Another long off-season means another time to speculate about the future of Major League Baseball. One area explored before and ready to be re-examined are the pros and cons of MLB expansion. For a more detailed look at some of the particulars of how expansion might take shape, see MLB Expansion and Realignment. Here, let us turn our focus to four pros and cons of MLB expansion.
MLB Expansion: Four Pros
More Fans In the Short and Long Term
At its heart, baseball is a game of entertainment. Stadiums are filled, hats are bought, and television is consumed because people get a thrill from investing themselves emotionally (and financially) in a team and, increasingly, in individual players. Today, millions of fans in 27 metropolises have the opportunity to root for a local team. The rest of the continent does not enjoy that direct line of access.
Without a local rooting interest, these would-be fans find it easier simply to choose another entertainment option. With MLB’s potential contraction of dozens of minor league teams, this reality is even starker. By expanding into two new markets, MLB creates an opportunity for new, devoted fan bases to emerge. Such a developer builds a healthier foundation for the sport for generations to come.
Historic Level of Untapped Talent
The available talent pool is so much larger today than at any time in the sport’s history. Baseball was arguably at its greatest popularity circa 1910 or 1920. In the teens, there were few competitors in the national scene of sports entertainment, and even fewer that were organized and enjoyed widespread media coverage. Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson captured the public’s imagination. At the time, the two major leagues fielded 16 teams and drew almost exclusively from the White population in America. With 25 roster spots per team, this comes out to approximately 204,330 people per major leaguer.
In 1920, with the addition of eight teams from the Negro National League and a larger pool of available talent, each major leaguer represented about 176,183 non-major leaguers. In 2020, MLB is fully integrated and can draw from a talent pool from the dozen or so countries where baseball is considered a major sport. Even after factoring in the other dominant sports in each of these countries, for every 336,438 people, there is one MLB roster spot. The expansion would dilute the talent pool relative to today but would still allow for a much more competitive field than years past.
|People per player||204,330||176,183||336,438||315,411|
Realignment Opens New and Old Chapters
The current alignment features small divisions and regular interleague play, disconnecting MLB from one of its strongest attractions: history. Adding two new teams opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities. In a nod to the 70-plus years of two eight-team leagues and 25 years of two divisions per league, the expansion would allow MLB to realign to two divisions of eight teams each per league. If playoff eligibility remains tight and unbalanced schedules continue, this format could foster competitive and entertaining rivalries.
Saves Teams From Relocation
If the 4,012 documentaries about the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers for Los Angeles are any indication, relocating a franchise has a harmful impact on the fandom of millions. Expansion spares heartache and allows untarnished new beginnings. Moreover, the elimination of competitive markets via expansion places cities in a stronger position when negotiating with their clubs over stadium deals and tax exemptions. Instead of spending precious resources satisfying billionaire owners, cities can spend on critical infrastructure and services or cut taxes.
MLB Expansion: Four Cons
Expansion Dilutes Competition
Even given the figures cited above, the expansion will lead to more players who barely make today’s rosters appearing regularly. For those who favor contraction and a smaller league with only the truly best, the expansion will not be greeted favorably.
Potential to Harm the Regular Season
MLB expansion will likely contribute to a further devaluing of the regular season. Owners and management already plan on an enlarged postseason, expansion will only serve as further cover. This development risks harming the importance of the regular season in favor of the postseason.
Risks Further Disparity Between Clubs
MLB is notorious among the Big Four for its financial disparity among its members. Any baseball fan or movie buff knows this. With two new teams placed in likely smaller markets, further inequality is likely to increase. Furthermore, without a sounder method of sharing revenue, small market clubs will continue to face unfair disadvantages when competing against their bigger market rivals.
Death Knell For Other Cities’ Hopes
The cities that receive expansion clubs will experience the excitement that comes with such news. Unlike previous expansions, this one could be the last for decades or even longer. 32 is an ideal number for alignment purposes, and the market may be saturated with the addition of two new teams. Whichever cities do not receive an expansion team in the next round may have to settle for a minor league or other sports franchise.
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