#MLB Expansion Possibilities

This week Commissioner Manfred was not shy about the long term proposition of expansion. Currently there are 30 MLB franchises dotted along the continental 48 and Canada. Many of them are in huge media markets as well. Whenever any expansion is discussed, keep in mind media markets. It does not matter whether it is the NHL, College conferences (mainly college football), or the MLB; media market size rules the day. Why is that you may ask. All sports are television programming, and the more eyeballs that television program reaches the more ads those eyeballs see. Right now there are 2 stadium issues in MLB; one in Tampa and one in Oakland. The Oakland stadium issue could take care of itself if the Raiders move to Las Vegas. One thing that will happen for sure is the Golden State Warriors are building a new arena. What does this have to do with eggs in China you may wonder. Oracle Arena (the Warriors home) is next door to O.co Coliseum which is where the Athletics and Raiders play. When the Warriors move across the Bay and if the Raiders leave town, the Athletics could have the entire lot to themselves and problem solved. Now the issue in Tampa is not as cut and dry. Tropicana Field was opened in 1990 and has a capacity of over 40,000 (when the tarp covered seats are open). This may seem all well and good, however the Rays have always struggled to sell tickets. Let’s look at the Rays attendance since 2001.

2001-16,029 per game-28th out of 30-35.5%

2002-13,157 per game-28th out of 30-29.1%

2003-13,070 per game-29th out of 30-28.9%

2004-16,139 per game-29th out of 30-36.6%

2005-14,232 per game-30th out of 30-32.5%

2006-16,925 per game-29th out of 30-38.7%

2007-17,130 per game-29th out of 30-40.6%

2008-22,259 per game-26th out of 30-52.8%

2009-23,147 per game-23rd out of 30-52.9%

2010-22,758 per game-22nd out of 30-52.0%

2011-18,878 per game-29th out of 30-55.4%

2012-19,255 per game-30th out of 30-56.5%

2013-18,645 per game-30th out of 30-54.7%

2014-17,857 per game-30th out of 30-52.4%

2015-15,403 per game-30th out of 30-45.2%

2016-17,334 per game-29th out of 30

 

Now it is still early in the 2016 season, chances are that average will drop and the Rays’ attendance will once again be last in the league for a 5th year in a row. 15 consecutive years being in the bottom third of the league is a trend. The people of Tampa have spoken and they do not like baseball. Do the people of Tampa like any sports? In 2015 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers averaged 61,560 fans per game (only 8 games). That was good enough for 26th in the league, and you may correctly argue that Raymond James Stadium is larger than Tropicana field. However, Raymond James Stadium was 93.5% full on average. Another correct argument you can make is that the NFL is more popular than MLB. One more argument I can find that you may propose is how can the attendance from ’08-’10 be the best per game but not the highest percentage. If you do a little research you will find that after the 2010 season Tropicana Field decreased its capacity from 36,973 to 34,078. Honestly if that is your best argument against me than you are a Rays homer and probably will not like what I am about to say. Tampa Bay does not deserve a baseball team. Let us return to the popularity argument for just a moment. Now in North America I think it is safe to say that the NFL and NBA are #1 and #2 in popularity. So I am going to make a leap and say that the MLB is #3 and the NHL is #4 of the 4 major team sports we have. So let us compare the Tampa Bay Lightning’s attendance to the Rays’ attendance.

2001-14,906 per game-25th out of 30

2002-15,722 per game-20th out of 30

2003-16,545 per game-16th out of 30

2004-17,820 per game-12th out of 30

2005-

2006-20,509 per game-2nd out of 30

2007-19,876 per game-3rd out of 30

2008-18,692 per game-8th out of 30

2009-16,497 per game-21st out of 30

2010-15,497 per game-21st out of 30

2011-17,268 per game-18th out of 30

2012-18,468 per game-13th out of 30

2013-19,055 per game-8th out of 30

2014-18,612 per game-10th out of 30

2015-18,823 per game-9th out of 30

2016-19,092 per game-8th out of 30 

It is right there in black and white, Tampa Bay residents would rather support their hockey team rather than support their Rays team. So this stadium issue will not be solved, if you add on to that the Rays are locked into a lease until 2027 this is going nowhere fast. So what is the solution? I vote for relocation; the City of Montreal deserves a second chance. Perhaps Tampa will deserve a second chance in 15-20 years after they lose a team. So we have saved the A’s and turned the Rays into the Expos. Now this article was supposed to be about expansion. If we moved the Rays, that opens up the 13th largest media market in the U.S. We have witnessed for almost 2 decades that it doesn’t matter. Tampa does not like baseball. We can cross that market off the list. The next largest market without a MLB franchise is the Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne DMA. If we are truly honest with each other then we will realize as much as we would like to have baseball in the State of Florida it just does not work. The Marlins are as much of a failure at this as the Rays are, the difference is the Marlin’s brass schemed Miami citizens into paying for a stadium so they are safe. Cross that off the list. Up Next-Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto DMA. Another California based franchise? After the Angels, Athletics, Dodgers, Giants, and Padres I believe the state of California has enough teams. Cross that off the list. Up Next-Portland, OR DMA. Now here we are possibly getting somewhere. Portland would give you an instant rivalry with Seattle (if they could be division rivals). Let’s keep Portland on the short list. While we are in the Pacific Northwest, we should also consider Vancouver. Vancouver is the 3rd largest media market in Canada after Toronto (home of the Blue Jays) and Montreal (we moved the Rays Expos here). So why not have 2 Pacific Northwest expansions? Now the question of alignment, how will these 32 franchises get to play each other? Right now there are 6 divisions in MLB; 3 in the AL and 3 in the NL. Each division has 5 franchises:

 AL East: Baltimore-Boston-New York-Tampa Bay-Toronto

AL Central: Chicago-Cleveland-Detroit-Kansas City-Minnesota

AL West: Houston-Los Angeles-Seattle-Oakland-Texas

NL East-Atlanta-Miami-New York-Philadelphia-Washington

NL Central-Chicago-Cincinnati-Milwaukee-Pittsburgh-St. Louis

NL West-Arizona-Colorado-Los Angeles-San Diego-San Francisco

 Moving Tampa to Montreal, and adding Portland and Vancouver will create a disturbance in the Force. So a new divisional alignment will be necessary to restore balance to the galaxy. 

AL East-Baltimore-Boston-New York-Toronto

AL North-Chicago-Cleveland-Detroit-Minnesota

AL South-Houston-Kansas City-Los Angeles-Texas

AL West-Oakland-Portland-Seattle-Vancouver

NL East-Montreal-New York-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh

NL North-Chicago-Cincinnati-Colorado-Milwaukee

NL South-Atlanta-Miami-St. Louis-Washington

NL West-Arizona-Los Angeles-San Diego-San Francisco

Now we have 8 divisions and if we could just keep the interleague regionalized and make a rule that MLB shall be governed under 1 set of rules (DH in both leagues anyone?). With expansion talk comes playoff talk as well. The four division champions will make the playoffs and while we are expanding the franchises lets expand the playoffs. 2 Wild Card teams now and they shall play the two division champs who are seeded 3 and 4 respectively based on regular season record. The way that is now that would be a 1 game play-in game. If you could come up with a way to have a Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday night prime time winner take all Wild Card round that would be something I know I’d be glued to. Then you can have the best of 5 divisional round and best of 7 LCS and best of 7 World Series afterwards.

 

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