The same concern existed in Kansas City when the Royals set up shop there as an expansion team in 1969. "During the vacation months of June, July and August, we get a high percentage of our fans from over 150 miles away," says Dennis Cryder, the Royals' vice-president for marketing and broadcasting. "During those months, you can look at 10 cars in the parking lot and see license plates from Iowa, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. We'd be hard-pressed to draw 2.2 million [as K.C. did in 1990] without support from fringe states."
The Denver team would play its first two years at Mile High Stadium, which would hold 70,000 for baseball. A longtime supporter of minor league ball, Denver figures to fill a lot of those seats for the major league version on novelty alone. And the Denver team is ahead of the game with two rumors already afloat: that its uniforms will be purple and that its manager will be Whitey Herzog.
12. How far do Washington fans have to drive to see a game in Baltimore?
Not far enough. Washington's weakness is that it's too close to where baseball is. The Orioles get 25% of their fans from the D.C. area, and Baltimore's new stadium, which will open in 1992, is only 27 miles from Washington's Capital Beltway, 20 minutes closer than Memorial Stadium, the O's present home. Washington's chances are further diminished by the fact that it doesn't have the one big financier, like Miami's Huizenga or Buffalo's Bob Rich.
13. Is Bob Rich?
Not rich enough. Rich heads the expansion effort in Buffalo, owns the Triple A Buffalo Bisons and has a beautiful stadium and terrific fans. His chances of landing a major league baseball team seemed solid until Dec. 15, 1990, when a letter from Rich appeared in The Buffalo News. It read in part that he wanted to bring a team to Buffalo but that "we do not believe in baseball at any cost."
Says Bison general manager Mike Billoni, "We can afford to get into it [expansion], but with spiraling salaries and the possible decrease of future TV revenue, we questioned whether the area could afford what ticket prices would look like down the road. The interest in major league baseball is still here, but we enjoy what we have, and it's at a reasonable price." Rich has stated that he remains interested in purchasing an existing team and relocating it in Buffalo, but the expansion push is, for all intents and purposes, dead.
14. Can an expansion team survive in baseball's current marketplace?
It certainly won't be easy. In addition to the $95 million ante, a new club will have to spend another $35 million in start-up costs on player salaries, front-office costs, the farm system, uniforms, equipment, etc. That's a $130 million hole right from the start. Compare that with baseball's last expansion in 1977, when Toronto's expansion fee was $7 million and Seattle's was $6 million. "It's much more difficult to start an expansion team today than it was in '77," says Blue Jay vice-president Pat Gillick, who has been with Toronto since its inception. "There's so much financial pressure on owners and general managers. Baseball is not a big company; it's not a big industry. It straps you to have to pay $95 million."
If baseball were flourishing financially, money wouldn't be such a huge worry. But with CBS and ESPN unhappy over their current four-year contracts, the prospect of diminished TV revenues beginning in 1994 looms large. Player costs, of course, have soared and show few signs of abating. Says one American League owner, "We're established, with a decent talent base and fan base, and we're having problems. I can't imagine having to start an expansion team at this time."
Gillick says his payroll in Toronto the first year was $760,000. Today the average salary is more than $600,000. "I can't see these expansion teams getting away with less than a $10 million payroll [which would be the league's lowest]," Gillick says. "And you can't win with a payroll like that. You have to be prepared to lose 500 games over five years just to get competitive. That's tough to swallow."
15. How bad will the expansion teams be?
Bad. Real bad. "Baseball is watered down as it is," says Pirate pitching coach Ray Miller. "With the pitchers that will be out there after expansion, Tony Gwynn will hit .400."
Here's an imaginary 25-man roster for an expansion team, assuming American League participation in the draft. Ladies and gentlemen, the 1993 Miami Waves. C: Joel Skinner, Mackey Sasser. 1B: Todd Benzinger, Gene Larkin. 2B: Jerry Browne, Mike Sharperson. SS: Juan Bell. 3B: Jack Howell, Dale Sveum. OF: Pete Incaviglia, Dwight Smith, Glenn Braggs, Chris Gwynn, Daryl Boston, Dan Pasqua. Starting pitchers: Pascual Perez, Melido Perez, Dana Kiecker, Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Morgan. Relievers: Mike Jackson, Don Carman, Juan Berenguer, Greg Cadaret, Wes Gardner.