Which North American markets are second tier?
In the last Sport Change post, we revealed the rankings for the first tier of sports markets in North America–the top 30. Now we’re taking a good look at the second tier–the next 30. The second tier is perhaps more interesting as it reveals the general lack of viable unused pro sports markets. The original plan was to rank the top 100 split into three tiers, but the dregs were hit just trying to fill out the top 60.
For information on what defines a sports market and our criteria for selection, please read the introduction in our previous post.
Let’s get right into it::
31. Indianapolis. Indy just barely missed the first tier, so it’s a bit of a disappointment to think of this market as a secondary option for pro sports. Let’s think of them as a C+ market–just about as good as a B-. The Colts have a promising team and a sparkly new stadium, though attendance is middling. The Pacers have trouble filling seats as well. That said, I think Indy is a viable pro sports market. If not, there is always the Hoosiers.
32. Montreal. Ignore the Expos debacle for a moment and consider this: the NHL’s Canadiens are probably the most historic, supported, and successful hockey team on Earth. I doubt any other Big Four league will come knocking, but there’s an outside chance at a second NHL team.
33. Tampa Bay. The Tampa/St. Petersburg area boasts three teams in the Big Four. So why is it a second tier team? For starters, the Rays and the Buccaneers are unable to fill seats despite having exciting teams. Within a few years, it’s likely that one or the other will have relocated. The NHL’s Lightning do better, but was putting a pro hockey team in Florida a good idea in the first place?
34. Portland. The Trailblazers are the lone rep on the pro circuit, but they are a simply outstanding smaller market franchise that (as of this writing) draws 4th best of all NBA teams. It remains to be seen if the state of Oregon can support another pro team, but the Oregon Ducks football team is also a powerhouse–both on the gridiron and in the ticket booth.
35. Utah. Salt Lake City is similar to Portland in that the city only supports an NBA team in the Big Four. The Jazz draw surprisingly well–just a shade below the Blazers. In other athletics, the AAA minor league baseball Salt Lake Bees fill seats. Brigham Young’s basketball and football teams also enjoy success. That said, I think the Jazz will remain the lone Big Four rep indefinitely.
36. San Antonio. San Antonio is a very large city that is often brought up in relocation/expansion talks for MLB and the NFL, despite Texas having a good foothold in pro sports. The NBA makes it work with three successful Texan franchises, but I’m unsure about baseball or football. Both sports are popular in Texas, but the Cowboys have a wide-reaching influence and the Astros make it clear that a team in a large Texan city can struggle.
37. Oklahoma. The newish Thunder were extremely fortunate to begin their run in the NBA with such young talent. We’ll see how it plays out over time. Oklahoma is well represented on the amateur levels by the AAA RedHawks in baseball, and the Sooners and Cowboys in college athletics–particularly football.
38. Vancouver. The Grizzlies idea took a faceplant, but the Canucks hold steady in the NHL. Vancouver is a decent-sized city that has an appetite for sports. The B.C. Lions are a top draw in the Canadian Football League.
39. Columbus. Ohio’s largest city gets ranked this high mainly due to the presence of the Ohio State Buckeyes. The NHL’s Blue Jacket experiment hasn’t panned out very well, so Columbus will need to work hard to hold on to it’s only Big Four team.
40. San Jose. Against all odds, the Sharks have been a staple in Californian hockey for over twenty years. There has been talk of the Golden State Warriors relocating to San Jose, which would be essentially unnoticeable in the bigger picture of sports. They wouldn’t even have to change their name.
41. Calgary. The Flames are a successful NHL franchise, but that will remain the lone Big Four representative. That’s fine–there’s the CFL’s Stampeders.
42. Jacksonville. It may be Florida’s largest city, but I’m not so sure the J-Ville is much of a sports town. Shad Khan is trying to breathe new life into the Jaguars, and hometown hero Tim Tebow seems likely to return. We’ll give that some time and see how it pans out.
43. Orlando. Despite the relative support for the Magic, I do not consider Orlando to be viable or acceptable pro sports market. Too much about the city is contrived and newfangled. I expect the Magic to wear off as the team plummets further into mediocrity.
44. Sacramento. The Kings are at the forefront of every whisper about NBA relocation. They are likely to move–probably to Seattle. Mayor (and former Phoenix Sun) Kevin Johnson has been trying to lure the Oakland A’s to Sac-town, but for the foreseeable future the biggest ballclub in town will remain the AAA Rivercats. At least they’re one of the top draws in the minors!
45. New Jersey. For the record, this doesn’t include the Meadowlands. The lone representative in the Big Four is the New Jersey Devils of Newark. Jersey is still stinging from the Nets’ departure, but the state as a whole enjoys a good measure of success in minor league and collegiate sports.
46. Ottawa. The Senators are fairly respectable, but there is a marked lack of a CFL team–at least for now. As such, Canada’s capital is our fifth ranked Canadian market.
47. Edmonton. The Oilers have shown a remarkable ability to maintain a presence in Edmonton despite many obstacles over the years. The CFL’s Eskimos round out the market.
48. Winnipeg. The Jets happily returned to Manitoba recently–hopefully ticket sales will pick within a few years. The Winnipeg Goldeyes, an independent pro baseball team in the American Association, do very well.
49. Kentucky. The last section of our list features teams that do not currently have even one team in the Big Four. This is where things get interesting. The state of Kentucky doesn’t have much precedent for pro sports, but the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels come to mind. On the collegiate level, UK and Louisville dominate fan interest in basketball. The schools both have successful football programs as well. In Minor League Baseball, the Louisville Bats are typically the 2nd biggest draw in all the minors, and the Lexington Legends rank around 25 out of about 150. Louisville is a sizable city with more denizens than dozens of cities in the Big Four. Even Lexington has more people than Cincinnati, Buffalo, or Orlando. The Bluegrass State should not be overlooked in discussions of pro sports relocation or expansion.
50. Alabama. The Crimson Tide and Auburn are two of the top draws in college football. There is peripheral interest in basketball and baseball as well–but if Alabama could support a pro team it would have to in the NFL. The question is whether or not Alabamans would split allegiance between Saturday and Sunday.
51. Virginia. It may be a little broad to use the whole state of Virginia as a market. The Virginia Beach/Norfolk area in particular hosts millions of people and is sports-crazy. Richmond is also worth mentioning.
52. Nebraska. Omaha, specifically, is a large enough city to support a pro team–at least in theory. The Lincoln-based Cornhuskers dominate the state’s sports attention at present, but I could see a pro team in some league sticking in Nebraska.
53. Iowa. This is a long shot for pro sports, but Iowa’s dedication to baseball, football, and basketball is undeniable. The Iowa Cubs are a very popular MiLB team, and the Hawkeyes draw fans to the gridiron and the court.
54. Las Vegas. This is the city that is always brought up in any talk about expansion or relocation. The main reason is that Las Vegas is the largest metro area in the US without a team in the Big Four. Here’s the problem: Vegas is not a major sports city. They can barely support a minor league baseball team. The best they can muster for football is the UFL’s Locomotives. The UNLV Rebels do well, so if any league goes to Vegas I’d say the NBA has the best shot.
55. Arkansas. The Razorbacks are wildly popular in college football and basketball. I’m not so sure that the state could support a pro team, but it’s worth mentioning.
56. Hamilton. Hamilton, Ontario is a large city in a very densely populated area on Lake Ontario’s west coast. The city currently hosts the CFL’s Tiger-Cats and the AHL’s Bulldogs, among other teams. Hamilton is possibly the best candidate for relocation or expansion in the NHL.
57. Quebec City. Quebec is presumably still hurting from the NHL’s Nordiques leaving for greener pasture in Colorado nearly twenty years ago. I could see the league returning at some point–but the language barrier remains an obstacle.
58. Saskatchewan. The two largest cities in the province are Saskatoon and Regina–fairly close to each other. Saskatchewan has hosted the CFL’s Roughriders for many decades, and has an outside chance at a future NHL team.
59. Connecticut/Rhode Island. They’re pretty much the same state, so I lumped them into one. College basketball jumps to mind, with Uconn, Providence, and Rhode Island U leading the charge. Providence and Hartford are fairly large cities with a short history in the Big Four. Notably, the Hartford Whalers used to call the NHL home and the Providence Steam Roller (or Rollers) had incarnations in the NFL and NBA. Minor League Baseball teams in both states are quite successful as well. Occasionally there’s talk of a pro ball team in Hartford, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
60. New Mexico. We’ll round out the second tier with an underdog that has yet to sniff the pro leagues. Albuquerque, New Mexico is the 32nd largest metro area in the US, and is larger than about half of the markets in the Big Four. The AAA baseball Albuquerque Isotopes (named after a Simpsons episode) draw in the top ten of all ~150 minor league clubs. The New Mexico Lobos are a very popular college basketball team. We’ll call New Mexico the the distant wildcard in Big Four discussions.
So there is the second tier. You can see how the list gets thin at around 50 and then the wildcards come out of left field. We’ll be referencing this study in several future posts, including our upcoming Ideal Leagues series. The Ideal Leagues are an in depth exploration of what the Big Four pro sports leagues would look like if Sport Change ruled the world. Stay posted. Thanks for reading.