If Raleigh gets MLB, what happens to the Durham Bulls?

We fully expect this to be the question on most people’s minds, and rightfully so. We’ll preface by saying, we love the Bulls and believe this can be a win-win for all.

In short, the Bulls aren’t going anywhere.

Within the 218 pages of The Official Professional Baseball Rules Book lies Rule 52; Major and Minor League Territorial Rights. While we’re sure you’d love to dig into the nitty-gritty, here is a brief synopsis and series of events that would happen if Raleigh were to get an MLB franchise.

First order of business, all higher level teams are granted territorial rights. Whether it’s Single-A versus Double-A or MLB versus MiLB, the top tier gets full rights. If Raleigh were to get a franchise, they would have the rights to Wake County and the surrounding territory.

This would then lead to negotiations between the new MLB team and the Durham Bulls as to the amount of compensation the Bulls would receive, based on the effect the new MLB franchise would have on their current working environment. Potential attendance decrease and lower merchandise revenue, among other factors, would lead to what equates to a “damages” payment.

If the two organizations are unable to agree on a price, the debate moves to arbitration. A committee would act as an arbitration jury to declare, as an unbiased party, what the fair payment amount from MLB Raleigh would be.

This wouldn’t be the first time this situation has arisen in baseball, and it’s not a hurdle that should stop the Triangle from actively recruiting Major League Baseball.

The Triangle is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation in terms of both population and income. With expansion still a few years out, by the time the city selection is made, a stadium is built and a team is integrated, this area will be a much different, much more populated place.

In 2016 a study showed that based on projected growth, the Raleigh metro area alone will grow by 72% in 25 years. That doesn’t even include the Durham and Chapel Hill growth projections. So even if you conservatively project just 65% growth for the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill combined statistical area, you come out to 3,629,107. To put that into perspective, Seattle’s metro area today is 3,733,580.

This model is working elsewhere

Speaking of Seattle, their Triple-A franchise lies just under 30 miles away in Tacoma, WA, creating a situation much like the one we’d face in the Triangle if Raleigh were to get an MLB team.

The Tacoma Rainiers were founded in 1960 as the Tacoma Giants and played in the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A). In 1977 the Seattle Mariners joined MLB as an expansion team and set up shop just under 30 miles from Tacoma’s ballpark. In 1980 Seattle’s population was checking in at 493,846 (Raleigh’s current population is 464,758); The two have coexisted with no problems and have done well in attendance rankings over the years.

This past season, the Mariners ranked 14th out of 30 MLB team in attendance (averaging over 28k per game), while the Tacoma Rainiers ranked 30th out of 160 MiLB teams.

Meanwhile, the Durham Bulls remain a Top-10 team year in and year out in MiLB attendance rankings. These numbers suggest, that with our area’s projected growth and their proven popularity, the Bulls could remain in Durham, while Raleigh welcomes a new MLB team.