The Hellcats drew a CBA-record 11,762 for their first game at the Civic Center and there was an initial buzz around the team. But attendance dipped and the team folded two days after Hartford hosted the 1994-95 CBA All-Star Game. The owners, Hartford Sports & Entertainment Group Inc., simply ran out of money and the team ceased operation during the season. At one point, for one season, the Pride came back as an International Basketball Association team.
"What obviously hurt [minor league teams] was TV," Yellin said. "In the old days, if you wanted to watch a basketball game, you had to go to a basketball game. Now, people can watch games on TV."
And TV is an especially important ingredient in Greater Hartford, which has always had an older demographic.
"Markets with aging populations are finding it increasingly tough to sell tickets to live events," Gold said. "That issue is perhaps tied to the fact that we have entered an age when technology can deliver a better game experience than the real thing. Think about it — travel on a winter night and pay for tickets, refreshments and parking to sit some distance from the action or watch a brilliant high definition live broadcast."
In the '90s, the CBA teams were also competing with the rise in UConn's basketball program. Gold points out that the market's relatively small size and the lack of professional sports has benefitted UConn. "The advantages of less competition for hearts and minds and ticket dollars somewhat outweigh the disadvantages," he said.
The popularity of the UConn women's program led the American Basketball League to place a franchise in Hartford in 1996 and the Blizzard were a success, although the league disbanded in December 1998.
The Blizzard were part of a, well, blizzard of sports franchises that came and went around the turn of the century. Foley and his wife, Lisa Wilson-Foley, introduced the FoxForce of World Team Tennis in 2000, spending two seasons at the Armory before playing matches at Riverside Park. The team eventually played in Avon before disbanding in 2007.
There were failed bids by Foley and parking lot magnate Alan Lazowski to bring a WNBA team to Hartford. There was the Whalers defection and the Patriots drama, there was the city's failure to build a stadium for an independent minor league baseball franchise and there was the departure of an arena football team.
Stop and consider the 1990s in Hartford: the Connecticut Coyotes and New England Sea Wolves (Arena Football League), the Hellcats and Pride (CBA), the Blizzard (ABL) come and go, the Whalers leave, the Wolf Pack arrive. Sloves, who promoted arena football, said Hartford's a tricky market for second-tier sports.
In the pre-ESPN days, Hartford had a long list of minor league franchises that, for one reason or another, vanished. The Knights and Charter Oaks were football franchises that played at Dillon Stadium in the 1960s and into the 1970s, when attendance eroded. Dillon Stadium was also home to a North American Soccer League franchise, the Bicentennials, that never warmed up to the South End field.
There was a later attempt to capitalize on Hartford's growing soccer community in 1979 when the indoor Hellions debuted at the Civic Center. But owner William Chipman mismanaged team finances and the Hellions were off to Memphis in 1981.
That Rock Cats franchise, once a Red Sox affiliate, could have landed in Hartford. Owner Joe Buzas moved the team from Rhode Island to Bristol in 1973, but he looked at Hartford first. Ten years later, he considered Hartford before moving the team to New Britain.
Both times, the city had neither the existing stadium nor the political will to build a facility. So Hartford has been without baseball for more than 60 years.
As the Boston Braves were about to pull the Chiefs out of the city, The Courant's leading sports voice saw the future of Hartford.
"The city that was a charter member of the National League in 1876 and gave that league its first president, Morgan G. Bulkeley, is about to surrender its place in professional baseball," Courant sports editor Bill Lee wrote. "If the game dies here, goodness only know how many years will pass before Hartford is again represented."