Monday, August 10, 2020

Revolution will host regular season matches once again at Gillette Stadium as 2020 season restarts

By Zachary Baru

The New England Revolution may have lost in the Round of 16 in the MLS Is Back Tournament last month, but fortunately for fans, the Revs will have another life in the 2020 season.

Major League Soccer is set to restart the season this month, with home games played at teams' venues, including the Revolution's Gillette Stadium.  The Revs will return to regular season action in Foxborough on August 21, but unfortunately for fans, the stands will remain empty.

The Revs are scheduled to play six additional games in a phased-approach just announced by MLS, three of which will be at Gillette Stadium.  All three home games will remain closed to fans, who will be able to watch all games live on regional and national television.

Five of the six games, including the first on August 21, will be broadcast regionally of NBC Sports Boston, with one game on August 29 against Red Bull New York televised live nationally on FS1.

While the news is mixed for fans and the businesses at Patriot Place that rely on games to drive foot traffic and sales, it ultimately is a first step towards bringing soccer back to local markets during the league's fight to keep players, fans and staff safe during a pandemic.

On a typical Revolution game day between March and November, shops, restaurants and hotels at Patriot Place see a large increase in walk-in traffic and revenue.  This is an enormous help during the summer months, since Patriots home games only affect August through January.   And with questions over the upcoming National Football League season, these businesses could potentially be hit with even more months of lost revenue.  Whether or not the Revolution will be able to host fans for the second phase of scheduling remains to be seen.  But one thing is for sure, plenty of businesses at Patriot Place can only keep their fingers crossed, as the pandemic continues to threaten both sports and the local economies where the games are played.

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Massachusetts Pirates to unveil new league, venue plans for 2021 season

Less than a month after news officially was released that the Massachusetts Pirates would not be returning to the National Arena League, the franchise has announced a press conference set for Wednesday, August 19 to discuss the team’s future.

According to the Pirates, an announcement will be made to announce which league the Pirates will be joining for the 2021 season.  The Pirates’ venue plans for the 2021 season will also be announced at the press conference, which will be held outside the DCU Center in Worcester.

Since 2018, the Pirates have called the DCU Center home, and have given no signs that they will make any venue changes for the upcoming season.

One potential league the Pirates could join would be the Indoor Football League.  The IFL was founded in 2008, comprising of 13 teams throughout the country, mostly in the western region of the United States.  But after the IFL announced last month that an expansion franchise was awarded to Columbus, Ohio, the possibility of an east coast team in the IFL is more realistic.

Stay tuned for continuing coverage of this story as more information is released by the Pirates on August 19 during their press conference.

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

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Benefits and drawbacks of streaming TV for Boston sports fans

By Zachary Baru

If you’re a Boston sports fan considering streaming television in 2020, there’s plenty of factors to consider before making the decision that is now culturally referred to as “cutting the cord”.

Sports fans, and especially New England sports fans, have very unique factors to consider, especially since the regional sports market is not dominated by one particular network.  Since the four regionally televised sports teams, the Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Revolution are on both NBC Sports Boston and NESN, the obvious question for any fan would be, “does my streaming service have both of these networks?”

Unfortunately for one big option, the answer is no.  Hulu does not offer NESN on its live TV service, which even has an entire website dedicated to the issue.  It is unfortunate since Hulu’s platform is excellent for sports fans, and would be a perfect option, if not for the lack of NESN.

Hulu, like YouTube TV, makes watching live and on demand sports easy, telling you exactly what is live and allowing you to watch it right away.  Hulu also gives fans the chance to see what games they missed from their chosen favorite teams along with an option to instantly watch it again.  This is very similar to YouTube TV, but Hulu does it in such a modern and easy way that any sports fan would definitely enjoy.

YouTube TV, however also has their version of showing fans what is available for sports and makes it very easy to watch, along with having NESN, a big, big plus for any Boston sports fan.  Xfinity from Comcast, however, has their own way of showing you what is live for sports, along with a scoreboard and the ability to simply click on the game and watch right away.  You can even use their Sports App right from a button on the remote, making it very easy for fans, while offering what is a perfect picture quality for all games.  Not to mention, Xfinity carries both NESN and NBC Sports Boston, as Comcast is the owner of latter.

Boston sports fans will definitely have a lot of options when deciding how to watch their teams in 2020, as the live TV landscape becomes more crowed and extremely competitive.  In the end, customers and fans will win, giving fans the opportunity to watch sports when, how and where they want to watch.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

New USL structure, strength of minor league soccer benefiting Revolution

By Zachary Baru

With the 2019 soccer season upon us for multiple leagues, the strength of minor league soccer is tremendously benefiting clubs across the country, including our own Major League Soccer franchise in Foxborough.

The "American Soccer Pyramid"

The New England Revolution are the highest level of soccer in New England as part of the so-called American soccer pyramid, but fortunately for soccer in the region, there are plenty more teams that help create a true minor league system for development for the Revs and all MLS clubs throughout the country.

The improved structure and stability of minor league soccer in the United States starts and ends with the United Soccer League.  The USL is an organization that operates several soccer leagues throughout the United States.  As of 2019, it is the only organization in the U.S. that runs professional minor league soccer, after the North American Soccer League cancelled its 2018 season and has since been on hiatus.

A Changing Soccer Landscape

After the 2017 season, the United States Soccer Federation, more commonly referred to as U.S. Soccer, lowered the NASL's status from the only Division II league to the only Division III league.  The NASL did not return for a 2018 season, and is currently on hiatus.

The changing landscape may not have been good for the NASL, but for several clubs in New England, the changes have helped shape the soccer structure both in the region and nationally.

In New England, the USL has seven franchises in two different leagues - USL Championship and USL League Two.  Six of the seven New England teams are in USL-2, with the one regional USL Championship team in Hartford.  USL-2 teams in New England include the Boston Bolts, Western Mass. Pioneers, Black Rock FC of Great Barrington, Mass., Seacoast United Phantoms of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, AC Connecticut of Danbury, and GPS Portland Phoenix. 

New League, New Opportunity for Minor League Soccer

Over 11,000 fans attended the inaugural Hartford Athletic
game in April 2019 at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
The new organizational structure is what is really helping these New England teams in terms of long-term potential.  With all of the changes happening in minor league soccer in 2018, the USL responded with a new league format for 2019.  For starters, it's name.  The organization dropped the "s" from its name, changing its name from the United Soccer Leagues to the United Soccer League.  This changed its top leagues' name from the United Soccer League to USL Championship, differentiating the name of the organization from the name of the highest league.

The 2019 season brings both a new name for the league, and an expansion team for USL Championship to Hartford, allowing New England to have a U.S. Soccer-sanctioned Division II league franchise for the first time since the Connecticut Wolves in 2001, which left the then-named A-League that year.  The USL has changed many of their leagues multiple times, changing the A-League to the USL First Division in 2005, then to USL Pro in 2011, to USL in 2017 and now USL Championship in 2019.

The Growth of Soccer in New England

With seven franchises throughout the various USL leagues, New England is one of the higher-represented regions, which really speaks to the state of soccer throughout New England.  With so many minor league teams in the region, fans are able to see live, professional and semi-pro soccer up close and in their local communities, greatly benefiting the Revolution.  While some areas in New England may be far from Foxborough, not allowing fans to go to as many Revs games as they would like, having USL teams throughout the region truly allows soccer fans to engage with the sport.  The more engagement fans have, the better chance they will stay a fan, and become an even stronger supporter of the sport.

With the current state of both MLS and the USL very strong, the Revolution are in a great position to use this rich soccer environment in New England to grow their fan base, and rise up in the rankings of the crowded and competitive New England sports scene.

Source: United Soccer League, Hartford Courant

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

Friday, March 8, 2019

"Whalers Night" brought something special to TD Garden

By Zachary Baru

Officially it was not "Whalers Night", but throughout the TD Garden Tuesday night, it was 1997 all over again.  That was the last season the Whalers played in Hartford before moving to North Carolina.  But a decision this season by the Carolina Hurricanes to hold a "Whalers Night" in Raleigh featuring vintage Hartford Whalers jerseys followed by a game in Boston to again wear the famous Whalers green allowed fans to unofficially declare Tuesday Night in Boston their own "Whalers Night".

For New England hockey fans, it was something special.  Hearing chants of "lets go Whalers", a following of faithful fans making the trip from Connecticut wearing Whalers green, and a very rare opportunity to see the Bruins once again wearing their white jerseys at home made for a unique atmosphere at TD Garden.

Since the 2003-04 season, National Hockey League teams typically have worn white jerseys only on the road, with the exception of certain situations.  Tuesday night was not only reminiscent of seeing the Bruins in their traditional white home jerseys, but also gave fans an image they have not seen in 21 years - Whalers green on Boston's home ice.

Tuesday night was an occasion seldom seen in sports - a "promotion" during an away game.  The Hurricanes franchise deserves credit for paying homage to a historic New England rivalry, and even doing so while not on home ice.



After a 4-3 overtime win for the Bruins, Tuesday night brought out the best in hockey.  A game that had the feeling of 1997, paying tribute to 18 years of an intense regional rivalry, but also showcasing the exciting brand of modern hockey we see today.  Had this game been played the last time the Whalers existed, the game would have been played with 5 skaters during overtime instead of the 3 skaters per team now used, a rule that has been enacted to increase goals during overtime.

Anyway you want to put it, Tuesday night was an exciting night for hockey fans.  A night only made possible by a Carolina franchise bringing back the sight of a classic, special New England rivalry.

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

Sunday, December 30, 2018

New Bruins "in-ice" ads already feeling like the norm

By Zachary Baru

When the start of the 2018-19 National Hockey League season came around, I was very skeptical.  I was worried that watching Bruins games with four extra "in-ice advertisements" would begin to resemble a lower-level minor league game, but I quickly realized how wrong I was.

The NHL, unsurprisingly, did an excellent job working these ads into the ice (I'm still not sure why they're not called "on-ice ads", but that's another story.  The four additional ads have been worked in well to the TD Garden ice, and to all ice surfaces throughout the league.

In April 2018, the NHL announced that starting with the current 2018-19 season, all teams will be allowed to have four new positions for in-ice advertising.  These positions have been located in the corners of the rink.  Up to last season, all teams could and did sell up to four in-ice ads near neutral zone face-off dots.

The original four ads were allowed to up to 81 square feet per advertisement, while four new ads are allowed to be up to 44 square feet each.

Watching the Bruins games all season long, the new ads have blended in, and are starting to feel normal.  They don't jump out at the viewer, and being in the corners, its easier to forget they are even there.  Had the ads been placed in the offensive zones, like seen in some lower-level leagues, this would be a different story.  Fortunately for hockey fans, the new advertisements don't ruin the visual aspect of the game, and are allowing the league and all 31 franchises to make additional revenue.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Boston/Foxborough in good position for World Cup in 2026

By Zachary Baru

It's official - the World Cup will come to North American in 2026.  Fortunately for Boston and Foxborough, the area looks to be well-positioned to host yet another World Cup.

Back in 1994, Foxboro Stadium hosted World Cup matches, but a lot has changed in Boston and in Foxborough since then.  The Big Dig, Gillette Stadium, more hotels, an improved transit system and an MBTA rail line that connects the stadium with Downtown Boston and Providence.

 When it comes to infrastructure, Boston can both be looked at as a great host city, or a poor candidate.  While public transit is more sophisticated than many other potential host cities, and the commuter rail has improved, the constant back-up on Boston-area highways is hard to overlook.  And anyone who has driven to Patriots games or a major concert in Foxbourgh knows, Route 1 has constant stand-still traffic.  Yet the advances Boston has made in commuter rail, including a CSX-owned MBTA line right to Gillette Stadium, certainly helps Boston's chances.  A 10-car train could easily transport 1,000 people, as single-level MBTA rail cars can hold 86-127 people per car, while bi-level cars can hold 175-185 people.

MBTA bi-level rail cars can fit 175-185 passengers per car.
Many of the other potential host cities do not have elaborate commuter rail systems, and by no means do they have comparable transit systems including subway and bus.  Combine this to an international airport close to downtown and easily accessible via highway and public transit, Boston is in very good position when it comes to infrastructure.



Another category Boston has in its favor is the amount of hotel rooms available in the area, which is much higher than many of the other potential host cities.  The stadium itself has two major hotels right at Patriot Place - the new Hilton Garden Inn and Renaisssance Boston - which would be perfect for officials, teams and media.

Which brings us to the venue itself, Gillette Stadium.  The stadium has seen several renovations since its 2002 opening, keeping it very modern with all of the amenities National Football League fans, players, officials and media expect.  Not to mention it sits on the grounds of Patriot Place, a destination for fans with shopping, restaurants, a movie theater, walking trail and of course the two hotels.

All of this puts Boston/Foxborough at the top of the list for potential host cities.  In fact, Boston appeared third on a list last week by the Washington Post of potential host cities.  Boston has a lot to offer, and hopefully in 2026, Boston will show this off to the entire world.

Cities Under Consideration for 2026 World Cup Games:
Boston
New York
Montreal 
Toronto
Philidelphia
Washington
Cincinnatti
Nashville
Atlanta
Orlando 
Miami
Kansas City
Dallas
Houston
Monterrey
Guadalajara
Mexico City
Denver
Edmonton
Seattle
San Jose
Los Angeles

Source: Washington Post, Kawasaki

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