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Best minor league markets: Quad Cities at 31, Batavia ranked 48th!

Here is an example of what appears to be a flawed study.

Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, a weekly industry newspaper, has just published a ranking of the best markets for minor league sports, a repeat of earlier efforts in 2005 and 2007.

Factors that go into the rankings include each community’s paid attendance for minor league sports along with the longevity of the franchises. Also included are a number of economic and demographic factors, including unemployment and per capita income.

Let’s see how the St. Louis Cardinals minor league affiliates fared.

On one hand, the Quad Cities scored very high, ranking 31st among 239 markets that have minor league teams in baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer and/or lacrosse.

That seems to make sense as the new owners of the River Bandits of the Midwest League have aggressively promoted their club and set a new post-renovation mark for single-season attendance when the team passed the 2008 figure with six games remaining in 2009. The club reports that ticket sales, concessions, merchandise sales and sponsorships are all up over last season, which was one of the best in team history.

On the other hand, consider Batavia, New York, home of the Cardinals’ New York-Penn League affiliate. The team averages fewer than 1,000 fans per game and has been losing money for at least the last several years. Even with the future of the town’s only minor league franchise in serious jeopardy, Batavia still ranks in the top 20 percent of all markets at 48th.

Go figure.

It turns out that the longevity of the franchise, called the “Tenure rank” is two-thirds of each market’s grade. As such, it overly-skews the results in Batavia’s favor, a founding member of the New York-Penn League in 1939. Seeing the Cardinals’ longest-running current affiliate, Johnson City, Tennessee, ranked at number 36 in tenure and 46th overall tends to confirm that weighting.

Going further, “Attendance rank” is a five-year view of percentage of filled seats. Amazingly, astonishly, Batavia ranks highest of all Cardinals franchises at 28th of the 239 markets in this component of the overall score.

Now, I have nothing against the Batavia market or the fine people who live there, but compare Batavia to the homes of the other Cardinals minor league franchises and see if the overall market rankings make sense to you.

Take Springfield, Missouri, for example. Forbes recently ranked the Springfield Cardinals in the top 20 of all minor league baseball franchises in value. Yet, the market barely cracked Street & Smiths top 100 at only 99th-best.

Another way to look at it: If the Batavia market is so strong, why is the team doing so poorly?

Conversely, why is Springfield so successful if their market is so weak?

Rank Market Tenure Attendance Economy
31 Quad Cities (Ill, Iowa) 21 45 33
46 Johnson City, Tenn. 36 83 52
48 Batavia, N.Y. 42 28 55
99 Springfield, Mo. 107 20 109
127 Palm Beach County, Fla 116 163 140

Source: Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal

Note that Memphis does not appear on the list because of their major league status due to their NBA team, the Grizzlies.

To see the rankings of all 239 minor league markets, click here.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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