Will Caps rub off on Rich­mond?

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SUNDAY PUNCH -

Move over Detroit. Rich­mond is now Hock­ey­town, USA. OK. Just kid­ding.

Yet, how in­cred­i­bly eye­pop­ping was it to see the RVA among the top 10 mar­kets in tele­vi­sion for the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal, top­ping out at fourth over­all with an 11.4 rat­ing?

Only Washington D.C.,

Las Ve­gas and Bal­ti­more ranked higher across the coun­try.

“It’s shock­ing to say the least,” said NHL on NBC host Liam Mc Hugh. “You think you are look­ing at the wrong sheet of pa­per or the wrong event. But it’s so great to see all these mar­kets around

D.C. be ‘all in,’ and why not? It’s such an in­cred­i­ble story of a mar­ket and a team that’s waited so long and has such a his­tory.”

His­tory oc­curred Thurs­day night when the Cap­i­tals fin­ished off the Ve­gas Golden Knights in five games to hoist Lord Stan­ley’s Cup.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, my ra­dio show was flooded with calls of sto­ries of where peo­ple watched or how they woke up their child out of a sound sleep so they could share the mo­ment. One sent a video from their all­night road trip to party in the streets of D.C. Many shared the sto­ries of just how long they’ve waited for this to hap­pen.

There was then one caller who asked af­ter shar­ing his hap­pi­ness: Doesn’t this ex­cite­ment, along with TV rat­ings, show Rich­mond could sup­port an­other hockey team?

It’s been since 2009 that there was a face­off at the Coli­seum for a Rich­mond Rene­gades game. Prior to that there were the Robins and River­dogs.

Would Rich­mond sup­port hockey?

Let me urge cau­tion. It’s easy to be a crea­ture of the mo­ment.

Joy­ous soc­cer fans once told me af­ter the U.S. tied Eng­land in the 2010 World Cup that this would change how Amer­i­cans look at the sport and some­day would pass the NFL in pop­u­lar­ity in the states.

Eight years later, the

U.S. didn’t qual­ify for the World Cup and “Sun­day Night Foot­ball” is the high­est-rated tele­vi­sion show seven years run­ning.

To an­swer the ques­tion, yes, Rich­mond could sup­port hockey — if done right.

First and fore­most, a new arena is needed.

“If the Fly­ing Squir­rels can play in The Di­a­mond then a hockey team…” Don’t even bother fin­ish­ing the sen­tence with “The Coli­seum.”

In this age where ev­ery sta­dium has to be big­ger and flashier, it’s im­pres­sive and a tes­ta­ment to the Squir­rels that they can still pull an av­er­age of 6,000 fans a night into a build­ing that’s a con­crete slab with no Jum­botron, L.E.D. boards or flashy bells and whis­tles.

The prob­lem when it comes to talk­ing about a new arena or ball­park, it’s way eas­ier for peo­ple like me with­out the money to talk about it.

This also isn’t just an

“if you build it, they will come” sit­u­a­tion.

Ar­guably hockey is the great­est sport to see live. The sights, sounds, and speed aren’t done jus­tice on tele­vi­sion.

Yet, the sport can’t be the lone at­trac­tion.

Take the Fly­ing Squir­rels phi­los­o­phy: They want good base­ball for the diehard fan, but they also want great en­ter­tain­ment for the fan’s spouse, who may not be a base­ball fan. They want him or her to have a laugh at the on­field pro­mo­tion or con­tests while look­ing at their child’s smile be­cause of Nutzy and Nu­tasha.

There’s also hav­ing a great mar­ket­ing cam­paign with mer­chan­dise that peo­ple will wear. You want a town be­ing proud of their team. Whether it be a gro­cery run to Kroger or shop­ping at Short Pump, you’d be pressed not to run into at least one per­son in Squir­rels ap­parel.

It’s im­per­a­tive for mi­nor league sports or non­tele­vised teams that their offfield prod­uct helps sell as many tick­ets, if not more, than what hap­pens on the field.

Fi­nally, while the Squir­rels won’t be made or broke by MLB af­fil­i­a­tion, it would be a huge as­set for a Rich­mond hockey team to have a Cap­i­tals af­fil­i­a­tion. Washington has been the Her­shey Bears’ par­ent club (AAA) since 2005 in the AHL and on and off again with the South Carolina St­ingrays of the ECHL (AA) since 2004.

There are enough peo­ple who’ll at­tend a Squir­rels game just for base­ball along with Na­tion­als, Phillies, and Ori­oles fans who will at­tend to see the fu­ture stars of their or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Hockey is a less pop­u­lar sport that’s af­fected by ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity — hav­ing the San Jose Sharks’ AHL team wouldn’t be as well-re­ceived as hav­ing the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants’ farm club in town. There just aren’t as many gen­eral hockey fans in cen­tral Vir­ginia, and as shown by the Rich­mond rat­ings, a con­nec­tion to the Caps would be an as­set.

Could Rich­mond sup­port hockey again some­day?

In short, yes. But there’s a lot more than just bring­ing in just any team and drop­ping a puck. Wes McEl­roy hosts a daily sports talk show week­days on 910 AM from 6-9 a.m.

1995, TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Mi­nor league hockey has had a mixed his­tory in Rich­mond, but one high point was the Rene­gades’ 1995 Ri­ley Cup for the ECHL ti­tle. Could the Cap­i­tals’ crown spark an­other hockey fran­chise bid for Rich­mond?

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