Real estate guys are the MVPs

BRAND NEW So Fi Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers will be surrounded by residential and commercial development (SoFI LP).

How does and why does one city or metropolitan area get a major big sports franchise, another one does not?  Why did Los Angeles – the second-largest city and market in the nation – have to wait decades to get an NFL franchise?

How is it that San Antonio, for instance, has the seventh-largest population and no NFL, MLB or NHL franchises? By contrast, Denver (19th) has all four big league teams. How about Las Vegas, in 27th place, people-wise, with teams in the NFL and NHL?

This is an especially interesting topic at a time when – sort of behind the scenes – the powers that be in baseball and perhaps others are looking at expansion.

Of course, population trends and the tremendous growth of sports broadcasting have been influential. But the biggest bat in this game belongs to real estate developers like Arte Moreno and Stan Kroenke.

In the “old” days, big league sports teams typically played in stadiums and arenas that were owned and operated by municipalities. The Rams played in the Coliseum (owned by the City of Los Angeles), the Lakers in the Sports Arena (City of L.A.) and the Angels at Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium, and now owned by Moreno’s development company).

The money that a team made was a combination of ticket revenue, concessions, and broadcast revenue. But the recent trend is for real estate developers to think bigger and build (or buy) a stadium) and then develop a vast mixed-use project that includes restaurants, bars, housing, commercial space, etc. In the long run, that approach has the potential to make Cracker Jack money seem like, well, peanuts.

We most recently saw that play out in the sale of Angel stadium to Moreno. The vast parking area girdling the stadium used to sit more or less vacant for two-thirds of the year; now, all that acreage can be turned into gold.

Now, when decisions are made about who goes where, the ability of a billionaire land baron to build his own Taj Mahal of a stadium, surrounded by a duchy of cash, is a major influence. Of course, there are other factors including freeway or mass transit access, weather and socioeconomic status, not just of the city but also of the suburban area.

Being openly discussed is the expansion of MLB by two more teams to bring the total to 32. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. The two Florida teams – Marlins and Rays – are struggling financially and in other ways, so some markets which don’t have a team might get a transfer.

So here’s a wild guess as to the new teams (or new homes), your local wealthy developer willing.

  • Nashville: A fast-growing area with a lively entertainment scene.
  • Montreal: Yeah, we know the old Expos (now the Washington Nationals) were not a big success, but times have changed and Canada has a great baseball tradition, hockey not withstanding.
  • San Antonio: A big and growing area that may someday be larger than Houston or Dallas.
  • San Jose: Just move the A’s down the freeway. Has more people than Oakland or San Francisco and is located in the wealthy and influential Silicon Valley.

These are just guesses. Which cities are on tap for franchises in baseball? Comment below and let us know.

“Wild World of Sports” appears on Mondays.

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