A friend recently asked me to weigh in the question, “Why can’t Fresno support a professional sports franchise?”
It’s a question I’ve asked myself several times. On its face, Fresno seems, theoretically, a contender as the home to an NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB team.
The Fresno metropolitan area, home to a little more than 1 million people within the counties of Madera and Fresno, seems an ideal choice for a team — that’s 1 million potential fans.
The metropolitan areas of Salt Lake City, Utah, Buffalo, NY and New Orleans, La., have a population less than 1.3 million people.
So why is Fresno not in the running?
There are at least two reasons of which I can surmise. The simpler one has to with the fact that so many Fresnans have pledged allegiance to another long-standing professional sports team.
Folks around here tend to admire the teams from either Southern California or the Bay Area. Some like teams from other states.
A complicated reason has to do with finances.
In cities of comparable size to Fresno, say Buffalo, the city is the second largest in the state, plus it’s home to several major employers M&T Bank, Rich Foods, as well as Merchant Insurance Group and a branch of the Federal Executive Board.
Several interstates intersect in Buffalo as well. In a nutshell, this city is major hub for business, which makes sense considering it’s smack-dab in the middle of what’s known as the Northeastern Trade Corridor.
New Orleans seems pretty self-explanatory. Granted, the Big Easy is often portrayed as a den of corruption and thievery or a booze-soaked fantasyland home to bead-wearing Cajuns.
These generalizations, as well as the city’s position as a major port, have made New Orleans a powerhouse of tourism and finance, even in the midst of hurricanes and oil spills.
Salt Lake City, like Buffalo, holds the position of major commerce crossroad. Not only does Delta Airlines keep its hub at Salt Lake City International Airport, the city is home to several major corporations. Some of these are Sinclair Oil, the Huntsman Corporation and Smith’s Food and Drug.
There is also a significant tech presence in the metropolitan area with offices for 3M, eBay, Intel and Adobe.
While Fresno has several large employers, they are not the type of entity that brings in immense, profitable assets.
The largest employer is Community Medical Center, followed by the City of Fresno and then Saint Agnes Medical Center. If totaled these three institutions employee fewer than 15,000 people.
In Buffalo, for example, the four smallest employers on the list of the top 10, employ more than 18,000 people. These are Top Markets, Buffalo Public Schools, M&T Bank and Erie County.
Fresno has the populations of the aforementioned cities, but financially it suffers.
Looking at the reasons for Fresno’s not being home to a sports team shows the bigger issue in Fresno: profit-turning business is lacking.
Granted, there are hospitals, farms, restaurants, several college campuses and public schools, yet where is the major manufacturer who employs the working class?
Working class being the folks who are intelligent but don’t really want to go to college. They don’t want to be bankers, teachers or engineers. In some instances circumstances dictated they could not become these professionals.
These folks want to make a living. Not a minimum wage living. They need benefits, a squarely middle class income and the knowledge that they work for a great company producing very real and very useable goods.
I’m talking manufacturing.
Not farming. It’s not incredibly mechanized or uses low-wage labor.
Not infrastructure improvements. Though necessary and honorable, those use public funds to produce things that do not bring in revenue.
Not professional firms like insurance and banking. Their exclusivity based on needing an education means they cannot employ enough people.
Fresno has a vast population, with people who would work if given an equitable opportunity. That is, equitable with assistance programs.
As of right now, Fresno is the home to professional careers and fast food or retail jobs.
Tech jobs will never come here because of the lacking proximity to Los Angeles and the Bay area.
Though the mayor and others want Downtown renovated, this will not happen until there is a large corporate entity providing sustainable jobs.
Tax revenue cannot come solely through public employees, subsidized farmers and restaurant employees.
Bringing in a major manufacturer will be a long arduous process, but it begins with streamlining regulations and zoning laws.
Until this happens, until a large, honest, equitable employer stakes claims in the Fresno area, there will be little money for schools, Downtown renovation or infrastructure improvement.
And no investor in their right mind will choose this million-person metroplex for a professional sports team.