The other day I wrote about the Rays’ desire for a new ballpark in Tampa instead of St. Pete. At the time, Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg said that there are at least five better cities the Rays could move to that don’t already have baseball teams. Which kind of got my brain whirring.
On the one hand I’m kind of skeptical because the Tampa-St. Pete area is pretty big. Indeed, unless you count the Inland Empire area of Southern California — which may very well be Dodgers or Angels territory anyway — there is no metropolitan statistical area in the United States that is (a) bigger than the Tampa Bay area; and (b) does not already have a baseball team. And the area is growing, so that’s not going to change any time soon.
On the other hand, Sternberg may be right, because there could be factors other than just size and growth trajectory. He could simply be talking about city size + demographics + willingness to build a stadium + a zillion other factors to which we’re all not really hip. Those are all relative unknowns because you really can’t say what a city and its taxpayers would be willing to do unless and until a professional sports franchise actually knocks on their door.
But we can try to guess some of the main contenders, can’t we? Let’s do, in order of large MSAs that don’t currently have a baseball team: Portland (23rd largest), Sacramento (25th), Orlando (27th), San Antonio (28th), Las Vegas (30th), Columbus (32nd) and Charlotte (33rd). I dunno, maybe it makes more sense to list them in order of media markets, because ultimately it will be eyeballs on televisions that make the deal workable or not. We’ll likely get the same suspects, however. Maybe Indianapolis shows up above a place like Columbus, but these are the cities everyone talks about.
Each of those places has its pros and cons, but for now, though, let’s talk about the one people always seem to want to talk about the most: Las Vegas: it’s always everyone’s favorite because there’s so much money floating around the town, entertainment is the leading industry and everyone wants to go there.
But you know what? I’ve never been convinced that Las Vegas would work for baseball.
I think the biggest problem is that unlike boxing, which is Vegas’ biggest sports calling card, baseball is not driven by big, single night events. Football isn’t a good comp either in that there
are 10 times as many home baseball games as there are home football games. Season ticket sales matter more in baseball, and season ticket sales are all about attracting the locals who will come on Tuesday and Wednesday
nights, not the folks who drive up from L.A. on the weekend to gamble a bit. And if you haven’t noticed, the locals in Las Vegas are in serious economic peril these days.
And even if you assume that you could get the people, where are they gonna watch the game? This is a big issue, because the ballpark economics in Las Vegas seem way more problematic to me than they do to most people who talk the place up. The assumption is always that MGM or Steve Wynn or someone would simply build a ballpark next to a casino as if it were just another phony volcano or fake pirate battle, but I find such a proposition ridiculous.
Why? because while pedestrian-snaring eye candy is one thing, casino owners have zero incentive to create something that will draw their patrons off the gambling floor for three hours at a time 81 nights a year. Sure, there’s a lot of money in $8 beers and $5 hot dogs, but it pales compared to how much money someone sitting at a slot machine will give you over the course of an evening. And while I think Major League Baseball would get over its gambling aversion to let a team play in Vegas, I also think they’d draw a line at people playing Keno from the bleacher seats. The upshot: baseball fans would be a net loser for the casinos. (UPDATE: and if you think public money would work in Vegas, just ask the people behind the arena proposals that were just shot down there last week).
So, if the locals couldn’t support a team — which they couldn’t — and the casinos wouldn’t be into the idea — which they wouldn’t — what does Vegas have to recommend it?
Nothin’ as far as I can see.