Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: Fan experience high at weekend-long event

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - For most basketball tournaments, it is simple: you enter the arena, watch the game, hope you get on the video board, or take part in a contest.  But that is it.  It is completely confined to the venue itself - all about basketball, and usually like any other tournament.

From being at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament these last two days, the division 1 basketball is just part of the experience.  The location, as any event, is a major factor in the enjoyment for the common fan.

This is why the Mohegan Sun Arena is a fitting choice for the tournament, and why Mohegan Sun provides more than just an arena for the games.

Sitting in the arena watching the games has been very enjoyable.  There has been amazing plays, close games, overtime, a buzzer-beater, you name it.  But its before and after the games that has also been enjoyable, something many other basketball venues just cannot provide.

For the fans, players, players' families, coaches and all of the media, Mohegan Sun gives those involved plenty of hospitality, and entertainment as well.

The 1,200-room luxury hotel is just steps away from the arena, giving teams, media and fans a convenient and quality place to stay.  Additionally, the resort offers a spa, restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping and entertainment such as the free Wolf Den and a comedy club.

Notice how one thing was not included in all of those options - that of course, was gaming.  Illustrating just how much there is to do in the resort.

This weekend has been, well, there's really no other way to put it... really fun.  It is what makes the Tip-Off Tournament special, and enjoyable for all fans.  It's more than the basketball, it's more than the venue, it's a good combination of both, making the Tip-Off Tournament a must-see for any basketball fan.

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

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: As day 2 brings national coverage, Hall of Fame, Mohegan shine

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - Day 2 of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament highlights the true advantage of having a premier venue such as the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Attracting big name schools such as Boston College, Texas Tech, Northwestern and South Alabama, the 9,323-seat Mohegan Sun Arena provides the setting one would expect for a tournament to be broadcast over national airwaves.  Day 2 of the tournament will see two games broadcast nationally live on ESPN2, with the other two Sunday games streaming live on ESPN3.

For ESPN, this is the type of venue their viewers want to watch a game being played in.  For the Hall of Fame, this is yet another chance to showcase their brand nationally, and even globally.

A Basketball Hall of Fame logo can be found everywhere the eye can see.  On center court, under the baskets, on the benches, and on the scorer's table.  The arena is filled with Hall of Fame logos appearing constantly on the LED ribbon boards in front the balcony.  Even the center-hung scoreboard displays Hall of Fame logos and commercials throughout the game.

The tournament is win-win for both the Hall and ESPN, which broadcasts all eight games throughout the weekend between ESPN2 and ESPN3.

The tough part for the Hall of Fame, however, is filling the seats for the later games, and for Sunday's early game as well.  But throughout the resort at Mohegan Sun, fans can be seen everywhere, from the hotel, to restaurants, to the gaming floor, wearing Tip-Off-related merchandise.

Players, players' families, coaches, media, and fans fill the resort wherever you can look, turning Mohegan Sun into a basketball fan's paradise for Saturday and Sunday.  For the Hall of Fame, Mohegan Sun truly serves as a great venue providing the hospitality and atmosphere needed all weekend long.

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: National broadcast coverage all weekend from ESPN essential to tournament

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - The 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament returns to the Mohegan Sun Arena once again.  And besides having big division 1 programs such as Boston College, Texas Tech and Northwestern, the weekend-long national television coverage is especially important in creating a successful event.

Every game this weekend will be broadcast on one of the ESPN family of networks.  Both ESPN2 and ESPN3 will cover the event, with the ESPN2 televising two games on Sunday at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.  ESPN3 will stream the other six games live.

Having every game broadcast live to a national audience is important to not only the financial side of the tournament, but also the tournament's marketing as well.  In order to create a national appeal and following, the games have to be seen in some way, and there is no better way to do that than with ESPN. 

ESPN3's coverage is also important because of the access that the platform provides.  ESPN3 can be streamed on mobile phones, online or on smart TVs, allowing plenty of fans worldwide the opportunity to see the tournament.  This is especially true for millennials, who often prefer to watch sports on their phone. 

For the Hall of Fame, being able to promote their brand to a national and even a global audience is very important.  The Tip-Off Tournament has transformed from a one-night event to a two-day, eight-game tournament being viewed all over the world.  For the Springfield museum, this is a weekend that can pay huge dividends in gaining worldwide attention.

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

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: Day 1 begins with crowds from near and far

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - The 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament began Saturday drawing fans from all over, both regionally and nationally, in the first day of the weekend-long event.

With teams from Boston College, Texas Tech, Northwestern, La Salle, South Alabama, Maine, Sacred Heart and St. Peter's, fans traveled from well-beyond Connecticut for the tournament.  This was most apparent during game 2, when Northwestern faced La Salle.

One might think that an Illinois-Pennsylvania math-up in Connecticut would be dominated by La Salle fans, but the opposite proved to be the case Saturday afternoon.  The stands in the 9,323-seat Mohegan Sun Arena had plenty of purple, as the game turned into a virtual home contest for Northwestern.

It was clear how passionate Northwestern fans are, only adding to the excitement of a neutral site tournament.  Perhaps the number of supporters on hand helped, as Northwestern topped La Salle 82-74.

Every year at the Tip-Off Tournament seems to have a theme - one long-distance team seems to always bring in more fans than any other, many times more than some of the smaller-conference local teams.

No team, however, had more representation than game 1, when Boston College faced Texas Tech.  Plenty of BC fans made the trip down Interstate 95 to Mohegan Sun, in what was the largest attended game of the night.  While an official attendance was not available at the time of this article, it was clear that this game, even being the earliest of the four match-ups, was the highest attended.

The early afternoon crowd, however, was not enough to help BC, as the Eagles fell to Texas Tech 75-64.

Check back all weekend on Western Mass.Sports Biz, as there will be tournament coverage each day from the Mohegan Sun Arena.

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

Coverage of the 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament

Western Mass. Sports Biz will be reporting all weekend from the 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.  This will be the fourth time since 2012 that Western Mass. Sports Biz has been in the arena to cover the weekend-long event.

The tournament includes four games on both November 18 and November 19.  This year's tournaments will have both national and regional teams competing in the Naismith and Springfield brackets, including Boston College, Texas Tech, Northwestern, La Salle, South Alabama, Maine, Sacred Heart and St. Peter's.

As usual, all games will be televised live on the ESPN family of networks, with all games on Saturday streamed live on ESPN3.  Sunday's games will be split between ESPN2 and ESPN3, with the Naismith Bracket Consolation and Championship games on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. respectively.

The Mohegan Sun Arena was built in 2001 and has become a leading entertainment arena throughout the nation, attracting some of the biggest names in entertainment.  The 9,323-seat arena has won several awards, including the "Venue of the Year" in 2013 at the G2E Global Gaming Conference in Las Vegas and has won "Casino of the Year" at the Country Music Awards in 2008, 2010 and 2013.

Check back all weekend-long for coverage of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament from the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Thunderbirds off to another big start at box office

By Zachary Baru

The Springfield Thunderbirds began the franchise's second season with a bang October 14, selling out opening night for the second consecutive season.  The Thunderbirds lost 4-3 to the Hartford Wolf Pack as 6,793 fans filled the MassMutual Center.  It all started outside the arena with the Opening Weekend Pre-Game Party, as fans showed up early in support of the hometown American Hockey League affiliate of the Florida Panthers.

The sellout crowd was another impressive start to the season for the Thunderbirds, who continue to impress the region's sports fans with their off-the-ice operations.  Promotions have been key, as the Thunderbirds have been heavily promoting their brand with unique and effective marketing ever since the franchise began last year.

Besides special promotions this season such as "David Ortiz Night" or having Rene Rancourt sing the American and Canadian National Anthems, the Thunderbirds have done a particularly good job with social media marketing.  The front office has made this a focus since day one, and marketing through the team's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts has made a massive difference with fan engagement, translating to box office success.

Social media marketing has allowed fans of all ages to stay connected with the Thunderbirds, just one reason why this form of marketing is so critical to the team's off-the-ice performance.  And it's not just how often the Thunderbirds have been staying in touch with fans, it's how well they have done it.

The team has done an exceptional job producing professionally shot videos and marketing this through social media, reaching thousands of fans each day.  Flyovers of Downtown Springfield, inside looks of the arena before the game, and highlights of games have all become something fans are now used to via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

As the Thunderbirds season heats up, hockey fans throughout Western Massachusetts can only hope that the Thunderbirds off-the-ice success continues.

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hall of Fame to hold high school showcase prior to Hoophall Miami Invitational

By Zachary Baru

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will make this year's Hoophall Miami Invitational more than just an elite college basketball double-header, the event will truly tie in the local community by allowing ten Miami-area high schools the opportunity to display their talent on the court at the AmericanAirlines Arena.

The third-annual Hoophall Miami Inviational, the Hall of Fame's Miami college basketball showcase, has been previously announced as a double-header with two match-ups, Syracuse-Kansas and Miami-Princeton on December 2 at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.

Yesterday's announcement gives ten high schools from the Miami-area a chance to play in a high school showcase event on November 28 also at the AmericanAirlines Arena, and allows fans the chance to purchase tickets for $19, a ticket that gives entry to all five high schools games as well as the college double-header.

This is yet another example of the Hall of Fame's continued effort to expand its reach and market itself both regionally and nationwide, alongside the Tip-Off Tournament held each November at the Mohegan Sun Arena, the Hall of Fame Classic college double-header held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on December 8, and the men's and women's college Holiday Showcases, held December 19 and 20 respectively at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Having the Hall of Fame holding events throughout the country helps grow an already worldwide brand, something that is very beneficial locally here in Western Massachusetts.  In addition to Six Flags New England and Yankee Candle, the Hall of Fame has been one of the region's largest tourist attractions ever since its opening in 1968 at Springfield College and continues to be a boon for the the regional economy.

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

NECBL day trips can be quite the experience

By Zachary Baru

With the support of readers like you, and one person's excellent advice to get started, I have had the pleasure of writing this blog since 2012, and there is one thing I do not believe I have ever done - used the word "I".  But for this post, I don't think there is any other way to express how adventurous, fun and special a New England Collegiate Baseball League day trip can be for a fan.

A League Like No Other

Sometimes it is easy to forget how interesting, and amazing this summer collegiate baseball league is, and how how fortunate we are to have a two franchises right here in Western Massachusetts.  

The NECBL is a summer collegiate baseball league showcasing college talent and prospects every year throughout its 13 teams in New England.  With two divisions, North and South, markets all over the region are represented, with franchises from Danbury, Connecticut to Sanford, Maine.  The bottom line, the NECBL gives baseball fans the ultimate day trip - a chance to explore beautiful regions of New England, all within a days' drive.  And to top it off, the best part is actually the baseball setting itself, which can be truly unique places to watch the game.

The Journey Begins

It all started when the two of us were trying to figure out what to do on a hot, sunny Western Mass. summer day.  The idea came about of taking a day trip to North Adams to see a SteepleCats game.  Maybe its because they were playing my hometown Valley Blue Sox, or the fact that I am constantly reminded how much I want to see a game since the classroom I teach in is more or less a private suite overlooking Mackenzie Stadium.  Either way, we knew we wanted to take the trip to North Adams, and we were not disappointed.  

After getting the GPS ready and buying a couple of drinks from Sonic, we were off.  During the trip, I was busy trying to figure out where the best place to sit at the game would be, and a certain someone was glued to the window admiring the scenery while trying to find a moose on the side of the road.  While she did not succeed, the trip through the Berkshires was as beautiful as expected, and the the best part was still ahead.

A Spectacular View

Unfortunately we did not leave enough time to venture around North Adams, but we were able to secure great seats at the park.  Although its not the major leagues, there still was quite a crowd already there well before the first pitch.  But a couple things were much different from the majors - free and convenient parking, and the fact that I was able to walk into the game with $20, buy two seats, and still have money left for concessions.  Tickets were $5 for General Admission Adult, a truly great deal.  

Right before we entered Joe Wolfe Field, we passed a sign commemorating Noel Field, the former stadium before Joe Wolfe Field was built on the site in 1986.   The sign recognized the impressive history of professional baseball at the site, and the legends that played at the field dating back to the early 20th Century.   

If that's not enough to make a baseball fans' day, the view from the seats certainly were.  As soon as we entered the 1,800-seat stadium, we were taken away by the view of the mountains past the center field fence.  From North to South, and East to West, they surround the view of the field and make for an unbelievable back-drop, only NECBL baseball can provide.  

As if that wasn't enough, there were post-game fireworks.  As the sun set, the mountain-view transitioned to the perfect setting, as fireworks illuminated the night sky.

It was an amazing ending to a perfect day.  A day full of adventure, scenery, baseball, a little history, and great entertainment.  Excluding the gas, all of this for less than $20.  We even had money left over after the concessions.

From A Mountain-View to the Ocean

The interesting part is this is just one of many potential day trips the NECBL has to offer.  For the Western Mass. residents outside of the Pioneer Valley looking for a good day trip, Mackenzie Stadium in Holyoke offers a great setting to watch baseball, with the mountain-view of Mount Tom in the background.  The 4,100-seat home of the Blue Sox has a history of baseball in Holyoke dating back to 1933, and the former home of the Holyoke Millers of the "AA" Eastern League from 1977 through 1982.

Looking for a day trip with some ocean views mixed in?  The NECBL also has a team in Newport, Rhode Island.  The Newport Gulls play at 3,000-seat Cardines Field, another historic New England stadium built in 1938.  The combination of baseball history at the stadium blended with the culture, scenery and history in Newport, makes for another great NECBL day trip.

There are so many other destinations throughout this fascinating league.  So for baseball fans, or just anyone in general who enjoys scenery, history and a great New England road trip, consider an NECBL day trip.  It is an experience that can remind you how fortunate we are to live in a region like New England.  

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at  Zach has also written the blog since 2011.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

In 2016-17, the Thunderbirds brought social media marketing to Springfield like never before

By Zachary Baru

It seemed as soon as the Springfield Thunderbirds started a new era in local hockey, the franchise brought a social media marketing effort unlike any that has been seen before in the city.

From day one when the franchise unveiled their name and logo at the MassMutual Center, the social media marketing effort kicked in at full speed.  From that first day, through even the current summer months of the off-season, the Thunderbirds have not stopped engaging with fans via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

What the Thunderbirds have done has gone far beyond the standard news updates, game announcements and scores, the Thunderbirds have used social media effectively to engage their fans 365 days a year through a variety of videos, promotions and contests to name a few.  This is essential to keeping fans engaged and part of the franchise, keeping them informed and keeping the Thunderbirds fresh in fans' minds.

As video becomes more and more popular on Facebook and Twitter, the Thunderbirds have capitalized by posting game highlights, interviews, and promotional videos that are effectively short, perfect for the ever-decreasing attention spans of millennials.  These videos are professionally made and full of graphics and flyovers of Springfield, leading many fans to share the posts over Facebook and Twitter and allowing the Thunderbirds to truly capitalize off the full effect of social media.

Even the little things were executed well last season for the Thunderbirds, like creating Facebook events for every home game, engaging Facebook users throughout the season.  A Facebook event was created for each home game, giving fans notifications on their phones when the event neared, and giving notifications to friends of those fans attending.  As simple as this is, this is the social media effect at its best, spreading the word on an upcoming game and letting potential fans know that their friend is attending a future game.  It just takes a few fans to share the post for a Facebook event, and suddenly thousands of fans can be engaged in a post.

While this is just a sliver of the work that the Thunderbirds front office did with social media this season, the fact remains that a marketing effort like this has never been seen before from any of the Springfield-area teams.  The Thunderbirds marketing campaign has brought life into the sports scene in and around Springfield, and the franchise looks to have a very bright future ahead.

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Renovations to Mackenzie Stadium key for Blue Sox, City of Holyoke

By Zachary Baru

This summer baseball fans can check out what has been a nearly non-stop off-season of work at Mackenzie Stadium in Holyoke.  Renovations to Mackenzie Stadium will give fans a chance to watch the Valley Blue Sox of the New England Collegiate Baseball League on a brand new field in 2017.  This is not only great for baseball fans looking to watch the game in arguably the best baseball stadium in the area, but beneficial for the local economy in Holyoke as well.

The Blue Sox have for many years been an important economic driver in the City of Holyoke.  Having tens of thousands of fans come into the city during the season has been important for businesses throughout the Paper City, and the current renovations will only add to this economic impact.

Renovations could not come at a better time, as Hartford will be opening their new "AA" minor league stadium, Dunkin' Donuts Park, in just 12 days.  The 6,000-seat, $71 million dollar stadium will be the first development project in the new "Downtown North" neighborhood of the city.  Opening day for the Hartford Yard Goats on April 13 is currently sold out.

Back in Holyoke, Western Mass. will have a new field of its own.  The turf is down, and in great condition ahead of the 2017 NECBL season.  Anyone who hasn't checked out a Blue Sox game will find low prices and a close proximity to future baseball stars.

Mackenzie Stadium opened in 1933, and today has a capacity of 4,100.  In 2009, the NECBL All-Star Game at Mackenzie was oversold, and had an attendance of 4,906 fans.  Mackenzie Stadium was home to the Holyoke Millers, a member of the "AA" Eastern League from 1977 through 1982.  Baseball returned to Mackenzie Stadium in 2004, when the NECBL brought the Holyoke Giants to town.  The franchise moved to Lynn, Massachusetts in 2007, making way for what was then called the Holyoke Blue Sox to come to the city in 2008.

For Holyoke, Mackenzie Stadium and the Blue Sox are pieces to the local economy that will bring in more than just fans from within the city and surrounding towns.  Blue Sox baseball will bring in fans throughout the region, attracting fans to restaurants and stores throughout the city.

Zach Baru can be followed @zbaru and reached at  He also writes for