By Chris Maza
Reminder Assistant Editor
SPRINGFIELD Welcome to Springfield, the top minor league sports market in Massachusetts.
On Aug. 15, Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal released its bi-annual rankings of 241 minor league sports markets with the City of Homes taking the 12th spot, better than any other city in the Commonwealth.
With the ranking Springfield was the only Massachusetts town in the top-100, beating out Brockton (134), Worcester (167), Lowell (179) and Lynn (222). Pawtucket, R.I., and Portland, Maine, were the only New England towns to top Springfield, finishing third and fifth, respectively. Springfield jumped 24 spots after ranking 35th in the 2009 rankings.
“This study is all about loyalty, and as tenure is the most heavily weighted part of the methodology, [Springfield hockey’s] nearly six-decade presence is one of the longest is minor league sports,” David Broughton, research director for SportsBusiness Journal, explained.
Falcons President and General Manager Bruce Landon, admitting he had no knowledge of what was taken into consideration when SportsBusiness Journal compiled the ranking, speculated that longevity was a factor.
“There is a history dating back to 1936. [The AHL] is the second best hockey league in the world and little old Springfield is one of those cities that have a team. That is something as a region we should be proud of,” Landon said. “I think we’ve proven how important this organization is for this area, not only providing affordable entertainment, but a great deal of community service and outreach.
“I’ve talked to people in cities that have lost franchises and it has really killed them. That’s why I have fought three times to help keep hockey in Springfield,” he added.
With attendance figures being factor in the ranking system, Springfield’s ranking was also helped tremendously by the addition of the Springfield Armor of the National Basketball Association’s Developmental League.
“When a market grows in population by 1 percent over the past five years, you don’t expect to see its sports attendance to grow 58 percent. Springfield, Mass., has seen a 58 percent increase in sports attendance over the past five years, primarily due to the addition of the Armor,” Broughton said.
Alex Schwerin, general manager of the Armor, said the city has been very receptive to the program thus far and expects to see continued growth.
“Certainly everyone, especially those with interest in downtown businesses, have wanted to see this team succeed and obviously we want to continue to grow our attendance,” he said. “From our first year to our second year, our attendance has grown 3.5 percent, so we’re not talking about extraordinary numbers here, but we’re headed in the right direction and that’s always a good sign.”
Springfield’s senior team, the Falcons, also contributed with improved numbers, Broughton pointed out.
“The Falcons have seen double-digit growth. All this in the face of stagnant population number approximately 1 percent growth during that time and changes in unemployment rates and in total wealth that were in line with the national average. And despite an unemployment rate that nearly doubled from 2007 to this past season, Falcons were up,” he said.
Despite the fact they still remain near the bottom of the league in attendance, drawing 1,500 below the league average, the Falcons’ crowds grew by 2 percent, or almost 100 spectators per game, from the 2009-10 season to the 2010-11 campaign, a feat Falcons Landon credited his staff for.
“It’s a testament to the hard work of our staff that we have been able to grow our attendance in what have been some challenging economic times and with some of our teams struggling on the ice,” Landon said. “We are trending in the right direction and it is going to continue to grow. I feel confident, as does [Falcons owner] Charlie Pompea that Springfield is the perfect market.
“We may not draw 6,000 people a night, but we don’t need to and I know we can continue to grow our attendance back to the levels of 4,500, 4,800 or 5,000 people the way it used to be,” he continued.
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