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Major League Baseball expansion proposal

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An open letter to MLB owners in support to expand, realign the divisions, and add an additional team to the play-offs.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Major League Baseball Owners,

Laid out in this proposal is a well-thought out plan that continues the expansion of our well-beloved game. Contrary to popular belief, our sport is not dying. Revenue continues to increase in the sport. Franchises have been able to negotiate new media agreements, the league has pursued investments in daily fantasy to engage fans, and revenue sharing has been a success in help create parity in competition. This past World Series had the highest television ratings since 2009, featuring a small-market team in the Kansas City Royals, and the second team in our largest market, the New York Mets.

It is time to seriously consider expansion and add two additional teams to Major League Baseball. Outlined below, are several, targeted markets that I believe can support a MLB franchise, the impact of divisional structure by having 32 teams, and a new play-off format.

New Markets

Montreal

Montreal Proposed Stadium

Stadium designed by Provencher_Roy

The exhibition games taking place at Olympic Stadium have been a rousing success. A grass roots effort is currently taking place called the Montreal Baseball Project. If you visit their website (www.montrealbaseballproject.com), you'll notice that they have already done the necessary research and heavy lifting on why MLB should return to Montreal. Engaging with the firm, Ernst & Young, they concluded that a professional baseball team can be financially viable under the following circumstances (Source):

  • A new baseball facility that is similar to Target Field in Minneapolis, that would average 28,500 fans per game (would have ranked 20th attendance-wise in 2015).
  • The facility would seat 36,000 fans with 60 luxury boxes that would be located in downtown Montreal and connected with public transit.
  • A concern has always been the strength of the Canadian Dollar. In recent years, the economy with a our neighbors to the north is growing. 81% of the corporations in Quebec support a return of professional baseball, with almost a quarter of them (24%) willing to buy seat licenses.

An expansion team in Montreal would be placed in the National League East division, which the layout of that division is documented later in this proposal. The challenge would be to pick a second market expansion that would reside in the American League. Below are three markets, located in the western half of the United States and Canada, that MLB should consider.

Portland

Portland proposed stadium

Ballpark Design and Area Development Concept by Fosler Portland Architecture

The metro area of Portland is 2.2 million people. While the city is a hipster's heaven, it has grown a great deal economically. Dubbed "Silicon Forest", numerous computer and electronics firms have taken up home. Sparking the second-largest export market in the country. Income tax rate is 9% and the sales tax rate is 0%.

Currently, a large lot that neighbors the Rose Garden Arena, home of the Portland Trail Blazers, is currently Portland Public School Site, as the PPS owns a large office and warehouse facility that occupies most of the property. However, the PPS has requested a move to accommodate a new facility, making the lot open for a new baseball stadium. Perhaps an attractive proposition for Paul Allen, who owns several professional sports franchises, to develop the area to promote both the Trail Blazers (who he owns) and a MLB franchise.

The largest sticking point expanding to Portland would be local government. Current Mayor Charlie Hales, despite earlier reports, has not made it a priority for his office to attract a new franchise and support building a new baseball stadium in Portland.

Texas

MLB can pick between Austin, one of the fastest growing markets in America, or San Antonio, a population of 4 million, as the third franchise in Texas.

In Austin, with no previous support for professional athletics, it is hard to judge how well the city would do if awarded a MLB franchise. What gives this market hope is a booming economy and host of several major festivals. South by SouthWest, Formula 1, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival have contributed $1.4 billion dollars to the economy. The city has also focused on attracting the technology sector and life-science jobs to ease impact of the oil economy, if prices remain low.

In San Antonio, a vast Hispanic market is available. 54.7% of the population is Hispanic, which would allow MLB to continue efforts to attract that demographic. City have a very serious interest in adding an additional professional sports team to its NBA franchise, the San Antonio Spurs. Concern is that the city is more interested in adding a NFL team than a MLB team. If the NFL remains persistent in adding a franchise in LA before relocating to San Antonio, this could be a great opportunity.

Las Vegas

By far the most controversial choice. Starters, could baseball put aside its staunch stance against gambling have a franchise in Las Vegas?

If so, then the league has an opportunity to tap into a market of 2 million residents and an additional 40 million visitors a year. A pro team would greatly benefit from that 40 million number, as it would rank with New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles as the most visited ballparks by opposing fans.

Biggest issue would if the local community would be able to support the franchise with 28,000 to 30,000 fans a night? Plenty of tourists can fill the seats, but the franchise see a die-hard following like other teams in MLB? Out of the four suggestions, I would not recommend launching a franchise in Las Vegas, despite the economical support it would receive.

Divisional Realignment / Play-Off Expansion

Any of the four proposed markets are strong enough home for a new MLB franchise, along with Montreal. It is assumed the new franchise will be named the "Expos" in Montreal, and will reside in the National League to reconnect the franchise with previous rivals (New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies), and create a similar rivalry seen in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, as it is suggested the Expos are in the same division as the Washington Nationals.

The other expansion franchise would be home in the American League. With 32 teams, it is uneven to continue the three division format in both the American and National League's. Instead, I recommend going back to the two division format, last used in 1993.

As we saw this year, the three best teams in MLB were in the National League Central with the St. Louis Cardinals (100 wins), Pittsburgh Pirates (98 wins), and the Chicago Cubs (97 wins). With the current play-off format of five teams, the Pirates and Cubs, despite their enormous regular season success, had to play a single elimination play-off game. The game is more intended to what we saw in the American League, with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees as divisional runner-ups facing each other. League cannot risk having future Wild Card game pairings like we saw in the National League.

To eliminate that, the league needs to reduce the amount of divisional winners to two for each league: American League East and West; National League East and West. Geographically based with intention of keeping certain rivalries together. In Chicago, the Cubs would be paired with the St. Louis Cardinals as part of the National League West. White Sox would be in the American League East paired with Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

Adding the Montreal Expos, and the second franchise in the American League West, this is how the divisions would be reassigned:

East Divisions

American League East National League East
New York Yankees New York Mets
Toronto Blue Jays Montreal Expos
Cleveland Indians Miami Marlins
Baltimore Orioles Atlanta Braves
Tampa Bay Rays Cincinnati Reds
Boston Red Sox Philadelphia Phillies
Detroit Tigers Washington Nationals
Chicago White Sox Pittsburgh Pirates

West Divisions

American League West National League West
Kansas City Royals St. Louis Cardinals
Texas Rangers Chicago Cubs
Houston Astros Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Angels San Francisco Giants
Minnesota Twins San Diego Padres
Seattle Mariners Colorado Rockies
Oakland Athletics Milwaukee Brewers
New Franchise Arizona Diamondbacks

New Play-off Format

With the new divisional format, games will be sorted as follows:

  • 14 games against each divisional opponent (7 teams * 14 games = 98 games)
  • 6 games against same league, opposite divisional opponent (8 teams * 6 games = 48 games)
  • 16 Inter-league games, for a total of 162 games played.

With the expansion to 32 teams, a proposed new play-off format would allow a sixth team. Each divisional winner would receive home-field advantage in the divisional series (seeded as #1 and #2). Seeds 3-6 would be four wild card teams with the best records regardless of division. Those four teams will face each other in a three-game, Wild Card series. In which all games will be played on the home field of seeds 3 and 4. The 5 seed will play at 4 seed, and 6 seed will play at 3 seed.


Using the 2015 records, this is how the 6-team play-off would look like:

National League - Wild Card Round
#6 San Francisco Giants at #3 Chicago Cubs (all games played at Wrigley Field)
#5 New York Mets at #4 Los Angeles Dodgers (all games played at Dodger Stadium)

American League - Wild Card Round
#6 Los Angeles Angels at #3 Texas Rangers (all games played at Globe Life Park)
#5 Houston Astros at #4 New York Yankees (all games played at Yankee Stadium)

The Divisional Round will be 5 games (2-2-1 format). The League Championship and World Series will remain 7 games (2-3-2 format).

In conclusion, the sport is in a great spot as is. Not necessary to expand into new markets, but hard to ignore the possibilities of the positive impact of expansion. While the economic boost will be felt by all franchise with revenue sharing, it would also serve as a way to fix the current play-off format, which is far from perfect and continues to run a risk of ignoring the success of performing well for 162 games, just to be pitted in a one game play-off to advance. Thank you for your consideration and time reviewing this proposal.

Sincerely,

Josh Nelson