Major League Baseball expansion is a topic that has been discussed for a long time, especially since the league’s commissioner Rob Manfred expressed his interest in adding two new teams earlier this year. However, the expansion process has been put on hold with two teams, the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays looking for new stadiums and/or possibly new homes.
Last week, it was reported that the Athletics are planning to move to Las Vegas by 2027, which would open up a spot for a new team in the West. Earlier this year, it was reported that the Rays were working on a deal to split their home games between Tampa and Montreal, which would create another potential expansion market in Canada. Once the dust settles with these two franchises, the league would then have to decide on the next two markets.
Where Could Major League Baseball Go Next?
Aside from Las Vegas and Montreal, some of the cities that have been mentioned as possible candidates for MLB expansion are Nashville, Charlotte, Portland and Salt Lake City. Each city has its own pros and cons, such as population size, fan base, stadium plans, geographic location, and market potential.
MLB will likely consider factors such as regional balance, revenue sharing, competitive balance and media rights when deciding on the new teams.
Nashville and Charlotte have already shown they can support an NFL team plus one team in either the NBA or NHL.
The only pro sports in Portland and Salt Lake City are just one NBA team each. All four cities do have a Minor League Baseball team. Nashville, Charlotte, and Portland are ranked in the top 25 largest metro areas in the United States while Salt Lake City is ranked 122nd.
Why Should The MLB Expand?
Major League Baseball expansion could bring many benefits to the league and the sport, such as increasing fan interest, creating new rivalries, generating more revenue, and diversifying the talent pool. Each new franchise would require at least four minor league affiliated teams, so the league expansion would go into smaller and medium sized cities throughout the country as well.
The league would boost the economies of the cities eyeing expansion. New stadiums and surrounding infrastructure would need to be built creating jobs. More fans will flock to the games supporting the downtown areas. And there would be positive media exposure for the local town or city that comes from the TV broadcasts.
League expansion would pose some challenges as well. The MLB would need to figure out how the new teams would acquire their players. An expansion draft would take talent from current teams. A competitive balance would have to be found to not give the new teams too much power while also ensuring they are competitive.
Divisions and schedules would need to be realigned, which could disrupt current rivalries. The players’ union and the league would likely need to reach a new deal as well. Quality of play is another big factor.
In 2022, two division leaders (the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves), finished the year a whopping 46 games ahead of the last place team in their respective divisions (Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals). An expanded field of teams could create disparities even worse. The difference in talent level could make some games unwatchable and decrease fan engagement.
Analyzing Some Numbers To See If It Is Feasible
After peaking at nearly 80 million fans across the Major League Baseball ballparks in 2007, in-person attendance slowly dropped year after year league-wide. 68 million fans attended games in 2019 compared to just 64 million fans in 2022. Attendance is not the only benchmark to consider if league expansion is right, but the numbers have trended downward even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similar to in-person attendance, the number of fans tuning to games on TV have gone downward as well. Analyzing TV data from the World Series, nearly 12 million people watched at least part of it the last two years. That number was around 14 million in 2018 and 2019 compared to over 20 million in 2016.
The most watched World Series for the league came back in 1978 when over 44 million fans tuned in. With increased competition from other sports leagues, people are not watching baseball like they once were.
However, the most significant factor for expansion will likely be revenue implications. Even with attendance and TV viewership being down, the league has found ways to bring in record revenue. In 2022, the league brought in $10.9 billion which exceeded the previous record of $10.7 billion in 2019.
The MLB has gone from $1.2 billion in revenue in 1992 to over $10 billion by 2017. New TV deals and corporate sponsors have paid the way for Major League Baseball to being a money maker despite challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, pace of play concerns, and dwindling attendance.
So, Is It Time To Expand Yet?
It’s exciting that Major League Baseball is considering expansion for the first time since 1998 when the league went from 28 to 30 teams. There are certainly some cities on the list that deserve a team which would create new fan bases and rivalries. The league would also be able to continue to grow its exposure and revenue.
However, the league needs to take steps to ensure that the current teams are competitive and popular in their local markets. Moving the Athletics to Las Vegas seems like a start, but several other franchises struggle to gain popularity in their own city. Additionally, the decrease in TV viewership and attendance is a concern.
However, the pace of play and other enhancements that started just this season could change that. For now, Major League Baseball should wait and see how fans react to some of the changes that just took effect before expanding.
Follow StadiumRantHQ on Twitter. Check out our other articles @Stadium Rant. Are you a sports fan? Have some takes you want to get out into the world? This is the place because we have plenty of opportunities at Stadium Rant spanning the whole NFL and more!