Thursday, February 27, 2020

Bernie Sanders brings 2020 race to MassMutual Center

By Zachary Baru

There won't be the typical hockey game on Friday at the MassMutal Center, or even a concert or the occasional basketball game.  Friday night the MassMutual Center will become a full-blown political venue, hosting a rally for Democratic Candidate for President and Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders.  

The rally will be held just days before the Tuesday, March 3 primary election, as Massachusetts is one of 15 states to be part of "Super Tuesday".  Having a leading candidate like Bernie Sanders in Springfield will be an opportunity for the region to have national media attention, as well as showcasing the the MassMutual Center and the opportunities it provides as a large entertainment venue.

Friday night's crowd will undoubtedly draw thousands of combined spectators and media members, providing the area with economic impact to restaurants, hotels and retail, including MGM Springfield just across Main Street.  It is events like these that make the MassMutual Center an important part of the regional economy in Western Massachusetts, and a reminder of why we need more events to draw in visitors who will continue to boost the local economy.  

With a large nationwide following, and as a Senator from nearby Vermont, the possibility of the rally being sold out is high.  No announcement from officials regarding the seating has been made yet, most likely due to reasons of security.

Having nationally-known and internally-followed figures such as Bernie Sanders holding rallies in Western Mass. is great for the region, and beneficial for the economy.  Single events like this, however, will only have a limited impact, and more events, including concerts and sports, will be crucial to maximizing the economic growth of the region into

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes SportsBusinessBoston.com.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Pioneers bring national television coverage to Ludlow

By Zachary Baru

National media attention will be coming to Ludlow this March, when the Western Mass. Pioneers host Portland (Maine) at Lusitano Stadium.  The match will be part of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer's annual national tournament that includes all levels of play in the U.S. Soccer system, both professional and amateur.  The Pioneers are no strangers to the U.S. Open Cup, who have been in the tournament nearly every year of the club's existence since the team was founded in Ludlow in 1997 by the Gremio Lusitano Club, still current operators of the team.

The Pioneers will host a first-round U.S. Open Cup match in Ludlow on March 24 at 7 p.m., a game that will be broadcast nationally and around the globe on ESPN+, ESPN's streaming service.  Soccer fans worldwide will be able to watch the game on the ESPN App on both smartphones and smart TV's, as well as on ESPNPlus.com.  This is a great opportunity for the long-time club and 2019 Northeast Division champions to get national media exposure, not to mention bringing national television coverage to Western Massachusetts.

The Pioneers have played in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) since their inception in 1997, but the league name has changed multiple times over the years.  In 2019, the USL changed the Pioneers' league to USL League 2 (USL2), in what seems to be a better name and organizational structure for the USL.  

The 3,000-seat Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Massachusetts,
home of the Western Mass. Pioneers and the 
New England Mutiny.
The Pioneers will face the Portland Phoenix, also of USL2.  The league operates semi-professional, giving teams and players the option to get exemptions from the NCAA to play in the league during the college off-season.  The quality of the Pioneers remains at an elite level, something the club has maintained since the team's founding.  The Pioneers are coming off a historical season, finishing with an undefeated 11-0-3 record.  

The club also finished tied for first in points throughout all of USL2, a league that has 85 teams in 11 divisions throughout every region of the United States.  USL2 provides a feeder-system to USL1, which provides development to USL Championship, just one league below Major League Soccer in the "U.S. Soccer pyramid".  The restructuring of the USL allowed for a more clear system of league levels affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation.

Having the Pioneers in a competitive league like USL2 and in a national tournament like the U.S. Open Cup provides area soccer fans with a tremendous opportunity to see a high level of soccer locally, the ability to bring national television coverage to Ludlow, but also the chance to see players develop before they reach the higher levels in the nation's system of soccer leagues.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.