Augusta no longer majoring in minor sports

Saturday, May 18, 2013 5:01 PM
Last updated Sunday, May 19, 2013 1:05 AM
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Fourteen years ago, then-Augusta Mayor Bob Young stood at the riverwalk announcing the start of the East Dis­trict Sports Festival – the prelude to the state’s Georgia Games.

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The Augusta RiverHawks won't play next season, leaving the GreenJackets as Augusta's sole minor league team.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/FILE
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/FILE
The Augusta RiverHawks won't play next season, leaving the GreenJackets as Augusta's sole minor league team.

Young pointed out the city’s progress as a sports destination. The Augusta Green­Jackets, a minor league baseball team, were thriving. The Augusta Lynx, a minor league hockey team, had just started to plenty of fanfare. And an arenafootball2 franchise, the Augusta Stallions, was on the way the following year.

“(Augusta) is the city that majors in minor sports,” Young said.

The Augusta RiverHawks announced Tuesday that they plan to go dormant for a season, threatening to become a distant memory like the other hockey team (the Lynx) and the arena football squads (Stallions, Colts and Spartans).

Despite being the second-largest city in Georgia, Augusta has just one remaining minor league franchise, the GreenJackets, and even that one could soon be saying adios.

Young, now the president and CEO at the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, said the lack of minor league sports doesn’t tarnish the city’s image.

“What’s the symphony like? What’s the library like? It all goes back to the quality of life,” he said. “I don’t know if you can still say we major in minors. We give it a try. That says a lot about the community. Maybe one day a franchise will click.”

Franchises are failing to click for two reasons: money and fan support. The Lynx played for 11 seasons and folded after seven games of the 2008-09 season, with attendance (2,722 average) next to last in the ECHL. The RiverHawks – started in 2010 – ended this season last in attendance in the Southern Professional Hockey League (1,830 average), and they played their final eight games at the Augusta Ice Sports Center after the $1 million ice system inside James Brown Arena broke.

The Augusta Stallions opened in 2000 at James Brown Arena to a sold-out crowd. Attendance started declining and owner Frank Lawrence pulled the plug after the 2002 season, asking the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority for financial concessions and a cleaner arena. He received neither.

Arena football returned in 2006 with the Augusta Spartans (which eventually became the Colts). After three seasons, the franchise folded.

The GreenJackets, a Class A San Francisco Giants affiliate, have bucked the trend of minor league franchises collapsing. Celebrating their 25th anniversary this season, the GreenJackets have become an Augusta staple.

However, the team has just changed ownership and is considering a move from Lake Olmstead Stadium to North Augusta, whose leaders are proposing a $150 million project that will feature a stadium, parking deck and conference center.

“I think the community has shown to some extent they support minor league sports,” Young said. “It’s been a question of whether these teams can sustain a fan base.

“Everybody at the end of the day has to recognize these are businesses.”

The Young Professionals of Augusta organization has actively supported minor league franchises for years. Losing those teams translates into fewer opportunities for residents, while also giving critics something else to complain about, YPA president Sean Frantom said.

“I hate the word ‘Dis­gusta’, but people use it in the community,” he said. “We have to have outlets for people to do things. It’s something for people to do during the week. Without that, there’s a gap in the community.”

There’s been a changing face on the sports scene since Young made his declaration in 1999. While just one minor league franchise remains, Augusta has become an events-driven city with plenty of annual staples. The Augusta Futurity, the largest cutting horse show east of the Mississippi River, held its 34th consecutive event in January. The Masters Tournament, the most popular golf tournament in the world, went on without a hitch in April. In July, the Nike Peach Jam basketball tournament returns to Riverview Park in North Augusta. In September, thousands of athletes will flood downtown Augusta for the fourth annual ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta.

According to the Augusta Sports Council, 65 events in 2012 attracted more than $21 million in direct visitor spending, council CEO Brinsley Thigpen said.

“We want Augusta to be a sports destination – it already is in April,” said Thigpen, who said The Color Run 5k in October in downtown Augusta is expected to be a big draw. “There’s a lot we have that boost our economy and improve our quality of life.”

Frantom said if the GreenJackets move to North Augusta, downtown Augusta would still benefit, with fans attending bars and restaurants before and after games.

“I may buy a boat and start a water taxi,” he said with a laugh.

There’s rumors of potential arena football and professional basketball teams coming to town. Whether these franchises come and become fan favorites like the GreenJackets or fail to draw support remains to be seen.

“The Augusta Sports Coun­cil used to say Augusta wanted to major in minor league sports,” Young said. “I don’t think Augusta is any poorer because it’s tried.”

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GnipGnop
12290
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GnipGnop 05/18/13 - 05:27 pm
3
0
The Lynx

at one time were averaging 3 to 4 thousand fans a game. You have to put a winning product out there to get a fan base. Also, the 5 dollars to park is way to high. I have been to games in Columbus Ga. and Pensacola Florida and the parking was nowhere near that high and the facilities were way above the JBA. Just like everything else they touch the commission taints what they can't make into a sideshow. Inept leadership once again.

specsta
6507
Points
specsta 05/18/13 - 07:00 pm
4
2
Out With The Old...

The James Brown Arena is an aging dinosaur. No wonder a pro sports team isn't attracted to Augusta. Time to build something bigger and bolder. Get rid of that eyesore.

nocnoc
43405
Points
nocnoc 05/18/13 - 07:03 pm
1
0
Return to sensible

Return to sensible government, limit spending to: maintenance, business/job growth. Lower taxes and eliminate the good olde Boy payback schemes. De-consolidate Augusta and the County. Then repackage and resell Augusta.

Or build a SHOPPING MALL on Broad St.

Until then there little hope of attracting the economic demographics needed to support multiple sports teams "In DownTown GRU ".
Until then the South Side uses the West side and North Augusta.

nocnoc
43405
Points
nocnoc 05/18/13 - 07:05 pm
2
0
OK how long before we see

OK how long before

we see the planted Build it next to the Marriott stories in the media?

Dixieman
15306
Points
Dixieman 05/18/13 - 10:25 pm
2
0
Minor sports?

But Dixieman LOVES Disc Golf! Its global headquarters and museum are in Appling!! What do you mean "minor sport"?
And how about the Augusta Futurity...oh, sorry, of course that is a "major" sport. WHy it is famous all over the... Well, the AC thinks it's major, anyway.

itsanotherday1
43717
Points
itsanotherday1 05/18/13 - 11:10 pm
1
0
“I think the community has

“I think the community has shown to some extent they support minor league sports,” Young said. “It’s been a question of whether these teams can sustain a fan base.

Bull Shivers. The CSRA is fickle with their support of anything, from new nightclubs to restaurants to sports teams. It has been that way since I've been here; which started in the summer of 1971.

Considering the teams who've tried and failed (some could have done better in their marketing, etc.); I have to say it isn't a matter of the teams sustaining a fan base; it is more a matter of the fans sustaining a team.

Idler
5
Points
Idler 05/18/13 - 11:23 pm
3
0
Parking fee too high?

@GnipGnop

$5 for parking is very reasonable. I pay $20 per game to park at GT Football games and walk about 3/4 mile to the stadium. I pay $5 here to cross the street. I seriously doubt the parking fee had any bearing on the attendance at Lynx games.

GnipGnop
12290
Points
GnipGnop 05/19/13 - 01:42 am
1
0
You misread my comment.

I said it was to high for the caliber of the JBA. You seriously are not gonna compare a football team that draws 60000 to a team that drew 5000 at it's apex. I said the Lynx folded because of the poor product they put on the ice. The Riverhawks struggled because of the bad taste that was left in the season ticket holders craw.

flcracker
137
Points
flcracker 05/19/13 - 07:54 am
1
0
minor sports

Wasn't there a few articles last year about Augusta getting a minor-league basketball team? What happened with that?

Bodhisattva
6305
Points
Bodhisattva 05/19/13 - 08:17 am
1
0
I have to agree with Dixie on

I have to agree with Dixie on the one. The Futurity? I know exactly, oh, zero people who attend or who even have an interest in attending. Unless the local news crews' cameramen skillfully dodge the crowds, it looks like no one else does either. The Masters? The Masters? The Masters? You have to be kidding? Yeah, the giant among golf tunamints, thatunless you have a wad of bill in your pocket large enough to choke an elephant won't get a chance to see unless you watch it on television. The Superbowl is successful too. Don't expect the people in the town to be getting the tickets to the thing. Augusta may have a large metro area and it makes it sound like it has 500,000 people living here. The problem is that the metro area includes Richmond, Columbia, McDuffie, Burke, Aiken, and Edgefield Counties. It's not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump to attend an event from the nether reaches of Burke, McDuffie, or Edgefield Counties. Heck, the far end of Aiken County is probably just as far. Also, if you'll note everything mentioned was sports events. You just knocked out a vast portion of that population, possibly even the majority, who don't care for sports. Then you have a good portion who cant afford to attend the events. So, between distance, interest, and income you've knocked the actual population that would go to an even down to a fraction of what it was. Now throw in that even sports fans don't necessarily care for every sport. Even those who like pro sports might not give a darn about minor league sports. It never quite made sense to me for Braves fans to go and pull for a farm team for a club that opposes the Braves anyway. Even among fans, you have to put on a darn good product at a reasonable price to keep them coming back. If the GreenJackets (never did like that name, it'll make even less sense in North Augusta), they might pick up attendance for a while due to the newness, but moving a few miles away still leaves them with the same fan base and it will eventually fall back to where it is now. Then the stadium will age, the owners will demand a new one and they'll show no allegiance to the fans, pull up stakes and follow the money.

Riverman1
84893
Points
Riverman1 05/19/13 - 10:02 am
0
0
Good points, Bod. Minor leage

Good points, Bod. Minor leage sports are like carnival barkers with no loyalty to the community. But the location of a sports facility does affect the crowd. Same game, save stadium in different areas will have different sized crowds.

Augusta resident
1368
Points
Augusta resident 05/19/13 - 10:40 am
0
0
basketball

Last i heard, the Augusta Dribble was too smart to deal with Augusta politics and was going to play at ASU. Never heard anything else since then.

Old Augusta
320
Points
Old Augusta 05/19/13 - 11:34 am
3
0
Maybe it's just me, but.........

how about we get the freaking housing projects out of Lake Olmstead and make that area as nice as any park in Ashville NC and people would come in droves to the green jackets games. Lake Olmsted "could" be like piedmont Park in Atlanta or Central Park in NYC. We could have open space where all the ghetto now stands. Only in Augusta do we soil Fredrick Law Olmsteds beauty. There should be A Boat house with canoe rentals, restaurants, free of riff raft. Instead in Augusta GA, we build housing projects on all our beautiful Parks.

akmoose
122
Points
akmoose 05/19/13 - 11:15 am
2
0
Winning product?

In their first 2 seasons the Riverhawks went to the playoffs - they came from dead last to top of their league and STILL couldn't get enough people in there and I agree because of the bad taste left in season ticket holder's mouths from what the Lynx franchise did. Stupid to think that with a whole new group of people that it was going to happen again, but oh well. WE at least had a GREAT time with the Riverhawks - the boys were wonderful to hang out with off the ice, which made it even better to watch them play, and everyone in the office was a pleasure as well - we will miss them and just keep hope that they will return...somehow.

Little Lamb
46392
Points
Little Lamb 05/19/13 - 12:29 pm
1
0
Bars

From the story:

Sean Frantom said if the GreenJackets move to North Augusta, downtown Augusta would still benefit, with fans attending bars and restaurants before and after games.

I'm sure there are a handful of minor league baseball patrons who eat and drink before and/or after the games. But my experience is that most of the fans want to eat and drink at the ballpark during the games. I don't think a ballpark downtown (on either side of the river) will be the saving panacea for downtown bars and restaurants. Taxpayers, beware the snake oil salemen..

Riverman1
84893
Points
Riverman1 05/19/13 - 04:05 pm
2
0
Snake oil salesmen and

Snake oil salesmen and carnival barkers. LL is exactly right. People eat and dang sure drink at games. The entertainment is the game. some people act like they've never been to games.

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