SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/Research and Ratings

About the Minor League Markets project

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Each league studied for this project was asked to provide a list of its member teams’ territories or boundaries. Fifteen minor league teams had no designated boundary. In those cases, if the team shared a market with another minor league team, the same boundary was applied to each club. In the absence of a shared team, which was the case in six markets, one of the 3,194 U.S. Census market designations was used.

Attendance was included for the five most recently completed seasons for each league whose regular season finished by July 31 of this year. For baseball teams, attendance was included for the 2006-10 seasons. The Grand Island, Neb.; Highland Heights, Ky.; Kent, Ore.; Pikesville, Ky.; Pittsfield, Mass.; and Zion, Ill, markets, whose only teams have completed only one season or are playing their inaugural season this year, were not included in the study. Also not included is Wenatchee, Wash., which hosted the IFL Wenatchee Valley Venom in 2010 and 2011 at Town Toyota Center (opened in 2008) — but the club folded earlier this summer, and no attendance data was available for either season played.

Attendance figures used were based on team and league official reports, conversations with facility officials and box scores. Numerous attempts to acquire select attendance directly from the Continental Indoor, American Indoor and Southern football leagues were unsuccessful, although data was provided by several teams or their respective arenas.

As is the case at all levels of organized sports, reported attendance can vary from being an actual turnstile count to number of tickets sold to number of tickets distributed. Ticket prices were not factored into the ranking formula. The ranking also does not take into account other sports options in each market, such as racetracks, high-profile college programs or major junior hockey leagues. In addition, markets that are home to a major league franchise in addition to having a minor league team were not included in the ranking.

This is the fourth time SportsBusiness Journal has produced this ranking, the first coming in 2005 and then every other year since. Analyzing a total of 12 years of data over the course of these four studies, we’ve learned that win-loss percentages for the majority of baseball and hockey teams — about 77 percent of the teams tracked are in these two sports — create little attendance variance, so that criterion is excluded from the methodology.

All leagues were assigned the same weight. In addition, each “current” and “lost” team is listed with its most recent moniker and league. For example, Fort Wayne, Ind., hosted three indoor football league franchises between 2007 and 2010. Attendance and capacity data for the af2 Fusion (2007) and CIFL Freedom (2008) are accounted for in our study, but it’s the CIFL FireHawks franchise, which played in 2010, that is listed by name.

A market’s total score is the result of three category-specific scores: tenure rank, attendance rank and economic rank.

Tenure rank: This score, which accounts for two-thirds of each market’s grade, comes from a formula that includes such support measurements as each team’s length of presence in its market and the total number of team-years in the last five seasons. If, for example, a market hosted a baseball team and a hockey team in each of the last five seasons, plus an IFL team for one season, it received credit for 11 out of a possible 15 team-years. Markets were penalized for not replacing franchises within one year after that team folded or moved.

The 39 markets that completed construction on at least one new or extensively upgraded minor league facility between 2007 and 2011 received extra credit. Markets with venues under construction but not yet open did not receive extra credit.

Our tenure category essentially prevents new teams in new markets in new facilities from skewing results, while rewarding markets that have retained their current clubs. Markets also earned credit for continuous hosting of each franchise. Additionally, we excused historical one-year gaps in 18 markets that were brought on by weather, league mergers and other circumstances that were beyond the parameters of “community support.”

Extra credit was given to Rochester, N.Y., Syracuse, N.Y. and Elizabethton, Tenn., for being home to a team whose ownership is comprised entirely of citizen shareholders.

Attendance rank: This score, which accounted for one-fifth of each market’s grade, is based on the total attendance of all a market’s teams and overall percentage of seats filled over the five-year period. Both measurements were indexed against the market’s total five-year population to create a single score.

Economic rank: Three economic factors went into our ranking: fluctuations in unemployment, population and each market’s Total Personal Income (TPI). For each, a measure of standard deviation was set, and markets gained or lost credit based on their attendance behavior. For example, if a market’s unemployment rate decreased and TPI increased, population was expected to increase. Indexing was not done for the six markets that hosted a single team for one season. June 2007 estimates from both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census were the sources.

In the end, Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa., had the highest point total, and all markets were indexed against that total. Points could be deducted from a market’s total for four reasons: losing a franchise, along with failing to keep attendance in line with fluctuations in area unemployment, population or TPI. Thirty-four markets finished with a negative score.

— David Broughton


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