- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

Since the latest push for a Washington area baseball team began in the mid-1990s, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and other opponents have reliably pointed to the San Francisco area. Look at the Bay Area, they said. The Giants dominate the market, and the Oakland Athletics struggle to survive and cannot afford to keep any of their superstars.
The comment was true then, and it's true now. The A's remain economically challenged, franchise cornerstone Jason Giambi is now wearing pinstripes in New York and the team payroll, as usual, is a mere fraction of baseball's big spenders. Only the combined and considerable genius of general manager Billy Beane and manager Art Howe have kept the A's competitive.
This all ties to Washington and Baltimore because for most of the 1990s, this metro area and the Bay Area were strikingly similar. In 1997, the U.S. Bureau of the Census ranked the Washington-Baltimore as the country fourth largest combined metropolitan statistical area (CMSA) with a population of 7.2million. San Francisco, combined with Oakland and San Jose, ranked right behind at 6.7 million. Both areas boasted robust housing markets, low unemployment and were very close in many other economic indicators.
As this new decade has evolved, however, Washington and Baltimore are pulling away from the Bay Area, both in population and overall spending power. This area arguably has more in common with Chicago, the country's third largest metro area and a more successful home to two baseball teams. Actually, greater Chicago technically can be said to have three teams when considering the Milwaukee Brewers just 90 miles up the road. Richmond, though smaller than Milwaukee, is of nearly identical distance to Washington.
Consider the following:
The 2000 Census counted the Washington-Baltimore area with 7.6million people, the Bay Area at 7million and Chicagoat 9.2 million. But because our burgeoning growth rates, population projections in 2025 conservatively point to this area having 10.3million people, Chicago at11.9million and the Bay Area at 9.4million.
Nielsen Media Research, which monitors television use and compiles the widely watched weekly ratings, splits Washington and Baltimore into separate markets for its purposes. But combining the two generates 3.2million TV households. Chicago has 3.4million, and San Francisco, with Oakland and San Jose combined to form one market, has 2.4million.
This data does not suggest any drastic changes for the sales pitches of groups in the District and Northern Virginia seeking a team. Both sides have long contended the area easily can absorb another baseball team, and that the Orioles continue to overstate their dependence on the Washington area. And as MLB president Bob DuPuy said last week, a team here is "inevitable" and now simply a question of when.
But thinking of Washington and Baltimore more like Chicago instead of the Bay Area changes how you evaluate a local team's chances for true success, and how MLB officials and local ownership prepares a D.C. area franchise. For example, knowing this market is so big and will continue to grow so robustly will enable the new team, as well as the Orioles, to command higher rights fees in future TV contracts. Comcast SportsNet or any other network involved can continue to cast a wide net for advertisers.
It also could mean that Angelos has less right to a large payment for another team entering the area, or any compensation at all. In recent months, rumors within baseball have pointed to Angelos angling for and possibly getting an eight-figure sum to ease his objections.
"San Francisco and Oakland are very, very different from Washington and Baltimore," said Bobby Goldwater, executive director of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. "The analogy really doesn't hold. Our market is now far larger. We are two separate and distinct media markets. They're not. Unfortunately for Mr. Angelos, his arguments start well, but they don't really close."
The Cubs and White Sox do enjoy the ability to market throughout Illinois, Iowa, and western Indiana. Midwesterners also have a greater willingness to drive far distances to attend games. But should Northern Virginia in particular land the team, marketing is expected to be heavy into Richmond and Norfolk.
So if we're becoming more synonymous with Chicago, it is obviously crucial to mention that it, too, has a weaker team in the White Sox. The Cubs are unquestionably the favored team, and the White Sox continue an uphill climb for attention and have by far less prominent TV exposure.
The White Sox, however, are in much better shape than the A's, even with their poorly located, unattractive stadium and an unpopular owner in Jerry Reinsdorf. According to MLB figures, which have been hotly disputed, the White Sox beat Oakland in 2001 operating revenue by 48 percent and posted a smaller fiscal loss. Using recent calculations by Forbes Magazine, also the source of considerable debate, the White Sox top the A's in franchise value by 42 percent.
Either way, the White Sox are on far better footing, and have never been rumored for elimination, unlike the A's.
Despite the "inevitability" of a D.C. team, DuPuy did check his comments by repeating MLB's long reluctance to end up with two mid-tier teams in this market. It's a fair point, and aside from the few who truly despise Angelos, no one advocating a Washington team really wants to see the Orioles become as disastrous economically as they are artistically.
But it's hard to consider an area with nearly 8million people and the country's highest median household income among metro areas being anything truly mid-tier, at least from an economic perspective.
"There is a great many people here. It's absolutely nothing to sneeze at," said Gabe Paul, executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. "Like we've been saying from the beginning, it's all about how and where you position the team."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide