I Guess Not

No sooner had I posted my last column on the possible relocation of the Expos than another story about another possible location stirred up the pot.  This time, it was Norfolk announcing they had sold lots of luxury boxes, many more than they had expected. 

I don't want to demean Norfolk/Hampton Roads/Virginia Beach/Newport News in any way, but the facts are that of the candidates that are currently being considered as the new home of the Expos, that metro area is the least capable of sustaining a major league team. 

The Norfolk metro area (1.57 million) ranks 31st among US cities in population, and of those 31, it ranks 10th lowest in population growth at 8.8% since 1990.  Of the cities that don't already have major league baseball, Washington DC, San Juan, Portland, Sacramento, Orlando, Indianapolis and San Antonio are each greater by population and sustained growth over the last 15 years.  In fact, since 1990 DC has grown by more than half as much (880,000) as the entire population of Norfolk.  Las Vegas, which ranks just behind Norfolk in overall population, has grown nearly as much as DC with over 700,000 new residents in the last decade or so. 

The advocates state that Norfolk's large military population makes it a perfect spot for baseball because the city will boast supporters for every team.  However, one would be hard pressed to characterize the populations of DC or Orlando as primarily locally bred and raised.  And given the current state of the world, is it really more likely that the military population in Norfolk will grow?  Or is it more likely that large numbers of personnel will be shipped off to other parts of the world in order to protect US interests.  The answer is probably both in that there will be more people recruited into the military, then shipped off around the world.  Regardless, that's not a good recipe for population growth in Norfolk, or at least the type of population growth that goes to baseball games.

Advocates also pointed out that Norfolk is home to two Fortune 500 companies.  I'm still unclear how that is preferable to an area that is home to more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, the largest concentration of law firms in the free world and all of the administrative avatars of the federal government, but I'm sure it'll come to me one day. 

Given it's limited prospects for growth, I'm also unclear how a metro area that's less than half the population of Montreal's (est. 3.6 million) will do a better job of sustaining the team.  The only comparable major league cities are Milwaukee and Kansas City and they haven't exactly been setting attendance records recently.  Last year, they ranked 25th and 22nd respectively.  In 2001 and 2002, Kansas City ranked 27th.  With a new ballpark Milwaukee ranked 13th over all in 2001, but fell to 19th the following year.  The 2003 ranking was more in line with how the team has historically been supported.  And each of those cities has at least 120,000 more residents to draw from than Norfolk.

If the question is "where is the best place to relocate the Expos?", Norfolk is clearly not the answer.