Hockey Fans Offered Free Parking For Springfield Thunderbirds Home Games
Anxious to make the inaugural season of its new professional hockey team a success, the city of Springfield is removing a financial obstacle to attend the games.
The Springfield Parking Authority will make free parking in the downtown Civic Center garage available to ticket-holders of the Springfield Thunderbirds for all 40 home games of the 2016-17 AHL season.
With the first home game of the season just a month away, Mayor Domenic Sarno was joined Wednesday in front of the MassMutual Center arena by team owners and executives and economic development officials to encourage hockey fans to take advantage of the incentive.
" No more excuses," said Sarno. " It is affordable family fun."
Last spring it appeared there would be no 2016-17 professional hockey season in Springfield. The Springfield Falcons, which had the lowest attendance in the AHL, were sold to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes and moved to Tucson. It was an embarrassing blow to Springfield, which was a charter member when the AHL was founded in 1936.
But within two weeks of the sale of the Falcons, a local group of investors struck a deal to purchase the AHL franchise in Portland, Maine and move the team to Springfield.
" These local owners know how much a morale boost it is to the city of Springfield to make sure we kept professional hockey," said Sarno.
Thunderbirds Executive Vice President Nathan Costa said the team’s market research identified the cost of parking -- $7 in the Civic Center garage on game nights last season – as a deterrent to attending games.
"It comes down to the discretionary dollar and trying to make it as affordable as possible," he said.
Costa described season ticket sales as “fantastic” despite what he said was a late start because the team’s new front office was not in place until July.
" We have exceeded, by far, the number of season ticketholders we had last year and it continues to grow," said Costa.
He would not disclose how many season tickets have been purchased.
The city will not lose money by not charging hockey ticketholders to park, according to Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy. He said the Thunderbirds have agreed to pay the SPA more than $50,000, which will cover the expenses for staffing the parking garage on game nights.
Kennedy said the city jumped at the free-parking deal because the success of the Thunderbirds is important both economically and psychologically.
"Everything we have talked about in Springfield as going forward is happening and we could not afford to take a negative hit. Losing the Falcons appeared to be that, but with this local ownership group stepping to the plate it has not happened, and we continue to move forward," said Kennedy.
The Springfield Business Improvement District announced plans to host a pre-game block party and an after-game party for the Thunderbirds’ inaugural home game on Oct. 22.