DAVENPORT, Iowa/MOLINE, Ill. - When it comes to minor league sports, there is no place like the Quad Cities. The bi-state region joined by the Mississippi River is the No. 1 minor league sports market in the country, according to the Sports Business Journal in its latest biennial ranking of more than 229 communities coast to coast that are home to 386 teams and 48 leagues in the sports industry.
Home to the Quad City Mallards, ECHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild in Moline, Ill., and the Quad Cities River Bandits, Midwest League Class-A affiliate of the Houston Astros in Davenport, Iowa, the Quad Cities leaped from the No. 86 ranking in 2011 and the No. 48 ranking in 2013 to claim the top spot, according to the Sports Business Journal's announcement on Monday.
"The Quad Cities scored well in every facet of our study," said SportsBusiness Journal research director David Broughton. "The fans continue to come to the games, the facilities are constantly updated and the clubs each have a long tenure. It's really the perfect combination for our study."
"This rating shows how vital sports are to Quad Cities economic development by being a cool, creative, and prosperous region and destination," said Joe Taylor, President/CEO of the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau and chair of Quad Cities Sports Commission. "Room nights attributed to sports are more than half of all new hotel room nights generated in the Quad Cities, one reason our community benefits from and is able to support an ever growing inventory of hotel rooms."
QUAD CITIES RIVER BANDITS
Since their first season under Main Street Baseball's ownership in 2008, the River Bandits have drawn nearly two million fans to Modern Woodmen Park, making it the most successful run in the region's proud sports history. Under Main Street Baseball, per-game attendance has increased nearly 75 percent. Last season, the River Bandits drew 3,885 fans per home game - setting a per-game attendance record for the franchise - and the team is currently on track to shatter that record this season. In addition, sponsorships, concession sales, merchandise sales and group sales, as well as revenue from non-baseball events have all more than doubled, and in some cases, quintupled, since Main Street Baseball took over.
To celebrate Monday's announcement, the River Bandits will be selling all general admission tickets to their 7 p.m. game Wednesday for just one dollar each at Modern Woodmen Park, which was voted the No. 1 Minor League Ballpark in a 2013 USA TODAY and 10Best.com poll.
"I have long said that the best fans in the world are right here in the Quad Cities, and having our market ranked the best minor league sports market in the country is another validation of that," said River Bandits owner Dave Heller. "This award is a testament to the special symbiotic relationship that our club has with the City of Davenport and the Mallards have with Moline and the State of Illinois; the Quad Cities earned this ranking because of the way the community has supported us and the way they have partnered with their teams to invest in their facilities. I love that our fans can see a game in the number one minor league ballpark in America in the number one minor league sports market in America - and Wednesday they can do it for just one dollar!"
The River Bandits' success under Main Street Baseball, and the number of awards and accolades the team and its ballpark have earned in the past seven-and-a-half seasons has been unprecedented in Minor League Baseball. Four times in the past seven seasons, Modern Woodmen Park has been recognized by Ballpark Digest with the nation's Best Ballpark Improvement award. This year, the team's name was voted one of the top eight in Minor League Baseball in a Sporting News contest. In May, the team's logo was voted among the top eight - and best in the Midwest League - in Baseball America's Logo Mania, and Modern Woodmen Park's R.I.A. Federal Credit Union Hon. Lane Evans Patriot Seats were voted the No. 2 Best Seats at any minor league ballpark in the country - and the top view of any ballpark at the Class-A and short season level - by fans on MiLB.com. In June, fans voted Modern Woodmen Park the "Best of the Ballparks" in a Ballpark Digest contest featuring all 30 Class-A ballparks. Recently, the team's was cap voted among the top three in Minor League Baseball - and best of any Class-A club. The club also recently won a Golden Bobblehead Award recognizing the best promotions in Minor League Baseball and has been nominated for another this season.
No minor league baseball team has played in an older ballpark for longer than the Quad Cities Midwest League franchise (begun in 1960) has played in Modern Woodmen Park along the Mississippi River in Davenport. The venue opened in 1931 as Davenport Municipal Stadium (1931-1971) and was later known as John O'Donnell Stadium (1971-2007).
"By improving local venues and giving unprecedented support to teams that offer affordable, family-friendly entertainment, people across the Quad Cities region and their leaders have proven why this is the top minor league market in the country," said River Bandits General Manager Andrew Chesser. "The River Bandits are blessed to play at Modern Woodmen Park, where the community has given outstanding support and development. We look forward to celebrating the No. 1 minor league market with one-dollar admission on Wednesday at the ballpark!"
Currently holding the best record in Class-A baseball, the River Bandits have already clinched a playoff spot for the fourth time in six seasons by winning the Midwest League Western Division first-half title. The Quad Cities franchise has won six Midwest League Championships, including two in the last four seasons. The team will begin this season's playoffs on Sept. 9.
QUAD CITY MALLARDS
A series of successes both on and off the ice has enabled the Mallards to do their part in propelling the Quad Cities to the top of the biennial survey. The Mallards' season ticket base has more than doubled in the last two seasons while weekend attendance at the iWireless Center increased by 25 percent in 2014-15. In addition, the team's group ticket sales increased by a whopping 50 percent last season.
"We acquired the team because we believed in the Quad Cities market and we're thrilled to see the strides we've made validate that belief," said Jordan Melville, director of QCM Holdings, the Mallards' ownership group. "We're looking forward to continuing to work with the Quad Cities community to continue to grow the Mallards and we remain committed to putting a product on the ice our fans can be proud of."
The Mallards' upswing began shortly after QCM Holdings' assumption of ownership in 2012 and the arrival of team president Bob McNamara in 2013 and continued last season when the club moved to the ECHL, the premier "AA" hockey league in North America.
"It's a tremendous honor for the Quad Cities to be named the top minor league market in the nation," said McNamara. "It's a testament to the great support we've received from the fans of the Quad Cities area and their commitment to their teams. This is also a wonderful validation for the hard work we've put in as an organization over the last couple of years and the significant improvements we've seen as a result."
The Mallards have provided fans thronging to the iWireless Center with plenty to cheer about by making three consecutive playoff appearances since Terry Ruskowski took over as the team's coach and general manager in 2012.
"It's amazing to see how far these teams have come in the ten years I have been here in the Quad Cities area," said iWireless Center executive director Scott Mullen. "Especially in recent years with two top notch team owners who have both gone all out for this community. Jordan Melville and Dave Heller have really built something to be proud of and we are all extremely fortunate for the investment that these two sports- and business-savvy professionals have made in the Quad Cities."
The iWireless Center is known throughout the country as being a first class arena and has done a remarkable job in continually updating the facility. The venue is currently in the process of adding brand new lower bowl seating, a food court, installing additional restrooms, upgrading the arena lighting, constructing a new box office and lobby all to be completed prior to the upcoming season.
The Mallards will begin their nineteenth regular season on the road against the Allen Americans on Friday, October 16 before returning to the iWireless Center to play their home opener on Friday, October 23 against the Tulsa Oilers.
QUOTES FROM QUAD CITIES LEADERS
Below are comments on the Quad Cities' No. 1 minor league market ranking from local and regional leaders on both sides of the Mississippi River:
Bill Gluba, Mayor, City of Davenport, through his office issued the following statement with respect to the Quad Cities named the No. 1 minor league market in the nation: "This is yet another example of the Quad Cities and Davenport receiving fantastic national recognition. It puts us on the map and helps to keep moving Davenport forward." The Mayor said tourism brings in $800 million and supports some 7,000 full- and part-time jobs in the hospitality and tourist industry. He commended Joe Taylor, Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dave Heller with the River Bandits, and Bob Hoffman with the Mallards for their outstanding work. This is yet another milestone and accomplishment for the Quad Cities.
Scott Raes, Mayor, City of Moline: "As a life long resident of Moline, I am proud to be a part of the Quad Cities #1 minor league sport ranking. I have been enjoying ball games in Davenport for over 50 years. Quad Cities fans have always been great and now this proves it. Way to go QC!"
Tara Barney, President/CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber: "As the Quad Cities competes in a global market for top talent, quality of place is more important than ever. The vibrant sports scene in the Quad Cities, along with the many other arts, culture, and entertainment amenities that residents have to choose from, adds to the draw of the Quad Cities. We're extremely proud of the great work that the River Bandits and the Mallards are doing in our community."
Cory M. Jobe, Director of the Illinois Office of Tourism: "Being ranked the '#1 Minor League Sports Market' in the nation by Sports Business Journal is a well-deserved honor for the Quad Cities. This ranking is the result of years of hard work and collaboration by those who truly understand the role sports and tourism play in driving economic development for the region. For the Quad Cities, the results are helping to improve the quality of life for residents on both sides of the Mississippi."