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Still dreaming about MLB in San Antonio

From The Rivard Report, a grassroots group in the Alamo City is keeping hope alive.

If you’ve been a San Antonio sports fan for any length of time, you’ve heard it. It’s the label that the Alamo City has been saddled with for decades. Whenever the topic of a new sports franchise in San Antonio arises in the national media, the card is played and the discussion moves on without a second thought.

Perhaps this label was appropriate a number of years ago, but San Antonio is a different place. This city’s major sports potential deserves an opportunity to be reevaluated.

Though “small market” is commonly assumed to refer to television markets, population is a gauge that cannot be overlooked. Though its metropolitan area population ranks 25th in the nation, San Antonio is the seventh most populated city (by city limits) in the U.S. Among the top ten on this list, San Antonio is the only city with just one big-four (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) professional sports franchise. In fact, all of the six larger cities have at least three such franchises.

Many critics of this statistic cite the greater metropolitan area rankings that put areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth in high regard. What’s overlooked in this analysis is geographical reach of San Antonio sports. If you include Austin, Corpus Christi, the western range toward Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio becomes one of the largest markets in the country.

Now, the obvious small market argument points to the television market. Though TV ratings typically fail to include the aforementioned geographical reach, they are important to the potential franchise owner. Sure, San Antonio often can be found ranked in the 30-40 range for TV markets.

The group is called MLB In San Antonio; here’s their Facebook page. The main issue, which I have dealt with before, is the relative lack of population in the San Antonio-New Braunfels MSA. I am skeptical of the authors’ attempt to wave their hands at that by invoking Austin, Corpus Christi, and Del Rio in the San Antonio sports market. For an eight-games-a-year NFL schedule, I could buy that; the Texans have season ticket holders who live in San Antonio, though they’re hardly a big slice of their total fan base. For an 81-game MLB slate, however, I have my doubts. If you can show me that a non-trivial number of Spurs tickets are sold to folks from outside the greater SA metro area – not counting fans who travel specifically to see their hometown team on the road – then I might buy this calculation. But it’s always seemed like wishful thinking to me.

The other obstacle is that there currently isn’t a venue that MLB would accept for a team in San Antonio. Sorry, but the Alamodome won’t cut it as anything but a temporary site while the real stadium gets built. The days of stadium-sharing for MLB teams are over. I’m honestly not sure where you’d put a stadium for an MLB team in San Antonio. If you really want to lure Austinites to the games, putting it north on I-35 somewhere is the best bet, but that would make it less convenient for the masses of people who live west on I-10 or south of downtown, such as those Corpus and Del Rio folks. And we haven’t even talked about how such a stadium would be financed.

The main thing these folks have going for them is that there are two teams that could eventually want or need to relocate – the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays. The A’s would be a perfect fit, with the Astros and Rangers as division mates. Putting the Rays in San Antonio would probably mean something like shifting Cleveland to the AL East and putting the new Rays in the Central. Doable, but might require buy-in from Cleveland, since they’d be moving to a more difficult division. If either of those situations starts to heat up, then there could really be something to this. But don’t be surprised if San Antonio is little more than leverage. Having at least one suitable location that wants a franchise but doesn’t have one is always a useful thing for the league. I wish the fans in San Antonio good luck, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

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