The Triangle's population is in line with established MLB markets and growing faster
Did you know that the Triangle’s population is in line with MLB markets such as Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh (all of which have MLB teams)?
If you didn’t, you’re not alone.
Measuring the Triangle’s population in comparison with other metro areas that support MLB teams sounds like it’d be an easy task. However, thanks to some strange decisions made back in the early 2000s, it’s actually quite complicated.
Prior to 2000, the area’s growth and population were being measured using what was called the Raleigh-Durham MSA. The MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is a common data point that cities use to measure population and density within a region’s commuter-belt.
Because of the Triangle’s unique layout where 3 key population centers fall within one commuter-belt (and are less than 25 miles apart), a combined MSA made sense.
It gave a true snapshot of the population radius of the area and gave a good idea of the areas ability to support things that would draw from the surrounding area (like professional sports).
In 2000, the census strangely decided to split Raleigh and Durham’s MSA. During that same time period, the city of Durham was pushing for a split in the name, giving them the ability to brand themselves independent of Raleigh. A push that eventually won out.
That decision created a situation where you now had the census reporting the Triangle area as two smaller cities. This dropped the region off of many lists and rankings that had them approaching major metro status. To this day, the census discrepancy continues to exist.
So how do you get a true idea of how the Triangle would rank against other regions in total population?
Well, MSA isn’t going to be accurate anymore. However, the census has another statistic that actually works well in the scenario. The CSA (Combined Statistical Area).
According to the latest numbers, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill CSA has a total population of 2,199,459 (covering 5,510 square miles).
Now here is why the comparisons get a bit complicated; you can’t just look at a list of current MLB regions and rank them using the CSA population stats because, in the majority of cases, those are used for much more sprawling areas and can cover up to 10,000 square miles.
In the Triangle’s case, the CSA is covering the amount square mileage (5,510) that many MSAs cover.
In an attempt to get a true comparison, we looked at every MLB region’s MSA and CSA numbers and focused on how many square miles they covered. We used whichever statistic was closer to The Triangle CSA’s square mileage. This gave us as close to an accurate a population radius as we could get (to show viability based on density).
What we found was what we expected. The Triangle’s density is on par with a number of established MLB markets and growing faster than all of them.
The Triangle’s population of 2,199,945 comes in ahead of Kansas City’s metro area population of 2,126,945 (covering 7,256 sq. miles) and the Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha, WI CSA which has a population of 2,048,007.(covering 3,775 sq miles).
**note that Milwaukee led the MLB in games attended per capita and finished 10th overall in attendance in 2018.
The Triangle is also is hot on the heels of Cincinnati whose area CSA population is at 2,241,626 (covering 4,814.5 sq. miles) and Pittsburgh’s metro area whose population is at 2,333,367 and declining (covering 5,281 sq. miles).
All of the listed cities have established MLB franchises and all four found themselves in the top 8 for attendance per capita in 2017.
If that isn’t enough, according to Forbes, only three other metro areas grew faster (population growth %) than the Raleigh metro area in 2017, and only three other metro areas were projected to grow faster in 2018. These numbers show that the trajectory of Raleigh’s growth isn’t slowing down. In fact, since 2010 only Austin, TX has grown faster than the Raleigh metro area.
The point is, a Raleigh anchored team in this region is already feasible based on the current population/density numbers and we just so happen to be growing faster than any other MLB market.
**All statistics based on Census.gov’s latest ACS (American Community Survey) numbers from 2017.
The Raleigh/Durham TV market is the #1 largest in the nation without a locally or regionally broadcasted MLB team, ranking 25th overall
One of the primary reasons that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred will be looking at North Carolina when it’s time to expand is the fact that the closest teams are The Washington Nationals to the North, and Atlanta Braves to South.
Actually, it isn’t just distance that is keeping Triangle residents from watching baseball. It’s also the fact that they don’t have a local MLB broadcast, (both the Orioles and Nationals are blacked out here due to territory disagreements with cable providers and the Braves coverage doesn’t extend this far east).
Statistically, Raleigh/Durham has the largest TV market in the USA without a locally or regionally broadcasted MLB team. While there are three cities ahead in these rankings that do not have MLB teams in their city, they are all close enough to teams that they are included in the regional broadcasts..
If you’re wondering if Raleigh’s TV market could support an MLB team based on size, it can. As it stands currently, Raleigh/Durham’s TV market is already larger than the markets of Baltimore, San Diego, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati, all of which are markets that support MLB teams.
Raleigh is the #1 richest metro area in the continental United States without an MLB team within 100 miles
The Raleigh metro area has a median household income of $71,685 with 8% of households making over $200,000. The area also boasts an outstanding rate of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, coming in at 47.2%.
These number may not be surprising when you consider the fact that some of the nation’s most prestigious universities (Duke, UNC, and NC State) are located within 30 miles of Raleigh.
These factors have Raleigh ranked as the 25th wealthiest metro area in the United States, and when you map those out, it’s the richest in the lower 48 states that does not have an MLB team within 100 miles. (based on median household income, adults with bachelor’s degrees, unemployment rate and households earning over $200,000.)
Why is this statistic important?
Well, MLB viability is based on population, TV market, corporate sponsorship opportunities, and how much money an area’s residents bring in. This stat shows you that people in the Triangle not only have a lot of disposable income but that Major League Baseball currently doesn’t have a way to tap into that. A Raleigh based team would certainly change that.
An MLB team would have very little regular season overlap with other major sports teams in the Triangle
With a Top-25 TV market, Raleigh-Durham is in a unique spot when it comes to sports. They have some of the best college basketball in the country, and North Carolinians love their football, but in Raleigh, the only competing pro sports team would be the Carolina Hurricanes.
ACC college basketball goes from November to March. ACC college football regular season goes from the last day of August to December, with meaningful games not usually getting started until mid-September. Then there is hockey. The NHL regular season goes from October to early April.
Baseball season starts in early April and goes through October. This would mean baseball regular season would really only overlap with College football in September and overlap with the hockey regular season for a few days in April.
**There would be about another total month overlap if teams were to make post-season
It’s rare that a metro with a Top-25 TV market and a population base this large would have a 6-month major sports gap from April to September. This would bode well for TV ratings and ticket sales, keeping fan’s attention and financials-focused on the baseball team for a majority of the summer.
MLB in Raleigh would generate more tax revenue for the city than any other pro-sport (and it's not even close)
Population numbers, TV market size, and area income stats are all important when you’re talking about viability for professional sports in a city. But that is just one side of the coin.
The other thing that needs to be weighed is whether or not a new stadium and a professional franchise are financial ‘net-positives’ for the city.
Baseball nay-sayers like to mention the fact that attendance for the sport was down a few percentages the last season. They like to talk about how football is the new ‘America’s pastime’ or how soccer is the fastest growing sports in the country.
Sure, Football is doing fine and soccer is growing, but those comments hold a lot less water when you put everything in context. In fact, no major sport in America brings more fans per season to the stadium than Major League Baseball (and it’s not even close).
You’ll see that NFL is far and away averaging the most fans per game, but look who comes in 2nd on that list. It’s Major League Baseball at over 28k per game. Then there’s almost a 7,000 fan per game buffer before you get to MLS, who is respectably filling up the stands as well.
The per-game attendance numbers are popular and easy to find in the media. MLS uses this number a lot to show that their sport is gaining popularity. NFL uses these numbers to try to prove utter dominance in the American sports landscape. However, this stat doesn’t tell you the full story.
To understand just how popular a sport is and how much of an impact a franchise would have on a city, you have to pair it with the number of home games that team would play per-season.
What you find is that MLB far and away has the most home games with 81. NBA and NHL are next with 41 a piece, then there is MLS with only 17 and NFL with a measily 8.
What should jump out at you here is that two of the top-3 sports in per-game attendance are in the cellar (MLS & NFL) when it comes to ‘number of home games.’ Meanwhile, MLB sits at the top with 81, leading every other sport by a massive margin.
It means that MLB sustains higher attendance numbers for much longer than any other sport. In fact, when projected out to a full season, an MLB team, on average, accounts for 2,332,314 fans at home games per-season. After that NBA and NHL drop to just over 700k, NFL comes in at 547,200 and MLS check in with only 371,841 fans at home games per-season.
These numbers are staggering from a city’s perspective. For them, a professional franchise and a new stadium is an investment. The payoff is the increase in tourism and the generation of tax dollars. These stats show you that MLB is, by far, the golden goose of pro sports for a city.
2,332,314 people paying for tickets, a good portion of them staying in hotels (thanks to baseballs 3-game series set-up), eating dinner and getting drinks downtown. All of these things would be bringing in tax revenue that our city currently is missing out on.
If Raleigh wants bang for its buck from a professional sports franchise, then they need to be all in on Major League Baseball in this coming round of expansion and relocation
Fans of small market teams go to more games and spend more money on their teams than fans of large market teams
There is no denying that Raleigh would be considered a small market team (at least for the first 10-years). However, data suggests that it is actually a good thing when it comes to viability and sustainability.
The teams playing in the 5 TV markets smaller than Raleigh/Durham all find themselves in the Top 10 in ‘MLB games attended per capita.’ This means that while they might be smaller markets with lower population, their fans are filling up their stadiums and spending money on their teams.
So what does this mean?
It means you don’t need a massive population to have a successful franchise in Major League Baseball. It shows that smaller market teams are actually getting great support from their communities. For example, as we pointed out, the Milwaukee Brewers don’t rank higher than the Triangle in MSA or CSA numbers, yet they get the best per-capita attendance in Major League Baseball and finished 10th in overall attendance in 2018. For context, the Brewers finished better than Washington, Atlanta, Toronto, Seattle, NY Mets, Arizona, Philadelphia (to name a few) in attendance despite being from a much, much smaller market.