Study Finds Thunderbirds Have $126 Million Impact on Local Economy
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Thunderbirds released the results of a comprehensive economic-impact study conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute that shows the team’s operations have generated $126 million for the local economy since 2017.
“The Thunderbirds organization is proud of the incredible impact we have had on businesses, employees, and communities throughout the Pioneer Valley,” said Nathan Costa, president of the Springfield Thunderbirds. “Our local ownership group joined forces in 2016 not just to save professional hockey in Springfield, but to ensure our organization became a driving force for the region’s civic and economic life. Since that time, we have enjoyed success both on and off the ice: record attendance, a Calder Cup Final appearance, memorable celebrity appearances, community events, and even the AHL All-Star Game. This report by the UMass Donahue Institute utilizes economic data to quantify this impact and bring the T-Birds success story to life.”
The study included an analysis of team operations data, MassMutual Center concessions figures, a survey of more than 2,000 T-Birds patrons, and interviews with local business owners and other local stakeholders. Among its most critical findings, the study shows that the T-Birds created $76 million in cumulative personal income throughout the region and contributed $10 million to state and local taxes.
“As the Thunderbirds’ presenting sponsor, and as the manager of the MassMutual Center, we witness firsthand the impact the team has on our local economy,” MGM Springfield President Chris Kelley said. “For over 30 nights each season, the T-Birds draw thousands of hockey fans to downtown Springfield, filling the bars and restaurants along Main Street and MGM. The success of the Thunderbirds — both on and off the ice — is a story that should be celebrated. In just seven years, we have gone from nearly losing professional hockey to having one of the AHL’s most admired franchises.”
The study paints a picture of a franchise whose on- and off-ice success is having a ripple effect far beyond the MassMutual Center. The impact on downtown Springfield businesses is especially profound. Seventy-eight percent of T-Birds fans spend money on something other than hockey when they go to a game, including 68% who are patronizing a bar, restaurant, or MGM Springfield. The study also found that median spending by fans outside the arena is $40 per person on game nights and that every dollar of T-Birds’ revenue is estimated to yield $4.09 of additional economic activity in the Pioneer Valley.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno noted that downtown establishments like Red Rose, White Lion, and Theodores’ are packed before and after games. “The foot traffic is tremendous when they’re in town.”
The T-Birds’ economic impact also translates into jobs throughout the region. Since the team’s inaugural season, it has doubled the number of jobs created from 112 in 2017 to 236 in 2023. The study estimates that income per job created by the T-Birds is approximately $76,000 for the Pioneer Valley and that each job at the Thunderbirds creates or supports 3.28 other jobs elsewhere in the Pioneer Valley.
In addition to supporting local businesses, the Thunderbirds have been dedicated to making a difference in the community. In 2018, the team established the T-Birds Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity, to support local initiatives in the areas of health and wellness, youth enrichment, and civil service. To date, the foundation has made more than $300,000 in contributions to organizations and charitable events throughout the Pioneer Valley. Team players, personnel, and mascot Boomer have also been at the forefront of this community-first ideology, combining for more than 1,500 appearances since 2016, including more than 350 during the 2022-23 season alone.
“Their involvement in the community is at many different levels,” said Michelle Grout, executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District. “Every single game night, they’re doing something to support, promote, and contribute to a local nonprofit, business, community effort. They are contributing partners on every level; it’s just not one note.”
In addition to measuring the team’s impact, the Donahue Institute study also analyzed the T-Birds’ fan demographics. Average attendance has skyrocketed from last in the league under the previous franchise to 6,162 per game last season, a Springfield hockey record. That growth has been mirrored in fan social-media engagement, which includes 32,000 Facebook followers and a reach of 1.1 million, 24,600 Instagram followers and a reach of 600,000, and 15,200 X/Twitter followers and 8 million impressions.
The study found that these fans are coming from all backgrounds and walks of life, with a relatively even split of fans by age and gender. While attendees hail from across the country, the vast majority come from the Pioneer Valley. The study found the top five fan communities to be Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, West Springfield, and Ludlow.
“They’re including the community in their events, and the community has embraced it,” noted Stacey Gravanis, general manager of the Sheraton Springfield. “I don’t recall our AHL teams ever having so many sold-out events.
“It’s more than just hockey,” she added. “It’s been wonderful for the city of Springfield.”
The study also identified the top five reasons these fans come to T-Birds games. Eighty percent of respondents indicated that the number-one reason they come to games is the hockey. This was followed by fans seeking affordable entertainment. Family-friendly activities came in third place, with theme nights and celebrity appearances rounding out the top five.
“They’ve turned hockey into family fun,” said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau. “And as a result of that, I think they have gained a number of new fans along the way.”