Major League Baseball is flourishing, with revenues exceeding $9 billion last year, a far cry from the $1.2 billion in revenues they received in 1995, the first year after their devastating work stoppage. The game has seen an influx of players from Cuba, Venezuela, Japan, Korea, and new sources of talent such as Germany, Panama, and Brazil. Perhaps it is time for the game to grow.
Baseball has not added new teams since the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks joined the league for the 1998 season. Since Major League Baseball first expanded in 1961, this is the longest stretch without any new teams joining the fold. Much of that reason is because baseball has enjoyed relative peace and quiet. Virtually every other round of expansion has been due to a threat.
In 1961, the threat of the proposed Continental League and pressure from Congress to replace the departing Senators with another team forced the two leagues to add four new teams - the Angels and Senators (who would later move to Texas and become the Rangers) in 1961, and the Mets and Astros in 1962. In 1969, the relocation of the Athletics to Oakland, caused powerful Missouri Senator Stuart Symington to pressure baseball to replace the team in Kansas City. The American League added the Royals and Seattle Pilots (who would move to Milwaukee after one year to become the Brewers), while the National League scrambled to keep up and added the Padres and Expos (who would later move to Washington to become the Nationals).
In 1977, the Mariners were brought into the fold in response to a lawsuit from Seattle after the Pilots were relocated, and the Toronto Blue Jays were added with them. In 1993, MLB owners had to pay a massive collusion lawsuit to the Major League Players Association, so they added the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins and used the massive expansion fees to pay the suit. In 1998, MLB added the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to settle a lawsuit after they blocked the relocation of the San Francisco Giants to St. Petersburg, with the Arizona Diamondbacks added as well.
Commissioner Rob Manfred recently commented on the possibility of expansion.
We’re a growth business. Sooner or later, growth businesses expand. Having said that, I do not have a timetable. It’s not a short-term project for us.
Expansion may not be imminent, but we can start thinking about markets MLB can enter. Which two markets would make the most sense? Here are the contenders, ranked by market size with median household incomes.
New York City, New York
Metro population: 21.199 million
Median household income: $59,799
Wait, doesn't New York already have two teams? They do, however with more people in the market than the entire states of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Arkansas combined, the potential is there to support even more franchises. New York has supported three teams before, when the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers called the Big Apple home in the first half of the 20th century. However, the obstacles to building a new stadium now would be enormous. With a politically progressive mayor in office, there will be little support from City Hall to spend taxpayer money on a sports stadium, never mind the red tape that would come in clearing a potential site. A stadium is more feasible on the other side of the river in northern New Jersey, but it is unclear how many fans will take the trip to see a baseball team there with the Yankees and Mets already in town. Don't expect those franchises to welcome a new team with open arms either.
Metro population: 4.089 million
Median household income: About $35,000
Major League Baseball would love to enter the Mexican market where baseball has a rich legacy, but where the sport has always taken a backseat to soccer. Monterrey is the Mexican city that makes the most sense for a potential team, as it is the wealthiest market in the country, and has an existing 27,000-seat baseball stadium that has hosted regular-season MLB games before. Mexico has two huge obstacles however, one being the political instability and of the country with the threat of drug cartel violence and kidnappings an issue, even in Monterrey. The other issue is the currency instability, with the value of the Mexican peso being very weak against the U.S. dollar. Any Mexican team would have to reap revenues in pesos, while paying salaries in U.S. dollars, putting a franchise at a major disadvantage to American clubs.
Metro population: 3.824 million
Montreal was home to the Expos for over three decades, but poor ownership and a depressing stadium caused attendance figures to slump and the team moved to Washington. With over 3.8 million residents in Montreal, the market would now be the 14th largest MLB market. They have a MLB-ready stadium, but would likely need a new one to draw fans. There has been a movement among fans to try to attract another team with rumors Stephen Bronfman, son of former Expos owner Claude Bronfman, possibly interested in owning a team. The team would still face the obstacle of being a Canadian market, which does not help MLB in its lucrative American national television contract, as well as issues when the Canadian dollar is weak against the American dollar.
Metro population: 2.265 million
Median household income: $46,090
The Oregon metropolis is one of the fastest-growing cities in America, and with only an NBA franchise an MLS franchise, there seems to be plenty of room in the city's zeitgeist to add a baseball team. However the city's interest in baseball has been rather tepid, with the AAA minor league team moving away due to a lack of interest and rejection of a stadium proposal. The politics of the city also make the likelihood of a publicly-financed stadium to house a baseball team very unlikely.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Metro population: 2.335 million
Median household income: $23,417
Charlotte is also one of the fastest-growing cities in America, and now has franchises in the NFL and NBA, as well as an NHL team playing in nearby Raleigh. A Charlotte baseball franchise could draw fans from the Raleigh-area and Greensboro-area, both of which have over a million people. However those markets are a drive of several hours, and the Charlotte metro may be over-saturated with sports if it added a third team. The city just opened its 10,000-seat minor league stadium in 2014, and voters in nearby Greensboro voted down a stadium proposal when promised the Minnesota Twins over a decade ago.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Metro population: 1.563 million
Median household income: $42,468
Las Vegas is dying to land a major sports franchise and may finally have one in the NHL. Vegas has been a boomtown the last few decades, although the bursting of the housing bubble over the last decade has hurt their growth. Baseball would likely be very reluctant to place a team in a city notorious for gambling, and with so many transients in the city, getting fans to root for the home team will be a challenge. Baseball is also heavily dependent on regional TV deals, and Las Vegas is surrounded by desert, with no other markets within a few hours of the city.
Metro population: 1.231 million
Median household income: $44,223
Nashville applied for a team in 1998, but failed to make the list of finalists. The Tennessee capital has been a growing city with good trends for the future, and has added an NFL and NHL franchise in the last two decades. Major League Baseball has very few teams in the South, allowing the Braves and Cardinals to dominate the region. However, Nashville is still very small for Major League standards, at least 27% smaller than the Milwaukee market, baseball's smallest market.
Indianapolis has the population (1.6 million) to be a small-market club, but would trespass on the territories of several existing club - the White Sox, Cubs, Tigers, Indians, and Reds. The city has also shown little interest in attracting a baseball team. San Antonio is another emerging market, especially if you include the Austin market 80 miles away, however San Antonio has one of the lowest median incomes among major cities ($18,518) and a new franchise would probably irk the Rangers and Astros. Sacramento, California has done a great job supporting their AAA franchise, but their proximity to the Bay Area makes the more likely to land the Athletics than an expansion team.
Buffalo nearly landed the Expos in their infancy, and were strongly considered for expansion teams in the 90s, but the shrinking demographics makes the market too small at this point. Norfolk, Virginia has made waves about attracting a baseball team, but their proximity to the Washington Nationals likely makes them a non-starter. Oklahoma City has also shown interest in bringing baseball, but at just over a million people in the market, the city is too small right now to support a team. San Juan, Puerto Rico would be an interesting market, and they have hosted regular-season games before, however the median income is just $16,203, and the territory is going through bankruptcy.