Defending the West: Missouri


Attrib: timsamoff via Flickr

Kansas City--the Western Frontier of the Big Ten. As the picture clearly shows, the sun always shines brightest on KC--which probably explains my air conditioning bills.



As one of the 903,540 households in the KC region (and paying an extra $4 a month to get BTN on Time Warner cable) I feel the need to provide a counterpoint to Kevin’s great post about how New York City is a far better market than Kansas City.  On the surface it looks obvious that NYC should be grabbed, but if it was so clear the Big Ten would have made a strong move by now.  I'm trying to explain why the Big Ten is seriously considering Missouri as a highly viable option for the Big Ten, and why the TV market prospects in the Show-Me State may be better than you think.

First a little primer about the state of Missouri: like Pennsylvania, its secondary education system is dominated by a public institution located in the middle of the state.  Unlike Pennsylvania, there is no other FBS athletic competition in the state.  No Pitt.  No Temple.  Missouri is it. 

Like Pennsylvania, it has two large metropolitan areas at the edges of the state.  While the area in between these cities (Pitt/Philly, KC/St. Lou) is often perceived from a distance as a wasteland of discarded soy bean hulls and hill people--there are in fact a number of fairly sizeable towns which, when aggregated, adds up to quite a lot of people.

It’s only fair when assessing these TV market discussion to note that Kansas City is not the only TV market that would be added with the addition of the University of Missouri.  It's correspondingly fair to consider that Kansas City--while a college sports hotbed--is highly divided between Kansas, Missouri, and Kansas State fans, with some Nebraska fans tossed in the mix.

With all this in mind, these are my rough assessments of TV market share percentages of Missouri TV markets and the households that have an earnest interest in the University of Missouri and its athletic program:

St. Louis – 75% of the market (BTN was just added in 2010, but it would greatly solidify its market standing)
KC – 40%
Springfield – 85%
Cape Girardeau – 33%
Columbia – 100%
Joplin – 50%
Kirksville – 60%
St. Joseph – 60%

Combining these portions of households totals 2.1 million people, which if it were a single TV market would put it in the Top 10 in the country.  That’s not peanuts.

Admittedly it is a fraction of the New York City market.  Still, consider that I made an attempt to rationally judge a percentage of the households in the state that would at least have a fleeting interest in Missouri athletics. 

Try to judge the enigmatic New York City market in the same way. 

What percentage of New York City will be an active supporter of a regional program? Would 25% of the city identify with Syracuse?  Would 30% of households identify with Rutgers?  What percentage wouldn’t identify with any college sports program—there are ten professional franchises between East Rutherford and Flushing Point, each clamoring for local citizens' entertainment dollars. I feel that if New York City was a college sports town, there would already be a major presence there. 

The counter to this argument is, "it doesn’t matter, cable companies just look at whole numbers and New York City blows Missouri out of the water."  That’s true, but eventually you will need ratings, and where will ratings be sustainable? The numbers of households that would watch BTN could be much closer than you think.

Beyond TV market share are the prospects of the institutions.  I feel Missouri is a better long-term investment for the Big Ten.  Firstly: Jim Delaney has already alluded to "Sun Belt" growth in their plans for expansion.  Although nobody has ever confused Missouri with Malibu, the population of Missouri is growing three times faster than New York state, three times faster than Pennsylvania, and almost four times faster than Ohio. 

Secondly, there’s the matter of the school's football program: Rock M Nation has been ranking the Mizzou football teams from 1920 to the present day.  Two things come to mind: this team has been strongly supported for a long time, and jeebus they've had to sit through a lot of mediocre 6 and 7 win seasons.  If the Big Ten was looking to invest in stocks, Missouri would be an underperforming stock with good recent indications that it will trend upward.  The payoff could be big. 

Buy low, sell high. Give me more of a sure deal in Missouri and the Big Ten can turn their 50,000 football fans into 90,000 Big Ten fans by the end of the 2020s.

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