Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Three years after Blazers, NLL returns to New England

By Zachary Baru

It was August 30, 2011, and lacrosse fans throughout New England found out the bad news.  The Boston Blazers had suspended operations, leaving a void of professional indoor lacrosse in the region.  Three years later, the National Lacrosse League returns, this time at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

The 9,313-seat Mohegan Sun Arena in November 2014.
Come Friday night, the New England Black Wolves will debut a new chapter in the history of their franchise, which recently moved from Philadelphia where they played since the inception of the league in 1987.  The league was originally known as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League before becoming the National Lacrosse League in 1998.

The NLL is comprised of nine franchises with Buffalo, Rochester, Toronto and Minnesota making up the other teams in the Eastern Conference.  The Western Conference includes Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver.

The Blazers played three seasons at the 17,565-seat TD Garden from 2009 until 2011.  As for single-game crowds, season-high attendances were 9,313, 10,302 and 11,273, respectively.  The latter came during the franchise's final game - their first and only home playoff game.

When the Black Wolves debut Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena, it will mark the third time a professional indoor lacrosse team has played in New England.  The original New England Blazers began playing in the Worcester Centrum in 1989 and moved to the Boston Garden in 1992 to become the Boston Blazers.  The Blazers continued to play in the new FleetCenter until the end of the 1997 season when the Major Indoor Lacrosse League became the NLL of today.

Fast-forward to 2015, and lacrosse has become the nation's fastest growing sport at both the high school and collegiate levels.  A report released earlier in 2014 by U.S. Lacrosse shows that 746,859 players competed on organized lacrosse teams in 2013.  There is no doubt that lacrosse is on the rise, and while the NLL may no longer be played in Boston, this Friday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena the region will welcome back indoor lacrosse after more than a three-year absence.

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Revs game draws third-largest stand-alone regular season crowd

By Zachary Baru

The Revolution have had many great double-headers over the years in Foxborough, welcoming international teams to play exhibitions following the Revs' matches.  And while they are great for attendance, there always seemed to be less focus on the Revolution match preceding the international event.

Saturday at Gillette Stadium it was a different story.  The Revolution were the main-event, drawing a season-high 32,766 fans on the team's regular season home finale.  The massive crowd was good enough for the Revolution's third-largest stand-alone regular season attendance, factoring out all of the international double-headers the Revs have featured in Foxborough over the years.

The boisterous crowd filled the lower level, and in a rare occurrence caused the Revolution front office to open up the mezzanine seats for fans who could not secure a seat in the lower level.  Typically, the Revolution do not sell mezzanine seats, opening up only the lower level and one of the club levels in the stadium.

Had the front office wanted to, the event could have been deemed a sell out, and fans could have been prevented from entering.  But the Revolution wisely chose to scratch the sellout in favor of a large crowd, which can only help the franchise's chances of luring fans back to future games once playoff soccer returns to Foxborough next week.

As the Revolution travel to Columbus to face the Crew in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the front office is hoping for a big response from fans for the Revs' first home playoff game. When the Revs host the Crew on November 9 at Gillette Stadium, Revolution President Brian Biello told Boston.com that he expects 20,000 fans for the match.  Early-round playoffs in MLS can be tough for teams to draw large crowds, as many of the promotions do not exist and the length of time for pre-sales are minimal.

As the Revolution's play on the field continues to improve, their success off the field improves along with it.  Next Sunday's match at Gillette looks to be an exciting atmosphere, as the MLS playoffs return to Foxborough for a second consecutive year.

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Red Sox finish 6th in MLB attendance, 3rd in percent of capacity

By Zachary Baru

While the Boston Red Sox suffered problems on the field for much of the 2014 season, the franchise's performance off the field was somewhat of a different story.  The Red Sox finished 6th out of 30 Major League Baseball franchises in attendance during 2014, the highest ranking for the team during the John Henry ownership-era.

During the 2014 season, the Red Sox averaged 36,494 fans per home game, a capacity of 98.5 percent.  The Los Angeles Dodgers claimed the top attendance ranking during 2014 with an average of 46,695.  The Cardinals, Yankees, Giants and Angels finished out the top 5 respectfully.

In terms of percent of capacity, the Red Sox ranked even higher, finishing 3rd overall.  The Red Sox also fell just short of the 3 million mark in total attendance, finishing with 2,956,089, also good for 6th in the league.

What does all of the this mean?  Despite a season which fell short of expectations, this market can still fill the ballpark night after night.  The number of seats filled with fans versus the number of seats filled with corporations entertaining their clients is irrelevant - they are still seats sold.  And for the bottom line of the Red Sox, seats sold is ultimately what matters.  Sure, demand in the secondary markets has decreased, but fans are still coming out, and doing so in near-capacity numbers.

Source: ESPN.com

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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Deutsche Bank Championship, an invaluable asset to the region

By Zachary Baru

Not many sporting events can offer the top 100 athletes and playoff atmosphere right in your own backyard.  Fortunately for New England golf fans, the Deutsche Bank Championship gives you just that, right here in Norton, Massachusetts.

This weekend at TPC Boston, just off I-495, the Deutsche Bank Championship is serving as the second round of the FedEx Cup playoffs.  This is not just any PGA Tour event, and the Boston-area is fortunate to have been the host of this event since 2003.

In 2007, when the PGA Tour began the season-long race for the FedEx Cup, the Deutsche Bank Championship became one of four events designated as a playoff.  And with this change, the tournament morphed into an even more internationally covered event.  All eyes in the golf world are now on Norton, meaning increased attention for tourism, and a boost for the local economy around the I-495 corridor.

As for tourism, according to a 2014 study, the economic impact from golf-related hospitality and tourism in Massachusetts during 2012 was estimated at $366.7 million.  As millions watch the Deutsche Bank Championship worldwide, the tournament puts Massachusetts golf tourism in the spotlight.  With resorts from the Berkshires to Cape Cod, the Commonwealth is home to 376 golf courses.

In terms of other economic impact, the Deutsche Bank Championship attracts thousands of spectators and media members to the region, benefiting nearby hotels and restaurants, as well as additional local and state tax revenue.

The Deutsche Bank Championship is an invaluable asset to the region.  From creating state-wide exposure for tourism, to generating economic impact along the I-495 corridor, the Deutsche Bank Championship continues to be one of New England's premier sporting events.

Source: Alliance of Massachusetts Golf Organizations

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

What the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center expansion could mean for the NFL Draft

By Zachary Baru

While the chance of Boston luring the NFL Draft from New York may seem like a Hale Mary, a June bill passed by the Massachusetts Senate has helped Boston's chances of making the draft a reality.

The Massachusetts Senate approved a bill last Thursday that would allow for a $1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.  The bill was passed 31-6.

The convention center, located in South Boston, lacks the size of competing venues across the country, in addition to lacking an adequate number of adjacent hotel rooms.  The expansion would allow the convention center to be more competitive with venues nationwide, enabling Boston to attract more conventions into the city, boosting the region's economy.

What does all of this mean for Boston's chances of hosting the NFL Draft?  According to a report in May by the New York Post's Bart Hubboch, Boston was one of seven cities to apply to host the NFL Draft.  Boston.com later reported that Mayor Martin J. Walsh has expressed interest in hosting the draft in Boston.

As the convention space expands, the opportunity for Boston to host the draft will grow along with it.  Hosting the draft would be a big win for the city, bringing in thousands of media members, fans, and both league and team officials.  Economic benefits would range from packed hotels and restaurants, to additional local and state tax revenue.

Regardless of whether the convention center expansion opens the door for the NFL Draft in Boston, the project is a much needed step in making Boston more competitive with other large cities for conventions and events.  While the chances of the city hosting the draft seemed like a long shot, the convention center expansion just may have changed the game in Boston.

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

Bruins finish third in local-market TV ratings

By Zachary Baru

During a season that saw the Bruins finish with the Eastern Conference's best record, Bruins fans proved their loyalty to the franchise, enough to help the team finish third in local-market TV ratings during the 2013-14 season according to SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily.

The ranking only represents franchises that make their Nielsen data available.

Bruins games on NESN averaged a 5.04 rating in the Boston market.  But the high rankings did not end there, as the Bruins also finished second in average audience size (123,000).

This is an impressive display for the Bruins, which play in a media market that is only the seventh largest in the U.S according to Nielsen.  The Bruins' high ratings are an example of the strong support the fans have for the franchise, which shows no signs of slowing down.

With a two phase, $70 million renovation of TD Garden beginning this summer, the franchise appears to be once again heading in the right direction.  As the fan-base remains strong, the renovated arena should be completed in time to ensure long-term success for the Bruins off-the-ice.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily, Nielsen

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

Gillette a popular concert stop in 2014

By Zachary Baru

Patriot Place will be packed with concert-goers in 2014, as some of the biggest concerts of the summer will be making the stop in Foxborough at Gillette Stadium.

The thousands of fans will pour into the shops, restaurants and hotel at Patriot Place, the lifestyle and entertainment center covering more than 1.3 million square feet adjacent to the stadium.  This means big business for restaurants and bars both before and after the concerts, a characteristic that makes this concert venue so special.

Saturday night's George Strait concert featuring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill attracted 55,863, packing the stadium.  Beyonce and Jay Z bring their "On the Run Tour" to Foxborough on July 1, for which a limited number of tickets remain.

Come August, the stadium will be booked for concerts four nights in a row.  Two-night stadium stands are rare in the concert industry, but that is not enough for One Direction, who will be coming to Gillette for a three-night stand August 7-9 featuring 5 Seconds of Summer.  And to end a busy week in Foxborough, on August 10 Luke Bryan featuring Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice and Cole Swindell will close out an impressive summer of concerts.

Not every 68,000-seat stadium can attract such a lineup of concerts, but the site is so much more than just a stadium.  Economic activity in Foxborough is also generated from dinning, shopping and the adjacent hotel.  Patriot Place creates an atmosphere built for big events, and it is no wonder why this venue continues to be a popular destination for concert-goers in New England year-after-year.

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

Patriots' "Field Day With Dad" offers a unique connection to fans

By Zachary Baru

The New England Patriots have a unique way of strengthening the connection with their fans, while holding a community event that honors key members of their target market: fathers.

The Hall at Patriot Place's second annual Field Day with Dad will take place on Father's Day, June 15 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.  Visitors will be given access on the field at Gillette Stadium, a special experience allowing fans to throw footballs and take pictures with Patriots cheerleaders.  Inflatables will also be available for fans to use.

The event is a perfect example of how franchises can bring fans closer to the team, and in this case, literally on the field.  A fan's perception of a franchise is so important, and the Patriots have hit a home run with this event, which personalizes the relationship with each fan who attends the Father's Day event.

Anytime a fan attends a sporting event, the experience is what will bring them back to the venue.  The Father's Day event is a chance to create an entirely different experience, an interactive one that is arguably more of a lasting impression than simply watching a game.

Like last year's event, this year's event has sold out.  Tickets were $20 for adults, and $10 for children, and include access to the Hall at Patriot Place and a 10 percent discount at the Patriots Pro Shop on June 15.

Kudos to the Patriots for giving fans an opportunity to share the same experience their favorite players have - without the danger of getting tackled by an NFL player.

Source: New England Patriots, The Hall at Patriot Place

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Do the Celtics need a big trade to protect their brand?

By Zachary Baru

With non-stop chatter about what the Celtics could do during the off-season, the expectation for something "big" seems to be growing more and more from Celtics fans.  There is, of course, the possibility that nothing at all happens.  No trade, no Kevin Love, just a number six draft pick, and possibly another year of rebuilding.  But could Celtics fans take it, and what would it mean for the Celtics brand?

One thing that Celtics ownership should not worry about is the long-term stability of the brand, which undoubtedly would remain strong.  But should another year of rebuilding occur, attendance could start to dip, similar to 2006-07 levels when it finished at 16,843.

And then there are those ratings.  Especially the radio ratings, for which a new contract was signed during the 2013-14 season with WBZ-FM 98.5 The Sports Hub.  Another rebuilding year would mean a second consecutive year of low Celtics ratings with the new flagship station of the franchise.

Sure there are some draw-backs, but should the Celtics go through the summer without making any big-time deals, another year of rebuilding would arguably be the best option for the franchise, and the brand long-term.  Unless the Celtics are sure they can go deep into the playoffs and make some serious noise, rebuilding just might be the direction to take in a market that demands championships.

Making it to the playoffs and reaching the second round is not enough for fans in Boston, who have high expectations for not just the Celtics, but for all of its franchises.  So can the magic of the 2007 off-season happen again?  Celtics fans will just have to wait and find out.

Should nothing happen, the Celtics brand will not be seriously affected.  Just expect to see some extra black and gold seats at TD Garden.

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

NFL Draft in Boston? Where, why, and how?

By Zachary Baru

Imagine football-crazy Boston hosting one of the sport's most popular events.  No, not the big game, the big made-for-TV event: the NFL Draft.

According to a report earlier this month by the New York Post's Bart Hubboch, Boston was one of seven cities to apply to host the NFL Draft.  The other six cities include New Orleans, Philadelphia, Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles and Canton, Ohio.

While some people may laugh at the possibility of the NFL moving the event out of New York, this year's draft was pushed back two weeks due to scheduling conflicts with the venue.  The city of New York has hosted the draft since 1965, and the 6,015-seat Radio City Music Hall has served as the host for the past nine years.  National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he does not want to give up on Radio City entirely, but what if the decision to move was made?  Would Boston be a suitable host?

If the concern is over venues, Boston has that covered.  Whether it is a large venue like the 17,565-seat TD Garden - which will begin a two-phase $70 million renovation this summer - or small venues like the 3,600-plus seat Wang Theatre, Boston has multiple options to host such an event.

Mass transit would certainly not be an issue in Boston between its subways and commuter rail, and Logan Airport's close proximity to downtown adds to Boston's claim as a candidate with potential.  Boston has no shortage of hotel rooms, perfect for the thousands of media members, and both league and team officials who will be attending the weekend-long event.

As the NFL continues to take applications for the draft, don't count out Boston as a potential host city for football's most popular non-sporting event.

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

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bruins-Canadiens at Gillette in 2015? It just might happen

By Zachary Baru

When hockey fans found out last year about about the league's inaugural Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, there was a lot of skepticism about the success of four additional outdoor games.  Would it saturate the market, and would they even be able to sell out four stadium-sized games?  National Hockey League fans quickly found out the strong demand for outdoor hockey, as the four games between the three cities of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles all sold out.  The 220,000 tickets for the games meant more than $40 million in revenue according to SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily, leading the league to look for continued success in 2015.
This is where Boston comes into the picture.  According to the same report by SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily, a game at Gillette Stadium between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens has been discussed.  Fortunately for Boston, the franchise has a lot of reasons to persuade the league to include them in next year's Stadium Series.

First comes the demand.  The Bruins currently have overwhelming demand, and a game such as Boston-Montreal would easily sell out 68,756-seat Gillette Stadium.  As for the venue, it is perfectly suitable for hosting such an event, as the increased amount of media members could be accommodated well both at the stadium and at the hotel on the property.   Renaissance Boston Patriot Place Hotel & Spa is conveniently located within walking distance from the stadium, which is not only ideal for the media, but also for fans traveling in who want to make a weekend-trip out of visiting Patriot Place.  The lifestyle and entertainment center includes dinning, shopping, concerts and a movie theater, making it an ideal site for an event such as the Stadium Series.

In addition to hospitality and entertainment options, Gillette Stadium can also be accessed by public transportation via MBTA Commuter Rail.  The MBTA has run special trains for years to the Foxboro Station during Patriots games.  While the rail line is not part of any MBTA revenue service lines, the CSX-owned tracks can connect to MBTA's Franklin line to serve Boston's South Station, and also to MBTA's Providence/Stoughton line south to Providence.  The MBTA has already announced continued service for the "Football Train" to Gillette Stadium for all Patriots home games in the fall of 2014.

So could it really happen?  All signs point to outdoor hockey finally coming to Foxborough.  The site has the demand, the venue, and the accessibility of public transportation.  Cross your fingers hockey fans, a Bruins-Canadiens game with 68,000 of your closest friends just might become a reality.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Red Sox look for another ratings increase in 2014

By Zachary Baru

As the Boston Red Sox come off their eighth World Series title in 2013, the team looks for another ratings increase on the New England Sports Network.

In 2013, NESN ratings rose 14 percent from 2012.  This was good for a 7.3 local rating in the nation's seventh largest media market.  Fenway Sports Group, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, is a majority owner of NESN, owning 80 percent of the regional sports network.

The ratings increase comes during a season that saw the Red Sox capture their third World Series title since 2004, and generated big ratings during the postseason.  The 2013 World Series on Fox averaged an 8.9 national rating and 14.9 million viewers, up 17 percent from 2012.

So much for all the "will fans come back?" we heard after the collapse of 2011.  Never doubt Red Sox fans, and more importantly, never doubt Boston sports fans in general.

One challenge the Red Sox will face in ratings will be from another team in town, the Bruins, who own 20 percent of NESN.  With much of the spotlight of Boston sports fans being consumed by the Bruins as they enter the postseason, ratings may take a while to get up to potential.  But as the 2014 season gets underway with a strong and fan-appealing lineup, the Red Sox look to continue their ratings success for another season of high local numbers.

Source: Forbes, Nielson Media Research

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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Celtics find themselves on bottom of standings, middle in attendance

By Zachary Baru

As the Celtics' tough season continues on the court, off the court things aren't so bad.  Not yet at least.

Fortunately for the Celtics' front office, the franchise finds themselves 14th out 30 teams in attendance, averaging 17,934 fans per home game at TD Garden.  With a 20-39 record, it is another reminder of how truly great of a market Boston is for sports.

The Celtics find themselves well behind the attendance-leading Chicago Bulls, who are averaging a remarkable 21,636 fans per game at the United Center.  It should be noted that Chicago - the nation's third largest media market - is also second in National Hockey League attendance, as the Blackhawks are averaging 21,571 fans per game.

Ready for some more numbers?  Even better than the Celtics' attendance average is their capacity.  The Celtics are at 96.3 percent capacity this season, which is good for 11th in the league.  Seven teams, including the New York Knicks, have capacities at or above 100 percent.  The Dallas Mavericks find themselves on top in this category, with an impressive 103.5 percent capacity.

Is the Celtics success just a carry-over effect from the Big Three era?  Most likely, but this market has one thing that will always be true - passion.  Even during the Celtics miserable 2006-07 season, Boston still averaged 16,843 fans per game.

However this difficult season will end for the Celtics, it is great to see the Celtics doing so well at the gate. While Boston enjoyed a 100 percent capacity season last year, it is no surprise that attendance has taken a hit during this transition year for the franchise.  With 12 home games remaining, the Celtics hope to continue keeping TD Garden as close to capacity as possible.

Source: ESPN, NBA, NHL

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Patriots overnight ratings well below top weekend rated Broncos-Chargers

By Zachary Baru

Sunday's AFC Championship game between New England and Denver looks to be a massive ratings success, just month's after the two teams produced the league's highest November prime-time ratings in 17 years.

The Patriots' overnight rating last Sunday of 19.1 was far short of the top weekend-rated Broncos-Chargers game, which earned a 25.7 rating.  When the Patriots faced the Broncos earlier this season on November 24 for NBC's "Sunday Night Football, the game earned a 17.0 overnight rating, and a 28 share.  The strong rating marked the highest November ratings for a prime-time game in 17 years. 

Ratings are the percentage of television homes in the U.S. tuned into television, and a share is the percentage of televisons in use that are tuned to a specific program. 

How do the two markets rank?  The Boston and Denver media markets rank seventh and seventeenth in the U.S. respectively.  The Boston market has 2,433,040 TV homes, while Denver has 1,574,610 according to Nielson.

Sunday's 3 p.m. game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver should put up great numbers, as Tom Brady will be facing Peyton Manning for the 15th time.  Ratings this year for the AFC title game could top last year's 47.7 rating for the game between New England and Baltimore on January 20, 2013. 

With two of the most noticeable personalities in sports facing off, Sunday's game has great potential for an enormous ratings success.

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