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Chapter 7 Washington, D.C.: Longing for the Senators The franchise has to have a history of substantial losses over a long period. The stadium has to be substandard with no prospects for refurbishment. The city has to have taken some steps to indicate it is not interested in baseball and is no longer going to be supportive. And there has to be some sense that staying with the community and trying to rebuild the franchise would be ultimately futile. - Former Baseball Commissioner FayVincent outlining the criteria for baseball franchise relocations in 1991 1 Washington, D.C., was among the group of cities-along with St. Petersburg , Orlando, and Buffalo-that were passed over when Major League Baseball expansion franchises were granted to Miami and Denver in 1991. When these cities lost their bids for expansion teams, several announced publicly that they were resorting to what the New York Times called "Plan 2"- an attempt to lure an existing franchise from another location.2 At that time, Baseball Commissioner Vincent's guidelines for franchise relocations (quoted above) received wide attention. Expansion may be defined as the "legitimate" way for a city to obtain a franchise. Expansion involves no moving vans in the night, rarely results in lawsuits, and avoids the drastic lease concessions that are made in desperate attempts to keep an established franchise owner happy. The primary expenditure that the expansion franchise seeker (usually a group of investor-owners) must make is the franchise fee. The individual or group must show that it has sufficient operating capital to support the venture. The owners, not the host city, make the franchise fee payment, and in 1991 the fee for a baseball expansion franchise was $95 million. The problem is that expansion does not occur frequently, yet demand for teams is always high. As Table 3 shows, if a city decides that it must Washington, D.C.: Longing for the Senators 53 have a franchise, all of its hopes should not be invested solely in the expansion option. Washington, D.C., is an interesting city to consider here because the District has pursued an expansion baseball franchise for so long. The city actually has had two baseball franchises- both named the Senatorsand has lost both. The longing for a replacement continues to grow. The first Senators franchise was a charter member of the American League. This franchise moved to Minnesota in 1960. The second was an American League expansion franchise that later became the Texas Rangers in 1972.3 The 1971 Senators drew only 655,000 fans, not near the then-desirable attendance goal of two million fans, and the team's final home game was forfeited when fans rushed the field and tore up the sod for souvenirs. This two-time loser image has not helped Washington in its efforts to obtain a new baseball franchise. There are other barriers hampering the District's expansion efforts as well. In 1971, when the second Senators departed, the D.C. metropolitan area had a population of 2.9 million people, and its average household income was 29 percent above the national average. The city was also, like many American urban centers, recovering from racial strife and recent riots.4 Washingtonians seeking a new baseball franchise have made it clear that much has changed in the two decades since the last team departed. The population has increased by one million. The disposable income of Washingtonians has increased from 29 percent to 49 percent.5 Despite this favorable change, a major barrier that Washington has struggled to overcome is the success of the Baltimore Orioles discussed in the last chapter. It has been estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the crowd that attends Orioles games are residents of Washington, D. C. As might be expected, about this same percentage makes up the television viewing audience for the Orioles.6 Another major hinderance to Washington's expansion chances has been the absence of an ownership group that could show that financing was in place. This lack of a viable single or group investor became clear when the San Francisco Giants were available in 1992 and apparently no party was able to seize the moment for the District. As the deadline for a Major League Baseball expansion decision approached in May 1990, since there was no individual or group investors in place, an alternative plan was proposed. Washington business leader Jeffrey Gildenhorn asked Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent if he would approve of public stockholders' owning...


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