MassMutual Center – Springfield Thunderbirds
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You’ve Been Thunderstruck
The MassMutual Center, built in 1972 as the Springfield Civic Center and remodeled in 2005, is located in downtown Springfield, MA. Attached to the arena is a convention center, which is the largest in western Massachusetts. In addition to hosting minor league hockey, the Hartford Whalers called the building home for part of the 1978 season when a roof collapse at the Hartford Civic Center forced the Whalers to search for a temporary home.
The city of Springfield is a charter member of the American Hockey League, and has a hockey history that goes all the way back to 1926. Seven Calder Cup Championship teams have played in Springfield. Although Springfield has a lengthy membership in the AHL, there hasn’t always been an amicable relationship between the team and league. The Indians left the circuit on three different occasions due to disagreements between team management and the league. Overall, the Indians (who were rebranded as the Kings from 1967-74) played in Springfield for 60 seasons before moving to Worcester in 1994.
Ex-Indian players Bruce Landon and Wayne LaChance secured an expansion franchise for the following season, but the team, named the Falcons, was plagued by inconsistent attendance and a revolving door of affiliations. Over their 22 seasons, the Falcons were affiliated with Hartford, Winnipeg (the original Jets), Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Columbus and Arizona. At the conclusion of the 2015-16 season it was announced that the Coyotes were purchasing the franchise and moving the team to Tucson, Arizona to play in the Tucson Arena.
On May 4, 2016 the Portland Pirates announced an agreement to sell the team to a consortium of local business owners and relocate it to Springfield for the 2016-17 season. The team is named the Thunderbirds, and is affiliated with the Florida Panthers.
Food & Beverage 3
There are several permanent stands located around the inner ring of the MassMutual Center concourse. Despite the good number of stands, variety is certainly lacking.
Most of the stands offer only the most basic of menus, with hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, pretzels and candy available. Beverages can also be purchased at these stands, with Pepsi products featured at the MassMutual Center. Chick-fil-A operates a popular stand behind section 30, where fans can get their famous chicken sandwich in regular and spicy varieties.
Fans looking for a little variety should head over to the Center Grill, located behind section 7. Hungry Thunderbird fans will find burgers, fries and chicken tenders here, along with a variety of beverages. The Breakaway Bar and Lounge offers a selection of adult beverages in a lounge setting.
There is a wide variety of beer and other adult beverages sold at the MassMutual Center. Thirsty fans can select from several national brands, including Blue Moon, Coors Light, Sam Adams, Labatt’s, Guinness and Harp. Fans looking for local craft beer should head to the Lagunitas cart behind section 23.
There is no permanent team store at the Mass Mutual Center, but a decent variety of Thunderbirds merchandise is available at a stand outside of section 29.
If you haven’t been to the MassMutual Center recently, you will immediately notice the giant new HD scoreboard which dominates the view from every corner of the arena. The 18 foot by 12 foot square scoreboard, which debuted in the 2015-16 season, was the first piece of a $3.2 million improvement plan, which will eventually bring an 85 foot long video board running the length of the arena, as well as LED signage both inside and outside the arena.
The game day presentation here in Springfield is pretty typical of minor league hockey. The game day staff does their best to keep the casual hockey fan entertained. There are contests, giveaways, and t-shirt tosses throughout the game. Veteran minor league hockey fans will find all the usual promos present here, from the 50/50 raffle to the chuck a puck, and everything in between.
With Springfield located solidly in Boston Bruin territory, if you happen to be at a Providence Bruins game, expect a larger, livelier crowd than usual.
Visitors to downtown Springfield will be disappointed with the lack of places to eat in the immediate vicinity of the MassMutual Center. Locals flock to the nearby Red Rose Pizzeria, a Springfield institution that has been in business since 1963. Be sure to get there early, as wait times can be significant. Nadim’s offers up traditional Mediterranean and Lebanese dishes less than a block from the arena. With the lack of options in the area, most fans choose to eat elsewhere when going to a Thunderbirds game.
Even without many downtown attractions, there is no lack of places to stay downtown. Both the Springfield Marriot and Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place are within walking distance of the arena.
While downtown Springfield suffers from a poor reputation, and it can hardly be considered a destination location, the area around the MassMutual Center is safe, and there are some attractions for those visiting fans looking for more to do in Springfield.
Springfield’s biggest attraction is located just a mile away from the MassMutual Center, across Route 91. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is open year round, and has more than enough basketball memorabilia on site to satisfy even the most rabid hoop fan. Those interested in more literary pursuits should visit the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, located a short walk from the Mass Mutual Center. While there you can see bronze statues of the Cat in the Hat, Horton the elephant, and many other favorites.
Springfield hockey fans have turned out in impressive numbers for the Thunderbirds, averaging about 4,700 fans per game in 2016-17. This represents about a 30% increase over the final season of the Falcons, and ironically, more than 700 fans per game than the old Falcons are averaging in Tucson. This figure still places the Thunderbirds below the league average. Springfield’s location firmly in the midst of Boston Bruins country certainly affects attendance. Games with the Providence Bruins are generally the best-attended games on the schedule.
The fans that do come to the MassMutual Center are typical of most minor league fans. The team markets itself to the family demographic, and you will find a good mix of seasoned hockey fans along with these families. The Thunderbirds staff makes sure that there is enough activity going on to keep even the casual fan engaged in the action.
The city of Springfield dubs itself as “the crossroads of New England.” Located at the intersections of Interstates 91 and 90, Springfield is only a 90 minutes’ drive west of Boston, a half hour north of Hartford, and 90 minutes east of Albany. New York City is a mere 2 and one half hour drive away. Bradley International Airport is located only 18 miles away across the Connecticut state line and is served by all major airlines. The headquarters of Peter Pan Buses, as well as Springfield’s Amtrak station are both located just a half mile away on Main Street. The MassMutual Center is located just a few blocks from I-91.
There is a parking garage directly across the street from the entrance to the Mass Mutual Center, as well as a few surface lots. There is also plenty of free on-street parking in the vicinity for the frugal hockey fan.
Fans will enter into the MassMutual Center from Bruce Landon Way, where the lobby and ticket offices are located. A pair of staircases bring fans up to the main concourse, which circles the entire arena. Numerous entryways deposit fans onto an inner concourse, which circles the rink, dividing the seating bowl into upper and lower sections. Handicapped seating is located along this inner walkway, with additional accessible seating atop the seating bowl.
The concourse at MassMutual Center is rather narrow, and can become congested, particularly when there is a larger crowd. Likewise, the restrooms, which are clean and roomy, can become crowded during intermissions. Otherwise, fans should have no issues navigating around the arena.
Return on Investment 4
Thunderbird tickets are among the most inexpensive in the league, with the majority of seats ranging in price between $15 and $23. Premium seats on the glass cost $30, and selected seats are value priced at $10. Purchasing tickets on game day will cost an extra two dollars. Parking is free this season in the garage directly across the street from the arena, and there is on-street parking available for fans willing to search the area. Despite Springfield’s less than sterling reputation, the area around the MassMutual Center is safe.
Springfield has been a member of the American Hockey League since its founding days, and has fielded teams under several different names throughout the league’s 80 year history. The city is proud of its long hockey history, and efforts are made to remind fans of the history that has been made here. Plaques honoring Springfield hockey’s hall of famers are mounted on the inner concourse wall, and Championship banners honoring Springfield teams dating back to the Indians and Kings hang from the rafters.
Another extra point is awarded for the city’s continued efforts to keep minor league hockey in Springfield against all odds.
The city of Springfield, which suffered from having several other American Hockey League teams located nearby on nearly every side, has seen teams leave Albany, Worcester and Lowell in recent years while Manchester and Glens Falls have been relegated to the ECHL. The new ownership group seems to have found a successful formula, offering increased value and promotions compared to previous years. Time will tell if the AHL will remain in western Massachusetts, or if the relationship with the Panthers is doomed to fail as so many others have here in the Crossroads of New England.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
Tower Square Hotel Springfield
2 Boland Way
Springfield, MA 01115
Sheraton Springfield at Monarch Place
One Monarch Place
Springfield, MA 01144
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