Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hall of Fame keeps tradition of basketball events in Springfield

By Zachary Baru

Sometimes you just have to appreciate what you have, and Springfield sports fans should not feel any different when it comes to the Basketball Hall of Fame and the events they present right here in Western Massachusetts.  The Tip-Off Classic has now become the Tip-Off Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena, leaving Springfield's marquee basketball game absent from the city, yet the Hall of Fame has done an excellent job ensuring that great basketball events still call Springfield home.

The Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase never officially replaced the Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, but the inaugural event in 2011 continued to bring the UMass Minutemen to the MassMutual Center, a so-called second home for the team.  The event continued this past Saturday for its third consecutive year showcasing UMass, as the Minutemen faced Brigham Young before a sold out crowd of 7,331.  Although this was not a match-up of Top 10 teams, it was a chance for Springfield fans to watch their local team at the MassMutual Center.  Kudos to the Hall of Fame for making sure Springfield's game is not forgotten, and for scheduling a contest with meaning to the local fan base.

The Hall of Fame also brought the top ranked women's team in the nation - the UConn Huskies - to the MassMutual Center in December, as part of the inaugural Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.  It featured seven other teams in a one-day event.  It was the first time UConn visited the MassMutual Center, and helped satisfy the large following of UConn fans in the Pioneer Valley.

It is hard to pass up an opportunity to mention the Springfield Spirit, as this game brought back memories of the former team that played in Springfield from 2002 through 2004 with some of the most famous alumni from UConn - not to mention one season splitting home games between the Springfield Civic Center and Mohegan Sun Arena.  And while we're at it, the game may have resurrected memories of the UConn Women's All-Star Classic at the Civic Center, which brought some of the best alumni from UConn together for an exhibition game in 2003.

Finally, how can we forget the upcoming Spalding Hoophall Classic, which has become a well-known high school tournament on a national level.  The tournament has brought some of the best teams in the country to Springfield College's Blake Arena each year, receiving national television coverage by the ESPN family of networks.  Try finding a seat in the venue for one of the marquee games, and you will understand why the Hoophall Classic has become a staple for many basketball fans in Springfield.

While it is easy to take for granted the events the Hall of Fame has brought us, Springfield should not forget the effort the Hall of Fame displays attempting to keep great basketball in Western Mass.  This is far from an attempt to encourage people to visit the museum, but rather a reminder of how this small market is fortunate to be treated to special basketball events year-round in the birthplace of the game.

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

Friday, November 8, 2013

North Carolina and Louisville highlight Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament

 By Zachary Baru

The Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament continues to grow, gaining even more national exposure this year from the biggest names in college basketball.  This year's tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut running from November 23-24 will feature eight division I teams competing in two brackets, highlighted by Louisville and North Carolina, which will have the opportunity to face each other on the final day of the tournament.

Last year's Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament
at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The Naismith bracket will include North Carolina, Louisville, Richmond and Fairfield.  The Springfield bracket will be a little more regional, including Hartford, Holy Cross, Hofstra, and Belmont.  Saturday, November 23 will include two games from each bracket, with the North Carolina and Louisville games at noon and 2 p.m. respectively.  On Sunday, each bracket's winners will face-off in the championship games, with the Naismith bracket's game at 1 p.m. and the Springfield bracket's game at approximately 8 p.m.  Sunday will also include consolation games for each bracket.

What all of this means for the Basketball Hall of Fame is that the tournament continues to grow, expanding national media coverage and attention.  With top teams like Louisville and North Carolina, the tournament now has the potential to reach audiences nationwide.  All of this is exciting news for the Hall of Fame, which will gladly take any attention the tournament can bring to the museum.

The tournament was played as the Tip-Off Classic between 1979 and 2005 at the Springfield Civic Center/MassMutual Center.  It is the only exempt NCAA Division I college basketball tournament in New England, where teams receive exempted status for scheduling.

The 9,323-seat Mohegan Sun Arena is the perfect venue, and proved to be a great host last year, attracting 9,866 fans to the two-day event in 2012.  Although the tournament is not in Springfield, it still puts a spotlight on the Hall of Fame, and provides a resort destination and hospitality for the eight participating teams.  As the Hall of Fame looks to the future, the growth of this tournament looks bright.

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Decent start for Falcons at the gate, but still down from year prior

By Zachary Baru

The Springfield Falcons opened their season Saturday earning their first win over the Manchester Monarchs 3-2 before a crowd of 5,528 at the MassMutual Center.  
As satisfying as a crowd of 5,000-plus is, it was still down from last year's opening night crowd of 6,171 against St. John's.

The Falcons' average attendance last season of 3,906 fell well below the league average of 5,710.  What is encouraging, however, is the Falcons' increase last season from the 2011-12 season, which was 6.8 percent.

In order to be looked at as a successful season off the ice, attendance should be averaging above the 4,000 mark.  While not an easy task, it is certainly reachable, especially in a market that showed the Falcons increased support last season.  The talent that the Columbus system brings to Springfield looks to be promising, and hopefully continued success on the ice will translate to the same at the gate.  Last season the Falcons captured the Northeast Division title.  

Although this year's opening night attendance fell short of last year's, a crowd of 5,000-plus is still a positive way to begin the season.  The question is, will the support continue?

Source: SportsBusiness Journal

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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Springfield market ranked fifth by SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily

By Zachary Baru

For all those who are sick of hearing that Springfield is a bad sports market, check out what the nation's leading sports business media outlet has to say about our market.  In an article released last month by SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily, Springfield was ranked fifth in the country's top minor league markets.  The biennial ranking looked at 225 communities, more than 400 teams, and close to 50 leagues to determine the top markets.

SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily expressed Springfield's attendance gains from last season during a time of decline in the local economy as the reason for the high ranking.  According to the ranking, during a period of job loss and population decline, combined attendance at Falcons and Armor games was up 42 percent last season compared to five years ago.  This increase was the largest increase in the magazine's study.

Springfield was the only New England market to make the top ten of the rankings, with Toledo, Ohio topping all markets.  Hartford-New Britain finished 38th.

Although this is not a reason to celebrate, and say that there is no longer an attendance problem at Springfield sporting events, it reminds us that Springfield does have some accomplishments to be proud of.  No, it is not all negative news about Springfield and their support of their teams.  Let's hope the trend continues, and Springfield proves once again the potential this small market has.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily

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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Like it or hate it, the FBS move was the right move for UMass

By Zachary Baru

It is easy to second guess the University of Massachusetts' decision to move to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision after a 1-11 season, averaging 10,901 fans.  But even easier, is predicting what may have happened had UMass passed on the opportunity for the move, and stayed in the Football Championship Subdivision.

The future of the FCS is very much uncertain.  In a sport where the FBS continues to gain popularity at an alarming rate, the FCS' popularity is diminishing, and doing so quickly.  Program success in NCAA Division I football is largely based on television and bowl revenue, both of which the FCS lacks.

With the long-term uncertainty of the FCS, what else was UMass to do but take advantage of the opportunity for an FBS move?  It is very hard to blame UMass for making the decision.  While costs and low attendance are certainly a reason to speculate the move, the long-term risks of remaining in FCS were far too great.  Not to mention the new sources of revenue that open up with a move to the FBS, including television revenue that does not compare to that of FCS.

With the move, the future of UMass football is brighter than ever.  With the ongoing renovation of McGuirk Stadium in Amherst, and the current construction of the adjacent Football Performance Center, UMass football will have a state-of-the-art facility right on campus.  Once complete, and games return back from Foxborough, the program will find itself in a much better position than it did in 2011, when it was still playing in FCS.

While many FCS teams' futures are currently in doubt, along with the future of the entire subdivision, UMass has a clear long-term plan to build their program.  And after all, what more can you ask for?

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Take advantage of baseball in Holyoke

By Zachary Baru

Thirty-one years after the Holyoke Millers played AA baseball in the Paper City, professional baseball may be long gone, but top talent continues to play at Mackenzie Stadium.

So first, let's get one thing straight about the Holyoke Blue Sox.  This is not minor league baseball, it is "collegiate summer baseball".  Members of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, the league is  funded in part by Major League Baseball, and sanctioned by the NCAA.  It is also one of nine leagues to be part of the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball.  The bottom line is that top college talent is passing through Holyoke this summer, and Mackenzie Stadium is as good as anywhere for a baseball fan to be.

Tickets to the 4,100-seat stadium built in 1933 start at $6 for general admission, and $4 for kids ages 6-12.  Children 5 years and younger are free.  Don't bother looking for a better value than that, you won't find it.  It is the benefit of having a local baseball team, and one that more sports fans in the Valley should take advantage of.

The Blue Sox have been playing in the 13-team NECBL since 2008, after moving from Concord, New Hampshire.  Holyoke is one of two NECBL teams in Western Massachusetts, with the other playing in North Adams.  Blue Sox attendance has fluctuated over the last few seasons, finishing at an average of 974 in 2012, down from 2,510 in 2011.

At a time when it is hard to take a family of four out for an evening, the Holyoke Blue Sox give local fans a chance to see top talent at an affordable price, and from a vantage point that doesn't require the use of binoculars to see the players' faces.  Furthermore, the Blue Sox represent a city which is continually progressing, moving toward hopes of increased economic development.  The Blue Sox are just one example of the many positive stories Holyoke has to share, at a time when it seems so many of the negatives are focused on.  Holyoke has a long and rich history, and the Blue Sox hope to add to that, entertaining baseball fans and families alike for years to come.

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

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lusitano Stadium, one of New England soccer's hidden gems

By Zachary Baru

In the soccer world, there has been so much news over the last decade about soccer-specific stadiums.  Venues have popped up in many different markets throughout the country, while there is a lot of news about potential venues being built in others, such as the Boston area.  But don't forget about the one right here in our own backyard.

Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow holds approximately 3,000 fans and provides an intimate soccer experience.  Set within the community, the stadium gives soccer fans a chance to take in a game that has a much different feel than most other soccer stadiums can offer, similar to the setting of some lower-tier European league stadiums.

Lusitano Stadium is home to the Western Mass. Pioneers, members of the USL Premier Development League, an under-23 amateur league competing in the fourth tier of American soccer.  It has hosted the New England Revolution in charity exhibition against the Pioneers, as well as the Revolution in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Years ago after a Revolution U.S. Open Cup match at Lusitano, a member of the media from the then-named ESPN Soccernet wrote an article about the Ludlow venue.  The writer pointed out how special it was to see people being able to stand just feet away from Major League Soccer players along fences surrounding the pitch.  It is features such as these that make Lusitano truly special.

This season marks the first for Lusitano Stadium's brand new field, as a ProGrass Game Turf has been freshly installed.  While there will be many who prefer soccer to be played on natural grass, the turf combines a traditional soccer stadium with new technology, giving Lusitano a new look, while preserving the same traditional feel the venue has always offered.

With so much news about soccer-specific stadiums in Major League Soccer, and even in lower leagues, it is easy to forget about the one right here in Ludlow.  It may not have the amenities of newer stadiums,  but it has character that can only be experienced at Lusitano Stadium, one of New England soccer's hidden gems.

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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Springfield will need to fill void left by departure of MAAC

By Zachary Baru

The stands in the MassMutual Center may not have been packed last March, but anyone interpreting that as a reason not to worry about the loss of a tournament troubled with attendance problems needs to consider the affects outside the arena, and in the local economy.

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Basketball Championships will be leaving the city of Springfield after 2014, resulting in a major economic blow to the entire region.  Business from hotels to restaurants, and any store in between that attracts travelers from out of state, will be affected by the loss of the tournament.

Attendance this past March was 14,394 for the entire tournament, partly the result of a low turnout from local fans.  In defense of the Pioneer Valley, the conference does not have any teams from Massachusetts, leaving Marist, Siena and Fairfield as the closest schools.

Although attendance was low, the economic impact was still significant.  The tournament attracted twenty men's and women's teams combined, which in addition to the players, coaches and trainers, also accounted for groups of students and families making the trip and calling Springfield home for multiple days.  It is this economic activity that helped pump money into businesses throughout the region, helping business owners and employees alike - just ask any server depending on tips who works at a nearby restaurant.

With economic impact, everything adds up to make a difference in a region.  This is the void the Pioneer Valley will be feeling come March of 2015 when the tournament returns to the Times Union Center in Albany.

With the MassMutual Center and the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau placing a bid to host an NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Regional in 2014, the city should still continue to seek a replacement for the MAAC tournament come 2015.  The thought of neither tournament taking place in Springfield in 2015 means fewer hotels being booked, less patrons at restaurants, and a true loss for the entire region.

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

Falcons 2012-13 attendance increases 6.8 percent

By Zachary Baru

The Springfield Falcons finished the 2012-13 season similar to the rest of the American Hockey League, as attendance for both the Falcons and the league increased in a season which began with a National Hockey League lockout.  The Falcons attendance increased 6.8 percent this season to an average of 3,906 fans per home game. 

This brought the Falcons total attendance for the season to 148,442.  The AHL also increased average attendance, with a 1.3 percent increase to 5,710 fans per game for the 30 franchises.

While the AHL has large market franchises including Chicago, Houston and Toronto, the top-ranked team in attendance was the Hershey Bears.  Hershey finished as the only AHL team above the 10,000 mark, with 10,046 fans per game.  The franchise ranked last in attendance was Oklahoma City, finishing with an avereage of 3,527. 

What all of this shows is that the Falcons find themselves in a growing league, and while their attendance has increased from last season, 4,000 really is a number they need to climb on top of.  In today's AHL, 3,900 fans per game just is not going to cut it.

The Falcons have stated that they will attempt a strong season ticket and group sales effort this summer, which will be imperative to setting a solid foundation for the attendance once the fall comes.  It is also very important that local businesses step-in to show their support, as corporate sponsorships are a major contributor to the franchise's off-ice success.  If all of these parts come together over the summer, the Falcons should be in position to keep up with the growing AHL, and build on the growth from this past season.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Falcons fans: What are you waiting for?

By Zachary Baru

Unfortunately, sports in Springfield tend to have the attendance discussed more than the actual score of the games.  And yes, the same goes for this past weekend of playoff hockey at the MassMutal Center.

While American Hockey League playoff attendance picks up in the later rounds, the Springfield Falcons had a great opportunity for two highly attended games over the weekend, with games on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.  Saturday night's attendance was 3,705, while Sunday drew only 2,369 fans for a late afternoon start.

Saturday's attendance was respectable, but still lower than what it could have been.  And as for Sunday, the Celtics' playoff game earlier that afternoon should not really be used as an excuse.  Falcons fans have been demanding playoff hockey for so long, and now that it is here, not one attendance has hit 4,000.

As the Calder Cup playoffs pick up momentum, attendance should rise.  If the Falcons fail to win one of their next two games in Manchester, a decisive game 5 will take place in Springfield on Sunday, May 5.  Hoopefully the Falcons will already be on to the second round by then, but if not, Falcons fans can certainly do better than 3,700 fans. 

For ticket sales, the playoffs are much different than the regular season.  Many of the promotions that take place during the regular season do not occur in the postseason, creating a reliance on strong walk-up sales.

Fans, what more can the Falcons do? Playoff hockey in Springfield on two consecutive weekend dates, and this is the support they receive? We can do better, and we have to do better.  Bruce Landon has been saving hockey in Springfield for many years, taking the role of Batman to this city's hockey team.  It is time fans play their role, and fill those seats in the MassMutual Center.

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

MAAC Basketball Championships: Championship games conclude weekend of basketball in Springfield

By Zachary Baru

SPRINGFIELD - Well it may not have been anything close to Madison Square Garden, but on Monday Manhattan College students invaded the MassMutual Center at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Basketball Championships in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The large group of fans were not enough for the Jaspers, as Iona went on to win 60-57, claiming the MAAC men's championship before 1,493 fans.

The day began at noon with Marist topping Iona 72-48 in the women's championship game in front of 1,187.  Of all of the ten participating schools in the tournament, Marist and Manhattan were the winners in fan support, as the two schools sent groups of students up to Springfield throughout the weekend-long tournament.

Both championship games Monday received live national broadcasts, with the women's game on ESPNU and the men's game later in the evening on ESPN2.  This brought the tournament's total to ten televised games on the ESPN family of networks, with the remaining 7 on ESPN3.  The exposure certainly helps the MAAC conference, but also gives Springfield and the MassMutual Center media attention at nationwide levels.

Although the majority of the fans were those of member schools who had made the trip up Interstate 91, the crowd was rowdy and injected a great deal of energy into the MassMutual Center.  Both schools had a little over a two-hour drive from their campus locations in New Rochelle, New York and the Bronx, which are just fifteen minutes apart.

For a second straight year, Springfield proved to be an ideal host for the tournament, nicely accommodating the five-day event along with all of its media attention in the somewhat-intimate MassMutual Center.  Between hotels and restaurants providing hospitality to teams and fans, and the arena hosting different community events during the weekend in the convention center, the city and venue paired-up well to host a second MAAC Basketball Championships.

The benefits will reach far beyond the MassMutual Center, as the local economy of the Pioneer Valley experienced a great deal of economic impact, making the entire region a winner in this year's tournament.

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

Penn National wants Tip-Off Classic to return

By Zachary Baru

Monday at CityStage both resort casino developers in Springfield presented further details of their proposals for obtaining the sole Western Massachusetts license, which is expected to be given in early 2014.  This afternoon's presentations focused on traffic, parking and entertainment, and included an interesting point made by Penn National Gaming, who is proposing a resort casino in the city's North End on the site of Peter Pan Bus Lines and The Republican.

During the topic of entertainment, Penn National stated that they would like to attract the Tip-Off Classic back to Springfield, which currently exists only in the form of a tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.  The Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic was played between 1979 and 2005 at the Springfield Civic Center/MassMutual Center, which attracted top college basketball teams and nationally televised broadcasts.  

In the event that the game was brought back to Springfield, it would resurrect a tradition in Springfield that at one point was more than just a basketball game, but an entire community event.  The game formerly was kicked-off by the Tip-Off Parade, and opened the nation's college basketball season with the very first game of the year.

MGM Restorts International also had much to say about entertainment at today's presentations.  MGM spoke about their rich history of bringing some of the biggest names in entertainment to their venues, including popular concerts and sporting events.  They explained the importance of entertainment to their proposal, which is located within walking distance of the MassMutual Center.

Turnout at CityStage was decent, with good questions being asked by community leaders regarding traffic, parking and entertainment.

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

Sunday, March 10, 2013

MAAC Basketball Championships: MassMutual Center proves to be fine host

By Zachary Baru

SPRINGFIELD - Sports fans in Western Massachusetts may take the MassMutual Center for granted, but as fans who made the trip to Springfield this weekend found out, the arena and the city prove to be perfect hosts for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Basketball Championships.

Attendance for Sunday's men's semifinals was 2,421.  Many of the fans had traveled from member schools, and they expect a fine venue and a neutral location for the tournament.

With ten men's and ten women's teams making Springfield their home for the weekend, the city provides excellent hospitality for the teams and fans throughout the tournament.  From the vast selection of nearby hotels and restaurants, the MassMutual Center becomes a very accommodating venue for a tournament of this size.

The venue becomes an even better host when the use of the connected convention center is factored in, allowing the MassMutual Center to host games and community events back-to-back, within the same facility.  The MGM Springfield FanFest has been entertaining younger fans all weekend, within a few hundred yards from the arena floor in the Exhibition Hall.

Earlier on Sunday, the tournament and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame held a one-mile "Bounce to the Arena" from the Hall of Fame to the MassMutual Center, ending at the Exhibition Hall's FanFest.  A tournament needs a suitable venue for hosting events such as this, and the MassMutual Center and the city of Springfield have partnered together to put on a fine weekend of basketball.

Aside from the events that go along with the tournament, Springfield's location in the region offers as close to a "neutral site" as there can be.  With the closest schools being Fairfield and Siena, the 6,663-seat MassMutual Center (excluding floor seating for basketball) is both fair for the fans, and a the right size for a conference tournament.

Accommodating a strong media presence throughout the weekend, along with nationally televised games on ESPN2 and ESPNU scheduled for Monday, the MassMutual Center shows why it makes the right choice as host of the MAAC Basketball Championships.

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

Saturday, March 9, 2013

MAAC Basketball Championships: Day 3 brings expanded media coverage

By Zachary Baru

SPRINGFIELD - For anyone with an interpretation that the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference does not attract a wide amount of interest, Saturday at the MassMutual Center would prove that opinion wrong.  While once again the majority of fans in the arena were those of the member schools, not from Western Massachusetts, the media coverage picked up in day 3 of the weekend-long tournament.

Saturday included two women's semifinals and four men's quarterfinals, all of which were broadcasted nationally on ESPN3.  ESPN3 is available on WatchESPN.com or on the WatchESPN app.  Attendance for Saturday was not released, but crowds were similar to those on Friday which relied heavily on fans traveling from member schools.  Friday night's attendance was 2,038.

National broadcast coverage will continue with all remaining games being televised on the ESPN family of networks.  The two men's semifinal games tomorrow will be broadcasted by ESPN3, along with the women's final on ESPNU on Monday.   ESPN2 will cover the men's championship game Monday night at 9.

All of this national television exposure is beneficial for growing the popularity of both the tournament and the league itself, as all eyes in the basketball world are now centered on who will make it to the NCAA tourney.

This is where Springfield comes in.  As the host city, this will be one of Springfield's few opportunities all year to be on national television - the others being the Hall of Fame Induction and the Spalding HoopHall Classic.  There has been a good amount of media members occupying the press tables all weekend long, helping to maximize the exposure of this tournament.  All of which aids Springfield, as it is just another benefit of hosting the MAAC Basketball Championships.

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

MAAC Basketball Championships: MGM Springfield provides family entertainment at FanFest

By Zachary Baru

SPRINGFIELD - While the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Basketball Championships are in full swing with teams battling for a berth in the NCAA tournament, there is a much smaller game going on within the MassMutual Center at the MGM Springfield FanFest.  About two hundred yards away in the Exhibition Hall, the evening's lesser-known event is underway at the FanFest, the much anticipated "Mascot Game".

Okay, maybe most adults are more excited for Monday's championship games.  But for any children who are attending the weekend-long tournament, the choice of which game to attend on a Saturday night is simple, with the mascots coming up on top.  This game is just one of many events planned on the auxiliary court inside the Exhibition Hall, as part of the FanFest.

Other events on the auxiliary court include free throw contests, three-point contests and every kid's favorite - "open court", which is open to the public.  The court is a full court set-up, which is a former floor from the Glen Falls Civic Center in Glen Falls, New York, along with two baskets.  In other words, paradise for kids who are not necessarily focused on the two college teams playing in the arena.

As if the auxiliary court is not enough excitement for the kids, the FanFest includes many large inflatables for kids to play on.  Booths are also set-up for adults including the tournament's schools and the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The FanFest is a perfect example of how a tournament can use promotions to provide family entertainment, keeping kids engaged and having fun, while not having to walk far from the arena floor.

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

Friday, March 8, 2013

MAAC Basketball Championships: Fans making the trip up to Springfield

SPRINGFIELD - As the first rounds of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Basketball Championships come to an end, it's the member schools who are carrying the weight in attendance. The local fans appear to be absent, something that will most likely change as the weekend progresses.

Thursday's first round women's games opened the tournament with 575 fans. As the women's first round continued, Friday's afternoon games brought in 1,855 fans.

Marist was the clear winner for bringing in a crowd, as their "Red Fox Nation" filled buses headed for the MassMutual Center, igniting the arena for their men's first round game Friday night. The boisterous crowd was primarily responsible for the evening's attendance of 2,038.

What is missing is the crowd from a much closer destination - Springfield. While the member schools are providing a good base for attendance, what is needed are local fans to fill the remaining seats.

As shown by the Marist fans, when a fan-base comes in to support their team, the MassMutual Center can become a somewhat hostile environment.  The question is, can Western Massachusetts fans add to the crowds that the member schools are bringing in?

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

MAAC Basketball Championships: Economic impact of tournament strong for region

By Zachary Baru

SPRINGFIELD - For any tournament, economic impact is a main factor in determining the success an event has on its host city.  At the 2013 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Basketball Championships, the impact the tournament has on Springfield becomes immediately evident upon entering the building.

The MassMutual Center may not be packed with fans - or anywhere near capacity for that matter - but during the early rounds, the economic benefits from the teams themselves can clearly be noticed.  Situated around the arena are groups from the ten different teams represented in the weekend-long tournament.  And while a team of basketball players may not be a significant impact on an economy, when combined with coaches, trainers, staff, parents and fans from the ten different schools, including both men's and women's teams, the economic affect on Springfield starts to emerge.

Fortunately for Springfield, many of these teams and their groups are not camped out inside the arena watching games on a Thursday afternoon.  Instead, there is the potential for them to support local restaurants, stores or any establishment that may attract visitors in the area.  Springfield comes out a winner even before the thousands of fans who will enter through the arena's turnstiles show up.

More than 16,000 fans attended last year's tournament, which greatly aids the region's hotels, restaurants and shopping destinations.  Local hotels have experienced high demand for this weekend, reassuring the city of great benefits that are still yet to come.

There is no doubt that the tournament will need good numbers at the box office, including strong local support, but it is hard to argue that the tournament is a success for the region regardless of any final attendance numbers.  The trick will be to keep it here, and ultimately that will be defined by support of local fans right here in the Pioneer Valley.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Coverage of the MAAC Basketball Championships

The 2013 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Basketball Championships are coming to Springfield Thursday, and Western Mass. Sports Biz will be at the MassMutual Center all weekend to cover the tournament which concludes Monday.  Check back for analysis and pictures from the event.  Coverage will include all business aspects of the tournament, including attendance, game presentation, and the venue, among others.

The tournament is in its second of a three-year commitment to Springfield, a year in which more local support has been asked upon.  The event brings ten men's and ten women's teams from around the Northeast to compete for an automatic bid to their respective NCAA tournaments.  Last year, decent support was drawn from the member schools, yet crowds lacked neutral fans from Western Mass.

The tournament will be giving back to the community by partnering with the Jimmy Fund to support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  For every ticket sold at the tournament, a contribution will be made to the Jimmy Fund, along with a "text-to-give" campaign that will be promoted within the arena.  Spectators can text "JIMMY" to 22122 to contribute $5.  Additionally, a large canister will be placed in the MassMutual Center as another option for fans to make a donation.

Community events planned include the MAAC Restaurant Program, benefiting local restaurants where visiting fans can be part of a reward program.  This is a perfect example of how the tournament will be impacting locally-owned businesses, and the rest of the Pioneer Valley's economy.  Other events include a one-mile "Bounce to the Arena" from the Basketball Hall of Fame to the MassMutual Center, and MGM Springfield FanFest.

The tournament will be co-hosted by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and played at the 6,663-seat MassMutual Center.  Two women's games will be broadcasted live on ESPN3, available on WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app, while the final will be televised on ESPNU on Monday at noon.  On the men's side, 6 games will be broadcasted on ESPN3, with the final live on ESPN2 on Monday at 9.  If you can't make it to the MassMutual Center this weekend, check Western Mass. Sports Biz all weekend for coverage from the tournament.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

What Mohegan Sun Palmer can do for sports and entertainment in the Pioneer Valley

By Zachary Baru

With four developers competing for one license to build a resort casino in Western Massachusetts, the stakes are certainly high.  While the Massachusetts Gaming Commission continues the process to award the sole regional license, the Western Mass. sports and entertainment industry anxiously awaits the early 2014 announcement.  

A resort casino in the area will not exactly hurt sports franchises and venues in the Pioneer Valley, it can easily team-up with the industry to create new partnerships, and more likely than not attract a larger clientele to market to.  Any attraction that brings additional people to the region can benefit local franchises and venues in a positive way.  The opportunity would be simple: bring in more people to the region, fill more events, and pump more money into the local economy.  Sounds halfway decent, but can it work?

Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut has spent over a decade of bringing the most popular touring acts to it's 9,323-seat arena.  In addition, Mohegan Sun Arena has won multiple awards for its unique, modern and intimate concert setting, including being ranked 3rd in the U.S. by Billboard Magazine.

Should this proposal be granted the Western Mass. license, this is far from a threat to sports and entertainment in the region, but rather a way of creating an entertainment buzz in the area.  There would be no competition for sports at the MassMutual Center, and this proposal could help an already strong relationship between Mohegan Sun and the Basketball Hall of Fame.  

The two organizations are partners for events such as the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena, held in November.  Recently, Mohegan Sun Palmer has announced a Basketball Hall of Fame retail store would be part of the proposed resort casino.

Should Mohegan Sun be granted the resort casino license, is sports and entertainment guaranteed to flourish in the Pioneer Valley?  Not guaranteed, but Palmer would have the potential to become a catalyst for an increase in Western Mass. entertainment.  This could create a ripple effect on the entire region, which could possibly see a smaller example of the sports and entertainment success Mohegan Sun has had for over a decade.

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

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pompea annouces Springfield Falcons Charitable Foundation at press conference

By Zachary Baru

Charlie Pompea, owner of the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League, announced the formation of the Springfield Falcons Charitable Foundation during a press conference at the MassMutual Center before Sunday's game against the Portland Pirates.

Pompea announced the foundation to media and fans, but also to discuss the state the franchise.  The foundation adds to an already impressive resume of charitable work from the Springfield Falcons, who have focused on giving back to their community ever since the franchises' inception in 1994.

At the press conference, Pompea presented a check to Sarah Pompea, president of the new Springfield Falcons Charitable Foundation.  Pompea also discussed the Falcons' past and future charitable efforts.

Inevitably, the current state of the franchise had to be brought up.  Pompea mentioned that the Falcons need more support from the region.  Pompea talked about the Falcons on-ice success this seeason, but added that the franchise is near the bottom in attendance.

The Falcons are currently in first place in the AHL's Northeast Divison, and are tied for first in the Eastern Conference.  As great as their on-ice performance is, the same cannot be said off-ice, as they currently are 27th out of 30 teams.  The Falcons current average attendance through 22 home games is 3,815, while the league average is 5,591.  Pompea stated that he was approached by a potential buyer of the franchise, but explained that forming the new foundation expresses his commitment to keeping the franchise in Springfield.

The Pioneer Valley is fortunate to have people like Pompea and president and general manager Bruce Landon who are passionate about the history of hockey in this region, and who would like to see this franchise continue to provide competitive hockey to fans in Springfield.  This region should also be proud to say that the National Hockey League's top development league plays right here in Springfield, and that this is arguably the second-best hockey league in the world.  What will it take for more fans to understand how fortunate they are to have such a competitive league right in their own backyard?

Pompea, Landon and the Falcons front office cannot keep this franchise in town all by themselves, they need the region to show some support.   No one wants support to come from a plead, but there comes a point when reality sets in.  This franchise has been trying hard for years to stay in this city, it is time we as the community do our part.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hard Rock could change the entertainment scene in Western Mass.

The 5,500 seat Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood.

By Zachary Baru

Hard Rock International's proposal to build a resort casino on the campus of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield could be a game-changer for entertainment in the region.  Music is not just a part of Hard Rock's name, it is in the brand's DNA.

Hard Rock International owns the global trademark for all Hard Rock brands.  They own 177 venues in 58 countries, including 8 casinos.  So where does sports and entertainment fall into all of this?  Three of their properties include live music venues called Hard Rock Live, which attract top performers with intimate stage views.  These venues are located in Hollywood, Florida, Orlando and Biloxi, Mississippi.

Plans for the 38-acre site at the Eastern States Exposition include an anticipated live music venue, for which further details have not been released.  If this venue were to be the fourth Hard Rock Live in the United States, it would instantly become a major player in the region's entertainment industry.

The most popular of the three Hard Rock Live venues is just outside of Fort Lauderdale, Florida located at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood.  Think of a smaller, even more intimate Mohegan Sun Arena.  The 5,500 seat venue has attracted top events, including Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Aerosmith.

Should Hard Rock International's proposal be awarded the one resort casino license in Western Mass., there could potentially be a new sports and entertainment facility in West Springfield.  Hard Rock Live Hollywood has hosted boxing events and was the former home of a franchise in Arena Football 2, which was the Arena Football League's development league until the restructuring of the AFL in 2009.

The bottom line is that with now four resort casino proposals in Western Mass., this region's sports and entertainment industry will undoubtably be changed.  Each of the four proposals has different advantages and disadvantages for the industry, and also for the local economy.  Entertainment has always been a part of Hard Rock International's brand, and that would not likely be any different in West Springfield.

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