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February 20, 2003

Breaking Balls

Possible New Homes for the Expos

by Derek Zumsteg

Where do the Expos go after this year, or next year?

They should move them into a New York borough, or north Jersey -- anywhere in the metro NY area. I'm dying to see that massive market be better served, and the sooner baseball gives up its ridiculous notions of territory, the sooner baseball can start to right its economic disparity without silly luxury taxes and revenue sharing agreements. I'm under no illusions this is going to happen though, so I thought I'd look at the big candidates and see who's got the look. So to speak.

So, using the latest Census numbers, avidity ratings from Scarborough Research, and demographic data from Yahoo! Real Estate's Neighborhood Profiles, away we go. Median household income's going to give us an idea of how much money's in town, and cost of living will help get a line on how expensive it would be to build a stadium, run offices, hire staff, and so on.

Washington, D.C.
  • 7.6 million people in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)
  • 13% avidity rating (average)
  • Median household income: $43k (national average: $36k)
  • Cost of living index: 127 (hella high)
  • Occupying team: One, Baltimore Orioles

The area has no financing package in place, and no new stadium being built. But there's a temporary place to play in RFK, and a huge, affluent population base. Plus, building something in D.C. makes Congress happy, which might make Selig's future visits to the Hill more pleasant (and there will be future visits). Building another HOK-designed park could be expensive, but excellent mass transit helps.

The downside is Baltimore's got rights that prevent moves into much of the metro area, so Peter Angelos is going to have to be bribed, threatened, and begged to get this to happen.

San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • 2.5 million people in the San Juan-Caguas-Arecibo CMSA
  • Baseball crazy, so I'm told
  • Median household income: $26k (national average: $36k)
  • Cost of living index: no clue, probably really low
  • Occupying team: None
  • Closest team: None

I would love to see a team in San Juan if the scheduling concerns can be worked out. Honestly, who cares if they're not going to make a lot of money? As long as baseball's going to give away revenue-sharing money, the least they can do is give something back to the fair island that's provided so much talent. Who deserves it more, Carl Pohlad and Jeff Loria, or an island of people who could use the money? Plus, installing a franchise would provide a great advantage toward recruiting home-town players.

And I can imagine baseball's accountants already salivating over the prospect of using Puerto Rico's unique tax status to cook the books.

Portland, Oregon
  • 2.2 million people in the Portland-Salem MSA
  • 11% avidity (little below average)
  • Median household income: $34k (national average: $36k)
  • Cost of living index: 101 (average)
  • Occupying team: Portland Beavers (AAA), San Diego affiliate
  • Closest major league team: Seattle Mariners, about 150 miles, give or take.

If you haven't read it already, columnists Rob Neyer and Jim Caple have been arguing this over on ESPN.com. Short version, Portland is the biggest market that doesn't already have a team in any sense of the word. They've got light rail. They have Rob, and Rob needs baseball. What they don't have is a stadium, a stadium package, or anything beyond some local boosters who would like to stop having the Mariners beat them up for their lunch money every day.

Sacramento, California
  • 1.8 million people in the Sacramento-Yolo MSA
  • 13% avidity (average)
  • Median household income: $39k (national average: $36k)
  • Cost of living index: 109 (high)
  • Occupying team: Sacramento Rivercats (AAA), Oakland affiliate
  • Closest major league team: San Francisco/Oakland, 75 miles or so

Once, San Francisco threatened to move there. Recently, Oakland tried to move there. Now, Sacramento's got a suspiciously nice and designed-to-be-expandable outdoor park, a fan base that comes out in droves to see minor league baseball, and plenty of regional advertising and corporate sponsors, even as the dot-coms continue their attrition.

And having three teams packed in that close? The BP California contingent would be employing the BP supercomputers to figure out the optimal ticket-buying strategies for highest overall baseball action per season (measured as Games Seen × Strength of Teams Playing) instead of updating the daily statistics.

San Antonio, Texas
  • 1.6 million people in the SA MSA
  • 9% avidity (low)
  • Median household income: $30k (national average: $36k)
  • Cost of living index: 96 (cheap, like Lone Star beer)
  • Occupying team: San Antonio Missions (AA), Mariners affiliate
  • Closest major league team: Houston Astros, 200 miles you can drive really fast

I've been hearing some rumbles about San Antonio. Not Portland-type rumbles, but more like the kind of noise you hear when baseball-connected people ask you who the major employers in San Antonio are, for no reason they care to explain. San Antonio doesn't have a viable stadium, but it's Texas -- building one would take six months from condemning the buildings already there to ribbon-cutting.

Economically, I don't see it. They've got some decent-sized companies: HEB Food Stores, USAA (the ass-kickingest financial services you can buy), and SBC Communications, which isn't bankrupt yet. Still, there isn't a huge amount of money floating freely around San Antonio.

On the other hand, San Antonio's growing fast. Plus, Austin's not that far away, and I hear Austin's really cool. Maybe a couple years from now, when a new, enlightened MLB head office expands again, San Antonio will be a legit contender.

Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 1.6 million people in the Las Vegas MSA
  • 13% avidity (average)
  • Median household income: $41k (national average: $36k)
  • Cost of living index: 105 (steep)
  • Occupying team: Las Vegas 51s (AAA), Dodgers affiliate
  • Closest major league team: None

There's money in Vegas to get a deal done. For all the talk about how the mega-casinos have huge amounts of construction debt they're trying to pay off, and all the damage that terrorist attacks have done to tourism, there's development money available in Vegas, and many people who can get the deal done. Vegas is one of the few cities where an honest blue collar worker can make a good living, working in the casinos or elsewhere in the service industry, and those people are sitting around, waiting for something to do before the town swings into action.

I'm totally pro-Vegas getting a team. Elvis sings the national anthem and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" every home game.

Vancouver, B.C.
  • 2.0 million people in the "Greater Vancouver Regional District"
  • No idea on avidity
  • No idea on income or cost of living, but man, with that Canadian dollar, it can't be good
  • Occupying team: Vancouver Canadians (short-season low-A), Oakland affiliate
  • Closest major league team: Seattle Mariners, about 225 kilometers, give or take, three-hour drive plus eight to 12-hour delay at the border

Vancouver's a nice town, and economics-wise, culture-wise, and not-having-baseball-burn-all-bridges-wise, it might have a better shot than Montreal at making it work. Last time I was in Vancouver I spent a lot of time in some local bars (I know, you're shocked) and there were a lot of people watching Expos games...Expos games! And they knew who was playing, and they couldn't all have been faking it for me. Well, maybe. Those Canadians are a treacherous lot, what with their lower drinking age and participation in the U.N.

Montreal, Quebec
  • 3.3 million people in the greater Montreal region
  • No idea on avidity
  • No idea on income, cost of living, but man, with that Canadian dollar, it can't be good
  • Occupying team: None
  • Closest major league team: I don't know. Boston or Toronto. Jonah'll be happy to tell you.

I only want to say here that Montreal could--nay, should--be at the same market level with Seattle (3.5 million), Phoenix (3.3 million), and Minneapolis (3 million). Yeah, there are the economic problems and the language issue, but I am unconvinced that this long destruction of the market we've seen has been necessary, or that baseball had to fail in Montreal. Baseball wants to be an international game but is unwilling to make the game work in a town of three million largely French-speaking party-heads.

Washington, D.C. is the obvious choice here. The city has almost 4 million people evenly dividing the market up between the two teams, a size comparable to Atlanta's or Miami's. There's a nice temporary stadium there. At the same time, though, there are only two teams dividing a market of 21 million people in New York. You could put three more teams in New York before you're looking at having only 4 million people per team. How fair is that?

Derek Zumsteg is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Related Content:  Montreal Expos,  Relocation

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