Saturday, March 12, 2011

Can Richmond support two professional indoor football teams?

Richmond, Virginia has been great to me over the last 12 years. I love this city and there is no where else I would rather live. Richmond is where I met my wife, my son was born, I received my entire post high school education and I finished my first marathon. Living here allows you the chance to see a symphony concert one night, and attend a NASCAR race the next.  But Richmond has a checkered history with professional sports and that worries me.  This wonderful town has ran off so many professional teams; the Braves, the Renegades, the Speed and the Bandits.  Money of course being the main issue.

That brings us to now, 2011, and we have two professional indoor football teams both entering their sophomore seasons.  Both teams struggling to fill the stands with the same fans.  And just in case you weren't aware, no other city in the entire country has two professional indoor football teams.  There is a reason for that.  Significant capital is required to operate an indoor football team, but they don't generate a lot of revenue.  So why on Earth would two separate groups of business savvy entrepreneurs take a leap of faith into a business that has so much risk?  Let's talk about that.

The Richmond Revolution is the brain child of Steve Burton, who is currently the CEO of SportsQuest in Midlothian, VA.  Steve has a clear vision of creating a sports haven south of Richmond, which he has done by investing large sums of public and private funds to build facilities for all sports.  His vision includes an Olympic caliber swim program, a local gym, a high school for sport centered teenagers and even an NBA team.  While some of these ideas seem far off into the future, Steve is currently providing sports entertainment with 19 high tech turf fields.  Field 9 happens to the be home of the Richmond Revolution, the 2010 IFL franchise of the year.  But the franchise may be in big trouble without a large investment of capital very soon.  The IFL has granted the Revolution special permission to play outdoors this year after having some complications with the Arthur Ashe center in 2010.  So we have an indoor football team playing outdoors. Rain on game day does not worry me, it does however send off red flags that money is a serious problem.  The plan back in 2009 was for the Revolution to be playing in their new indoor facility at SportsQuest this season, and that facility would have cost $20 - $30 million dollars to build.  Well, ground hasn't even broken yet on construction.  That tells me one of two things. Burton either is broke, or he is afraid to spend the money because he doesn't care about the team or even see it lasting long term.  A reliable source close to SportsQuest once told me that the Revolution's sole purpose was to bring more locals to commit to paying $70 per month to use the gym. I don't think the Revolution fits in Burton's long term plan for SportsQuest and eventually he will see that the 2,000 fans a week won't prop it up financially.  SportsQuest is too much too fast, with no real focus which will end up killing the Revolution.

As for the future of an indoor football stadium in Midlothian think about this, NFL teams have to tap into county and city funds to build stadiums, so how can Burton build one without significant help from Chesterfield County?  Chesterfield County has already given $3.4 million dollars to Burton hoping to speed up the development of SportsQuest, but still we have not broken ground on a facility.  And if I was a entrepeneur looking for a business partner, Chesterfield County is the last place I would look.  The County is constantly cutting its budget, laying off employees and has not given its teachers a raise since 2008.

In my opinion, the Revolution will fold in the next two years.

to be continued............

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