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Will the Cincinnati Reds ever leave Cincinnati?

Alex Hernandez, a groundskeeper with the City of Goodyear, Arizona, tends to the Cincinnati Reds logo, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Cincinnati Reds Picture Day 2019 2 19 2019

The Cincinnati Reds are a part of MLB history, widely recognized as one of the most storied franchises in baseball. But the Reds have fallen on hard times in recent years and with MLB relocation and expansion gaining steam, could the Reds leave Cincinnati?

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is always looking for ways to maximize revenue, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. While the league took in $10 billion in revenue in 2019, this past season dealt the league a huge blow. With MLB ratings dropping, another issue we looked into, and owners focused on profits, relocation becomes a real possibility.

Before we analyze why the Reds might leave Cincinnati, along with the counterpoints to suggest they will stay in the region, let’s look at the franchise history.

When were the Cincinnati Reds founded?

Cincinnati Reds
Sam Green/Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cincinnati Reds are one of the oldest MLB teams, founded in 1881 and joining Major League Baseball in 1882. Formerly known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings (1882-’89) and later the Redlegs (1954-’98), the Reds are one of the most tenured members in the National League.

Since the team was founded, the Reds have bounced around a few stadiums. The first games were held at Bank Street Grounds before League Park opened in 1884. The ballpark was then demolished and replaced on the same grounds in 1902 by Palace of the Fans. It only stood until 1911, when Cincinnati demolished it and built Crosley Field in its place.

The Reds moved into Riverfront Stadium (1970-’96), which was later renamed Cinergy Field (1996-2002). Built along the Ohio River, the stadium served as the home of the Reds, Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Bearcats.

Finally, Great American Ballpark opened in 2003. At $290 million, more than $400 million with inflation today, the new stadium was largely funded by Hamilton County taxpayers. The Reds paid $2.5 million annually to the county through 2011 and have paid $1 in rent every year since.

After being one of the best teams in baseball during the 1960s and 70s, the Reds have only reached the MLB playoffs four times since GAB opened. Unsurprisingly, attendance and fan interest have suffered and that could play a potential role if MLB considers relocating a team.

Why the Reds might leave Cincinnati

If the Reds were consistently competing for the World Series, or the NL pennant at the very least, MLB could live with Cincinnati. But a sub-.500 record in six of the past seven seasons and zero NLCS appearances since 1995, attendance has plummeted.

  • Cincinnati Reds attendance (2003): 2.355 million, 29,077 average per game, 69.1% capacity
  • Cincinnati Reds attendance (2008): 2.058 million, 25,415 average per game, 60.4% capacity
  • Cincinnati Reds attendance (2013): 2.534 million, 31,288 average per game, 73.9% capacity
  • Cincinnati Reds attendance (2018): 1.629 million, 20,115 average per game, 47.5% capacity
  • Cincinnati Reds attendance (2019): 1.808 million, 22,329 average per game

Baseball’s popularity is falling, which could be a part of the issue for the Reds. But it’s hard to blame cost, given the average price for Reds tickets has flattened since 2012. There are also other factors at play, which would influence MLB revenue.

  • 1,203 average spending/citizen, via Ballotpedia.
  • 37th largest media market in the United States
  • Cincinnati Reds value (Forbes): $1.085 billion, 27th in MLB

There’s more than enough incentive there for MLB to consider the Reds as a relocation candidate. But ownership also plays a huge role in the matter. Bob Castellini currently holds controlling shares of the club and grew up in Cincinnati, so he won’t be the one to relocate the team. But when it comes time for the Castellini family to sell the team, bidders will recognize there are better markets out there than Cincinnati.

Potential MLB relocation cities

Cincinnati Reds
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a matter of when, not if, an MLB team relocates. The Oakland Athletics are the strongest candidate, but the Tampa Bay Rays are another possibility to find a new market. Even if those clubs remain, league executives recognize there are some outstanding markets available.

This is without even considering a team moving to Montreal, where there is overwhelming support for MLB’s return.

MLB has every reason to heavily weigh relocating a team to a market that will generate more revenue, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. While expansion might be the preferred option and could certainly be in the league’s future, a team moving to a new city is likelier to happen first.

Why the Cincinnati Reds won’t relocate

Cincinnati Reds
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With all that said, baseball fans in Cincinnati have little reason to worry. If any team is going to move within the next five years, it will be the Athletics or Rays. Even looking past the immediate future, it’s hard to fathom the Reds leaving Cincinnati.

The team’s lease at Great American Ballpark doesn’t expire until 2037 and there’s zero reason to back out of the contract. At a time when clubs are doing everything possible to cut expenses, the Reds are elated to only pay $1 a year to Cincinnati.

Barring unexpected changes for the Castellini family, there’s also nothing to indicate a sale is on the horizon. Bob Castellini is only 79 and selling the team he grew up rooting for isn’t within the realm of possibility for a while. Even if the time comes where the club is put up for sale, the Castellini family will likely insist that whoever takes majority control vows to never move the team.

The Cincinnati Reds, despite their struggles, remain an integral part of MLB history. Even as baseball becomes more obsessed with increasing revenue and reducing spending, an iconic franchise won’t be relocated. Ultimately, the Reds will likely win another World Series before they relocate.