of salt.

City #7: Riverside, California

If you are unfamiliar with the area, the Riverside metro area sits due east of Los Angeles, and is dangerously close to Anaheim--which is just to the southeast. It consists of Riverside, San Bernadino, and Moreno Valley and sits just west of Palm Springs and the Joshua Tree national park.

Key facts: Population of 4.22 million, 37.72% GDP of average MLB metro area, 50.25% GDP/Capita of average metro area

Riverside is appealing because of its size, but it has two major flaws: firstly, it would become the fourth MLB team in Southern California. The city is 97.8 miles from San Diego, 35 miles from Anaheim, and 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Secondly, the city lacks the necessary affluence to truly become a MLB metro area. However, with the sheer number of people that live in Southern California and the size of Riverside itself, it stands to be considered that Riverside might just actually work. After all, in part one of this series, it was mentioned how much population impacts attendance. The more available bodies, the greater likelihood that you may find someone interested in regularly attending games.

When run through the attendance simulator, an average team in Riverside would average 29,735 fans per game.


City #6: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver is an interesting city, because it's been home to major North American Sports teams in the past, and it currently hosts the NHL's Vancouver Canucks and the MLS's Vancouver Whitecaps. In fact, the city even hosted the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies and recently hosted the Winter Olympics. There is no doubt here that Vancouver is a major sports city with the ability to host a MLB team.

Key Facts: Population of 2.31 million, 35% GDP of average MLB metro area, 84.57% GDP/Capita of average metro area in the study

By all measures, the Vancouver metro area is a good one for hosting a team. It is similar in size to cities like Denver and Pittsburgh and has the affluence that is expected of a host MLB metro area. The only real concerns with Vancouver are that it is 140.9 miles from Seattle and would surely need a stadium with a retractable roof--due to rain, not cold. Vancouver averages right around 160 rainy days per year and is Canada's third most rainy city. The addition of the cost of a retractable roof makes the location slightly less appealing to prospective owners and to city officials who might consider putting money down towards a building project.

When run through the attendance simulator, an average team will average 23,397 fans per game in Vancouver.

City #5: San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is an interesting city because of its location in Texas. It is just 80 miles from Austin and is 200 miles from Houston, which puts it in a great location. However, it has to be considered that Texas is still a football state. The Astros and Rangers have always had problems drawing fans, and they sit in two of the largest metro areas in the entire United States.

Key facts: Population of 2.14 million, 28% GDP of average MLB metro area, 74% GDP/Capita of average metro area in the study

While I would never sing the praises of San Antonio's numbers, it has an acceptable affluence and more than exceeds an acceptable population size. If it is possible to build a stadium that is either indoors or has a retractable roof, it is feasible to think that San Antonio could work. As far as competition in the market, the only other major professional sports team in the city is the Spurs, and they have been a wildly successful operation for well over a decade. The market isn't strained from a sports standpoint, and it is possible for San Antonio to draw from Austin, which is another major metro area evaluated in this study.

When run through the attendance simulator, an average team in San Antonio would average 29,367 fans per game.

***Note, the next four cities have set themselves above the rest of the pack and stand to be the most reasonable spots for relocation***

City #4: San Jose, California

San Jose comes in at the number four spot, because it is firmly tied to one specific team: the Oakland Athletics. As you may know, the city of San Jose has stepped up and is suing MLB and its thirty teams--yes, including the Athletics--stating that MLB's anti-trust exemption is hurting the city's economic potential, which they argue violates California state law. While the territorial rights claim is certainly the primary block to a deal getting done to move the Athletics, it's important to know why the city is so darn appealing.

Key facts: Population of 1.84 million, 58% GDP of average MLB metro area, 91.8 GDP/Capita (gross domestic product per person), 177.36% GDP/Capita of average MLB metro area


San Jose is truly, remarkably affluent. Other than the neighboring San Francisco/Oakland metro area, no metro area in this study comes close on GDP/Capita. The amount of money being produced within the metro area is something to behold. This is because San Jose sits in the "Silicon Valley" which is home to several technology giants. What this means for San Jose is a large opportunity for corporate partnerships, suite sales, and a consistent fan base.

The problem for the Athletics is that the Giants do not want to surrender the territory, and who would want to? What becomes unfair, however, is that the Giants essentially own half of the Bay Area and the entire Silicon Valley. They can tap into revenue streams that the Athletics can't dream of touching, which creates an imbalance that is certainly not in the best interests of the league.

When run through the attendance simulator, an average team in San Jose would average 29,313 fans per game.

City #3: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The former home of the Montreal Expos comes in at number three, because the Expos never should have left in the first place. Montreal has the size, affluence, and reputation to be a successful MLB metro area year in and year out, and it is unfortunate that circumstances outside of the city's control forced the team to move to Washington.

Key Facts: Population of 3.65 million, 49% GDP of average MLB metro area, 76% GDP/Capita of average metro area

As stated multiple times: size trumps all. Montreal would immediately step in and have the 15th largest population of any MLB metro area, and it is on par in size with Seattle. By the numbers, there is no reason to expect Montreal to be anything but a successful MLB metro area. Admittedly, the team may have trouble competing against the Canadiens, who exist as the lifeblood of the region. However, Montreal has handled a team before, and if not for a strike and an unfortunate ownership situation, it is very possible that the Expos could have succeeded the first time around.

When run through the attendance simulator, an average team in Montreal would average 29,631 fans per game.

City #2: Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte has just about everything going for it. Along with the facts below, Charlotte is one of few metro areas that sits in a truly ideal location. Charlotte is 400 miles from Washington, D.C., 480 miles from Cincinnati, and 245 miles from Atlanta. Relatively speaking, in terms of baseball, Charlotte is out in the middle of nowhere. In this case, that is a wonderful thing that should appeal to any owner seeking to move there.

Key Facts: Population of 2.22 million, 39% GDP of average MLB metro area, 99% GDP/Capita of average MLB metro area

Charlotte sits in prime territory and is remarkably affluent. Along with this, the states of North and South Carolina have a rich baseball culture as they are home to multiple schools in the South Eastern Conference and Athletic Coast Conference. The states also are home to several minor league teams in MiLB's Carolina League. Simply put, it is crazy that a MLB team is not already in the area, and it's even more crazy that nobody has really given the city a legitimate shot.

When run through the attendance simulator, an average team in Charlotte would draw an average of 29,380 fans per game.

City #1: Portland, Oregon

In all honesty, choosing between Charlotte and Portland is like splitting hairs. The two cities are incredibly close in size, sit in great locations, and are greatly affluent. However, the level of affluence in Portland is truly what sets it apart. Portland comes in with a GDP/Capita of $56 and a GDP/Capita that is 108.29% the size of the average market in this study.

Key Facts: Population of 2.23 million, 108.29% GDP/Capita of average metro area in this study, 174 miles from nearest MLB market

If size and affluence are truly important, which certainly appears to be the case, then Portland sets itself above the rest of the competition to play host to a new baseball team. Portland doesn't just have the numbers, however. The city has a history of hosting baseball teams. Unfortunately, Portland lost its AAA team in 2010 when the city could not come up with a plan to build both a new baseball facility and a soccer facility for the newly awarded Portland Timbers, so the franchise was sold and relocated. However, the tradition of baseball in the city suggests that the city cares enough about getting a team to serve as a viable host. As far as market strain, the only true competition are the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and the MLS's Portland Timbers.

Bonus City: Brooklyn, New York

To this point, this study has focused on new markets that could host MLB franchises. When looking through the numbers, it is reasonable to assume that the city of Brooklyn could host a MLB team. This would, however, place three teams in New York City, and it is reasonable to assume that many individuals in Brooklyn may still be tied to the Dodgers--while also rooting for the Mets and Yankees who are also in the metro area.

However, let it be considered that if New York's population is divided into three equal parts, those parts all have a population of 6.5 million people, which would make each of them tied for fourth largest market in MLB. Developing a new brand name in an already well-established market is a concern, but the sheer volume of people and the incredible level of affluence in New York--126.52% of the GDP/capita of metro areas in the study--make the Brooklyn option incredibly viable.

Conclusion

After looking through all of the different metro areas in MLB, it certainly seems ludicrous that certain MLB teams exist in the cities that they are in. However, be it territorial qualms, stadium deals, or the general stubborn nature of people, there are things that hold teams back from relocating. It shouldn't be ignored that the relocation process is long, exhaustive, and expensive. There are several legal and financial concerns that come into play--in multiple cities, mind you--that make relocation very difficult.

If MLB does see one of its teams move in the next fifteen years, it would be nice to see them land in one of the eleven options listed above.

--

Credit to the US Census Bureau for the majority of the data used in this study.

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