Some interesting data was recently posted showing, according to Neilson and revenue generation, that Boston is considered one of the major markets in the nation, a 'big-market' team. But there are other standards, such as population, which perhaps more accurately define the relative strength of Boston vs., say, their chief rival in the ALE.
The 2008 U.S. Census Bureau population estimates clearly demonstrate that this 'big market' tag is either an anomoly or that N.E. sports fans watch too much TV and spend too much.
The population of NYC, the nation's largest city, is 8,363,710. Boston's population of 620,535 ranks 12th among MLB cities, slightly smaller than Baltimore, SFO, Detroit, San Jose; less than half the size of San Diego, Dallas, Phil, Phx; less than a third the size of Houston, Chi, L.A.; and only slightly larger than Mil, Denver, Seattle. In terms of its population, Boston is a mid-sized city. It is probable that the 230,000 students from its 52 colleges and universities, as well patients and their families in Beantown's world renowned medical facilities, add somewhat to that 620,535 in terms of fan support.
The regional population of NY is 19,006,798 (which includes parts of Ct., NY, Pa, etc.). The regional population of Boston is a mere 25% the size at 4,522,858 (including parts of NE states), and ranks #8 among MLB cities, smaller even than Hou, Phil, DFW, DC, Atlanta, and slightly larger than, SFO, Phx, Det., Seattle, which make up the top 12 MLB cities.
What is amazing about these #'s is that the Red Sox can earn so much and spend so much with such a relatively small population to generate that revenue, in such a small historical landmark of a park, and often in awful weather. Especially so vs. the 'uber-populations' of NY, L.A., Chicago. I believe this comes from the disproportionately high percentage of Sox fans within the New England population, including the big spenders who are derided as 'pink hats', as well as the high percentage of loyal Sox fans in the diaspora across the nation and the world, as fanatic Sox support is deeply imprinted in New Englanders. This historically zealous population buys tickets, souveniers, hats, NESN, MLB-TV, Comcast and listen to WBZ, WEEI; evidently in ways disproportionate to the fanbases of other teams. The ownership has also done an excellent job involving offshore markets (see Daisuke and Liverpool) which are also revenue streams. Red Sox Nation is truly large and profitable, and exists largely due to more than a century of inter-generational support of this team. In my family alone, 5 generations have enjoyed the Sox at Fenway, despite our living all over the world.
By contrast, Tampa area's population of 2,733,761 with a strong media market, is larger than Denver, Cinci, KC, Baltimore, but it's young fan base simply does not generate proportionate revenue, and the payroll is tiny, despite the success of the team. On the other side of the country, San Diego's 1,279,329 population, and regional base of 3,001,072 ... augmented by transient populations at the Naval Air Base and Camp Pendleton ... should generate enough revenue for a larger payroll and superior teams; especially considering the central location of its new ballpark, and strong historical content from Gonzo to Tony Gwynn to Ted Williams. Yet, it doesn't.
IMO, the deeply supportive fans of the Red Sox (and Phillies, Rangers, Detroit, mid-sized cities in similar boats) are to be commended. Boston may be considered a big media market, but it is a mid-sized city with a rabid fanbase. The ownership has returned large amounts of that revenue into competing successfully with Megalopolis to the south, to making Fenway the wonderful historic Cathedral of Baseball, and back to the community on many levels, but the Sox can only act like a "big-market" team because of the big hearted support of this mid-sized fan base.
For this reason alone, we would do better to acknowledge what we are, a mid-sized city, and not pretend to be what we aren't, a monster with the financial might of the NYY. We are not, can not be, and don't want to be, in terms of revenue in or out ... the Yankees who buy championships on an unlevel playing field. That we actually DO compete well is, in fact, a story of David vs. Goliath (600,000 vs. 8,000,000), not of a battle between two Goliaths. That mind-set is a slippery slope because it is inherently fictional.