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Sports town Burque, Part III

January 10, 2008

The purposed Downtown arena is dead. What? No one’s told you? Rio Rancho officially landed the New Mexico Wildcats. An arena football team in the American Indoor Football Association. Awesome. Double-A hockey and rookie league arena football in Rio Rancho — if you’re interested.

I’m all for a Downtown arena, but we shouldn’t be competing with Rio Rancho. A new arena in Albuquerque needs 19k to 23k seats. University Stadium holds 42k, The Pit: 18k, Isotopes Park: 12k, Tingley Coliseum: 11.5k, the convention center’s largest auditorium: 9k, Journal Pavilion: 9k, and the Santa Ana Star Center: 7.5k. So why on earth does the city want to build a 16k seat arena? That makes no sense. No offense to the T-Birds, but this city shouldn’t build a new arena for a D-League team. Concerts? No. We should not build arenas for concerts. Let LiveNation, Clear Channel and HOB take care of concert venues. Conventions? What can a 16k seat arena host that a 20k seat arena can’t?

I’m skeptical of anyone who supports the current arena proposal. There just isn’t a need for a 16k seat arena. Who stands to benefit from this thing? The developer gets a nice payday, elected officials get to give voters a shiny (albeit, unnecessary)
gift, and Albuquerque sports fans gets the same old minor league teams. Great deal, huh.

Economic revitalization? A 16k seat can’t touch the revitalization a 20k seat arena brings. Yes, you may get more conventions, but will Burqueños regularly attend minor league arena football games in their new pint sized arena? Uh, no. And who the hell cares about these ultra-minor league teams anyway? What kind of press do these clubs get? How do they contribute to enhancing Albuquerque’s image? Economic revitalization of Downtown? Why not look the whole city’s economic health? Will an af2 team really raise Albuquerque’s profile? Will major corporations see a CHL team as huge quality of life incentive — enough to relocate operations here? NO!

We aren’t competing (well, directly competing) with Dayton, Scantron, and Little Rock. In the Southwest we compete against Phoenix, Denver, Tuscon, El Paso, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City. Phoenix and Denver have teams in all the big four sports leagues. Las Vegas has a gambling problem to settle before it enters those ranks (but they do have big time boxing and MMA). SLC has a NBA team, and — hello — they’ve hosted the Winter Olympics. So that leaves us in the company of Tuscon and El Paso for Southwestern metropolitan areas without a major sports franchise. El Paso is the 21st largest city in the country, followed by Tucson at 32nd and Albuquerque at 33rd. In terms of metropolitan areas, Tuscon is the 52nd largest in the county, Albuquerque place at 61st and El Paso at 68th. Albuquerque’s television market is 44th in the country, Tuscon is 68th, and El Paso is 99th. Albuquerque’s radio market is 69th, Tucson’s is 61st, and El Paso’s is 76th.

Unfortunately, C. H. Johnson never looked at Tucson or El Paso when creating its market analysis. Nope, they looked city’s shooting for af2 and CHL/ECHL franchises. Ugh. The closest city to Albuquerque (in distance and in sense of ‘metro area’) in Johnson’s analysis is Oklahoma City. Fine. Let’s look at the numbers and see what we get. According to Johnson’s Market Analysis, Albuquerque has a media market size of 1,707,100, and Oklahoma City has a media market size of 1,642,300. OKC has a population of 1,083,346, and Albuquerque has a population of 712,738. Whoa! A team in Albuquerque would have a bigger media market than a team in OKC despite a population difference of roughly 300k? Folks, this is kind of important. OKC doesn’t have a professional club in any of the four major sports leagues, at least not yet. When the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets were forced out of the Crescent City by Hurricane Katrina, they found themselves in OKC; in front of frenzied sellout crowds. The Hornets returned to New Orleans to help mend that city’s psyche, and rightfully so, but a group of OKC businessmen liked what they saw while the Hornets were in town. Light bulb! What did they do? Bought the Seattle Supersonics! What’s the deal with the Sonics? Their aging arena sucked! OKC could give them a first class NBA ready arena and fans. What can’t OKC give the Sonics? A market as large as Albuquerque’s!

Ok, here is where I have to remind myself to breathe. Deep breath. Good.

Yes, Albuquerque has a larger market than OKC despite its smaller population. The real problem, as C. H. Johnson points out, is that we lack large firms in Albuquerque. Our biggest employers include Kirtland Air Force Base, APS, and UNM. There is nothing wrong with that per se, it just… those kinds of employers don’t buy fancy suites. (Does anyone remember Sun Healthcare’s box at University Stadium? It put everything else to shame. Fifty yard line, outfitted in Ernst Thomas, televisions and catering… oh, baby. Too bad nobody tried to keep them HQ’d at One Sun Plaza. Nope. Now they’re in Orange County basking in the glory of recent World Series and Stanley Cup victories.) Ah, ha! We may not have the large firms usually necessary for a NBA or NHL sized arena, but we do have that waiting list for suites at Isotopes Park. We do, in fact, have a demand for suites in this town!

Reality check. I’m not going ‘Field of Dreams’ on you, but, if you build it, at least there is a chance they will come. A 16k seat arena? Whoopy! More conventions and Journey concerts. Great. Good for you, Albuquerque.

Ok, I have one more post on sports in Albuquerque that I’d like to write. What are you doing tomorrow around… say, at this time. Fantastic. See you then.

UPDATE: What was I thinking. It’s Friday. Yeah, right, I’m going to write a post. Ha! Let’s aim for tomorrow. Happy hour starts when?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    January 14, 2008 8:05 am

    Our downtown is terribly uneven. When you’ve got gorgeous buildings sitting next to shacks, people remember the shacks. Don’t believe me? Look at Nob Hill north of Morningstar. There are a handful of great businesses worth frequenting, but how many people’s mental inventory stops at Carlisle? You get an arena in, you’ve got a brand new building (or set of buildings) that fills in a big gap.

    I’m not against a bigger arena, I’m just for whatever the city’s market can handle. They have such a limited lifespan these days, anyway. By the time Abq is ready for a pro-sports team (which really will be awhile), whatever we had built now will be decrepit.

    A good question to ask is, why would we want to compare ourselves to any of the cities mentioned above? We’ll never compete with anything in California or Las Vegas because we don’t have what they can offer. Phoenix is like Anaheim-East, which isn’t really desirable, either. Throw out population, and let’s look at cities that are analogous to us on a more intuitive level. You keep Salt Lake and you throw in Austin and Portland. I think that is the quality of life most people reading this blog would like to see Abq achieve.

  2. El Orange permalink
    January 14, 2008 5:10 pm

    Downtown is uneven, but I’m not sold on the idea that that’s unique to Albuquerque. As far as Nob Hill is concerned, I’m with you. Nob Hill (Central being the main drag and Washington and Girard as East/West boarders) is totally different at its polar ends. East Nob Hill is coming along, but they city has decided to pair it up with the revitalization of Highland (Washington to San Mateo). As I see it, the big hang up in these two neighborhoods are the motels. The owners are ready to develop those sites, but there is a ton of red tape in the way. As much as people are against knocking down a motel or two, it has to happen to revitalize that portion of Central. Great… I’ve digressed.

    John, I don’t want us putting money into a project we can’t sustain. You’re right, too. Arenas don’t have a very long lifespan. (Just another reason to fight a pint sized arena.) I’m of the opinion that we could support a professional arena team if we build an adequately sized arena. I think we have a lot of favorable numbers. (Not to say there aren’t negative ones or that our favorable ones couldn’t be more favorable.) I think if we took inventory we’d find ourselves in a pretty nice position.

    I get your point with regard to Denver and Phoenix. I think you have to include Las Vegas… maybe Phoenix, too. It wasn’t too long ago that these cities sat at the same lunch table as us. What separates us from them is their willingness to accept a California-minor role. We’re not going to do that. It’s not out style. We’re as authentic as anything you could find in California — Phoenix and Las Vegas lack an authentic, substantive history all their own (although that is slowly changing).

    Anyways, I approve our of a comparison to Portland and Austin. (Again, cities that capture authentic.) Austin is a little bigger than us (but still under a million) and I think we’re actually a little bigger than Portland (I’d have to check that one). Portland actually has a major arena franchise (NBA’s Trailblazers) and only a few years ago stole our Triple-A club! Austin has Texas’s premier college clubs — a trade off for the lack of pro clubs. (Some kind of unwritten secret deal among the metros of TX?!) Our problem, when compared to those cities, is again the number of big firms. Portland has a boatload (Not to mention one of the world’s richest men owns the Trailblazer. Nice.), and Austin packs ’em in simply as the gov’t head of an enormous economy. We have neither. Our population isn’t the problem, its the dollars we don’t have in our pockets.

  3. May 24, 2008 9:22 am

    Officially, Journal Pavilion has the capacity of 12,000. (6,000 seats and 6,000 grass) However, that leaves a lot of elbow room for seating in the grass. I would guess they could put 10,000 people in the grass

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