Cities That Should Have an MLB Team
Major League Baseball has resisted the urge to expand since adding teams in Tampa Bay and Arizona in 1998. That 20-year gap is the longest active expansion drought among major North American sports leagues, but that could change.
MLB has grown in leaps and bounds with 30 teams — grossing $10.3 billion in revenue in 2018, a revenue record for the 16th straight year, according to Forbes — thanks largely to its investment in MLB Advanced Media, the digital media company of Major League Baseball. Although declining attendance and a lack of competitive balance remain issues in the game, baseball might join the ranks of the NFL and NHL by increasing its total number of teams to 32.
If MLB decides to expand again, these 30 places would make good homes.
Major League Baseball left Montreal in 2005, after a fan boycott from the 1994 strike and Expos management’s inability to land a new stadium. But don’t confuse Montreal’s protest with complacency.
The Canadian city loves the Expos north of the border and is doing whatever it takes to land an expansion team, or even one via relocation, like selling out multiple exhibition games featuring the Toronto Blue Jays.
Aside from the Expos pedigree, Montreal has all the demographics of a major league city. It has more than 1 million passionate sports fans, a robust corporate community for sponsorships and oodles of wealthy surrounding suburbs.
This one will be controversial for a lot of reasons. But let’s start with the basics: Cuba’s capital is huge, with more than 2 million people in its city limits, many of whom are insane baseball fans.
Major League Baseball also has gone to Havana before, lest we forget the 1999 exhibition games the Baltimore Orioles played there.
Tensions have eased between the United States and Cuba in recent years, and travel to the island is easier than before. The only question is whether there’s enough wealth to support the majors, but it is worth trying to find out.
MLB has flirted with Portland for years, and for good reason. It is a wealthy, well-educated city, with deep-seated sports allegiances that include passionate support for the NBA’s Trail Blazers for decades, and Major League Soccer's Timbers since 2011.
Portland still could make a great MLB market, though. With nearly 2.5 million people, it is a top-25 U.S. market, and reportedly already has submitted a letter of intent to build a ballpark to MLB for review.
At this point, the MLB in Portland might be more a matter of when, not if.
Charlotte is one of the biggest U.S. cities without a Major League Baseball team, which is crazy considering how well the Triple-A Knights do.
Charlotte ranked first in minor league attendance in 2018, averaging nearly 9,000 per game, and is a banking-industry hub, meaning there are myriad sponsorship opportunities.
The city itself is among the fastest growing, with population rising nearly 20 percent since 2010 to about 900,000 in the city limits. It is Braves country, but there’s never been a better time to chip away at old loyalties in the name of expansion.
Nashville has supported a Triple-A franchise, the Sounds, with varying affiliates through the years, and finished as the fourth-best-attended minor league team in 2018.
Nashville has proven it is a major league city, with robust support for the NHL’s Predators and NFL’s Titans, particularly during good times.
Also, as in Charlotte, a major league team in Nashville could put a wrench into the support of the St. Louis Blues, who rule across the southern midwest. Nashville and St. Louis have a fun rivalry in hockey, the cities are only 300 miles apart, and that regional rivalry also could spark in baseball if MLB decided to go to the Music City.
Major League Baseball missed a glorious opportunity to be the first pro league in Las Vegas, which was especially glaring considering how much pedigree the sport has in the desert. One of baseball’s biggest stars, Kris Bryant, hails from Sin City, and it has been the home to a minor league team since 1983.
That doesn’t mean MLB should abandon a future in the desert. Yes, the oppressive heat would be an issue in the summer, but that’s why there are retractable roofs.
There also is ample land and more than enough wealth and industry to support a team.
California is baseball paradise, and the case could be made that the state is underrepresented in terms of major league teams even though five play in the Golden State.
Enter Sacramento, which has a lot of things going for it in MLB’s eyes. It has people, with a metro region of more than 2 million, and strong baseball support already, as Forbes ranked the Triple-A River Cats the most valuable minor league club in 2016.
New Mexico is not represented in major league professional sports, but Albuquerque could be a good entrance point, especially in baseball.
Albuquerque’s Triple-A team, aptly named the Isotopes, drew about 8,000 fans per game in 2018.
The city has more than 1 million in its metro area, especially if you include nearby Santa Fe, and is 400 miles from its nearest major league competition.
Canada loves baseball but tends to flock to the Blue Jays just out of national pride. But aside from Montreal, if the majors were going to expand into Canada, they would have to consider Vancouver, too.
Eight of Canada’s 20 richest cities are in or part of the greater Vancouver region, according to Slice.ca, and the city hosted a Triple-A team for more than 20 years and now has a Class A team that still managed to attract more than 6,000 fans per game in 2018 — the second-largest average attendance of any sub-Triple-A team.
The city is fast growing, both literally and in the eyes of Major League Baseball.
The city has hosted the Missions since 1964, a Double-A team until 2019, when the city became home of the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A club. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called the promotion "a nice test" for the market, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
San Antonio also would check a bunch of MLB boxes. It is a top-10 television market in the U.S., with about 2.5 million people in its metro region. It is far enough from Houston (about 200 miles) to not compete directly with the Astros and has the Alamodome, where a team could play until a more suitable MLB park were built.
Salt Lake City
The metro area has more than 1 million people and is a county over from Summit County in Utah, which is one of the highest-income counties in the United States.
The Triple-A Bees do very well, averaging more almost 7,000 fans per game, and outside of the NBA’s Jazz and a new MLS club, there isn’t much in the way of major league sports.
Virginia’s capital generally supports Washington, D.C., sports, but Richmond is becoming its own major market and within striking distance of the Hampton Roads region, which has become something of a pro baseball factory.
Aside from the city’s interest in baseball, Richmond also has more than 1.3 million people, and about 3 million if you include Norfolk, Newport News and Virginia Beach — which are each within 90 miles of RIchmond.
Louisville is something of a destination for baseball fans, with the Louisville Slugger factory tour taking fans behind the scenes to see how major league-caliber bats are created.
The city has a Triple-A team, aptly named "Bats, that is well supported, and although Louisville is 100 miles from Cincinnati, it is still a big enough city on its own (1.3 million metro-area population) to earn a pro team of its own.
Buffalo is a proud sports town, one that supports both the NHL’s Sabres and NFL’s Bills. It also has been supporting the Triple-A Bisons for more than half a century.
The Bisons have enjoyed great success, ranking seventh in attendance in the minor leagues in 2018, with more than 8,000 fans visiting Sahlen’s Field per night even to watch a last-place team.
With a metro area of more than 1.1 million, Buffalo is a top-50 U.S. market, and the Sabres find a way to both coexist and create a unique rivalry with their neighbors from Toronto in the NHL. MLB could probably play on that as well.
Save your Florida baseball jokes. There’s reason to believe Jacksonville could be different.
For starters, Jacksonville has a higher median household income than Tampa Bay or Miami. Jacksonville doesn’t have the same beach activity to contend with as Miami or the Tampa Bay region either and has a more moderate climate than its fellow Florida teams.
Jacksonville also is growing, boasts a prominent corporate banking scene and has no other summer pro sports to contend with. Three teams in Florida might seem odd, since the two in place are currently struggling, but Jacksonville would be worth a shot.
MLB tested the Orlando market when the Tampa Bay Rays played scattered home games there for two seasons in 2007 and 2008. A Rays relocation to Orlando probably makes more sense, but the greater Orlando region, which makes up 15 municipalities, including Daytona Beach, is the 25th-largest market in the United States.
The perception is Orlando, like Las Vegas, is just a tourist town. But the region loves baseball and has seen incredible population growth in the past two decades.
With the NBA’s Magic and an MLS team as the only major league acts in town MLB could be primed to take the city by storm with an expansion team.
Indianapolis is regularly one of the best-drawing minor league markets, finishing second in overall attendance despite a substantial drop-off from 2017 to 2018.
Indy is underrepresented in professional sports, with more than 2 million people in its metro area. It ranks in the top 40 as a market and is one of the rare cities in that region of the country that is actually growing.
This one seems almost too easy. Nebraska isn’t represented in major professional sports, but Omaha has the requisite industry and population to look attractive to a team. Omaha already hosts the College World Series every spring, making it an annual destination for baseball fans.
Omaha is nearly 200 miles from its next closest MLB market, Kansas City, and is a comparably sized metro region as K.C. Omaha only continues to grow as well.
Leagues love to look at new international markets to "grow the game" and sometimes gloss over underserved potential major league cities at home. It seems like only a matter of time until some wealthy owner realizes that Omaha could be a diamond in the rough.
If MLB were to pass over Nashville, it would be wise to consider Memphis.
Memphis is a major league town, as the NBA’s Grizzlies have proven. It’s far away from St. Louis and, with 1.3 million people in its metro region, is big enough to support a major league team.
Memphis has been a Triple-A city, hosting the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate since 1998. It won the Triple-A championship in 2018 and would be in the conversation for promotion if North American sports used the European relegation model.
Another great minor league baseball market, and the NBA’s Thunder have proven that Oklahoma City can support major professional sports.
The city has about 1.5 million people and is growing thanks to a robust corporate community, specifically in the energy sector.
Oklahoma City has supported Triple-A baseball since 1962, but undoubtedly would flock to the big leagues, especially if the city had a retractable-roof stadium to combat the region’s summer heat.
New Orleans is wallowing away in minor league baseball and already has enough trouble supporting two pro-sports teams. Why should MLB go to the Big Easy?
There’s opportunity in New Orleans. Look how the city reacts to the Saints, and imagine what the people in the city would do with another successful pro team.
The city also has something many others on this list don’t: a suitable option for temporary play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Baseball is huge in Louisiana, with LSU and Tulane regularly competing for state collegiate bragging rights, and between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — just 80 miles to the west — there are more than 2 million people in a region that continues to grow.
Cooperstown is just that: a town. It has fewer than 2,000 people. It is overrun by tourists every year during Hall of Fame weekend and can barely keep up the demand of that. The entire Otsego County population doesn’t even approach 100,000. How could Cooperstown ever be able to support a Major League Baseball team?
Baseball always has been about tradition, and what better way to honor the sport’s history than a team in the town where it was founded?
It’s completely impractical given the insane economics of sports, but Cooperstown could be baseball’s Green Bay, as a nod to a simpler time.
We’ll start with the fact Major League Baseball has dabbled in Monterrey before and will do so again in 2019 with six games played in the city.
The market is huge, with more than a million people within the city limits and almost 5 million in its metro area, which ranks top 25 in terms of North American cities.
It’s safe to wonder how Mexico-American relations would dampen a Mexican expansion into North American sports, and also how a team based in Mexico could pay the exorbitant salaries in American dollars. But if Major League Baseball were looking to grow outside of the U.S. and Canada, Monterrey would be a good place to venture.
Mexico City is more a slam dunk than Monterrey, given the sheer market size and proximity to the United States. Mexico City is North America’s biggest city — with nearly 9 million people in the city limits and more than 20 million in the metro area, it outpopulates New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which all have two MLB teams.
Baseball isn’t quite as big as soccer, but there is a Mexican League hardball team in Mexico City that has won 16 league championships.
A new ballpark and an MLB initiative, where it chose Mexico City as its site for MLB Mexico, have both ramped up speculation that the city and the league could have a more robust partnership in the future.
Tijuana would eat away at existing fans in San Diego, but the northernmost Mexican city makes a lot of sense as an MLB market.
For starters, Tijuana’s baseball team regularly draws near the top of the Mexican League attendance standings and has more than 1.5 million people in the city limits.
MLB has played in Tijuana before, and a full-time team there could up the temperature of a rivalry with the three teams in Southern California.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Dominicans love their baseball. MLB has a presence in the Dominican Republic. And Santo Domingo has a market of about 3 million, making it the best option for the island in the Caribbean.
On Opening Day in 2018, 254 players, or 29 percent of major league rosters, were from foreign countries, with the most foreign-born players (84) hailing from the D.R.
If MLB could expand to Santo Domingo, the team would be the pride of Domincans everywhere, and it could produce new rivalries around the game.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan really is a tailor-made, albeit small, MLB market. There’s more than 2 million people in the metro region, Puerto Rico regularly churns out MLB talent, and the island loves baseball.
San Juan also has one more thing going for it ahead of cities in Mexico or the Caribbean: \the U.S. dollar. Puerto Rico trades with American currency, meaning there’s no fluctuating exchange rate to deal with.
Baseball in Japan is massive, and there are at least a handful of potential major league markets across the Pacific Ocean.
But MLB would be wise to get into Tokyo, even with the insane travel it would cause.
Tokyo is the world’s largest metro region, with more than 38 million people, and if North American sports are on a collision course with globalization, Major League Baseball and Tokyo would be a match made in heaven.
Seoul, South Korea
Baseball is huge in South Korea, with it losing to Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic championship game. If MLB wants to go across the Pacific, it would be wise to go to Seoul, too.
Why? For starters, the city has about 10 million people, with a metro region of more than 25 million — or a population greater than New York. Like Tokyo, that’d be enough to support at least two major league clubs, and in fact, there are three teams that play in the Korean Baseball League now. The annual average income is on par with that of middle-class America, meaning the city can compete financially, and there is no shortage of industry for sponsorships or partners.
With two teams in Korea and two in Japan, there’s almost enough to start a separate Asian division.
Taiwan is far. But it also has been producing major league-level talent for decades. The country already has two pro leagues with 11 teams, and is only about an hour farther than both Seoul and two more than Tokyo.
Baseball is part of the national fabric of Taiwan, and with more than 8.6 million people in the region, there are certainly enough people in the city to support a major league club.
Economics could be an issue, but the city hosts several Asian headquarters for multinational corporations, which could open new and unique sponsorship opportunities for MLB.