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Volume 22 No. 3
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Top 10 Minor League Markets: No. 10 Grand Rapids-Comstock Park, Mich.

TEAMS (FIRST SEASON): Midwest League West Michigan Whitecaps (1994), AHL Grand Rapids Griffins (1996), NBA D-League Grand Rapids Drive (2014)

VENUES (YEAR OPENED): DeltaPlex Arena & Conference Center (1952, renovated 1998), Fifth Third Ballpark (1994), Van Andel Arena (1996)

The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Griffins have increased attendance eight times in the last nine years.
Photo by: GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS
Grand Rapids is a relatively young market by our study’s standards. The area’s oldest franchise, the Class A Whitecaps, is in the midst of its 23rd season. But by all measures, the market’s sports business metrics are surging. In 2011, it ranked No. 178 in our survey; two years ago, it ranked No. 36.

The Whitecaps drew 398,694 fans last season, the club’s biggest total since 2002 (405,612). Additionally, the team-owned ballpark suffered a major fire in January 2014, but the club used the opportunity to make a number of substantial upgrades and reconfigurations to the venue. And in 2011, Fifth Third Bank renewed its naming-rights commitment to the facility for another 10 years.

On the ice, the AHL Griffins head into their 20th season this fall hitting on all cylinders. The club drew 702,677 fans over the past two seasons (including the playoffs both years), trailing only the Hershey Bears among all minor hockey teams in that regard. The team’s year-over-year average regular-season attendance has increased eight times in the last nine seasons, and last season’s 8,082 per-game average was the team’s highest since 1999-2000.

The region also seemed happy to welcome professional basketball back for the first time in more than a decade, as the NBA D-League Drive filled 75 percent of the DeltaPlex’s seats for its inaugural 2014-15 schedule. The addition of the club helped push the market’s support indexes to a level where the market moved into our top 10 this year.

— David Broughton