It's become a cliché. Where will the Expos play next year?
To help our friends in the commissioner's office make their decision, we surveyed 10 cities/metropolitan areas -- Washington, D.C.; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Monterrey, Mexico; Montreal; North Jersey; Orlando; Portland; Sacramento; and San Juan, Puerto Rico -- and ranked them 1-10 on the following criteria: population, population growth 1990-2000, estimated attendance, TV households, median household income, baseball history, Fortune 500 companies and other professional sports teams.
Estimated attendance is based on the average attendance as a percentage of population for the last five years of each major-league team. Markets were broken down into extra large (over 9 million), large (5-9 million), medium (3-5 million) and small (3 million or less). The percentage of the corresponding market sizes was applied to the markets below. A city gets 10 points for first place, nine for second, etc.
1. Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia
Score: 64. Washington, D.C. jumped onto baseball's radar screen when Bud Selig followed his disastrous performance at the congressional hearings on contraction by suggesting Washington as the leading contender for relocation. Yes, the market has lost two major-league franchises. But a lot has changed since the Senators left for Arlington, Texas, to become the Texas Rangers. The suburbs in both Maryland and Virginia have flourished and have one of the highest per-capita incomes in the nation. But with the population of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area divided evenly, can a team in D.C. thrive without doing lasting damage to the Orioles?
Strengths: The Expos are a National League team, so the saying "First in war, first in peace and last in the American League" wouldn't apply. Washington came in first in population, estimated attendance, median household income and baseball history and is the largest media market in the country without a Major League Baseball franchise. Michael Jordan's departure leaves a lot of unspent leisure dollars. RFK Stadium is serviceable, though not a permanent solution. A team in the nation's capital could bring the commissioner goodwill in any future congressional hearings.
Weaknesses: Lost two franchises. Possible territorial rights lawsuit from Orioles owner Peter Angelos.
Survey says: You can bet Walter Johnson's World Series ring that this will be the Expos' new home.
2. North Jersey
Score: 55. On the one hand, Jerseyites live to get out of New York's shadow. On the other hand, half of their professional sports teams have New York in their names.
Strengths: Part of the New York media market, Jersey leads in TV households and Fortune 500 companies -- the only location after D.C. to lead in more than one category. Cablevision could use some additional programming to compete against the YES Network.
Weaknesses: No one has shown much interest. Guaranteed court battles from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Mets owner Fred Wilpon.
Survey says: Three teams once co-existed peacefully in New York, but it won't happen again.
Score: 52. Montreal is the only city on this list to have a major-league team for the past 35 seasons, which counts for something. Twenty years ago, this town was in love with the team, averaging nearly 2.3 million in attendance from 1979-1983 (leaving out the 1981 strike season). And they were learning to love the Expos again before the 1994 strike finished off the best team the city had seen.
Strengths: Montreal finishes second in baseball history, population and estimated attendance and third in TV households. The Canadian dollar has gained more than 10 percent this year. And a recent Globe and Mail article credited an influx of immigrants to Montreal's booming economy.
Weaknesses: The combination of a steady departure of quality players, the 1994 strike, and constant talk about moving the team have pretty well killed off the fan base. How many more years can the Quebecois be expected to take this?
Survey says: There are a lot worse locations for a ballclub -- and only two better.
4. Portland, Ore.
Score: 50. In the early 20th century, Portland hosted two minor-league teams. Portland has the history, population and income to warrant consideration, although it places no higher than third in any category. Mayor Vera Katz's aggressiveness made Portland a contender when it wasn't even on baseball's map two years ago.
Strengths: Portland is the largest city in the U.S. with only one major sports franchise, the "Jail Blazers" to the locals. After a disastrous first season in their return to the Pacific Coast League, the Beavers have become one of the better-run minor-league operations.
Weaknesses: The technology dependent economy has ranked dead last in the nation in growth for three consecutive years, leaving the state and local governments with little money for necessities, let alone luxuries like a major-league park. Phil Knight is the only local resident capable of owning a team outright -- and he has shown no interest. Paul Allen has an economic interest in the area, but his net worth is down to a relatively paltry $20 billion and he, like Knight, has shown little interest in owning a baseball team.
Survey says: Mayor Katz got baseball's attention, making Portland a serious candidate 5-10 years from now.
5. Monterrey, Mexico
Score: 45. A late entry in the Expos sweepstakes. San Diego Padres owner John Moores says baseball will probably be in Mexico City and Havana within 25 years. But Monterrey makes more sense. The undisputed winner of NAFTA, Monterrey is the industrial center of Mexico. The area is growing at an incredible 25 percent a year. And 98 percent of the adult population is employed. Monterrey hosted major-league games in 1996 and 1999. During the Rockies-Padres 1999 season opener, fans were actually wandering onto the field and into the dugout during the game -- which would make the White Sox feel at home, if not the Expos.
Strengths: Median household income is nearly double the Mexican average. Monterrey is home to Mexican operations of eight U.S. Fortune 500 companies and boasts four local companies large enough to qualify.
Weaknesses: Median household income is about 65 percent of U.S. average. Third smallest TV market on the list.
Survey says: If baseball wants a Latin American beachhead, this is the place. But it ain't happening yet.
6. Orlando, Fla.
Score: 43. Does this state really need a third team?
Strengths: Second fastest growing major city in the U.S. Only one major sports franchise.
Weaknesses: Lowest per-capita income of the U.S. cities; the Double-A Rays draw just over 2,100 a game. No shortage of entertainment choices.
Survey says: Could serve as sanctuary for the Devil Rays or Marlins.
Score: 38. There are no Fortune 500 companies in Sacramento, but California has more than $69 billion in projected state revenues this fiscal year, which would place the state at No. 9 on the Fortune 500, between IBM and AIG.
Strengths: Ranks fifth in TV households. Like Portland and Orlando, has only one major professional sports team.
Weaknesses: Are you kidding? This state is such an economic mess the governor is facing a recall. No one is going to suggest building a major-league park for the capital city as a way out of their $38 billion deficit.
Survey says: Like Orlando, would best serve a team already in the state looking for a greener playing field -- like the A's.
8. Las Vegas
Score: 37. It's a family place now. Las Vegas' population grew an astonishing 83 percent from 1990-2000. And it continues to grow at more than five percent a year. Vice is relatively elastic, leaving Vegas pretty much immune to normal economic swings. Sure, ballparks have ads for state lotteries and the local riverboats or tribal casinos. But the National Pastime is as likely to align itself with America's other pastime as Vegas is of shutting down the casinos just to land a ballclub.
Strengths: At its current rate, Vegas will have more than 2.5 million people by 2010, making it larger than Kansas City, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay and comparable in size to Denver. Unless you count UNLV basketball, there is no professional sports competition.
Weaknesses: Check with Pete Rose.
Survey says: The casinos make all professional sports leagues skittish.
Score: 36. Indianapolis had one major-league team -- the Hoosiers were the 1914 Federal League champions. Indianapolis has displayed little interest in rejoining the majors since then and seems happy with the Triple-A Indians.
Strengths: Home to one of the strongest business sectors in the country, pharmaceuticals, Indianapolis has a solid economic base. With at least one professional baseball team every year since 1901, Indy ranks fourth in baseball history. Has a beautiful new downtown ballpark. Comparable to Milwaukee.
Weaknesses: A basketball-crazy state. Has seen a slight decline in population since the 2000 census. Comparable to Milwaukee.
Survey says: A solid economic base doesn't equal a growing economic base. Baseball has all the small markets it needs.
10. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Score: 30. San Juan makes the list because it's hosting 22 Expos games this season.
Strengths: The city is averaging over 16,000 people a game so far this year, more than Montreal, Tampa Bay and Florida. Has a rich history of producing players, but its history of organized baseball is two years in the minors and a partial season of the Expos.
Weaknesses: Population grew at less than eight percent in the '90s. Has the lowest household income of the 10 cities -- just over half of Monterrey's.
Survey says: With a median household income of $14,412, Puerto Rico lacks the resources to support a team over a full season.
Groups in Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Portland are seeking the Expos. Monterrey and San Juan say they'd like to have the Expos for all 81 home games next year. Baseball has told prospective buyers that it doesn't want to move or sell the Expos until financing for a new ballpark is solidly in place, which none of these cities has yet. Major League Baseball was supposed to announce the status of the Expos during the All-Star break, although that decision was delayed until the end of September. But don't bet your Youppi! bobblehead on that timetable either.
David Hallstrom lives in Chicago. He served as Assistant Deputy Director for Economic Development for Illinois for eight years and authored economic impact reports for Comiskey Park and the Kane County Cougars.