It's a question that's been a hot topic of debate for years in the River City... has Richmond achieved the distinction of being called a sports town? As part of our Redskins coverage, I looked into this issue and put together a story, and to be honest, struggled at first on how to approach it. This is a piece that I could have made ten minutes long to uncover all the layers that go into it, and since I can't take that kind of time during the newscast, let's break it down here.
So how do you define a sports town? I think a lot of factors go into it, such as passion, knowledgeable fans, variety and facilities, to name a few, and in my opinion, Richmond has a lot of what is needed to be a sports town.
OK, bad news first. Several of the facilities are out of date or need a lot of upkeep. The Diamond just went through $100,000 worth of renovations, largely to improve the on-field drainage, and repairs like this will only continue as long as the building is in use. It's ultimately why the Richmond Braves left, and now the debate continues over where to put a new baseball stadium and who would pay for it.
The Coliseum and City Stadium are also in pretty bad shape. Richmond used to host NCAA Tournament games. Can you imagine how much excitement, not to mention revenue, that could bring to the city? The area is certainly a place that could house that kind of event, but that's impossible until you get a new, up-to-date arena. City Stadium also needs quite a bit of work.
We can talk all day about how these would get rebuilt or fixed and who would pay for it, etc, but the bottom line is these buildings are what people who claim Richmond falls short of sports town status point out. Sure, the Siegel Center is great, the new Redskins training facility is fantastic, but updating facilities that see people pass through the gates on a regular basis would be a giant leap for the city.
Passion is a totally different story. Richmond has some very passionate sports fans. The Flying Squirrels are regulars in the top 20 of Minor League Baseball attendence numbers every year and they lead the Eastern League in total or average attendence every season. Parney and his guys do a great job of keeping fans engaged and involved throughout all nine innings, making a minor league game in Richmond more than just a game, but an event.
And how about hoops? Richmond earned the nickname "Hoopstown USA" after VCU and Richmond made their respective runs in 2011. The Siegel Center has sold out 35 straight Ram home games and the Robins Center is undergoing a renovation project that will make it much more fan friendly.
Richmond International Raceway attracts fans from all 50 states and about a dozen countries to the venue during its two NASCAR weekends. The Sprint Cup races are the largest attended single-day events in the commonwealth. Revenue brought into the city during these two race weekends is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.
But it goes deeper. Youth sports has grown in Richmond and surrounding counties and national youth tournaments in baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse make annual stops in the metro area as well. On the high school level, several teams celebrated state championships, including L.C. Bird and Goochland football, Henrico boys basketball, Hanover baseball and Deep Run girls soccer.
Participation sports are huge in Richmond. The Marathon and Monument Avenue 10K each draw in the tens of thousands, and Dominion Riverrock is hailed as the largest outdoor sports and music festival in the nation. In addition, the World Cycling Championships will shine a global eye on the city in 2015.
Do I think Richmond is a sports town? Hell yeah I do. I know the city has lost teams and events, but with the exception of the Braves, did it have more to do with the product? Hockey had it's go here, the CAA Tournament is gone, but it's all being replaced by bigger and better things. Had the teams essential to Virginia remained in the CAA, no doubt the tournament would still be in Richmond, but wait until you see how many people pack the Coliseum for that VCU vs. Virginia Tech hoops game in the Governor's Classic this December.
A major professional team having a link to the city opens the door for even more growth for a city that's evolved into one that can call itself a sports town.