About 75,000 fans pack the Alamodome during the 2013 Big League Weekend. Photo courtesy of The City of San Antonio.
About 75,000 fans pack the Alamodome during the 2013 Big League Weekend. Photo courtesy of The City of San Antonio.

Small market.

If you’ve been a San Antonio sports fan for any length of time, you’ve heard it. It’s the label that the Alamo City has been saddled with for decades. Whenever the topic of a new sports franchise in San Antonio arises in the national media, the card is played and the discussion moves on without a second thought.

Perhaps this label was appropriate a number of years ago, but San Antonio is a different place. This city’s major sports potential deserves an opportunity to be reevaluated.

Though “small market” is commonly assumed to refer to television markets, population is a gauge that cannot be overlooked. Though its metropolitan area population ranks 25th in the nation, San Antonio is the seventh most populated city (by city limits) in the U.S. Among the top ten on this list, San Antonio is the only city with just one big-four (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) professional sports franchise. In fact, all of the six larger cities have at least three such franchises.

Many critics of this statistic cite the greater metropolitan area rankings that put areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth in high regard. What’s overlooked in this analysis is geographical reach of San Antonio sports. If you include Austin, Corpus Christi, the western range toward Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio becomes one of the largest markets in the country.

Now, the obvious small market argument points to the television market. Though TV ratings typically fail to include the aforementioned geographical reach, they are important to the potential franchise owner. Sure, San Antonio often can be found ranked in the 30-40 range for TV markets.

How do those rankings translate to value in the real world? The only basis of comparison is the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have been in the top of the local NBA television ratings for many years. According to the Nielsen television ratings, 2011 and 2012 had them in the top spot in the league, edging out even the biggest markets in the country.

"Go Spurs" spelled out in hotel room balcony lights on the Hilton in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Annette Crawford.
“Go Spurs” spelled out in hotel room balcony lights on the Hilton in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Annette Crawford.

How does all of this loyalty translate to dollars and cents for the Spurs? According to “The Business of Basketball” article in Forbes, the San Antonio Spurs are the 10th most valuable franchise in the NBA, worth a purported $660 million. This means the Spurs are more valuable than 17 larger market teams. Perhaps these larger markets wish they had the fan base that the Spurs enjoy.

Simply put, San Antonio, with help from their extended geographical reach, is a sports crazy town. The Spurs had the eighth highest home attendance percentage in the NBA last year. For reference, the eighth highest attendance in Major League Baseball belonged to the New York Yankees. Not bad company.

San Antonio has proven that it can come strong when other professional teams have made San Antonio their temporary home. In 2005, the displaced New Orleans Saints played three home games in the Alamodome with an average attendance of more than 62,000, even setting an Alamodome record during one appearance. Last year, during the H-E-B Big League Weekend, the Texas Rangers hosted the San Diego Padres in two exhibition games with crowds of more than 75,000 packing the Alamodome. This year’s H-E-B Big League Weekend will showcase the Rangers and the Houston Astros in two more exhibition games March 28 and 29, and the event is sure to see the same level of fan support.

If San Antonio can extend that level of support to another city’s team, it’s more than reasonable to assume the same level of support would be extended to a team that calls the Alamo City home.

The Case for Major League Baseball

The data speaks for itself. San Antonio is poised and ready to be home for more than one big-four professional franchise. The question then centers around which of the three remaining big-four leagues would best fit San Antonio first. Though cases can be made for each option, Major League Baseball would be an extremely attractive target for San Antonio.

Professional baseball has existed in San Antonio since the 1880s. There are two MLB teams in Texas, The Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros, both of which compete in the American League. Though both teams certainly have fan bases in San Antonio and South Texas, neither seem to have the wide spread, deep rooted loyalty that Texas’s pro football teams enjoy. On the business side, the average MLB team is valued at $649 million, with the lowest valuation belonging to the Kansas City Royals at $451 million. These figures are nearly half those in the NFL.

The final upside that Major League Baseball would have in San Antonio is its schedule. The MLB regular season typically kicks off towards the end of March with the World Series going through October.

This schedule essentially means that San Antonio’s Major League Baseball team would be playing during the Spurs offseason. Not requiring home teams to compete for fan attendance would be a big plus for both an MLB team and for the Spurs. Given the aforementioned factors, it is reasonable to focus new franchise efforts on Major League Baseball initially. Once San Antonio successfully supports its new franchise, it just might drop that small market label, opening the door for the rest of the big-four to walk right in.

The Movement

major league baseball in San Antonio logo

Chris Miller and I co-founded a new, grass roots campaign, MLBinSanAntonio, that’s pushing to bring a Major League Baseball team to San Antonio. Though in its infancy, the campaign has found growing support and excitement from everyday fans, local media and celebrities, as well as Texas politicians. Though past efforts to bring teams to San Antonio have fallen short, we hope to bring something new and refreshing with our approach.

This is not your traditional attempt to lure an existing team from its home and convince them to move to San Antonio. This is not even one wealthy investor looking to purchase a new hobby. This starts with the people of San Antonio, Austin, and South Texas organically spreading the word and raising their hand for San Antonio.

These people are the ones who will be buying tickets, buying merchandise, and watching the broadcasts. MLBinSanAntonio certainly has a go-forward plan that takes this movement from grass roots to the office of Major League Baseball, but it cannot get anywhere without the loyal support of the great sports fans of the Alamo City.

Anyone who would like to show their support for bringing Major League Baseball to the great city of San Antonio are encouraged to follow us on Twitter @MLBinSanAntonio, and like us on Facebook, or visit our website at MLBinSanAntonio.com.

Related Stories:

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San Antonio Goes Major League — It Started With the Alamodome

The Alamodome, Now 20, Made San Antonio a Bigger, Better City

The Spurs Family celebrates 25 years of giving back

Game Day in San Antonio: We are all Roadrunners

The Feed: Five Minutes With The Mayor’s Fitness Council

Jarrod Brogdon is co-founder of MLBinSanAntonio, a life-long San Antonio area resident, a small business owner, a lover of all things sports and a supporter of San Antonio growth initiatives.