Sports Business and Travel & Tourism

Grand Rapids ranks as 'Top 10' minor league sports market

August 18, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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The West Michigan Whitecaps, founded in 1994, are the Class A minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Photo via

Grand Rapids is rising in the world of sports.

In a national ranking of minor league markets by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal yesterday, Grand Rapids ranks No. 10, thanks to the efforts of the West Michigan Whitecaps, Grand Rapids Griffins and Grand Rapids Drive.

“Grand Rapids is a relatively young market by our study’s standards,” says the journal's post on Grand Rapids. “The area’s oldest franchise, the Class A Whitecaps, is in the midst of its 23rd season. But by all measures, the market’s sports business metrics are surging.”

The ranking, published every two years since 2005, has seen Grand Rapids rise more than 150 spots since 2011. Ranking No. 178 in 2011, the city rocketed up to No. 36 in 2013.


To compile the ranking, SportsBusiness Journal tracked 229 markets and 286 teams in 48 leagues. Due to a lack of data in 17 markets, 212 markets were ranked. Markets with an MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA or MLS franchise were not included.

The research found an attendance figure of 247.7 million, with more than $2.1 billion in construction at 93 new and renovated venues.

The research also found that win-loss record has little variance on attendance figures when looking at the past 16 years of results.

The results were ranked based on tenure, attendance rank and economic rank.


The Whitecaps drew 398,694 fans to Fifth Third Ballpark last year, the highest total since 405,612 fans came out in 2002, according to SportsBusiness Journal's post on Grand Rapids.

The post also notes the Fifth Third Ballpark fire in January 2014 and the upgrades made to the ballpark during the resulting renovations.

Fifth Third Bank also renewed its naming rights for 10 years in 2011.


With the Griffins about to begin their 20th season, the franchise is second behind the Hershey Bears in minor league hockey attendance during the past two seasons, according to the SportBusiness Journal post.

Including playoffs, Grand Rapids saw 702,677 hockey fans stroll into Van Andel Arena.

During the past nine seasons, the Griffins have had their regular season attendance increase eight of those seasons. Last season’s attendance was the highest per-game total, 8,082, since 1999-2000.


The NBA D-League’s first season in Grand Rapids saw the DeltaPlex fill up nearly 75 percent during the season, according to the SportsBusiness Journal post.

SportsBusiness Journal says the addition of the Drive "helped push" the Grand Rapids market’s support index to the top-10 level.

“Top 10 Minor League Markets”

1.   Quad Cities, Iowa
2.   Toledo, Ohio
3.   Fort Wayne, Ind.
4.   Tulsa, Okla.
5.   Charleston, S.C.
6.   Des Moines, Iowa
7.   Sioux Falls, S.D.
8.   Inland Empire, Calif.
9.   Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa.
10. Grand Rapids

Other Michigan cities

Kalamazoo ranks No. 68 with the East Coast Hockey League's Kalamazoo K-Wings.

Lansing ranks No. 79 with the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts. Midland ranks No. 92 with the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons.

Traverse City ranks No. 143 with the independent Frontier League's Traverse City Beach Bums.

Port Huron ranks No. 194 with the Central Hockey League's Port Huron Icehawks and the Continental Indoor Football League's Port Huron Patriots. 

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