The Sugar Land Sun has an interesting three-part series comparing the minor league baseball experiences in Fort Worth and New Orleans to what we might expect in Sugar Land with its forthcoming stadium. Here’s the introduction:
Both cities provide key comparisons to Sugar Land that should allow residents to have realistic expectations of what non-Major League Baseball could bring.
The Fort Worth Cats play in the independent American Association and have no affiliation to a Major League Baseball franchise. Sugar Land’s team will play in the Atlantic League, an independent league.
The Cats share another trait with Sugar Land’s team: Both are or will be located in major metropolitan areas, and will vie for dollars with other sports options.
Like the Zephyrs, the Sugar Land team will compete against other sports options, namely the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Hornets, for ticket revenue.
And like the Zephyrs, the Sugar Land team will play in a stadium financed by taxpayer funds.
There is a key difference between the Zephyrs and would-be Sugar Land team: the Zephyrs are a Triple-A team with an affiliation to a Major League Team, the Florida Marlins. That give the team a little more cachet with baseball fans who want to see tomorrow’s Major League stars hit the field.
Actually, a fair number of true stars-in-waiting will bypass AAA ball, or at least not play a full season there. Double A is your better bet. But the point is well taken.
[A] 2005 analysis conducted by the University of North Texas estimates that the stadium, which it says [team owner Carl] Bell’s companies have spent $9 million at that time, generated $14 million for the city of Fort Worth, and $20 million for Tarrant county as a whole, an area nearly 36 times bigger than Sugar Land.
Sugar Land’s projects estimate the stadium will generate $7.7 million annually, or $23.1 million in the same time frame.
And from the latter:
[Jay Cicero, president and chief executive officer of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and the team’s first general manager since it moved to New Orleans] said the team’s base comes from locals and usually doesn’t rely on tourists.
“It’s 99.5 percent local,” he said. “You may some regional group nights where you get fans from farther away, but it’s mostly local fans.”
Historically, Minor League and independent baseball teams rely on local fanbases, especially when the economy goes south. When tourism dries up, local fans determine whether a team lives or dies.
When announcing its agreement with Opening Day Partners, the city estimated that 300,000 people would visit the stadium. The team would have to average 4,285 fans per game to hit that mark, excluding any other events such as college of high school baseball tournaments, that may be played there.
Should the team reach that mark, it would be the fourth-highest attended team in its league, according to current Atlantic League statistics. The team would also draw more than the average attendance of every Minor League Baseball team affiliated with a Major League Team.
I think Sugar Land will meet its projections initially, as I expect there will be a fair amount of excitement over the stadium’s opening and the team’s arrival. Maintaining that will be the challenge, especially if the team isn’t competitive right off. I think Sugar Land will have somewhat better prospects for having a fanbase that extends outside of Fort Bend County, from folks in neighboring counties who might not want to drive all the way into Houston, or who might be enticed by the lower minor league ticket prices. But it’s a good idea to keep all of this in mind, and to ask about how well the reality matched the projections in a few years’ time.