Monday, April 16, 2007

Bush Leagues

Today we are answering an often asked question about sports in the Capital Region, posed this time by blogger Dave Lucas It was asked in a more comprehensive and thoughtful manner than sometimes in the past. This issue has been analyzed, dissected and debated for years. Why can’t sports teams- and we think he means professional sports teams- grow and thrive here?

Much as it pains me to say this, Sparky made some good points in his answer. Sometimes the product is simply over priced. His first point is probably the most important one. This is a minor league town. Arena Football, arguably a borderline major league, did thrive here when the Firebirds first hit town, but that was largely due to the novelty of the then new sport and the exceptional marketing job done by that organization. The same can be said for the original Albany Patroons.

Sparky also hits on another part of the equation when he talks about his preference for big-time college football and basketball in nearby Syracuse as opposed to minor league teams like the Patroons. People in this area have long been strong supporters and ardent followers of Syracuse football and basketball, as well as the major professional sports teams in New York and Boston. With fairly easy access to the venues in those cities, many people would prefer to see a few major college and professional sporting events each year than support a local minor league team on a regular basis. Dave also mentioned how fans in this area love the local college teams, though he forgot to include RPI men’s hockey, and that there is also a large and loyal group of high school sports fans in this area. Siena men’s basketball averaged just over 5,800 fans per home game this year, followed by RPI men’s Hockey (3,715) and UAwbany men’s basketball (3,175).

The succession of minor league teams in this area that have lasted only a few seasons faded into memory for various reasons. Some were poorly funded and had awful marketing plans, while some didn’t have the fan base. A few, like the Diamond Dogs, were the victims of a bad or inappropriate facility. In some cases, there were just too many teams competing for too few fans and too few entertainment dollars. Some weeks during the winter season you have UAwbany and Siena, basketball, RPI, River Rats and Union hockey and dozens of high school basketball games going on in a four or five day span. There are just not enough days in the week and not enough sports fans with the time and money to support everything.

One final and very important reason why this area has not been able to support professional sports on a regular basis is the make up of the local economy. This area has a strong and stable economy because we rely on state and local government and higher education for a much higher percentage of our jobs than many other comparably sized markets in the country. This is the capital with huge numbers of government employees. We also have a lot of colleges and universities employing thousands more people. We simply don’t have the corporate base to provide the advertising dollars and to buy large blocks of season tickets. I obviously don’t have research on this, but my guess is that a lot more individual people (Joe and Jane six-pack and their kids) buy tickets to events in this area than do in similar metropolitan regions elsewhere in the country. This is Awbany; it’s not Buffalo, Baltimore or Orlando. Hey, it’s not even Providence, Rochester or Syracuse.

Next issue: How come the capital city doesn’t have a decent facility for football, soccer and other events? Until Uncle Joe Bruno gave HVCC a bunch of our money to put his name on the baseball stadium in Troy, we had no decent outdoor facility of any size.


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