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Fort Wayne named No.2 minor-league sports city

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Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal

Top minor-league sports cities

1. Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa.

2. Fort Wayne, Ind.

3. Tulsa, Okla.

4. Billings, Mont.

5. Spokane, Wash.

6. Peoria, Ill.

7. San Bernardino County, Calif.

8. Bossier City-Shreveport, La.

9. Idaho Falls, Idaho

10. Rochester, N.Y.

11. Sioux Falls, S.D.

12. Visalia, Calif.

13. Kinston, N.C.

14. Manchester-Nashua, N.H.

15. Wichita, Kans.

16. Modesto, Calif.

17. Midland, Texas

18. Toledo, Ohio

19. Albany, N.Y.

20. Princeton-Bluefield, W.Va.

Monday, August 24, 2009 - 10:15 pm

Fort Wayne is no longer the defending champion, but finishing No. 2 is still very good in this poll.

In an article published today, Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal ranked Fort Wayne as the country's No. 2 minor-league sports city behind Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa. Fort Wayne was the top-ranked city in 2007 after coming in No. 7 in the magazine's initial survey in 2005.

The magazine tracks teams from 239 markets, studying tenure, attendance and economic rankings. Tenure rankings, which count for two-thirds of a city's point total, consider such things as the number of minor-league teams over the past five years and building new facilities. Total attendance of a market's teams over a five-year period counts for 20 percent of the score, and the remaining score is based on economic impact, including a market's unemployment rate, attendance increases and Total Personal Income (TPI) averages.

Hershey-Harrisburg totaled 100 points compared with Fort Wayne's 85.89. The Summit City had a 100 score two years ago; Hershey-Harrisburg had a score of 85.65 points.

“It just shows the strength of our market at a time when the economy is soft,” Memorial Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown said. “Look at the strength of our teams.”

Brown said he uses the rankings to help attract events such as the upcoming NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Regional to Fort Wayne.

“I have no doubt it helped us,” he said. “In a lot of ways, it's like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for the market. As we put future bids in, it helps validate everything we do.”

Fort Wayne received the benefit of building the $30.6 million Parkview Field and the TinCaps' record average attendance of 5,384. The Komets also averaged a record 7,810 fans, increasing their attendance for the fifth consecutive season to lead the International Hockey League, and the Mad Ants led the National Basketball Development League with 4,008 fans per game, an increase of 44 percent over their inaugural season.

“It's not about us, it's about the fan support for the franchises,” TinCaps president Mike Nutter said. “It will probably attract somebody else here in some sport to try something, but the standard is set pretty high.”

Fort Wayne was hurt by dropping attendance with the Freedom indoor football team.

“Attendance at indoor football games, or lack thereof, is the major reason why the market fell to the No. 2 spot in the ranking,” the magazine said in its evaluation of Fort Wayne. “The Freedom averaged just 2,000 fans per game this season, one-quarter of its 2007 average and one-third of its four-year average prior to that.”

Article writer David Broughton said, “The indoor football in Fort Wayne was really the only negative. That team … I know it's a different franchise, but obviously interest has waned.”

Broughton also said Hershey-Harrisburg deserves credit for increasing attendance, particularly with the baseball team, which is under .500 in the Class AA Eastern League.

“The fans had gotten used to free tickets, but the team stopped that, and attendance with the Senators dropped a lot in 2008,” Broughton said. “They have a big renovation project going there, and the team is awful, but they are still packing the ballpark. When you line up the TinCaps and the Senators, the Senators are basically doing the same thing.”

The Senators are averaging 3,507 after 58 games, increasing attendance over 2008 by 67 percent.

The Hershey-Harrisburg area has three teams: the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears; the Eastern League's Harrisburg Senators, Class AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals; and the American Indoor Football Association's Harrisburg Stampede. The Hershey Bears have played since 1938, the longest tenure in minor-league hockey history. The Bears also topped the Komets and all of minor-league hockey with 8,987 fans per game.

“Hershey is a great minor-league town and always has been,” Komets president Michael Franke said. “As far as Fort Wayne is concerned, No. 2 is still fantastic and it's a great minor-league sports market. I would have figured we would have retained the No. 1 status with the unbelievable season the TinCaps are having. I still think Fort Wayne is No. 1, but obviously those that voted disagree.”