Image credit: (Illustration by Paul Trapp)
If you squint hard enough and look out over the horizon, somewhere out there you’ll see Major League Baseball with 32 teams.
The league, which last expanded in 1998, has some tidying up to do, but for Commissioner Rob Manfred, he envisions a team in the Pacific and Eastern time zones. “Baseball is a growth industry,” Manfred said. “Eventually, we’d like to get to 32 teams.”
There are some good reasons for Manfred’s view on growth. MLB now sees gross revenues in excess of $10 billion, and with two new clubs the owners would likely garner $2 billion or more in expansion fees, not to mention new media rights revenues. With expansion would come regional realignment, and by then the universal DH would either be added or already implemented, given the union’s desire to bring the designated hitter to the National League.
As noted, baseball has some tidying up to do. For going on two decades, MLB has wanted the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays to wrap up new ballparks, where the expectation is attendance and revenues would increase. And while the specter of relocation is always hanging over the two franchises, Manfred has made it clear to me and others that the focus is on keeping the A’s and Rays in their markets. Until then, expansion is on the league’s mind, but not at the forefront. “While we encourage markets to look into positioning themselves for the possible opportunity to host an MLB club, we aren’t discussing expansion at this time,” Manfred said.
Still, the conversation continues to percolate. In July 2018, Manfred said on FS1’s First Things First, “Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada” could be potential expansion markets. “We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.”
While the MLB Players Association could nix Mexico over travel concerns in the near term, it’s worth looking at the other markets to see where they are at in terms of making a run at expansion. In doing so, we’ll look at some metrics MLB has used in the past, namely when the Montreal Expos were up for relocation.
Those metrics are the combined statistical area (CSA) population that looks at not just the market but its surrounding cities; the designated market area (DMA), which Nielsen uses to measure the television universe in the market; some top businesses that could factor for sponsorships, suite sales, or blocks of season tickets; what major professional sports teams are already in the market, which can dilute everything from attendance to sponsorships; what other MLB team or teams claim that market as part of their broadcast territory, or would be impacted by the size of an expansion club that radiates out, and finally; does the market have one or more individuals leading the charge to bring MLB to their market?
Some aspects to note: Nielsen DMA does not measure Canada so the projected television household projections are unavailable. For population ranking, Montreal and Vancouver have been compared with the 2017 U.S. Census estimate CSA ranking.
Also, while every market examined has at least one current MLB club that claims it as part of their broadcast territory, Manfred has made it clear that unlike what occurred in 2005 with the Expos’ relocation to Washington, D.C., and the creation of regional sports network MASN to indemnify the Baltimore Orioles over TV territory encroachment, such action will not take place with expansion.
“We will follow the (MLB) Constitution And By-Laws, which has nothing regarding broadcast territories within it,” Manfred said. “The owners will vote based on that.”
Still, it’s clear that how an expansion market chews up broadcast territory could affect how owners vote. For any market to be approved it requires 75 percent of the league’s owners to vote in favor.
We profile each of the markets in the order Manfred mentioned them: