At a news conference Wednesday, Williams emphasized that the initiative was still in its infancy and that there’s no timeline to acquire a team. First, his group needs to determine whether there is a public appetite for a pro baseball team in the area (a website already has been set up). If the interest is there, Williams would look for areas to build a new ballpark.
Williams‘s group will have some competition should Major League Baseball decide to expand for the first time since 1998. In April, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he envisions adding two teams, one in the Eastern time zone and one in the Pacific. And while any expansion probably is a far-off prospect, Manfred has mentioned Charlotte, Nashville (in the Central time zone) and Montreal as possible Eastern candidates.
“I called the commissioner’s office this morning. . . . He has bigger fish to fry right now,” Williams said Wednesday.
Orange County, in which Orlando is located, grew by 27,712 residents between 2017 and 2018, the seventh-largest year-over-year county population increase in the country, according to the Census Bureau. The Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area grew by 60,045 residents over that time frame, the nation’s fifth-largest increase. With more than 2.5 million residents, the metropolitan area was the nation’s 22nd largest in 2018, just behind Baltimore-Columbia-Towson in Maryland and just ahead of Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia in North Carolina and South Carolina. That number doesn’t include the millions of tourists who visit every year.
The Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne media market, meanwhile, ranks as the nation’s 18th largest, with nearly 1.5 million television homes. It’s the largest media market to not have an MLB team and is larger in size than numerous other MLB cities, including Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Kansas City.
Of course, Tampa (12th) and Miami (16th) have sizable media markets, but that hasn’t translated into fan support for Florida’s two major league teams. This season, the Rays — who are exploring plans to split their season between St. Petersburg and Montreal — ranked 29th in average attendance despite qualifying for an AL wild-card berth. The Marlins ranked last, averaging barely more than 10,000 fans.
Williams, who retired as the Magic’s senior vice president this year, said Wednesday that his group is not pursuing Rays relocation because the team still has eight years remaining on its stadium lease and because of its desire to play games in Montreal.
“Baseball went elsewhere twice,” Williams said. “I’ll say this as sweetly as I can: Baseball hasn’t worked in either city. I’m convinced this market is different.”
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