2022 Minor League Markets: Charleston’s Holy Trinity

2022 Minor League Markets: Charleston’s Holy Trinity

The Charleston RiverCanine at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park.charleston riverdogs

WIth its cobblestone streets, gaslight lanterns, shocking waterfront sunsets, Palmetto bushes and world-class hospitality, a Southern coastal the town would possibly no longer in an instant have compatibility a sports activities fan’s mental symbol of a normal minor league marketplace.

But with the country’s oldest skilled football workforce, a hockey workforce this is about to drop the puck on its thirtieth season, and a 43-year-old baseball workforce that spends each day proving to town that “Fun is Good,” Charleston, S.C., is Sports Business Journal’s 2022 No. 1 minor league marketplace.

‘I’LL NEVER LEAVE’

“While our market is growing leaps and bounds, it is still pretty small to be home to three professional teams,” stated Dave Echols, who has been with the Charleston RiverCanine for almost 22 years, and on the helm since St. Patrick’s Day 2004. Born in Delaware, Ohio, Echols started his profession in sports activities in 1991 as an intern for the long-defunct World Basketball League Dayton Wings. In Charleston, he has observed his hockey brethren exchange homeowners, his football neighbors exchange venues and homeowners, the relocation of a world tennis match to town, and the start and dying of a basketball workforce and 3 indoor soccer groups.

And quite a lot of a laugh on the ballpark (boss’s orders).

The Tampa Bay Rays associate, owned by way of the Goldklang Group since 1989, has lengthy been admired all the way through minor league sports activities for its steadiness and artistic advertising and marketing prowess. Goldklang Group govt adviser Mike Veeck spent his profession working skilled baseball groups, so when the corporate bought the workforce within the Nineteen Nineties, Veeck used to be despatched in to lend a hand with the transition. “I moved here 15 years ago with the intention of working here for one year,” Veeck instructed SBJ in 2011, when Charleston ranked No. 7 within the find out about. “Now I’ll never leave.”

It’s a mantra shared by way of the leaders at every of the marketplace’s professional groups.

For its section, the marketplace’s most-tenured workforce — well known for no longer taking itself too significantly — is having some severe good fortune off and on the sector.

Methodology

This is the 9th time Sports Business Journal has produced a score of the country’s minor league markets, the primary coming in 2005 after which each different yr via 2019. The find out about that used to be scheduled for 2021 used to be bumped to this yr because of the have an effect on of the pandemic.

This yr’s undertaking integrated a score of:

195 markets
34 leagues (together with one defunct baseball league, a shuttered indoor soccer league and the Appalachian League, which transformed from a certified to an novice league all the way through the find out about duration)
320 skilled groups
190.5 million in general attendance
$2.98 billion in building at 85 new or broadly renovated venues
Each workforce on this survey used to be assigned a territory in accordance with the site of its house venue inside of probably the most U.S. Census Bureau’s 384 metropolitan statistical spaces (markets with a inhabitants of no less than 50,000) and 543 micropolitan statistical spaces (lower than 50,000). Markets which can be house to an MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, NHL, WNBA, NWSL or Premier Hockey Federation franchise — the absolute best degree of pageant for every of the ones sports activities — don’t seem to be measured.
The majority of every marketplace’s general ranking comes from its talent to retain its franchises, take care of the venues and draw in spectators to video games. — D.B.

The 2021 squad gained probably the most video games in franchise historical past (85 general) en path to its first South Atlantic League championship. The RiverCanine crowned that this season (88 regular-season video games, with no less than one playoff sport as of press time), and gained extra video games than any MiLB workforce this season. Wins and losses don’t issue into SBJ’s ratings technique, as that hardly ever impacts attendance in minor league sports activities. But the RiverCanine’ moderate playoff attendance final yr used to be greater than 50% upper than their regular-season moderate, which isn’t most often what occurs in maximum markets. And 2022 is the twenty fifth directly season that the workforce has averaged 3,300-plus enthusiasts in keeping with sport, and the 5th in a row with a median of greater than 4,300.

The workforce additionally set all-time gross sales data for each tickets and sponsorship gross sales this season. 

The RiverCanine made MiLB’s annual top-25 products gross sales 14 occasions from 1994 via 2019. Data has no longer been launched by way of MiLB because the 2019 ratings had been introduced, however the membership set back-to-back workforce bests for products gross sales in 2021 and the present season, in keeping with Ben Abzug, the membership’s senior vice chairman.

Merchandise gross sales picked up in 2016, when the membership offered a Sunday-only jersey in keeping with a racially motivated tragedy that took place in Charleston the former summer season (see comparable tale).

At the top of that season, the workforce unveiled the “Holy City”-branded uniforms to be worn each Sunday starting in 2016. Charleston is house to greater than 400 church buildings, some courting again to the mid-to-late 1700s, incomes its nickname. To coincide with the rebranding, enthusiasts “are encouraged to show off their famous Charlestonian hospitality by greeting one another and extending hands in friendship,” in keeping with the workforce’s announcement.

The Holy City theme earned the MiLB Golden Bobblehead Award for its “Here for the Holy City” multifaceted neighborhood outreach marketing campaign that it activated all the way through the 2020 canceled season. (See www.sportsbusinessjournal.com for an inventory of the workforce’s different awards and honors.)

RiverCanine rewards

2011, 2013: South Atlantic League (SAL) General Manager of the Year (DaveEchols).
2012: MiLB’sBest Overall Promotion and Best Non-Game Day Event awards for website hosting the SAL All-Star Game Home Run Derby at the flight deck of the USS Yorktown, a World War II airplane provider adjoining to what’s now the Charleston Battery’s stadium.
2017: BobFreitasAward as the highest Class A group, by way of Baseball America.
2019: SAL Club Merit Award, for very best all-around franchise.

A large reason why for the workforce’s good fortune, in fact, is Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, situated at the financial institution of the Ashley River marsh, simply 2 miles from the historical outside markets. A $3 million renovation prior to the 2017 season integrated building of the 214-seat Segra Club at Riley Park, a top rate seating space that the workforce calls “the most significant ballpark addition” within the historical past of The Joe. This yr, 125 non-public non-game-day occasions were booked within the 6,000-square-foot membership, and this season game-day gross sales (events of 10 or extra, $95 in keeping with consumer) hit a report prime.

Beyond Segra, the membership’s top-tier sponsors are Budweiser, Boeing (probably the most area’s biggest employers), MUSC Health and REV Federal Credit Union. 

The workforce handles the ballpark’s meals and beverage operations. The Wicked Sausage Stand opened this yr with native sausages from Cooper River Farms, served with Wicked Weed (a North Carolina brewer) beer cheese. Also in style this summer season used to be the brand new Joe’s Shrimp Shack, situated in the back of house plate reverse of the Belly Itcher Bar.

Because a laugh is just right, or even higher with meals.

HOCKEY IN THE SOUTH WORKS

South Carolina Stingrays President Rob Concannon used to be born and raised in Dorchester, Mass., quarter-hour south of the outdated Boston Garden. 

He began taking part in for the Stingrays in 1995 — the membership’s 3rd season — and used to be a member of the 1997 Kelly Cup championship workforce. In 2009, he took over as president and trade governor.

“I fell in love with the people and the community, and really, everything about Charleston,” he stated in his Southie accessory, noting that almost all of his circle of relatives nonetheless lives within the Northeast. “Now I’ve been here for 28 years.” 

He recognizes the stumbling blocks the marketplace has conquer because it prepares to host its thirtieth season {of professional} hockey.

“Minor league hockey was in such a different place when the team was born,” he stated, relating to an technology when 74 groups performed in seven leagues, maximum of which have been long gone inside of a decade. “Hockey in the South was a novelty, right? Now we’re the longest-running team in the league to have played continuously in the same city.”

2022 Minor League Markets: Charleston’s Holy Trinity

Longtime sponsor Crews Chevrolet would be the jersey patch spouse for the South Carolina Stingrays for the 9th season.Brian Principe Photography

The Washington Capitals associate gained the ECHL’s 2018-19 Team Award of Excellence, which acknowledges the league’s very best all-around membership off and on the ice, and has long gone to the Finals in 3 of the final seven seasons.

On the industry facet, Concannon stated the membership used to be on tempo in 2020 to extend its earnings in season-ticket gross sales, teams gross sales, and company gross sales for the tenth consecutive season. But the pandemic eradicated its ultimate 8 house dates, or just about one-quarter of its house time table. Additionally, the Rays had the league’s very best report on the time, so desires of postseason earnings additionally melted.

Top 10 appearances in our ratings of Minor League Markets

Market(s) / No. of peak 10 appearances / (No. 1)

Fort Wayne, Ind. / 8 / (2007)
Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa. / 7 / (2009, 2011)
Toledo, Ohio / 6 / (2013)
San Bernardino County, Calif. / 6
Charleston, S.C. 5 / (2022)
Des Moines, Iowa / 5 / (2017)
Tulsa, Okla. / 5
Rochester, N.Y. / 4 / (2005)
Grand Rapids-Comstock, Mich. / 4 / (2019)
Quad Cities (Moline-Rock Island, Ill./Davenport-Bettendorf, Iowa) / 4 / (2015)

Three appearances every:
Greenville, S.C.; Reading, Pa.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Spokane, Wash.
Two appearances every:

Idaho Falls, Idaho; Oklahoma City; Providence-Pawtucket, R.I.; Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Pa.; Syracuse, N.Y.
One look every:
Akron, Ohio; Billings, Mont.; Binghamton, N.Y.; Boise, Idaho; Bossier City-Shreveport, La.; Dayton, Ohio; Durham-Cary, N.C. ; Fresno, Calif.; Modesto, Calif.; Peoria, Ill.; Portland, Maine; Springfield, Mass. ; Stockton, Calif.; Winston-Salem, N.C.

All 2022-23 earnings metrics are trending up, Concannon stated. Crews Chevrolet, as an example, a workforce sponsor because the past due Nineteen Nineties, is returning for its 9th season because the membership’s jersey patch sponsor.

A large supply of that new earnings will come from the apartment of 2 40-person birthday celebration suites on the North Charleston Coliseum that opened final season. Truly Hard Seltzer bought the naming rights to one among them when it opened, and the 2 spaces are 70% booked for what’s the first complete season as saleable property. 

The addition follows $32 million in publicly funded renovations on the city-owned enviornment that had been finished in 2012 and 2016, which modernized the suites and the again of the home, the place Sodexo Live has treated meals and beverage operations because the venue opened in 1993. The complicated is operated by way of ASM Global’s SMG.

Todd Halloran, a non-public fairness spouse and avid hockey fan, was the bulk proprietor of the workforce in 2018. The Zucker circle of relatives, native philanthropists with deep roots within the metropolis who based the workforce, retained a ten% proportion.

Halloran grew up in Boston taking part in hockey and has 4 youngsters who did the similar, together with a daughter who performs at Williams and some other at Wesleyan. He could also be a minority proprietor of the Class AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

CHARLESTON + SOCCER: INVESTMENTS ON THE RISE

The USL Championship Charleston Battery performed its first fit on May 1, 1993, precisely one week prior to the rustic’s second-longest working professional football workforce (the USL Championship Richmond Kickers) started. 

The Battery opened the $5.7 million Blackbaud Stadium on April 29, 1999, 20 days prior to the Columbus Crew opened the rustic’s moment professional soccer-specific venue.

That’s the historical past lesson. 

The 30-year-old membership lately started a brand new technology, with a brand new proprietor, new emblem and a brand new waterfront house the place any workforce would really like to play.

Bergen County, N.J., local and entrepreneur Rob Salvatore believes that the combo of a marketplace with giant enlargement attainable and a recreation with a identical trendline is a recipe for good fortune. So he bought the Battery following the 2019 season and moved his circle of relatives south.

“The town is on fire,” he stated. “We invested for exactly those reasons. We came to Hilton Head [S.C.] in 1981 as a family when I was a kid. My parents had a timeshare that they used for a couple weeks each summer and eventually built a house there 25 years ago. So the Lowcountry has been part of the Salvatore family for almost 40 years.”

Additionally, Rob’s brother, Lou Salvatore, a minority proprietor within the Battery and the Miami Marlins, is a senior managing director at non-public fairness company Blackstone. 

Rob Salvatore labored with the Patriots Point Development Authority, town of Mount Pleasant, the state of South Carolina and the College of Charleston to turn into — at his expense — the varsity’s current football box into the Patriots Point Soccer Stadium that it might proportion with the school. 

“They saw the benefits of the investments right from the beginning,” he stated. “They really helped cut through a lot of the red tape.”

2022 Minor League Markets: Charleston’s Holy Trinity

Rob Salvatore, who purchased the Charleston Battery in 2019, celebrates with gamers all the way through a sport at Patriots Point Soccer Stadium.courtesy of the charleston battery

The 450-acre website online on Charleston Harbor used to be established within the Nineteen Seventies and features a naval and maritime museum with the USS Yorktown, the place the RiverCanine hosted the 2012 SAL All-Star Game Home Run Derby.

The renovation used to be designed by way of native architect LS3P, which additionally labored at the Segra Club at The Joe and the hot $50 million general improve of the close by Credit One Stadium, which hosts the yearly WTA Credit One Charleston Open. The use of 2 repurposed transport bins to function 30-person “suite boxes” used to be suitable for the reason that Charleston boasts probably the most nation’s busiest ports. 

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge towers over the stadium and Spanish moss-draped Sabal fingers, the state’s reputable tree, dot the grounds. The stadium’s capability of three,900 will slowly enlarge to kind of 5,000 over the following couple of seasons.

Since Salvatore took the reins, the workforce has observed a 90% build up in price ticket earnings, 147% build up in products gross sales and a 240% leap in sponsorship earnings, he stated. Volvo, whose sole U.S. production presence is situated within the Charleston space, is the workforce’s jersey patch sponsor.

Now the point of interest is getting enthusiasts within the stadium and development out top rate reviews, he stated. One factor that is helping their final analysis is they deal with the entire meals and beverage operations. One of the native favorites they have got introduced in is Coastal Crust, a wood-fired pizza store whose proprietor, Brian Piesner, performed for the workforce within the early 2000s.

“We don’t need to make tens of millions of dollars in revenue, on a gross percentage, to net out,” stated Salvatore. “We can be lean and mean and startup-y about it to make it work.”

Salvatore is happy, however no longer shocked, that the higher job at the Point — the workforce has averaged about 2,700 enthusiasts in keeping with sport since transferring there — has stuck the attention of actual property builders, as a 30- to 50-acre mixed-use undertaking has been licensed at once around the side road from the stadium.

“We moved to a place that we love but we were also walking into a place that we felt had a great entrepreneurial upside,” he stated. “That’s why we’re invested in Charleston.”

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