Sports Page

Inning 2: The Market for Pro Sports

(Part 3 of 3)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

C. The Market Expands: Pro Sports Moves to the Sun Belt

We like to think of sports as a touchstone—a source of comfort and stability in an uncertain world. The hometown team is supposed to be our team for life.

Car stuck in mud

If fans had to travel over roads like these, the market for pro sports might never have expanded beyond the big eastern cities.
Photograph courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration.

But the reality is that pro sports is a dynamic business. Markets evolve and teams move from one city to another. The Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves and then the Atlanta Braves. The NFL’s Chicago Cardinals moved to St. Louis and then Phoenix. The Minneapolis Lakers moved west to become the Los Angeles Lakers.

Until the 1950s, pro sports was mainly an eastern, big city phenomenon. There were no major league baseball teams south of Washington, D.C. or west of St. Louis. The same was pretty much true for football, basketball, and hockey.

Just look at the NBA and NHL standings for the 1955-1956 season. You can count the teams on you fingers.

NBA Standings, 1955-1956

Eastern Division

Western Division
Philadelphia Warriors
Fort Wayne Pistons
Boston Celtics
Minneapolis Lakers
New York Knickerbockers
St. Louis Hawks

Syracuse Nationals

Rochester Royals

NHL Standings, 1955-1956

Montreal Canadiens
Detroit Red Wings
New York Rangers
Toronto Maple Leafs
Boston Bruins
Chicago Blackhawks

Times have certainly changed. In the NBA, only the Celtics and Knicks are still in the same city. And as for the NHL . . . well, teams are playing ice hockey in places like Dallas and Phoenix.

Demographics and technology had a major impact on the pro sports market during the second half of the 20th century:

  • Transcontinental air service made it possible for teams to travel farther and faster on road trips.
The Dodgers Team Plane

The Dodgers Team Plane, 1950s.
Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.

  • Television helped to expand the pro sports market by putting more fans in touch with the games. The number of U.S. households with television sets went from 8,000 in 1946 to 59.5 million in 1970.
Watching TV together

Watching TV together, 1957.
Photo courtesy of Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • Affordable, efficient air conditioning helped to make Sun Belt cities like Dallas and Phoenix more comfortable places to live. Example: Between 1940 and 1990, the population of Phoenix went from 106,818 to 983,403.

  • Government investment in highway construction and a surge in car ownership encouraged economic growth in Sun Belt communities and turned them into attractive sports markets.

Motor Vehicles Registered in the U.S.




Total Number Registered

Source: Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation.

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D. NFL 101: Reaching Out
to New Fans


Cheerleaders, 1930.
Photo courtesy of Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Everyone knows the old cliche. Guys spend fall Sundays watching football and consuming the maximum yearly allowance of junk food, while their wives and girlfriends wonder what kind of moron can watch more than one game in a day.

So, why did 500 women show up at the New England Patriots’ stadium on a Tuesday evening in November 1999? Was it some kind of protest?

Not at all. The women were fans. They had paid $25 each to attend "NFL 101," a workshop designed to help them learn more about professional football. And for the second year in a row, the event was a sellout.

Players and coaches talked to the women about the essentials of football—penalties, scoring, official signals—and offered hints for enjoying the game. Video clips on the evening news gave every indication that a good time was had by all.
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