In between 1972 and 2004 we saw no MLB franchises relocate. The Expos went to Washington for the 2005 season and now we are looking at perhaps a few more teams relocating in the next few years.
The recent US mid-term election ballots in many states/county/municipalities had a plebiscite question on whether or not public money should continue to be spent on supporting pro-sport franchises. In most constituencies the answers was a loud, STOP.
With baseball expansion out of the question for the foreseeable future, the only way for cities to attract ML baseball is to offer lame duck franchises benefits for moving. Right now I am not sure how this will affect the relocation probabilities of several teams on the block.
Recently, two teams, the Twins and the Nationals have been approved for new ballparks by local authorities and should be staying put for decades to come.
Oakland — The first one to move will likely be the Oakland Athletics. The Aâ€™s owner Lewis Wolff has bought land in Freemont, CA and has been trying to strike up a deal with the Fremont City Council to make sure that the neighborhood surrounding has a desirable development strategy. Oakland has become one of the poorer cities in Northern California and the big financial centres are now located around San Jose, about 150 km to the south. Fremont is about half way between Oakland and San Jose on the East Bay. This deal looks like it is going to take. The Aâ€™s will be moving south along I-880 towards San Jose, just curious if they will change their name to Fremont or San Jose or remain Oakland. I think they should change their name to Oakland Orphans. Also, the San Francisco 49ers stay at Candlestick Park can be coming to an end. The 49ers are rumoured to be moving south along the West Bay to Santa Clara.
Florida — The two failing Florida franchises both might look to be relocating. The medium-small markets have recently built arenas and football stadiums for teams when both the Marlins and Devil Rays are in need of a ballpark. In South Florida the Marlins have been tenants to the Dolphins since 1993 and it looks as though the Dolphins will not offer to renew the lease when it is up after the 2008 (correct me on the date if I am mistaken) season. This puts the pressure on the Marlins to build a new park or start looking for greener pastures. In Tampa, the Devil Rays have not had a chance; they consistently lose 95+ games and have never even thought of challenging after 10 years in the AL. The ballpark they moved into was already 10 years old and vastly behind the times. Tropicana Field was built in the late 1980â€™s hoping to lure the White Sox south. Both these teams need retractable domed stadiums if they want to play in Florida. The unpredictable weather has rained out entire home stands in Miami. On the other hand there are some beautiful nights and the Rays play indoors every night. There is never a sunny day at the ballpark in Tampa. Both these teams have major flaws and especially in Miami they may be on the move.
There are very few options for these teams if they are looking to relocate. The recent public lobby to stop funding pro-teams would mean that these teams would have to build a ballpark for themselves wherever they go.
San Antonio, TX â€“ The first choice for the Marlins has been San Antonio, a fast growing South-West Texas city. This is probably the largest untapped market in the US. There is no suitable ballpark in San Antonio and a retractable domed stadium would have to be built. The city built the white elephant AlamoDome in 1993 at a cost of almost $200million. Taxpayers will be wary, regardless of the results of any plebiscite in that area of paying probably twice as much for a Jeffery Loria headed project.
Portland, OR â€“ This city has had lots of discussion with Loria over drawing the Marlins to the Pac NW. No suitable interim stadium, small but prosperous city, would need retractable domed stadium.
Nashville, TN â€“ Quickly growing city that appears to me to have the proper demographics for baseball success at the gate. Currently building a brand new AAA park for the Sounds. This should be upgradeable to ML standards. This may be a lucrative market as there is a possible national TV market and there is no Mid-American team. Nashville is largest centre between 400km distant Atlanta, Cincinnati and St.Louis. Would be great NL city.
Sacramento, CA â€“ This was a possible relocation site for the Oakland Aâ€™s. The city has consistently rejected the popular and successful NBA Kingâ€™s a replacement arena. If Oakland does not move here, which they probably wonâ€™t, adding a third team to Northern California should be a total flop, the Bay Area can barely support two.
Las Vegas, NV â€“ The booming city is in desperate want of a major pro-sports team but NBA and NFL teams are turned off by the gambling connections. Oakland started a season here while the Coliseum was being renovated. A stadium would have to be built and no suitable interim park is available.
Buffalo, NY â€“ City built Pilot Field in the late 1980â€™s with the hope of drawing a ML team some day. While a decent stadium that draws really well, the park would need renovations to bring it up to ML standards but it should not take long. This is a small market that is always worried about losing their NFL team. City has an inferiority complex and will likely discourage any possible relocators.
Brooklyn, NY â€“ A city rich in baseball history has been in decline since the Dodgers left in 1957. The Dodgers threatened to leave LA about 5 years ago over taxation for a return to Flatbush. This would be a lucrative market at the gate but would have huge hurdles to clear by buying out the Yanks and Mets for territorial rights, probably in the billions. They would also be hard up to find public money for a stadium as NYC is buying $2billion worth of ballparks in the next couple years with an Olympic Stadium on the horizon as well.
Virginia Beach, VA – This multi-state region has no major centre but would be dependant for commuter interest from Raliegh-Durham, NC as well as Newport, VA perhaps even Richmond. This area currently supports several AAA teams. This region was in the running for the Expos but the region is unlikely to attract another after a team was added in Washington.
Charlottle, NC – Another of the largest untapped baseball markets, the city failed to build the popular NBA Hornets an arena before they moved. Then turned around and built one for an expansion team. In the last twenty years this city has built two arenas and a football stadium and a minor league baseball park. Sports funds are probably tapped in this region. This is a huge golf, NASCAR, NCAA region and baseball may have to play third or fourth fiddle to these sports.
Mexican & Caribbean Markets â€“ Monterrey, San Juan, Mexico City have all expressed some interest in gaining a ML team. All these cities have acceptable temporary ballparks. The weather in PR would likely mean that a retractable dome would have to be built. Also, the language and cultural barriers might deter some US born players from wanting to sign with teams based in PR or Mexico.
As we see, the US large markets are all tapped. Relocating to one of these smaller regional centres would be risky. Most new ballparks are located in a down town area. Cities like Nashville, Virginia Beach would depend on commuters. Apart from Buffalo and the non-US markets there is no suitable temporary venue for teams to play in. Stay tuned and I will shortly include an article about the growing cost of new stadiums being built.