With Hockey History, North Carolina and Connecticut Look to Baseball, Attendance Growth

North Carolina and Connecticut – two states forever linked in the cross-currents of sports by the Hartford Whalers relocation to the Tarheel State in 1997, are both using 2014 to heighten their professional baseball credentials. The City of Hartford has announced that the Double A franchise currently in New Britain will be moving to the Capitol City in 2016 in a soon-to-be-built $60 million, nearly 10,000 seat stadium. Just two months ago, the Triple A Charlotte Knights opened their newly constructed 10,200 seat $55 million downtown stadium. The Knights are an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Ground was broken on the new stadium in September 2012, about an 18 month construction schedule.

BB_T_Ballpark_media_7suaxdjb_lv2jd5cuThe first Knights game took place on April 11, 2014. (photo at left) The stadium features a two-level club with skyline views as well as a VIP, climate-controlled club with full service bar. In addition to corporate suites, there are 987 club seats at the new Charlotte stadium. Of those, 170 on the upper level sell for $41.50 per game, or nearly $3,000 per season. The remaining 817 club seats, at $21 per game, sell for about $1,500 annually.  All of the club seats were sold out 10 months prior to the season opener, according to the Knights website.  Season tickets require either a two- or four-year commitment. Naming rights to the stadium were sold to BB&T Corporation in 2012. Published reports also indicate that multiple new hotels are expected to open in the area around the stadium in the coming years, along with restaurants and retail.

The Charlotte team’s website reports that “National ballpark consultants conservatively estimate that in its first year BB&T Ballpark should draw at least 600,000 fans just for baseball.” In addition to obtaining corporate sponsorships, among the fundraising initiatives along the way in Charlotte were commemorative bricks sold to be placed in the stadium’s entrance, at a cost of between $90 to $195, containing individual messages determined by purchasers. A portion of the sales went to local charities in Charlotte.

Comparing Attendance Numbers, Possibilities

The Rock Cats drew more than 307,000 fans to their 6,100-seat stadium in New Britain last year, ranking sixth in the 12-team Eastern League. The Knights were last in attendance in the Class AAA International League last year, with an average of 3,803 per game, down from a high of 4,736 in 2006, according to the Charlotte News Observer. In 2013, the New Britain Rock Cats averaged 4,653 fans per game, which ranked 59th among baseball’s minor league teams. Charlotte ranked 80th. The top team in the league - and in minor league baseball - the Columbus Clippers, drew 9,212 per game.

Knights website

The AAA Pawtucket Red Sox average attendance in 2013 was 7,827, ranked #10 in minor league baseball. The Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, also a Red Sox affiliate, ranked 47th, drawing an average of 5,096 per game. Among Double-A teams, Portland ranks tenth.

The top minor league teams, based on average attendance in 2013, are in Columbus, Lehigh Valley, Indianapolis, Sacramento, Dayton, Buffalo, Louisville, Round Rock (Texas) and Albuquerque. The top Double-A teams are in Frisco, TX (7,057); Richmond, VA (6,689); Reading, PA (6,321); Tulsa, OK (5,704); Birmingham, AL (5,669); Corpus Christi, TX (5,498); Trenton, NJ (5,373) and New Hampshire (5,125).

On July 12, 2008, the Rock Cats established a franchise record for single game attendance, with a crowd of 8,115 at New Britain Stadium. The record was broken on June 27, 2009, with a crowd of 8,212. The Rock Cats reached the 8,000 mark once again on May 31, 2014 with a crowd of 8,079.

For those who wonder if there is a Triple A future for a Hartford baseball stadium, the history of Pawtucket may be of interest. The first team to be named the Pawtucket Red Sox debuted in 1970 as a member of the Double-A Eastern League, according to Wikipedia. After three seasons as a Double-A Red Sox affiliate, Pawtucket's Eastern League franchise moved to Bristol, CT in 1973 to make room for the new Triple-A PawSox. And as most Connecticut sports fans recall, the Bristol franchise then moved to New Britain in 1983, first as a Red Sox Double-A affiliate (through 1994) and then as the farm team of the Minnesota Twins.IMG_6669

And might the presence of a stadium in Hartford, rather than New Britain, cause the Red Sox to return with an affiliate in Connecticut? Apparently not any time soon. The Sox appear set in Pawtucket and Portland.

In January 2013, the Portland Sea Dogs announced an extension of their affiliation with the Boston Red Sox as the Double A minor league team. Their contract was set to end after the 2014 season but the extension through the 2018 season was announced during the Portland Sea Dogs Hot Stove Banquet by Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen and Sea Dogs president Charlie Eshbach. Eshbach served as Eastern League President for 11 years and is the league's longest serving active member  – dating back to his tenure as general manager of the Bristol Red Sox in Connecticut, not too many years after attending college at UConn.

“We are delighted to extend our relationship with the Portland Sea Dogs for an additional two seasons,” said Hazen at the time. “We are extremely fortunate to work with some of the best people in minor league baseball in Portland. The Burke family, Charlie Eshbach, and the entire Sea Dogs organization always go above and beyond to provide support to our players and staff. With the Sea Dogs, our minor leaguers experience the ideal environment to succeed and grow.”

The Sea Dogs are now in their 21st season at Hadlock Field, their 12th as an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox originally entered into an agreement with the Sea Dogs following the 2002 season, when Portland changed affiliations from the Florida Marlins.

 (photo credit: Rob Kavaler)


Connecticut Represented on Opening Day Baseball Rosters

As the 2013 major league baseball season gets underway, Connecticut is well represented in the major leagues, as it has been through the years.  The Nutmeg State has seen just under 200 natives called up to the big leagues since baseball record-keeping began. This year, seven players from Connecticut are expected to be on major league rosters, led by Matt Harvey of Groton and Fitch High School, who broke into the big leagues last July with the New York Mets at age 23, and will be in the starting rotation in 2013.   Among the others listed as active major leaguers by the Baseball Almanac:

  • Craig Breslow, who attended Trumbull High School and Yale University, was 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues on July 23, 2005, with the San Diego Padres.  Now a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, he’ll start the season with an extended spring training after a shoulder injury.
  • Rajai Davis of Norwich was 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues on August 14, 2006, with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He’s now the regular left fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays and hit .257 with 46 stolen basis last year.
  • John McDonald of East Lyme was 24 years old when he broke into the big leagues on July 4, 1999, with the Cleveland Indians.  The veteran infielder was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Pirates a week before Opening Day 2013.
  • A.J. Pollock of Hebron was 24 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 18, 2012, with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Diamondbacks center fielder his .247 as a rookie last year.
  • Chris Denorfia of Bristol was 24 years old when he broke into the big leagues on September 7, 2005, with the Cincinnati Reds.  Now the starting right fielder for the San Diego Padres, he hit .293 a year ago.baseball
  • Jared Hughes of Stamford was 26 years old when he broke into the big leagues on September 7, 2011, with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  With the Pirates last year, the right-handed pitcher was 2-2.

Looking to return to the major leagues:

  • Andrew Carignan, who attended Norwich Free Academy, was 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues on September 2, 2011, with the Oakland Athletics.  The pitcher, called up to the A’s in 2011 and 2012, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012.
  • Jesse Carlson, who attended Berlin High School, was 27 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 10, 2008, with the Toronto Blue Jays.  He was the team’s Rookie of the Year at the major league level, and after injuries was signed by the Red Sox, only to be released last year.

There may be more on the way.  Two years ago, UConn baseball stand-outs George Springer of New Britain and Matt Barnes of Bethel were selected in the first round of the MLB draft by the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, respectively and are working their way up through the minors.

Connecticut’s Jackie Robinson

Although not a Connecticut native, legendary ballplayer Jackie Robinson lived in Stamford for nearly 20 years, having moved to the community while a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954.  Robinson, known world-wide for breaking the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947, died of a heart attack in 1972, at age 53. Jrobinson

Stamford has a public park named in his honor, recalling that Robinson represented tolerance, educational opportunity, and the confidence that inspires personal achievement and success. A life-size bronze statue of Jackie Robinson with an engraved base bearing the words “COURAGE,” “CONFIDENCE,” AND “PERSEVERANCE” stands in the park located on West Main Street, the gateway to downtown Stamford.

Robinson, a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, will be the subject of a new major motion picture, “42,” which premieres on April 12 in theaters around the country.  In 1997, Major League Baseball "universally" retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. Initiated for the first time on April 15, 2004, Major League Baseball has adopted a new annual tradition, "Jackie Robinson Day," in which all players on all teams wear #42.

All Star Season?

Does Opening Day set the tone for an entire season? Not so much. The record for most consecutive Opening Day wins by a team is nine, shared by the St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets, according to Baseball Almanac.  Of particular note this year, the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game is scheduled to be played on July 16, 2013, at Citi Field, the relatively new home of the Mets.


Norwich Will Host New York-Penn. League All-Star Game in August

A cold winter’s week is the perfect time to think ahead to baseball season.  And if thinking ahead is attractive, there’s nothing better than seeing future major league stars in action on the diamond.  The Norwich Tigers will make that possibility more accessible this year when they host the 2013 New York-Penn League All-Star Celebration. 4aiVsHZ3The 2013 New York-Penn League All-Star Game will take place on Tues. August 13 at 7:35 p.m. at Dodd Stadium in Norwich.

The All-Star Celebration logo honors the community's rich maritime history and it's affiliation with the American League Champion Detroit Tigers. Maritime flags, an anchor and a dock rope make up the nautical logo, combined with classic Tigers old English lettering.

"We're thrilled to be hosting this game," said Vice President/General Manager C.J. Knudsen. "It's a great tribute to our fan base and exciting for all baseball fans throughout the state of Connecticut."

Tickets - now on sale - for the All-Star Celebration Game are the same as the 2013 single game ticket prices: $10.00 for premium seat tickets, $9.00 for reserved seat tickets and $8.00 for grandstand seat tickets.  They can be purchased  online at www.cttigers.com and at the ticket office at Dodd Stadium.

The 2013 Connecticut Tigers schedule is now available online at cttigers.com and features six Friday fireworks games in addition to five Saturday promotional giveaways. The 2013 season begins on Monday, June 17 against the Lowell Spinners, the NYPL affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, at 7:05 p.m. at Dodd Stadium with fireworks after the game.

In 2012, the Connecticut Tigers ranked #182 in average attendance among all minor league and independent teams, with 1,660 fans per game.  The independent Bridgeport Bluefish were #162, with an average of 2,033 fans attending games, and the Triple-A New Britain Rock Cats were #47 with average home attendance of 5,061.  The top minor league team in the nation was in Lehigh, PA where the Lehigh Valley IronPigs drew 9,153 per game.

The All-Star logo was brought to life at Brandiose in San Diego, where the company generated top selling logos for teams ranging from the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs to America's oldest baseball club, the Cincinnati Reds. T-shirts featuring the All-Star Celebration logo will also be available through the Tigers' official website.

The Connecticut Tigers are the NYPL affiliate of the Detroit Tigers and play a 76 game (38 home, 38 away) schedule from late June through early September.  The Dodd Stadium Box Office is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Fans that want to purchase tickets may call the Tigers at (860) 887-7962, visit the box office or log on to www.cttigers.com.   Play ball!  (Well, not quite yet.)

Hartford is Hotbed of Gen Y Interest in Major League Baseball

Nearly half (49%) of all American adults are Major League Baseball fans and 15% are Avid Fans, according to the new Scarborough Sports Marketing study, released this month. The study also reveals that there is ample opportunity to turn young fans into lifelong MLB enthusiasts, as 44% of Generation Y are MLB Fans and 13% are Avid Fans.  Surprisingly, Hartford is a hotbed. The top local markets for Gen Y MLB Fans are Milwaukee (76% of Gen Y are MLB fans); Philadelphia (70%); Hartford (66%); St. Louis (66%) and Albany, N.Y. (62%). According to the findings, almost a third (30%) of Gen Y MLB Fans are willing to spend $25-$49 on a single game MLB ticket and 12% are interested in purchasing season tickets.  Gen Y MLB Fans are also 37% more likely than all MLB Fans to have bought MLB apparel with a team logo in the past 12 months.

Scarborough defines the different American generations as Generation Y (age 18-29), Generation X (30-44), Baby Boomers (45-64) and the Silent Generation (65+).