Thursday, May 25, 2006

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

MLB 119,278,627 40.6%
NBA 115,132,825 39.2%
NFL 113,324,606 38.6%
NHL 100,324,896 34.2%
WNBA 73,071,763 24.9%
MLS 68,439,741 23.3%

D1-FB 146,724,345 50.0%

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:

4. Philadelphia
6. Miami
7. Houston
9. Atlanta
15. Seattle
16. Minneapolis/St. Paul
17. San Diego
18. St. Louis
23. Cleveland
29. San Antonio
30. San Jose
36. Milwaukee
47. Oklahoma City
49. Rochester
50. Salt Lake
55. Tulsa

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...

Comments on "Covering the Nation"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:10 PM, May 25, 2006) : 

I don't understand how you've calculated things.

Generally speaking people root for the closest team to them unless there is some historic dislike for that particular area.

According to your calculation, there are no Green Bay fans in Milwaukee, no Red Sox fans in Maine, or no DC United fans in Baltimore (which is afallacy because I happen to be one of those Baltimore DC United fans).


In addition you don't consider the fact that people take their team support with them when they move.

That alone would explain a great deal of the sports fandom of Southern California.

There is no NFL team in LA but that doesn't mean there aren't NFL fans there.

If you truly wanted to count how many people have a team to root for you would have to do more analysis than what a quick look at Wikipedia could give you.

Good try but it doesn't explain much.


Blogger scaryice said ... (5:02 PM, May 25, 2006) : 

My post was about the number of Americans who have a local team to support. I don't care about the people who have moved.

It's easier to just take the metro area that the team plays in, because if you start adding the surrounding areas, where do you stop? Green Bay is 112 miles from Milwaukee. That's further than Philadelphia to New York.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:23 AM, May 26, 2006) : 

But that is the reality of sports support in this country.

If we were talking about England where there are hundreds of teams in you could use this method but in this country there are only on average about 32 teams in each league. That means for many Americans if they want to support a sports team they have no choice to look outside of where they live.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:02 PM, May 26, 2006) : 


So you're one of those wackos who wants/needs the NHL to falter to feel better about yourself and the league. :rolleyes:

1) They play in different seasons
2) There is a large overlap in fans (for many reasons)
3) The NHL is actually rebounding from the lockout, and may/should increase a little in the next few years.

I wouldn't worry about stealing fans, but rather just making new soccer ones. The ones that float from sport to sport will eventually catch on when MLS has a solid enough base.


Blogger scaryice said ... (2:56 PM, May 27, 2006) : 

I don't need the NHL to falter. I'm just saying that in order to be a major league, we need to catch up to them someday. Them failing can only get us there quicker.


Blogger scaryice said ... (6:57 PM, May 29, 2006) : 

It is very revelant when it comes to media coverage. There's only so much time and space on tv and newspapers.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:49 PM, June 02, 2006) : 

I found this list on wikipedia that is somewhat related to this post:

I think this list is a more interesting and accurate, albeit more confusing, display of where MLS's popularity stands. At least MLS is ahead of the WBA on this list.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:49 PM, April 05, 2007) : 

Sports leagues compete with each other for the time, attention and $$ of fans.

It's pretty much a zero sum game. Any person only has a limited amount of free time and can only spend so much for entertainment.

No fully emplyed person can devote full attention to NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, College football and basketball, NASCAR, F1, soccer.

Soccer's growth will come at the expense of another sport.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:56 PM, July 30, 2008) : 


I think a lot of the comments on here are missing the point. It is true that your model is perhaps an over simplification in some respects but I thought it was quite informative and if your results are accurate it certainly shows that there is a correlation between the popularity of a league and access to a team.

Good job and don't listen to the criticism.


Blogger Unknown said ... (2:25 PM, May 25, 2009) : 

Would it be possible to update this analysis to include the league format in 2010, when Philadelphia is included? Also, would you suggest that expansion into Canada is bad for MLS since it doesn't give Americans any more teams to cheer for?


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