Breaking Down the Top Destinations for MLB Expansion

Anthony Witrado@@awitradoFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2015

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Major League Baseball is a growth business, and growth businesses, by definition, have to grow.

That is how first-year MLB commissioner Rob Manfred sees it. To increase the game’s appeal, and of course its revenue, it needs to expand, and beyond the United States if possible.

While he did not commit to expansion, Manfred said he was “open” to the idea when talking to the Baseball Writers Association of America during the All-Star break in Cincinnati this week.

“Maybe one of the reasons I got this job is, I'm bullish on this game,” Manfred told the group. “I think we are a growth business, broadly defined. And over an extended period of time, growth businesses look to get bigger. So yeah, I'm open to the idea that there will be a point in time where expansion may be possible.”

While this might not be something traditionalists want to hear, it could at least give MLB separate leagues without daily interleague play, as FanDuel's Will Carroll noted:

Unsaid with MLB expansion talk is that shift to 32 would make daily interleague unnecessary and perfect chance for realignment.

— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) July 15, 2015

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com provided a short list of cities Manfred mentioned as possibilities if expansion happens—Montreal; Charlotte, North Carolina; San Antonio; Portland, Oregon; Las Vegas; Oklahoma City; northern New Jersey; Mexico City or Monterrey, Mexico. 

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Virtually none of the cities are viable options as of now, and at least one, Charlotte, is “decades away” from being able to sustain a major league franchise, said Michael Smith, who heads Charlotte Center City Partners, to WSOCTV.com's Greg Suskin.

Then again, Manfred is not trying to expand tomorrow. This would be a process, one he will not hastily dive into even in the next handful of years. Or that is the safe assumption, at least.

If (or when) expansion discussions do heat up, Montreal would be at the top of the list.

The Canadian city housed a major league franchise from 1969-2004, and Olympic Stadium was its ballpark from 1977 until the franchise became the Washington Nationals. When MLB returned for two exhibitions in March, the games drew 96,000 fans.

The popularity of the game is not in question in Montreal. However, Manfred would require the city to build a new stadium before awarding it a franchise.

“I happen to believe that Montreal has a great baseball history, which is a nice thing,” Manfred told the BBWAA. “And the market wildly supported two exhibition games in each of the last two years. Having said all that, it's a long ways from two exhibition games to 81 home games in a facility that is consistent with major league standards.”

PAUL CHIASSON/Associated Press

Looking south at the international market leaves Mexico City as the next-likeliest non-U.S. destination. The city itself has an estimated population of 9 million people, while the greater metropolitan area has more than 20 million, making it "the most populous metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere," per WorldPopulationReview.com.

Just based on sheer numbers, a team would figure to do well there, although players would most likely dread the travel since the city is 1,000 miles from Houston, the closest city with a major league team.

“Canada, Mexico, if we were going to think about it, those would be the kinds of places that I would be interested in,” Manfred told Los Angeles Times writer Bill Shaikin in February.

Charlotte and Las Vegas are possible U.S. destinations for the league. The former has the nation's 17th-largest population, while the latter ranks 29th, ahead of major league cities like Milwaukee, Kansas City, Atlanta and Miami.

As Smith told Suskin, Charlotte does not see itself as a major league city for several more years.

“We're not ready for Major League Baseball. We're decades away,” he said. “The idea of us having 82 home games with 35,000 to 50,000 seats and somewhere between 60 and 90 suites to sell, it's just not where we are.”

As for Vegas, it likely could get a facility built in relatively short order. Also, Chris Mitchell of The Hardball Times noted earlier this year, males make up more than 50 percent of Las Vegas’ population, compared to almost 49 percent in other cities with at least 1 million people in their greater area.

The problem is Las Vegas is a tourist city, and much of the population is transplanted from other locales. According to 2010 U.S. Census data (h/t the Las Vegas Sun), Nevada had the fewest residents born in the state in which they live (24 percent). No other state had fewer than 35 percent. That makes it hard to build allegiances for a major league franchise.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Vegas also has much more to offer in terms of entertainment than other cities. To wit, the Las Vegas 51s, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, were last in the Pacific Coast League in average attendance last season.

Even a simple vetting of cities leads to plenty of negatives in regard to expansion. This will not be an easy undertaking if Manfred decides to make it happen during his tenure.

Then again, he is in the business of growing the game. And there might not be a better way to do so than moving it into new places.

All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.