May 17, 2007
Lies, Damned Lies
Moving the Marlins
If you build it, will they come? Cities that are attempting to procure a major league baseball team invariably find some way to spin the numbers in the most favorable light possible. I found a 1989 New York Times article in which Buffalo Bills owner Frank Rich, then trying to land a baseball expansion team in his city, claimed that Buffalo was the eighth-largest TV market in the country "when you include Rochester, Syracuse and the Niagara Peninsula." Backers of the San Antonio Marlins can cite the large population of the city proper, ignoring that its media market is decidedly minor league.
The market size model that I developed in my last series of columns can be used as a reality check against these claims; we can plant a team anywhere in the United States or Canada and estimate its potential attendance and media markets. Indeed, some of the markets that might seem favorable to baseball at first glance don’t hold up well under scrutiny, while others that might seem like afterthoughts do surprisingly well.
Below, I have listed thirteen markets that could potentially host a major league franchise, in inverse order of their net impact on leaguewide television and attendance markets. These are not necessarily the thirteen most optimal markets for baseball, but they’re markets that have either indicated an interest in acquiring an MLB club, or have demographic credentials of some form or another. We’ll handle everything from the standpoint of potential relocation targets for the Florida Marlins, with the caveat that we are concerned about the welfare of the entire league, rather than just the Marlins themselves. As you will see, there are certain destinations that might benefit the Marlins, but would not be ideal for the sport as a whole.
13. Inland Empire (San Bernardino, CA)
Where They Come From Attendance TV California 1.99M 4.61M Nevada 0.01M 0.80M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -1.93M -0.75M Dodgers -0.17M -2.17M Angels -0.19M -1.89M Padres -0.01M -0.54M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -2.26M -3.18M
We’ll start with a throwaway example, just to see how this process works. Nominally the largest metropolitan area without a major league team, the Riverside-San Bernardino area is growing quickly but already very well represented by the three established Southern California clubs; nearly 85 percent of the new Land Sharks’ TV audience would be cannibalized from one of the existing teams. We’re projecting a larger loss for the Dodgers than the Angels because the model assumes that they would lose Las Vegas to the Land Sharks; the Angels lose a few more fans in the San Bernardino area itself.
12. Norfolk, Virginia
Where They Come From Attendance TV Virginia 1.67M 3.11M North Carolina 0.16M 2.05M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -2.09M -0.89M Nationals -0.25M -2.14M Orioles -0.18M -0.70M Mets -0.04M -0.55M Yankees -0.00M -0.21M Braves -0.00M -0.18M Phillies -0.01M -0.17M Pirates -0.00M -0.11M TOTAL -2.56M -2.82M
Norfolk was interested in the Expos and is apparently interested in the Marlins as well, but the geography does not work here. Not terribly large unto itself, the Norfolk area is too far from the inland population centers of North Carolina to have any profound influence there, and while Richmond is a slam dunk for TV audience, it’s a bit of a hike for attendance. There are also a number of teams with existing influences in the region, most obviously the Nationals, Orioles, and Braves. The loss for the New York clubs is probably exaggerated by the model, which has no way to account for Mason-Dixon cultural divides, but the Mets are getting credit for their longstanding association with the Norfolk Tides.
11. Las Vegas
Where They Come From Attendance TV Nevada 1.65M 1.80M Utah 0.01M 0.26M Arizona 0.03M 0.13M California Trace 0.03M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -2.24M -3.97M Dodgers -0.00M -0.72M Angels -0.00M -0.19M Rockies -0.00M -0.16M Padres -0.00M -0.10M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -2.22M -3.14M
This is a bad idea on a number of levels. Las Vegas is growing, but it’s still tiny by MLB standards, and the problem is compounded by the fact that the city is surrounded by mountains and desert on all sides; take a daytime flight into the city, and you’ll be struck by what an unlikely population oasis it is. Of course, Las Vegas does have a large tourist population–-there are about 125,000 hotel rooms in the city, which translates into perhaps 200,000 tourists at any given time. But therein lies the catch-22: if you’re building a baseball experience to cater to the high-rollers, doesn’t that attract exactly the sort of unsavory element that baseball is trying to avoid? The NBA All-Star game experience certainly did not go well, and it’s not clear if tourists would want to stay sober long enough to see a baseball game with so many other entertainment options in the city. Moreover, Vegas is hardly a 9-to-5 city, meaning that a significant segment of the resident population will be working at night, while day games are all but untenable because of the harsh climate–-the stadium would almost certainly have to have a retractable roof, and baseball is less of a draw when the roof is closed. Vegas might work for the NBA, where you have one-quarter as many seats to sell over the course of a typical regular season, but it’s probably at least two decades away from being viable for baseball.
10. Northern New Jersey (East Rutherford)
Where They Come From Attendance TV New York 4.52M 5.15m New Jersey 3.63M 3.23m Pennsylvania 0.19M 0.88m Connecticut 0.37M 0.77m
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Yankees -3.02M -4.17M Mets -2.67M -3.67M Phillies -0.39M -1.41M Red Sox -0.00M -0.32M Orioles -0.05M -0.28M Nationals -0.01M -0.10M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M Marlins +4.79M +4.02M TOTAL -1.31M -3.75M
Bad Idea number two. The Marlins would almost certainly benefit from a move to New Jersey; there are just so many people in the region that they could hardly go wrong. The problem is that the region is already very much spoken for, not only by the Yankees and Mets, but also by the Phillies, who control the southern part of the state. About 70 percent of the Marlins’ attendance market and essentially all of their TV market would be cannibalized from one of the existing clubs, meaning that the move represents an inefficient allocation of resources for the sport.
You can argue, certainly, that this is a garbage-in, garbage-out result, since we’re capping baseball saturation in any given area at 150 percent of the population, but there are things you can do with two teams in an area that you can’t do with three. The Mets and Yankees can alternate home dates, for example, as they almost always do, and they manage to avoid one another on TV often enough, with one team playing a day game or having the day off or playing on the West Coast. With three teams that becomes impossible, and you can’t watch two baseball games at once, unless you’re using MLB Mosaic.
9. Oklahoma City
Where They Come From Attendance TV Oklahoma 1.52M 2.66M Kansas Trace 0.20M Arkansas Trace 0.15M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -2.40M -3.08M Rangers -0.13M -1.32M Royals -0.00M -0.18M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -2.50M -2.50M
Another late entrant to the baseball derby on account of the surprising success of the Hornets, OKC is another example of a city that’s potentially large enough for basketball but not enough for baseball. There just aren’t enough people in the area, and a lot of the TV audience will be cannibalized from the Rangers, who have had their Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City since 1983.
Where They Come From Attendance TV New York 1.71M 2.70M Canada 0.20M 0.84M Pennsylvania Trace 0.24M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -1.96M -2.38M Blue Jays -0.30M -1.10M Yankees -0.03M -0.30M Indians -0.02M -0.11M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -2.30M -1.84M
Buffalo was a very serious candidate to find a home in the National League in the 1993 expansion round, largely on the strength of the Triple-A Bisons, who had a couple of years where they drew more than a million fans to Pilot Field. The Bisons’ attendance has since receded, perhaps because Buffalo knows that it will never be a major league city; if it wasn’t big enough fifteen years ago, it certainly won’t be now, as the area has continued to hemorrhage population. I had run a beta version of the model where Buffalo had done surprisingly well, but that was because I’d had the coordinates of the Canadian cities messed up, with Toronto placed somewhere near Syracuse. As it stands now, the Blue Jays represent a significant problem for Buffalo; excluding the Niagara Falls region the rest of Southern Ontario is going to remain committed to Toronto.
Where They Come From Attendance TV Oregon 1.71M 2.77M Washington 0.45M 0.72M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -1.77M -2.62M Mariners -0.13M -1.67M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -1.88M -2.15M
The Portland Salmon would have a larger attendance market than the Kansas City Royals, but that isn’t saying very much, and their TV market is significantly cramped. Oregon itself has only about 3.5 million people, and you butt into the Mariners as you head north, the ocean as you head west, and the boondocks as you head east. I could see Portland providing a fair amount of support in the first 10-15 years of the franchise; the Marlins would have the city’s stage to themselves, which is more than you can say for somewhere like Las Vegas. Longer-term, however, it’s hard to envision how the team would not have problems once it ran into some lean years in the wins column.
6. San Antonio
Where They Come From
Where They Come From Attendance TV Texas 2.30M 4.33M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -1.63M -1.83M Astros -0.14M -1.98M Rangers -0.01M -0.22M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -1.76M -1.85M
San Antonio nominally has the seventh-largest population in the country, but that is because essentially the entire metropolitan region is incorporated as part of the city proper; in terms of MSA population its rank drops to 29th. It’s far enough away from Houston and Dallas to have a relatively unique attendance base, but there would be significant overlaps for TV, especially with the Astros. The only mitigating factor is that there is a natural swap to make in terms of baseball’s divisional alignment; the Marlins could swap into the Central, giving the Astros the natural rival that they’ve long desired, with the Pirates going back to the East.
Where They Come From Attendance TV Ohio 2.59M 4.28M West Virginia 0.05M 0.37M Indiana 0.01M 0.19M Kentucky 0.01M 0.13M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -1.26M -1.13M Reds -0.31M -1.15M Indians -0.28M -0.83M Pirates -0.01M -0.14M Tigers -0.01M -0.12M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -1.84M -1.24M
To my knowledge, Columbus has never been discussed seriously as a major league city, but I thought it would be worthwhile to test after seeing the comparatively large TV audiences that the model was assigning to the Reds and Indians. It holds up comparatively well, and Columbus has certainly supported both the Blue Jackets and the Buckeyes, but ultimately falls into the close-but-not-quite category.
4. San Juan
Where They Come From Attendance TV Puerto Rico 2.74M 3.51M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Marlins -1.19M -2.65M Yankees -0.00M -0.39M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -1.17M -0.87M
Here, at least, you don’t run into any problems with cannibalization, save for the default 10 percent share of the TV audience that the model has assigned to the Yankees. If Puerto Rico were about 20 percent more populous or 50 percent richer, in fact, you could make a good case to move a team there. As it stands now, however, it probably comes up a little short. Puerto Rico is really quite far from the mainland–-it's closer to Venezuela than it is to Miami-–and the potential market share for an island is inherently self-limiting. I suppose that if you brand the Voladoras as a trans-Hispanic team, you could potentially make some inroads into the mainland, but that is easier said than done, particularly when the vast majority of the U.S. Hispanic population is Mexican rather than Puerto Rican. In an alternate universe where Fidel Castro had remained with the Senators, Cuba would be a no-brainer for a major league franchise, but probably not Puerto Rico.
Where They Come From Attendance TV Florida 3.07M 8.70M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Devil Rays -0.36M -2.13M Marlins -0.86M +2.54M TOTAL -1.22M +0.41M
The easy way out for the Marlins, Orlando would allow them to become the dominant TV team in Florida, but almost all of their gain in TV audience comes at the Devil Rays' expense. The problem is that Florida is right on the fringe between being able to support one or two major league franchises; how you permute those teams between Orlando, Miami, and Tampa-St. Pete does not matter very much.
Where They Come From Attendance TV Canada 3.60M 5.09M Vermont 0.01M 0.29M New York Trace 0.20M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Blue Jays -0.00M -0.84M Marlins -0.22M -0.56M Red Sox -0.01M -0.24M Yankees -0.00M -0.13M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M TOTAL -0.21M +0.42M
Even before making any sort of adjustment for Francophone culture, Montreal rated as a fringy major league city. Montreal itself is fairly large–-it has the 15th largest MSA population in North America–-but its broader region is not as dense as Toronto's, and it is not especially close to any significant U.S. population centers. Applying even a 25 percent discount for cultural factors would place both its attendance and TV audiences right toward the bottom of the scales. In other words, it is not clear whether the Expos' demise was the result of the club’s mismanagement, or was more or less inevitable. Montreal does have the advantage of being relatively far removed from other MLB markets, which is why it rates as neutral-to-positive overall even though both the Marlins and the Blue Jays are projected to lose market share. The choice between having two major league teams in Florida and two in Canada is probably close in the abstract, but given Montreal's bitter experience with the Expos, it is probably no longer close in practice.
Where They Come From Attendance TV North Carolina 2.35M 5.77M South Carolina 0.68M 2.46M Virginia Trace 0.60M Tennessee Trace 0.36M West Virginia Trace 0.01M
Who Gets Hurt (and Helped) Team Attendance TV Braves -0.06M -2.76M Nationals -0.00M -0.91M Reds -0.00M -0.18M Orioles -0.00M -0.10M Devil Rays +0.02M +2.18M Marlins -0.83M +3.17M TOTAL -0.87M +1.29M
There is, to my mind, exactly one place that would clearly be viable for the 31st major league franchise, and that place is Charlotte, North Carolina. The South as a whole is underrepresented in the major leagues, which is what enables the Braves to control such a substantial TV audience. Charlotte is no metropolis, but it is conveniently located at the center of several mid-size markets, including the Winston-Salem/Greensboro/Raleigh-Durham corridor along I-40, and Columbia, South Carolina. What’s more, the area is growing rapidly, and would give both the Braves and the Nationals a natural rival in the NL East.