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.