Friday, May 3, 2024

The significance of the Thunderbirds' 14-straight season-ending sellouts

 By Zachary Baru   

Yes, that's right, our Springfield Thunderbirds did in fact sellout the final fourteen games of the 2023-24 season.  Skeptical?  Well, to be fair, anyone who studies sports business should be when it comes to attendance.  But no, the Thunderbirds' feat is in fact true, as verified by the franchise and the American Hockey League, but also multiple media outlets such as WGGB/WSHM, Masslive and Spectrum.  Does this mean that every seat was filled for every single game?  No, but I don't know any professional sports team that reports attendances directly from venue entrance records.  Nearly all franchises report tickets sold for official box scores.  The Thunderbirds did truly sellout their final fourteen games of the season, an accomplishment the franchise and its fans should be very proud of. 

In fact, the Thunderbirds' high attendance this season is part of a larger national trend, as the AHL set a new attendance record this season with more than 6.8 million fans attending games.  The previous record of 6.6 million fans was set in the 2015-16 season.  The league also reached it's third highest average game attendance this year with 5,920 fans per game.  This is quite an accomplishment, as the Springfield-based league has operated since 1936.

Back to the Thunderbirds, April 20th was a historic night for the franchise, as Springfield ended it's season with a 14th straight sellout in front of 6,793 fans at the MassMutual Center.  With this sellout, the Thunderbirds have played to 93.1 percent capacity this season in Downtown Springfield.  Shops, restaurants, hotels and of course, MGM Springfield are all major beneficiaries to this influx of patrons in and around the downtown area.  With the current state of the economy in 2024, the timing couldn't be better for a season full of large crowds in Downtown Springfield.

So bring on the, "they should still be in the Coliseum" arguments, or the "Springfield isn't a large enough market for the second best hockey league in our country" claims, but the data speaks for itself - this market is truly right for the AHL.  And Springfield hockey fans will come downtown to support their team.  In fact, the Thunderbirds average attendance is right around where it should be, at just over 400 fans higher than the league's average.  With all respect to the extremely special history of the AHL in Springfield, between the Indians, the Kings and Falcons (with major emphasis on extremely special), this franchise has in fact earned it's respect.  The days at the Eastern States Coliseum were one in which I can only wish I was ever able to attend.  And I am truly appreciative for being able to attend Shriners Circuses at the Coliseum growing up, allowing me to get some sort of glimpse of what it might have been like to attend Indians games at the Coliseum.  I can only imagine the magic of the atmosphere, the intimacy of the "barn", and the sights and sounds of a 4,500-seat venue that often had many more than its capacity inside.  As much as that history is special, the Thunderbirds are truly doing their part to continue the tradition of a very important AHL market.  

Right from the very first week this franchise began in 2016, it's front office and marketing department has acted anything but minor league, giving a big-league feel to a small market.  Their marketing efforts are a major, major reason why this franchise has been able to sellout its first-ever game, its final fourteen games this season, and many in-between.

Source: American Hockey League, Springfield Thunderbirds, WGGB/WSHM, Spectrum, Masslive

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