Could your city get an MLB expansion team? Breaking down potential top candidates (2024)

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Feb 21, 2024, 07:00 AM ET

Major League Baseball expansion is coming -- it's just a matter of when ... and where.

While the timeline for MLB to go to 32 teams remains a bit murky, commissioner Rob Manfred recently said he hopes to have a process "in place" for the league to expand to 32 teams before he retires in 2029.

There are plenty of candidates to land one of the franchises when the sport does expand, headlined by a pair of cities that have moved to the front of the line. Is your city one of the places that baseball could be eyeing? We asked our MLB reporters to break down the cases for and against the leading options.

Austin/San Antonio (Texas)

City population: 961,855 (Austin); 1,434,625 (San Antonio)
Metro area population: 2,421,115 (Austin); 2,655,342 (San Antonio)
TV market rank: 35 (Austin); 31 (San Antonio)

Most likely nickname: Austin has the largest urban bat population, so The Austin Bats is a strong option, but they would have to share it with the minor league team in Louisville.

Most likely stadium location: According to Austin journalist Bryan Parker, the area east of the city could work. It includes a newer toll road, and it's where Tesla has headquarters as well as where the airport is located.

The case for Austin/San Antonio: Because these two cities are so close in proximity, we'll focus on Austin and San Antonio together for a potential expansion team. With that in mind, the case for Austin isn't a hard one to make. It's one of the largest U.S. markets without an existing NFL, NBA or MLB team -- and it's still growing, recently moving into the top 10 in population. It also has an expanding tech and big company community which includes Apple and Amazon, among many others. Austin FC, a Major League Soccer team that began play in 2021, sold out all 17 of its home games in 2022, providing a test case for professional sports in the area. With San Antonio just 90 minutes from Austin -- even closer if a stadium were to be built north of the city -- the two can potentially combine their reach.

What could stop it from landing a team: Does Matthew McConaughey like baseball? The actor, who has strong ties to the area, helped spearhead the recently built Moody Center where the University of Texas basketball teams now play. A similar commitment could help the concept of Major League Baseball in Austin gain ground, but a local ambassador has yet to emerge.

The biggest obstacle each city faces in getting a team might be the Houston Astros, who play just three-plus hours away and have developed a strong fan base in the region. -- Jesse Rogers

Charlotte, North Carolina

City population: 874,579
Metro area population: 2,756,069
TV market rank: 21

Most likely nickname: The Charlotte MLB Project lists the Charlotte Aviators as a possibility.

Most likely stadium location: There is no clear choice here. Truist Field, the home of the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, sits uptown with a view of the city's skyline but seats just over 10,000 fans and was not built to expand to major league capacity.

The case for Charlotte: The Charlotte metro area is bigger than that of some existing MLB teams, including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Charlotte already has proved it can support multiple professional sports teams -- with an NFL, NBA and MLS team all located in the city -- and that doesn't include the Carolina Hurricanes, who play just over 2.5 hours away in Raleigh. The Knights, who are the Triple-A affiliate of the White Sox, also play in the Queen City's downtown area and ranked 10th in all of the minors in attendance last season.

What could stop it from landing a team: Location. It is extremely unlikely that MLB would add two teams in the same region when it expands, and at the moment, Nashville appears to be at the front of the line to land a team. The Music City has demonstrated more organized interest in bringing an MLB team than Charlotte has, so the Charlotte MLB Project -- a movement to bring baseball to Charlotte -- would have to kick into high gear to close the gap. -- Rogers

Mexico City

City population: 9,209,944
Metro area population: 21,804,515
TV market rank: N/A

Most likely nickname: The Red Devils are a very successful Mexican League team that plays out of the city's biggest ballpark (Alfredo Harp Helu Stadium), and the locals have thrown around the idea of a future MLB team taking that nickname -- though that might not fly given the controversy surrounding the Tampa Bay "Devil Rays' nickname.

Most likely stadium location: Alfredo Harp Helu Stadium, the place that hosted the first regular-season MLB series in Mexico City last year and will do so again this year (the Colorado Rockies and the Houston Astros will play two games there in late April). The ballpark opened just five years ago, but it has a seating capacity of only about 20,000 and would have to expand in order to host major league teams on a regular basis.

The case for Mexico City: It is right up there with Sao Paulo, Brazil, as the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. Mexico City is vibrant and diverse, and the people there love baseball, especially after Mexico's thrilling run through the World Baseball Classic last spring. Tickets for last season's two-game series between the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres -- which marked MLB's first regular-season series in Mexico's capital city -- sold out in less than an hour. The atmosphere at those games was electric.

On Opening Day last season, more than 30% of MLB rosters were composed of Hispanic players. Because of the interest in the sport in Latin America, putting an expansion team in the region makes too much sense -- and having one in Mexico would be far more feasible than having one in Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, for myriad reasons.

What could stop it from landing a team: A lot, unfortunately, the most prominent reason might be the limits on revenue that can be drawn in a country where its currency is exceedingly volatile and the people who live there earn far less than they do in the United States or Canada. Mexico City's reputation for high crime rates -- whether fair or not -- might make it difficult for a team there to attract top-tier free agent talent, as might the fact that the city is located roughly 600 miles south of any U.S. city.

The stadium sits a whopping 7,349 feet above sea level -- more than 2,000 feet higher than even Coors Field -- but a bigger problem might be that it does not have a roof, given the amount of rain that falls on Mexico City in the summer months. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred also said leading up to last year's Mexico City series that he has "never been close to the idea of Mexico as an expansion opportunity." - Alden Gonzalez

Montreal

City population: 1,762,949
Metro area population: 4,291,732
TV market rank: N/A

Most likely nickname: Expos. This is one part of the process that has never been murky in Montreal, where the vibe among the pro-MLB crowd has always been more "bring back the Expos" than "we want an expansion team."

Most likely stadium location: This is very much up in the air. The Peel Basin site that had been floated as a possible stadium location has more recently been targeted for housing development. Oversized and underused Olympic Stadium is set to be renovated, though that appears more for general use than anything Expos-related.

The case for Montreal: After a string of MLB-related disappointments, Montreal needs baseball to make the next first move by launching a formal expansion process. When that happens, we know Montreal can mobilize and do so quickly, perhaps as well as any candidate city. They've pulled together studies, pinpointed stadium sites and created the core of a potential ownership group -- they've even surveyed their fans -- all elusive elements of a bid that have to come together at the right time. All of that legwork was for a now-expired bid, but what hasn't changed is that Montreal remains easily the largest of the leading candidates in market size, a fact that will keep them in the conversation.

"I would look at us as being the most mature of the groups that are out there," said William Jegher, a Montreal-based executive for Ernst & Young who was a key figure in Montreal's most recent push for a team. "When baseball launches a process, then we would examine what that process looks like and then make a decision as to whether it makes sense for us to put forth a bid."

What could stop it from landing a team: The last serious bid to put Montreal forward as an expansion candidate fizzled. The reason for that isn't because of anything the Montreal Baseball Project did wrong but more a matter of timing -- they made a strong case for the city before MLB was really ready to consider the issue. For a couple of years, the bid seemed at least half-successful because of a proposed sister city concept in which Montreal and the Tampa Bay area would have shared the Rays. That notion was ultimately kiboshed by MLB in January, 2022.

After so many disappointments, it may really come down to how much of a thirst for a baseball team remains in a city that, by the time MLB gets the expansion wheels turning, could be a quarter century past the loss of the Expos. In the meantime, it is imperative that those in Montreal still pining for a club keep those fires burning. - Bradford Doolittle

Nashville, Tennessee

City population: 689,447
Metro area population: 2,046,715
TV market rank: 27

Most likely nickname: The Stars (Music City Baseball has branded its pitch around the city's former Negro Leagues team's name) and the Sounds (the current name of Nashville's Triple-A club) are the clear options.

Most likely stadium location: There could be space across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville, near the Titans' current and future homes.

The case for Nashville: Based on conversations with high-ranking executives within the sport, it seems close to a fait accompli that Nashville will win one of the next expansion teams. When the owners actually form a committee to study the possible growth from 30 to 32 teams, they will talk about how the Music City is already a major league city, with the NFL's Titans and NHL's Predators and tremendous population growth, in a part of the country that is wild about sports. For example: The area leadership just committed $2.1 billion -- that's probably more than the cost of an expansion franchise -- for a new Titans stadium.

What could stop it from landing a team: Nashville is not necessarily close to Cincinnati, St. Louis or Atlanta, but the major league teams from those cities probably will cringe at the idea of having pieces of their respective fan bases shaved off -- though those concerns probably would not preclude Nashville from getting a team. - Buster Olney

Orlando, Florida

City population: 307,573
Metro area population: 2,764,182
TV market rank: 17

Most likely nickname: The group trying to bring baseball to the city has branded itself the Orlando Dreamers, "a nod to Walt Disney and Arnold Palmer and the many other visionaries who helped develop this area," according to their website. Something Disney-related -- similar to the NHL's Anaheim Ducks -- seems like a likely option.

Most likely stadium location: With the available hotel and land space along with a constant flow of visitors, it would make sense to put a park near Disney World.

The case for Orlando: It is already a major league city, with the NBA's Magic in town since 1989, and Orlando is much bigger than places like Cleveland and Cincinnati that already have MLB teams.

After trial and errors with the Marlins and the Rays in the state, you'd assume that any ballpark project would be well placed and include a necessary roof to combat Florida's seemingly daily wave of late-afternoon showers. A family could cap off a day of rides at theme parks by catching a big league game.

What could stop it from landing a team: The history of the Marlins and Rays, franchises that have already struggled badly for attention. The two teams have consistently been at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, and so the idea of dropping a third team into the state makes some executives queasy. "There's no way you'd put a third team in Florida," said one evaluator. "No way." - Olney

Portland, Oregon

City population: 652,503
Metro area population: 2,509,140
TV market rank: 22

Most likely nickname: Former Nike executive Craig Cheek and former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett head the Portland Diamond Project and have decided to avoid a team name for now.

"We'll involve the fans in that, for sure," Barrett said. The Portland Beavers were the longtime Pacific Coast League team -- but that's also the nickname of the Oregon State University sports teams, so a different name seems likely.

Most likely stadium location: Cheek and Barrett believe this is one of their group's top selling points, as they're zeroing in on 164 acres at what is now the RedTail Golf Center in suburban Beaverton located about a mile from Nike headquarters. How does Swoosh Stadium sound?

"You get to dream big when you have 164 acres," Cheek said, and the PDP is envisioning a sports, entertainment and business complex that would be the largest ballpark district in America and more than twice the size of The Battery ballpark development that has been a major success for the Atlanta Braves. The state also has about $300 million in state bonds to issue to support a stadium project (paid for with a "jock tax").

The case for Portland: If MLB puts one team in the West and one in the East, that makes Portland a front-runner. Portland is also the largest market in the country with just one of the four major pro sports teams. "We're an underserved sports market," Barrett says. The Trail Blazers have been enormously popular for decades, and both the men's and women's soccer teams in MLS and the NWSL play to sellout crowds.

With MLB likely to realign to eight divisions of four teams after expansion, a Portland team would also create a natural rival for the Seattle Mariners and make travel easier for the rest of the league. "MLB loves its rivalries," Barrett points out.

While the Beavers last played to meager crowds in 2010 (finishing last in the PCL in attendance), the PDP has a mailing list of 75,000 people, with two-thirds of those fans saying they would be willing season-ticket buyers. "PDX" baseball merchandise -- with a "P" logo from the original Portland minor league team from the late 1800s -- has been a big seller. "I don't think any of the other cities out West have put in as much time or energy and are as turnkey ready as we are," Cheek said.

What could stop it from landing a team: Besides concerns about whether Portland is a baseball city, who is the owner? Cheek and Barrett say they have local investors attached to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and once a real estate deal is secured, they will announce an ownership. You can expect some real estate developers to be involved (along with quarterback Russell Wilson and wife Ciara, who are already investors). - David Schoenfield

Raleigh, North Carolina

City population: 467,665
Metro area population: 1,484,338
TV market rank: 23

Most likely nickname: The "Bring MLB to Raleigh" group has avoided any nickname possibilities, sticking with a "919" area code logo and black-and-white color schematic for its website. A team could even go with "Raleigh" or "Carolina" (like the NHL Hurricanes). One name that did pop up during a team concept event was the Raleigh Capitals, the name of various minor league teams from 1900 through 1967.

Most likely stadium location: There are three possible sites under discussion, but the favorite may be an 80-acre area of open land around PNC Arena, home of the Hurricanes. Billionaire Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon just signed a 20-year lease with the arena, has the right to develop the land -- and, oh, is now the money man behind the potential MLB bid.

The case for Raleigh: The push for Raleigh began as a bottom-up, community-driven idea. Only later were Charlie Perusse, a former North Carolina state budget director with the necessary political connections, and Dundon brought on board. Governor Roy Cooper has also publicly supported Raleigh over Charlotte. It helps that Raleigh is one of the few cities with a deep-pocketed owner already on board.

Lou Pascucci, one of the founders of the community group, points to Raleigh's demographics as a surprising positive. The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle population is more than 2.1 million and growing rapidly, with the highest median income of any metro area without an MLB team. With Charlotte, North Carolina has two TV markets in the top 50, and a population (11 million) larger than Tennessee's (7 million) or Utah's (3.4 million).

"We have some of the strongest market viability metrics, we have vocal government support, we have a lot of exciting land options, we have a loud, passionate community movement, and we have Tom Dundon leading the charge," Pascucci said.

What could stop it from landing a team: Nashville is the sexier pick and probably the favorite among the Eastern cities. Is there enough corporate support? "I don't think Tom Dundon believes that's a problem," said Pascucci, pointing out the Hurricanes were second in the NHL in attendance in 2022-23.

"If you don't live here, people would be surprised at how rich the baseball culture is in the Triangle," Pascucci said. "If we end up getting a team, the Triangle and Raleigh would be listed next to St. Louis and Cincinnati for their passion as a baseball city." -- Schoenfield

San Jose, California

City population: 971,265
Metro area population: 1,938,524
TV market rank: 10

Most likely nickname: The mayor's office of San Jose kicked around some names recently, including: Spirit (partly an homage to the Winchester Mystery House, considered one of the most haunted places in the world); Bees (the name of the city's original Class A team, though also fitting with the A's leaving); Sol (in honor of the city's Hispanic heritage); and Innovators (for the city's tech hub). This was basically just a brainstorming exercise, however.

Most likely stadium location: While trying to get the A's to relocate to San Jose roughly 10 years ago, the city released renderings for a new ballpark in the downtown area, near the corner of South Montgomery Street and Park Avenue. Google then purchased that land as part of its desire to build an 80-acre campus -- a project that has since stalled -- but local officials say there are still a handful of other potential, city-owned sites downtown that can support a major league ballpark.

The case for San Jose: The Bay Area is plenty big enough to support two baseball teams; many would argue, actually, that it'd be absurd if that weren't the case. San Jose is the biggest city in the Bay Area and more than four times the size of Oakland. It's nestled within Silicon Valley, surrounded by the biggest tech companies in the world, and produces more than $400 billion annually in gross domestic product. A $12 billion project is underway to extend the BART transit system into the city. In other words, there are major revenue opportunities in this city. Not to mention a major void with the A's on the verge of leaving Oakland.

What could stop it from landing a team: Territorial rights. The San Francisco Giants own the territorial rights for Santa Clara County, blocking any MLB franchise trying to move into that area. It was essentially gifted to them in 1990 for the purposes of building a new stadium and stayed with them. It's a rather unique situation. Stripping the Giants of those rights would require approval from three-quarters of MLB's owners -- a hurdle San Jose's elected officials have been unable to clear.

They tried to about 10 years ago, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court in an effort to get the A's to relocate to their city, but judges sided with MLB. In June of last year, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and four former mayors sent a letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred outlining why they believe their city should be a leading candidate for expansion and why its circ*mstances are unfair. Manfred stated he was simply focused on the Las Vegas situation at the moment. City officials continue to believe they'll have a team someday. -- Gonzalez

Salt Lake City

City population: 199,723
Metro area population: 1,266,191
TV market rank: 29

Most likely nickname: There isn't really a leading candidate yet, though possibilities abound. This could eventually come down to one of those "name the team" contests and until we are much further down the expansion road, fun speculation over the name will be a way to keep baseball on the radar in Salt Lake City. The traditional name of the minor league club -- the Bees -- dates back to 1915, but has been changed at various times as teams have come and gone.

Other monikers that have been used include Buzz, Gulls and Stingers. New ideas that have been floated: Pioneers, Bison, Outlaws, Saints and Cutthroats. (The Utah state fish is the cutthroat trout.)

Also, a team would likely follow the path of the NBA's Jazz by adopting the state name, so Utah Bees would be more likely than an MLB version of the Salt Lake City Bees. A stadium name probably would end up with a corporate name, but calling it The Beehive would be fun.

Most likely stadium location: In terms of mixed-used development, imagine a Salt Lake City version of The Battery project that spurred the Braves' relocation to the Atlanta suburbs a few years ago. Big League Utah has targeted a site that area developers have long coveted between the city's downtown and airport, a 100-acre parcel currently tabbed as The Power District. It's just off I-80 and easily accessible by public transit lines, rail and bus. The highway location would make it a convenient destination throughout the region, especially for those from nearby Park City and other cities like Provo and Ogden. The aesthetics of the site would potentially be unmatched in MLB, as it's abutted by the Jordan River, and a stadium would feature views of the downtown skyline and, beyond that, the Wasatch Mountains.

The case for Salt Lake City: Don't sleep on Salt Lake City, which has hosted the Olympics once already and is a strong candidate to do so again. The city and the state have built an impressive track record of getting large-scale, community-enhancing projects done with an unusual degree of public and private sector synergy.

Until Big League Utah was launched last year, Salt Lake City wasn't often mentioned as a possible MLB locale. Since then, because the effort has been so thorough and so many preliminary boxes have already been checked, that once you dig into the specifics, the question becomes more: Why not Salt Lake City?

"We have the fastest-growing state, the youngest state, we have a shovel-ready ballpark site with community support and we have a proven ownership group that has experience and is passionate about the sport of baseball," said Larry H. Miller Company CEO Steve Starks, who is heading up the expansion charge. "All of those factors make Utah the ideal expansion market."

What could stop it from landing a team: The sports community in Salt Lake City is strong, as evidenced by attendance and television ratings figures from the Jazz, University of Utah and Brigham Young University. The dedication of those fans would need to outweigh a market size that would be in the lower ranks of MLB. Early polling has been enthusiastic about the prospect of joining MLB. As the process continues, the biggest hurdle may be getting MLB's decision-makers to see Salt Lake City not just as a growing, high-functioning sports market, but a real baseball town. If the Oakland Athletics were to choose Utah as a temporary home, that might go a long way toward fast-tracking that process. --Doolittle

Could your city get an MLB expansion team? Breaking down potential top candidates (2024)

FAQs

What cities would get an MLB team? ›

So here's how our list of aspiring franchise locations rank in terms of metro-area population.
  • Montreal: 4.38 million.
  • Charlotte: 2.76 million.
  • San Antonio: 2.66 million.
  • Portland: 2.51 million.
  • Sacramento: 2.42 million.
  • Las Vegas: 2.32 million.
  • Nashville: 2.05 million.
  • Salt Lake City: 1.27 million.
Feb 26, 2024

How would an expansion team work in MLB? ›

Each existing team is told it can "protect" a certain number of its existing contracted players by furnishing their names to the league office on or before a certain date. The expansion team(s) then are allowed to select players not on the protected lists in a manner somewhat similar to an entry draft.

Could Charlotte get an MLB team? ›

Peterson believes that Charlotte and Nashville are the top options for MLB expansion, citing corporate support from North Carolina businesses like Atrium Health, Bank of America, Bojangles', and Cheerwine as a reason why the Queen City can punch its way off the ropes and into the MLB's ranks in 2024 (or whenever ...

Does the MLB want to expand? ›

The league is planning for an expansion to have 32 teams by 2029, according to commissioner Rob Manfred. ESPN has named several cities that could be good for a possible expansion, including one in Texas.

What is the largest city without an MLB team? ›

Biggest U.S. cities without an MLB team
  • San Antonio, Texas, 1,510,687.
  • Jacksonville, Fla., 1,000,135.
  • Austin, Texas, 984,655.
  • San Jose, Calif., 950,767.
  • Charlotte, N.C., 928,154.
  • Columbus, Ohio, 917,811.
  • Indianapolis, Ind., 877,023.
  • Oklahoma City, Okla., 707,678.
Feb 23, 2024

What major city does not have a baseball team? ›

San Jose, California

San Jose has been close to getting the Athletics for the last few years, only to be stopped by the San Francisco Giants' territorial rights claim over the region. Unfortunately, it does not seem like this issue is going to be resolved anytime soon.

What is the purpose of an expansion team? ›

An expansion team is a new team in a sports league, usually from a city that has not hosted a team in that league before, formed with the intention of satisfying the demand for a local team from a population in a new area.

Who was the last MLB expansion team? ›

The last time MLB expanded, ahead of the 1998 season, the Tampa Bay then-Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks each had to pay $130 million to join the club.

Will Austin get an MLB team? ›

The Astros and Rangers could add a third rival in the Lone Star State, but such a scenario seems unlikely at the moment. In an aerial view, the downtown skyline is seen on April 11, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Major League Baseball has yet to see an expansion franchise arrive in the 21st century.

Is Raleigh, NC getting an MLB team? ›

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he wants a plan in place to add two teams by 2029, with Raleigh viewed as a possible destination. "There's a huge passion for baseball here," said Pascucci. Since starting the push, organizers have tailored their pitch, highlighting data they feel makes Raleigh stand-out.

Will Nashville get an MLB team? ›

Reporting from ESPN's Jeff Passan says an MLB expansion to two additional teams, one of which could be Nashville, wouldn't happen until the 2030s. Before then, Music City Baseball says it's conducting a site analysis to see where an MLB-sized baseball stadium could go.

Is MLB going to 32 teams? ›

Major League Baseball expansion is coming -- it's just a matter of when ... and where. While the timeline for MLB to go to 32 teams remains a bit murky, commissioner Rob Manfred recently said he hopes to have a process "in place" for the league to expand to 32 teams before he retires in 2029.

Will Mexico get an MLB team? ›

Even though Fernandez's position remains the same, some of the goals from MLB in Mexico have changed. In 2016, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he wanted to see if Mexico could be a potential site for expansion. But a year ago, Manfred said he's “never been close to the idea of Mexico as an expansion opportunity.”

How many cities have two MLB teams? ›

There are four metropolitan areas in the US that host two MLB teams - one from each league (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area). Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, is the largest stadium in the MLB, with a seating capacity of 56,000.

Will Sacramento get an MLB team? ›

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. —

The A's will play at Sutter Health Park for the next three seasons — and there is an option for a fourth season — as the team's permanent home in Las Vegas is not expected to be ready until 2028. The A's lease in Oakland expires after the 2024 season.

Is Raleigh getting an MLB team? ›

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he wants a plan in place to add two teams by 2029, with Raleigh viewed as a possible destination. "There's a huge passion for baseball here," said Pascucci. Since starting the push, organizers have tailored their pitch, highlighting data they feel makes Raleigh stand-out.

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