So many of the current NBA discussions are framed around market size – yet the numbers used to define these markets are somewhat misleading. Not to get all sabermetric (or would it be sabermetro) on everyone, but I thought it may be a good exercise to look at the criteria used most commonly to define ‘big’ vs ‘small’ markets. And why, for the most part, the numbers we use are bullshit.
Most current discussions are framed around Designated Market Areas (DMAs) as outlined by Nielsen. Nielsen uses DMAs to assign total audience numbers to various regions for use in buying and selling ad space. The flaw in using DMAs to evaluate ‘large market vs small market’ in NBA terms is that every county in the United States is assigned to a DMA. For example – the Salt Lake City DMA includes the entire state of Utah. DMAs are designed to evaluate the size of a city in the same way your waist size is used to evaluate the size of your penis.
Below is a chart ranking each NBA market in terms of DMA.
One of the most common citations in the ‘big market vs small market’ debate is that LeBron James left Cleveland, the 18th largest DMA, for Miami, the 16th largest. If looking purely at DMAs, the move is insignificant.
But DMAs don’t really illustrate the true size of a city. The Cleveland DMA includes Akron and Canton, which somewhat artificially inflate the idea of Cleveland as a city. While a case can be made that TV markets are still an important number when evaluating NBA markets, looking at the metro size of these cities provides some stark differences.
Metros, or Metropolitan Statistical Areas, outline the core urban area and the immediate outlying regions that are directly related to that region. To extend the Salt Lake City example, a metro determines the people who live in Salt Lake City – not in the ENTIRE STATE OF UTAH. This provides a more accurate sense of the size of the city, and not just the assigned television market. When looking at the Metro sizes of Cleveland and Miami, Cleveland is ranked 28th with 2 million people, while Miami is ranked 8th with 5.6 million. So Miami is almost three Clevelands.
Below is the same chart as above, ranking each NBA market by DMA next to a chart ranking each market by metro – with fancy light sabers highlighting markets that have a large discrepancy.
The DMA and metro rankings mirror each other fairly close except for a few large outliers, which I’ve highlighted. Also note the discrepancy in many of the smaller markets, where their DMA is ranked much higher than their metro, even if that didn’t impact their rank relative to other NBA markets. Indiana is the 26th ranked DMA, but the 35th ranked metro. Charlotte and Orlando are also much smaller metros than DMAs. In the top 10, markets like Dallas, Philadelphia, and Boston only drop a few spots, but with the huge populations of those cities, the total audience difference is significant.
DMAs definitely have a relevant place in the discussion. When evaluating teams that may be willing to go into the luxury tax, looking at their DMA provides a fairly accurate idea of the size of their television contract. But when discussing free agents, the DMA probably has less impact than the metro ranking.
Mostly because metros more accurately define the amount of girls with slutty Twitter avatars available for follows in each market.
(Please note: Toronto was excluded since Canadian markets are not included in either the Nielsen or Metro rankings. Sorry, Canada. Golden State was listed under the San Francisco / Oakland DMA and Metro. Seattle is the 15th ranked metro and 12th ranked DMA.)