No. 9: Winston-Salem, N.C.
TEAMS (FIRST SEASON): Carolina League Winston-Salem Dash (1945), Federal Prospects Hockey League Carolina Thunderbirds (2017)
VENUES (YEAR OPENED): Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex (1989); BB&T Ballpark (2010)
Interstate 40 Business, one of Winston-Salem’s main arteries, runs past BB&T Ballpark, the home of the city’s minor league baseball team, the Dash. Business 40 closed in November and won’t open again until next spring. But the Dash still led all of MiLB’s Class A in attendance for the third year running.
“We’re not going to wave the white flag,” said Dash President C.J. Johnson.
The team held a Business 40 Closure Party the night before the road closed, including 40-cent concessions and was sponsored by the local transit authority. That ingenuity is one of the reasons Winston-Salem jumped into the top 10 from 16th in our 2017 rankings.
The Dash have averaged around 4,500 fans per game each season since opening BB&T Ballpark in 2010, one of the most consistent runs in minor league baseball. That’s more than double what the club drew in the final years at its previous venue. BB&T Ballpark has been put to good use, hosting over 250 non-baseball events annually. Over a million guests have visited the venue since it was first opened.
Named after the dash in the town’s name, the Dash brought NBA superstar Chris Paul, a Winston-Salem native, into the team’s ownership group in 2018.
Adding a successful hockey team also helped Winston-Salem’s ranking. The Carolina Thunderbirds play at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. They won the FPHL’s 2018-19 regular-season championship, while growing attendance 26% from the previous season. — Bret McCormick