The MLB’s newish commissioner, Rob Manfred, who took the post a little over a year ago, said in a press conference last month that he’s entertaining the idea of expanding the MLB from 30 to 32 teams, adding two in both leagues. Manfred said that expansion isn’t an “immediate issue,” but it seems that it’s only matter of when—Five years? Ten years?—and, more importantly, where. Bringing the sport into newer markets, potentially reorganizing its infrastructure for easier travel, and increasing revenue can only help the MLB as it edges on $10 billion in annual revenue. League expansion inevitable, but the where is how things get interesting.
Now, let the speculation begin. After Manfred’s press conference, Fox Sports asked experts to speculate which teams would be likely contenders for the two new clubs. Second on that list, behind Montreal, is Austin. The piece cites a growing tech industry, flourishing population, and high per capita income as attractive traits that could lure a team to the city. Austin has long been the most populous city in America without a major professional sports team to call its own. Sure, Texas Longhorns athletics acts as a de facto pro sports franchise, but that isn’t quite the same. The city seems prime and long overdue for professional sports.
But a study conducted by the American City Business Journals that determines the viability of sports franchises in metropolitan areas claims that Austin has the economic capacity to comfortably support a team in every major sports league except baseball. Another downside: Austin’s media market isn’t robust. With a television market ranked at 39 by Nielsen, a potential Austin team would have the worst media market in professional baseball. But even with poor TV rankings, analysis from baseball blog Hardball Times shows that the Round Rock Express, the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, have had the highest or second highest attendance numbers in their league. A major league ball club would have to bring in about five times the Express’s 2015 average attendance of 8,623 to sit comfortably, but Round Rock’s numbers show demand and interest.
If a baseball team doesn’t head to Austin, there’s another candidate just down the highway. San Antonio is already home to a MLB event, Big League Weekend at the Alamodome, and to one major sports franchise (perhaps you’ve heard of the San Antonio Spurs?). The Spurs are a great example of a small market team finding both financial and competitive success. San Antonio’s television market is currently only ranked even spots ahead of Austin’s at 32, and its metropolitan area is more populous. But Austin’s metro area has a slightly better average household income than San Antonio’s.
It’s still quite early in the game, but the prospects of big league baseball in Texas’s capital are exciting and believable. Sure, there are still hurdles, like the cities similar to Austin and tax payer dollars, but it might behoove the city to be ready with a name when the MLB is ready to expand. How’s Austin Inventors of the Breakfast Taco or Austin White Hipsters sound? Texas Governors? Meh. We have time.