Three Ideas for MLB Expansion
Are You Ready for More Baseball?
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has made no secret of his affinity for expanding MLB from 30 to 32 or more teams. The adage that a rising tide lifts all boats is a mantra to keep in mind when considering expansion. The more teams there are, the broader the appeal, especially for fans that live in a geographical baseball desert.
As the NFL's popularity wanes, it would be in baseball's best interest to find new hosts for teams now rather than later. There are issues, of course. Replacement for the ballparks in Oakland and Tampa are said to be at the top of Manfred's priority list, and a prerequisite to adding more teams to the league. He, along with most fans, are also very interested in adding at least one more international team. Currently, only Toronto has a franchise outside of the United States.
While it is supposed to be the most popular sport in the country, the NFL has serious issues and its fanbase is fleeing. This, coming off of one of the most exciting and popular MLB postseasons ever, makes the time ripe to officially propose adding at least two teams. It is time to strike while the iron is hot.
There are a lot of factors that affect a city appearing lucrative for an MLB franchise. The most obvious is population. More people means more fans. Television coverage is another. The revenues made from TV broadcasts are huge, and one of the most important financial aspects for considering a metro area for a team.
When talking about foreign markets, there is an affluence factor. Any fan will tell you that going to an MLB game isn't cheap. For most of us, we can manage it a few times a year. In the United States, the median annual household income is $45,000; in Mexico, it is $10,000. If Mexico City acquires a team and retains average MLB ticket prices, the huge population of the area does not necessarily translate into fans that can afford to attend a game. Those are the big two considerations.
So who should get a team? It depends on how creative baseball wants to get. I have three proposals for baseball for bringing hardball to the masses and ensuring that baseball retains its rightful place as the sport of choice. They are depicted on the maps below, along with accompanying reasoning. Each circle on the maps represents a 200-mile radius; about the distance a fan would consider driving to attend a game. Current teams are depicted in green, proposed expansion teams are red.
1. The Sure Single
Slapping a ball over the infield's head just short of the outfield is the quintessential hit in baseball: the single. While not as dramatic as a multi-bag hit, it is the main building block of a win. Get a single, get on base, and things will happen. The same can be said for baseball expansion. The two surest cities that have been on everyone's lips when talking adding teams are Montreal and Charlotte.
Montreal has proven that it can host a team successfully, as it did before the 1994 strike and stadium issues caused the team to relocate to Washington D.C.. As of now, Canada only has one team, situated in Toronto. Nearly 50% of Canadians watched at least one Blue Jays postseason play the last time Toronto was in the playoffs. That is a fanbase worth catering to.
Charlotte is among the top ten populous cities in the US that does not have an MLB franchise. Considering that they have little problem supporting an NFL team (at least for now), and noticing the glaring hole of MLB territorial coverage in the Carolinas on the map, Charlotte is the front runner for a team inside our borders.
2. Stretched for Extra Bases
Turning on the momentum as a player rounds the bases for a double or triple is exciting, but it takes some risk. So would be the case for adding four teams. It's a stretch and would not even out the leagues as well as just two teams. But there is a huge gap in teams in the western United States. This plan, in addition to the previous two teams, help address the dearth of baseball in the west as well an expanding international play.
Las Vegas is the best western venue to gamble (pun intended) on an MLB expansion team. It has a population that equals other cities that support a team, like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and a few others. Plus, unlike many franchise towns, Las Vegas has a huge tourist industry that pulls in millions of visitors per year. Eventually, visitors will get tired of all of the shows on the strip and look for other live entertainment; enter the Las Vegas baseball team. It also adds a non-gambling entertainment option for tourists.
Portland had been on the MLB radar for some time. Portland has a similar TV market size as St Louis and had supported an NBA team since 1970. There have been rumors of Oakland moving there for years, but the A's getting a new ballpark and Portland an expansion franchise is a much better idea. A team there also helps fill the gap between the northern California teams and Seattle.
3. The Grand Slam
If we are talking expansion, why not swing for the fences. Six teams are certainly better than two or four. This option stresses international expansion, thereby making baseball a true world sport. While this plan is the most ambitious, all great plans are.
Tokyo. Japan already has a huge baseball fanbase. Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has twelve solid teams, with each team averaging over 1.5 million per year in attendance and over 20,000 per game. Additionally, Tokyo is the largest metropolitan are in the world and had stadiums ready to host a team. Plus there is already some cross-pollination, some former MLB players are on NPB teams and vice-versa. Tokyo could also skip the expansion draft in favor of putting together what would constitute a permanent NPB all-star team that would be competitive from day one.
The biggest hurdle would be travel. A team traveling from Chicago to Houston has a flight time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. Chicago to Tokyo is a mind-numbing 13 hours. Some creative scheduling would have to be done to accommodate the distance. A 6 or 7 game series against Tokyo with a day of rest in between to limit the number of trans-pacific flights is one idea. Or, Japan could build a ballpark in Hawaii and make it their home turf. Last year, 1.5 million Japanese visited Hawaii. If their national team was there, you can bank on nearly every tourist taking in a game.
Monterrey, Mexico. Even the executive branch of MLB agrees that it is time for a team in Mexico. The first MLB team to break in south of the border will have TV territory of all of Mexico, as well as having an entire country behind one team, as Canada currently does. So why not Mexico City? I explained above why more fans in an area does not always relate to more ticket sales due to the affluence factor. Most large cities in Mexico would be a wash with that. Baseball also had issues with the altitude at Coor's Field in Denver when it opened up, and it is still a bear of a park for pitchers due to the thin air. Mexico City is over 2,000 feet higher than Denver. In addition, the air quality is an issue with the city's unbridled pollution. Monterrey is cleaner, much closer and the same size as many US cities with MLB teams.
There would also have to be some creative revenue sharing to keep ticket prices lower for a Mexican team. Baseball is flush with funds, so spreading a little of it around to expand in Mexico should be a no-brainer for MLB owners.
Are You Ready?
Other cities are certainly eligible for a team. Nashville, Memphis, Indianapolis, and Oklahoma City to name a few. These are my proposals, and I particularly like the international option. What are your ideas for adding teams to the league?