Monday, November 24, 2014

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: Day 2 crowd closes out another successful Tip-Off Tournament

By Zachary Baru

Day 2 of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic featured four games broadcast on the ESPN family of networks and a great crowd to witness the final day of the weekend-long tournament.  The announced attendance came after the second game which saw Providence top Notre Dame 75-74 before 6,513 fans.

UMass and Florida State lead off the day with a noon start televised live on ESPNU.  As this game was immediately followed by Providence-Notre Dame, attendance was announced after the second game.  A crowd of 6,000-plus fills out the 9,323-seat Mohegan Sun Arena enough to create good atmosphere, making the second day of the tournament another off-the-court success.

The 9,323-seat Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut
Staging the tournament at Mohegan Sun is greatly beneficial for the Hall of Fame, as the resort casino makes for a weekend getaway for fans coming to attend the tournament.  In addition to basketball, having Mohegan Sun as a venue allows fans more opportunities than just gaming, but also to dine at plenty of great restaurants, visit the Shops at Mohegan Sun, or even stay overnight at the hotel and spa.  

The eight-team, two-day tournament was played as the Tip-Off Classic between 1979 and 2005 at the Springfield Civic Center/MassMutual Center.  Having the tournament at Mohegan Sun allows fans to come from all over the region and enjoy all that the resort casino has to offer, making the Tip-Off Tournament more enticing to fans visiting from areas throughout the Northeast.

Zach Baru can be followed @zbaru and reached at  He also blogs for Sports Business Boston.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: UMass and Tip-Off, the perfect match

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - For a typical early-season college basketball tournament, any noon start on  a Saturday might be a challenging time to get people in the gate, but at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, the party was just beginning.

As the University of Massachusetts faced Notre Dame to begin the weekend-long tournament, the Mohegan Sun arena was filled with alumni and fans for both teams, making for a great atmosphere in the 9,323-seat arena.  Although not sold out, much of the lower level was full for the late arriving Saturday afternoon crowd.  The balcony remained about half-full, creating an energetic crowd without the typical student sections seen on campus sites.

With the strong following of UMass fans in the region, and the abundance of Notre Dame fans across the nation, the tournament started off on the right foot.  UMass has played games in prior seasons at the Mohegan Sun Arena, and this game with its difficult starting time proved that UMass fans can and will make the trip to support their team.

Hopefully tomorrow's game with Florida State will attract a similar crowd, possibly giving reason for UMass to be included in this growing national tournament in future seasons.  Although this tournament  is held at the Mohegan Sun Arena, having a Western Massachusetts presence in the Hall of Fame's tournament is important, especially with the drawing power UMass can bring.

Although division I scheduling is no easy feat, and must be done long in advance, hopefully both UMass and the Hall of Fame can make an appearance happen again in the near future.  As both the Hall of Fame and UMass represent Western Mass., both would benefit from keeping UMass involved in a tournament that has such a rich tradition in the region.

Zach Baru can be followed @zbaru and reached at  He also blogs for Sports Business Boston.

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: UMass and Notre Dame fans make trek to Mohegan

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - Day 1 of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament began with alumni from the University of Massachusetts and Notre Dame scattered through the stands of the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Absent from the atmosphere of the arena was the typical student section, as alumni from both schools scattered the 9,323-seat venue.  Besides the decent showing of UMass fans making the trip down from Amherst, there were a fair showing of Notre Dame fans making their presence known each time the Fighting Irish scored a basket.

But make no mistake about it, as expected, this was by far a UMass crowd.  With Thanksgiving approaching, it was no surprise that many of the students did not make the drive to Uncasville.  At Day 1, it was the alumni that filled the void made up much of the crowd.

The game, like all games at the weekend-long tournament, received national media coverage, airing live on ESPN 3.  Seven of the tournament's eight games will be available live on ESPN 3, while tomorrow's UMass-Florida State game will be airing live on ESPNU at noon.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at  He also blogs for Sports Business Boston.

Coverage of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament

The 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament will be at Mohegan Sun Arena this weekend, and Western Mass. Sports Biz will be there to cover the event.  Check back here for analysis and pictures from the tournament.

The 2012 Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The eight-team, two-day tournament was played as the Tip-Off Classic between 1979 and 2005 at the Springfield Civic Center/MassMutual Center.  The event will feature all eight games broadcast live on ESPN networks, one on ESPNU, and the remaining seven on ESPN3.  It is the only exempt NCAA Division I college basketball tournament in New England, where teams receive exempted status for scheduling.

The teams will include Massachusetts, Notre Dame, Florida State. Providence, United States Naval Academy, Northeastern, Manhattan, and Binghamton.

The 9,323 seat Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut opened in 2001, and rivals TD Garden for the biggest concert tours in New England each year.  The arena has won many awards, and is ranked 3rd in the U.S. by Billboard Magazine.

If you can't make it, check back here this weekend for coverage from the weekend-long event.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Western Mass. sports and entertainment to benefit from MGM Springfield

By Zachary Baru

As MGM Resorts International moves into the next phase of the development of their $800 million resort casino in Springfield, the sports and entertainment scene in Western Massachusetts is about to change along with the project, helping the city move toward becoming a vibrant entertainment destination.

MGM has long discussed their intent in including the MassMutual Center in their entertainment plans.  Having a company like MGM with deep ties to the entertainment industry will help Springfield attract popular events and benefit businesses throughout downtown and the entire region.  Examples such as this will hopefully be the economic effect this region has been hoping for with the Expanded Gaming Act, a law passed in 2011 that allows up to three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor in Massachusetts.  But what about already established sports and entertainment entities in Western Mass. such as the Springfield Falcons or the Basketball Hall of Fame?

The MassMutual Center in 2012, with seating for up to 8,000 for concerts.
For the Springfield Falcons, an influx of people in downtown Springfield can only mean a better opportunity to attract fans, especially those staying at the resort casino overnight in the proposed hotel tower.  As for sponsorship, MGM Springfield has already sponsored the Falcons since 2012, and continues to be an extremely visible sponsor to this day.  MGM Springfield has multiple one-ice advertisements at the MassMutual Center.  MGM also showed its support of local sports as a sponsor of the Springfield Armor, becoming the team's presenting sponsor in 2013-14.

The Basketball Hall of Fame will also benefit from the presence of the resort casino.  MGM has already hosted multiple events at the Hall of Fame, including a career fair that attracted more than 600 last month, and an event held during the election on November 4 where hundreds of MGM supporters gathered to await and later celebrate the results of Ballot Question 3.  While the Hall of Fame is already a major, if not the biggest tourist attraction for Springfield, the opportunity to have a resort casino destination just blocks away will prove to be extremely beneficial to the museum.

Sports and entertainment has a long history alongside resort casinos, and hopefully that history will continue here in Springfield.  Fortunately for the region, MGM has a rich tradition of hosting first-class concerts and sporting events, which will give Springfield the potential to become a destination for sports and entertainment in the region, competing with venues like the XL Center in Hartford and the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

In terms of infrastructure and transportation, Springfield will find itself in a competitive position once the doors to MGM Springfield open for the first time.  Springfield's location in the region at the crossroads of Interstate 91 and Interstate 90 should attract casino-goers everywhere from Albany to the West, Vermont to the North and Hartford to the South.  The renovation of Union Station in downtown Springfield coupled with the planned commuter rail from New Haven will be a much needed boost to the region's transit needs, allowing more people from across the region to access the revitalized downtown.  The new Union Station will become a hub of transportation in the Pioneer Valley, creating a combined station for Amtrak, the proposed commuter rail, Peter Pan, Greyhound and the PVTA.

Like many small markets, larger sports and entertainment events have overlooked Springfield for decades.  The Springfield Civic Center opened in 1972 and has had many major tours over the years.  Today, those are few and far between.  The renovation of the Civic Center in 2005 was supposed to lure more concerts and events into the potentially 8,000-seat arena, but to this day the venue only sees a small handful of concerts each year.  MGM Springfield now presents the opportunity to bring Springfield back to a city where first-class entertainment can be found year-round.  The proximity of the MassMutual Center to the resort casino will create an opportunity for the arena and casino to feed off of one another, in a way many casinos cannot offer.  Many current and proposed casinos do not have large arenas, giving Springfield the opportunity to be a true destination for entertainment, and a major player throughout the region in the competitive entertainment industry.

Zach Baru can be followed at @zbaru and reached at

Thursday, October 30, 2014

UMass basketball reaches out to local fans with free game against American International

By Zachary Baru

For the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, tonight's exhibition against American International College is more than just a chance to get some practice before the season tips off on November 19.  Thursday's exhibition will be a chance for the community to enjoy free basketball, and the opportunity to continue including another local college into the schedule.

American International is no stranger to the Mullins Center, as the relationship with AIC has become somewhat of a tradition, bringing the Yellow Jackets to Amherst for yet another exhibition game.  Partnering up with a local team like AIC reaffirms UMass basketball's emphasis on including the entire region in the schedule, in addition to UMass' appearance in Springfield later this year.

UMass will be participating in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase, an event that keeps division I college basketball at the MassMutual Center following the absence of the Tip-Off Classic.  UMass plays Florida Gulf Coast at the MassMutual Center on December 7.

Tonight's game at the Mullins Center begins at 7 p.m., there is no radio broadcast.  Last year's exhibition with American International drew 2,932 fans to the Mullins Center.  With the success of the 2013-14 UMass men's basketball team and their NCAA tournament appearance, tonight's attendance could be significantly higher.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Monday, September 1, 2014

UMass draws school-record FBS attendance Saturday at Gillette

By Zachary Baru

In what was billed as "The Battle for the Bay State", the University of Massachusetts football team was topped by Boston College 31-7 Saturday before 30,479 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.  The large crowd was good enough to become the highest attended home game for UMass since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012.

The highest home attendance for UMass last season came against Miami, in front of 21,707 fans.  The Minutemen finished 2013 with an average attendance of 15,830, the largest average in the history of the program.

While the result on the field was not what the Minutemen hoped for, having the opportunity to play Boston College at Gillette Stadium gave the program added exposure in the Boston market.  UMass plays two more games in Foxborough this season, facing Colorado on Saturday at 3, and against Eastern Michigan on October 18.

The Boston market has always been important for UMass, which has played at least one game at Gillette Stadium since 2010.  The Minutemen faced New Hampshire in the "Colonial Clash" at Gillette Stadium in both 2010 and 2011 during the end of the Football Championship Subdivision era.

With 2014 attendance off to a good start, lets hope UMass can keep up the momentum with strong attendance this weekend, and continuing with the team's return to Amherst on September 27.

Zach Baru can be followed @zbaru and reached at

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blue Sox change name to broaden fan base, but will it work?

By Zachary Baru

The Holyoke Blue Sox wanted all of the region to know that they are the valley's team, and this came with a price.  Hopefully that price won't cost them their core fans: those who live in Holyoke.

Blue Sox management announced last month that the name would be changed to the Valley Blue Sox, dropping Holyoke, a name the team has had since 2008.  Prior to 2008, the team was based in Concord, New Hampshire.

Holyoke has a proud and rich history, and losing the baseball team which carries the city's name is unquestionably a loss for the Paper City.  The attempt to extend the team's appeal beyond Holyoke is an understandable one, but will Holyoke fans be turned off?

The fan reaction in Holyoke will be an interesting one.  While the Blue Sox are clearly extending their reach into most of Western Massachusetts, is it worth the risk of turning off the local base?

The Blue Sox are members of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, a collegiate summer baseball league funded in part by Major League Baseball.

As important as the name is, simply having NECBL baseball in Holyoke is ultimately what is more important.  Having the league play at 4,100-seat Mackenzie Stadium contributes to the Holyoke economy, bringing in fans buying anything from tickets to dinner.  Between the additional tax revenue generated from fans coming into the city and the extra traffic given to local businesses, the Blue Sox continue to contribute to Holyoke's economy year after year.  Whether the team's name is the Valley Blue Sox, the Holyoke Blue Sox, or for that matter Western Mass. Blue Sox, the important thing to remember is just how valuable this team is to the city of Holyoke.

Zach Baru can be followed @zbaru and reached at

Monday, May 26, 2014

Falcons playoff attendance less than satisfactory

By Zachary Baru

It is every Springfield sports fan's favorite subject: attendance.  As the Springfield Falcons experienced an early exit from the American Hockey League's Calder Cup playoffs, the unwanted subject arises once again.

Three home playoff games, three prime weekend dates, one attractive opponent.  As the Falcons faced an opponent with the best opportunity of drawing fans, three Eastern Conference quarterfinal games at the MassMutual Center averaged 3,486 fans per game.

Ticket sales can be tricky during the playoffs for minor league teams.  Unlike the regular season, many of the promotions do not occur, causing teams to depend on strong walk-up sales.

The Falcons opponent, the Providence Bruins, are always a top draw in Springfield due to their affiliation with the Boston Bruins.  Facing the Bruins for three nights, all on weekends, was a golden opportunity for high attendance figures.  That was not the case, as the highest attendance in Springfield came during the deciding game 5 when 4,427 fans saw the Bruins eliminate the Falcons from the playoffs with a 6-3 win.

Games 2 and 3 in Springfield drew 2,753 and 3,278 respectively.  The Falcons can do better, and they must.  These are the the words we hate hearing, but are becoming all too common as the American Hockey League landscape continues to grow.  For a top development league that includes large markets such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Charlotte - all within the top 25 U.S media markets - Springfield finds itself a small market in a league with big-market presence.  Nielsen ranks the Springfield-Holyoke televison market 114th.  Close rival Hartford is ranked 30th.

So can Springfield survive in today's AHL?  Of course it can.  But as we hear so often, that determination can only be made by the support the franchise receives.  As always, Bruce Landon continues his support, and Charlie and Sarah Pompea have been doing whatever it takes to keep this franchise in Springfield.  Here's to hoping when next season comes, big crowds come along with it.

Source: Nielsen

Zach Baru can be followed @zbaru and reached at

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Busy stretch awaits MassMutual Center, benefits local economy

By Zachary Baru

As the Springfield Falcons look ahead to the playoffs after capturing their second straight Northeast Division title, the MassMutual Center prepares for a busy stretch of everything from playoff hockey to commencements.

This weekend, the Falcons wrap-up their regular season with two games, followed by a Justin Moore concert on April 15.  This concert was originally scheduled for February, but a snow storm postponed the performance.  The arena set-up will be an end stage configuration, with the stage between sections 11 and 22.

Immediately following the concert will be an appearance by Disney on Ice, which will be from April 16-20.  There are two Friday performances scheduled, followed by three on Saturday.

Don't forget about the Falcons, whose American Hockey League Calder Cup Playoffs begin shortly after.  As if that is not enough for April, on the 25th the Convention Center will hold the 2014 Bay Path Women's Leadership Conference with keynote speaker Barbara Walters.

May will be commencement season for the MassMutual Center, with six colleges set to host their commencements in the arena between May 10th and May 31st.  Colleges include Bay Path, Westfield State, American International, Springfield College, Springfield Technical and Holyoke Community.

All of this means more economic activity in and around Springfield.  The additional traffic downtown will support restaurants and other local businesses, while visitors to the region for the commencements will support hotels in the Springfield area.  As people flock to the MassMutual Center in the coming months, the Pioneer Valley awaits the economic benefits such events can provide.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Friday, February 28, 2014

UMass basketball is worth the trip to Barclays

By Zachary Baru

For anyone who has been fortunate enough to see a University of Massachusetts men's basketball game this season at the Mullins Center, you know how exciting and electrifying the experience can be.  But in just over one week, tournament basketball will be a short day-trip away.

The Atlantic 10 Basketball Championships will be returning to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn beginning March 12, running through March 16 with the championship game.  The chance to see UMass show the conference why 2014 has been such a special season is one no fan should miss.

This is far from a sales pitch.  UMass fans should take advantage of the fact that the conference tournament is so close, and in one of the newest, most modern arenas in the country.

Opened in September 2012, the Barclays Center seats 17,732 for basketball.  The arena's modern amenities combined with its spectacular exterior design make the venue a must-see for sports fans.  Any game at the Barclays Center would be great to see, but being able to support our Minutemen in New York City really is a great opportunity for Western Mass. fans.

The Barclays Center sits on top of Atlantic Terminal, which is a hub for 9 subways, not to mention Long Island Rail Road as well.  This extremely accessible location is part of what makes this New York venue so appealing.  It can be reached by taking the 4 train from Grand Central Terminal, or the 2 train from Penn Station.  It's that simple.  Since parking is limited, your best bet is to either take Amtrak from Springfield, or Metro-North from New Haven, an easy hour drive south on Interstate 91.

The Atlantic 10 Basketball Championships allow local fans a unique opportunity to see a highly competitive NCAA conference tournament game, relatively close to home - not to mention seeing UMass playing in New York City.  So take the day, or make it into a weekend, and support the Minutemen as they head down to the bright lights of New York.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Saturday, January 11, 2014

UMass basketball experiencing strong national televison exposure

By Zachary Baru

The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team is enjoying what the perks of having a strong team can bring, and doing so with the rest of the country on televison.  To date, four games this season have been televised on the ESPN family of networks, with two more on the way.

Additonally, one game has appeared on both the CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network.  NBCSN currently is scheduled to air two more games, the first of which will be televised live from the Mullins Center today at 12:30 p.m. as the Minutemen take on St. Bonaventure.  CBS Sports Network is also set to air four games this season.

The growing product of the Atlantic 10 Conference and their ability to make agreements with national television partners is one reason for the vast coverage, but the Minutemen's recent sucess deserves most of the credit.  UMass is currently ranked #19 in the Associated Press poll, their highest ranking in the poll since 1998.

UMass' 69-67 win over Providence on December 28 in front of a sellout crowd of 9,493 in Amherst was televised live on ESPNU, and was a great way to showcase the success of UMass both on and off the court to a national televison audience.

February 21 will be a big night for UMass, as they will be shown live on ESPN2 at 7 when they face A-10 rival Virgina Commonwealth.  The high national ranking along with the strong national televison coverage creates a unique opportunity for some of the best expsoure for the UMass basketball brand in quite some time. 

Zach Baru can be followed on Twittter @zbaru and reached at

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

After seven years, Mullins Center sellout worth the wait

By Zachary Baru

After many years of fans showing up at the box office, buying walk-up tickets to games, the first sellout crowd in seven years for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team was a delight to the 9,493 in attendance for the Minutemen's 69-67 win over Providence on December 28.

The feeling may not have been the same for fans waiting in line when the announcement was made that the game was sold out, and tickets were no longer available at the time.  A long line of fans continued to wait in the cold, as some tickets became available after about a half hour. 

This is the reality of having a team that is nationally ranked.  Presently, UMass is #19 in the Associated Press poll, making this the lowest AP ranking for UMass since 1998.  The sellout - which UMass also had at the MassMutual Center on December 7 - will likely not be the Minutemen's last this season.

The Saturday night start time helped, and playing Providence did not hurt either, but the remarkable aspect to the sellout was that it occured during intersession for students.  While the student section certainly had its fair share of supporters, there were still less students in the Mullins Center than usual, sometimes making the arena eerily quiet for a sellout. 

The Providence game was a hometown supported game, and a nice treat for UMass fans to see what the fan base is capable of, without all of the help from students.  It is comforting to know the potential of Western Massachusetts fans, which could be seen live nationally on ESPNU.  UMass, and all of Western Mass. was represented well, something that hopefully will become the norm.

The Mullins Center was built on success, and finally that excitment is back in the arena.  There should be no excuses now as to why fans can't fill the building.  It has been done this season in Springfield, and now Amherst.  It is amazing what the affects of a national ranking can bring for a team. 

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at