The 2016-17 AHL season marked a solid debut for the Springfield Thunderbirds, who helped boost interest in hockey at the MassMutual Center.
Springfield has a long hockey tradition, but at one point last year it looked as though the city’s run in the AHL was coming to an end. The Springfield Falcons played their last game at the MassMutual Center last spring, and relocated to Tucson–where they became the Tucson Roadrunners–for this season.
Stepping in quickly to fill the void, however, were the Portland Pirates, who were purchased by a group of investors and relocated to Springfield. The move was not announced until last May, and the Thunderbirds moniker would only be unveiled in June, giving the franchise a relatively short time frame to prepare for the 2016-17 campign.
Despite the quick turnaround, the club averaged over 4,600 fans per game this season, and finished on a high note by drawing a reported crowd of 6,217 for Saturday’s finale. That momentum looks like it will carry over to next season, but the Thunderbirds want to continually improve in the future, according to executive vice-president Nate Costa. More from Mass Live:
“We have to create some urgency. We’re off to a good start for next season with over 100 new season ticket packages and a very strong renewal percentage already,” he said.
“We started our 2017-18 season ticket drive in February, and we’ve already sold out sections of the better seats. We’re getting a bigger jump-start for next year than we could last year. But we always want more.”
Costa’s goal is for fans to understand that if they wait for game night to purchase tickets, they might be left out of the good seats – and possibly left out altogether if the game is sold out. For Springfield hockey fans, this is practically a foreign language, but it reflects the team’s goal to extend AHL hockey beyond a game, and into a fashionable place to spend a night out – a place to see and be seen, and have some fun.
“We’ve had new people sample what we have here. Now we want to keep the buzz going,” Costa said.
The attendance figure from the Thunderbirds far exceeded the 2015-16 mark from the Falcons, who drew a per-game average of 3,108 in their final season before relocating.