SBD/August 6, 2013/Franchises

SBD, SBJ Begin Countdown To Top Minor League Market With No. 5 Springfield

SBD and SBJ next Monday will unveil our biennial ranking of the country’s top minor league markets among more than 225 communities nationwide. It is a project that takes into consideration more than 400 teams and close to 50 leagues as well as almost 250 million fans in total minor league attendance over the past five seasons. This week, the countdown to No. 1 begins.

5. Springfield, Mass.      
AHL Springfield Falcons
MassMutual Center
1972 (renovated 2005)
NBA D-League Springfield Armor
MassMutual Center
1972 (renovated 2005)

MASS TRANSIT: Springfield earns its No. 5 ranking because few minor league sports markets have been as defiant against tough economic times. According to the most recent numbers available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Springfield’s unemployment rate rose to 8% again in May after having dropped to 7.3% last November. That follows annual rates of 8.2% in '12, 9.2% in '11, 10% in '10 and 9.4% in '09. Further, Census Bureau data reveals that 465,000 people live in the area, down 0.6% compared to five years ago, with the market’s population having been statistically flat since '90. Despite that loss of jobs and residents, the total combined attendance at AHL Falcons and NBA D-League Armor games was up 42% last season compared to five years ago, the biggest such jump in our study. Much of the attendance growth has come because the region that calls itself “the birthplace of basketball” has embraced it hoops roots. (James Naismith is said to have invented the sport in Springfield in 1891.) The Armor has averaged 64,500 fans per season (about 2,600 fans per game) since its expansion debut in '09. That mark is on par with attendance for other D-League clubs. The market also has invested in its sports future: The $47M Naismith Memorial Basketball HOF opened in '02, and the MassMutual Center, which houses both of the market’s teams, benefited from a publicly funded $71M upgrade completed in '05. Additionally, the AHL has been headquartered in the city since '68, and its offices are one block away from the arena.

NOT TALKIN' BASEBALL: Springfield is the only market in the top 50 in our survey that is not home to a professional baseball team. Additionally, the market does have room for movement -- up or down -- in our rankings: Springfield’s two clubs combined to fill exactly half the seats available to them over the past five seasons, the lowest rate among our top 10 markets. Falcons Owner Charles Pompea earlier this year said the club needs to average 4,000 fans per game to break even financially, an attendance mark it has not hit since topping that mark annually from '95-96 through '02-03. Pompea did not indicate what would happen if the team did not hit that mark soon, but the Falcons averaged 3,906 fans per game this season and did make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, so the possibility of momentum for attendance gains does exist for seasons to come.

ON DECK: Tomorrow: Our #4 market: A market that keeps seeing fans pass through the turnstiles despite three-and-a-half years with a double-digit unemployment rate.
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