Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grand Rapids market size surprises, facilities are the question mark

Grand Rapids, Michigan, probably wouldn’t be an obvious choice for a team in a new spring outdoor alternative professional football league, but a closer look at the market shows it deserves some larger consideration.

The top thing going for the Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek market is it is the 39th-ranked television market, according to Nielsen. That puts it higher than such National Football League markets as Jacksonville, Florida (50th); New Orleans, Louisiana (51st); Buffalo, New York (52nd) and Green Bay, Wisconsin (69th); as well as such spring outdoor alternative pro football stalwarts as Las Vegas, Nevada (40th); Birmingham, Alabama (42nd); and Memphis, Tennessee (49th).

While Grand Rapids never has had a spring outdoor alternative pro football team, it did have an Arena Football League, the Rampage, for 11 seasons from 1998-2008. In its first six years of existence, the Rampage’s average home attendance figure was 8,424 or higher, and even in the final five seasons, in which the team’s best record was 6-10 (2008), the average attendance never dipped below 6,000 per contest.

In addition, there isn’t a lot of pro sports competition for the Grand Rapids market’s leisure dollars. The American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins play at Van Andel Arena where the Rampage played, while the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, play at Fifth Third Ballpark.

What holds Grand Rapids back from potentially being a full-fledged spring outdoor alternative pro football market is facilities. The home of the Division II Grand Valley State Lakers, Lubbers Stadium, has a capacity of 8,950, and is a 22-minute drive from Grand Rapids. Fifth Third Ballpark’s capacity isn’t much higher (9,684), and there always is the specter of transforming a baseball field into a football field. Grand Rapids Community College no longer has a football program, and its old field, Houseman Field, holds just 10,000 fans.

BOTTOM LINE – Would the Grand Rapids area support a spring outdoor alternative pro football team? Without a doubt. It is highly unlikely, however, that the market would get a team without having a new large stadium within the city limits.

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