Selling Recess

From afar, it looks like gym class.

Only the guy rolling the rubber ball towards home plate has a 5 o’clock shadow and beer gut. And the girl playing first base, wearing makeup and tight tube socks, just told her friend she’s f$*%ing awesome.

Everybody clearly drove to the park. Some seem to be drinking from plastic Solo cups.

Blame Sean Small.

Five years ago the Mechanicsville native and VMI alum started the River City Sports and Social Club to allow adults in Richmond the chance to revert back to recess games. The local entrepreneur has built a rapidly-growing business by selling whiffleball, dodgeball, kickball and flag football to Richmond’s out-of-college crowd.

The rules of the River City Sports and Social Club state that all participants must be at least 22 years old. The older participants are pushing 40.

On weekday evenings and weekends, crews gather at Canoe Run Park and Gillies Greek Park to throw down.

Some participants seem to regress to fifth grade when they don the bright T-shirt. Ejections are common. Trash-talking the norm. In five years, strong rivalries have developed. That’s despite the fact that the league is designed to be social.

All that horsing around has built a solid business for Small. Each team of 12 participants must pay a flat fee to join the league: $550 for football and kickball, and $600 for dodgeball, whiffleball and volleyball.

“The first year, there were maybe 20 teams. Now, we’re seeing 60 teams, and we’re dealing with multiple leagues and sports,” Small said.

A fee is also required for each additional player past 12 on the roster. It runs $35 for football and kickball, and $40 for the three other sports.

Now, consider the fact that there are usually 16-20 teams per league, and there are at least two divisions per sport. (One is more competitive than the other, although people in both take it seriously and discuss the playoffs like it’s the NCAA tournament).

If 18 teams sign up for the upcoming football season, with an average of 15 people on their rosters, RCSSC will bring in at least $11,790 from that league alone.

Even if every team opts to have the minimum number of participants, RCSSC will still make at least $9,900.

Small also brings in extra revenue from sponsors like Coors Light and several local bars. He said most of the money goes directly back into the league, paying for field rentals, team t-shirts and championship belts.

Small attributes the rapid growth to word of mouth.

“At first, I was putting flyers in bathrooms at bars, and I even put an ad in Style Weekly,” Small said. That was the extent of his advertising efforts, however, and now he’s glad that he didn’t spend unnecessary funds.

As each season passed, more and more people started signing up. If RCSSC gets much bigger, Small said that he will have to branch out and find new athletic venues to hold all of the various leagues and sports.

RCSSC’s list of sponsors includes Bandito’s, Easy Street, Mulligan’s, Sine Irish Pub, Out of Bounds, and the Home Team Grill.

Rick Lyons, a manager at Banditos, said he sponsors the games because the participants are his target demographic.

“They help to create an atmosphere, which is important when you’re claiming to be a sports bar,” Lyons said.

“So when a hundred people come back to the bar, hang out, drink beer, and watch sports, it creates a buzz. It’s all positive,” he said.

Patrick Sanford, general manager at the Home Team Grill, said their deal with RCSSC has been a great opportunity for both sides.

The scores of kickball teams that have come in during the past few months have helped carry the bar and restaurant through a relatively lackluster summer, he said.

“We would love to be the spot, whether we are sponsoring or not, where they come to socialize after games,” Sanford said, noting the possibilities for business from such a large and vibrant group of 20- and 30-somethings.

Teams are encouraged to go to their sponsors bars after games in order to socialize with other league members and teams (in fact, this is specified in the rules). Small said this gives people a chance to network in a comfortable environment, and it’s one of the reasons that people keep coming back to the RCSSC.

From the official RCSSC rule book: “The league’s focus is on being social, not winning or losing.”

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