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Major League Baseball will expand from 30 to 32 teams in the coming years. The only uncertainties are when the process will formally begin and when the two new franchises to be named will begin play. 

Commissioner Rob Manfred, who recently announced that he would step down from MLB's most powerful office when his current term expires in January of 2029, recently said the league's two newest entrants probably won't be seeing game action while he's still in office. However, Manfred also told reporters he "would like the process along and [cities] selected."

So let's proceed under the working assumption that we'll know which two cities will be awarded MLB expansion franchises before the current decade is up. As such, it's high time we probe the leading contenders to become MLB's 31st and 32nd clubs. While it's still possible a city not part of the rundown below could emerge as a viable candidate, the guess is that the forthcoming eight destinations are the most realistic contenders. 

Those destinations in alphabetical order are: Charlotte, North Carolina;, Las Vegas (based on the very real possibility that the A's proposed relocation there does not come to pass); Montreal, Canada; Nashville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; Sacramento, California; Salt Lake City; and San Antonio. Five of these cities – Charlotte, Las Vegas, Nashville, Sacramento, and Salt Lake City – are presently home to affiliated Triple-A minor-league franchises. San Antonio has a Double-A team (and there's a Triple-A team not far away in suburban Austin), and the Portland suburb of Hillsboro is home to a High-A club. Montreal, of course, was home to MLB's Expos for decades before owner Jeffrey Loria's calculated efforts to destroy the club and the team's subsequent relocation to Washington, D.C., where they became the Nationals. Each of these locations also has an advocacy organization working to lure an MLB franchise and in some cases a proposed ownership group. 

In addition to the considerations about to be laid out, it's of course necessary that the ownership group in question be willing to hand over an expansion fee that will surely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars (or considerably higher). As well, it's probably a prerequisite that the city/state of relevance be willing to fork over tax dollars and tax abatements toward the construction of a new ballpark. It's part of the grift, you know. 

We'll break down the cities to come in four ways: metro-area population (more relevant and illuminating than city population alone); U.S. media-market rank, where applicable; per-capita gross domestic product, or GDP, for each city; the number of major-sports franchises already in the city; and the closest current MLB franchise to each city. All of these factors will provide some insight into how each market's viability may be perceived by the current guild of MLB owners. 

Now let's get to it. 

Metro-area population

Obviously, this is an important one, as a sizable population base makes it more likely that a team can thrive in terms of attendance and the number of cable/streaming subscriptions they can sell. As well, large-market teams probably don't want another "deep" revenue-sharing recipient on the rolls, and current revenue-sharing recipients probably don't want too much company on the dole. That said, the mega-markets are of course already home to franchises, and there's little appetite for, say, a third team in the New York City metro area. As for revenue-sharing, the structure will be determined by the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, which, barring a lengthy labor stoppage, will be in force by the 2026 season.

So here's how our list of aspiring franchise locations rank in terms of metro-area population. 

  1. Montreal: 4.38 million
  2. Charlotte: 2.76 million
  3. San Antonio: 2.66 million
  4. Portland: 2.51 million
  5. Sacramento: 2.42 million
  6. Las Vegas: 2.32 million 
  7. Nashville: 2.05 million 
  8. Salt Lake City: 1.27 million  

(Source: Statista)

For some context, Milwaukee is the current smallest MLB market with an estimated metro population of 1.56 million. Of our eight contenders, only Salt Lake City comes in under that figure. As for San Antonio, it's fair to give that metro area a "bonus" because of the proximity of the Austin metro area. The respective city centers are just 80 miles away from each other, and the sprawl of each of course comes even closer. Austin has a metro population of 2.42 million,  the same as the Sacramento area, and a team in San Antonio would figure to draw some of that. Or maybe you put a team located strategically between the two metro areas – maybe San Marcos – and tap into some of both. For those reasons, you can probably think of the San Antonio market as the "San Antonio and/or Austin" market. 

Media market rank 

This is always relevant, even under the current, probably dying Regional Sports Network model. It matters for those lucrative national broadcast contracts, and it will of course matter for the eventual direct-to-consumer streaming model to which MLB aspires. Below you'll find each aspiring U.S. location, or "Designated Market Area" (DMA) in Nielsen parlance, ordered by its rank among domestic media markets. 

  1. Sacramento (20th in U.S.)
  2. Charlotte (21st in U.S.)
  3. Portland (23rd in U.S.)
  4. Nashville (26th in U.S.)
  5. Salt Lake City (27th in U.S.)
  6. San Antonio (31st in U.S.) 
  7. Las Vegas (40th in U.S.)

(Source: Nielsen)

Montreal is not rated by Nielsen, as it is of course not a U.S. DMA. As you probably surmised there's not a perfect relationship between metro population and DMA, but there's still some overlap. As such, Montreal would probably be at or near the above ordering of our of eight candidates. As for San Antonio, let's note that Austin is presently ranked as the No. 35 DMA in the U.S. Among current MLB franchises, Milwaukee is the lowest-ranked DMA at No. 38. Cincinnati is 37th. 

Per-capita GDP

To give yourself the best chance of selling tickets and broadcast packages, you want a potential customer base that has plenty of discretionary income. This is increasingly the case for MLB teams, which increasingly target high-income customers as opposed to the rank-and-file (this is one of many unfortunate developments on this front).  

Per-capita GDP is a broad measure of average economic activity per person. The figures below are for the cities themselves as opposed to the metro area and are from 2020. All data are in U.S. dollars and are from Harvard University's Metroverse database

  1. Las Vegas: $61,711
  2. Charlotte: $60,668
  3. Sacramento: $60,006
  4. Nashville: $59,213
  5. San Antonio: $56,756
  6. Portland: $55,518
  7. Salt Lake City: $49,855
  8. Montreal: $48,181

Given that economic activity in 2020 was depressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, you may assume these figures are higher now, but the general trends and spreads may still be relevant. 

Number of major sports franchises 

All of these cities are "major league" in the sense that they are represented by at least one of the "big four" North American sports leagues – the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and MLB. Obviously, no MLB franchises are in play here, but here's a quick rundown of each city's major pro sports teams of note (sorted alphabetically by city).

  • Charlotte: 2 (NBA's Hornets, NFL's Panthers)
  • Las Vegas: 2 (NFL's Raiders, NHL's Golden Knights)
  • Montreal: 1 (NHL's Canadiens)
  • Nashville: 2 (NFL's Titans, NHL's Predators)
  • Portland: 1 (NBA's Trail Blazers)
  • Sacramento: 1 (NBA's Kings)
  • Salt Lake City: 1 (NBA's Jazz)
  • San Antonio: 1 (NBA's Spurs)

For our purposes, the NFL presence is probably the least illuminating, since the league shares a much higher percentage of its overall revenues. As well, each team is tasked with selling tickets to just eight or nine regular-season home games each year as opposed to 81. As for the three cities with more than one big-four franchise already in place, whether you see that as proof of viability or an already crowded market given the population base depends upon your priors, probably. 

Closest MLB city

  • Salt Lake City: 520 miles from Denver
  • Montreal: Roughly 307 miles from Boston and New York City
  • Nashville: 248 miles from Atlanta
  • Charlotte: 226 miles from Atlanta
  • Las Vegas: 225 miles from Los Angeles
  • San Antonio: 197 miles from Houston
  • Portland: 174 miles from Seattle
  • Sacramento: 88 miles from San Francisco

There's nothing wrong with having teams close to one another provided the population base is sizable enough — consider all those tightly clustered eastern-seaboard clubs – but we're not talking about major population centers here. As such, MLB probably prefers a bit of geographic cushion between any new franchise and an existing one. Along similar lines, you're probably looking at one expansion franchise from the east and one from the west. In other words, it seems unlikely that the two expansion teams will be in, say, Charlotte and Nashville.

So where does this leave us? This is the part at which we allow you to draw your own conclusions based on the data above and how you think MLB should prioritize each category. Again, though, much hinges on a city's willingness to provide – let's speak frankly here – corporate welfare for the construction of a new ballpark and how eager they are to abet the new owner's assumed desires for mixed-use development around that ballpark. In other words, there's still much we don't know, but the above can help you put together some "pre-season rankings" for the expansion process if you're so inclined.