*Disclaimer: This exercise is entirely hypothetical. I’m not suggesting a mass-relocation of teams should be done or is even remotely feasible. This was merely to appease my own curiosity.
When news broke that the St Louis Rams were moving back to Los Angeles and the San Diego Chargers may soon follow suit, it raised questions of why are they moving, and specifically why are they moving to Los Angeles. The short answer is that LA has a much larger population and thus would be better suited to support an NFL team than virtually any US city, let alone St Louis or San Diego. Going from zero teams to two may seem like a bit of an over-correction, but LA is so much larger than every US city save New York (who hosts multiple teams in all four leagues) that it makes sense that they may host two teams from the NFL (more precisely, they should only be adding one team to their metro-area. More on that later).
I was curious whether or not all of the 122 major pro sports teams (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) in the US and Canada are properly distributed, so I did some analysis based on metro-area populations (according to Nielsen as of early 2015) and discovered that the teams are distributed quite well according to population, but there are a few exceptions. First, let’s run through the numbers:
- 48 different metro-areas have at least 1 team (41 US, 7 Canada)
- 31 different metro-areas have at least 2 teams (30 US, 1 Canada)
- The largest metro-area without any teams is Hartford & New Haven, CT (the Whalers never should have left!), which sees 16 smaller metro-areas with teams, five of which (Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Buffalo) have two teams.
- The smallest multi-team metro-area is Buffalo at just under 1.6 million people. The smallest US metro-area with a team is Green Bay-Appleton (1.1 million) and the smallest in Canada is Winnipeg (just over 1 million).
- 33 teams would need to be re-located to efficiently distribute them across the metro-areas.
- The Bay Area (SF/Oakland/SJ) loses the most teams (from 6 down to 3).
- The smallest metro-area to become a multi-team market is Sacramento.
- 75 metro-areas would have at least one team.
The full chart shows more detail, including population and which teams move where. Here is a quick-glance summary of changes:
|Rank||US Rank||Can. Rank||Metro-area||State/Prov||Total||Should have|
|7||6||San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose||CA||6||3|
|9||8||Washington, DC (Hagrstwn)||DC||4||3|
|33||30||Hartford & New Haven||CT||0||1|
|37||34||Salt Lake City||UT||1||1|
|41||38||West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce||FL||0||1|
|47||43||Birmingham (Ann and Tusc)||AL||0||1|
|63||56||Little Rock-Pine Bluff||AR||0||1|
|66||59||Mobile-Pensacola (Ft. Walt)||AL/FL||0||1|
|78||70||Tuscon Sierra Vista||AZ||0||0|
To determine which teams change locations, I tried to apply at least one of the following criterion to each team:
- Shortest possible distance of move
- Move the metro-area’s least popular/newest team(s)
- Add the likely most-popular sport to the recipient metro-area
Towards the bottom of the list I ran out of teams to match these criteria effectively, so had to just randomly assign to complete the moves.
It may seem like some of these metro-areas are too small to successfully host a team, but I’d argue that an area that only has one team will rally that much harder behind them, especially when the team is successful (see: Green Bay). It is easy for an unsuccessful team in a multi-team area to be forgotten, but when the team is the only show in town they’re not going to be ignored.
There were several surprising discoveries from this exercise:
- The Bay Area has way too many teams. They’re close to being large enough to host four, but six is really excessive for their population.
- Flint, MI is the largest metro-area that would not get a team.
- Montreal is nearly large enough to host 3 teams; currently has just one.
- Hartford really should have a team; they’re almost big enough to justify two teams.
- Green Bay would be the smallest metro-area with a team. The Packers can stay!
- The current distribution has about 201 million people in metro-areas with a team, with an average of 1.819 million people per team. The hypothetical distribution has about 245 million people in metro-areas with a team, with an average of 1.968 million people per team. The hypothetical gets not only more people living in a pro sports town, but also gets more people per team in these locations.
Please feel free to pose questions and suggest changes to which teams re-locate and where they should go.