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May 3, 2024

NYC marketer sees opportunity for NBA expansion team in Hartford-Springfield region

Contributed An NBA expansion team, the New England Founders, is being proposed for the Hartford-Springfield market.

A marketer based in New York City has a vision for New England to have an NBA expansion team that would play at the XL Center in Hartford.

Called the New England Founders, the team would have dual homes at the XL Center and MassMutual Center in Springfield. The Founders would play most of their games at Hartford’s 15,000-seat arena and about 10 per season at the MassMutual Center, which has about 8,000 seats, according to the proposal.

Clarence Blair

It’s the brainchild of Clarence Blair, a Springfield native, who heads B.L.A.I.R. Creative Marketing Solutions. He’s developed a marketing plan, has created a website – – and plans to meet with leaders from both cities. He’s also advertising on social media.

“We’re trying to inspire the region and let it gain its own identity,” Blair said in an interview with the Hartford Business Journal. “I think it would do wonders for the area of Connecticut and for southern western Massachusetts. We've been underserved in the (professional sports) realm. It's a great vibrant area, and I think more eyes can be on it.”

Blair says the NBA expansion team would capitalize on Springfield’s “hoops heritage” – basketball was invented by a Springfield College instructor and graduate student in 1891 – and the popularity of UConn basketball.

Springfield is also home to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The strategy also involves leveraging strategic partnership with businesses, including MGM Springfield, the media, schools and community organizations, according to the proposal.

Blair is also interested in the possibility of building a new state-of-the-art arena in a central location between the two cities, potentially in Enfield or Windsor Locks.

He said the Springfield-Hartford market is ripe for a professional sports team, as evidenced by a 2019 survey by Sports Media Watch, which ranked the market 13th among the 56 metered markets in the U.S. for average NBA regular season rankings.

Also, Nielsen ratings for 2023-24 show the Hartford-New Haven region is the largest television market in the U.S. without a professional “big four” sports team (meaning a team that competes in the NBA, NHL, MLB or NFL).

Connecticut’s only major league team, the NHL Hartford Whalers, departed in 1997.

Blair said the NBA franchise would enhance the region’s image and identity, boosting the economy and tourism, while also expanding the NBA’s fan base. The expansion team would join the NBA’s Eastern Conference, which also includes the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.

Blair said he’s encouraged by a planned $100 million overhaul of the XL Center. The project is aimed at making the venue more effective at drawing concerts and events, but has stalled after bids came in $40 million higher than budgeted.

The XL Center currently hosts UConn basketball and hockey, the Hartford Wolf Pack AHL hockey team and other events throughout the year.

In 2009, the XL Center hosted an NBA pre-season game – the Boston Celtics vs. the Toronto Raptors.

From 1975 to 1995, then known as the Hartford Civic Center, the venue served as a second home to the Celtics. The Celtics played 66 regular season games there, posting an impressive 46-20 record.

Also, it was home to the Connecticut Coyotes and later the New England Sea Wolves of the Arena Football League in the 1990s.

Blair said he’s looking for investors and partners to help the idea gain traction.

“Right now, it's just myself and my marketing company,” Blair said. “We’re just trying to come up with creative ways to give this idea some legs.”

Blair’s efforts likely face an uphill climb. According to NBC Sports, the expansion fee that new ownership groups must pay to the NBA is about $3 billion. Adding an NBA franchise in Hartford/Springfield would also likely get pushback from existing teams in nearby New York (the Knicks and Nets) and Boston (the Celtics).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has publicly acknowledged the possibility of adding new franchises to the 30-team league, but the Hartford/Springfield markets haven’t been part of those conversations. There has been interest expressed in adding teams in Las Vegas and Seattle.

As recently as March, Gov. Ned Lamont expressed interest in recruiting an NHL hockey team to come to Hartford. 

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