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Where is Reds Country, exactly?

Joe Robbins

The annual Winter Caravan sends Reds players and dignitaries to outposts of fandom in four states: Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia. The farthest reaches of the tour can be said to sketch rough boundaries of the team's geographical turf, though these terminal destinations naturally favor larger populations centers over a smaller town that might be at the "true border." Dispatches from Muncie, Charleston and Lima got me thinking about where the regional limits of the Reds' allegiances lie - and to what extent these limits have become less relevant from the Radio Age to Satellite TV (not really an Age) to the present.

In virtual terms, the Reds' fan community exists anywhere there's an internet connection. (I'm sure both the ownership and MLB Advanced Media appreciates the reminder.) Compared to the NFL - and possibly other big sports biz like the NBA and global club soccer - baseball attracts less interest across regions from "general sports fans." I think this is due in part to factors like: the approximately 528-game season, more entrenched/old-timey fanbases and the uniqueness of ballparks as elements of the local landscape. For whatever reason, fans seem less likely to tune in to baseball in the absence of a team allegiance, even if that allegiance is "I hate the Yankees."

Traditional regional boundaries remain important for baseball clubs, especially those with smaller national profiles like the Reds. The existence of the Caravan, presumably a reflection not just of general goodwill but also market research, is evidence. Maintaining ties to the regional fans matters - especially in late January, when everyone who doesn't drive by Great American Ballpark on their commute can barely remember the team exists.

At the extremes, the Caravan visited Bloomington to the West (130 mi driving), Bowling Green, KY to the SW (220 mi driving) Charleston, WV to the SE (200 mi driving), encroached on Pirates' territory in Parkersburg, WV (200 mi driving) and Indians' territory in Lima, OH (130 mi) to the North. That works out to a rough 150-200 mile radius from Cincinnati, though the territory is greater from East to West. These are all points no more than about 3.5 hours driving. So Reds Country might extend to wherever you can make a day-trip from and spend less than half your waking hours in the car.

These destinations also all fall roughly within the Reds' chunk of the MLB Blackout map, which overlaps with the Cubs, Indians, Pirates, Tigers - and the Braves and Cards too apparently.

Biz of Baseball full-size map of media coverage area here

The Reds TV broadcast blackout territory is decent cipher for where Reds Country is, though the lines are blurred in the overlap with other clubs. Fox Sports Ohio does the lion's share of Reds regular season TV coverage and their broadcast territory, according to Wikpedia, theoretically extends throughout "Ohio and parts of Indiana, Kentucky, Northwest Pennsylvania, the border communities of West Virginia, and extreme Southwest New York." Much of that coverage on the periphery is subject to being superseded or bumped to an alternate channel by more local sports coverage.

Given the Reds' exclusive broadcast claim to Southwest Ohio and a vast swath of Central Kentucky, it's tempting to see this as the sweet spot for Reds Country. I-75 and I-71 connect Cincinnati to Louisville, Lexington and Dayton within that swatch, with Columbus looming to the north as a swing market for both Cincinnati and Cleveland. Louisville and Dayton are also home to Reds affiliates, which further ties them to the big league hub. Taken with relatively high population density and a lack of competing MLB, NFL or NBA franchises, this corridor is the critical secondary market within the Reds Country. Peytonmanningtown, IN, may be a major population center, but it's just not as ripe for the picking.

There's also radio. Specifically, 700 WLW. The 500 kW signal used to reach Canada, but the sharp shears of the FCC clipped the Big One's wings. On a recent drive between Cincinnati and Washington, DC, I was able to get a weak signal somewhere in Maryland, though I could not tell if Joey Votto had had doubled twice or had been dubbed "Lead Ice." It's a cool nickname regardless. WLW probably doesn't help extend Reds Country much beyond its broadcast TV boundaries anymore, but it does provide a lifeline to fill in blackout gaps. To the extent that its the preferred form of media for purists, the cable-less and people whose cars don't have XM radio, its also the only way to get the game.

Print media also does some evangelizing for the team, though I'm pressed to find a newspaper beyond the broadcast area that syndicates the Reds' beat reporters or offers coverage beyond what might be found in USA Today. Any potential source for expanding the reach of the Reds media empire through text is going to be, for better or worse, in the blogosphere.

Satellite TV, MLB Extra Innings, XM, streaming TV/radio broadcasts (both pirate and legitimate) and the web in general allow Reds' coverage to stretch around the globe. I don't have a handle on how much fandom this generates or sustains, so I thought I'd put it to the group, with the likelihood that this survey will oversample fans from beyond the Greater Cincinnati area. And model railroad enthusiasts, law students, animated GIF collectors...

I should note that Jamie Ramsey has done some excellent work straw polling where Reds fans are located throughout the 50 states.