Sunday, 4 December 2011

Sports market overload and the need for care in proposing relocations

In this article, renowned sports writer David Berri looks at the problem teams in unviable markets have for both the cities that must support them and the leagues in which they work.

His particular focus in on the National Basketball Association, which in recent weeks has been stalled by a recently-resolved dispute between owners and players over revenue, and where one might relocate those teams whose present cities cannot afford to support them. Berri makes a look at those markets without a present NBA team which his data show as able to support one based on the average cost of an NBA team. He compares it with the requirements for the NFL and NHL (slightly higher), Major League Soccer (much lower) and Major League Baseball (extremely expensive presumably due to the epic season length). Whilst given the tiny talent pool of the NBA it is hard to see how an NFL franchise would not be cheaper even with the much larger roster size, it is still a valuable look at the costs involved.

Berri and Arturo Galletti look at:
  1. the income provided by each city
  2. the amount spent by each team on its existing teams in:
    1. The National Football League
    2. Major League Baseball
    3. The National Basketball Association
    4. The National Hockey League
    5. Major League Soccer
  3. they then deduct the cost of these teams from the income to see which cities are overburdened with teams.
The analysis is very revealing and sensible in most areas. The notion that more than one city could support a team is very sensible and more generally applicable than just the Green Bay Packers. The income data are very useful because I have never seen so concise a table with so much data on US city incomes.

There are problems, though. The first is that of relative income or cost of living. It remains revealing to realise that the poorest region of North America is in reality the heavily glaciated, mineral- and land-poor, and snowy New England region, due to the costs of living in a chilly climate. What that does suggest is that cities in that region really have much less money for sports teams than those in hotter regions with same or even lower income. By the same token, cities in the low-cost Sunbelt would on this basis be more able to support teams.

A second factor is that marianismo in outer suburban and exurban Sunbelt areas, as I noted earlier with Australian suburbs, tends to produce a noncombative, noncompatitive culture which tends to be very hostile to competitive professional sport on the grounds of its ethical influence which tends to value extreme hardness and aggression. This factor makes markets like Atlanta and New Orleans very poor despite their abundant population and low living costs, and probably makes other Deep South cities like Birmingham and Baton Rouge totally unviable markets since only the income of a small proportion of the city’s population might support sports teams.

The third is that interest in the various North American professional sports is not evenly distributed. Ice hockey, obviously, is of interest only in the colder regions of the country and has caused problems moving to hotter regions. Gridiron is likely to be of little interest in Hispanic regions where soccer is more popular, but of great interest where Polynesian Americans are concentrated. This factor would rule out many (if not most) possible relocation destinations that would look financially feasible.
In this table, I have isolated all the cities that could potentially support a relocated NBA, NHL or NFL team, since there are such teams as:
  1. In the NHL:
    • Phoenix Coyotes
    • Nashville Predators
  2. In the NFL:
    • Jacksonville Jaguars
    • Minnesota Vikings
    • Buffalo Bills
  3. In the NBA:
    • Milwaukee Bucks
    • Minnesota Timberwolves
    • Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Indiana Pacers
    • New Orleans Hornets
that really have little choice but relocation for their survival. Two of these teams have been “re-possessed” by their league for an indefinite duration as the Sydney Swans were in the middle 1990s after three successive wooden spoons, whilst many of the others, like the Timberwolves, have never been profitable since formation.

The logical choice of the “Inland Empire” of southern California makes sense, but there is the huge problem that government regulations make it difficult for a private entrepreneur to build a stadium to attract an NBA team or even MLB’s struggling Pittsburgh Pirates.

Connecticut may seem easy but is terribly tough due to its high living costs which could easily cut the income in half, along with its cold winters that are certainly a factor in the problems of the Bucks and Timberwolves. Even with the NHL where its cold climate is an asset teams have not been successful in nearby Rhode Island, though a general Connecticut team may do well in ice hockey.

Las Vegas, were the major leagues to lose the fear of its gambling associations, would be a very good choice for relocating a struggling NBA team since it has a large income and a hot climate that because of the paranoid fear of winters that are not warm attracts many people who cannot grasp the ecological costs of living in a hot climate.

There are several choices that were not seriously discussed by Berri or so far by myself, which I will briefly assess:
  1. Richmond and Virginia Beach, both in Virginia. Virginia, if we exclude Washington teams, has no major league franchise, but it has a big population and lacks the extreme marianismo that makes Atlanta a terrible market even with its huge population: that population abhors the competitiveness and aggression inherent in this level of sport.
  2. Louisville, Kentucky is also a possibility on these grounds with similar qualities to the two Virginia markets, and has had success in the ABA before its merger with the NBA
  3. Honolulu would be an extremely good choice for NFL relocation because gridiron’s short schedule would allow long-distance travel and Polynesia is a great centre for gridiron talent. It would be logistically impossible as an NBA market, however, with the long season and distances for teams from the contiguous States.
  4. Austin, Texas would likewise be an extremely good NFL choice since Texas is very much a hotbed for gridiron
  5. San Juan, Puerto Rico as San Antonio is with the Spurs, could be potential single-team NBA market: it has the size and culture to be effective. Tucson and Alberquerque, though more marginal, would also be possibilities in the NBA, though likely to have too little interest for the NFL.
  6. Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington are really marginal and should, owing to their highly atheistic culture, really only attempt to attract one or two NHL teams since that is the most popular sport relative to other cities.
  7. Omaha, Nebraska may be a viable market for gridiron or ice hockey, but that is doubtful since it has been a “failed” NBA market in the past.
  8. Orlando and Sarasota in Florida are doubtful since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Rays and heavily indebted Orlando Magic may be in part supported by these cities (though this would be tougher to calculate than for the Packers).
  9. Allentown, Pennsylvania ; Worcester, Massachusetts and Albany, New York are very unlikely due to the rapid emigration and high living costs which would make a team impossible to support.
  10. Tulsa, Oklahoma is more questionable than it looks because it is on the edge of the the sunbelt with its noncompetitive culture, and has a (very unsuccessful) WNBA team.
I think that sums up the potential of all listed cities. I intend to look at how efficiently teams might be organised in a later post.

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