SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/Research and Ratings

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  • Pennsylvania powerhouse keeps the top spot

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    It would be easy to label Hershey-Harrisburg’s repeat No. 1 ranking in our biennial study of the nation’s top minor league markets as a gimme.

    The Pennsylvania market has a passionate fan base, tenured clubs and a stable economy — everything our study values highly. And now, as the first market to hold the title of Top Minor League Market twice, the assumption could be made that as long as the AHL Bears and Class AA Senators keep playing, fans will keep coming, and more No. 1 rankings will follow.

    NEWSCOM
    The Bears’ winning percentage dipped, but their attendance numbers did not.
    Not so, in this market, warns Senators President Kevin Kulp.

    “This is the most passionate fan base I have ever seen, so we feel that we have a responsibility that comes with that,” said Kulp, whose 16-year minor league baseball career began as an intern with the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs and who has helped launch minor league baseball clubs in Delmarva, Md., and Lexington, Ky. “These fans do hold you accountable for making sure you do the right things, and they will definitely let you know if they’re not happy.”

    That sense of accountability may come from the fact that before Kulp and his group came along, it was the fans themselves who owned the club.

    In 1995, the city of Harrisburg purchased the Senators for $6.7 million from an ownership group that was planning on moving the franchise to a new, taxpayer-financed ballpark in Springfield, Mass. The city sold the club in 2007 to Chicago-based International Facilities Group. It was not an easy transition. Many fans had become used to referring to the club as “our Senators.” But the new ownership soon embarked on a three-year stadium upgrade priced at more than $40 million. That effort was mostly finished in time for this season and fueled a change in the team’s marketing strategy.

    “Over the last couple years we’ve changed the way we’ve marketed ourselves and made an effort to be more family friendly,” Kulp said. “The new ballpark is more receptive to that type of marketing because it has more destination areas for families to visit during the game.” Kulp points to an increase in children’s entertainment spaces and in concessions areas, as well as new sight lines from a concourse that wraps around three quarters of the playing field.

    The Senators set an attendance record last season, and Kulp said revenue from corporate partnerships has increased about 25 percent in the last two to three years largely because the improved ballpark includes a scoreboard and two LED ribbon boards that are incorporated into every sales call.

    WILL BENTZEL / HARRISBURG SENATORS
    Stephen Strasburg’s stint in Harrisburg last season was a boost for the Senators.
    Also helping the Senators, a Washington Nationals affiliate: having Stephen Strasburg in the club’s lineup for several games last year while he worked his way up to the parent club. This summer, fellow former MLB No. 1 draft pick Bryce Harper is wearing a Senators uniform.

    Meanwhile, a few miles east, the Hershey Bears also set an attendance record for their most-recent season, doing so for the eighth straight year. That happened despite the team having its lowest on-ice winning percentage since 2007-08.

    The Bears have played continuously on the site of their Giant Center home — albeit in different structures — since the franchise was created by chocolate magnate Milton Hershey in 1932, but the team continues to grow its fan base beyond the boundaries of what might be considered a traditional distance for a minor league hockey team.

    “The Bears are an iconic brand throughout the state and certainly draw fans from further away than most teams,” said AHL Commissioner Dave Andrews.

    NEWSCOM
    The Harrisburg Senators welcomed another phenom this season, Bryce Harper.
    Andrews said Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Co. (HERCO), the Hershey Co. subsidiary that oversees, among other business divisions, the Bears and the Giant Center, has made a strong effort to strengthen its ties to the Washington Capitals, the Bears’ NHL parent club. That helps extend the area of influence for both clubs, he said. It is not uncommon now to see fans wearing Bears apparel at Capitals games.

    “The supporting cast the team has on the business side from [Hershey Co.] is very strong, very progressive and very committed to the sports product,” Andrews said. “They invest in the hockey team and they invest in the relationship with the Washington Capitals.”

    This is the fourth time SportsBusiness Journal has ranked the nation’s minor league markets. Among the other observations made through this year’s survey:

    TACKLED FOR A LOSS: Hershey-Harrisburg seems to have everything going for it — it’s the only market of the nearly 300 we have measured over the survey’s history that has finished among the top 10 every time — but a look at the standings of previous high-rated markets shows there is no room for complacency at the top. Rochester, N.Y., and Fort Wayne, Ind., for example, are previous No. 1 markets, in 2005 and 2007, respectively. Each had finished in the top 10 in our previous reports, but each fell out this year after failing to keep an indoor football team in its market. The loss of an indoor football team has also negatively affected past top-10 markets Boise, Idaho, and Stockton, Calif.

    WATER ON THE FIRE: Dayton, Ohio, has received a great deal of publicity this year, as the Class A Dragons broke the nation’s record for most consecutive team sellouts, a streak that was up to 830 games earlier this month. Back in 2005, Dayton ranked No. 8 in our study. This year, it ranks No. 150. While the Dragons have been going strong, the CHL Gems have filled only one-third of their seats over the past 5 seasons, and the team plays in an arena that is showing every bit of its half-century age. Dayton also has seen challenges with indoor football.

    IF YOU BUILD IT … : Eleven years of frenzied ballpark construction has helped lead to franchise stability, especially in the world of Minor League Baseball. From 2001-05, 35 markets lost a baseball club, either to it folding or in the 18 cases involving Minor League Baseball clubs, relocating to another market. In the five-year period examined for this year’s ranking, baseball teams in 20 markets were found to have disappeared, only six of which were due to a Minor League Baseball club relocation.

    FORWARD AND BACK
    : South Texas has seen plenty of activity among its minor league teams in recent years. Hidalgo, for example, is the only market in the survey that is home to five teams. Beaumont opened a new arena in 2003 but has since lost both a hockey team and a football team. Corpus Christi also built a new arena and stadium in the last decade, but it has lost three teams in the last five years. And Laredo has lost a baseball team and indoor football club, but it broke ground this summer on a new $18 million ballpark for the planned American Association expansion Laredo Lemurs.

    Print | Tags: AHL, Baseball, Finance, International, Facilities, Ping, Washington Nationals, MLB, Hockey, Washington Capitals, NHL, NFL, Football, CHL
  • Minor league markets: Final ranking

    Final ranking

    Rank Market Score Tenure rank Attendance rank Economy rank New
    venue(s)
    Current team(s) Team(s) lost
    1 Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa. 100 2 9 11 1 EL Harrisburg Senators, AHL Hershey Bears, SIFL Harrisburg Stampede  
    2 San Bernardino County, Calif. 80.82 5 15 10 1 CAL High Desert Mavericks, CAL Inland Empire 66ers, CAL Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, ECHL Ontario Reign  
    3 Providence-Pawtucket, R.I. 76.2 10 6 5   IL Pawtucket Red Sox, AHL Providence Bruins  
    4 Reading, Pa. 74.23 13 12 13 1 EL Reading Phillies, ECHL Reading Royals, IFL Reading Express  
    5 Portland, Maine 73.83 6 37 22   EL Portland Sea Dogs, AHL Portland Pirates, NBA D-League Maine Red Claws  
    6 Syracuse, N.Y. 73.46 11 21 23   IL Syracuse Chiefs, AHL Syracuse Crunch  
    7 Charleston, S.C. 72.07 8 53 16 1 SAL Charleston River Dogs, ECHL South Carolina Stingrays, USL Charleston Battery  
    8 Modesto, Calif. 71.55 14 26 35 1 CAL Modesto Nuts  
    9 Idaho Falls, Idaho 70.55 21 11 29 1 PL Idaho Falls Chukars  
    10 Spokane, Wash. 69.51 17 22 36 1 NWL Spokane Indians, AFL Spokane Shock   
    11 Visalia, Calif. 69.31 51 5 4 1 CAL Visalia Rawhide  
    12 Springfield, Mass. 68.99 25 13 15   AHL Springfield Falcons, NBA D-League Springfield Armor  
    13 Toledo, Ohio 66.03 22 24 31 1 IL Toledo Mud Hens, ECHL Toledo Walleye  
    14 Tacoma, Wash. 65.94 35 27 54 1 PCL Tacoma Rainiers   
    15 Savannah, Ga. 65.71 47 14 19 1 SAL Savannah Sand Gnats  
    16 Hidalgo, Texas 65.55 31 17 9   NAL Edinburg Roadrunners, NAL McAllen Thunder, CHL Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, NBA D-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers, SIFL Rio Grande Valley Magic   
    17 Norfolk, Va. 65.16 26 66 104   IL Norfolk Tides, AHL Norfolk Admirals  
    18 Richmond, Va. 62.72 4 33 155 1 EL Richmond Flying Squirrels, IFL Richmond Revolution, SIFL Richmond Raiders  SPHL Richmond Renegades
    19 Fort Wayne, Ind. 62.59 3 18 151 1 MWL Fort Wayne TinCaps, NBA D-League Fort Wayne Mad Ants, CHL Fort Wayne Komets CIFL Fort Wayne FireHawks
    20 Rochester, N.Y. 61.89 1 89 172   IL Rochester Red Wings, AHL Rochester Americans, USL Rochester Rhinos IFL Rochester Raiders
    21 Knoxville-Kodak, Tenn. 61.77 43 42 61   SL Tennessee Smokies, SPHL Knoxville IceBears  
    22 Winston-Salem, N.C. 61.4 27 3 76 1 CAR Winston-Salem Dash  SPHL Twin City Cyclones
    23 Clearwater-Dunedin, Fla. 60.71 41 41 18   FSL Clearwater Threshers, FSL Dunedin Blue Jays  
    24 Cedar Rapids, Iowa 60.54 49 62 77   MWL Cedar Rapids Kernels  
    25 Erie, Pa. 60.01 30 16 6   EL Erie SeaWolves, NBA D-League Erie BayHawks, SIFL Erie Explosion  
    26 Wichita, Kan. 59.23 9 93 34 3 AA Wichita Wingnuts, CHL Wichita Thunder, IFL Wichita Wild   
    27 Sioux Falls, S.D. 58.97 19 109 89   AA Sioux Falls Canaries, NBA D-League Sioux Falls Skyforce, IFL Sioux Falls Storm  
    28 Huntsville, Ala. 58.7 18 137 41   SL Huntsville Stars, SPHL Huntsville Havoc, SIFL Alabama Hammers  
    29 Johnson City, Tenn. 57.82 37 54 63   APP Johnson City Cardinals  
    30 Burlington, Iowa 57.72 45 74 90   MWL Burlington Bees  
    31 Des Moines, Iowa 57.14 12 67 157   PCL Iowa Cubs, NBA D-League Iowa Energy, AFL Iowa Barnstormers  AHL Iowa Chops 
    32 Eugene, Ore. 56.96 29 77 106 1 NWL Eugene Emeralds    
    33 Great Falls, Mont. 56.22 50 121 119 1 PL Great Falls Voyagers  
    34 Bluefield-Princeton, W. Va. 55.98 7 78 44   APP Bluefield Blue Jays, APP Princeton Rays  
    35 Asheville, N.C. 55.23 38 68 85   SAL Asheville Tourists  
    36 Batavia, N.Y. 54.84 42 81 98   NYPL Batavia Muckdogs  
    37 Clinton, Iowa 54.15 34 40 50   MWL Clinton Lumber Kings  
    38 Tucson, Ariz. 53.42 54 186 144   PCL Tucson Padres  PCL Tucson Sidewinders, GBL Toros
    39 Appleton, Wisc. 52.88 39 31 25   MWL Wisconsin Timber Rattlers   
    40 Gwinnett, Ga. 52.69 62 2 7 1 IL Gwinnett Braves, ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators, AFL Georgia Force   
    41 Kingsport, Tenn. 51.88 56 135 126   APP Kingsport Mets   
    42 Trenton, N.J. 51.69 48 83 27   EL Trenton Thunder, ECHL Trenton Titams, SIFL Trenton Steel  
    43 Roanoke-Salem, Va. 51.4 36 98 142   CAR Salem Red Sox  
    44 Elizabethton, Tenn. 51.31 53 100 114   APP Elizabethton Twins  
    45 Hartford-New Britain, Conn. 51.15 84 43 43   EL New Britain Rock Cats, AHL Connecticut Whale   
    46 Bridgeport, Conn. 51 71 101 79   AL Bridgeport Bluefish, AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers   
    47 Pearl, Miss. 50.92 64 127 124   SL Mississippi Braves   
    48 Auburn, N.Y. 50.6 40 87 101   NYPL Auburn Doubledays  
    49 Chico, Calif. 50.54 166 7 1   NAL Chico Outlaws  
    Rank Market Score Tenure rank Attendance rank Economy rank New
    venue(s)
    Current team(s) Team(s) lost
    50 Kinston, N.C. 50.5 70 55 59   CAR Kinston Indians   
    51 Woodbridge, Va. 50.44 87 23 38   CAR Potomac Nationals  
    52 Yakima, Wash. 50.27 100 45 53   NWL Yakima Bears  
    53 Lynchburg, Va. 50.15 44 80 83   CAR Lynchburg Hillcats  
    54 Colorado Springs, Colo. 49.75 92 32 30   PCL Colorado Springs Sky Sox   
    55 Durham, N.C. 49.5 59 51 62   IL Durham Bulls, NASL Carolina RailHawks  
    56 Staten Island, N.Y. 49.38 137 8 8   NYPL Staten Island Yankees   
    57 Hagerstown, Md. 49.28 79 95 96   SAL Hagerstown Suns  
    58 Lakeland, Fla. 49.18 68 4 146   FSL Lakeland Flying Tigers AIFA Lakeland ThunderBolts 
    59 Bristol, Va. 49.05 52 57 52   APP Bristol White Sox  
    60 West Valley City, Utah 49.01 69 61 57   ECHL Utah Grizzlies   
    61 Chattanooga, Tenn. 48.5 63 88 97   SL Chattanooga Lookouts  
    62t Binghamton, N.Y. 48.37 23 82 42   EL Binghamton Mets, AHL Binghamton Senators   
    62t Metairie, La. 48.37 108 50 55   PCL New Orleans Zephyrs  
    64 Boise, Idaho 47.88 32 104 166   NWL Boise Hawks, ECHL Idaho Steelheads, NBA D-League Idaho Stampede AF2 Boise Burn
    65 Fayetteville, N.C. 47.78 78 118 51   SPHL Fayetteville FireAntz, SIFL Fayetteville Force   
    66 Southaven, Miss. 47.68 109 103 87   CHL Mississippi RiverKings  
    67 Midland, Texas 47.39 58 52 65   TL Midland RockHounds   
    68 Pensacola, Fla. 46.82 99 147 131   AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos, SPHL Pensacola Ice Flyers  
    69 San Angelo, Texas 46.72 81 39 20   NAL San Angelo Colts, IFL San Angelo Stampede Express  
    70 Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 46.51 110 73 93   NYPL Hudson Valley Renegades   
    71 Charleston, W.Va. 46.37 93 146 128   SAL West Virginia Power  
    72 Jamestown, N.Y. 46.29 67 75 78   NYPL Jamestown Jammers  
    73 Sioux City, Iowa 45.48 57 170 121   AA Sioux City Explorers, APFL Sioux City Bandits   
    74 Bakersfield, Calif. 45.22 24 161 168 1 CAL Bakersfield Blaze, ECHL Bakersfield Condors, NBA D-League Bakersfield Jam AF2 Bakersfield Blitz 
    75 Stockton, Calif. 44.93 33 129 167   CAL Stockton Ports, ECHL Stockton Thunder, PASL California Cougars AF2 Stockton Lightning
    76 Tri-Cities Wash. 44.77 97 36 40   NWL Tri-City Dust Devils, IFL Tri-Cities Fever   
    77 Frederick, Md. 44.72 104 59 60   CAR Frederick Keys  
    78 Palm Beach County, Fla. 44.44 73 178 133   FSL Jupiter Hammerheads, FSL Palm Beach Cardinals   
    79 Harlingen, Texas 44.33 127 177 122   NAL Rio Grande Valley Whitewings  
    80 Bridgewater, N.J. 44.03 133 58 69   AL Somerset Patriots  
    81 Missoula, Mont. 43.93 138 35 28   PL Missoula Osprey  
    82 Billings, Mont. 43.89 28 85 158 2 PL Billings Mustangs IFL Billings Outlaws*
    83 Wilmington, Del. 43.57 111 90 99   CAR Wilmington Blue Rocks  
    84 Melbourne, Fla. 43.16 105 128 105   FSL Brevard County Manatees   
    85 Lakewood, N.J. 42.96 160 76 81   SAL Lakewood BlueClaws  
    86 Quad Cities (Moline-Rock Island, Ill./Davenport-Bettendorf, Iowa) 42.95 20 72 159   MWL Quad City River Bandits, CHL Quad City Mallards   AF2 Quad City Steamwheelers 
    87 Lancaster, Calif. 42.94 122 29 12   CAL Lancaster JetHawks  
    88 Salisbury, Md. 42.69 125 70 68   SAL Delmarva Shorebirds  
    89 Port St. Lucie, Fla. 42.5 98 56 75   FSL St. Lucie Mets  
    90 Lake Elsinore, Calif. 42.31 117 116 94   CAL Lake Elsinore Storm  
    91 Rosemont, Ill. 42.24 119 105 86   AHL Chicago Wolves  
    92 Schaumburg, Ill. 42.02 141 115 112   AA Schaumburg Flyers   
    93 Helena, Mont. 41.99 169 119 88   PL Helena Brewers   
    94 Yuma, Ariz. 41.91 184 180 132   NAL Yuma Scorpions   
    95 Lake Charles, La. 41.75 148 49 45   SIFL Louisiana Swashbucklers   
    96 Camden, N.J. 41.72 151 94 80   AL Camden Riversharks   
    97 Burlington, N.C. 41.69 88 148 120   APP Burlington Royals  
    98 Geneva, Ill. 41.68 128 106 109 1 MWL Kane County Cougars   
    99 Long Island, N.Y. 41.61 146 65 73   AL Long Island Ducks  
    Rank Market Score Tenure rank Attendance rank Economy rank New
    venue(s)
    Current team(s) Team(s) lost
    100 Jackson, Tenn. 41.36 132 46 17   SL Jackson Generals  
    101t Aberdeen, Md. 41.26 158 60 67   NYPL Aberdeen IronBirds   
    101t Rome, Ga. 41.26 170 124 117   SAL Rome Braves  
    103 Little Falls, N.J. 41.12 134 102 84   C-A New Jersey Jackals   
    104 Crestwood, Ill. 41.09 131 34 14   FL Windy City Thunderbolts  
    105 South Bend, Ind. 40.97 85 149 136 1 MWL South Bend Silver Hawks   
    106 Lehigh Valley, Pa. 40.41 102 1 3 1 IL Lehigh Valley IronPigs, IFL Lehigh Valley Steelhawks  
    107 West Sacramento, Calif. 40.31 140 111 102   PCL Sacramento River Cats  
    108 Omaha, Neb. 40.12 15 44 152 1 PCL Omaha Storm Chasers, IFL Omaha Beef, MISL Omaha Vipers AHL Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights
    109 Independence, Mo. 39.79 115 71 33 1 CHL Missouri Mavericks, MISL Missouri Comets  
    110 Loveland, Colo. 39.68 149 48 56   CHL Colorado Eagles, IFL Colorado Ice   
    111 Joliet, Ill. 39.53 161 133 103   NL Joliet Jackhammers  
    112 Casper, Wyo. 39.53 72 28 37   PL Casper Ghosts, IFL Wyoming Cavalry  
    113 Abilene, Texas 39.5 195 163 115   SIFL Abilene Ruff Riders  
    114 Peoria, Ill. 39.48 16 86 163   MWL Peoria Chiefs, AHL Peoria Rivermen AF2 Peoria Pirates
    115 Brooklyn, N.Y. 38.85 152 96 91   NYPL Brooklyn Cyclones  
    116 Altoona, Pa. 38.79 120 136 123   EL Altoona Curve   
    117 Myrtle Beach, S.C. 38.27 139 64 48   CAR Myrtle Beach Pelicans   
    118 Biloxi, Miss. 38.26 142 159 127   SPHL Mississippi Surge  
    119 Beloit, Wis. 38.1 83 200 149   MWL Beloit Snappers   
    120 Troy, N.Y. 37.9 157 38 32   NYPL Tri-City ValleyCats  
    121 Springfield, Mo. 37.86 154 162 125   TL Springfield Cardinals   
    122 Lafayette, La. 37.72 190 20 24   SPHL Louisiana IceGators, SIFL Lafayette Wildcatters  
    123 Hickory, N.C. 37.56 112 155 135   SAL Hickory Crawdads   
    124 El Paso, Texas 37.38 76 69 169   AA El Paso Diablos   IFL El Paso Generals
    125 Albany, Ga. 37.36 185 156 137   SIFL Albany Panthers   
    126 Keizer, Ore. 37.22 129 140 110   NWL Salem-Keizer Volcanoes  
    127 Reno, Nev. 36.91 130 10 2 1 PCL Reno Aces, NBA D-League Reno Bighorns  
    128 Odessa, Texas 36.78 75 112 39   CHL Odessa Jackalopes, IFL West Texas Roughnecks  
    129 Washington, Pa. 36.48 162 144 118   FL Washington Wild Things  
    130 Prescott Valley, Ariz. 36.31 188 191 143   CHL Arizona Sundogs, IFL Arizona Adrenaline AIFA Arizona Adrenaline 
    131 York, Pa. 35.61 167 63 47   AL York Revolution   
    132 Florence, Ky. 35.57 156 47 26   FL Florence Freedom  
    133 Lancaster, Pa. 34.86 183 122 107   AL Lancaster Barnstormers  
    134 Brockton, Mass. 34.84 163 179 138   C-A Brockton Rox   
    135 Augusta, Ga. 34.8 65 114 165   SAL Augusta Greenjackets, SPHL Augusta RiverHawks AIFA Augusta Colts
    136 Kalamazoo, Mich. 34.34 46 175 191   FL Kalamazoo Kings, ECHL Kalamazoo Wings  CIFL Kalamazoo Xplosion
    137 Elmira, N.Y. 34.31 168 99 82   ECHL Elmira Jackals  
    138 Williamsport, Pa. 34.17 116 125 92   NYPL Williamsport Crosscutters  
    139 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 33.97 60 150 176   IL Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins AF2 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers
    140 Greeneville, Tenn. 33.52 177 126 113   APP Greeneville Astros   
    141 State College, Pa. 33 186 91 71   NYPL State College Spikes  
    142 Danville, Va. 32.07 113 173 139   APP Danville Braves  
    143 Lincoln, Neb. 31.55 153 138 111   AA Lincoln Saltdogs   
    144 Gary, Ind. 31.14 159 107 70   AA Gary SouthShore RailCats  
    145 Las Vegas 30.96 66 153 178   PCL Las Vegas 51s, ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers AFL Las Vegas Gladiators
    146 Bloomington-Normal, Ill. 30.53 103 79 21   IFL Bloomington Extreme, FL NormalCornbelters, CHL Bloomington PrairieThunder^  
    147 Traverse City, Mich. 30.1 187 84 74   FL Traverse City Beach Bums  
    148 Niles, Ohio 29.94 143 145 130   NYPL Mahoning Valley Scrappers  
    149 Louisville, Ky. 29.84 90 152 188 1 IL Louisville Bats  AF2 Louisville Fire
    Rank Market Score Tenure rank Attendance rank Economy rank New
    venue(s)
    Current team(s) Team(s) lost
    150 Dayton, Ohio 29.83 55 123 164   MWL Dayton Dragons, CHL Dayton Gems, CIFL Dayton Silverbacks CIFL Miami Valley Silverbacks
    151 Lansing, Mich. 29.38 123 97 46   MWL Lansing Lugnuts  
    152 Greensboro, N.C. 29.37 107 134 182   SAL Greensboro Grasshoppers NIFL Greensboro Revolution 
    153 Pulaski, Va. 29.2 135 142 116   APP Pulaski Mariners  
    154 Birmingham, Ala. 28.92 101 167 195   SL Birmingham Barons AF2 Alabama Steeldogs 
    155 Amarillo, Texas 28.77 86 117 161   AA Amarillo Dillas, IFL Amarillo Venom CHL Amarillo Gorillas 
    156 Burlington, Vt. 27.83 118 151 108   NYPL Vermont Lake Monsters  
    157 Norwich-West Haven, Conn. 27.3 147 213 205   NYPL Connecticut Tigers C-A New Haven County Cutters 
    158 Eastlake, Ohio 26.37 171 164 129   MWL Lake County Captains  
    159 Everett, Wash. 26.14 114 185 187   NWL Everett AquaSox AF2 Everett Hawks 
    160 Columbus, Ga. 25.95 96 203 192   SPHL Columbus Cottonmouths, SIFL Columbus Lions SAL Columbus Catfish
    161 Fargo, N.D. 25.77 124 92 66   NL Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks  
    162 Midland, Mich. 25.49 191 158 134   MWL Great Lakes Loons   
    163 Greenville, S.C. 25.43 106 30 156   SAL Greenville Drive, ECHL Greenville Road Warriors AIFA South Carolina Force 
    164 Sauget, Ill. 25.34 150 113 72   FL Gateway Grizzlies  
    165 Hoffman Estates, Ill. 25.04 82 25 148   ECHL Chicago Express, IFL Chicago Slaughter, USL Chicago Storm  UHL Chicago Hounds
    166 Daytona Beach, Fla. 24.54 155 139 179   FSL Daytona Cubs AF2 Daytona Beach Thunder
    167 Worcester, Mass. 24.4 94 166 174   C-A Worcester Tornadoes, AHL Worcester Sharks CIFL New England Surge
    168 Albany, N.Y. 24.18 145 192 196   AHL Albany Devils AF2 Albany Firebirds
    169 Mobile, Ala. 24.09 181 157 177   SL Mobile Bay Bears SIFL Mobile Bay Tarpons
    170 La Crosse, Wis. 23.83 197 168 100   IFL La Crosse Spartans  
    171 Ogden, Utah 23.01 180 143 175   PL Ogden Raptors AIFA Ogden Knights
    172 Montgomery, Ala. 22.81 199 160 190   SL Montgomery Biscuits AIFA Montgomery Bears 
    173 Saginaw, Mich.  22.68 176 120 64 1 UIFL Saginaw Sting  
    174t Bossier City-Shreveport, La.  22.34 74 189 228   AA Shreveport Captains  AFL Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings, CHL Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs
    174t Bowie-College Park, Md. 22.34 144 169 183   EL Bowie Baysox IFL Maryland Maniacs 
    176 North Little Rock, Ark. 22.07 61 108 221   TL Arkansas Travelers  NBA D-League Arkansas RimRockers, AF2 Arkansas Diamonds 
    177 Wheeling, W. Va. 19.89 182 183 193   ECHL Wheeling Nailers CIFL Wheeling Wildcats
    178 Grand Rapids-Comstock, Mich. 19.73 95 154 181   MWL West Michigan Whitecaps, AHL Grand Rapids Griffins AFL Grand Rapids Rampage
    179 Lowell, Mass. 19.28 165 188 194   NYPL Lowell Spinners  AHL Lowell Devils
    180 Rockford, Ill. 17.95 80 130 162 1 FL Rockford Riverhawks, AHL Rockford IceHogs  CIFL Rock River Raptors
    181 Lexington, Ky. 17.48 193 172 186   SAL Lexington Legends AF2 Kentucky Horsemen
    182 Anchorage, Alaska 17.18 174 171 184   ECHL Alaska Aces IFL Alaska Wild
    183 Bismarck, N.D. 16.91 126 174 95   NBA D-League Dakota Wizards  
    184 Springdale, Ark. 16.5 172 212 153 1 TL Northwest Arkansas Naturals  
    185 Evansville, Ind. 16.47 91 141 160 1 FL Evansville Otters, CHL Evansville IceMen UIF Evansville BlueCats 
    186 Concord-Kannapolis, N.C. 15.03 173 131 170   SAL Kannapolis Intimidators SIFL Carolina Speed
    187 Augusta, N.J. 13.2 205 184 189     C-A Sussex Skyhawks
    188 Austin-Round Rock, Texas 12.69 77 110 218 1 PCL Round Rock Express, AHL Texas Stars, NBA D-League Austin Toros CHL Austin Ice Bats, IFL Austin Turfcats
    189 Marion, Ill. 12.64 164 176 154 1 FL Southern Illinois Miners  
    190 Akron, Ohio  12.39 189 202 203   EL Akron Aeros  CIFL Summit County Rumble
    191 Chillicothe, Ohio 12.07 209 217 212     FL Chillicothe Paints
    192 Johnstown, Pa. 11.68 200 215 208   UIFL Johnston Generals ECHL Johnstown Chiefs 
    193 Alexandria, La. 11.32 207 218 206     CBL Alexandria Aces 
    194 Huntington, W. Va. 11.31 211 196 185   UIFL Huntington Hammer AIFA Huntington Heroes
    195 Atlantic City, N.J. 10.92 216 219 220     C-A Atlantic City Surf 
    196 Vero Beach, Fla. 10.25 215 220 207     FSL Vero Beach Dodgers
    197 Sarasota, Fla. 10.06 202 222 216 1   FSL Sarasota Reds
    198 Fairbanks, Alaska 9.44 192 216 147   IFL Fairbanks Grizzlies  
    199 Tallahassee, Fla. 9.28 228 225 215     AIFA Tallahassee Titans
    Rank Market Score Tenure rank Attendance rank Economy rank New
    venue(s)
    Current team(s) Team(s) lost
    200 Fort Myers, Fla. 8.97 121 195 229   FSL Fort Myers Miracle, ECHL Florida Everblades AF2 Florida Firecats, AIFA Florida Stingrays
    201 St. Charles, Mo. 8.65 206 187 180   FL River City Rascals   IFL RiverCity Rage 
    202 Oneonta, N.Y. 7.97 208 221 210     NYPL Oneonta Tigers 
    203 Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii 5.15 201 204 171   NAL Maui Na Koa Ikaika   
    204 Orem, Utah 2.22 204 19 214   PL Orem Owlz NBA D-League Utah Flash, AIFA Utah Valley Thunder
    205 Fresno, Calif. 1.93 203 207 231   PCL Fresno Grizzlies ECHL Fresno Falcons, AF2 Central Valley Coyotes 
    206 Marion, Ohio 1.6 217 208 198   CIFL Marion Blue Racers  CIFL Marion Mayhem
    207 Canton, Ohio 1.47 225 181 173   UIFL Canton Cougars  AIFL Canton Legends
    208 Belton, Texas -2.82 212 224 197     IFL CenTex Barracudas
    209 Katy, Texas -3.53 213 226 201     IFL Katy Ruff Riders 
    210 Houma, La. -3.69 229 231 234     SIFL Houma Conquerors
    211 St. George, Utah -4.81 214 227 204     GBL St. George Roadrunners
    212 Laredo, Texas -5 210 205 227   CHL Laredo Bucks  CBL Laredo Broncos, AF2 Laredo Lobos 
    213 Waldorf, Md. -5.34 175 165 58   AL Southern Maryland Blue Crabs   
    214 Long Beach, Calif. -5.67 234 197 226     GBL Long Beach Armada, ECHL Long Beach Ice Dogs 
    215 Madison, Wis. -8.28 218 214 200     CIFL Wisconsin Wolfpack
    216 Muskegon, Mich. -9.3 231 193 224     CHL Muskegon Lumberjacks, IFL West Michigan ThunderHawks
    217 Bowling Green, Ky. -11.25 178 182 140 1 MWL Bowling Green Hot Rods  
    218 Lubbock, Texas. -12.06 239 201 225     CHL Lubbock Cotton Kings, AF2 Lubbock Renegades
    219 Manchester-Nashua, N.H. -12.53 136 198 223   EL New Hampshire Fisher Cats, AHL Manchester Monarchs C-A American Defenders of New Hampshire, AF2 Manchester Wolves
    220 Kissimmee, Fla. -12.79 226 229 202     WIFL Osceola Ghostriders 
    221 Glen Falls, N.Y. -12.96 198 206 199   AHL Adirondack Phantoms  
    222 Lynn, Mass. -12.97 219 228 209     C-A North Shore Spirit
    223 Rapid City, S.D. -13.24 194 132 49   CHL Rapid City Rush  
    224 Port Charlotte, Fla. -13.44 179 194 145 1 FSL Charlotte Stone Crabs  
    225 Tupelo, Miss. -13.75 221 230 217     AIFA Mississippi Mudcats
    226 Avon, Ohio -14.04 196 190 150   FL Lake Erie Crushers  
    227 St. Joseph, Mo. -15.96 220 232 211     AA St. Joe Blacksnakes
    228 Slippery Rock, Pa. -16 232 241 230     FL Slippery Rock Sliders
    229 Steubenville, Ohio -16.02 227 233 213     CIFL Steubenville Stampede
    230 Corpus Christi, Texas -16.16 89 211 237   TL Corpus Christi Hooks, SIFL Corpus Christi Hammerheads  UBL Coastal Bend Thunder, AF2 Corpus Christi Sharks
    231 Battle Creek, Mich. -16.45 230 236 236     MWL Southwest Michigan Devil Rays
    232 Columbia, S.C. -17.63 238 199 222     ECHL Columbia Inferno, NIFL Columbia Stingers
    233 Youngstown, Ohio -22.28 235 209 232     CHL Youngstown SteelHounds, AF2 Mahoning Valley Thunder
    234 Troy, Ohio -25.88 222 235 219     CIFL Miami Morays 
    235 Broomfield, Colo. -26.47 233 234 233     CHL Rocky Mountain Rage, NBA D-League Colorado 14ers
    236 Albuquerque, N.M. -28.25 223 210 239   PCL Albuquerque Isotopes CHL New Mexico Scorpions, NBA D-League New Mexico Thunderbirds, AIFA New Mexico Wildcats
    237 Florence, S.C. -29.25 237 237 235     SPHL Pee-Dee Pride, AIFA Florence Phantoms
    238 Beaumont, Texas -32.74 240 238 238     ECHL Texas Wildcatters, APFL Beaumont Drillers
    239 Flint, Mich. -40.13 236 239 240     CHL Flint Generals, CIFL Flint Phantoms
    240 Ypsilanti, Mich. -47.9 224 223 141     FL Oakland County Cruisers 
    241 Port Huron, Mich. -60.68 241 240 241     CHL Port Huron Icehawks, CIFL Port Huron Predators

    * In the summer of 2010, a tornado demolished Rimrock Auto Group Arena at MetraPark, home to the IFL Billings Outlaws. The team did not play in 2011, as the arena is being rebuilt, and a message posted on the club's website this summer indicates the club is inactive and for sale. The team is not listed on the league's website.
    ^ The PrairieThunder completed its 2010-11 CHL season, but is being replaced in the market by a new CHL team, the Blaze, that begins play this fall.
    Note: The following markets were not ranked because each is host to a new franchise that is now playing in its inaugural season or has played in only one season, making historical comparisons impossible:

    • Bradenton, Fla.: FSL Bradenton Marauders (ballpark renovated 2008)
    • Grand Island, Neb.: IFL Nebraska Danger
    • Highland Heights, Ky.: UIFL Northen Kentucky River Monsters (new arena opened 2008)
    • Kent, Ore.: IFL Kent Predators (new arena opened 2009)
    • Pikeville, Ky.: UIFL Eastern Kentucky Drillers
    • Pittsfield, Mass.: C-A Pittsfield Colonials
    • Zion, Ill: NAL Lake County Fielders (ballpark under construction, scheduled to open 2012)

    Additionally, Wenatchee, Wash., hosted the IFL Wenatchee Valley Venom in 2010 and 2011 at Town Toyota Center, which opened in 2008. The club folded earlier this summer, and no attendance data is available for either season.

    Leagues tracked

    Baseball
    AA: American Association (Independent)
    APP: Appalachian League (Rookie)
    AL: Atlantic League (Independent)
    CAL: California League (A, Advanced)
    C-A: Can-Am League (Independent)
    CAR: Carolina League (A, Advanced)
    CBL: Continental Baseball League* (Independent)
    EL: Eastern League (AA)
    FSL: Florida State League (A, Advanced)
    FL: Frontier League (Independent)
    GBL: Golden Baseball League* (Independent)
    IL: International League (AAA)
    MWL: Midwest League (A)
    NYPL: New York-Penn League (A, Short Season)
    NAL: North American League (Independent)
    NL: Northern League* (Independent)
    NWL: Northwest League (A, Short Season)
    PCL: Pacific Coast League (AAA)
    PL: Pioneer League (Rookie)
    SAL: South Atlantic League (A)
    SL: Southern League (AA)
    TL: Texas League (AA)
    UL: United League* (Independent)

    Basketball
    NBA D-League: NBA Development League

    Football
    AF2: arenafootball2*
    AFL: Arena Football League
    AIFA: American Indoor Football Association
    CIFL: Continental Indoor Football League
    GLIFL: Great Lakes Indoor Football League*
    IFL: Indoor Football League
    NIFL: National Indoor Football League*
    SIFL: Southern Indoor Football League
    UIFL: United Indoor Football League*
    WIFL: World Indoor Football League*

    Hockey
    AHL: American Hockey League
    ACHL: Atlantic Coast Hockey League*
    CHL: Central Hockey League
    ECHL
    IHL: International Hockey League*
    SPHL: Southern Professional Hockey League
    UHL: United Hockey League*

    Soccer
    MISL: Major Indoor Soccer League
    NASL: North American Soccer League
    PASL: Professional Arena Soccer League Pro Division
    ULT: Ultimate Soccer League
    USL: United Soccer Leagues First Division
    XSL: Xtreme Soccer League*

    * League is no longer in operation but is, in some cases, represented in the study by a current team that previously played in the league.
    Note: The American Basketball Association and International Basketball League are not represented in the study. League officials said attendance from their leagues was not available, so they could not be included in the research.

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  • About the Minor League Markets project

    Each league studied for this project was asked to provide a list of its member teams’ territories or boundaries. Fifteen minor league teams had no designated boundary. In those cases, if the team shared a market with another minor league team, the same boundary was applied to each club. In the absence of a shared team, which was the case in six markets, one of the 3,194 U.S. Census market designations was used.

    Attendance was included for the five most recently completed seasons for each league whose regular season finished by July 31 of this year. For baseball teams, attendance was included for the 2006-10 seasons. The Grand Island, Neb.; Highland Heights, Ky.; Kent, Ore.; Pikesville, Ky.; Pittsfield, Mass.; and Zion, Ill, markets, whose only teams have completed only one season or are playing their inaugural season this year, were not included in the study. Also not included is Wenatchee, Wash., which hosted the IFL Wenatchee Valley Venom in 2010 and 2011 at Town Toyota Center (opened in 2008) — but the club folded earlier this summer, and no attendance data was available for either season played.

    Attendance figures used were based on team and league official reports, conversations with facility officials and box scores. Numerous attempts to acquire select attendance directly from the Continental Indoor, American Indoor and Southern football leagues were unsuccessful, although data was provided by several teams or their respective arenas.

    As is the case at all levels of organized sports, reported attendance can vary from being an actual turnstile count to number of tickets sold to number of tickets distributed. Ticket prices were not factored into the ranking formula. The ranking also does not take into account other sports options in each market, such as racetracks, high-profile college programs or major junior hockey leagues. In addition, markets that are home to a major league franchise in addition to having a minor league team were not included in the ranking.

    This is the fourth time SportsBusiness Journal has produced this ranking, the first coming in 2005 and then every other year since. Analyzing a total of 12 years of data over the course of these four studies, we’ve learned that win-loss percentages for the majority of baseball and hockey teams — about 77 percent of the teams tracked are in these two sports — create little attendance variance, so that criterion is excluded from the methodology.

    All leagues were assigned the same weight. In addition, each “current” and “lost” team is listed with its most recent moniker and league. For example, Fort Wayne, Ind., hosted three indoor football league franchises between 2007 and 2010. Attendance and capacity data for the af2 Fusion (2007) and CIFL Freedom (2008) are accounted for in our study, but it’s the CIFL FireHawks franchise, which played in 2010, that is listed by name.

    A market’s total score is the result of three category-specific scores: tenure rank, attendance rank and economic rank.

    Tenure rank: This score, which accounts for two-thirds of each market’s grade, comes from a formula that includes such support measurements as each team’s length of presence in its market and the total number of team-years in the last five seasons. If, for example, a market hosted a baseball team and a hockey team in each of the last five seasons, plus an IFL team for one season, it received credit for 11 out of a possible 15 team-years. Markets were penalized for not replacing franchises within one year after that team folded or moved.

    The 39 markets that completed construction on at least one new or extensively upgraded minor league facility between 2007 and 2011 received extra credit. Markets with venues under construction but not yet open did not receive extra credit.

    Our tenure category essentially prevents new teams in new markets in new facilities from skewing results, while rewarding markets that have retained their current clubs. Markets also earned credit for continuous hosting of each franchise. Additionally, we excused historical one-year gaps in 18 markets that were brought on by weather, league mergers and other circumstances that were beyond the parameters of “community support.”

    Extra credit was given to Rochester, N.Y., Syracuse, N.Y. and Elizabethton, Tenn., for being home to a team whose ownership is comprised entirely of citizen shareholders.

    Attendance rank: This score, which accounted for one-fifth of each market’s grade, is based on the total attendance of all a market’s teams and overall percentage of seats filled over the five-year period. Both measurements were indexed against the market’s total five-year population to create a single score.

    Economic rank: Three economic factors went into our ranking: fluctuations in unemployment, population and each market’s Total Personal Income (TPI). For each, a measure of standard deviation was set, and markets gained or lost credit based on their attendance behavior. For example, if a market’s unemployment rate decreased and TPI increased, population was expected to increase. Indexing was not done for the six markets that hosted a single team for one season. June 2007 estimates from both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census were the sources.

    In the end, Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa., had the highest point total, and all markets were indexed against that total. Points could be deducted from a market’s total for four reasons: losing a franchise, along with failing to keep attendance in line with fluctuations in area unemployment, population or TPI. Thirty-four markets finished with a negative score.

    — David Broughton


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  • Rounding out the Top 10 markets

    2. San Bernardino County, Calif.
    Teams (first season): California League (A) Inland Empire 66ers (1987), High Desert Mavericks (1991) and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (1993); ECHL Ontario Reign (2008)
    Venues (year opened): Stater Brothers Stadium (1991), Arrowhead Credit Union Park (1996), Rancho Cucamonga Epicenter (1993), Citizens Business Bank Arena (2008)
    The four teams in the market combined to host an average of 250 games annually over the past three seasons. Meanwhile, in 2010, the area ranked fourth in the nation in the number of foreclosures, with one filing for every 133 households. Still, despite an unemployment rate well above the national average (14.2 percent as of June), the market’s sports attendance has jumped 19.5 percent compared to three years ago.
    The addition of hockey is a big reason for the increase. The 2010-11 hockey season was the second consecutive season the ECHL Ontario Reign led that league in attendance, averaging 6,683 fans per game, up 18.6 percent over 2008-09, the club’s inaugural season in then-new Citizens Business Bank Arena.

    3. Providence-Pawtucket, R.I.

    NEWSCOM
    Teams (first season): International League (AAA) Pawtucket Red Sox (1970), AHL Providence Bruins (1992)
    Venues (year opened): McCoy Stadium (1942; renovated 1999), Dunkin’ Donuts Center (1972; renovated 2008)
    The Providence-Pawtucket market is the wealthiest market among our project’s top 10, with a median household income of $55,652 (11 percent higher than the U.S. median), and its 1.6 million residents is second only to San Bernardino among the top 10. Yet confronted with nearly three years of double-digit unemployment (10.4 percent as of June) and a stagnant population, the market’s two minor league clubs have combined to consistently draw roughly 900,000 fans annually to their games. That’s about 8,000 fans per game on average. It’s that strength at the gate despite the economic challenges that sprung the market from No. 37 in the rankings in 2009 to No. 3 this year.

    4. Reading, Pa.
    Teams (first season): Eastern League (AA) Reading Phillies (1963), ECHL Reading Royals (2001), IFL Reading Express (2006)
    Venues (year opened): FirstEnergy Stadium (1951; renovated 2011), Sovereign Center (2001)
    While SBJ’s minor league market ranking recognizes fan support, the Reading Phillies have also been beneficiaries of loyalty from the Philadelphia Phillies, their parent club. The two franchises have been affiliated since 1967 — the longest such relationship in all of baseball — and the city of Reading in 2002 trademarked the term “Baseballtown” to acknowledge the region’s baseball heritage that dates back more than a century.
    The AA Phillies have filled 75 percent of their seats over the past five seasons and were the Eastern League’s attendance leader heading into the final month of the 2011 season. The club also paid for a $10 million ballpark upgrade during the past offseason.
    The IFL Reading Express recently wrapped up its sixth season with a 20 percent increase in average attendance over 2010. The only blemish on the market’s record was the 17 percent drop in attendance by the ECHL Royals since the 2005-06 season. The market ranked No. 5 in our 2007 ranking but No. 22 in 2009.

    5. Portland, Maine
    Teams (first season): Eastern League (AA) Portland Sea Dogs (1994), AHL Portland Pirates (1993), NBA D-League Maine Red Claws (2009)
    Venues (year opened): Hadlock Field (1994), Cumberland County Civic Center (1977), Portland Exposition Building (1914)
    Portland had one of the highest attendance-to-population ratios of any multiple-team market in the United States. The area’s teams over their past five seasons combined for an annual attendance of 637,000 on average, compared to an average annual population of 275,000. Among the 97 markets studied that had more than one team, only Hershey-Harrisburg had a better ratio.
    Portland’s ranking — it was No. 78 in 2009 — was clearly helped by the addition of the NBA D-League Maine Red Claws, who have sold out nearly every game in their two seasons of play. The Portland Exposition Building, the club’s home court, is the oldest arena in the country to host a pro sports team. The building did have $375,000 worth of improvements made prior to the Red Claws’ 2009-10 debut season.
    The Sea Dogs, meanwhile, have been ranked among Minor League Baseball’s top 25 for merchandise sales in every year of their existence despite having the same logo the entire time.

    6. Syracuse, N.Y.
    Teams (first season): International League (AAA) Syracuse Chiefs (1961), AHL Syracuse Crunch (1994)
    Venues (year opened): Alliance Bank Stadium (1997), War Memorial at Oncenter (1951; renovated in 1994)
    It would be an oversight to chalk up Syracuse’s high ranking to the boost it received last year from Stephen Strasburg’s three-week stay. The pitching phenom’s presence on his way up to the MLB Washington parent club gave the Chiefs three of their four most-attended games in the 135-year history of baseball in Syracuse. But 2010 marked the club’s fifth straight season of increased attendance, so the market was supporting the Chiefs even before, and after, Strasburg’s 2010 cameo.
    Like most of the minor league markets in the study, Syracuse’s unemployment rate doubled during the economic downturn, and its population growth rate was less than 1 percent over the past five years. Still, the Chiefs and Crunch saw their combined attendance grow 12 percent during the period, the highest such mark among the top 10 markets — fueling Syracuse’s rise to No. 6 in the ranking from No. 159 in 2009. The Chiefs in 2010 also marked 50 years of community ownership, a factor that positively affected the market’s ranking, as well.

    7. Charleston, S.C.
    Teams (first season): South Atlantic League (A) Charleston River Dogs (1980), ECHL South Carolina Stingrays (1993), USL Charleston Battery (1993)
    Venues (year opened): Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park (1997), North Charleston Coliseum (1993; currently being renovated), Blackbaud Stadium (1999)
    River Dogs attendance makes up a little more than half of the half-million fans who annually attend Charleston’s pro sports events. The New York Yankees affiliate, owned by the Goldklang Group, has long been admired throughout minor league sports for its creative marketing prowess. Club president and Goldklang Group executive adviser Mike Veeck has spent his career running professional baseball teams, so when the company purchased the team in the 1990s, Veeck was sent down to help with the transition. “I moved here 15 years ago with the intention of working here for one year,” Veeck said. “Now I’ll never leave.”
    Beyond just baseball, though, it’s the tenure of the all three local clubs that has helped lift Charleston into the top 10. Each club has been in the market for at least 16 seasons. San Bernardino (No. 2) is the only other market in the country that can boast hosting three or more clubs for at least that long.
    The ongoing $18 million renovation of North Charleston Coliseum is expected to be completed by the start of the 2011-12 hockey season.

    8. Modesto, Calif.
    NEWSCOM
    Team (first season): California League (A) Modesto Nuts (1946)
    Ballpark (year opened): John Thurman Field (1955; renovation starting in 2007)
    No other market defied such odds.
    Modesto has had double-digit unemployment since January 2008, nearly two years before the national average hit that level. The market saw a scant 0.6 percent population growth, total wealth in the market has been flat — and the market was ranked in 2010 among the top car theft cities in the United States. Yet the Class A Nuts set a franchise attendance record for the fourth consecutive season in 2010 as 180,344 fans passed through the turnstiles at John Thurman Field. The feat was accomplished in only 67 openings (three games fewer than the preceding four-year average) as the Nuts lost three games due to inclement weather in April. The Nuts’ average attendance of 2,692 per game was an 11 percent increase from 2009 and up 25 percent from 2006. Each of those increases was among the biggest in all of affiliated Minor League Baseball.
    In addition, beginning with the 2007 season, the city committed to $3 million in upgrades to the Nuts’ ballpark in the years ahead, including a $500,000 scoreboard and video board that has been added to the venue.

    9. Idaho Falls, Idaho
    Team (first season): Pioneer League (Rookie) Idaho Falls Chukars (1946)
    Venue (year opened): Melaleuca Field (2007)
    Idaho Falls made our Top 10 list not only because of the Chukars’ nearly seven-decade tenure, but also because its fan support over-indexed in one of the country’s most flourishing economic regions. The market saw a 10 percent increase in population and 17 percent increase in total wealth during the five years studied for this project, each measure being among the biggest growth rates of all markets examined. While Chukars attendance has tapered off since the record high seen in 2007 that coincided with the opening of Melaleuca Field, attendance in 2010 was still up more than 20 percent compared to 2006.

    10. Spokane, Wash.
    NEWSCOM
    Teams (first season): Northwest League (A) Spokane Indians (1946), AFL Spokane Shock (2006)
    Venues (year opened): Avista Stadium (1958; renovated 2008), Spokane Arena (1995)
    Spokane is a shining example of a market combining old and new. The Shock continues to be their league’s top-drawing team in a minor league market, filling nearly every seat over the past five years in a 16-year-old venue.
    The Indians have been around since 1946 and play in one of Minor League Baseball’s oldest facilities, but the ballpark received a $4 million facelift prior to the 2008 season, with another $2.8 million in improvements coming after this season. The Indians have led the Northwest League in attendance for 12 consecutive seasons.
    The changes in Spokane’s unemployment rate, population and total income mirror the marks of the country overall.

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  • Looking back at Top 10 trends

  • Around the country: Markets that stood out

    Several additional markets stood out in the research — for both the right and, in some cases, the wrong reasons.

    TOLEDO, OHIO
    • Rank: 13
    Each of the market’s two clubs filled more than 79 percent of its seats for the last five seasons, a rate topped in only seven other multiteam markets. An indoor football team, the AF2 Bullfrogs, was set to debut in 2010, but the league folded and the team never materialized. The market lost more than 3 percent of its population in the last five years, one of the biggest declines in our study, yet overall attendance still increased.

    FORT WAYNE, IND.
    • Rank: 19
    The Class A TinCaps’ new $30.6 million ballpark opened in 2009, and attendance has jumped 58 percent between the 2008 season and 2010. That’s the biggest increase in minor league baseball during that three-year period. The CHL Komets have led their league in attendance for nine straight seasons, but a 9 percent year-over-year drop in the 2010-11 season hurt the market’s score a bit. The D-League Mad Ants suffered through their third consecutive season of attendance decline, and the CIFL FireHawks, the market’s fourth attempt at hosting an indoor football team, shut down after the 2010 season.

    LEHIGH VALLEY, PA.
    • Rank: 106
    In 2005, this area of eastern Pennsylvania that includes Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton ranked as the worst minor league market in the United States. The region had lost three minor league clubs in a five-year period and was home to a half-built ballpark that eventually was demolished. Things have changed. In 2008, $48.4 million Coca-Cola Park opened as home to the new Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and the Class AAA club has been the top-drawing team in our study since then, averaging 640,000 fans a season.

    BOSSIER CITY-SHREVEPORT, LA.
    • Rank: 174 (tied)
    What a difference two years can make. In 2009, this was our No. 8 market. This spring, the local community was stunned when the CHL Mudbugs folded just two weeks after winning the league championship. The team had been in the market since 1997, but attendance had dropped 40 percent in the last six seasons. Meanwhile, less than one year previously, the AFL Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings moved to New Orleans and became the reincarnated version of the New Orleans VooDoo.

    THE MICHIGAN "THUMB"
    This eastern Michigan geographic region features two of the bottom three markets in the entire survey (Flint at No. 239 and Port Huron at No. 241), and Saginaw came in at No. 173. Each of these markets has faced significant economic challenges for years, as has been the case across much of the state. But one particular incident may well sum up the sports scene in this region: In 2007, during halftime of the CIFL Port Huron Pirates’ final regular-season game, the club announced to the 1,200 fans in attendance that the team was relocating immediately — to Flint. After playing two games in Flint, both playoff games, the club folded.

    — David Broughton


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