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PawSox & Worcester, MA Sign Letter of Intent For New Ballpark


Brian in Boston
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The Pawtucket Red Sox - Triple A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox - today signed a letter of intent with the City of Worcester, Massachusetts that sets the stage for an $86 million ballpark to be built in the city's Kelley Square neighborhood.

PawSox Sign Letter of Intent to Build a Triple-A Ballpark in Worcester, Massachusetts

Rumor has it that the team's new home will be dubbed Polar Park, signaling the involvement of the Worcester-based company Polar Beverages.

The facility will be completed in time for the 2021 International League season, with the team playing two final seasons in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

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1 hour ago, Dalcowboyfan92 said:

Change the team name and call them the Polar Bears.

WORCESTER SELTZERS

/Brandoise logo with a bottle of seltzer very similarly designed like a Polar seltzer in red and navy swinging a baseball bat goes here

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You know ... years ago I wished that the franchise picked a nickname a bit more local for Pawtucket. With this move, I hope they stick with something like the Worcester Red Sox with the current trend in MiLB nicknames.

 

Heaven help us all with we have the Worcester Flying Lobster Rolls.

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Ownership has indicated that they won't be changing the franchise's nickname. The team will officially be dubbed the Worcester Red Sox, with the name abbreviated to WooSox. In fact, the trademarks for WooSox were filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on the team's behalf on July 26th.

I also wouldn't be surprised if the team's mascot remains a polar bear. While "Paws" was originally introduced to play off of the PawSox abbreviation (and, if memory serves me, to tie-in to the presence of the former polar bear exhibit at the Roger Williams Park Zoo), a polar bear has been featured in the branding for the Worcester-based Polar Beverages company since the early 1900s. Given that Polar Beverages has already agreed to secure naming rights to the new ballpark in Worcester, I anticipate that "Paws" won't be going anywhere following the move to Central Massachusetts.

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The only thing worse than "WooSox" is the idea that Worcester can or should be gentrified by a minor-league baseball stadium. Considering how much of minor league baseball is picked out of a hat anew every year, the PawSox were a nice cornerstone and one of the more historic and community-embedded clubs. And their stadium was just renovated in the 2000s wasn't it? Not enough for the modern grifting era of sports teams, I guess.

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1 hour ago, Digby said:

The only thing worse than "WooSox" is the idea that Worcester can or should be gentrified by a minor-league baseball stadium. Considering how much of minor league baseball is picked out of a hat anew every year, the PawSox were a nice cornerstone and one of the more historic and community-embedded clubs. And their stadium was just renovated in the 2000s wasn't it? Not enough for the modern grifting era of sports teams, I guess.

 

The park isn't the issue, but the location of the park is.

 

Attendance is down roughly 2K per game from where it was five years ago and its because Pawtucket has been one of the hardest hit areas in the country with the opioid epidemic. People are not keen on bringing their kids to an area they just saw on the evening news yesterday for yet another drug bust.

 

As much as I would like to keep McCoy around, it's getting tougher and tougher to justify Pawtucket as a viable market.

 

If Pawtucket wasn’t having these issues, my attitude towards the move would be very different, because you're right about how established that fanbase is and McCoy is one of the few historical minor league ballparks still standing.

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5 hours ago, Dilbert said:

I think Worcester will make a great market for the IL. Pawtucket I think would work in the independent Atlantic League to keep baseball alive in Rhode Island.

 

The club will do just fine in Worcester. They're going to a well-thought-out area in a section of the state that is much more geared demographically to what they want.

 

There's at least three independent minor leagues and collegiate leagues that overlap in Rhode Island, so somebody will make a run at moving into McCoy once the PawSox leave. But you will never see a team from Pawtucket at any level above single-A ever again.

 

Pawtucket had been here before. The Sox were considering making this same move back in the mid-90's before the city agreed to renovate McCoy, but this has historically been one of the better drawing minor-league teams in baseball.

 

Unfortunately, the market for minor league baseball in this area has collapsed, and there isn't a thing the PawSox did or could do to change that. Its one of the saddest stories in all of baseball that this team is shutting down because the fanbase didn't do anything to deserve this outcome. Parents don't want to explain to their kids why there is a used needle on the side of the road. That's why the team is leaving. A minor league team needs to bank on being in a family-friendly environment to survive. Pawtucket isn't giving them that right now and won't for another few years even under best case scenario.

 

Even if the Red Sox decide to change their AA affiliate from Portland to Rhode Island, which I could see happening, they would only do so to go to a new park in Providence. Pawtucket wouldn't even be in the conversation. No other team besides the Red Sox can come in because of territory rights; otherwise, I could see them having an outside shot of landing Syracuse or Rochester, or even Gwinnett which has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.

 

Best case scenario for them I would say would be going to the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. Its already given new life to a few minor league parks. Wahconah Park over in nearby Pittsfield which is about to turn 100 and is on the National Register of Historical places is in this league. They also have a club in Worcester which will probably be leaving once the WooSox come in as well as an odd number of teams.

 

But as mentioned earlier I could see the Red Sox moving their AA team from Portland to Providence, and if that were to occur, I wouldn't see much if any reason to keep McCoy around.

 

It's just been a sad sight to see this go from being a model of what a minor league market could be to one that will be scrambling just to maintain relevancy in a matter of a decade.

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18 hours ago, pmoehrin said:

 

The park isn't the issue, but the location of the park is.

 

Attendance is down roughly 2K per game from where it was five years ago and its because Pawtucket has been one of the hardest hit areas in the country with the opioid epidemic. People are not keen on bringing their kids to an area they just saw on the evening news yesterday for yet another drug bust.

 

As much as I would like to keep McCoy around, it's getting tougher and tougher to justify Pawtucket as a viable market.

 

If Pawtucket wasn’t having these issues, my attitude towards the move would be very different, because you're right about how established that fanbase is and McCoy is one of the few historical minor league ballparks still standing.

 

Yeah, that's a good point about the location, which has always been an issue out there since it's such a hike from the highway, even when I was a kid and Pawtucket was less of a dump. I'm not really sold on Worcester being a better market than Providence, apart from all the tax break stuff, as a smaller MSA with less territory to draw from, but not a drastic fall-off.

 

I can't really see the Sea Dogs moving. Seems like they've been a model AA franchise since the Red Sox took over the affiliation, and Portland might be the trendiest little city in the northeast these days.

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The last significant renovation of McCoy Stadium cost $12 million and took place between the spring of 1998 and April of 1999. It increased the stadium's capacity by 3,000 spectators (including a new grandstand down the third baseline and sloped berm seating area beyond the outfield), brought the facility into compliance with federal laws requiring accessibility to the disabled, made improvements to the playing field, and added a new scoreboard, a pair of indoor batting/pitching tunnels, ticket offices, a team store, and a new entry pavilion.

I was at McCoy this past Saturday night for the PawSox-Durham Bulls game. While I'll concede that the McCoy of today is in far better condition than the ballpark of my youth, that isn't saying much. When Ben Mondor bought the team in 1977, the place was an outright dump. To his credit, Mondor began making improvements - many, related to security and aesthetics - almost immediately. Those improvements culminated with the major renovation of the late 1990s.

That said, McCoy Stadium is still sorely lacking as a modern Triple-A ballpark. We're talking about a Works Project Administration-built facility that was constructed on swampland in the early 1940s. Today, it sits smack-dab in the middle of a residential and industrial neighborhood, surrounded by single-family homes and triple-decker tenements, a junior high school, a trucking company, and various factories and mills. What would pass for "ancillary development" of the entertainment variety are a diner, a Chinese restaurant, and an Irish pub. That just doesn't cut it in an era when Triple-A teams are playing in facilities like Autozone Park, BB&T Park, Fifth Third Field (Toledo), First Tennessee Park, Huntington Park, Southwest University Park, and Victory Field... to say nothing of lower-classification teams playing in ballparks like the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, Canal Park, Dunkin' Donuts Park, Fifth Third Field (Dayton), First National Bank Field, Fluor Field at the West End, ONEOK Field, Parkview Field, Regions Field, Spirit Communications Park, and SRP Park.

This day has been coming for quite some time. In addition to the physical plant of McCoy Stadium leaving much to be desired in terms of amenities for patrons, the parent Boston Red Sox have long felt that McCoy Stadium was lacking in amenities behind the scenes, as well. Larger and more modern facilities for physical therapy work, a larger weight-room, and dedicated space for videotape analysis and meetings have been desired by the big-league club, but there was simply no place to squeeze said features into the existing physical plant of the current ballpark, even after the 1998-99 renovation. Further, without access to the streams of revenue that ancillary development surrounding ballparks can provide, there was no way for team ownership, the City of Pawtucket, or the State of Rhode Island to figure out a way to finance such upgrades at the McCoy Stadium site.

Truth be told, even the proposed site for a new Pawtucket-based ballpark - on the grounds of the Apex department store - was going to face challenges when it came to playing host to a first-rate, modern, Triple-A ballpark. Pawtucket is a municipality of just over 71,000 people with an economy that is severely challenged. The situation in neighboring Providence - the state's largest municipality - isn't much better. Speaking frankly, the economic outlook that the State of Rhode Island faces as a whole isn't particularly bright. If there was a Triple-A baseball market in the country that was going to find itself hard-pressed to figure out a way to shoulder the public share of financing construction of a new - or, even a significantly-renovated - ballpark, it was Providence/Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

As for finding another team to move into McCoy Stadium, I think the prospects are limited.

There's no way that Dan Burke is going to move the Sea Dogs out of Portland... and the parent Boston Red Sox wouldn't want him to. The team provides the Red Sox organization with a farm-team presence in northern New England, plays in a facility - Hadlock Field - that is critically-acclaimed (Baseball America just named it one of the "Top 10 Best Minor League Stadiums and Ballparks"), routinely puts up strong attendance numbers, and - as Digby points out - is located in one of the trendiest cities in America. In point of fact, moving any level of affiliated baseball into McCoy Stadium is a non-starter unless the relocated WooSox grant a territorial exemption to such a team. Now, maybe Lucchino and his partners would be amenable to doing so as a public relations gesture in the wake of spiriting the beloved PawSox away... but, I wouldn't count on it.

I'm not certain that a summer collegiate team would be able to make a go of it at McCoy. The average attendance in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League is 1,514 fans-per-game. The average attendance in the New England Collegiate Baseball League is 786 fans-per-game. The top draws in each league - the Worcester Bravehearts (FCBL) and Newport Gulls (NECBL) - average 2,502 and 2,093, respectively. Those sorts of crowds are going to seem awfully paltry in a stadium with a listed capacity of 10,031.

Frankly, I'd think the only realistic shot of bringing a ballclub into McCoy Stadium after the PawSox leave would be to try and get an independent minor-league to set up shop there. Geographically, you'd be looking at either an Atlantic League franchise or a Can-Am League team. Of the two, the Atlantic League is the more stable circuit and currently offers the closest rivals to a Rhode Island-based team - the New Britain Bees and Long Island Ducks. The Can-Am League has seemed to have the proverbial "one foot in the grave" for awhile now. Further, a Pawtucket-based team would be on an island in the Can-Am, with the league's current membership split between three teams in Canada and three in New Jersey. Again, McCoy Stadium's capacity of over 10,000 seats would seem to be overkill in a pair of leagues that average 3,908 (Atlantic League) and 1,957 fans-per-game.                          

 

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2 hours ago, Digby said:

Yeah, that's a good point about the location, which has always been an issue out there since it's such a hike from the highway, even when I was a kid and Pawtucket was less of a dump. I'm not really sold on Worcester being a better market than Providence, apart from all the tax break stuff, as a smaller MSA with less territory to draw from, but not a drastic fall-off.

 

I can't really see the Sea Dogs moving. Seems like they've been a model AA franchise since the Red Sox took over the affiliation, and Portland might be the trendiest little city in the northeast these days.

 

 

Portland is outside of the Red Sox territory though, so the Red Sox moving down there wouldn't necessarily mean Portland would be out a AA team. If the Sox were to move to Providence, my guess is a team like Erie or Binghamton would be swapped out with Portland just changing affiliates.

 

Accessibility is something Worcester will have the edge over Pawtucket in. You have the pike serving anyone coming from east or west and 495 for anyone coming north or south.

 

The local fanbase is going to be tough to replace, but their market size should explode both in terms of geographic and population size. Aside from the Providence area, the only thing they will lose out on is the Cape population which is already being pretty well served by any number of collegiate leagues that play there. They'll be able to pull in fans from places like Springfield now, which really was not much of an option before. It's also an easier drive now for anyone coming from Lowell or anyone north of Boston.

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1 hour ago, Digby said:

Yeah, that's a good point about the location, which has always been an issue out there since it's such a hike from the highway, even when I was a kid and Pawtucket was less of a dump. I'm not really sold on Worcester being a better market than Providence, apart from all the tax break stuff, as a smaller MSA with less territory to draw from, but not a drastic fall-off.

 

From what I can read, Worcester is part of Greater Boston.  That's not a smaller MSA than Providence.

 

I'm not sure that matters, though.  Does AAA draw from an entire regional area, like the majors do?  I'd tend to doubt it, since the average per-game attendance of the International League was just over 7,000.  That seems to me like they're drawing from the immediate area, and Worchester is slightly bigger than Providence.

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2 hours ago, Gothamite said:

 

From what I can read, Worcester is part of Greater Boston.  That's not a smaller MSA than Providence.

 

I'm not sure that matters, though.  Does AAA draw from an entire regional area, like the majors do?  I'd tend to doubt it, since the average per-game attendance of the International League was just over 7,000.  That seems to me like they're drawing from the immediate area, and Worchester is slightly bigger than Providence.

 

Part of my day job for my company is answering questions like this one and the answer is that it depends where you are on the map.

 

I would be surprised if more than 10% of people were driving more than an hour to come to Pawtucket. But I could see at least 25% of people driving an hour plus to go to a game in places like Fresno and OKC.
 

That 0-10 mile radius around the ballpark is going to make up at least 50% of your fanbase. But where you get that other 50% is going to be different for every team. The WooSox will have to bank more on what I would consider secondary market support than Pawtucket will, but they should have an easier time getting it considering where they are in the state.

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1 hour ago, Gothamite said:

I'm not sure that matters, though.  Does AAA draw from an entire regional area, like the majors do?  I'd tend to doubt it, since the average per-game attendance of the International League was just over 7,000.  That seems to me like they're drawing from the immediate area, and Worchester is slightly bigger than Providence.

 

Even if you were to look at the once-and-future Red Sox Triple-A host cities - in this case Pawtucket and Worcester - along with their immediately adjacent cities and towns, Pawtucket has a more populous - and, more densely populated - target market.

Pawtucket, RI - 71,148
Attleboro, MA - 43,593
Central Falls, RI - 19,376
East Providence, RI - 47,037
Providence - 178,042
Seekonk, MA - 14,371
TOTAL - 373,567 in 86.8 square miles of land

Worcester, MA - 181,045
Auburn, MA - 15,091
Grafton, MA - 5,700
Holden, MA - 17,346
Leicester, MA - 10,970
Millbury, MA - 13,261

Paxton, MA - 4,806
Shrewsbury, MA - 35,608
West Boylston, MA - 7,669

TOTAL - 291,496 in 198.1 square miles of land

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26 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

I would be surprised if more than 10% of people were driving more than an hour to come to Pawtucket. But I could see at least 25% of people driving an hour plus to go to a game in places like Fresno and OKC.
 

That 0-10 mile radius around the ballpark is going to make up at least 50% of your fanbase. But where you get that other 50% is going to be different for every team. The WooSox will have to bank more on what I would consider secondary market support than Pawtucket will, but they should have an easier time getting considering where they are in the state.


I think you'd be surprised by how wide-spread the Pawtucket Red Sox fanbase happens to be. I not only grew up in the region, but had some business dealings with the PawSox at one time. I know for a fact that they draw a significant amount of support - including season ticket-holders - from not only throughout the entire State of Rhode Island, but as far afield as New Bedford, Plymouth, and Brockton, Massachusetts, as well. 

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40 minutes ago, Brian in Boston said:


I think you'd be surprised by how wide-spread the Pawtucket Red Sox fanbase happens to be. I not only grew up in the region, but had some business dealings with the PawSox at one time. I know for a fact that they draw a significant amount of support - including season ticket-holders - from not only throughout the entire State of Rhode Island, but as far afield as New Bedford, Plymouth, and Brockton, Massachusetts, as well. 

 

Where I work is only a 25-minute drive from Brockton, so I know exactly what you are talking about and these are the same fans who have stopped coming.

 

The population figures you posted are great and illustrates exactly why the team elected to stay in Pawtucket back in the mid-90's the last time this came up.


This is why they didn't this time around.

 

Median household income:

 

Pawtucket, RI - 71,148 $28,214
Attleboro, MA - 43,593 $63,647
Central Falls, RI - 19,376 $22,628
East Providence, RI - 47,037 $39,108

Providence - 178,042 $26,867
Seekonk, MA - 14,371 $56,364

 

Worcester, MA - 181,045 $45,846
Auburn, MA - 15,091 $73,559
Grafton, MA - 5,700 $66,396
Holden, MA - 17,346 $73,614
Leicester, MA - 10,970 $55,039
Millbury, MA - 13,261 $51,415

Paxton, MA - 4,806 $72,039
Shrewsbury, MA - 35,608 $109,000
West Boylston, MA - 7,669 $53,777

 

I went through these numbers quickly so don't take them as exact quotes, but everyone should get the picture, and I know you are aware of this as well.


At the end of the day, it's only the people with disposable income that you're interested in and this is where Pawtucket is lacking.

 

The fact that the team is drawing as well as it is despite all of this is a testament to just how loyal that fanbase is. That's why I feel so bad for them.

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2 hours ago, Brian in Boston said:

Even if you were to look at the once-and-future Red Sox Triple-A host cities - in this case Pawtucket and Worcester - along with their immediately adjacent cities and towns, Pawtucket has a more populous - and, more densely populated - target market.

 

Yeah, but look at those top numbers.

 

2 hours ago, Brian in Boston said:

Pawtucket, RI - 71,148

 

Worcester, MA - 181,045

 

So if @pmoehrin is right, and 50% of the fanbase comes from within ten miles of the ballpark, the WooSox seem to have a lot more with which to work than the PawSox did.  Then add the fact that median household income is almost twice in Worchester what it is in Pawtucket, and this starts to look like a pretty good trade for the team.

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