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Rob Ukrop column: It's time to bring back sports and entertainment
HEALING PROCESS

Rob Ukrop column: It's time to bring back sports and entertainment

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The Richmond Kickers are incredibly proud to be part of the larger RVA sports and entertainment community. Founded in 1993, we are the longest consecutively running professional soccer franchise in the United States, a club with championship pedigree and more importantly, a deep connection in the community.

In 2020, we safely pressed forward with a modified 16-game United Soccer League (USL) League One season, including eight home games at City Stadium and eight away games. Despite the challenges surrounding COVID-19, we were able to implement comprehensive protocols to provide Richmonders a safe, outdoor respite where fans could embrace the happy experience of cheering on their local professional soccer club.

As we accelerate toward the start of our 29th consecutive season this spring, capacity for sporting venues currently is restricted to 250 people — a number that threatens both our club’s viability, as well as our core mission of strengthening community connections by curating a joyful, authentic soccer experience in RVA.

With a 28-game regular season on the horizon, we fully intend to be a part of our community’s healing process from a challenging 2020, but in order to do so, we need the support of our state leadership.

We agree with our friends at The Diamond that it is time to bring sports and entertainment back to help start this communal healing process.

Todd “Parney” Parnell, the Flying Squirrels’ chief operating officer, said it best in an op-ed this past week in the RTD: “The current 250 spectator maximum capacity does not heal our community. It fails to take into account the size, scope and existing capacity of each and every venue. Venues of larger size can — and should — safely manage more attendees. We take that responsibility very seriously as operators every single day that we open our doors to welcome members of our community. We have always done that. We will continue to do that.”

Currently, we are working with a myriad of sports and entertainment leaders across the commonwealth who also are being crushed by these restrictions. We proudly demonstrated this past season that we could safely operate and we are confident that we can handle larger crowds in 2021 once the proposed percentage-based capacity plan is activated by Gov. Ralph Northam.

For all venues, our greatest challenge is that we need significant lead time to schedule games, hire staff, book entertainers and update facilities to match the agreed-upon protocols in 2021.

We also are thankful that Northam chose Dr. Danny Avula to lead the vaccination efforts across the state, hopefully helping to speed up the timeline for safely reopening our venues. We know there is a practical formula that creates a safe re-engagement plan at live events, especially as the number of Virginians who have been vaccinated steadily continues to climb and COVID-19 cases decline.

With proven health protocols in place, we’re excited to showcase a refreshed and re-energized City Stadium after investing $1.5 million into our vintage home early this past year. Due to restrictions, very few fans have been able to fully experience our stadium’s brand new concourse, upgraded sound system and LED field lighting, complete with a customized, heart-pumping light show.

Sporting events aren’t all about the wins or losses; they also create lifelong memories, build community and create shared experiences. For us to help create these memories in 2021, we need our leaders to embrace the sports and entertainment community, while empowering us to lead the way for a safe reopening at our venues that so many Virginians know and cherish.

We are hopeful that Northam and other leaders across the community will swiftly move in activating our proposed percentage plan for sports and entertainment facilities across the commonwealth. Venue and event operators have been preparing for this re-engagement with meticulous detail, and we both are capable and prepared to safely welcome back our guests.

Collectively, we have created a road map to restore smiles on the faces of our fans and soon enough, lifelong memories will be made again — together in RVA and across Virginia. It’s time.

Rob Ukrop is chairman of Richmond Kickers Pro Soccer. Contact him at: rukrop@richmondkickers.com

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