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Hawks GM: Boise can’t support Triple-A ball

Proposed Boise ballpark

Talk of bringing a Pacific Coast League team to Boise is a bad idea, says Boise Hawks (short season A; Northwest League) President/GM Todd Rahr: the market is limited, there’s little corporate support and the airport sucks. But hey, otherwise it’s a great place to do business!

Rahr is walking a tightrope, of course; while some city leaders want to see Triple-A baseball in Boise and are pushing to build a new downtown ballpark to support it, Rahr and the Hawks ownership are fighting to keep control of baseball in the Treasure Valley. A study commissioned by the Better Boise Coalition argues the city and the surrounding area can support Class AAA baseball (something we first pointed out in 2010), and Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) owner Jeff Moorad has reportedly met with Boise reps about the market and its potential.

That means the Hawks potentially could lose the market — ironic, since they’re the ones who first argued for a new ballpark to replace Memorial Stadium — and it doesn’t sound like management wants to give up Boise without a fight. So you have statements like this to a local reporter:

We asked Mr. Rahr, “What is the likelihood of a new stadium to attract a Class AAA minor league team to the Treasure Valley.” He does believe our market could, someday, support a Class AAA team; however, not in the near future. Several reasons he detailed were, air travel, the business community, potential attendance issues, and the fact of having a Class AAA team nearly double the number of home games, which would hinder scheduling of other events.

“In AAA you have to fly and being the Pacific Coast League, as a AAA team would be, you have teams spread from Memphis, New Orleans and Nashville in the East and Sacramento and Tucson in the West”, according to Mr. Rahr. The ability to provide direct flights to and from games would be critical and these types of flights are few and far between….

When it comes to the business community, other cities where AAA teams are located are central to several major corporations.  Unfortunately, this is not the case in Boise lately, for several businesses that once called Boise home are no longer based here.  Mr. Rahr brought up this very good point and stated some specific examples, “Albertsons is now in Minnesota, The Washington Group, or URS, is now located in California.  Boise Cascade is owned by Office Max and their headquarters aren’t here anymore.  So who are some companies willing to step up to the plate, pun intended, to be that big corporation ready to not only support a AAA team but also this community.  Mr. Rahr was very blunt in stating we don’t have this type of sponsorship and ticket purchases going on in the Treasure Valley, even for the minor league teams we do have here.

Aside from those problems, Rahr said, Boise is a great place to do business, and there’s no reason a new ballpark should not be built to make the city the Capital of Short-Season Baseball: “Why would we want to leave the 3rd biggest city in the Northwest? The current state of Boise is good and the upside is great.”

Not quite sure that sentiment is going to play in a city that’s apparently decided it wants to be a player on the national stage, as typified by the move of Boise State to the Big East Conference in 2013 to secure a more prominent spot in the football world. The city of Boise commissioned Conventions, Sports & Leisure for a more in-depth analysis of the market potential for Triple-A ball earlier this year. (You can view the entire CSL report on the Better Boise Coalition website; look for the Market Viability Analysis link.) Here are some highlights from the CSL report:

  • Boise has roughly doubled in size since 1990; its Core Based Statistical Area (a measurement used by the U.S Census Bureau) in 2011 is estimated as being 623,700 over most of southwestern Idaho, but in reality most of this population is in Ada County (containing Boise) and adjoining Canyon County. This is the heart of the Treasure Valley. The 2009 Census rankings puts Boise-Nampa as the #85 Core Based Statistical Area in the United States, ahead of PCL markets like Des Moines and Reno and similar to International League markets like Toledo and Durham.
  • And it’s a young, active population. In terms of the 18-to-54 demographic — the folks who actually go to baseball games — the average age in Boise is 34.1, as opposed to the national average of 37. In terms of Triple-A demographics, Boise would be home to one of the youngest markets.
  • The median income is $52,500, as opposed to the national average of $52,800. That median income is pretty good news if you’re looking at Triple-A in Boise. An income of $52,500 buys you a heckuva lot more in Boise than in, say, California or New York. With lower housing costs, there’s more disposable income in the pockets of Boise residents than elsewhere in most of the country.
  • There are 25,000 corporations headquartered or with operations in the Boise area. Not a bad number; it wouldn’t be the lowest in the Pacific Coast League.

Boise Airport is served by all the major airlines, including Delta and Southwest, with 10 nonstops a day to Salt Lake City and eight nonstops a day to Denver. Yeah, there’s no direct service to Nashville or Memphis — but that’s not a deal killer.

It’s not an easy argument Rahr is making: he’s basically telling the locals they lack the financial muscle to support Class AAA baseball, so they should instead settle for short-season ball. You don’t need to sell us on the charms of short-season ball — Rahr is certainly right that a Northwest League team can focus on the best dates of the season and not worry about those potentially troublesome April and May dates — but we’re not sure the average baseball fan in Boise wants to hear that. At the end of the day, if the folks paying the bills in Boise want to see it become a bigger player in the baseball world, Minor League Baseball will listen.

Rendering courtesy of the Better Boise Coalition.

RELATED STORIES: Boise still in the crosshairs of PCL?; Ricketts: Boise’s Memorial Stadium is substandard; Boise as Triple-A market? There’s talk; Boise ballpark search to focus on downtown sites; Boise in search of new ballpark site; Memorial Stadium / Boise Hawks


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