A Texas Two-Step at the Expansion Dance?

Could North Texas be a viable place for an MLB expansion team and a new neighbor for the Texas Rangers? (via Keith Allison)

When the modern era of baseball started at the beginning of the 20th century, there were 16 teams and 76,212,168 people in the United States. With the population now creeping toward 330 million, one might suspect there should be, say, 65-70 teams today. Yet we have just 30 teams and major league baseball has undergone no expansion in the 21st Century.

So growth is due if not overdue. Nevertheless, Commissioner Rob Manfred has asserted that expansion will not take place till the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay are resolved. Meanwhile, informal handicapping of the candidate cities has been ongoing. The Hardball Times has looked at the contenders in depth here and recently offered a bold proposal involving many more cities.

More conventionally, the 2019 Street & Smith Baseball Yearbook contains an article (“Where to Next?” by G. Scott Thomas) rating the top 20 metro areas. More than 100 reporters and editors filled out a report card (using grades from A to F) for each contender. In ranking order, the results are: Montreal, Portland, Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Vancouver, Raleigh-Durham, Mexico City, Austin, Monterrey, San Juan, New Orleans, Indianapolis, New Jersey (i.e., North Jersey), Havana, Sacramento, Columbus, Orlando, and San Bernardino. I was a bit surprised to see Nashville rank so highly, but otherwise the top 10 more or less line up with the favored locales of other pundits.

One viable metro area is missing from the list, however. That’s might be because it already has one team. I refer here to Dallas-Fort Worth, the Metroplex, or simply North Texas as it is increasingly referred to. Just as the Southern California conurbation eventually evolved into SoCal in popular discourse, North Texas will likely progress to NorTex (admittedly, it sounds like a public utility or a petroleum corporation) in the near future. Remember, you heard it here first.

Now it might seem unfair if not downright bigamous to bestow a second team on a metro area when so many other suitors are out there. On the other hand, such fairness was not a factor when Los Angeles and New York were awarded franchises in the first round of expansion. But a realistic case could be made for those teams then. The same is true for a potential NorTex franchise now.

First of all, did you know that NorTex is the largest market in the US with only one team? Yep, it’s true. One smaller metro area, San Francisco-Oakland (4,728,484 as of 2018) has two teams, though in past years some have opined that is one team too many. If the A’s can’t find a new home in the East Bay, they may be proved right. At any rate, the Bay Area has roughly 2.8 million people fewer than NorTex does, and has had two teams for more than half a century.

NorTex has 7,539,711 people according to a 2018 estimate (way up from 2,424,131 in 1970, two years before the Rangers hit town). That’s good for fourth place in the metro area population sweepstakes. Of course, New York and LA lead the pack and are not within striking distance. But third-place Chicago has “only” 9,498,716 people.

More important, however, are the metropolitan growth rates. NorTex has grown 17.33 percent since the 2010 census. Chicago is virtually stagnant with a growth rate of just 0.4 percent. This is not only much lower than DFW, it is lower than any of the other top 25 metro areas, including such renowned meltdown towns as Detroit and St. Louis. You have to go all the way down to Pittsburgh (No. 27 metro) to find a lower growth rate – in fact a negative rate of -1.34 percent. (The only other major league metro area in the red is Cleveland at -0.97 percent.)

You don’t have to be a math wizard to see that NorTex will likely surpass Chicago for third place within the lifetimes of many if not most of the people reading this article. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You don’t need a weathervane to see which way the wind blows.”

For a city to be seen as metaphorically “big league,” it usually involves literal big leagueness (to coin a phrase); in other words, having a big league baseball team. You might have pro football, basketball, and hockey, but you need big league baseball to be a real big league town.

Surely, the civic boosters in Orlando, Charlotte, San Antonio, and Portland would love to see big league baseball come to their cities even if they are not baseball fans. It is like a rite of passage, a graduation ceremony for the city. It’s not as though the aforementioned cities are bush league, but until a major league franchise opens for business, they are not big league.

On the other hand, if Tampa Bay were to lose the Rays, the Tampa/St. Pete metro area would no longer be big league. When the Montreal Expos bolted for Washington, D.C., it was no surprise since attendance was dismal (9,369 per game in 2004), and a move had been rumored for years. Yet one suspects that even non-baseball fans felt a twinge of loss.

To a certain degree, there is always a civic stigma attached to the loss of a franchise. At least when the Browns, A’s, and Braves moved on in the 1950s, they left another big league team behind, so St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Boston were still big league. New York lost two of three franchises after the 1957 season, but Gotham was in no danger of losing its big league status.

Currently, the largest metro area in the U.S. without major league baseball is Orlando with a population of 2,572,692. It is larger than Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. More importantly, the population grew 20.53 percent from 2010 to 2018. So doesn’t Orlando deserve a chance to go big league before MLB even thinks about granting a second franchise to NorTex? If MLB had expanded to 65-70 teams, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation.

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The very idea of a second NorTex franchise may be construed as metropolitan greed or bullying. But i f the numbers support it, why be satisfied with one-and-done? One suspects that there were sports fans in Chicago, tired of Second City status, who took some satisfaction in having two major league teams from 1958 through 1960 when no other city had more than one. Of course, just a few years later the long-term prospects for the White Sox were iffy.

While another team for NorTex is plausible, it is not likely. For one thing, no one in NorTex is putting together a business plan to submit to MLB. And no franchise was ever awarded to a city that didn’t have a committed group of local movers and shakers who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Rarely is a franchise awarded after the first bite at the apple. If a city misses out on expansion, it reaches out to an existing franchise pondering a move. If that fails, the city waits till the next round of expansion or the next footloose franchise appears. The process may be a matter of decades, not years. And in the end, it may be all for naught.

Now if such a group of lobbyists arose to promote a NorTex franchise, the next piece of business would be to decide where a new team would play. There was a time when downtown Dallas would have been a leading contender for a ballpark. For a variety of reasons, that is no longer the case. In fact, two recent attempts to build independent minor league ballparks have failed.

In NorTex. a great deal of the growth has been northward. When DFW Airport, l opened in 1974 in a swath of suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth, it seemed remote. Not any more. Suburban growth has surrounded the airport and continued to flow northward. Professional sports have followed.

Collin County, just north of Dallas County, is the home of FC Dallas of the Major Soccer League. It also hosts minor league baseball (the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders of the Texas League). The Riders have been a perennial attendance leader since the franchise arrived in 2003. A promotion to Triple-A status has been rumored. he Dallas Cowboys, though their stadium is in Arlington, have their headquarters in Frisco. Same for the Dallas Stars of the NHL, who also have a practice arena in Frisco.

Denton County, just west of Collin County, has a similar growth rate (662,614 in 2010, estimated at 836,210 in 2017). No pro sports there but the University of North Texas (about 38,000 students) fills the void by fielding competitive teams in football and basketball, among other sports (unfortunately, not baseball).

Further east in Collin County, the town of Allen hosts the Texas Revolution (indoor football), the Allen Americans (minor league hockey), and the Dallas Sidekicks (indoor soccer). So people in Collin County are willing to spend their money on spectator sports.

And there are more and more people in Collin County. The population recently passed the million mark. Most of the population is in the southern half of the county. But the subdivide-and-conquer philosophy is spreading northward to the Sherman-Denison area (Grayson County) if not all the way to the Red River (in fact, the route of population growth more or less follows the old Shawnee cattle trail). This population bulge in the northeast area of NorTex makes it a prime location for a new stadium. Plenty of open land is still available but prices are rising.

For Collin County residents, driving to Arlington for a Rangers game is not convenient. The current (and future) Rangers ballpark is equidistant (15 miles) from Dallas and Fort Worth, but that measurement is from each city’s downtown. The Collin County line is roughly 35 miles away from the ballpark. From the Collin County seat of McKinney, it’s at least 50 miles. And the traffic … don’t ask! I think Rangers fans in Collin County would readily transfer their allegiance from the Rangers to a more convenient franchise, and I think taxpayers would likely pony up to pay for a ballpark.

Building a new ballpark is clearly as important as the civic involvement of local bigwigs, public and private. Ideally, there would be a new stadium ready for the inaugural season. Such was the case with San Diego Stadium and the Padres in 1969, the Kingdome and the Mariners in 1977, and the Diamondbacks and (Devil) Rays in 1998. Tropicana Field, originally known as the Florida Suncoast Dome, was built in 1990 to induce existing franchises to transfer. The facility has been much maligned, but at the end of the 20th century, it offered a major league capacity venue and undoubtedly gave Tampa Bay an advantage in securing an expansion franchise.

If a new ballpark can’t be ready by the inaugural season, the next best thing is a former major league ballpark, albeit wanting in modern amenities, which can be spruced up for the duration. This was the case with the Senators in 1961, the Mets in 1962, and the Royals in 1969. One reason Montreal is currently at the top of the expansion list is Olympic Stadium, built in 1976. Though frequently reviled during the Expos’ tenure, it offers a major-league capacity venue until a more suitable home can be constructed.

Sometimes an old minor league park may do. In 1961, the Angels played in Wrigley Field, the old PCL park. In 1972, the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers had Turnpike Stadium waiting for them. The 20,500 capacity was below major league standards, but rapid expansion to 35,185 was doable by Opening Day, 1972. When the park first opened in 1965, its capacity was a mere 10,600 but it had been designed for rapid expansion for possible major league ball.

Such foresight was admirable, but it doesn’t always work out. Buffalo used to be a prime contender for major league baseball and the construction of Pilot Field (opened in 1988 and n/k/a Sahlen Field) was designed for expansion to major league proportions. It made sense at the time, but three decades later a stagnant population and a depressed economy have removed Buffalo from the board.

Sicks Stadium in Seattle offers another lesson. In 1969, when the Seattle Pilots opened for business, Sicks Stadium offered about 17,000 seats, 13,000 seats short of the capacity agreed upon. Had the planned expansion and upgrades occurred on schedule, the Pilots might not have tanked (in the spring of 1970, they took off for Milwaukee on short notice) and the Mariners would never have been born.

Another viable short-term venue solution is a large-capacity football stadium that can be used for baseball. The Dodgers spent their first four seasons (1958-1961) in the LA Coliseum. In 1977, Exhibition Stadium provided a home for the Toronto Blue Jays till Skydome (now Rogers Centre) was ready in 1989. In 1993, Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami Gardens was altered to host the Florida Marlins.

One advantage San Antonio has in the current expansion debate is the Alamodome, which has hosted some spring exhibition games. Having seen a couple of games there, I can state that it is hardly a long-term solution, but with some tinkering it could serve for a couple of years if the city were willing to commit to a new ballpark.

A special case was Mile-High Stadium, which had hosted pro football as well as Triple-A baseball (the same was true of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in 1954) and offered an immense capacity for the new fans of the fledgling Colorado Rockies. The inaugural year attendance in Denver was an astounding 4,483,350.

The worst-case expansion scenario is a rinky-dink stadium, such as mosquito-ridden Colt Stadium in Houston (1962) or jerry-built Jarry Park in Montreal (1969). They were the baseball equivalent of Quonset huts. No city could get by with this today.

So the best case plan is a brand-new ballpark ready for the new team; the next best thing is an outdated ballpark with major league capacity, and the last resort is a non-baseball facility with major league capacity that can be modified for short-term use until a ballpark can be built.

In Collin County, Dr Pepper Ballpark, home of the Frisco Rough Riders, is not a realistic choice for a new major league team. A gem of a Double-A ballpark and easily upgradable to Triple-A proportions, Dr Pepper Ballpark couldn’t be expanded, not even temporarily, to major league proportions, as it is hemmed in by apartment complexes and a hotel. But there is one other possibility.

A few miles further north, Toyota Stadium, admittedly soccer-specific (it also hosts the National Soccer Hall of Fame, which opened last year), has also been used for high school and college football. Since its capacity is only 20,500, some temporary seats would have to be added. Somehow a baseball field would have to be shoehorned into the pitch. Even more daunting, the baseball season would overlap the soccer season. Assuredly, neither baseball nor soccer would be well served. But there is one more possibility, albeit not in Collin County.

Assuming the Rangers don’t want to share their new ballpark (Globe Life Field, opening in 2020), that leaves the old facility, Globe Life Park, across the street. It will remain standing after the this year’s last game, a September 29 contest against the Yankees (talk about a scalper’s dream). Arlington could conceivably host two major league baseball teams with a glitzy entertainment area (Texas Live!) smack dab in the middle. The two franchises would be literally across the street from each other.

Globe Life Park would be more than acceptable while Collin County gets its act together and decides where to build a new ballpark. Unfortunately, even if a NorTex NL franchise had an army of boosters, a place to play on Opening Day, and a new ballpark on the drawing board, there would still be a stumbling block … more of a boulder, actually. That would be the Rangers.

The Rangers would have to sign off on another franchise being placed anywhere in their market area. Fat chance, you say. Why would any corporate entity give up a monopoly? At some point, however, it might be debatable as to whether Dallas-Fort Worth is one region, and Collin County and points north another, so a potential franchise might consider lawyering up.

Another possibility is buying off the Rangers. This need not be a cost entirely borne by a new franchise. If the other major league teams thought that a second franchise in North Texas was the most profitable long-term option, they could take up a collection and buy off the Rangers. Discreet payoffs, backroom deals, and favors to the right people are the time-honored ways of getting things done.

Two of the locales on the Street & Smith list would have to deal with this same veto process if selected. New Jersey (No. 15) would have to get permission from the Yankees and the Mets. So New York reverting to three-team status is not likely. SoCal’s bid to add San Bernardino (No. 20) would have to be approved by the Dodgers and the Angels. Getting a “Mother May I” from two existing franchises might be a franchise too far.

Nevertheless, I think NorTex deserves serious consideration as a two-team market. The growth rate bolsters the argument. So does the size of the television market. Is it possible that a second team in NorTex could garner more television revenue than, say, Nashville or Charlotte? Local viewers would not be limited to one team or another. They could watch/listen to the Rangers, an expansion franchise, or both. In other words, the local broadcast pie would get bigger. Remember, ticket sales account for just 30 percent of a team’s revenue.

Now I’m not saying that NorTex deserves to rise to the top of the heap in the expansion rankings, but it does deserve a place at the table, even if it’s not at the head of the table. In fact, we might say the same for Houston, which is right behind Dallas-Fort Worth with roughly seven million people. Its growth rate of 17.33 percent is only slightly behind that of its northern neighbor.

Any number of numbers can be crunched pertaining to metro population and growth rates, population density, average family income (in other words, discretionary income), demographics, potential local corporate partners, mileage from other major league franchises, and attendance figures from existing minor league franchises. We can feed more and more data into more into more and more sophisticated models and come up with the two best candidates on paper. The chances of that happening are about the same as the Democrats and Republicans using a similar process to arrive at the ideal nominees for public office.

Even so, it would be interesting to crunch some numbers and see where NorTex measures up in relation to the other candidates. It might not measure up to Montreal, which seems to be the consensus frontrunner, but it might be as viable as the other leading contenders.

If you think adding a second franchise to North Texas is a lousy idea, not to worry, as nothing will happen unless some well-heeled locals decide to take charge and a stadium plan is put together. So don’t design those team logos and uniforms just yet.

In the meantime, it doesn’t cost anything to ponder possible nicknames…how about the NorTex Sprawl…Sodbusters…Toll Roadies?

References and Resources


Frank Jackson writes about baseball, film and history, sometimes all at once. He has has visited 54 major league parks, many of which are still in existence.
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Nats Fan
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Nats Fan

The Yankees pay the lowest percentage of revenue as payroll in all North American sports. Only 30% despite paying huge salaries. In other words, the NY/NJ area could field two more teams more easily than anywhere else could field one more. Although I agree Dallas could field one more.

Paul G.
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Member
Paul G.

NYC has had 3 teams before and, in fact, for a brief time had 4. It didn’t work out to the point that they ended up with only 1 for a few years. The only sport that has gone the 3 team route since in the metro is the NHL and the Islanders show up every decade or so in discussions of teams that might move. There is always the risk that when you have 3 teams and 1 of them is really bad that the weakling is going to have terrible attendance. This is especially true if the 1… Read more »

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

The 3 teams in New York worked fine back in the day. Greedy O’Malley (the Stan Kroenke of his day) simply wanted to move the Dodgers to potentially greener pastures in California, but MLB wouldn’t approve it unless another team went with them, and he coincidentally convinced another NY team to be the one to go with them.

Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

1. Conurbation? Wow! I jumped to dictionary.com on that one. You learn something new each day.
2. On the Dylan tune, it is not “weather vane” but “weatherman.” The title was Subterrenean Homesick Blues.
3. God did not intend regular season baseball to be played in Florida (it was somewhere in the Old Testament but I can’t find it). Adding Orlando to the mix would only highlight the disasters south and west of it. Like adding more water to an already diluted soup.

Paul G.
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Member
Paul G.

Part of the problem of putting a team in Orlando is it is only 90 minutes from Tampa (plus add at least 15 minutes to actually get to the park once you get there). Orlando is basically part of the Tampa market, and the Tampa market is not exactly doing all that great for the Rays. The issue at hand is not if Orlando should get an expansion team, but if the Rays should move to Orlando or at least move closer to Orlando. Of course, Orlando also has the issue of being a resort town. They always put in… Read more »

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Orlando wouldn’t work any better than Tampa. The main issue with MLB teams in Florida is that the people with most of the money don’t live there during the summer.

So, yes, the Rays (at the very least) should move but out of Florida entirely. Anybody else want to watch Blake Snell pitch for the Montreal Northern Lights (no steamed hams needed)?

John Autin
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John Autin

Good overview. I have no horse in this race. But I do think that one focus of expansion should be the realignment of leagues & divisions to minimize travel and maximize intracity & nearby rivalries. A new team in North Texas would go towards that.

Kenny
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Kenny

For the 9,723rd time, the San Francisco-San Jose CMSA has 9,666,055 people (2017), and when you add that Sacramento is an hour away, Northern California has 12M + people. The canard that SF and Oakland share a smaller market than a bunch of one team markets persists on this site as people who don’t understand what a regional market is and people who don’t understand how the A’s management blew away their fan base since the period when they outdrew San Francisco in the 1990s continue to use Northern California inaccurately in random articles about how to locate teams. Of… Read more »

MichaelD
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MichaelD

I came to say basically the same thing. The primary statistical areas are the market size to use for this purpose, and even those are limited in that there may be more distant markets that are near that would be valuable. By the primary statistical areas not only is the Bay Area bigger than North Texas but Greater Boston as well.

New York is obviously the market that could support another team. It is three times as big as Dallas.

frangipard
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frangipard

This. In baseball economics, metro area size matters much, much less than TV market size.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

OK, that’s fair, but if you use an expanded definition for the Northern California market, then you also have to do the same for all the other markets. Is this revised Northern California area still more populous than a similarly expanded Northern Texas area? (I don’t know. This is a legitimate question.)

Yehoshua Friedman
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Yehoshua Friedman

I’m in a depressed moment and kinda down on the latest pipe-dream expansion idea. It was amusing for two minutes. I love baseball, but I hate the multi-billion-dollar cartel called MLB. The only moral justification for professional baseball’s exemption from anti-trust laws would be if all teams had GB-Packer-style community ownership and the minor league players had a living wage. Besides, I’m a die-hard Indians’ fan from being present in utero at a 1948 WS games in the late great and cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I am looking forward to something getting fixed instead of just finding ways for owners… Read more »

hobbes020
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hobbes020

Havana would be a hilariously bad idea.

John Autin
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John Autin

… perhaps in a tie with Mexico City, whose altitude is much higher even than Denver.

The Guru
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The Guru

i hope this is a joke. they can’t support the texas rangers. Also people need to quit moving to texas. The Texas culture is not the same, its practically gone…..dfw is los angles now its sad. Texas is great state because of its culture, its conservatism, and its ideals. People flock to texas looking for jobs, but they forget why they are leaving the dump they come from and what makes it that way. They bring those same ideals and politics with them that turned their place into dump to begin with. They vote for people who want high taxes… Read more »

The Guru
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The Guru

If you move to Texas. Embrace the Texas culture, don’t try to change it.

John Autin
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John Autin

The way your ancestors embraced the indigenous culture?

The Guru
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The Guru

First off this is stupid point. 2nd off I’m Native American. And 3rd off the entire state of okalahoma (Indian territory) the whole state of Indians , every single county in entire state votes red and has for decades in presidential election. Native Americans culture and ideals and politics and Texans are lined up closely thank you very much.

Eric Robinson
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Member

As a resident of Fort Worth, I would love for this area to have a new team located somewhere north of Dallas. I think the attention to a new team and having an NL presence would help baseball to flourish in this area. I also think that would be a great rivalry, playing on the already existing Dallas vs Fort Worth antagonism. I feel like it would be possible for both to succeed but alas, I doubt that will ever happen until MLB expands to 48 teams. One note, Frisco is also the home to the Texas Legends NBA G… Read more »

frangipard
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frangipard

“When the modern era of baseball started at the beginning of the 20th century, there were 16 teams and 76,212,168 people in the United States. With the population now creeping toward 330 million, one might suspect there should be, say, 65-70 teams today.”

What a spectacularly dumb argument. As if nothing else — television, the emergence of football and basketball as rival sports, and a zillion other things — had happened in the next hundred years.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Not to mention that much of that national population growth came in the form of smaller cities and towns, whereas pro sports teams (especially Major League Baseball) still require large cities (and their surrounding areas) to support them,

mtsw
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Member

The “Dallas has more people than two-market SF Bay Area!” is the result of sort of a weird quirk of how the US Census Bureau divides up Metropolitan Statisical Areas, but the fact that San Jose (~2M people) is not in the SF-Oak MSA but decidedly is inside the Giants-A’s market is relevant here. Looking at the broader census category of Combined Statistical Areas, you wind up with SF-Oak-San Jose-Stockton-Modesto (not included Sacramento!) at ~10M and Greater Dallas at under 8M.

Anyway put a 3rd (and 4th and maybe 5th) team in New York City.

alicetaylor
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alicetaylor

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