SBJ/November 12 - 18, 2001/Opinion

Forget contraction; try 2-town teams

A decade ago, when Major League Baseball was getting set to embark on the two-phase expansion that would increase its team total to the present 30 from 26, Malcolm Glazer, a wealthy Florida businessman and investor, had a proposal for the game's leaders. He asked that they award one of the two franchises that would be added in 1993 to a single city in the traditional manner, and let him split the second among four of the other contenders.

His reasoning, he said, was purely economic. "The numbers are getting so horrendous that to have a chance to make a new team pay you'd need a huge market, and none of the cities under consideration has that by itself," he opined.

The moguls answered "thanks but no thanks" and, barely suppressing chuckles, gave their 1993 prizes to Denver and Miami. Two years later, they awarded teams to Phoenix and Tampa-St. Petersburg, again in full confidence that the money would flow.

Now it's 2001-going-on-02, and the game's financial weather report has turned from sunny to distressingly cloudy in some places. When Commissioner Bud Selig surveys the landscape, he professes to see so few untapped places that could support his enterprise that he floated contraction as a solution for the deep-dish money woes of several teams. Interestingly, the potential hit list is said to include the two Florida clubs that were added during the optimistic '90s, along with the ones in Montreal and Minneapolis that most have fingered for elimination in the wake of the owners' vote last week approving the contraction idea.

Somewhere (OK, in Tampa, where he now owns the National Football League's Buccaneers), Glazer probably is chuckling out loud and saying, "I told you so."

Glazer might have been a bit, uh, over-ambitious in seeking approval for four burgs in which to base his baseball-team dream, but the merit of his scheme for multicity franchises now shines brightly, or should. Certainly, it would be better than contraction, which might be welcome from a competitive standpoint (50-odd nominal major league players would be available to the surviving teams if two clubs were axed) but has so many drawbacks that one can only wonder whether it's being pursued in earnest.

Among other things, contraction would further rile an already contentious labor-management scene in a contract-bargaining year, and lawsuits threaten to rain upon the game from many directions. Further, even if the razzle-dazzle ownership swaps that are being kicked around came to pass, the remaining owners would be likely to have to write a couple of good-sized checks. That last item alone still could sink it.

To be sure, having more than one city share a team wouldn't be easy. Political problems would abound, mostly revolving around the need to build new stadiums in each participating town. But — hey! — if the NFL can persuade cities to pop for costly digs to house 10 football games a year, getting, say, two cities to put up edifices for 40 annual baseball exhibitions shouldn't be difficult.

Two-city combos would be easiest to arrange, especially if the towns were fairly close geographically or had other things in common. For example, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City probably can't support big-league baseball teams on their own but could be able to do it in tandem. Ditto for Indianapolis and Columbus, Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee, and Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham-Greensboro area in North Carolina.

The Oakland A's have bounced on and off the endangered list at various times during their tenure in the Bay Area but might be strengthened significantly if they could be coaxed into doing a twosie with nearby San Jose. You could call that franchise OK Jose. See how much fun that sort of thing could be?

Give pieces a chance.

Frederick C. Klein is a columnist for SportsBusiness Journal.

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