I was never quite quick enough to snap a picture of it up there on the jumbotron: Your Town, Your Team. It was a wonderful sentiment. It just bore no relation to reality. All you had to do was listen to the names…and the hometowns…of Falcons’ “prize winners” and you knew that almost no one in the MassMutual Center called Springfield “home”.
It was not “their town”, and now it is not “their team”. The Falcons have flown from The Nest and the “Your Town, Your Team” slogan is interestingly illustrative of why.
When it really was our team it wasn’t in our town, and when it moved to our town, it stopped being our team. How is that? When the city of Springfield had a hockey demographic, the team played in WEST Springfield; a separate municipality. I have no doubt that it was the existence of the Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds, and not any market analysis, which gave the region the opportunity to host an “original 6” AHL franchise. By the time minor league hockey outgrew the (awesome!) “cow palace with a skating rink” environs of the Coliseum and made the move to the modern brutalist Civic Center the demographics of the city and of the region had begun to shift.
School desegregation had connected every White neighborhood in the city to every Black neighborhood in ways that, right or wrong, made Whites with a sensitivity towards interactions with Blacks uncomfortable. In many cases suburban homes were still cheaper than their city equivalents and so those who wanted to leave easily could. In their place came not Black families, that population has been remarkably stable in the city over 75 years, but rather Puerto Ricans.
Hockey is not very big in Hispano-America.
Interestingly, the White families who fled the city did continue to attend AHL hockey games in Springfield. For a while. At some point, though, the practice stopped being a way to reconnect with their old hometown and instead became a sort of ritual punctuated mostly with anger about what the city had become; a community of Brown people. Ex-Springfielders respond to the city with the ire of jilted lovers, all the while pointing to every flaw and every problem in the city as justification for having fled all those years ago.
Where that leaves hockey is with a city population increasingly indifferent to its existence and a suburban population which would love to see the franchise continue, just not in their old minority infested hometown.
I hope hockey does come back. There are rumblings that should MGM gain an NHL franchise for Las Vegas it might put its AHL franchise in Springfield to support its 950 million dollar investment here. Cool.
In next week’s post I’ll delve into other options for the city and which sports might do a better job of connecting a sports franchise to who we are as a community now. The answer is baseball, by the way. Baseball. Not my favorite sport, but the one most likely to unite suburban Whites and Hispanics from the Caribbean. There’s a little more to it of course.