The city of Thunder Bay, Ontario rests on the shores of Lake Superior, near the geographic centre of Canada and the CMA is home to 121,596 people. The city also hosts two summertime sports teams; the Premier Development League’s Thunder Bay Chill and the Northwoods League’s Thunder Bay Border Cats. Not bad for a city located in the middle of nowhere. One would think, if Thunder Bay can do it there’s no reason why cities located in the Maritimes could do as well. Four Atlantic Canadian cities (Halifax, St. John’s, Moncton and Saint John) all have CMAs with a higher population, plus surrounding areas that could help support baseball (and soccer) teams. Also, the corporate presence is no worse, if not better, in all four markets.
The Chill averaged 615 fans per game (for seven home games at 2000 seat Chapples Park Stadium) in 2014, this put them in 75th place in North American soccer attendance (MLS, NASL, USL Pro, PDL, NWSL and W-League) and 15th overall in the PDL. The Border Cats, averaged 664 fans per game (for 34 openings at 3031 capacity Port Arthur Stadium) which placed them 17th (or 2nd last) in the Northwoods League. Also, the city supports Lakehead University sports, especially the hockey team. Speaking of hockey, the AHL’s St. John’s Ice Caps are scheduled to arrive in the city within a few years. This will save the parent Winnipeg Jets lots of time and money when recalling and demoting players.
There’s no reason why Atlantic markets could not at least match this in both sports. As blogged previously, I feel the USL Pro league is the best league for Atlantic markets (plus Quebec City) to join as stadiums and markets here are too small for the NASL and the PDL just seems too small to be really marketable in the area. Also, MLS teams use this league for their farm teams, TFC and the Impact could help their national brand by placing (Canadian based) farm teams in this league. The one main stumbling block is the Canadian Soccer Association refuses to sanction teams in this league. The CanAm League is the best option in baseball, all things considered. Although, if that cannot happen a Maritime/Atlantic based collegiate summer league could work if they could attract the right players (Canadians, players from top programs) north of the border.
Regardless, of what (if anything) happens, Thunder Bay has shown that there is no reason to believe that Maritime markets cannot support summertime professional (or semi-pro) sports. If they can do it, there’s no reason why baseball (or soccer) cannot work here.