The Fall of Sports in Richmond

The RTD has a ‘Back Fence’ section of their Editorial pages on which lands all sorts of random nonsense and blather submitted through their ‘Your 2 Cents’ email and toll free number. This is sort of a ‘Letters to the Editor’ for the reader at large, those who are not quite literate enough to string together logical arguments, but are media-savvy enough to formulate a pithy sound bite.

Ken Essignman of Mechanicsville laments that no one attends Richmond sporting events. The now-defunct Richmond Braves (minor league team) and the Richmond Renegades hockey team, which is struggling, are both victims of the terrible trend. Richmonders, Essignman surmises, see a night out as drinking beer in the living room rather than the kitchen.

Essignman’s sarcasm aside, my own opinion is that live semi-pro sports in Richmond have failed for other reasons:

1) The rise of school sports. Most parents are busy taking their kids to soccer, field hockey, basketball, wrestling, etc. so have little time for events sans kids.
2) The decline of beer drinking as a recreational activity among adults. While Essignman assumes drinking beer is a requisite for a fun night ‘out’, most people grow out of that by the time they leave college and get a job.
3) The declining real wages and leisure time of the working class. As inexpensive as semi-pro events seem to be, they still cost money and time, which those who would be most interested in mindless competitive sports have in short supply.
4) Night Baseball. Baseball, in particular, while mindless, still has a genteel quality that attracts families in particular. Multiple generations come to the ball park to take in the ambience of an afternoon out. Afternoons attract families because younger kids have bed times (or should have bed times) and adults when going out at night want to do other things.
5) The Rise of Visual Media. Back in the day, there were very few options. There were three shows on at any given time and the movie theater may have had three or four movies. Now multiplex cinemas may have seven movies showing at once, with stadium seating and surround sound. At home, families can sit in their own surround sound theaters and take in, on demand, multiple viewing options, both TV fare and a library of films.
6) The Rise of the Video Gaming Industry. Back when their gaming options was a lame version of Pac Man or Pong on the Atari, kids may have wanted to go out and see a baseball game with their friends. Now, with 3-D graphics and immersive game-play, not to mention gaming experiences where they actually get to play as major league players, the draw of going out gets less and less.
7) The Internet. Kids of all ages have a whole new outlet of entertainment to draw from which is bound to draw attention away from good ol’ fashioned sports.

There are a few other factors to consider as well:

1) Ice hockey in the South. Was this ever really a good idea?
2) Semi-pro sports. While college sports has gained more and more attention, semi-pro sports do not seem all that relevant.
3) The decline of pro sports. Let’s face it, baseball and basketball, in recent years, have become less and less exciting, while football has been treading water. The major pro sports, in general, have to worry about more than just the seven factors above. There is also the rise of a myriad of other pasttimes that have emerged: extreme sports, professional poker, professional gaming, and, of course, NASCAR.

Richmond, also, has the distinct problem of being of a decidedly splintered character. Old school Richmonders are still scared of venturing downtown while West Enders look down on anything that crawls out from past the Southside of the Rivah. Then the elitists on Cary Street don’t pay attention to anything unless it involves high end scotch.

It’s the divide that separates the University of Richmond Spiders from the VCU Rams. Then, it’s the affiliations that most Richmonders have with other parts of Virginia. The Hokies vs. the Cavs. Then there are those from North Carolina who transplanted here. Or the Northern Virginia-ites who have been used to pro athletics for years and see Richmond as a quaint little, quiet town to sort of blissfully live their days.

Nobody really takes Richmond seriously as a place because it’s not. ‘Richmond’ is a myth. This explains why all the counties are divorcing Richmond and taking on their own names. As a core city, Richmond sits on a hill overlooking the James, but commands nothing. Even the oldest legislature in America is an ineffective laughingstock, only garnering ‘Best Managed State’ accolodates from pro-business interests that would give gold stars to anyone who kisses ass as well as these clowns. Otherwise, the General Assembly is stymied by an immense vacuum of leadership disguised as conservative ideology. They think passing laws that raise revenue must be awfully bad since [gasp] taxes may be raised.

Someone once said, ‘if you build it, they will come’. If big developers have their way, historic and quirky Shockoe Bottom will have a baseball stadium right next to the train station. Although this seems like a good idea, developers should ask themselves if the majority African-American population of Richmond really care for semi-pro baseball enough to show up. I can guarantee that folks from surrounding counties will continue to not show up when you move the barkpark further away from anywhere convenient. Shockoe Bottom is the furthest point away from the West End of Henrico County you can be and has already gained a reputation for decidedly non-family oriented night life. A great place for the college and twenty-something crowd, but for the baseball-family crowd? No.

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