January 26, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: Hometown Pride
By Jeff Rapsis

Managing and running a local pro baseball team is not a game.

It takes business acumen, marketing savvy and salesmanship of the highest order to make it all work.

That’s the key to the future success of the Pride, Nashua’s hometown ball team, now under new management. The real contest, the one for the team’s survival, takes place not only on the field at Holman, but also in the unforgiving arena of sales and marketing.

To their credit, the Pride’s bosses seem to know this. New owner John Stabile and his now ex-partner in the venture, Tom Monahan, have so far made a lot of good off-season moves to make minor league ball in Nashua a sustained success.

They’ve re-signed manager Butch Hobson. They’ve moved the team to a league with a shorter season. They’ve been open and public about their passion for the team. All this is great to see.

But there’s a big obstacle no one talks about very much, perhaps because it’s hard to quantify. It’s this: a general feeling among would-be supporters that Nashua just isn’t a big enough place to have its own team.

There’s a strong squad down in Lowell and now there’s another in Manchester. With the Pride’s lackluster performance over the past few seasons, there’s a lingering sense that Nashua is too much in the middle to field a successful team.

Long-time residents know this doesn’t feel right. Nashua has always been a big town for baseball, going back generations to the famous Nashua Dodgers and before. Baseball is as much a part of this city’s landscape as the millyard or McDonald’s kitchen supply store on Factory Street.

But hometown history aside, is there really enough of an audience today for a minor league team in Nashua? The answer is yes, especially if we broaden our thinking a bit.

Consider that last season, at least a quarter of those who attended Fisher Cats games in Manchester were from the Nashua area. That’s right—25 percent of people in the stands at Manchester’s new ballpark last year came from Nashua, according to Fisher Cats general manager Shawn Smith.

The Pride can win those people back, and possibly steal some new fans from the heavily promoted Fisher Cats, because it has something they lack—what the consultants call “real sell.” The Pride is now controlled by hometown supporters whose passion for the team is something no out-of-town owner can match.

People will travel for local sports—already, Nashua residents are finding it worthwhile to drive to Manchester to follow an out-of-town team. Rescuing the Pride has to begin with the belief that it can work the other way, if the team is aggressive in promoting itself as the area’s real hometown team.

The team does not have a flashy video scoreboard. But it has heart, and in an age of pre-packaged entertainment, that’s an extremely valuable commodity. In an age where we’re all growing wearing of a homogenized existence, this may be the key to marketing not just the Pride, but all of Nashua.

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