Before building a new ball park, be sure the shoes fit

“Are Shreveport and Bossier City sports towns?”

I’ve been thinking about that question since last week’s announcement by Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins — in a media event that came 22 days before election day. He said there are plans (after watching the press conference, I use the word “plans” loosely) to build a multi-sports venue at the State Fairgrounds. It will be home to an independent baseball team (not a minor league team — there is a difference).

My answer? Of course, we are not sports towns. Just look at the long list of teams — in Shreveport and Bossier — that have come and gone because of a lack of fan support. Not to mention our history of often finding reasons to sit out going to one-off events. You know, the weather, date, Bachelorette finale’.

We just don’t have the appetite for supporting teams and games like you would expect from real sports towns.

What we do have is an appetite for anything benefiting our kids and grandkids. Build a really nice place (see Natchitoches, Ruston and Monroe) for youth baseball, and we will be eating all day long.

Build something that will be home to an independent baseball team? In a part of town a lot of people are iffy about going to during the day, much less at night?

On The Tim Fletcher Show last week, the mayor said, “I think sports betting will drive people to the stadium.”

Did I miss something? Is there going to be a Sportsbook inside the stadium? Surely the mayor doesn’t think we are going to bet on an independent league baseball game? (Twice, I asked the mayor’s office if the mayor would like to clarify his statement. I did not receive a response to the query.)

The mayor said this multi-sports facility will be a “public-private partnership.” How ‘bout a “public-private partnership” to fix our streets, so we don’t have to keep fixing our cars and trucks?

I spoke with someone who was in a meeting with REV Entertainment — the folks who have “partnered” with the city to, as the mayor said, “reimagine Shreveport.” This person said the REV folks were professional and impressive. This person also told me REV executives placed more emphasis on things surrounding a stadium — restaurants, music venues, etc. — than a stadium itself.

Now, had the mayor made that the focus of what he said, his announcement would have been better received, although eyebrows still would have been raised about the location.

But back to my original question.

In horse racing, bettors rely on past performances to predict future success. If Shreveport-Bossier were a horse, we would be a longshot to win.

Remember the Bossier City (and later Bossier-Shreveport) Battle Wings? In the heat of the summer, what more could you ask for than sitting in the cool comfort of the CenturyTel Center (now Brookshire Grocery Arena) watching arena football, where teams scored as often as Benton and Airline are doing this high school season?

We didn’t go.

Centenary College plays Division III basketball — and draws flies. If we are a sports town, wouldn’t we go see our local team play a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference game against Schreiner College?

Heck, Shreveport-Bossier was even kryptonite for the seemingly invincible LSU brand. In 2010, the Tigers came to Bossier City for a basketball game against Wichita State. Usually, anything with the letters “L-S-U” draws a big purple and gold-wearing crowd.

However, for whatever reason, few people went. For LSU’s athletic department, the poor attendance was an embarrassment.  I was told then-athletic director Joe Alleva said it would be a long time before the Tigers returned to Shreveport-Bossier. (They did, 11 years later, last December against Louisiana Tech, and that crowd of 6,868 in the Brookshire Grocery Arena was hardly overwhelming.)

And then there is the Independence Bowl, one of college football’s oldest bowl games, and run by some of the hardest-working folks you will ever meet. The game enjoyed tremendous local success in the mid-’90’s through the 2000’s. From 1995 (LSU vs. Michigan State) to 2009 (Georgia vs. Texas A&M), only once was the official attendance below 40,000.

But the way bowls and schools are paired has changed. A brand name like Miami, Florida State, or North Carolina can’t overcome a six or seven-win record. The average “official” crowd for the last five I-Bowls was 29,898 — and we know less people showed up than seats were sold. If we were a sports town, wouldn’t we be at Independence Stadium each year around Christmas, no matter how good the teams are?

Speaking of Independence Stadium, the city is paying $693,700 to replace the turf. The project starts Nov. 1. That much-needed improvement will help keep players from area high schools and visiting colleges safe. That’s money well spent.

But hey, sometimes, a longshot wins. The Shreveport Mudbugs have led the North American Hockey League in attendance each of the past four years. Their average crowd during that time (2,302) represents a small — albeit intensely loyal — fan base. By any measure, the Mudbugs put out a professional product, both on and off the ice.

Look, I’m all for Shreveport-Bossier having nice things. But here’s some unsolicited advice for whomever is sitting in the Shreveport mayor’s office next year. If you’re going to build something, build it for the kids. Build it for the parents who want to see their baseball, soccer, and lacrosse players play in a nice facility — with clean restrooms and plenty of shade for those summer tournaments. Build it for local economic impact.

But don’t build it expecting local sports fans to show up regularly, year after year. Otherwise, it will eventually sit empty, and decay beyond repair.

Sound familiar?

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com