Kinston No. 1 minor league sports market in the state

Bill Hitchcock

Kinston No. 1 minor league sports market in the state

Justin Schoenberger

Which city in North Carolina is home to the best minor league sports market?

Odds are, you’re in it right now.

In an article published Monday, Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal ranked Kinston the No. 1 minor league sports city in North Carolina and No. 13 in the United States. Only one U.S. city — Visalia, Calif. — made a bigger jump than Kinston, which ranked 127 on 2007 list.

The rankings were based on tenure, attendance and economics of 239 markets in the United States without a team in the major sports leagues, such as Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association or the National Football League. An overall score was generated from marks within each category.

Although some cities on the list had multiple clubs, Kinston — boasting only the Kinston Indians for a minor league sports team — finished with 60.54 points. Durham came in a distant second for N.C. markets, scoring 32.61.

The nation’s highest score (100) went to the Hershey-Harrisburg area of Pennsylvania while Richmond, Va., finished last with a negative score.

“Our community in general is just a baseball community and they’ve been supportive of the Kinston Indians — or whatever team has been here — for all these years,” Kinston Indians General Manager Shari Massengill said. “Even though we don’t have a brand new ball park, I think people enjoy that aspect of it.

“People that come here from different places come talk to me about how it’s so nice to come to a park that’s so fan-friendly.”

Kinston finished fourth in the ranking’s attendance category, which factors in the market city’s population and the percentage of filled seats at games.

“It speaks volumes for Kinston that we’ve been able to attract people here not only from Kinston, but from surrounding communities, for so long,” Massengill said, estimating 40 percent of fans were from other areas.

Kinston finished No. 13 in the economics category, which considers unemployment, the number of people in a city and each market’s Total Personal Income — the more fan support under tough economic conditions, the higher the score.

Two-thirds of each market’s overall score, though, was based on how long a team has had minor league sports. Kinston’s had a minor league baseball team for the better part of 101 years and has been affiliated with the Cleveland Indians for 23 years — a rarity in Minor League baseball, according to Chris Hemeyer, the public relations director for the Indians.

David Broughton, the SBJ research director who spent about 2 1/2 months compiling the rankings, said Kinston “defied all odds” when it came to the list.

“This is a study that looks at how the market supports its teams through the good and bad economic times,” Broughton explained. “If the economy is good in a local market, you would expect the attendance to go up … conversely, if the economy tanks, you might expect attendance to go down.”

Over the past five years, the population of Kinston has decreased, the unemployment rate has nearly doubled and stadium upgrades have been minimal. But, attendance has increased by about 25 percent.

“The premise of the study is ‘How do these markets support their teams?’ ” Broughton said. “Obviously, (the Kinston Indians) have been there a long time and the economy’s not doing well there — but the fans are still going.”


Author’s Yougler Profile is at  Bill Hitchcock.

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