Don’t hold your breath waiting for MLB’s 20-year expansion drought to end anytime soon

In the midst of yesterday’s Election Day excitement, Deadspin ran my latest article for them, on what’s up with MLB’s much-rumored expansion plans. And though, as I tried to make clear in the article, where baseball expands and when will likely have less to do with what cities are “deserving” and more to do with the sport’s internal finances — in particular how much of an expansion fee they can demand, how adding new small-market teams will affect revenue sharing, and how adding new teams would affect existing team owners’ leverage to extract stadium subsidies — the comments section quickly filled up with debates over which cities should get new teams, and even how MLB divisions should be realigned once this happens.

All of which is still way more constructive and less pathetic than the Cincinnati Enquirer’s response to a throwaway line of mine about how small cities like Cincinnati probably wouldn’t be at the top of the expansion list if they didn’t already have teams:

As FoS correspondent David Dyte immediately pointed out, good thing I didn’t insult their chili.


18 comments on “Don’t hold your breath waiting for MLB’s 20-year expansion drought to end anytime soon

  1. Sheesh, at least the Enquirer could have tried to contact you before publishing that. Isn’t that a rule of journalism?

    At least they got the URL right. Here’s hoping it gets you lots of clicks.

  2. Neil,

    I thought that was one of the best analyses(?) of the MLB expansion hurdles I have seen yet. I don’t think it did the greatest job of handicapping the contenders (which is what some people tend to focus on), but that wasn’t the main point of the article. Well done.

    -Greg

    • Thanks – and yeah, I made no attempt to rank potential expansion cities, in part because, as I tried to make clear in the article, whatever decision is ultimately made will probably be based on something that has little to do with any metrics we have available to us now. (It’ll probably come down to which prospective ownership group has the most friends on the expansion committee, honestly.)

  3. What a controversial statement about Cincinnati since we all know major sports leagues can’t wait to expand into small markets.

  4. Hmmm. No mention of a potential third NY/NJ team?

    The price would obviously be high… and it’s possible that the two (ok, 1½) teams already there would simply refuse to name a price for splitting “their” market (though MLB could certainly pull the plug on such arguments).

    However, while I would love to see a new Expos, if I were investing my own money in an MLB team, I’d be more interested in being the third team in NY than the first in any of the regions specified.

    With Philadelphia once supporting two teams, which would be the better bet? A NJ team in Trenton or Newark?

    • All good points, but it’s still not going to happen. MLB owners know that territorial rights are the basis of their entire net worth, and they’re not going to touch that Pandora’s box with a ten-foot pole.

      • Does that mean “any” reasonable location within New Jersey or New York itself would fall within the Yankees or Mets territorial exemption?

        I know the NHL is believed to have a “50km” or 30 mile radius rule, meaning that no team can relocate within 50km of the corporate limits (or arena site in cases where the arena is not within a given city’s corporate limits) of an existing franchise’s home without the consent of the existing franchise.

        Does MLB have a geographic limit set or is it more a case by case situation?

        • I believe there’s a list of counties somewhere. But it certainly includes anything within an easy commute of New York City — when the Yankees tried to temporarily put a minor-league team in Newark a few years back, for example, the Mets used their territorial rights to block it:

          https://www.nj.com/yankees/index.ssf/2011/09/izenberg_mets_blocked_yankees_plan.html

          Anything past Newark is too far for New Yorkers to travel.

  5. Your correct, no one will notice a dilution of talent or play. There is no team flow or continuous play , where a drop in skill can be easily spotted. It’s basically a game of set plays. Pitcher v hitter ! There are basically three outcomes, SO, BB, & HR. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pro, college or highschool player, these three outcomes all look the same.

  6. It looks like two storms in one teacup from here – Neil didn’t insult Cincinnati and the Enquirer just reported what he’d said – local interest news only comes in two flavours: “outsider takes pot shot at city” and “local residents confirm famous grandchild still grounded”.

    It was a good report though – presumably as the world’s wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2017-01-16/just-8-men-own-same-wealth-half-world) we will inexorably head towards the perfect MLB of one team.

    • It is not so much that it is “concentrating”, as that our systems have allowed a few to control/generate/keep much greater amounts of additional wealth.

      It is a subtle difference, but the history of the last 20, 40, 60, 150 years, whatever time-frame you want to pick is vastly improving wealth and conditions for EVERYONE. Even in the supposedly “stagnant US” where real household incomes haven’t noticeably risen in 40 years, real individual incomes have actually grown substantially, and the stagnation in household incomes is all about the households getting smaller, not individual’s paychecks stagnating.

      https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEPAINUSA672N

      More widows of both sexes living longer alone, more people living single before marriage and waiting longer to marry, and more divorced/single people overall.

      I know the whole “yes the rich are getting crazy richer, but you yourself are also getting quite a big richer” is not nearly as sexy or mobilizing a story as “fuck the greedy capitalist pig dogs”, but it is the truth, and the truth is important.

      If we are all shipwrecked on an island and struggling to get enough fresh water, and I figure out a really clever way to condense some out of the air and now have many hundreds of gallons which I trade/share with others so that now most people have a couple gallons a day an I have several hundred gallons a day. The new “inequality” in our overall situation has not suddenly made our society worse.

      That isn’t to say inequality doesn’t create problems, but the inequality itself is not ipso facto a problem as so many love to contend/imply.

      • Median income isn’t what we’re interested in here, though — that just tells us how the middle class is doing. What you really want is personal income by quintile, or something similar.

        And also, household income matters because households are generally what have expenses, not individuals. If more people are living as single-income adults but wages aren’t keeping pace — and at the same time more income is going to high-income individuals, allowing them to drive up housing costs, often above the general inflation rate — then inequality *is* a problem in itself.

      • If there is still a significant portion of your island’s population that is dehydrated, unwashed and just generally suffering, then the happiness of the middle class and wretched excess of water you have IS absolutely an indication that your island society is failing.

        It may not be failing any worse than it was before you were rich in water (unless, like so many of the 1% today, at least some part of those riches come from a water tax that redirects water that should have gone to the most needy to the least needy), or it may be worse.

        Your island allegory also ignores crucial elements of basic economics.

        If the US adopted tiny pebbles as currency, everyone could immediately become at least a millionaire, if not a billionaire. This does not necessarily improve the lot of those on the bottom of the pebble wealth scale, however, as inflation would quickly raise the price of basic food and shelter to the point where mere pebble millionaires could not adequately feed and house their families.

    • And on the particular point here — franchise values — it’s absolutely true that the more wealth flows to a few, the fewer people can afford the buy-in for a sports franchise. Though I expect the threshold is still low enough — a mere billion dollars or so — that you don’t need a Bezos-level fortune to apply, not yet anyway.

      • Trouble is brewing in European football/soccer with the proposed European Super League threatening to break away from the national leagues and thereby UEFA. They’re pretty much all owned by oil gazillionaires who don’t want to slum it with the common and garden national-level billionaires any more.

        If baseball acquired the same global visibility, the merely super-rich MLB owners would be quickly selling out to their genuinely loaded confrères. How we would weep for them.

        • The “major” clubs in Europe have been threatening to break away from their domestic leagues and organize into a super league for more than 30 years.

          It hasn’t happened yet.

          Just the threat of doing this has been hugely beneficial for the supposed member clubs in that their national associations (and UEFA) have effectively bribed them to stay by allowing them to vacuum up ever more of their national financial pies (leaving lower league and grass roots amateur football largely adrift in the process).

          The fundamental problem with the big 15 or 16 (or whatever they are up to now) breaking away is the same now as it was in the early 1980s… When the top 15 clubs have fully separated themselves from their national leagues, about 2/3rds of them will go from being giants in a minnow pond and winning or contending for the trophy to finishing mid pack or worse in the superleague.

          Imagine Madrid or Manchester closing out a season not fighting to get into the european football places, but trying to finish 13th instead of 15th and avoid a 20 loss season. It’s not a pretty picture for clubs that are used to dominating their leagues in good years and being at least competitive in bad ones, is it?

          Imagine US college football if all of the twelve richest schools played in the same conference. Sure, they’d vacuum up most of the tv money (which, with the system of financial division they have now they already do), but half of the teams who are perennial bowl contenders right now will finish at 5-6 or maybe 3-8.

          It’s not a recipe for long term success either in the NCAA or European football. The thing that keeps these clubs giants is the patsies they beat week in and week out.

          And if you are one of the 7 or 8 big clubs that is lured into a superleague who are not truly supplied by a bottomless financial well, what is the upside? You’ll be making yourself Blackpool, Bolton or Derby county, not Barcelona.

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