quiz time [answered below]

Just curious, I guess. Can anybody figure out what these twenty cities have in common? Hint: only these twenty share these traits.

Albuquerque, NM (+17.6)
Aurora, CO (+17.4)
Austin, TX (+17.7)
Bakersfield, CA (+33.2)
Colorado Springs, CO (+10.7)
El Paso, TX (+10.0)
Fort Worth, TX (+33.9)
Fresno, CA (+11.7)
Honolulu, HI (+0.8)
Las Vegas, NV (+18.2)
Long Beach, CA (+0.2)
Louisville, KY (+2.3)
Mesa, AZ (+16.2)
Omaha, NE (+11.3)
Santa Ana, CA (+0.7)
Toledo, OH * (+0.8)
Tulsa, OK (-0.9)
Tuscon, AZ (+12.6)
Virginia Beach, VA (+2.0)
Wichita, KN (+5.7)

*- another hint: that one really stings.

ANSWER: The 20 cities listed above are A) among the 60 cities in the US with a larger population than Pittsburgh and B) have managed to achieve this without a single major league sports team to their credit. Not a one. You’ll recall how often we’ve been warned that if we lose any one out of our three (3!) major league franchises, we’d become a “minor league” city and wither away. (If you post comments with links to any specific such jeremiads I’ll highlight them). So I find the ability of these cities to attract, retain and employ residents on such a large scale remarkable.

Just to provide a little more context, population trends over the last decade have been added parenthetically. Pittsburgh has lost 6.8% of its population since 2000 — by which time the economy had already transformed enough that many of us feared the Y2K bug. We were worried about failing power grids and financial systems but not mills and factories as I recall.

What does it all mean? In thirty years, when we are faced again with replacing one of our stadiums … if you like cheering for the home team and wish to continue doing so, fine. If you want to argue that we can’t be a “major league city” or an economic success without a _______ team, maybe someone will still have this post bookmarked and ready to go. Or maybe by then all the drilling will have left us looking like something out of the last few pages of The Lorax. Somebody could scrawl “UNLESS” across the scoreboard at Heinz Field.

(Yes, upon further review, Fort Worth is frequently considered part of the “Dallas / Ft. Worth / Arlington” metropolitan area. Yet all of its sports franchises are hosted elsewhere in that triangle, and more importantly Dallas is the only one with name privileges, which I think is relevant if we’re discussing the notoriety and mystique of being a Big League Town and all that which it brings. Besides, Washington, PA is as far away from Pittsburgh as is Ft. Worth from Dallas.)

23 thoughts on “quiz time [answered below]

  1. InsideAgitator

    no drill ordinances?
    funded pensions?
    handgun bans? LGBTQ & other partnership rights? asphalt recycling? (this is really too much fun, Bram)um, campaign finance reform? laws prohibiting nepotism/cronyism? condoms in schools? light rail service? Only one per comment, you say? Let's go with funded pension–oh wait! my fave!! Municipal sewer system that don't combine storm overflow w/ the sanitary!!!

  2. MH

    Unfortunately, that the Omaha Royals and Toledo Mud Hens exist is about the outer limit of my baseball knowledge.

  3. Anonymous

    I thought the answer was going to be that they all have much nicer weather, until I saw Toledo on the list.

  4. MH

    To be fair, Omaha is right now building a new stadium to keep the College World Series. It is near the new basketball/hockey/concert thing (that is probably a bit smaller than the Pete). On the other hand, Omaha generally fixes potholes.

  5. MH

    Just to be clear, I'm not Matt H. I briefly signed 'M (not Matt) H', but then I decided that I've had 'MH' as initials far longer than him and that he always did “Matt H,” so I stopped.

  6. BrianTH

    I'm not saying the conclusion is wrong, but I'm not sure it makes sense to look at city populations when assessing this issue. A major league sports team is a metropolitan-scale amenity, and many of those cities with larger populations than the City of Pittsburgh are actually in considerably less populous metropolitan areas (or not the central city in a more populous metropolitan area, as with Ft. Worth).

    I also think it is worth noting that the population trend of Pittsburgh is undoubtedly still being affected by the steel bust. Because it was disportionately young adults who moved away to look for work elsewhere, it led to an ongoing birth/death/retirement-migration ratio effect that has continued to contribute significantly to local population loss.

    Again, though, I do think it is more than reasonable to question the necessity of major league sports teams when it comes to the health of major metropolitan areas, particularly when considering any sort of significant public investment that could potentially be directed elsewhere.

  7. Anonymous

    Mata Hari?

    But seriously Bram, I think you're overreaching here, trying to smear Pittsburgh's efforts to retain its pro sports teams by twisting its population numbers into a knot.

    While the City of Pittsburgh's popn. is 61st largest in the country, the Pgh. MSA is 22nd. For as much as I'd love to keep suburbanites out of the city, especially during sporting events, they are a major consideration for much local government and business decision-making.

    Toledo MSA? 79th. El Paso, 68.Albuquerque 57, Honolulu 55, and so on. (Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington is 4th largest, so as your asterisk avers, Ft. Worth doesn't belong on the list. Similarly, Mesa is part of Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, which is 12th largest, and Aurora is part of the Denver MSA.)

    And it always bears noting that many of these “bigger” cities are bigger, population-wise, because they are significantly bigger than Pittsburgh in square mileage.

    So, in terms of population density, Wikipedia has a list of most dense metropolitan areas (I know this isn't the same as “city”, but still). Surprisingly, Pittsburgh is the 8th most dense metro, after NYC, LA, Miami, Boston, Chicago, Philly and SF.

    In terms of physical size, Honolulu, Virginia Beach, Colorado Springs, Tulsa, Albuquerque are in the top 50 in the country. Pittsburgh wasn't even in the top 145, according to one Wikipedia list.

    And this, finally, from that unassailable source, About.com:
    “If the Pittsburgh city limits were expanded to cover about the same area as any other Top 10 city, it would expand the city's population from roughly 330,000 to more than 1 million, making Pittsburgh the ninth largest city in the country.”

  8. Bram Reichbaum

    BrianTH, Anon 9:41 – I agree the analysis is “far from perfect”. Just the first thing that came to mind when I saw the population tables, and saw a bunch of cities that didn't seem so “major” were not only bigger than us but growing a heck of a lot faster. Of course, as to the MSA business, I'm real proud of the Pittsburgh MSA and I'm gonna let it finish, but that doesn't do much at all for our tax base, and it does say something about our “excess capacity”.

    But my main point was just, sort of, when I was a kid and I'm guessing when a lot of us were kids, sports matchups were how I learned about other cities. It's how I learned New York is impressive and Cleveland is lame but out there. And if I learned of a “city” whose teams never played Pittsburgh before, well, it'd have to be a village for chumps. But it seems like no matter how you slice it, some of the largest or at least fastest growing metropolises aren't playing our “reindeer games”. Maybe it's a trend?

  9. BrianTH

    The problem is that most (all?) of these cities couldn't play the major-league sports game even if they wanted to.

    The ones that are higher in population than Pittsburgh simply because they are a geographically larger central city in an overall substantially lower population metro likely aren't going to be able to get a major league sports franchise, because the leagues don't care about things like municipal populations, just likely attendance, viewership, and in general revenues. And that is all a function of metro (sometimes regional) population, not municipal population.

    Meanwhile, the ones that are secondary cities in larger metros may have major league sports in their metros, but those teams will likely be associated with the primary city (Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, and so forth).

    In contrast, the City of Pittsburgh is relatively small in area for a central city of a larger metro, and therefore the population of the City is a relatively small percentage of the Metro population, which is why the City's population rank is so much lower than the Metro's population rank. That undoubtedly has real-world implications for things like the City's tax base, but again, the sports leagues aren't going to care about any of that, and will just be interested in the fact that the Pittsburgh Metro is big enough for major league sports (which it is), and in fact it has some regional pull as well (see the extension of the Pittsburgh Sports Network).

    So I really don't think it tells you much that these cities don't have major league sports, considering they likely don't have that option. Again, I actually agree that the benefits of subsidizing major league sports are often overrated, but this doesn't strike me as a good way of getting to that point.


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