Gold prep for first season downtown

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    Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Gold

    For the first time since the team was founded in 2006, the Grand Rapids Gold have moved to a new and larger space. Following the sudden closure of the team’s former home base, the DeltaPlex, in May of this year, the team was left in search of a new venue.

    President Steve Jbara said the team had been considering a move to downtown Grand Rapids prior to the DeltaPlex closure, but hadn’t quite felt ready to make that big change.

    “We were doing well in our smaller space, and I guess not necessarily having the fortitude to make that leap, we stayed where we were at,” Jbara said. “Then the DeltaPlex changes ownership and I think sometimes it takes a push to try and do something different or harder when things are going OK. That change of ownership of the DeltaPlex pushed us.”

    This quick shift in location is the start of a new phase for the Gold, as the team transitions from playing at a venue on the outskirts of the city to the high-profile Van Andel Arena in the heart of downtown. The change of pace will put pressure on the team to prove a worthwhile investment for the venue and keep thousands of seats full.

    “(Going) to a building that’s twice the size of the place we were before and almost twice the cost, the worst thing that could happen to us is to be downtown and have nobody show up,” Jbara said.

    While the team’s small, dedicated fanbase served the Gold well in its previous venue, shifting gears to a central location in Grand Rapids means the team has to cast a wider net to ensure their games are well-attended.

    Jbara anticipates a change in audience, as people enjoying the downtown area on a typical evening are drawn off the sidewalk to engage, rather than having to travel outside of town to attend games. The Gold likely will see more tourist attention and weeknight attendees as people traveling into the city are offered a sports entertainment option for their free time. The team is the minor league affiliate of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.

    “I think the entertainment value is so good, once we get people in they come back,” Jbara said, adding he is confident in the team’s ability to attract and retain a new and broader following.

    The venue change also is sparking attention at a national level, as Grand Rapids was ranked No. 6 in Sports Business Journal’s top 10 minor league markets. According to a release, the Gold’s move downtown was noted as a reason for this ranking.

    “The arena was renovated in 2020, and this summer’s relocation of the Gold from an old arena in the suburbs to Van Andel downtown should certainly provide the market a boost,” said Sports Business Journal’s David Broughton, research director.

    In addition to this recognition, the Gold also is making headlines for its recent announcement of a new coach. Andre Miller, a 17-year NBA veteran, is bringing name recognition — and 1,304 career games of experience — to the role.

    The Los Angeles native spent seven seasons with the Nuggets in Denver over two stints (2003-07, 2011-14), boasting averages of 12.0 points, 6.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 46.4% from the field. He currently sits fourth all-time in Nuggets franchise history with 2,978 assists.

    The addition of Miller puts the team in good standing to thrive in its upcoming season. While the Gold have undergone numerous difficulties in the past years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a change of affiliation, change of name and home base, the team now is located at the center of Grand Rapids’ entertainment district and ready for what could be its best season yet.

    “I think it’s going to do a lot for our brand,” Jbara said of the new location. “It gives us the opportunity to kind of put our flag in the ground, tell our story a bit. A lot of things have happened the last couple years, but here’s what we’ve come out of it as, and we’re focused on Grand Rapids in our future.”

    Jbara said he is looking forward to how these changes will upgrade the Gold’s brand and anticipates a bright future as the team prepares for the new season.

    “We’re not that team that kind of plays outside of town,” he said. “This is the basketball team that can play and survive downtown, and we’re putting on a top-tier show for everybody.”

    The Grand Rapids Gold will play its first home game on Nov. 10 at Van Andel Arena against the Motor City Cruise.

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