In April 2016, the city of Springfield received devastating news: the Springfield Falcons, the local American Hockey League pro team, were leaving town. The team was sold to the Arizona Coyotes, leaving Springfield without an AHL franchise for the first time since the 1950s. City residents and officials braced for a major hit to the downtown economy, with the MassMutual Center slated to remain dark for the 40 game night dates, and restaurants, bars, hotels, and other service providers in the downtown core losing out on potential game-going customers.
Working with prominent local businesspeople, Ventry Associates helped to assemble a group of 29 owners, made up of local businesspeople and community institutions who valued Springfield’s civic culture and were committed to the city’s success. In a matter of weeks, Ventry Associates helped orchestrate the purchase of the Portland Pirates and the team’s relocation from Maine to Springfield. With only months before opening night to get an entire franchise up and running, Ventry Associates seamlessly handled media and communication matters, consulted on the naming of the team, and organized press conferences and announcements that generated unprecedented interest and excitement in the new franchise. Ventry Associates has worked with the team to mine the strengths of the large ownership group, coordinating communication between the team and the group and connecting business interests for sponsorships. Ventry also consults with the team to design and promote events that would center on the game-day experience and attract new fans, coordinating major sponsorship nights, special guests like Red Sox legend David Ortiz, and promos like “Pink in the Rink” and the first-ever “Teddy Bear Toss” in Springfield. This work over the past two years has culminated in the AHL’s decision to award the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic to the Springfield Thunderbirds. Ventry worked hand in hand with the team’s front office and ownership group to put together a package and identify a co-promoter in MGM Springfield. This pitch has brought the All-Star Game to Springfield for the first time in 60 years.
In the Thunderbirds first season, attendance rose by over 50% to 4,664 per game. In year two, it rose further to 4,985 per game. The team had 3 sold out game nights in Springfield in the first year, and an astonishing 9 sellouts in year two. The Thunderbirds were honored by the AHL for top revenue growth over the 2017 season, sweeping all four categories for the Eastern Conference including overall ticket sales, season-ticket sales, group-ticket sales, and corporate sponsorship sales. The team was also recognized at the 2017 AHL Marketing Meeting for achieving a greater-than 10% increase in per game Full Season Equivalents, a greater-than 10% growth in corporate cash sponsorships generated in the market, and greater-than 15% growth in per game group ticket sales revenue.
Heading into year three, the Thunderbirds are poised to be one of the most successful AHL franchises of the future as the team continues building their success, working to reactivate downtown Springfield, and growing an enthusiastic fan base to sustain the team for years to come.