The York Revolution celebrates its 2017 Atlantic League title, the third in franchise history.
The Road Warriors are back.
That could be good news for the York Revolution on a number of levels.
It's not such good news for the Atlantic League.
The independent minor league released its 2018 schedule this week, with the most notable news being that the Road Warriors' return for the first time since 2011.
The Road Warriors, for those who don't know, are a traveling band of players who don't have a home facility. The Warriors will play each of their 126 games in 2018 on the road — hence the name.
They will take the place of the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Liberty Division. The Bluefish, a 20-year member of the league, have long struggled at the gate and finished last in the league in attendance in 2017 with 2,984 fans per game.
The folks in Connecticut have reportedly opted to change the Ballpark at Harbor Yard into a concert amphitheater, leaving the Bluefish without a home for 2018.
That led to the return of the Road Warriors, which will be owned and operated by the league. If the league did not replace the Bluefish with another team, it would leave the league with just seven teams, which would make scheduling a nightmare.
League officials have said they expect to again have eight home communities in 2019, although it wasn't announced where that eighth franchise will be located. High Point, North Carolina, is reportedly the likely destination.
Obviously, it's never good news when a league has one of its franchises essentially evicted, especially when that franchise has survived for two decades. It's not a good sign for the league's overall health.
Revs might be in line for more wins: Still, the league's loss could be the Revs' gain, at least in the short term.
Because they play all of their games on the road, the Warriors have a traditionally tough time attracting top players. That should come as no surprise. The prospect of spending six months riding buses and staying in motels or hotels is not a particularly attractive option.
Given the choice, players hoping to use the Atlantic League as a springboard to get back to affiliated baseball will almost always choose to sign with a team with a permanent home, rather than one that is constantly traveling.
As a result, the Warriors have always struggled to win games. In their last Atlantic League season, in 2011, they stumbled to a 38-86 record.
In comparison, the Bluefish tied for the league's best overall record in 2017 at 76-64.
Just looking at those numbers, there's little doubt that York should fare better in 18 games vs. the Warriors than they did vs. the Bluefish.
Attendance could get needed boost: In addition, the Warriors' addition means the Revs will play 18 more games at home (72) than they will on the road (54) in 2018. Again, more games at home would normally translate into more wins.
York's attendance could also get a boost with the return of the Warriors. Last year, the Revs played a 140-game schedule — 70 at home and 70 on the road. This year, they'll have 72 home games but play just 126 games overall. Each half of the league season will have 63 games, compared to 70 in 2017.
The shorter schedule means York's season will start later (April 26) and end earlier (Sept. 16) than last year, when the season started April 21 and ended Sept. 17. The games early in the season and late in the season — when kids are in school and the weather is often iffy — normally do not draw as well as during the summer months.
The shorter schedule will also allow the Revs to have more off dates and fewer home dates on weekdays, when attendance also lags when compared to weekend games.
There's no doubt that York could use a boost at the gate. Last year the team averaged 3,222 fans, which was the worst in its 11-year franchise history, which dates back to 2007. That's down more than 1,000 fans per game from the team's high-water attendance mark of 4,351 in 2008. In 2017, York was sixth in the eight-team league in attendance.
Some of the attendance woes could be attributed to the team's disappointing first half, when the Revs finished 28-42 and last in the Freedom Division. The team rebounded to win the Freedom Division second half at 40-30, but by that time some fans might have already given up on the season.
Title should help sell tickets: The fact that York caught fire in the second half and then stormed through the playoffs and earned the third league championship in franchise history should also boost the team's ticket sales in 2018.
After all, everyone loves a winner.
York will begin its defense of its title on Thursday, April 26, 2018, when it welcomes Freedom Division foe Lancaster to PeoplesBank Park. A War of the Roses contest against the rival Barnstormers in the battle for the Community Cup should get the team off to a good start at the gate.
It could be the beginning of a promising season for the Revs in both the win-loss column and at the turnstiles.
More wins and more fans — it's a combination the York franchise would welcome with open arms.
— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.
THROUGH THE YEARS
(Average attendance per game)
Attendance figures provided by the Atlantic League.