Monday, December 17, 2012

UMass football season far from a total loss

By Zachary Baru

While the University of Massachusetts' first season in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision was a loss financially, it should be remembered as a step-forward in the history of UMass athletics.

UMass averaged 10,901 fans through five games at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. in the teams' inaugural season of college football's highest level.  The move was a risky one, but necessary in many ways, all benefiting UMass long-term.

With the future of the Football Championship Subdivision uncertain, UMass made the right choice by taking the opportunity to join FBS.  This allowed UMass to compete at the most competitive level, while giving the Minutemen the best opportunity for future national exposure.  Joining the Mid-American Conference places UMass in competition with larger programs, as well as revenue sharing opportunities, which can help offset some of the added costs of the move.  Bottom line, UMass football's program looks to have a brighter future.

It is hard to overlook that the program was $700,000 short of expectation for the 2012 season.  Although that figure is significant, it should be noted that UMass will be receiving $900,000 to play a road game in Wisconsin next year, and $750,000 to visit Kansas State next year as well.  Payouts like this would not exist in the FCS level of play, and are opportunities UMass will be able to capitalize from in the years to come.

For this reason of long-term opportunities, UMass football is in a much better place than they saw themselves in 5 years ago.  They are playing in a state-of-the-art NFL stadium, and in a conference which attracts national television exposure, which by the way has a team this year in a BCS bowl.

UMass can reap financial benefits and national exposure from their new conference, but it will take some time.  It will not happen over night.  This program will get better, we must be patient, and look at where UMass football is now, compared to the uncertainty of the past.

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

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: 3,863 attend final day

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - The 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament concluded on Sunday with 3,863 fans coming out for the second day of the weekend tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Combined with the Saturday crowd of 6,003, the tournament finished with a total attendance of 9,866.  Rhode Island brought the majority of fans, while Seton Hall and Ohio State also had good support as well.

Between the eight division I teams, the competition was excellent, and with three schools being regional, many of their fans came out to show their support, creating a mostly vibrant atmosphere in the arena.  Add that to four of the eight games broadcasted live on ESPN networks, and this tournament should be deemed a success.

As good as the competition was, the best part of this tournament was having the three teams within traveling distance, and allowing their fans to make the trip to Uncasville.  Many other college basketball tournaments this time of year only have one or sometimes no regional teams, which takes away from the atmosphere of the games.  The Tip-Off Tournament did not have that problem at all, as Mohegan Sun Arena had passionate fans all weekend long.

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

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: Mohegan Sun Arena home away from home for Western Mass. entertainment

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - It may be easy to dismiss Mohegan Sun Arena as a local venue, but as it is often the closest location to Springfield for major events, the one-hour trip is well worth the ride.

For Western Mass. basketball fans that made the trip down Route 2 to see the 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, they were treated to competitive basketball in a state-of-the-art venue.  Although there were not any sellouts during tournament in the 9,323 permanent seat arena, the venue still was the perfect fit for the eight games, many of which included raucous crowds from regional teams' fans making the trip to Uncasville.

Even for Ohio State, as they just won the Naismith bracket's championship, the crowd actually erupts into multiple Buckeye chants.  On Sunday, the tournament had a smaller crowd than the first day, when 6,003 fans came out to see the four division I games.  

For next year's tournament, there is not a better venue it could be played, as Mohegan Sun Arena certainly gets the job done hosting this weekend-long event.  Best of all, it accommodates television well, as a national broadcast for the tournament is essential.

The arena is a first-class venue, that is ranked 3rd in the U.S. by Billboard Magazine.  It's high ranking is for a reason, this arena is a modern and intimate arena that is perfect for any event, small or large.  It routinely attracts the largest worldwide concert tours, being just large enough to still have the feeling of a stadium concert.

There literally is not a bad seat in the house, with two levels of seating, and a design that supports excellent acoustics.  Just walking through the concourse, there is an attention to detail that cannot be found in many other arenas.  Make no mistake about it, this is the home away from home for Western Mass. entertainment.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: 6,003 fans come for first day

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - On the first day of the 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, 6,003 fans came out to Mohegan Sun Arena to see a first day of hoops for division I teams including Ohio State and Rhode Island.  The total attendance accounts for all four games, which featured very lively crowds for the ESPN3 national audience.

Ohio State versus Rhode Island was the marquee game, in which Mohegan Sun Arena became Rhode Island's home court for a day.  Many of their fans filled the seats, and cheerleaders from Rhode Island made the trip down I-95, making for a boisterous crowd.  The support did help Rhode Island at times in the first half, as they kept it interesting trailing 30-26.  But Ohio State was just too much in the end, winning 69-58.

The next game between Seton Hall and Washington was also decently attended, as a large following of fans made the trip through New York from Seton Hall.  It became a "home" game for Seton Hall, whose fans were extremely rowdy, making for a very entertaining game which went into overtime.  The loud fans were not enough for Seton Hall, as Washington went on a 13-2 run in the overtime period, capturing a 84-73 win.

Two games were broadcast on ESPN3.  Tomorrow in the tournament's Naismith bracket final, ESPN2 will broadcast Ohio State versus Washington at 4:30 p.m.  ESPN3 will also broadcast Rhode Island versus Seton Hall at 7.

All in all, it was a great day of basketball at Mohegan Sun Arena with 6,000 fans and spirited crowds supporting their teams.

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

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: Regional teams' fans make trip to Mohegan

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - The 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament may be a neutral site for all games, but in reality, it can often become a home game for the regional teams.  And while the teams making the trip to Connecticut who are not close enough to bring along their fans may not like it, the energy in the arena when a regional team plays is something many other tournaments cannot replicate.

In the last of four games today, Seton Hall just tied the game off a three pointer with 9:13 remaining in the second half.  The crowd of almost entirely Seton Hall fans at Mohegan Sun Arena went absolutely wild.  As their opponent is Washington, this is virtually a home game for Seton Hall, as what happened earlier in the Rhode Island game versus Ohio State.

With so many of the regional teams' fans making the trip to support their teams, the Tip-Off Tournament is different from many of the other tournaments that are taking place this time of the year in college basketball.  Many tournaments only have one regional team, or in the case of the Battle for Atlantis, the only fans in the venue are on vacation in the Bahamas.

Such is not the case at the Tip-Off Tournament, as three of the eight teams are regional, making the crowds much different than most tournaments.  The crowds have been loud and very much into the game, something that makes this tournament special.

Had the tournament been held in Springfield, there would not have been as large of a following from Rhode Island, and it certainly would not have been a "home game" for Seton Hall.  This tournament has found a good home at Mohegan Sun Arena, as the Hall of Fame is still having the Holiday Showcase in Springfield at the MassMutual Center next month, featuring UMass.

This is a good compromise, creating a weekend-long event at Mohegan Sun Arena that is not only extremely competitive, but energetic and entertaining as well.

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

Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament: Mohegan perfect host

By Zachary Baru

UNCASVILLE - If you are still trying to warm-up to this tournament being down the highway at Mohegan Sun Arena rather than Springfield, five minutes at the arena will be enough to convince you that this is the right home for an event which has become a weekend-long, eight-team tournament.

As fans for the respective teams show up, and the national media and NBA scouts arrive, it becomes certain that an event such as this needs a high-profile, resort location to host a tournament that will continue to grow.  Already this year, four games will be broadcast live on ESPN networks, including tomorrow's 4:30 p.m. game on ESPN2 featuring Ohio State and today's winner between Seton Hall and Washington, shown on ESPN3.

While other tournaments may have exotic beach locations, the 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament focuses strictly on providing quality division I basketball.  The competition has been great all day, and like other resort-located tournaments that occur during this time of season, such as the Battle for Atlantis, this tournament is perfectly fit for everything Mohegan Sun provides.

Being able to accommodate eight teams with their staffs and trainers, fans traveling to support their teams, and the national media is something that would not be as convenient in Springfield.  Here at Mohegan Sun, hotel rooms and restaurants are literally a few hundred yards from the arena, without even having to walk outside.

You can't beat that in Springfield, making Mohegan Sun Arena the perfect site for this tournament, and allowing the event to continue to provide quality division I basketball for a national audience.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Coverage of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament

The 2012 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 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 four games broadcasted live on ESPN networks, one on ESPN2, and the remaining three 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 Ohio State, Rhode Island, Seton Hall, Washington, Albany, UMKC, Norfolk State and Loyola-Maryland.  Ohio State will play in the marquee games Saturday at 5 and Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Will Falcons' Success Translate Off the Ice?

By Zachary Baru

It's any small market team's wish, winning games to get fans in the stands.  But does winning always mean box office success?

It will be interesting to see how fans react to the first-place Falcons, as they lead the Northeast Division of the American Hockey League with a 6-1-0-2 record.  Last Friday's attendance at the MassMutual Center was a modest 3,489, which is still not where the Falcons should be at in today's AHL.

There are many obstacles in the Falcons' way, which they will have to overcome to draw fans in the building during a busy time of year.  Football plays a big part of this, both professionally and high school.  Friday night home games are always tough to draw fans away from high school football games, when half of the towns in Western Mass. have a game being played.  The Sunday games will always be tough draws during football season, as NFL Sunday is hard to compete with no matter which sport is attempting to go up against it.  As football season starts to end, the Falcons will have a much better shot at drawing attention to the team.

UMass hockey will mostly hurt the Falcons, but like the NHL, can also help the Falcons, as UMass' product is so great that it actually sells the sport to casual fans which may not typically think of attending a hockey game.  Right now with UMass hockey drawing multiple crowds of over 7,000, they are a tough competition for the Falcons.  Although Last Friday's UMass game was their smallest crowd of the season with 4,876 fans at the Mullins Center, Friday was an example of a night when the Falcons had to compete with UMass head-on.

One other obstacle that should be mentioned is the lack of the NHL do to the current lock-out.  While this unofficially promotes the AHL to becoming the highest level of hockey in North America, an possibly the world, at the end of the day the AHL and the Falcons actually do need the NHL to keep fans engaged.  Fans may always be interested in hockey, but having the NHL season provides a way to keep excitement about hockey in this country.  Without the NHL, hockey will always be a tough sell.

As the Falcons are seeing great success on the ice, the franchise needs this success to show at the gate, plain and simple.  The season began with a near-sellout, but will we see fans continue to come out in numbers to downtown Springfield?  As the team keeps winning, it will be up to the fans to do their part and support this franchise.

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

UMass Hockey Ranks Third in National Attendance

By Zachary Baru

If you haven't already, you can go ahead and call Amherst a hockey town.

Through three home games this season, UMass ranks third in NCAA Division I Hockey attendance, averaging 7,386 fans per game at the Mullins Center.  The season began on October 12, when UMass set a school record for the highest opening night hockey attendance.  7,123 fans saw UMass beat Connecticut 4-1 on a Friday night in Amherst.

So what is UMass's secret?  Although the promotions like "Operation 8K" are good, and the venue is a great place to watch hockey, what it really comes down to is the students.  The campus comes out by the thousands to support their hockey team.  When classes are in session, the atmosphere in the Mullins Center is electric, making for an amazing fan experience.

You can say that in UMass' case, the games sell themselves.  This is hard for teams to replicate, and shows what the right combination of good promotions and great fan support can accomplish.  The Mullins Center holds 8,389, and this season the hockey team is averaging 88.2% capacity, ahead of popular programs like Michigan and Boston College.

With three consecutive games of attendances over 7,000, the Minutemen are still early in the season, and will have more big games to play.  With the combination of student support, and that of the Western Mass. fans, UMass may be having a record setting season for attendance.

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

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What MGM Springfield Means for the MassMutual Center

By Zachary Baru

The most interesting part of MGM's plan for a casino in downtown Springfield just may be their plan for an indoor entertainment venue.  There will not be one.  

MGM Grand at Foxwoods has the MGM Grand Theatre, approximately a 4,000 seat venue that routinely attracts top concert tours.  Plans for Springfield leave out a theater or arena entirely, as any events can come to the MassMutual Center and Symphony Hall just a few blocks down Main Street from the proposed casino site.  

The MassMutual Center would likely see an increased number of events, and would be the only option for sports or large concerts, as MGM plans to only have an outdoor stage setup for free concerts.  

The question is, will MGM Springfield actually have a sports and entertainment effect, similar to the amount of events that have been appearing at MGM Grand at Foxwoods? One thing Springfield does not have, is the marketability to Boston and New York which Foxwoods will always have.  And the even bigger, more important question, is will this casino even happen at all?

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

NHL Lockout Provides Great Opportunity for Falcons

By Zachary Baru

With the National Hockey League lockout canceling the remainder of the NHL preseason schedule, and possibly a good amount of the NHL's regular season, the Springfield Falcons are officially playing in the most competitive hockey league in North America.

The American Hockey League is also arguably the second best hockey league in the world, and Western Massachusetts fans are fortunate to have this caliber of play right in their own backyard.  The Falcons are devoting all of their resources to marketing and selling their product, but the question is how will the fans respond?

The response will most likely be better than that of the 2004-2005 AHL season, when another NHL lockout wiped out the entire NHL season.  Unfortunately for the Falcons, the MassMutual Center renovation was in full swing, and was not completed until the beginning of the 2005-2006 season.

Although it is over a year removed, this region has certainly seen an increase in its attention to hockey, thanks to the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in 2011.  Without the NHL, the Falcons hope to capture this attention in the MassMutual Center.

But will an NHL lockout even make a difference?  The Falcons can certainly top their average attendance of 3,659 last year.  With that being said, the NHL does not directly compete with the AHL, as it only boosts the attention for its development league.  How fans will respond will be up to them, but you can bet that the Falcons will give their full effort to promote their brand, and fill those seats with casual AHL fans who no longer have the NHL as an option.

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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

UMass-UConn Football Rivalry Should Continue

By Zach Baru

Tonight's UMass-UConn football season opener at Rentschler Field may not have been the way the Minutemen wanted to begin their history in FBS on the field, but off the field it was still a success.  The game was available on ESPN3 and SNY, a sports station in New York comparable to Comcast Sports Net New England, giving UMass halfway decent media exposure.  As for attendance, the 35,270 fans did not benefit UMass financially, but it showed UConn that the Minutemen can bring in a large crowd, especially for a Thursday night.

Hopefully that will be enough to persuade UConn to make this game a yearly rivalry.  Now that there no longer is a UMass-UConn basketball game every year, these two schools who have history and are so close to each other, can build off this game to make it a success for both sides.

This game could become a nice tradition for a non-conference game early in the season. And if UMass pulls off a winning season, there would be more buzz next year for a rematch.  An agreement between the two teams to alternate host schools each year would be similar to the basketball teams' agreement during the last decade, which gave UMass an opportunity to be on ESPN.  If UMass were to host UConn at Gillette Stadium, the game could easily draw 25,000 fans, which this year UMass would be happy to get.

Combine this with already scheduled games versus Boston College in the years to come, and UMass football could have two regional rivalries that would help out at the box office, and get better media exposure.  Why not take advantage of the other FBS programs in the region?  If UMass and UConn were able to work together, they could benefit from each other, filling the seats year after year.

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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Casino Effects of Sports and Entertainment in Western Mass.

By Zach Baru

Love it or hate it, Western Massachusetts is getting a casino.  Putting the gaming aside, this could forever change the sports and entertainment makeup of the region.

Any promoter in the country can tell you exactly what the venue in Uncasville is, even without being told what state it's in.  About a decade ago, the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut opened its doors, and would quickly become the number one destination for concerts in Connecticut.  The 9,323 permanent seat arena has been recognized by Billboard Magazine as a top concert venue, and continually receives the biggest names in the touring industry.

Putting aside the track record of Mohegan Sun, and the possibility of Mohegan Sun Palmer, a casino in Palmer or Springfield would not make Western Mass. the new Uncasville of sports and entertainment.  It is not likely that an arena would be built at any of the proposed sites, although Mohegan Sun has mentioned the possibility of an entertainment venue for their proposed site off the Massachusetts Turnpike in Palmer.

At the very most, Western Mass. could become an added destination for medium-sized concerts.  This would be beneficial to making the region more of an attraction for promoters.  There would be virtually no effect for sporting events, although it would certainly rival the booking of concerts for the MassMutual Center and Mullins Center.

As Mohegan Sun, MGM, Hard Rock and Ameristar battle for a casino in Palmer or Springfield, the result will indefinitely change the region's sports and entertainment industry.  Just as the Mohegan Sun Arena forever changed Connecticut's concert scene, a new casino here will do the same.  With the amount of fans the concerts bring in to gamble, eat, drink and stay, the casino will be heavily invested in providing quality entertainment.  Western Mass. is in for quite an entertainment revolution.

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Underrated Role of the Holyoke Blue Sox

By Zach Baru

As Holyoke, Massachusetts continues to make efforts to grow its economy and bring more jobs into the city, the Blue Sox find themselves involved in a small, but effective role.  Unfortunately the crowds that come into Mackenzie Stadium won't translate into incredible economic figures, but this team is an important part of the identity of the city, one that has been without a baseball team since 1983.

In 1982 the Holyoke Millers of the AA Eastern League left, leaving a void of professional baseball, and sports in general in Holyoke.  That all changed in 2004 when the Holyoke Giants brought spectator baseball back to the Pioneer Valley.

But what the Holyoke Blue Sox bring to the city is so much more important than just baseball.  It is beneficial for the image of Holyoke, and not to mention a small economic input as well.  The Blue Sox lead the league in attendance last year, and their average attendance has grown every year since 2008.

During an August 1, 2011 game last year, the Blue Sox set a team single-game attendance record of 5,000 fans.  Hopefully, this season will be no different than 2011 at the gate, and the Blue Sox can continue to play a small role in the improvement of Holyoke's economy.  In the ongoing battle over a casino and other economic development options, the Blue Sox are overlooked as an important part of the Paper City.

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

Thursday, May 17, 2012

New England Mutiny, Western Mass. Pioneers Enjoying High Times

By Zach Baru

For Western Mass. soccer fans, you may not realize it, but these days are some of the best we have ever had.  It may sometimes feel differently, with the two soccer clubs playing non-professionally, but this region is very fortunate to have two class organizations in its own backyard.

The New England Mutiny currently competes in a league that shares the title of the most competitive women's soccer league in the country.  The Mutiny are members of the newly formed Women's Premier Soccer League Elite, which along with the USL W-League is the highest form of women's soccer in the U.S.

Although the Mutiny have never been professional, they are seasoned.  They have now been playing since 1999, when they were the Springfield Sirens of the W-League.  They joined the WPSL in 2002, and now play their home games at East Longmeadow High School and Northampton High School.  While the two towns are certainly not a far trip, this is a good approach to giving the two communities a chance to see soccer locally, similar to what the Springfield Slamm use to do when they played at Springfield College and different high schools.

One thing that cannot be criticized by fans is their competition.  WPSL Elite includes three former franchises from the currently suspended Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), including the Boston Breakers.  The reality is that some of the best soccer in the country is being played right here in the Pioneer Valley.

The Western Mass. Pioneers may have switched from professional to amateur in 2010, but this allows them to compete more from both a competitive and economical perspective.  They now compete in the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, a league with as much change as the length of its name.  What this has done is create an even more stable franchise in the very special and intimate Lusitano Stadium, in Ludlow, Massachusetts.

The 3,000 seat stadium is a treat for any soccer fan to experience.  Built in 1918, it is the only soccer-specific stadium in the area.   Its location right in the middle of a residential neighborhood of Ludlow makes for a very interesting feel, and it provides the opportunity to more or less get as close as you want to the field.  It is great to see competitive soccer like this so close to home.

The lack of professional soccer in Western Mass. is irrelevant.  Soccer is perhaps better than it's ever been in this region, and in time the attendances should show this.  It has taken many years, and a decent amount of changes, to get to this point where two well run organizations combine great amateur and youth development.  We are very lucky to have soccer in Western Mass. as competitive as it has become today.

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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Springfield Falcons Finish 27th in Attendance

By Zach Baru

The Springfield Falcons finished the 2011-2012 American Hockey League season with an average home attendance of 3,659, placing them 27th out of 30 franchises in the league. If this sounds disappointing, one must first take into consideration Springfield's small media market, in a league with teams from large cities such as Chicago, Toronto and Houston.

The Springfield-headquartered AHL no longer is the northeast-based league we once new.  The league now has multiple large markets, and ended the season with an average attendance of 5,638.  While the league's largest market, Chicago, finished 2nd with 7,909, the small market Hershey Bears topped the league with an impressive 9,872 fans per game.

Springfield's attendance this season could certainly have been worse, but as the AHL continues to grow, and the associated expenses remain at their current levels, an increase in attendance still remains a need for our club.  Playing in a league one level below the NHL comes with a price to pay, and less than 4,000 fans a game should not be the norm.

Although Hartford is a bigger media market, the Whale finished 23rd in attendance with 4,573.  Just behind, the Worcester Sharks finished 24th, with 4,402.  Another regional team, Albany, was last in the league with 3,435 fans per game.

There is definitely room for improvement for Springfield.  Fans need to embrace the franchise as they have in the past, and appreciate the top caliber of play we have in our city.  Western Mass. fans should take advantage of the intimacy the MassMutual Center gives fans to see such competitive hockey, right in our own backyard.

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Big Box Office Weekend for Armor and Falcons

By Zach Baru

As if Friday’s record attendance at the Springfield Armor of 6,061 fans was not enough, the Springfield Falcons responded with a sell-out crowd of 6,789 on Saturday.  Springfield may be a small market, but their fans did not make it seem like one over the weekend.

This is encouraging news for our local teams, as support is coming at a much needed time, with the playoffs right around the corner.  Friday was the Armor’s last home game, but they have clinched a playoff spot, and are currently one game behind Dakota for first place in the NBA Development League’s East Conference.

Even more interesting than Dakota actually being in the D-League’s East Conference, is that the Falcons are 4 points out of the playoffs, currently eleventh in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.  The Falcons have two more home games on the schedule, giving them an opportunity to pack more crowds into the MassMutual Center.

Last year in the 2010-2011 season, the final home game for the Armor drew 4,489 fans, showing a modest increase in support this season for the first place team.  As the Falcons look to their home finale April 14, they hope to have a similar attendance to last year’s crowd of 5,723. 

To all of the doubters out there that say Western Mass. does not support their teams, last weekend was an example of the potential this market has.  Our teams do not need 6,000-plus crowds every night to survive, but rather consistently decent attendance to show the community’s support for their teams.  For this to be achieved, the fans and the teams must work together to do their part.  The fan’s part is pretty clear, but good marketing and affordable ticket prices need to continue from our teams to ensure bodies are put in the seats. 

There is absolutely no reason why Springfield sports have to be associated with attendance problems.  How often have you glanced down in an article about local sports to check the attendance before the score?   Unfortunately, this has been the world we have been use to for quite some time.  It does not, and should not have to be like this.  The region needs to realize that we have the potential to support our teams, and last weekend was a great example that local fans truly can come out in numbers.

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

Saturday, March 24, 2012

NIT Continues to Give UMass National Exposure

By Zach Baru

UMass may not be in the big dance, but the NIT is treating UMass just fine, as it provides a fourth game televised on an ESPN network Tuesday night.  The NIT semifinal against Stanford will be prime-time on ESPN2, giving UMass another great opportunity to showcase their program to a national audience.

While other teams’ NIT games have been broadcasted only on ESPNU or ESPN3, UMass has been fortunate enough to receive two ESPN telecasts, and two on ESPN2.  This is not only excellent exposure for the program, but it greatly benefits the UMass basketball brand, which has been seeking national attention for quite some time.

The Tuesday night game at Madison Square Garden presents a great stage for UMass to make up for missing out on the NCAA tournament yet again this year, as they have since 1998.  While the NIT does not attract the television ratings of the NCAA, UMass has nothing to be ashamed of.  A Tuesday night game on ESPN2 at 7:00 will bring in halfway decent ratings no matter what the game is, and UMass is very fortunate to get the call.

Win or lose, this season is sure to be looked at as a success on and off the court.  Between their 25 wins, postseason success, and multiple 6,000-plus home attendances, this season has been very kind to the Minutemen.  Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden will likely be full of UMass students and fans making the trip down to New York.  A bus trip has already been organized, and MSG should be more like a home-court to UMass when they play Stanford.

You can wish for an NCAA tournament appearance all you want.  But the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden is fine by me.  The whole country will have a chance to see UMass basketball  try to reach their second NIT championship in four years, providing even more national exposure for our Minutemen.

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

Friday, March 9, 2012

2,250 Attend MAAC Women's Championship, Men's Draws 1,821

By Zach Baru

The attendance at the 2012 MAAC Basketball Championships in Springfield was not quite what the city had hoped.  The final day drew 2,250 for the women's championship game, and only 1,821 for the men's.  To make this sting for Springfield even more, these two games were televised on national TV, ESPNU and ESPN2 respectively.  

This was not the turnout the MAAC, or Springfield was expecting.  With many schools needing to travel far distances, local support was very much needed to make this tournament a success.  Unfortunately, this was not the story at the MassMutual Center.  

While the hotels and restaurants were packed, full of teams, league and school officials, and families, the arena simply was not.  This tournament proved to be greatly beneficial for the city, but the gate did not help the MAAC.  Here is a list of attendance of the five-day tournament, grouped by session:

Session 1: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - Women's First Round (12:00 PM and 2:00 PM)

 Session 2: Friday, March 2, 2012 - Women's Quarterfinals (9:30 AM, 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM)

Session 3: Friday, March 2, 2012 - Men's First Round (7:30 PM and 9:30 PM)

Session 4: Saturday, March 3, 2012 - Women's Semifinals (9:30 AM and11:30 AM)

Session 5: Saturday, March 3, 2012 - Men's Quarterfinals (2:30 PM and 4:30 PM)

Session 6: Saturday, March 3, 2012 - Men's Quarterfinals (7:30 PM and 9:30 PM)

Session 7: Sunday, March 4, 2012 - Men's Semifinals (2:00 PM and 4:30 PM)

Session 8: Monday, March 5, 2012 - Women's Championship (12:00 PM)

Session 9: Monday, March 5, 2012 - Men's Championship (7:00 PM)

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

Thursday, March 1, 2012

MAAC Basketball Championships to Impact Springfield Economy

By Zach Baru

The 2012 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Basketball Championships brings a lot more than just five days of basketball to the MassMutual Center, it gives the entire economy of Springfield a much needed economic boost.  Not only will thousands come down to the arena to watch one of the nine different sessions throughout the week, but many will call the city home during the week as hotels and restaurants benefit from tournament.

In the end, the city of Springfield will come out a winner, as five days of Division I college basketball and 20 teams bring money and attention to the city.  ESPN will be here to broadcast 10 games on ESPN3, ESPN's internet and mobile-based network.  They will also broadcast the women's final on ESPNU and the men's final on ESPN2, bringing national attention to Springfield.

At any given moment, tens of millions of viewers are tuned into the networks of ESPN, and Springfield will get another chance of exposure, just as it did when ESPN broadcasted the 2012 Spalding Hoophall Classic at Springfield College's Blake Arena in January.  This time, the spotlight goes downtown to the 7,000-plus seat MassMutual Center.

If the tournament gets 18,000 fans to the arena, it will be looked at as a success.  But this is just the first of a 3-year agreement for the tournament, and it is a great opportunity to get the community and the rest of the region introduced to what hopefully will become a long-term home for the MAAC.  If Western Massachusetts does their part, and semi-local colleges like Fairfield, Siena, and Marist show their support, this tournament has a real chance of being a success at the gate, and for the economy.

Support has been shown from the MAAC, as the conference has been marketing this tournament for months.  Earlier MAAC broadcasts this year on ESPNU and ESPN3 have included promos and even directions to get to Springfield.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to more money being pumped into the city.  This tournament is an excellent opportunity for Springfield to take advantage of economic benefits, and attract attention both at the same time.  You can be sure the hotels and restaurants will do their part to represent Springfield well.  But will it work?  And more importantly, will it stay?  That always seems to be the story here in Springfield.

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