Assessment of Cities in the Big Three: Part I

Sport Change will be cranking out some relocation scenarios in the near future.  We’ve already assessed the franchises in the “Big Three” leagues (NFL, NBA, and MLB) that are deemed fair game for relocation, but now the big question now is: Where To?

Maybe I should be more careful about alienating hockey fans. They are scary and wield sticks in a menacing way.

Yes, it’s true that the recognized term is the Big Four, but even with the NHL’s recent success, hockey is a distant third–at least in the United States.  I have plenty of respect for the NHL and will have more posts on the league coming up, but I also feel like the NHL should be emphasizing their Canadian franchises and expanding or relocating to cities North of the border.  As such, this exercise is to compare cities/markets within the relatively similar geographies of the NFL, NBA, and MLB.  Toronto and perhaps Vancouver are explored, but let’s just agree that there will never be an NFL team in Edmonton.  That’s what the CFL is for.

-The Master List.  So the first step is to make a list of all the cities/markets in the Big Three.  That came out to 39 cities that will all be explored as we move through this exercise.  That doesn’t seem like enough, but remember that New York has 6 teams, Chicago has 4, Los Angeles has 4, Orlando has 1, etc.

That’s 39 locations.

-Maybe not 50, but a Few Shades of Grey.  There’s a bit of grey area in some of the markets, so I’ll clarify up front.  It should go without saying that Anaheim and LA are one market.  Same with Brooklyn and NY, Foxborough and Boston, etc.  I consider Tennessee to be one market.  We’re not going to see an NBA team in Nashville or an NFL team in Memphis as long as the Grizzlies and Titans are where they are.  I also consider Milwaukee and Green Bay to be one. This is a bit of a no-brainer.  The Packers are a miraculous anomaly–one remaining link to a bygone era in which there were several small cities that hosted NFL teams.  The Canton Bulldogs, Duluth Eskimos, and Oorang Indians aren’t coming back, but somehow the Packers not only exist, but are one of the strongest franchises in the Big Three.

Since 1926, the Bulldogs have been skulking in the doghouse wondering why the hell the Packers are still around.

So my point is that there won’t be any other pro franchises in Green Bay–especially as long as the nearby Bucks and Brewers are in operation.  For present purposes, Toronto and Buffalo are separate markets.  It won’t likely matter one way or the other, but we’ll keep it separate in the interest of exploring possibilities.  I also view San Francisco and Oakland to be separate markets, though I generally consider the Golden State Warriors to serve both markets.  Though they serve a big market, the Warriors aren’t exactly an NBA powerhouse.  If they were to move, I would hope it would be no more than a short trip across the Bay Bridge; to the the city they once called home.

-No More, I’m Full!  There are 17 markets that I feel are saturated or at least satisfied with at least one team in each of the Big Three.  Now, if a Major League Baseball club were to move, perhaps Brooklyn would be a terrific choice.  I say…whatever.  NYC should be happy with the two teams they have.  Here are those 17:

Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Washington

39-17=22 Now we’re getting somewhere.

Another pro team in Jacksonville? Just Say Meow! (by meow, I mean “Hell No.”)

-Tossing out the Headscratching Anomalies.  There are a few Big Three locations that are straight-up headscratchers.   They were either added as expansion teams or relocated in recent memory as part of the Westward Settlement or the Southern Surge.  The idea must’ve sounded great in the 80s or 90s, but is now somewhat mystifying.  There are 8 teams in the Big Three that are the only pro team within that market.  I’m giving most of them benefit of the doubt.  For instance: an NFL team in Utah?  Doubt it will happen, but let’s keep it as an idea.  I feel confident that there will not (or at least should not) be expansion or relocation to the following oddball markets: Jacksonville, Orlando, and Sacramento.  The teams in these cities are struggling.  They have low or mediocre success.  They have low or mediocre attendance.  And they are in low or mediocre U.S. cities.  Yes, I know about Shad Khan’s grand plan to save J-Ville.  Yes, I’m aware of Kevin “Think Big” Johnson and his Sac-Town scheming.  Yes, I’m aware the Magic had Shaquille O’Neal at point.  It’s not going to happen.  I’ll rant and rave about the whole “A’s moving to Sacramento” thing a different day.  For now, we have work to due. 22-Jacksonville-Sacramento-Orlando=19

22-3=19  Chipping away!

Amazing Fact: there are no “just MLB” teams.  All 30 clubs share a market with a team in at least one (and often both) of the other big 2 leagues.  Talk about keepin’ it real.

“If you build it, they will come.” Or will they?

-Choosing Outliers.  We’re at 19 markets.  5 of them remain with representation in only one of the Big Three.  14 of them have representation in two of the big three.  Before we get into an analysis of those teams, let’s add a few unrepresented and mostly untested markets.  It seems that in many discussions of this kind, people throw out random ideas (“I’ve got it–an NFL team in Hawaii!!) that are exciting and promising simply because they are new ideas.  For example, I have very little interest in exploring Las Vegas as a site for a pro team.  LV is the sexy pick these days, but it’s like an attractive person that you meet at a party: exciting and promising, but probably not interested in a long-term relationship.  Then again, Orlando once got a franchise.  Orlando!  Let’s go ahead and choose one outlier per league:

The NFL would be loco to locate a team in Las Vegas.

-NFL.  For starters, I’ll let it be known that I hate Roger Goodell’s boneheaded vision of bringing the NFL to London or Mexico.  Mexico makes more sense, but still.  It’s the National Football League.  What’s Roger thinking?  “If only the NFL was like…a league for the whole world. ”  This was already tried.  It failed.  Don’t be an idiot, Roger.  The NFL was born in the Midwest.  That is where the heart of the league is and where we should look first.  Omaha is an interesting idea.  In nearby Lincoln, the Huskers are certainly able to get the state of Nebraska behind them.  Would the same work for a pro team?  How about Iowa?  The Barnstormers are a successful Arena League team, but that’s the Arena League.  Moving Southward, Virginia is an interesting thought.  Though the market is now somewhere between the Panthers and Redskins, Virginia is a heavily populated state with Richmond as a central stronghold.  The UFL’s new Virginia Destroyers chose the densely populated and sports-crazy Tidewater Region of Norfolk/Hampton/Newport News/Virginia Beach and that might make more sense.  But that’s the UFL–a league on life support.  The UFL is a sad story, but we can learn from their experience.  The most successful UFL team is the Las Vegas Locos, but you know how I feel about Vegas.  Another idea I’ve heard before is down in SEC country: Alabama.  The Tide are like a religion in ‘Bama, but an NFL team…maybe if the NFL expands to 40.  It’s a tough choice for me between Omaha and Virginia.  As a semi-ironic tiebreaker, I compared attendance between the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks and Virginia Destroyers.  The Nighthawks won by a beak.  NFL Outlier: Omaha

It’s a rematch to see who has a chance…to have a chance to be considered for an NBA relocation site.

-NBA.  The NBA has so many crappy teams in questionable cities, that this seems unnecessary.  As unnecessary as a pro team in Vegas.  Actually, since the NBA is all glitz anyway and summer league takes place there, Vegas will be considered a contender.  Where else to look?  Why, the NBA Developmental League, of course.  It’s like a farm system for basketball.  The top three teams in attendance seem to be two teams in Texas and one in Iowa.  I veto Texas based on the fact that there are already three NBA teams in Texas.  Iowa…I just don’t see it.  Another thought is that the old ABA had two “outlier” franchises, and both of them were among the more successful ABA teams: the Virginia Squires and the Kentucky Colonels.  Between the two, I choose Virginia.  It seems more realistic for today’s NBA.  Virginia has more people, and Kentucky’s a bit close to Memphis, Indy, and Charlotte.  Between Vegas and Virginia?  Honestly, I think Vegas could work better as an NBA city, but if I chose Vegas, I will have given up all hope in the NBA.  If that’s the case, the NBA might as well be just the Lakers, the Heat, the Celtics, the Knicks, and the Las Vegas…Players.  Named after slot players.  NBA Outlier: Virginia 

-MLB.  Baseball is too pure for a city like Las Vegas and the AAA 51s do just an okay job of filling their seats.  Vancouver is tempting and would be a natural rival for the Jays and the Mariners.  But I just can’t trust Vancouver as a pro sports city.  Exhibit A: Bryant “Big Country” Reeves.  Some people say San Jose…I say no way, Jose.  If the A’s moved there and remained the “Oakland A’s,” sure.  For now, the Sharks stand alone.  Albuquerque?  Really?  No need to ruin the good thing that the AAA Isotopes have going.  Some of the areas we mentioned before are options: Iowa, Omaha, and Virginia.  Iowa is tempting from a W.P. Kinsella vantage point, but Iowa is Cubs country.  That’s a fine thing–keep it as is.  Omaha seems to be Royals country–let them keep chasing those storms.  Virginia has lots of people and several successful minor league teams, but on the brink of choosing Virginia I go a different direction.  To an area where bats are made, where the AAA Bats do very well filling the seats, and to an area that I would like to put head-to-head with Tennessee later in this exercise.  How about the idea of a Major League Baseball team in…wait for it….Kentucky!  MLB Outlier: Louisville

Think big, and you might just hit it out the park. (or at least give Portland a run for it’s money)

That exercise took so much time that I’m going to break this whole thing into two parts.  To recap:

For the NFL, we’ll be assessing 2 markets that have reps in both MLB and the NBA, 4 markets that have reps in the NBA, and our NFL outlier: Omaha.  That makes 7 potential locations.

For the NBA, we’ll be looking at a whopping 8 teams that have reps in both the NFL and MLB, one city with just an NFL rep, and our outlier: Virginia.  That’s 10 potential locations.

For MLB, it’ll be 4 markets with both NFL and NBA, that one market with just an NFL team (ok, I cave: it’s Buffalo), the 4 “just NBA” locations that I haven’t thrown out as anomalies, and of course–our outlier: Louisville.  That’s 10 potential locations.

That’s fodder for the next post.

To be continued….click here for Part II


  1. Maria Maccamini-Cowan said:

    For MLB, no more expansion–it waters down the talent pool and only helps the big markets. For the same reason, my number-one choice if the Rays move would be Brooklyn or New Jersey. The New York market can support three, and it’s good for all baseball because it cuts into the Yankee’s revenue.

    #2 Mexico City
    #3 San Juan

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