SBJ/Sept. 18-24, 2017/Research and Ratings

Minor League Markets: Methodology




This is the seventh time SportsBusiness Journal has produced this ranking of the nation’s Top Minor League Markets, the first coming in 2005 and then every other year since.

This year’s project included a review of the following:


■ 228 markets (219 ranked; nine others were tracked but were not ranked due to insufficient data)
■ 48 leagues
■ 382 teams
■ 242.7 million in total attendance
■ More than $900 million in construction at 78 new or extensively renovated venues

Defining The Markets:

Each team in this biennial survey was assigned a territory based on the location of its home venue within one of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 898 metropolitan (areas with a population of at least 50,000) and micropolitan (less than 50,000) market designations. Markets that are home to an MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL or MLS franchise are not measured.

Compiling Data:

Attendance was included for the five most recently completed seasons for each league whose regular season finished by Sept. 8 of this year. The Atlantic League, an independent baseball league, had one week remaining, and the regular season for the USL, soccer’s highest-level minor league, was nearly complete, so season-to-date figures were used for those leagues.

No league or sport was weighted more than another.

The attendance figures used came from official team and league reports, posted box scores and conversations with facility officials. As is the case at all levels of organized sports, reported attendance can vary from being a turnstile count to the number of tickets sold to the 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, college programs or major junior hockey leagues.

A team had to have completed at least two full seasons within the past five years to be included. For example, Kinston, N.C., Buies Creek, N.C., and Kissimmee, Fla., each has an active home team that completed its first season of play within the past year. We gathered attendance data for each, but because there are no past seasons against which to index, those markets are not included in the final ranking. Five other markets were researched but not included in the final ranking because sufficient attendance data was unavailable for any season played by a team in those markets during the measured period.

Analyzing a total of 18 years of data over the course of these seven studies, we’ve learned that win-loss percentages for the majority of baseball and hockey teams — 70 percent of the teams tracked in the study are in those two sports — create little attendance variance, so that criterion is excluded from the methodology.

In addition, references to a “current” or “lost” team pertain to a club’s most recent moniker and league. Numerous soccer and indoor football teams have changed names and/or leagues over the years but remained in the same market.

Calculating The Score:

The majority of each market’s total score comes from three category-specific measures: tenure rank, attendance rank and economic rank.

Tenure made up approximately two-thirds of each market’s score and takes into account such support measurements as a team’s length of presence in its market and venue construction. Our tenure category essentially prevents new teams in new markets in new facilities from skewing results with a honeymoon effect, while rewarding markets that have retained their current clubs.

Markets were penalized for having teams that folded or moved, although that deduction was eliminated if a market saw a team in that same sport return to town with only one season of play lost. Additionally, we excused historical one-year gaps in five markets that were brought on by weather, league mergers, venue construction and other circumstances that were beyond the parameters of “community support.”

Three markets are reportedly losing a franchise in 2019.

The Class AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox are expected to move into a new stadium in San Antonio (a major league market) in early 2019. As part of that move, the Rookie League Helena (Mont.) Brewers will replace the Sky Sox in Colorado Springs. The move would leave Helena without a minor league sports franchise, but Colorado Springs would not suffer in our 2019 study, as its tenure as a host of a team will continue.

In Erie, Pa., the NBA G League Bayhawks plan to relocate to a new arena in College Park, Ga., in time for the 2019-20 season.

These markets were not penalized because the clubs are still there and construction delays could affect the pending moves.

Similarly, Comcast Spectacor announced in July that it will be placing an AHL club in Portland, Maine, in 2018. The market has been without a hockey team since the league’s Portland Pirates moved to Springfield, Mass., after the 2015-16 season. Portland was penalized in our study for losing the Pirates and will not be credited for a new franchise until it actually begins play.

The rest of a market’s score is based on the yearly total attendance of all of its teams, the percentage of seats filled, and how those figures indexed against the region’s overall fluctuations in unemployment, population and each Total Personal Income (TPI).

Markets gained or lost credit based on their attendance behavior relative to fluctuations in the economic metrics. For example, if a market’s unemployment rate decreased and TPI increased, attendance was expected to increase. June 2017 estimates from both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau were the sources.

The 78 markets where construction was completed on at least one new or extensively upgraded minor league facility between Aug. 1, 2012, and July 31, 2017, received extra credit. Markets with venues under construction but not open as of press time did not receive that bonus.

Extra credit also was given to Auburn, N.Y.; Elmira, N.Y.; Rochester, N.Y.; Syracuse, N.Y.; North Little Rock, Ark; and Elizabethton, Tenn., for being home to teams whose ownership is made up entirely of citizen shareholders.

Points could be deducted from a market’s total for three reasons: losing a franchise, and/or failing to keep attendance in line with fluctuations in the area’s unemployment, population or TPI. Additionally, if a club went from being a professional team to an amateur or semi-pro team, that market was penalized. Fifty-six markets finished with a negative score because of indexing against the No. 1 market’s total.

In the end, Des Moines, Iowa, a city that is home to a professional team in four different sports, had the highest point total, and all markets were indexed against that number.

Leagues Tracked:

Baseball/softball

AA: American Association (Independent)
APP: Appalachian League (Rookie)
AL: Atlantic League (Independent)
C-A: Can-Am League (Independent)
CAL: California League (A, Advanced)
CAR: Carolina League (A, Advanced)
EL: Eastern League (AA)
FSL: Florida State League (A, Advanced)
FL: Frontier League (Independent)
IL: International League (AAA)
MWL: Midwest League (A)
NYPL: New York-Penn League (A, Short-Season)
NAL: North American League* (Independent)
NPF: National Pro Fastpitch (softball)
NWL: Northwest League (A, Short-Season)
PA: Pacific Association (Independent)
PCL: Pacific Coast League (AAA)
PL: Pioneer League (Rookie)
SAL: South Atlantic League (A)
SL: Southern League (AA)
TL: Texas League (AA)
ULB: United League Baseball* (Independent)

Basketball

NBAG: NBA G League

Indoor football

AAL: American Arena League
APF: Arena Pro Football*
AFL: Arena Football League
AIF: American Indoor Football*
CAIFL: Can-Am Indoor Football League
CIF: Champions Indoor Football
CIFL: Continental Indoor Football League*
CPIFL: Champions Professional Indoor Football League*
IFL: Indoor Football League
LSFL: Lone Star Football League*
MAIFL: Mid-Atlantic Indoor Football League
PIFL: Professional Indoor Football League*
UIFL: United Indoor Football League/Ultimate Indoor Football League*
X-League: X-League Indoor Football*

Hockey

AHL: American Hockey League
CHL: Central Hockey League*
ECHL
FHL: Federal Hockey League
SPHL: Southern Professional Hockey League

Soccer

MASL: Major Arena Soccer League
MISL: Major Indoor Soccer League*
NASL: North American Soccer League
NWSL: National Women’s Soccer League
PASL: Professional Arena Soccer League*
USL: United Soccer League

* League ceased operation during the measured period but can be represented in the study by a current team that previously played in the league.

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