Coupled with the excitement around North Carolina sports betting legalization is fan enthusiasm for placing wagers on home-state teams. While those home teams do not include Major League Baseball, a grassroots effort to bring an MLB team to Raleigh is underway.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it clear that he would like to see at least two more teams in the league.
“We need to get Oakland and Tampa resolved,” Manfred said last fall. “Once they’re resolved, I am an advocate of getting the industry to 32.”
With the legalization of sports betting in North Carolina, proponents of Major League Baseball expansion into Raleigh see a bargaining chip that sets them apart from the field.
MLB’s unfinished business
Before Raleigh MLB expansion has even the slimmest of chances, the league’s urgent tasks include the unfinished business of relocating the Oakland A’s and securing a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Oakland is in the last stages of moving to the fourth location in the franchise’s history, Las Vegas. The team’s fate is in the hands of the league’s relocation committee, which will scrutinize the expansion application and make recommendations to the MLB executive committee.
The final barrier is receiving approval from three-fourths of the league’s 30 clubs. The lease for Oakland’s current home, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, expires at the end of the 2024 season.
The timetable for the move and the construction plans for a ballpark in Las Vegas are unclear, but reports estimate that the team will set up shop in the city by 2027 or sooner if it decides to play at Las Vegas Ballpark, the home of the A’s Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas Aviators.
Realistic expansion timeline
With these factors at play, even if Raleigh did secure approval for an expansion team, it would be years, possibly even a decade, before the team’s first season.
To add to the expansion timeline matrix, several other cities are in the running for expansion.
Cities that Manfred explicitly mentioned as possible expansion sites include Montreal, a city that had an MLB team for 35 years until 2004, and Charlotte. Other locations that have garnered attention, some with the backing of well-heeled grassroots efforts include Nashville, Tennessee; Salt Lake City; Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Mexico City.
While the competition is stiff, Raleigh does have some advantages over other cities in the running for an expansion team.
First, Raleigh has a grassroots coalition of die-hard fans called MLBRaleigh. The group has been working since 2018 to bring a team to the city. The lobbying efforts directed at MLB officials include a petition, social media outreach, a website with a detailed pitch and fan activities.
A large market and built-in fanbase is another advantage. The Raleigh Chamber of Commerce brags that the city “is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s hottest sports markets” with several powerhouse college programs and a successful NHL team.
MLBRaleigh echoes this sentiment and points out the passion residents have for improving and elevating the city, citing efforts to revitalize a once-depressed downtown into a thriving business and entertainment district.
“With baseball expansion on the horizon, we want that same community (and those who have come since then) to be a part of the push for a team in our area.”
Raleigh is bigger than other MLB cities, including Milwaukee and Cincinnati, and close in size to Kansas City and Pittsburgh. It is also the largest broadcast market in the nation without an MLB team. Geographically, Raleigh is far enough from Atlanta to avoid overlap with the strong Braves fanbase.
NC sports betting law allows for a potential MLB stadium sportsbook
Another plus, perhaps among the most important: the opportunity for an in-house retail sportsbook at a new baseball stadium.
According to MLBRaleigh, it’s “likely MLB will prioritize any new location where [sports betting] is legally possible.”
The recently-enacted sports wagering law allows for the establishment of retail sports betting locations in six major sports leagues, including MLB. PNC Arena in Raleigh has already announced its plans to add a retail sportsbook on-site.
The viability of getting a brand-new baseball park is also important in any expansion efforts. In its pitch for a team, MLBRaleigh identified two possible sites for a new pro baseball complex:
- Downtown South: a large parcel of land east of I-70 on Penmarc Drive that is easily accessible to downtown and major traffic routes.
- The site of the demolished Cargill Plant: Located on the southern edge of downtown. The site is near I-40, downtown and adjacent to the city’s greenway.
Sports Betting legalization distances Raleigh from the field
The MLBRaleigh Twitter account posed the following question when Gov. Roy Cooper signed House Bill 347 into law.
“If you were MLB, and you were expanding or relocating, wouldn’t you want to prioritize locations where you KNEW you could extract the highest revenue?”
The implicit argument being that sports betting provides valuable revenue for MLB. Of all the American cities on the list, only Nashville and Portland can compete with Raleigh regarding having a legal sports betting market.
However, Oregon is limited to one operator (DraftKings) and retail options at tribal casinos. Tennessee only offers online sports betting. North Carolina, with a much larger online market and the potential for retail sportsbooks at pro stadiums, outpaces those states in terms of the revenue it could provide the league.
The state’s sports betting profile, along with Raleigh’s situation in the media market and possible stadium sites, give Raleigh distance on the field.
We’re sitting in MLB’s largest east coast dead zone w/ stadium-zoned land near DT. Our pop + media market is in-line & growing fast, & now our state offers MLB an avenue to max revenue with HB 347.
— MLBRaleigh (@MLBRaleigh) June 13, 2023