A classic line from a classic sports movie (Field of Dreams). One that took on additional personal significance for me earlier this year after losing my father.
As is often the case in the business of sports, the strategy behind building new stadiums is akin to the message shared by “the voice” which caused Kevin Costner to destroy his corn field in order to build a baseball field for ghosts.
Namely, the strategy of “if you build it, they will come.”
“It” being a new stadium. “They” being fans.
Especially if the facility is strategically built in a location within the community that is desirable, accessible, and attractive. And especially if the team is located in a mid-sized market craving better entertainment amenities.
Enter stage left the Las Vegas Aviators and the Charlotte Knights.
A view from behind home plate at the Charlotte Knights’ BB&T Ballpark, located just blocks from the center of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina.
CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS STAFF
When BB&T Ballpark was built in 2014, the Knights climbed to the top of the entirety of Minor League Baseball’s attendance standings. A perch they have sat atop 4 of the last 5 years between 2014 and 2018, finishing just behind Indianapolis in 2017.
But in 2019, the Aviators are the new sheriffs in town. And, surprise surprise, they are playing in a brand new stadium located in Summerlin, an upscale suburb located 12 miles west of the Vegas strip and right next to Vegas Golden Knights offices and practice facility (City National Arena) and the quaint and relatively new Summerlin Mall.
Playing out of the Pacific Coast League, the Aviators are averaging 9,241 fans per game…well ahead of second-place Columbus (8,684 fans per game). Comparatively, the Knights led Minor League Baseball in 2018 at an average of 8,980 fans per game.
No matter the sport, and no matter whether we are talking about professional sports, minor league sports, or collegiate sports, new venues will almost inevitably attract larger crowds in Year 1 of the new facility (the proverbial “honeymoon effect” on attendance).
Clearly, in Charlotte’s case, the honeymoon effect extended beyond the honeymoon period. Time will tell with the Aviators, but something tells me they will be among Minor League Baseball’s best-drawing markets for the next several years.
Aside from new facilities, what do these markets have in common:
- Neither has a full complement of professional sports team. Vegas has the Golden Knights (NHL) and will soon have the Raiders (NFL), while Charlotte has the Panthers (NFL) and Hornets (NBA). Both have a United Soccer League franchise.
- Both are similar in 2018 population size. Focusing on the MSA, Charlotte ranks 23rd nationally with 2.57 million while Vegas is 28th with 2.23 million. Also, both cities are experiencing similar growth rates compared to the 2010 census. Charlotte’s growth since 2010 amounts to a 15.9% increase in population compared to Vegas’s 14.4% growth.
- Both facilities have been placed in geographically-desirable locations within their respective communities. BB&T Ballpark is located in “uptown” Charlotte (their version of downtown) just blocks from the city’s cornerstone intersection of Trade and Tryon streets. Though Summerlin is not central to the larger Las Vegas region, it is most certainly among the most affluent areas of Vegas, a hub for consumer and entertainment activity, and conveniently located off the 215 (an outer belt which connects Summerlin with the Vegas strip).
Only time will tell if the Aviators are able to keep their average attendance above 9,000. Honeymoon effects typically and eventually wear off. The Knights are still doing extremely well at the box office, for example, but have seen their per game attendance fall every year since 2014 except for one year. The Aviators will likely have a similar experience.
But as long as the drop-off isn’t precipitous, the stadium investment can still pay massive dividends. For example:
- The Knights previously played in Fort Mill, South Carolina…some 30 miles from their current home in the heart of Charlotte. In 2013, the last in their old digs, the team only drew 3,803 fans which ranked 78th among all Minor League Baseball teams.
- The Aviators (known as recently as last year as the Las Vegas 51s) played at aging Cashman Field (still home to the city’s USL club), and only drew 4,746 per game.
In short, both markets have seen huge boosts in attendance because of brand new stadiums strategically placed in locations where attracting fans is much simpler than before.Read Full Story at Forbes.com