MLB expansion, Montreal must be considered favorite: San Antonio and Vancouver could battle for second prize or relocation

Thursday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said that while baseball needs to first resolve the stadium issues that confront the Rays and Athletics, expansion is in the long term view of the sport. He also said that it is important to keep those clubs in their current markets, which means MLB unlike the other major sports leagues truly wants to try and maintain those two ball clubs in their current markets. Clearly any market that could offer relocation to the Rays or Athletics would first also be required to have a place for the team to play temporarily and only a small number of cities can make such a claim. Those same cities will of course be on the short list for expansion to 32 teams as well.

I have read some columns in recent days that talk about how baseball doesn’t have enough markets that would be a good fit for the sport, and yet we have to remind ourselves that baseball has five duel markets, by far the most of any of the five major sports leagues. The NHL has two teams in greater Los Angeles and Anaheim, three in greater New York with teams in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Newark. The NFL has three such markets, Baltimore and Washington have successfully coexisted for over 60 years, minus the 12 year period from 1984-1995 that the Baltimore team was high jacked to Indianapolis, only to have Baltimore obtain its replacement in a similar manner from Cleveland. The Giants and Jets have shared the same stadium for the last 32 years and have played in the same New York market together since 1960. The Raiders have always shared a market too, with the 49ers during their time in Oakland, and with the Rams during their time in Los Angeles. The Raiders might be a year from joining the Rams back in L.A., after both left in 1995. The NBA has the same pair of duel markets, New York and Los Angeles, though the Warriors and Kings are 80 miles apart in Oakland and Sacramento and MLS will have the same arrangement within another year or two. MLB has all four of those dual markets in greater Los Angeles, the bay area, New York and Baltimore-DC, plus a fifth dual market that has the longest shared history, the Cubs and White Sox have both been in Chicago together for the last 116 seasons.

If you look at existing NFL cities that don’t have an MLB team, the list of landing spots for relocation and expansion are Charlotte, New Orleans, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Nashville. Ironically, none of them have a viable MLB stadium option. The NFL stadiums in Nashville, Charlotte, Jacksonville and buffalo are not able to be configured for baseball. Buffalo does have the largest minor league baseball facility that could potentially be expanded to serve as an MLB venue and do note that all of these cities accept Jacksonville are AAA markets, Jacksonville is in the AA Southern League. New Orleans could at one time configure the Superdome for baseball, though it had been updated to a locked in football configuration and it would cost a good chunk of change to redesign the dome for baseball. MLB surely would prefer that a new stadium just be built. Indianapolis has the very multipurpose oriented Lucas Oil Stadium, though to my knowledge this venue could not be configured for baseball, though perhaps it could serve as a temporary home if a team were to arrive, waiting for the baseball facility to be built. The same locked configuration would eliminate Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, which did host a three game set in 1997 though even now, a Honolulu franchise presents a unique timezone travel problem.

The two cities that have large stadiums that could host baseball ironically don’t have NFL teams, though one, Montreal is in the CFL. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is by far the best temporary venue as it was at least built with baseball in mind and that configuration still is in full operation. San Antonio is the other city which found a way to take the Alamodome that had never been built with baseball in mind, shoe horning a diamond into a football structure as was done in the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Dodgers until Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.

Looking at other NHL and NBA cities that could host MLB, the candidates would be IN addition to the afore mentioned Montreal and San Antonio, a group that includes Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Orlando, Ottawa, Columbus, Raleigh, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

Of these, Vancouver is the only one with a large stadium that could host baseball, though the ability to configure the stadium to baseball there was as I understand it also taken away with restructuring following the Olympics.

When we look at the last three expansions in MLB< the stadium plans tell a big story about how the teams would do long term. IN 1977, the Mariners moved into a massive dome stadium, planned for them and the football Seahawks who arrived the prior fall. King Dome was never a good baseball facility and bad management the first 14 years of the franchise didn’t help matters. Toronto played in what was best described as an outdated multisport facility, but a well-run franchise and great fan interest helped the team survive, as the now rogers Center begun to be planned in 1983. The teams that got it right as far as stadium work was concerned also happened to be more successful at the gate. The Rockies came in knowing that they would play two seasons at Mile High, a football venue that could also capably host baseball, moving into Coors Field in 1995. The diamondbacks had no stadium to call home when they were awarded to Phoenix in 1995, but plans were already on the board to build the retractable Chase Field and it opened on time in 1998. The marlins thought they had a viable plan moving into a stadium that was intentionally built for them and for the football Dolphins. It became apparent within a few years though that it was not as ideal of a facility for baseball given the Florida climate. Climate was not the issue when the already built Tropicana Field finally earned its right to host a team, when the then Devil Rays arrived in 1998, but its location is sited as a reason for lackluster attendance ever since the first season of the Rays franchise. IN fact, the Rays only averaged 30,000 in their first year, the Marlins were over 32,000 in their second year, a large drop followed aided in part by the 1994-95 strike. The Diamondbacks would average over 30,000 for several seasons until 2005, the Rockies would do the same for the first 10 years they existed and Denver and the Colorado franchise by far has been the most successful in terms of attendance.

Now, let’s look at every city on this list of possible expansion and relocation sites, and I will give my reasons for yes or no.

First the no column and a brief comment on each.

Portland, lost AAA baseball twice and has no real effort to build a baseball worthy facility on the board at even the minor league level. Sacramento, too close to a pair of existing teams, would only get team as relocation option if Athletics move from Oakland. Salt Lake City, with a caveat, has no facility that could be expanded to MLB capacity, though given support for NBA Jazz for last 30 years, market the size of Kansas City would clearly support a winner and market is more comfortable western option for MLB than Vegas for obvious reasons, so it could rise like Phoenix into a franchise and local fan base is not full of snow bird transplants like Florida . Oklahoma City, concern over market size and interest in the fall would be more about the two local college football teams and the coming Thunder NBA season. Memphis, a nice geographic fit between Dallas, St. Louis and Atlanta, but support for NBA team has always been among bottom third of the league and baseball has twice as many tickets to sell for each game and twice as many home dates. Orlando, see Miami and Tampa bay, too much else to do, too many transplants who would come to root, root, root for the road team. Ottawa, not a viable option as the market is too small and Montreal has what the capitol of the Great White North does not have, a history with the game. Columbus, growing market but fans there are loyal to Reds and Indians, plus Ohio State athletics. Raleigh, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, all hockey markets that have or are now facing the possible loss of a team. Winnipeg would geographically work the best as it is not far from the US border and would be an easy road trip when joined to Minnesota, but the Gold eyes won’t be in MLB. Charlotte and Nashville, both candidates with a similar case that could be made along the lines of Salt Lake City. Fans are very enthusiastic about their local pro teams, but unlike SLC, college sports is a more dominant force in these markets and Charlotte has a lot of sunbelt transplants that could create a situation similar to Florida or at least to Atlanta which has never been known as a baseball attendance hot bed. New Orleans, was on the radar of relocation for the Athletics around 1980, but issues with local economy and recovery still after hurricane Katrina 11 years ago, the market does not seem to be ready for an MLB team. Jacksonville, market too small, has been rumored at times to be possibly losing Jaguars, though location would fit nicely within existing MLB alignment, but JAX has never been mentioned on any list of expansion consideration. Buffalo, at one time a city that really was on the short list for MLB expansion, but downturns in the local economy mean that if the city did get a team, it could be a replay of what we see now in Cleveland with lower attendance and weather problems would force this team to get a stadium that could at least be covered like Safeco, but it would need a very strong structure to hold the weight of the heavy lake effect snow. Indianapolis, has a large stadium that could be retrofitted for baseball perhaps, though here too, the story would likely be more like what is mentioned for Salt Lake City, building a stadium from the ground up if a team is awarded.

This leaves three candidates, Montreal and San Antonio plus Vancouver. Mexico City would be on the list as well, but the question here is how does baseball deal with an exchange rate and a perception income that is a third that of the US and Canadian markets. For me, the yes column clearly is Montreal if they agree to build a stadium, with San Antonio and Vancouver in a battle for the second franchise. Mexico City will get a lot of talk as a candidate, but its odds are too long in my estimation.

If If the stadium mess is not resolved for the Rays or Athletics, the loser out of the Vancouver and San Antonio contest could be the future home of the green and gold.

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