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Virginia, the mother of presidents, is barren of a major league sports team to call its own.
Gov. Bob McDonnell didn’t make the prospects any better on Dec. 7 when he denied Virginia Beach’s request for state money to help build a $380 million arena and possibly lure a major league team -- perhaps the Sacramento Kings of the NBA -- to the city.
A day earlier, McDonnell told Jimmy Barrett, host of the monthly "Ask the Governor" show on WRVA-AM 1140, that Virginia Beach’s $150 million request would need to be economically justifiable to be included in the state budget. Barrett seemed enthusiastic about a major league team coming to the Old Dominion.
"There is no major league sports franchise in Virginia," Barrett said. "Virginia is the biggest state in the country that does not have a professional sports franchise."
We wondered if Virginia really is the biggest of the non-big leaguers. We tried to contact Barrett, but didn’t get a response.
It seems reasonable to assume that Barrett was comparing states by population. So we looked at 2010 U.S. Census data and found that Virginia, with more than 8 million people, ranked 12th.
We counted teams from Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and the National Basketball Association,.
All the states larger than Virginia -- California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and New Jersey -- have major-league professional sports teams.
When we added Major League Soccer and the Women’s National Basketball Association, nothing changed.
There is caveat about Virginia, as Barrett acknowledged on the air.
"Now you might be able to make an argument that the Washington Redskins are equally Virginia," he said.
McDonnell replied, "Well, the corporate headquarters are here (in Ashburn), so we’re claiming them."
"The headquarters are here," Barrett said. "Training camp is going to be here in Richmond --"
"Right -- Richmond," McDonnell said.
"The stadium is in Landover, Maryland, and the team is named after Washington," Barrett said.
Although the Redskins are popular in Virginia, they have never had a home stadium in Virginia. Since moving from Boston in 1937, they have played in Washington or Maryland.
The Washington Capitals of the NHL have their executive offices in Arlington. But they, too, have always had their home arena in Washington or Maryland.
After Virginia, the next-largest state that lacks a major league franchise is Alabama, which is 23rd in population. Alabama has 4.8 million people, which is 60 percent of Virginia’s population. The other states in between that have franchises are Washington, Massachusetts, Indiana, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado.
We asked experts why Virginia lacks a major team. Chad McEvoy, a professor at Syracuse University’s David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, said Virginia has several metropolitan areas -- Richmond and Norfolk -- that would be a good size for a NBA or NHL team. Franchises also look for a base of large corporations to become sponsors and for ready arenas or stadiums.
For example, Oklahoma City built an arena and had a group of committed businessmen who bought the Seattle Supersonics and moved the team to their city. Meanwhile, Louisville, Ky., and Kansas City, Mo., have built arenas but have not lured teams yet.
"Arenas can cost $300 million and new stadiums for baseball or football franchises can cost $700 to $800 million or more -- that’s a very significant initial capital cost," McEvoy said. "There is no guarantee that if you build an arena, that it will attract a team, so it can be a pretty risky proposition."
But arenas are what big league franchises covet, said Joe Favorito, an instructor in advanced sports marketing and communications at Columbia University, said. "Private corporations can’t afford the infrastructure and there are grants and loan programs that a privately-funded facility could not take advantage of," he said.
Franchises must also consider sports saturation, Favorito said. Washington, Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., and Raleigh, N.C., have major league teams. And the region also has plenty of college teams.
Sure, the Redskins have their headquarters in Virginia. But there’s no major league team that plays its home games in the Virginia or in any way bears its name.
We rate Barrett’s claim True.
The Sacramento Bee, "Virginia arena subsidy sought," Nov. 29, 2012.
McDonnell’s office, "2012 Holiday Edition of ‘Ask the Governor’ WRVA," (question at 9:45, quote at 11:36) Dec. 6, 2012.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "McDonnell rejects $150 million sought for Virginia Beach arena," Dec. 8, 2012.
S. Census Bureau, "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," March 2011.
Washington Redskins, "History by Decades," accessed Dec. 18, 2012.
Wikipedia, "Major professional sports teams of the United States and Canada," accessed Dec. 18, 2012.
Interview with Dr. Chad McEvoy, professor of sport management at Syracuse University’s David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, Dec. 19, 2012.
Interview with Joe Favorito, instructor in advanced sports marketing and communications at Columbia University, Dec. 19, 2012.
Journal of Sport Management, "NBA Expansion and Relocation: A Viability Study of Various Cities," Aug. 24, 2006.
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