Major League Baseball has not expanded in nearly twenty years. Justin Gorman put forth some proposals for Rob Manfred, the new commissioner of the MLB, to consider. Today, Justin explains why Manfred should expand Major League Baseball.
Interleague play was, historically, a solid attendance booster for Major League Baseball, as it allows for teams to visit cities and fans that don’t often get the chance to see them. It is not without its flaws, however, as I stated in a previous article. Most notably, the combination of unbalanced schedules and the current layout of MLB prevents the ability to substantially reduce and more reasonably schedule interleague games. One such solution to this problem – expand! Expand! Expand!
The league expanded twice in the 1990s: the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins were founded in 1991, beginning play in 1993; and the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays were established in 1995, with their inaugural games occurring in 1998. Since then, baseball flirted with contracting the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins (ultimately resulting in the Expos relocating to Washington, D.C. to become the Nationals), and realigned its divisions to equalize the leagues at 15 teams apiece by moving the Houston Astros from the National League Central to the American League West.
The thought of contracting two teams now seems mind-boggling, as MLB has a long track record of not giving up on potential revenue. In 2002 when contraction was being discussed, Forbes valued the Twins at $99M, and the Expos at even less. The Marlins, also part of the contraction conversation, were reportedly on the verge of being sold by John Henry to Jeffrey Loria for the bargain-basement price of $150M.
Times have changed, as has the league and its economics. The Twins are a terrific case study in the economic staying power of baseball, emerging as an AL Central stalwart over the decade following their contraction rumors, winning the division six times in eight years and coming within a game of another division title in 2008. That same $99M Twins franchise currently has a $545 million new stadium and was valued in March 2015 at a staggering $895M.
In addition, the already deep talent pool is expanding as the United States is working to normalize relations with Cuba.
If we assume the talent is there, then the conversation shifts to the markets in which a big league franchise would make a reasonably good fit. I would propose five, though I will absolutely concede there are more:
Montreal must be part of this conversation, especially since its mayor, Denis Coderre, is meeting with Rob Manfred and the rest of MLB leadership about bringing baseball back to Montreal. The idea of Montreal getting a team would be welcomed with short-term positive reviews (if for nothing else but the nostalgia), but there’s no telling if it is a sustainable endeavor. In 2011, the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers left Georgia to return a franchise to the Winnipeg Jets, eliciting a collective yawn from the Atlanta sports community but the return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg was a resounding success. Indeed, one would have thought the NHL would have learned its lesson in 1980 when Atlanta’s Flames relocated to Calgary. Perhaps Montreal’s second bite at the apple would be as successful as Winnipeg, but attendance numbers prior to being moved to Washington are not reassuring.
Portland is a city with a massively increasing level of popularity and a young population. It is a significant drive to the next closest MLB city in Seattle (3 hours away), and a half a day’s drive from any competing California teams in the Bay Area. The economy in Portland is strong, it is a very desirable place to live, and they absolutely love their Trail Blazers there. There has been discussion in the recent past of Portland’s interest in a franchise, so it is not a completely novel idea.
Like Portland, Nashville is booming. The population is expanding, it is a very desirable city to live in, and (unlike Portland) property values are reasonable. It is a conversation that has been brought up as recently as this past April, and Nashville is already home to a Triple-A club. Baseball is big enough to be able to take on another club in the region, so why not consider a popular city that is four hours from both Atlanta and St. Louis?
Charlotte, North Carolina
Obviously only Charlotte or Nashville would be viable, but the case can be made for Charlotte. The case can also be made against it, as it is traditionally viewed as being a football town (which has successfully sustained an NHL franchise for a long time. RIP Hartford Whalers). They have three thriving franchises in the Panthers, Hurricanes and Hornets, and they also have the benefits similar to Nashville – a city with a lot of money with extremely reasonable property values. It may not be as good a fit, but it cannot be discounted entirely.
San Antonio, Texas
Texas is a massive state, so to discount San Antonio by merely stating that Texas already has two teams is somewhat disingenuous. San Antonio is more than three hours from Houston, and more than four from Arlington. The city has a demographically diverse population of almost 1.5M, and has proven that it will support the Spurs, which is a fairly easy endeavor when they seem to always win. Another major metropolitan area which already supports a major franchise, with reasonable property values, and where the conversation has been had in the past? It all adds up to another city worth considering for MLB expansion.
Baseball is flourishing economically, and the talent pool is set to expand quite rapidly. Commissioner Manfred should take Mayor Coderre’s overtures seriously, and entertain the same sort of bids from other mayors of metropolitan areas. Other sports leagues have found great success in expanding or relocating teams to other cities, and there are some attractive options available to MLB.
Are you interested in reading today’s other new articles? Brandon Magee looks at the recent hire of Dan Jennings and the promotion of Eduardo Rodriguez.