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Volume 20 No. 46
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Top Minor League Markets: About this project

What we researched
235 markets
47 leagues
408 teams
249.8 million in total minor league attendance
$2.64 billion in construction at 50 new or extensively renovated venues

Defining the markets

Each league studied for this project was asked to provide a list of its member teams’ territories or boundaries. Thirteen 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 3,138 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 2008-12 seasons.

Teams playing in the National Women’s Soccer League, whose inaugural season began in April and runs through the end of August, were not tracked.

The Highland Heights, Ky.; Huntington, W.Va.; La Crosse, Wis.; Tupelo, Miss.; Wenatchee, Wash.; and Ypsilanti, Mich., 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. Each market hosted a single indoor football team that no longer exists.

Attendance figures used were based on team and league official reports, conversations with facility officials, and box scores. Numerous attempts to acquire comprehensive attendance figures directly from the Continental Indoor Football League were unsuccessful, although data was provided by several teams or their respective arenas. Additionally, the International Basketball League is not represented in the study. League officials said attendance from their clubs was not available, so no such figures were included in the research.

Wailuku, Maui, is the only market in the Pacific Association baseball league that is present in the study. Attendance data was not available for the Pacific Association, which began play this spring, but the Na Koa Ikaika Maui club played previously in leagues for which attendance information was available. That made it possible to include Wailuku, Maui, in the ranking.

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, 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 fifth time SportsBusiness Journal has produced this ranking, the first coming in 2005, and then every other year since. Analyzing a total of 14 years of data over the course of these five studies, we’ve learned that win-loss percentages for the majority of baseball and hockey teams — about 70 percent of the teams tracked in the study 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, references to a “current” or “lost” team pertain to a club’s most recent moniker and league. For example, Odessa, Texas, was home to the Indoor Football League West Texas Roughnecks for 2009-11, and the team played at various times under other names in the Intense Football League and National Indoor Football League leading up to that stint. But it’s the Lone Star Football League West Texas Roughnecks, who played in 2012 but not 2013, that are listed by name in the research.

Calculating the score

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 NBA D-League team for one season, it received credit for 11 out of a possible 15 team-years.

Markets were penalized for having teams that folded or moved, but that penalty became less if it saw a team in that same sport return to town with only one season of play lost.

The 50 markets that completed construction on at least one new or extensively upgraded minor league facility between 2008 and 2013 received extra credit. Markets with venues under construction but not open as of press time 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 12 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.; Auburn, N.Y.; and Elizabethton, Tenn., for being home to a team whose ownership is made up 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: 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 relative to fluctuations in the economic metrics. For example, if a market’s unemployment rate decreased and TPI increased, attendance was expected to increase. Indexing was not done for the six markets that hosted a single team for one season. June 2013 estimates from both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau were the sources.

In the end, Toledo, Ohio, 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. Twelve markets finished with a negative score because of indexing against the No. 1 market’s total.

Additional information about the research, including a listing of the leagues tracked, as well as more information about each market ranked is available at

Leagues tracked

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)
CBL: Continental Baseball League* (Independent)
EL: Eastern League (AA)
FSL: Florida State League (A, Advanced)
FL: Frontier League (Independent)
GBL: Golden Baseball League* (Independent)
IL: International League (AAA)
MWL: Midwest League (A)
NYPL: New York-Penn League (A, Short-Season)
NABL: North American Baseball League* (Independent)
NAL: North American League* (Independent)
NL: Northern League* (Independent)
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)

NBA D-League: NBA Development League

Indoor football
AF2: arenafootball2*
AFL: Arena Football League
AIF: American Indoor Football Association
CIFL: Continental Indoor Football League
CPIFL: Champions Professional Indoor Football League
IFL: Indoor Football League
LSFL: Lone Star Football League
PIFL: Professional Indoor Football League
SIFL: Southern Indoor Football League*
UIFL: United Indoor Football League*

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

MISL: Major Indoor Soccer League
NASL: North American Soccer League
PASL: Professional Arena Soccer League
USL: United Soccer Leagues First Division*
USL Pro: United Soccer Leagues top tier
XSL: Xtreme 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.