SBJ/July 25 - 31, 2005/SBJ In Depth

Ranking America's minor league markets

Click here to view the complete ranking.

How the ranking was done

Each league was asked to provide a list of its member teams’ territories, or boundaries. Fifteen minor league teams had no designated boundaries. If that team shared the market with another minor league team, the same boundary was applied to each. In the absence of a shared team, one of 374 Census market designations was used.

The ranking does not take into account other sports options in the market, such as high-profile college programs or major junior hockey leagues. Also, markets that are home to a major league franchise were not included in the main ranking. A chart comparing those 40 markets is on page 18.

Attendance was included for the five most recently completed seasons for leagues whose regular seasons finished by June 30. Markets that have lost a franchise since then were not penalized. Numerous attempts to acquire 2005 attendance from the Major Indoor Soccer League were unsuccessful, so attendance for teams in that league are from 2000 to 2004.

Attendance figures used were based on team and league official reports, and box scores. As is the case at all levels of organized sports, reported attendance can vary from actual turnstile counts and the number of tickets sold. Ticket prices were not factored in.

In the conceptual phase of this research effort, win-loss percentages were to be included in the methodology. However, standard deviation analysis among the majority of baseball and hockey leagues, who account for the bulk of the teams, showed little variance, and that criterion was removed from the methodology.

All leagues were assigned the same weight. Each “Current” and “Lost” team is listed with its most recent moniker and league. For example, a current ECHL team may have joined the league as part of its merger with the West Coast Hockey League, and may have changed its team name.


Total attendance of all teams, indexed against total five-year population, accounted for 40 percent of each market’s grade.

Overall percent of seats filled over the five-year period, indexed against total five-year population, accounted for 30 percent of each market’s grade.

Franchise tenure
This score, which accounted for 15 percent of each market’s grade, came from a formula that included a number of support measurements: each team’s continuous presence in each market; total number of team-years in the past five seasons (if a market hosted a baseball and hockey team in each of the past five seasons, plus an AF2 team for one season, it received credit for 11 out of a possible 15 team-years); and number of franchises lost.

Many municipalities build new venues to lure existing or expansion teams to their market. These teams usually perform well at the gate. The “franchise tenure” category effectively prevented new teams in new markets in new facilities from skewing results, while rewarding markets that have retained their current clubs. Markets earned credit for continuous hosting of each franchise.

Extra credit was given to the 75 markets that built a new minor league facility, to the seven markets whose municipality owns the team, and to the two markets that are home to a team whose revenues are diverted to local charities by its ownership group.

For example, Albuquerque, N.M., lost the Class AAA Dukes following the 2000 season, leaving the city without a professional baseball team for the first time since 1959. In 2003, the city opened a new stadium for a new team, the Isotopes. Our formula gave credit to the market for its 2000 attendance, deducted points for losing the franchise, awarded points for building a new stadium, and gave tenure points based on three years of team presence — 2000 for the Dukes and 2003-2004 for the Isotopes. Had the original team not moved, Albuquerque would have received 46 years of tenure credit.

Economic factors
Two economic factors went into our ranking: unemployment and per capita income. For each, a measure of standard deviation was set, and markets gained or lost credit based on their attendance behavior. In cases where a market did not have at least one team in each of the five years, the two most recent years as a host market were used. June 2005 estimates from both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census were the source.

Attendance, per year, indexed against each market’s annual rate of unemployment, made up 7.5 percent of each market’s grade. This category awarded credit to markets whose attendance did not decline simply because unemployment rates increased.

Five-year attendance change indexed against each market’s total per capita income for the same period accounted for 7.5 percent of each market’s grade. Unemployment and income data came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rochester, N.Y., had the highest point total and all markets were indexed against that total. Points could be deducted from a market’s total for two reasons: losing a franchise and failing to keep attendance in line with fluctuations in area unemployment. Twenty-five markets finished with negative scores.

Here is what we tracked

• 546 teams
• 47 leagues
• Attendance per team for last five years
• 230 markets (plus 40 major league markets)

Leagues tracked

Appalachian League (Rookie Advanced)
Atlantic League (Independent)
California League (A Advanced)
Can-Am League (Independent)
Carolina League (A Advanced)
Central League (Independent)
Eastern League (AA)
Florida State League (A Advanced)
Frontier League (Independent)
International League (AAA)
Midwest League (A)
New York-Penn League (Short Season A)
Northern League (Independent)
Northwest League (Short Season A)
Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Pioneer League (Rookie Advanced)
South Atlantic League (A)
Southern League (AA)
Texas League (AA)
Northeast League (Independent)*
Texas-Louisiana League (Independent)*

American Hockey League
Atlantic Coast Hockey League*
International Hockey League*
Southeast Hockey League
Southern Professional Hockey League*
United Hockey League
West Coast Hockey League*
Western Professional Hockey League*

Continental Basketball Association
National Basketball Development League (renamed NBA Development League for 2005-06 season)

Continental Indoor Soccer League*
Major Indoor Soccer League
National Professional Soccer League*
United Soccer League First Division (A-League)
World Indoor Soccer League*

Indoor Football League*
Indoor Professional Football League*
Intense Football League*
National Indoor Football League
Professional Indoor Football League*
United Indoor Football

National Lacrosse League
Major League Lacrosse
* League no longer exists

Note: Officials from the American Basketball Association and United States Basketball League said attendance from their leagues was not available.

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