Is Des Moines Ready for the Big Leagues?

Does success of Des Moines' minor league teams mean that it's ready for a pro franchise?

Des Moines is a great city for many reasons. It’s a nice area to raise a family or go out on the town and catch a game. Des Moines has many minor league teams that thrive in the metro area. They have been thriving so much that Des Moines has been recently voted the No. 1 minor league sports city by the Sportsbusiness Journal.

This begs the question: Is Des Moines ready for the big leagues?

The Iowa Barnstormers are the highest level of football in the state of Iowa. While arena football is less popular than the NFL, it is not less competitive. An arena football team roster consists of only 20 players, which makes it very difficult to earn a spot. Grand View has a small connection to the Barnstomers with players such as Brady Roland, a former player, and Grant Rohach, who is a current coach here, on their roster. Former Barnstormer Kurt Warner is an Iowan well-known for making it to the NFL with his performance in arena football.

Images by Jake Thompson

“I think it’s very interesting that the Barnstormers fans in Des Moines have almost a more personal attachment to (Kurt Warner) because they met him when he was here and trying to get (to the NFL),” said Juli Pettit, the Barnstormers marketing/social media coordinator. “I think that’s kind of unique and something that Des Moines should hold on to.”

Des Moines fans have proven themselves capable of supporting a single NFL player or an arena league team, but could they support a professional sports organization?

There is no doubt that Des Moines is growing at an unprecedented rate. Since 2000, Des Moines has grown in population by 15,865 according to the U.S Census Bureau. The city of Des Moines is going to continue to grow year after year. In March of last year, the U.S Census Bureau labeled Des Moines as the Fastest Growing City in the Midwest.

The cities surrounding Des Moines are also growing at an impressive rate, such as Polk City, Waukee, and Ankeny. These big cities add to the Des Moines population and would bring in additional fans if Des Moines were to gain a pro organization.

Des Moines, Newark and St. Paul are all pretty good sized cities with populations between about 250,000 and 300,000 people. The only thing that distinguishes them from Des Moines is they both have a professional hockey organization in their cities. The problem is Newark has New York City in its backyard to bring in fans, and the same applies to St. Paul with Minneapolis. Des Moines does not have a sizable neighbor at this time to bring in fans to support a professional-caliber team. Once the cities around them grow in time, then the possibility for a pro team is greater.

Allie Brown, the Iowa Wild’s director of fan development and creative services, is optimistic about Des Moines and the possibility of an NHL team in the future.

“I think if you have a good product and you support the local community, I think they will support you back,” Brown said. “I do think it is definitely a possibility.”

The Iowa Wild, an American Hockey League team, has been able to retain fans through programs in the Des Moines community, such as floor hockey and reading programs. Now in their 5th season, the Wild are hoping to popularize the sport of hockey in the Des Moines area. Brown said she wants to bring people out of their living rooms from watching Netflix and come to a game and enjoy some entertainment, especially in the winter.

“We’ve always had great support from the Des Moines market,” said Brent Conkel, vice president of marketing for the Iowa Cubs.

The Chicago Cubs have fans in Des Moines with the Cubs only being a modest six-hour drive away. However, Conkel said the idea of an organization that is at the professional level here in Des Moines doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. But he didn’t rule it out long-term.

“We have very strong support for our minor league teams; if we can grow that then you never know,” said Conkel.

In conclusion, Des Moines simply isn’t big enough to host a large professional sports team, like an NBA or NFL team.  However, there may be room for an NHL team within a few years if fans continue to learn and appreciate hockey, as well as attend Iowa Wild games. Although Iowa has loyal sports fans, numbers are what bring in the big bucks.

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