My local readers will know that there has been an enormous change in the minor league sports scene since my last post on the topic: Springfield stole Portland’s AHL franchise and we are back in the hockey business. Woohoo!
It doesn’t change much about the discussion that needs to be had in the corridors of power, however. I’m not yet privy to the identities of the owners group which purchased the team on such short notice and with such surgical dexterity in terms of the extrication of the team from Maine’s most populous city, but the demographic, socio-economic, and cultural factors which played into the prior franchise’s difficulties regarding attendance have not changed whatsoever. As a reminder, and in a much condensed form, those challenges are primarily that hockey is viewed as a “white sport”, the city is increasingly a minority city, and many white suburbanites feel an antipathy for the city (in part because of its increasing minority population) and so both fear the downtown and don’t feel any sincere tribal desire for the “home town team” to defeat the out-of-towners on the opposing team…thus lacking the essential ingredient of pro sports.
In the short term then the ownership group needs to either get more city residents to attend games by making the experience more welcoming to Blacks and Hispanics, or they need to convince suburban Whites that at the very least the downtown is a safe place for them, and at most that they have some ownership in the city. Some people might see some mutual exclusivity in those goals, and they could be treated as such, but I do not think that is necessarily the case as I hope to elucidate.
The team name matters. While every fiber of my being pulls me toward Springfield’s “Original 6” nickname “Indians” I know that that is a silly road to go down and would indicate a total deafness regarding what is viewed as a significant issue regarding Native Peoples, and while I don’t think that most of the ancestors of the Taino people in Springfield, namely Puerto Ricans, would immediately take offense, I do think that it would stir up issues for the franchise better left unstirred.
In a post on the Masslive website a commenter mentioned the name Springfield Scouts as a possibility. It connects to a model of Indian Motocycle (yes, Motocycle) without of necessity being interpreted as Native American. The city was originally settled as a fur trading outpost and therefore William Pynchon could be viewed as a sort of scout. Whatever the case, some name should be found which connects to the city without alienating either suburbanites or citizens.
(Minus the Indian)
Beyond the issue of a franchise nickname I have to say that I am heartened by this turn of events. While no names have been released it is clear that this ownership group is made up of local investors. Springfield has a great deal of significant history going back to the early 1600’s, and while pro hockey may be a fairly recent addition, almost no one still living can remember a time before Springfield had a pro hockey team. While MGM has stated that it has no direct part in the ownership group I thing it would by naive to think that their $950,000,000 investment in the downtown didn’t play some role in getting other investors to move so confidently in making sure the city was not without an AHL level hockey team. It may never be revealed as such for obvious concerns regarding the connection between gambling and pro sports, but I would have no problem believing that MGM was directly behind putting together the investment group responsible for keeping pro sports in the city.
That said, a local group should know that their success is bound up with the city’s success, and the city’s success is inextricably intertwined with getting people of means to return to the city and in a society where race and wealth are so closely correlated that means getting at least some currently suburban Whites to experiment with living in the city once again. How to do that is the question. MGM non-gaming characteristics are a good start, but, perhaps paradoxically, embracing, encouraging, and developing what admittedly might be viewed as a boutique style ethnocentric art, food, and retail culture along the Main Street corridor could go a long way toward taming the beast of conflictive otherness.
Creating a little San Juan where Puerto Rican entrepreneurs, many of which are said to be fleeing the island right now due to its economic crisis, can put forward the best possible face of Caribbean culture to timid outsiders. Much as Italian-American culture suffered from a connection to organized crime for decades and decades but now my own South End is adored, if admittedly from a distance, perhaps the north blocks of Main Street from Fort Street to the arch could be transformed by the New England Farm Workers from a strip of social service agencies and vacant storefronts to a different sort of much more engaging space which, instead of forming a barrier between the heart of downtown and Union Station, could become a gateway.
Nothing in our nation’s demographic momentum points to Springfield being anything other than a majority minority community. Giving the ever changing definition of “White” I suppose that Hispanics in this country could be transformed into whiteness, hockey could become more broadly a less melanin challenged sport, but both of those changes are beyond the ability of our community to control, in the interim then I recommend a marketing effort for our new franchise which highlights, and not hides, our city’s diversity, one which connects the arctic and the tropics in a sort of real life Biodôme.
Watch the Scouts, eat mofongo!