Grand Rapids Thriving With Minor League Sports
Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan with a population of more than 180,000 people. The city is often listed as a top city when it comes to beer and sports. Recently, the city was named the number ten best city for minor league sports in the country. With the West Michigan Whitecaps entering Playoff mode and the Grand Rapids Griffins set to kick off their 20th season, it’s time to remind everyone why you should be coming to see minor league sports in Grand Rapids.
The city of Grand Rapids ranked tenth by Sports Business Daily for minor league sports market. This ranking took into consideration the city’s Grand Rapids Griffins (American Hockey League), West Michigan Whitecaps (Class A Baseball) and Grand Rapids Drive (NBA Development League) sports teams.
For the city of Grand Rapids, this is a great accomplishment and also shows a rise for the city in the rankings. Grand Rapids has moved up the chart where it came in at #178 back in 2011. Grand Rapids came in with a score of 59.69. To put into perspective, the ninth place team had a 60.76 score and 11th place had a score of 59.12. Quad Cities (Iowa) scored a perfect 100.00 to come in first place.
In 2014, the West Michigan Whitecaps saw total attendance of 398,694, their biggest since the 2002 season. This season, the Whitecaps had a lower overall attendance figure (391,055), but once again saw its per game average rise. Take a look at these per game average figures:
- 2015: 5667
- 2014: 5595
- 2013: 5558
- 2012: 5179
- 2011: 5561
This season, the Whitecaps had several sellouts thanks to promotional efforts. Two games I attended (Minions, Star Wars nights) saw a large mix of kids and adults to enjoy the game and the promotional efforts. The Whitecaps now enter the Playoffs for the 2015 season. Keep an eye on the schedule as you have a chance to see some postseason action. Try some of the cool food creations while attending a game at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The Grand Rapids Griffins have also posted some impressive attendance figures. In fact, the team has increased its attendance from the prior year in eight of the last nine years. Last year’s the team averaged 8082 per game, one of the highest in the American Hockey League. The 2015-2016 season marks the 20th anniversary for the Grand Rapids Griffins. This should lead to some exciting promotional games and likely a boost in attendance figures.
Keep in mind that the Grand Rapids Griffins have graduated more than 100 players to the National Hockey League. You couldn’t watch a Detroit Red Wings game this past season without the Griffins being mentioned. The team has started the careers for a large portion of the current Red Wings roster. It’s cool to see some of these future NHL stars get their start in Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids Drive kicked off their franchise in 2014 bringing basketball back to Grand Rapids. The Detroit Pistons D-League team saw strong ticket sales with reported 75% of capacity filled on average game nights.
Along with minor league sports, the city is attracting some of the biggest concert tours thanks to the Van Andel Arena. Opened in 1996, the Van Andel Arena consistently ranks among the top mid-size arena (10,001 to 15,000 seats). The arena was recently ranked the second highest grossing venue for the first half of 2015 among stadiums of its size. More than 175,000 people attended concerts and Griffins games, bringing in $8 million in ticket sales. The 98,000 concert tickets sold in the first half was the most of any Michigan arena.
It’s worth noting that several other Michigan cities ranked on the list:
- #68 Kalamazoo 29.60: Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL), Kalamazoo Growlers (minor league baseball)
- #79 Lansing 26.28: Lansing Lugnuts (Class A Baseball)
- #92 Midland 23.77: Great Lakes Loons (Class A Baseball)
- #143 Traverse City 14.95: Traverse City Beach Bums (minor league baseball)
- #194 Port Huron -17.97: city got a negative ranking after losing the Port Huron Icehawks (CHL)
If you haven’t made the trip to Grand Rapids to experience minor league sports, I invite you to give it a go. If you plan it out right, you could even pull a double and catch two sporting events in Grand Rapids on the same day.