The next expansion franchise to join the world of professional sports will be a new NHL team in Seattle debuting in 2021. While Seattle already has two pro franchises, the Seahawks and Mariners, some major metropolises still lack even one team. Let’s take a closer look at five big cities without pro sports teams. (All population totals based on 2019 census figures from World Population Review).
Serving as a tourist destination with beautiful beaches, Honolulu makes a lot of sense for a pro sports team. The issue is travel. Getting to the island would be a nightmare for visiting teams. The team itself probably wouldn’t have a hard time attracting free agents. After all, who doesn’t want to live in Hawaii? Still, the logistical issues around having a team outside the contiguous 48 United States seem too problematic to seriously consider.
Providence, Rhode Island
Providence is Rhode Island’s largest city as well as one of the largest cities in New England. It has a fairly successful Division I college basketball program, the Providence College Friars. So why no pro team? The answer lies in the regional domination of Boston sports.
The Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots, and Celtics represent more than just the city of Boston or state of Massachusetts. They represent the entire region of New England. That said, there is a precedent. Hartford, Connecticut supported a hockey team for years. Providence has an AHL minor-league hockey team. Maybe the city is ready for a jump to the big leagues.
With a population of over 210,000, this huge metropolitan area loves college football teams, like the University of Alabama and Auburn. This could be an argument in favor of adding a pro sports team. Birmingham has supported a AA baseball team, the Birmingham Barons, for years. While many view college football as a year-round pastime, there are no games from February until July.
While an NFL team wouldn’t compare to the popularity of the Crimson Tide or Tigers, a hockey franchise may be a good idea. Birmingham could look at other Southern teams, like the Nashville Predators, as a template. This would give residents a non-football activity to enjoy in the offseason.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach has a population of over 450,000. Throw in neighboring Newport News with over 181,000 residents, as well as the rest of the Hampton Roads area, and you’re pushing a million. Add Richmond only a few hours away and we see a great location for a pro sports franchise.
The question is which sport Virginia Beach could attract. It’s not big enough for football. Hockey would be tough as the Capitals have a strong grip over the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area. With the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles to the north, Major League Baseball would also be a tough sell.
That leaves basketball. In D.C., the Wizards aren’t as universally beloved or as successful as the Caps, meaning there may be an opening for a new team. Combine this with the area’s history of pro basketball (they used to host the ABA’s Virginia Squires) and it seems like a logical fit.
With a population north of 1 million, Austin is known for its burgeoning art scene. Basketball is probably out of the equation; neighboring San Antonio has that sport covered. But the Austin and San Antonio metro areas would be able to support a baseball or hockey team. The Spurs fanbase serves as a nice “proof of concept” for the future of pro sports in the city. With multiple other franchises in all four sports statewide, adding one more wouldn’t be out of the question.