Television market size: 1.49 million
Similarly sized MLB market: Denver (1.57 million)
This is not a great time to be a pro sports team in Florida. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have blacked out most of the team's home games on local television since 2010 and only aired games last year after sponsors bought up tickets. The Jacksonville Jaguars tarp off seats at EverBank Stadium and had their owner sacrifice one "home" game a year to London. The Miami Dolphins have needed help from sponsors and television affiliates to buy up tickets and avoid blackouts while trying to squeeze funding for a new stadium out of the stone that is the Miami-Dade County tax base -- which already feels burned after shelling out for a new Miami Marlins ballpark, only to watch management gut the team.
The Rays and Marlins attendance is atrocious. The National Hockey League's Florida Panthers are in constant flux and may be targeted for a move to Quebec City or Kansas City. Basically, if you aren't the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Miami Heat or the Orlando Magic, you're having a terrible time.
That isn't Orlando's problem. Beyond the "America's Vacation Capital" facade and the flocks of tourists heading to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and other economy-driving attractions is a city with a thriving tech center and a rapidly growing population. It also puts a lot of stock in the Orlando Magic, who've spent more than two decades giving fans short bursts of greatness followed by tough stretches of drama and misery. Big men Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard each brought the Magic to the NBA Finals (in 1995 and 2009), but each also left for a bigger market and spotlight.
Magic fans who have been around for the whole stretch have seen two All-Star games come through town, but have also watched their franchise win little more than half the games it's played and foster some fan cynicism that would impress even the most jaded Northeast transplant.
Meanwhile, USL-PRO's Orlando City SC was just tabbed to join Major League Soccer by 2015. The push for a stadium site and funding has begun and the 8,000 or so fans who regularly show up for Orlando City games at the Citrus Bowl believe firmly they can succeed where MLS' Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Sol failed when they folded in 2001 and 2002.
But what about baseball here, you ask? Keep in mind that while baseball hasn't been well-attended in Florida, it hasn't exactly failed here, either. Florida teams have been to three World Series in the past 20 years and have won two of them. They've shown remarkable ability to either develop or pay for stars, if not keep them. With the Rays already looking like a logical in-state move that wouldn't affect the Marlins in the slightest, Orlando could get a great franchise right off the bat.
The only question is where to put it. Disney has a sprawling sports complex, but its ownership of MLB broadcaster ESPN -- of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in question -- might keep it out of the running for an Orlando franchise. Still, it's an intriguing possibility for a town that hasn't endured the same sports woes as many of its Florida neighbors.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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