Football Market Map

Measuring Spokane

Competition to attract growth between American cities is fierce. Economists have written that the game of industry recruitment that cities, counties, and states play is, ultimately, a zero sum game. I’d argue that if you’re on the winning or losing end of attracting investment, arithmetic matters, despite what scholars say.

Spokane competes with other cities, as we know, and most of those cities are within our tier. Without getting too wonky, cities are easily categorized by the size and scope of their market reach. For instance, metro Spokane’s 2017 media market rank is 73rd in the nation.

For some quick perspective, top-tier cities in the United States influence international markets and provide things that most other cities can’t. New York, L.A., Chicago, and perhaps Phili, Dallas, and San Francisco are top-tier metros. Measure them against London, Paris, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, because those are the metropolises our biggest cities compete against.

As you might suspect, there’s a larger number of second-tier cities than top tier. Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Miami, Boston, Kansas City, Atlanta and on and on. If you’re a city with two or three major sports franchises and not named in the paragraph above, chances are you’re a second-tier city. The map featured on this post illustrates the market reach of professional football teams, a service reserved for top-tier markets, to say the least, and is a great color-coded illustration of the direct market reach of the metros that host an NFL franchise.

There are yet even more third-tier metros – Portland, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Salt Lake, Austin, Charlotte, Memphis, and on and on. Because sports franchises are a convenient metric, these are the cities that teeter on the edge of having a market large enough to host one or two professional sports franchises, typically only hockey or basketball.

And now we come to Spokane’s tier, the fourth rung on the ladder. Who does Spokane measure against? See the table below:

How Big Is Spokane
Spokane is no longer a small, sleepy metro. A big enough market to offer real urban amenities, it won’t be long before we crest 1-million people.


There’s a whole lotta’ ways to measure a city against other cities – it all depends on what you’re measuring. For instance, in a recent Spokesmen article, it was announced that multiple local public sector stakeholders are about to spend $150,000 on a Buxton analysis that will tell us where the gaps are in Spokane’s retail market. Buxton will use other peer cities as comparables to Spokane to indicate where we stack up with other retail markets and, therefore, determine who’s already in those markets that are not in ours – a fine indicator of who we would be a good fit for us. (For more on this topic, see Of Leakage, Retail Trade Areas, and Losing Downtown Department Stores.)

Whatever you’re measuring, every industry sector measures different things for different reasons. Here’s the most popular metrics, in no particular order:

Media Market Rank
Household Income
Crime Rates
Retail Mix
Quality of Life
Educational Attainment
Job and Labor Mix

And the list goes on. The point is, whether your Buxton Analytics measuring Spokane’s retail environment or a site selection analyst for an aerospace firm, they will both measure Spokane against other metros.

Although it stings the pride a little to phrase it this way, Spokane is considered a fourth-tier metro. We’ll likely be captured by the market forces that keep us fourth tier for a long time to come. Thus, the question becomes, how do we be the best damn fourth-tier city we can be, so good that other fourth-tier cities only look up at us in envy? The answer to this question is both simple and complicated all at the same time.

Quality of life is the one measurement that binds them all. If we get quality of life right, Spokane will ascend into a top-tier metro and economic region.



*Population based on Combined Statistical Area estimates as of 2015 as defined by the US Census. Market Rank is based on media markets as defined by Nielson, 2017.

**Modesto is the 20th largest US media market because it’s considered part of Sacramento’s media market.

Football Market Map is taken from NFL Fandom Maps.