Give Austin a Pro Team Already
Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis are losing their National Football League teams. Los Angeles (more precisely, Inglewood) is gaining two of them. Las Vegas is getting the other, plus a National Hockey League expansion team. Major League Soccer is putting a second team in Los Angeles next season (after closing down its previous second team in Los Angeles just three years ago) and is probably going to expand to Miami after that. The commissioners of Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are talking openly about possible expansion soon.
What a perfect time, then, to make a spreadsheet of metropolitan statistical areas and their ratio of population to big-league sports teams! It’s a way to see which cities are being shortchanged and which really deserve another team -- and it’s a unique window into U.S. metropolitan growth and decline. And so, while sitting on the living room sofa during a lazy summer day a few weeks ago, the younger of us (Joey) created such a spreadsheet. After which his father (Justin) said, “Nice. But what about combined statistical areas? And Nielsen television markets?”
The exercise is now complete. Along the way, a plan to count teams per megaregion was abandoned, and one to count dollars of metropolitan-area gross domestic product per team was added at the last second. Formally announced league expansions and team moves were counted as having already happened. We opted not to include Canadian cities, or women’s leagues. Also, for brevity’s sake, the charts name only the biggest city in each metro area. Sorry, Fort Worth.
Despite decades of packing Qualcomm Stadium (previously called Jack Murphy Stadium and San Diego Stadium) for Chargers football games, San Diegans were abandoned by team owner Dean Spanos after city voters refused last November to OK a new downtown stadium for the team. The Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA also moved north from San Diego, in 1984, and before then the team that is now the Houston Rockets got its start there. So it’s not like San Diego hasn’t had its chances. But it is strange that the country’s 17th largest metropolitan area -- a growing, affluent region -- is left with just one big-league sports team (the MLB Padres), while numbers 18 through 23, and a lot of metros that rank lower than that, have at least two. They generally don’t have beaches like San Diego’s, though, so maybe that’s the issue.
The next two metros on the “Underteamed” list are fast-growing regions (San Antonio and Sacramento) that so far have only been granted NBA teams. Four of the country’s five most-populous metro areas (New York, Chicago, Dallas and Houston) also make the list. They have lots of teams, but also lots of people.
And which metro areas have fewest inhabitants per team? Well, Green Bay, Wisconsin, wins that contest, obviously.
This is a list dominated by shrinking or slow-growing cities, as one might expect. But it includes two booming ones, Denver and Salt Lake City, that haven’t quite grown into their pro team allotment (or perhaps don’t need to because they draw fans from such large areas).
The list of largest metro areas without a team is also a mix of growers and shrinkers:
Including the Riverside, California, metro area (generally known as Riverside-San Bernardino) here is problematic: The baseball Angels and hockey Ducks play their games less than 20 miles from its western edge, and the Los Angeles teams aren’t all that much farther away. Same goes for Providence, which is as close to Gillette Stadium, home to the NFL Patriots and the MLS Revolution, as Boston is. And Rochester, New York, is only an hour’s drive from Buffalo. So it’s worth revisiting this ranking for combined statistical areas, which mash together adjacent metros with close economic ties: 1
Here Austin stands out as the most obvious contender to make the leap to big-league status. It’s a large, high-profile, growing, affluent city. It does already have University of Texas football and basketball, and a local political climate that probably wouldn’t put up with Las-Vegas-style giveaways to land a team. But some pro league would be smart to gain a foothold there.
The Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News and Richmond metro areas make for another interesting case, given that they abut one another and together have more than 3 million people -- but aren’t interconnected in the way that, say, Los Angeles and Riverside-San Bernardino are. Virginia Beach has in fact been trying hard to land an NBA team, but so far no dice.
Measuring by TV markets complicates the picture a little: Austin, hemmed in by neighboring Houston and San Antonio, is only the fourth-biggest TV market without a major league team. Hartford, Connecticut, is the biggest, but while it did once have an NHL team (and, in the 1870s, a charter member of baseball’s National League), it is losing population and is close to the New York and Boston areas. Third-place West Palm Beach is part of the Miami metro area. That leaves second-place Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, a sprawling, growing TV market (and metropolitan area) with no big city. Greenville proper has only 67,453 people. So ... Austin is still the likeliest contender.
At the other end of the rankings, measuring by TV markets delivers one big surprise: The Green Bay-Appleton TV market, which covers a large swath of northeastern Wisconsin and a little bit of Michigan, doesn’t even make it onto the list of the 10 markets with the fewest viewers per team (it’s number 11).
Regional economic clout matters to team location decisions, too. And while San Diego still tops the list when you measure by metropolitan area gross domestic product per team, there are several metros that weren’t on the population-based “Underteamed” chart that make the top 10 here.
New additions San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington all rank among the top 10 U.S. metro areas for per-capita GDP. So does Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut, which among metro areas without a team ranks third in GDP despite being 15th in population. But it’s another one of those metro areas that lives in the sports shadow of a larger neighbor (New York). No one appears to be clamoring to bring big-league sports there.
Missing from the above charts, of course, are the places that have neither too few teams nor too many, relatively speaking. Philadelphia appears to come closest to the average across all of our measures. With one team in every major league, it is the Goldilocks of American sports towns. Although if you told that to spectators at a Philadelphia sporting event, they would of course boo and hurl snowballs at you.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Rochester and Buffalo are in different combined statistical areas. But Rochester’s proximity deserves mention because it makes metro Buffalo’s low population per team a little more understandable.
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tracy Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org