Charlotte, Portland Look Like Leading Candidates for Inevitable MLB Expansion

If Major League Baseball would like to get an influx of cash to boost revenues in the wake of the pandemic, the quickest and easiest way is through expansion. All indications are that the league does intend to expand at some point, with Rob Manfred going so far as to lay out at least six candidate cities across North America back in 2018.

But rather than “biblical” revenue losses spurring the desire to collect new franchise fees for existing owners to split, something that has previously been the case, the pandemic has pushed things out.

“My sense is that the COVID experience has probably slowed the expansion process down,” Manfred said back in September. “We haven’t even formally begun a process. I think it’s probably a little further away now as a result of the events of 2020.”

Though my first instinct is to think the league would want an injection of cash in light of the current financial state, it also makes sense that the resultant uncertainty might make potential investors a little more skittish. That wasn’t the case for Steve Cohen with the Mets, but not many baseball fans have $14 billion to their name. There’s also the matter of selecting the best locations for long-term viability, a process that includes a multi-dimensional appraisal of the individual metro areas.

For more on that, and I mean a lot more, you should check out the extensive breakdown Eno Sarris conducted for The Athletic. He’s got everything from population density and per capita income, average age and population change, total local industry revenue, and also distance from closest MLB city.

From among those cities Manfred initially listed — Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville, Montreal, and Vancouver — it appears by all accounts as though Charlotte and Portland are the clear top choices in the US. That would be good for former Cubs great Darwin Barney, who is part of the Portland Diamond Project trying to bring an MLB team to the city. Other than its loyalty to the Braves, Charlotte’s statistical superiority stands out in several areas.

Nashville is probably in the next tier, but its bid is hampered by a number of factors that will likely leave it on the outside looking in. That understanding may have factored in Dave Dombrowski’s decision to take over as the Phillies’ president of baseball operations. In addition to the Music City playing second or third fiddle to the previous options, MLB may want to prioritize Canada or Mexico for at least one of the two additions.

New Orleans feels like a longshot, as does Las Vegas, though Vegas has a lot of cachet as a major tourist destination. That would essentially eliminate any concerns about trying to cultivate a fanbase, since thousands of visitors and transplanted locals would show up to see road teams. What’s more the NHL’s Golden Knights had no trouble establishing a following.

While this is all hypothetical for now, the inevitability of it is yet another example of how owners’ claims of short-term losses mean little in the face of asset appreciation and ancillary sources of income. But this isn’t about going after the Billionaire Old Boys Club again, it’s about who will eventually be joining their ranks. So take a lot at Sarris’s work if you’d like more context and then answer a pair of questions in the comments.

Which two cities would you choose for expansion if your decision was governed primarily by data? Which two would you choose if the numbers were irrelevant and you could just put teams wherever you wanted?

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