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Competitive Balancing Act II, Scene II—This Is Pop: Redefining Large- and Small-Market by Population
2004-04-05 00:53
by Mike Carminati

Other entries in the series:

Competitive Balancing Act I—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature, Scenes I, II, III, and IV
Competitive Balancing Act II—This Is Pop: Redefining Large- and Small-Market by Population
Competitive Balancing Act III—C'mon Freddy, Everyone into the Poo-el: Reviewing the Available Player Pool
Competitive Balancing Act IV—Natural Resources: Attendance and Competitive Balance

When last we left off in the competitive balance study, I had been setting up a study based on population in the respective cities. Setting up the data has been a bear, but I finally have some workable data.

The first thing we would like to know is whether small-market teams are less successful than their large-marketed colleagues. Here is a table of how large- and small-market teams have fared in the past (based on the definitions that we established in the previous entry). First the large-market wins, losses and percentage are listed based on the large-market data; then the small-market data are listed:


The distinction becomes clearer when one looks at the ratios of the winning percentages and number of teams between small and large markets. Here they are per decade (note the ratio is large to small markets):

DecadePCT Ratio# Tms Ratio

You'll notice that large markets have historically done better than the small, although that was not the case in the Forties, Sixties, and Seventies. You'll also notice that large markets in the last four years have been overpowering the small at a pace higher than any decade since the first decade of the 1900s. This may be due to a smaller sample size (only four years), especially since the Nineties have a relatively low ratio. The final verdict may have to wait until the decade is over. From the partial data there does appear to be some indication that competitive balance between large and small markets has suffered in the new millennium.

The other ratio, of the number of teams, actually interests me more. Remember that I defined large-market by taking the number of teams in a given year, dividing it in two, and then using that as the cutoff in population rank for all metropolitan areas. Therefore, if there were 16 teams, as there were in the pre-expansion era, the team representing the eighth most populous area would be the final "large-market" team. All teams with larger populations are considered large-market as well; the rest are small markets.

Now, the reason that the ratio of large to small market exceeds 1.00 is that the largest markets tend to have multiple teams. Today, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles-Anaheim, and San Francisco-Oakland all have two teams. When I make the determination if a team is large market, I take into account how many teams share the market, which I call relative population. Therefore, the relative for a market with two teams is half the actual, shared between the two teams. New York has never been anything but a large market even when it was represented by four teams during the Federal League years. The current cutoff city is Phoenix, estimated at 3,555,895 people for 2003 based on projections from the 1990 and 2000 censuses. Some would be surprised that prior to Phoenix, Montreal had been the large-market threshold from 1987-2001 (except for two seasons).

Here are the metro areas for the 2003 teams, their estimated (relative) population, and an indicator for large or small market:

Metro Area# TeamsRel PopMarket Type
New York210,878,610L
Los Angeles28,463,140L
Dallas-Fort Worth15,577,157L
San Francisco--Oakland23,637,589L
Minneapolis--St. Paul13,097,798S
San Diego12,908,578S
St. Louis12,636,932S
Tampa--St. Petersburg12,494,408S
Kansas City11,834,018S

You'll notice that the 1870s were the only decade in which small market teams far outnumbered large ones. As I pointed out earlier, New York and Philadelphia, the two largest cities, were dropped by the only major league, the NL, in 1876. As a matter of fact, there were no large-market teams in the six-team NL in 1878. Chicago was the largest city (462 K) but was still not a large market by our definition until the next year. New York, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn (which was still a separate city) were the three biggest markets that year and they were team-less.

It wasn't until the rival American Association formed that the NL was required to consolidate in the larger cities. 1883, the season after the AA's formation, the ratio of large- to small-market teams more than doubled, there were more large-market teams for the first time, and not coincidentally, Philly and New York returned.

Then as the AA and other rival leagues folded the NL absorbed the teams thereby establishing a balance between large and small markets (the ratio was 1.00 or below for every year between 1891 and 1899). In 1900, the NL decided to pare back by four teams and not surprisingly, they were four of the six small-market teams (the other two were Pittsburgh and Cincinnati).

With the ascension of the American League to major-league status in 1901, forced the majors to embrace more small-market teams. The large-to-small-market ratio did not exceed the pre-AL level for another 37 years.

When Boston and its two teams became a large market in 1937, eleven of sixteen teams were large-market. However, the growth of the California cities forced Boston's two teams as well as Philly's into small-market status. By 1952 there were more small-market teams than large, and baseball was ready to let teams move for the first time in almost fifty years. Actually, much of what was to follow regarding team relocations and expansion can be explained via the vicissitudes of the large- and small-market cities through the years.

The three teams that moved next remained small market teams, but all relieved their over-burdened former Siamese twin, two of which became large-market teams (Phillies and Red Sox). The Braves moved to Milwaukee, which was unfortunately the second smallest market, after then-two-team St. Louis, in the majors. It did, however, make the now unfettered Red Sox a large-market team for the first time. The Browns finally left St. Louis for another small-market city, Baltimore, but again the Cardinals were freed from the yoke of two-team oppression and were no longer the smallest market in baseball. The A's ceded the second largest market in baseball to the Phils and moved into the smallest, Kansas City.

By 1955, the three newly relocated teams represented three of the four smallest markets in baseball. It's not surprising that two of them would move again before very long.

Next, the Dodgers and Giants moved to the west coast. They went from sharing New York, the largest market in baseball even when divided three ways, to two other large markets. The Dodgers gained about 800 K potential fans while the Giants lost about 2.3 M. Baseball had readjusted to the same ratio of large-market to small-market teams that it had had in the AL's first year 1901 (1.29). Baseball seemed content with the status quo until the proposed Continental Baseball League threatened their antitrust exemption.

In the first two quick rounds of expansion, baseball added teams to each of the two largest markets, New York and LA, both of which had just one team at the time. They also added two mid-level small-market teams in Houston and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Next, the two smallest market teams, Kansas City and Milwaukee, moved but again occupied the two smallest metro areas in baseball, Atlanta and the divided San Francisco-Oakland, and in the process reduced the Giants from a large-market team to a team in the second smallest market.

Meanwhile, two Canadian large-market metro areas, Montreal and Toronto, went unrepresented. In 1969, baseball rectified this by expanding to Montreal along with three other markets that were smaller than in then in the game, Seattle, San Diego, and Kansas City (again). Seattle's franchise then moved to a market of almost the sane size, Milwaukee (again).

Finally, the last relocation occurred in 1972 as the Washington Senators moved to Dallas-Fort Worth, both of which were large markets. However, Washington has the nearby Orioles. Dallas-Fort Worth had just reached large-market status the previous year.

The next round of expansion featured the largest large market that still lacked a team, Toronto, and an average-sized small market, Seattle (again). By the mid-Eighties every large market that had lacked a team had either been granted one or had been merged into other metro areas with teams (Washington and Nassau-Suffolk County, NY). Then Miami grew to a large market and was granted a team in 1993. No other large market in the US or Canada has been without a team since but that may soon change once baseball shifts the Expos to a new location. At the same time, existing metro areas continued to grow. San Francisco-Oakland no longer was a small market when split between two teams. Atlanta, Houston, and Seattle all became large markets as well. By 1993, the ratio of large- to small-markets was the highest it had been in fifty years. In the last round of expansion, Phoenix was added just as it emerged as a large market and a mid-level small market, Tampa-St. Pete, was added.

To be continued…

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