Monday Q&A: Sean Small looks to expand his field of play

A dolled up girl takes a dodgeball to the face. A 40-year-old guy with a beer gut spikes a volleyball over the net, turns to the other team and says, “You just got served.” A lightning-fast former college athlete rounds all the bases for a kickball home run. After each game, all three go out for a beer. Or two.

There have always been sports leagues. And always been bars. But nobody in Richmond quite combined the two like Sean Small, who in 2004 started River City Sports & Social Club with a business model of making coed adult sport leagues more social. (Chances are you’ve seen the shirts with a cartoony beer mug. And chances are someone at your company plays in one of Small’s leagues).

BizSense went one-on-one with Small to talk about selling the playground to adults, sketching out a playbook for expanding out of Richmond, and how capture the flag may be the next craze to hit town.

Below is an edited transcript.

Richmond BizSense: What are the most popular sports?

Sean Small: Kickball is really popular because it’s in the summer time. Dodgeball is the second most popular and Wiffle ball is catching on. Dodgeball, and Kickball are about 100 plus teams. Football has 90 teams. Overall we’re had about 15 to 20 percent growth each year.

RBS: Have you added anything new?

I just added a second dodgeball season this summer because people wanted a second season. I’ve also added a second Wiffle ball season. I looked into cornhole, but the problem is keeping the same business model of one hour and 12 players. One thing that I want to try is capture the flag. I’d probably start with a tournament and go into a league if I did.

The league I used to play on in Baltimore had a soccer league, but that wouldn’t work here. When you take people who have played and people who haven’t played it’s a bad mix. It’s the only dealing with your foot as the source of controlling the ball. The guy running it in Baltimore had it for three seasons and got rid of it.

RBS: What are your expansion plans?

SS: I decided about two years ago I wanted to expand to Fredericksburg. I’ve been working on it since September. Dodgeball will start there in a couple weeks. I’ve wanted to expand out to create a state sports league so we could have state championships. I’d also like to get into Virginia Beach, Roanoke and Winchester.

RBS: Some of your revenue comes from sponsors. Who are they and are you adding anymore?

SS: Home Team Grill and Gus’s Grill have been our sponsors since they opened. Home Team Grill sponsors all our sports except broomball. Gus’ sponsors all our sports except volleyball. Republic and Sine’s are also sponsors. I’d like to add another two solid bars in the city or the West End.

RBS: What does the typical player look like?

SS: We have a good solid group in the West End. It’s getting younger now. Most are between 25 to 28. The oldest are in their 40s. We have really athletic ones like world-class soccer players, but we definitely have the beer-gut guys. We have girls that like competing against the guys and then other girls that like to look at cute boys. We have teams from Capital One, Bon Secours and the Martin Agency.

RBS: You’re driving a lot of traffic to the bars. How often are teams going out?

SS: They should go out each night. It’s one hour of sports and a couple hours of socializing. Some teams go out before they play their games. Some bring beer to the games. It’s encouraged with the indoor sports. Kickball (players) are the heaviest drinkers. People also buy beer during the games that SCOR sells.

RBS: Have you started a sport that hasn’t taken off?

SS: No. Broomball is the smallest group, but it’s the only group that can’t take a lot of growth because we’re confined to one ice rink. A lot of people don’t know what it is, but the people that have tried it are addicted to it.

I’ve wanted to have softball for years, but softball is so dominant here it’s hard to find fields and we would need more than one field.

RBS: Why do you think your business has taken off?

SS: It’s people who enjoy playing sports, but love to socialize. It gives girls and guys a chance to socialize and not have to get all gussied up. People can be more open to talk to each another. Everyone’s just in their T-shirts, shorts and sneakers. A lot of it is word of mouth. I haven’t really done much advertising. The biggest advertiser is the T-shirts.

RBS: So I’m sure some trash talk goes on. Anything serious?

SS: A little bit, especially with teams who know each other. Dodgeball (teams) like to banter back and forth because a lot of them are friends. Good banter is encouraged. There’s always some that get carried away in every sport. We have one or two that do it every week. A couple have been kicked out for fighting. For the most part everyone has a good time.

RBS: Who do you see as competition?

SS: Not really anyone. There’s WAKA (World Adult Kickball Association) but a lot of people that play for them play in my league. That’s why I purposely did Kickball in the summer, theirs is in the spring.

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Carter Snipes

River City Sports and Social Club is a great concept. We’ve done it a few years and had a great time and this year we’re looking to put together a company team that clients and our staff can can join!