With St. Louis, Missouri losing its NFL franchise for the second time, it’s hard not to look at Major League Baseball and wonder if a little bit of reshuffling or expansion should be in the long-term plan. The stadium situation in St. Louis is what led the Rams back to Los Angeles, and there are certainly some dicey ballpark situations in baseball that show no signs of being resolved. The O.co Colliseum is ringed by barbed wire, has next to no modern amenities, and regularly deals with backed-up raw sewage. The Tampa Bay Rays play in a stadium with its own ground rules because there are inexplicably catwalks hanging from the ceiling of an outdated, bland dome.
The Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays are not in long-term, sustainable situations, and the league truly does have a problem on its hands. The Rays barely averaged 15,000 fans per game last year, and that includes many of the pre-sold tickets that are actually unoccupied during games. In reality, closer to 10,000 people per game actually showed up to watch the Rays last year. The A’s were only a little better, falling just short of 22,000 per game. While there is very little history in Tampa Bay, the A’s are one of the league’s storied franchises, with many great moments and devoted fans. Their stadium is just a mess, situated in a beaten-down neighborhood. If you do actually have the privilege of paying under $10 for outfield seats at O.co and then making your way behind home plate, you’ll see that the fanbase in Oakland remains extremely rabid. It would be a shame to see the franchise uprooted over an ongoing stadium battle.
Another, more attractive option, at least in my mind, would be to expand the league to 32 teams (a long, long way off). Growing the league has been a long time coming, and revenues and demand for the product (from cable TV networks, anyway) has never been higher. Starting two new teams over from scratch is a difficult process, and it takes years to create a consistent winner out of thin air. The last four expansion teams — the Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, and Miami/Florida Marlins — have all played in a World Series, but have had a hard time duplicating the winning formula year in and year out. Expansion makes sense, however, now that the AL and NL both have 15 teams. This creates the tricky situation of crossing leagues that play by different rules all season long. The Houston Astros were forced to play by National League rules on the season’s final weekend last season while their rivals for the Wild Card got to play with the DH as normal. The only remedy to this problem is to change the rules (unlikely!) or expand (potentially very profitable!).
Relocation is more likely to occur before full-blown expansion. The A’s have been trying to get a stadium built, but their rich neighbors in San Francisco keep finding ways to block a move closer to their territory. The Rays are more likely to move, given their lack of history. Major League Baseball bet on the wrong city in Tampa Bay, and moving may be the only solution.
So, which US cities (sorry Montreal, you had your chance) would make sense for Major League Baseball? You would preferably want a rapidly-growing city in a region with few potential rivals sucking fans away. There are at least four cities that fit that bill.