There's been a lot of speculation about what will happen with the Expos
next season and many columnist have weighed in with their own opinions
about where the Expos best belong. Unfortunately, many of these
columnists have lost sight of the facts in the matter, so I thought now
might be a good time to set the record straight.
Proposition: If the Expos build a
winning team, the fans will come
Reality: nothing could be
further from the truth. From 1983 to the present, no city has
done less to support it's team, winning or not, than Montreal.
Eight times the Expos have fielded winning teams, five of those have
competed for a playoff berth until the final week of the season.
Only once, in 1983, did the Expos draw at least 2 million fans.
Given that Montreal is the 11th largest market in major league baseball
by population, this is an absolutely criminal record. By
comparison, San Diego is smaller by nearly a million people, has had
the same number of winning teams in that time period, yet has drawn 2
million fans in a season 9 times. Last year and this year the
Expos have been competitive for a playoff berth and yet Montreal has
continued to rank last or next to last in attendance.
It's true that ownership has done very little
in the way of marketing to encourage fans to come, but the fact is that
the Expos have had some
pretty good teams. They've had winners, and still the fans
have stayed away in droves.
Proposition: Portland, Oregon is the
largest market that doesn't already have major league baseball
Reality: This is true if you
ignore the numbers. But the US Census Bureau happens to
disagree. Not only is the city of Portland smaller than
Washington DC by more the 30,000, it's metropolitan area, even when
excluding Baltimore from DC, is smaller by nearly 2 million
Fairfax County, one of the proposed locations of a DC team, is twice as
large as the city of Portland and it's residents average over $20,000
per year more income. The DC/Northern Virginia market is the 7th
largest TV market in the country, and is nearly 3 times as large as
Even if one ignores the fact that Washington DC has far more corporate
capital - more Fortune 500 company headquarters and billion
dollar law firms - than Portland; that it has two ready ownership
groups and Portland has zero; that it has supported the Bullets/Wizards
better than Portland has supported the Trailblazers despite the fact
the the DC team has been woeful and the Blazers have been one the NBA's
winningest franchises... even if one ignores all that, one can't ignore
the fact that Portland and the state of Oregon is flat broke.
They didn't even have enough money to keep their public schools open
for the full year! Will going further into debt to bring a major
league team really help either Oregon or the city of Portland address
critical financial needs? Of course not.
Proposition: DC has already lost 2
teams. It doesn't deserve another
Reality: To quote
Virginians for Baseball: "Regarding the Senators, they left Washington
because both times the owners of the Senators got sweetheart deals, and
Washington got promises of a replacement franchise, which fell through
the second time. Calvin Griffith left Washington because he got a deal
from Minneapolis, who lured Griffith with much more revenue available
than he could have gotten in DC, where the newly built DC Stadium was
owned by the US Department of the Interior. However, though ownership
and players changed, Washington didn't truly lose a team in that
situation since a team named the Senators played here in 1960 and 1961.
The team owner that moved the Senators to Texas was Bob Short, who had
previously moved the Minneapolis Lakers to LA. Andrew Zimbalist had
this note in his book "Baseball and Billions": "After driving
attendance to new lows in Washington DC, Short was allowed to move
after the 1971 season to Arlington, Texas, which offered him a $7
million loan (adjusted for inflation, this would be equivalent to $32
million today) and a rent-free stadium."
Therefore, we have two clear cases of undesirable owners leaving simply
for greener pastures with fans or DC itself not being the factor.
The team itself struggled mightily in the last 40 years of its
existence, and only finished over .500 once; however, looking at the
team's attendance based on the formula of fans-per-victory, the
Senators were one of the best supported clubs in major league history."
What the VoB failed to include was the fact that the Homestead Grays,
the Senator's Negro League contemporary in DC, consistently posted some
of the highest attendance numbers in the league, often outdrawing major
league teams. They also failed to include the fact that the DC
metro area now boasts 2 of the top 10 highest income counties in the
US; only the entire state of California has more in the top 10.
This was not true back in the 1960's and 1970's when the DC teams were
moved. A loyal and passionate fan base with lots of money to
spend... nah, no sports organization really wants that, do they?
It's pretty clear that Major League Baseball feels that using
Washington DC as a bargaining chip for extortion is more profitable
than actually putting a team there. But now that 60% of the teams
in baseball have stadiums that are 15 years or younger, and another 20%
have irreplaceable stadiums - landmarks like Wrigley Field, Yankee
Stadium, etc. - that may not be a viable bargaining chip. Most of
the local MLB populations are still paying off their current stadium
debt; it's unlikely they will willingly assume more.
Perhaps what the owners are really concerned about with the possibility
of the Expos in DC is that if they allow a talented and well-stocked
young organization to combine with an enormous infusion of cash, they
will end up
with an NL version of the Yankees. Given that the focus of the
last Collective Bargaining Agreement was to reign in the profligate
spending of the Yankees, having another
money-driven dynasty is perhaps the last thing Bud Selig and Major
League Baseball wants. And this dog and pony show that they are
putting on this summer has been the only way they've figured out how to