Major League Baseball is very likely at an all-time high in terms of its financial health. Of the four major North American sports, MLB can also claim the greatest amount of competitive balance and it is currently working diligently to ensure that the game remains popular among a younger generation. The expansion of the wild card system in the playoffs has been received exceptionally well, and it is possible that new Commissioner Rob Manfred will seek to expand the number of teams currently playing in the Major Leagues.
The most recent expansion in baseball occurred in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now just known as the Tampa Bay Rays) joined MLB. Both teams have reached the World Series during their relatively brief existences, with the Diamondbacks winning the World Series in 2001 behind Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez. MLB currently has 30 teams, and given that the NFL is thriving with 32 franchises, it may not be long before baseball expands as well.
Of course, it is possible that an existing franchise decides to relocate due to declining attendance or other issues related to the market in which they are located. Tampa Bay had the worst attendance in all of MLB in 2014, and they are currently having some issues with the local city council over moving to a new stadium, so perhaps they could be the next franchise to leave for greener pastures. Whether it is through expansion or relocation, a number of factors play a role in determining which city is best suited for bringing in an MLB franchise, including the size of the media market, the popularity of baseball in the area and the city’s history with regard to the sport. What follows are the top 10 markets deserving of an MLB franchise.
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10 Buffalo, New York
Buffalo has the smallest media market of all of the cities on this list, but it also is one of the greatest sports towns in the country. Buffalonians are fiercely loyal to the local pro franchises in the Bills and the Sabres, and despite playing in a small market with frighteningly atrocious weather conditions, the Bills routinely draw over 65,000 fans to their outdoor stadium. In the middle of winter. In Buffalo. With a team that has not made the playoffs this century. Sure, the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians are already close by and the city already has a Triple-A team in the Buffalo Bisons, but an MLB baseball team would be a huge summer attraction in this market.
9 New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans actually has a rich and extensive baseball history that dates back to the early days of baseball in the 1850s. In fact, New Orleans was the home of the very first Spring Training, as the Chicago White Stockings traveled to the city for a game against the Cincinnati Red Stockings back in 1870 and ended up sticking around for a few weeks afterward. New Orleans, like Buffalo, also has one of the smallest media markets on this list, but it is also home to two other professional sports franchises: the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and the New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA. The Saints are the big draw, ranking in the top ten in NFL attendance in 2014, but the Pelicans are not faring nearly as well, as the team is in the bottom-third in NBA attendance. The appeal of the New Orleans market lies in its history and in the unique possibilities for an MLB stadium. With plenty of waterfront, New Orleans could create a ballpark similar to San Francisco’s AT&T Park, which is famous for its location overlooking “McCovey Cove.”
8 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
After Hurricane Katrina made for unplayable conditions in the home arena of the New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans), the team was temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City. Residents of the area immediately latched onto the team and the attendance at games was so robust that the Seattle SuperSonics ultimately chose to relocate there on a permanent basis after the Hornets went back to New Orleans, taking on the name of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The NBA franchise has flourished in OKC, and an MLB team could thrive in this market as well. The Los Angeles Dodgers recently moved their Triple-A affiliate to Oklahoma City, and it seems very likely that the citizens of OKC would welcome another professional sports franchise to their city.
7 Las Vegas, Nevada
At 41st, Las Vegas is far from the largest media market on this list, but it has a lot of other things going for it -- mainly tourism. With a healthy tourist population visiting the city on a regular basis, a professional sports team could do very well here, though the city of Las Vegas currently has set its sights relatively low by trying to build a soccer stadium to house a Major League Soccer team. Of course, there are serious drawbacks to having an MLB franchise in Las Vegas – the home of gambling – given the league’s position on gambling, which happens to have led to the banning of Pete Rose in one of baseball’s greatest scandals. It would be rather comical – and perhaps hypocritical – to have an MLB team play its games in the city Rose now calls home.
6 Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City may seem like an odd choice, but this Mormon stronghold features the 34th-largest media market in the United States and has only two other professional sports franchise in the Utah Jazz and Real Salt Lake. Baseball, long considered a particularly family-friendly sport, would fit in nicely with the inherent values of Salt Lake City while filling a summer entertainment gap. Salt Lake City already supports a Triple-A baseball team (the Salt Lake Bees), so making the jump to an MLB franchise is something that is very much a possibility for this market.
5 Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is one of the 30 largest media markets in the US, but its sports teams enjoy varied results in terms of attendance at games. The Tennessee Titans – Nashville’s NFL franchise – generally rank near the middle of the pack in terms of overall attendance, and the Nashville Predators rank in the bottom 10 of NHL attendance. Attendance is important in baseball, but not nearly as important as the TV money that is available in the sport. An MLB franchise in Nashville could take advantage of the fairly sizable media market while capitalizing on the TV money and revenue sharing that sustains all of the MLB franchises.
4 Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis has a fairly sizable media market and is a rabid sports town that supports both its professional sports teams -- the Pacers and Colts – along with the athletic programs at Indiana University and Butler University. The only thing that the city is missing in terms of athletics is an MLB franchise, which could easily be supported by the 27th-ranked media market in the United States. Though Indiana is very much a state known for its basketball fervor, baseball could gain a significant foothold given how it fits in nicely opposite the typical basketball season.
3 Charlotte, North Carolina
With many MLB teams currently clustered in the Northeast, the south is severely underrepresented. The Atlanta Braves have served as the de facto home team for fans south of the Washington, D.C. area, so the Charlotte market seems ripe for an MLB franchise due to its favorable geography and its solid media market (24th in the US). Charlotte recently got an NBA expansion franchise, but the team’s poor performance competitively has hurt its attendance numbers. The Carolina Panthers, a less-recent expansion team (1995), have done exceptionally well in terms of its attendance (8th in the NFL in 2014), showing that there is the opportunity for serious revenue generation for an MLB team in Charlotte, North Carolina.
2 San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio’s NBA franchise is already thriving in terms of its competitive and financial success, as it ranked in the top ten of attendance among NBA franchises in 2014 despite playing in the 33rd-ranked media market in the country. The Spurs are the only professional sports franchise in the city, and Texas already has two other baseball teams in the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, but Texas has had no problem sustaining three basketball franchises (the Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets) and two football franchises (the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans), in addition to its lone NHL franchise (the Dallas Stars). A third baseball franchise located in San Antonio would give sports fans in the area a destination during basketball’s offseason, and the team could co-opt the Spurs’ popularity by donning the silver and black.
1 Montreal, Quebec
Montreal was once home to the Montreal Expos, fielding teams that included recent Hall of Famers in Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. The Expos left after the 2004 season to become the Washington Nationals, but the city still longs for the return of an MLB franchise. Some will say that the Expos moved – after nearly being contracted – because there was not enough fan support or available revenue, but there are signs that then-owner Jeffrey Loria mismanaged the franchise so badly that a move was a forgone conclusion (Loria did not offer English-language radio broadcasts, for example). Trailing only Toronto, Montreal is the 2nd-largest market in all of Canada, and the excitement over an MLB franchise coming back to the city would be more than enough to make a franchise extremely successful in a second go-round.
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