April 6, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: Changing the flow
By Jeff Rapsis

Recent rainy weather wasn’t enough to wash out this week’s Hippo cover story on baseball. Let’s use the occasion to wring out a few thoughts on the local situation.

Here in the Gate City, the big question is whether or not the Nashua Pride will connect with enough of a fan base to be successful. For new local ownership, it’s a watershed year. (All right, enough rain puns.)

It won’t be easy. Attendance at Pride games in recent years has sagged. The fan base has dwindled in part because other teams such as the Manchester-based Fisher Cats are drawing fans from Nashua.

How successful has this effort been? Look at the numbers: last year, about 25 percent of the audience for home games of the Fisher Cats consisted of people from the greater Nashua area.

That shows that yes, there’s an audience for minor league baseball in Nashua, and in recent years the Pride haven’t captured it. But most importantly, it shows that people will travel between towns for entertainment they feel is worth it.

That’s significant because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom in these parts. And making use of this new dynamic—that people will travel—is of key importance to the Pride’s chances to succeed.
If you’re a traditionalist, you believe that people in Nashua have never gone to Manchester for anything, other than an appearance on Channel 9’s old “Uncle Gus” kiddie show. Likewise, people in Manchester just don’t go to Nashua.

Well, that was then. With the steady influx of new arrivals in southern New Hampshire, a growing number of people aren’t steeped in this attitude of geographical parochialism. In other words, they’re willing to drive.

So people in Manchester will indeed drive to Nashua, say, to experience the city’s great downtown restaurant scene or to explore the city’s unusual number of unique local home design and decor businesses.

And likewise, people in Nashua will drive to Manchester for the clubs and bars, or for a concert or hockey game at the Verizon arena, or for a Fisher Cats game at the brand new ballpark.

Even as the Fisher Cats use this dynamic to draw fans from Nashua, the Pride can use it to draw fans from Manchester. The challenge is to give people from beyond the immediate neighborhood a compelling reason to make the drive.

The good news is there are many ways to do this, starting with the very stadium itself. The new Fisher Cats stadium is nice, but it doesn’t have nearly the classic character that Holman has, and which the city’s renovations have only enhanced.

One fact of minor league ball is that the game on the field is often incidental to the team’s appeal. If the Pride can offer a good night out, then they’ll draw an audience from a wider area than just the die-hard hometown crowd.

This isn’t to say that Nashua shouldn’t position itself first and foremost as a hometown team. But in the effort to remain viable, the Pride need to be competitive enough to start the flow going in the other direction, toward Nashua rather than the other way.


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