Covering the Nation
As a huge soccer fan, of course I want to see the other major leagues struggle (hey, they're not going anywhere). Especially the NHL, because they are the undisputed #4, offering a product that is increasingly being called a niche sport in America. The goal for MLS is to become a major league, and when we get on par with them, it will be a great day for soccer. It would be nice to get their entirely on the league's success, but if the NHL falling can hasten the goal, then that's a good thing.
I bring this up because one of the things you hear about from Don Garber and company is that MLS needs to be in the major markets. In order to be seen as a national league, and as a major sport, you have to have teams in the big cities. While it's ok to have your Columbuses and Salt Lakes, the bigger markets help far more with tv ratings, leading to better tv deals which are the lifeblood of professional sports in this country.
The NHL's final four are Anaheim, Buffalo, Carolina, and Edmonton. Not great for them. Buffalo and Raleigh (Carolina) are the league's two smallest American markets, and one of them will be in the finals. Anaheim is part of the LA market, but Edmonton is up 3-0 and they do nothing for tv ratings here (Hockey is going to be huge in Canada no matter what). So don't expect great ratings for the Stanley Cup finals. Not that they would be great anyway, since it's the NHL, but every little thing like this helps out soccer in this country. Plus, I'd like to see Edmonton win because it is Canada's sport after all.
I was thinking about this the other day, and I was wondering exactly what percentage of Americans have an MLS team to root for? How does that compare with the other leagues? I have the answer for you. Read on.
There are 361 metropolitan areas in the USA. You can look at a list, or a map (which includes micro areas as well) to get a sense of what they are. I could've used the Nielsen media markets instead, but those are different and don't have easily obtainable populations (the metro areas are defined by the government). I did not count any Canadian teams, because I wanted to measure only the American data. For each sport, I added up the total population of every metro area with a team. Each area's population is only counted once, regardless of how many teams are in it. I then divided that by the total USA population to get the percentages listed below. The metro area data uses a 2004 population estimate, so that's also what I used for the whole country's population to divide by.
Percentage of Americans With a Team to Follow
I also included Division 1 NCAA college football (119 teams). As you can see, MLS has barely scratched the tip of the surface, ranking behind even the WNBA.
1) You can see how the NHL lags behind the top three. They only have 24 American teams, compared to 29-29-32 of the top three. But it's hard to see many untapped markets for hockey out there.
2) If the NFL had Los Angeles (12 million people), they would be number one easily. Not like they really miss it, though.
3) If MLS expands to Philadelphia, San Jose, and Cleveland in the next few years, that still only gets them up to 26.6%. So it's gonna take a few rounds of expansion.
4) It's important to note how the metro areas are defined. For example, Green Bay is separate from Milwaukee (the NFL would still be third, though). Also, San Jose is separate from SF/OAK, Riverside/San Bernadino is separate from LA, etc.
5) Finally, a list of some of the MLS expansion/relocation rumored cities over the past couple years, with area rank:
16. Minneapolis/St. Paul
17. San Diego
18. St. Louis
29. San Antonio
30. San Jose
47. Oklahoma City
50. Salt Lake
Rochester, NY is the 11th biggest market without a "big 4" pro sports team. Bigger than Salt Lake, interesting.
The move from SJ to Houston added 3.4 million people, while a move from KC (27th) to Philly would add 3.9 million. Hmm...