Friday, March 21, 2008

Rhinos, Paetec Park Still Have Future, Now Will You Support Them?

The importance of Utica businessman Rob Clark's rescue of our once-beloved Rhinos Football Club should not be underestimated. Had this community lost the Rhinos, we would have lost a part of soul. Okay, maybe I am guilty of overestimating this a bit, but anyone concerned with resuscitating our city should be breathing a big sigh of relief today. If you're reading this Mr. Clark, and I'm sure you are, thank you for saving the green-and-gold. I wish you all the best in this endeavor and hope that your investment pays dividends down the road.

Now that this is settled, I wonder if Metro Rochester will step up and ensure that Rhinos FC is here to stay. The Rhinos were once the talk of the American soccer community. We averaged more than 10,000 fans per game, we brought home championships, and beat up on MLS squads. Heck, we were a shoo-in for MLS expansion one day (I remember the chant "Mission: Stadium, MLS"). Since the construction of Paetec Park however, much of the lustre has worn off. The stadium is not the major league product we thought it was going to be, ticket and concession prices have skyrocketed, victories are not as forthcoming, and most importantly, the fans stopped coming. Then came the rumors, followed by the lawsuits, then the bankruptcy. I certainly wouldn't have blamed Rhino fans for staying away from Paetec Park if the league had stepped in to run the team. But thankfully it did not have to come to that and now it is up to us to ensure that it never does.

Although purely perception, concerns about the stadium's location have had an impact on the fan base. Although I have walked to Paetec Park numerous times from my home in Corn Hill with nary a peep from the evildoers lurking in the shadows, the average suburbanite honestly believes that they will be robbed if they attend a game. Unfortunately, we need to address this perception and it sounds like Mr. Clark is alreadly working on it. He has pledged to work on the parking situation, enhance security, and replace concessionaire Delaware North with someone new (hopefully the replacement is nice enough to keep High Falls Brewing products on tap). The guy has been listening to the fans - isn't that a nice change?

The City has a role to play as well. My understanding is that the City will finally allow the state funds to flow so that Paetec Park's luxury suites can be built. This will enhance the facility and bring in a new revenue stream for the team. Hopefully these funds can be stretched, or additional funds secured, to finish other key aspects of the stadium (e.g., locker rooms, box office, team store, etc.) as well. The stadium will never be fit to host a World Cup match but who knows, with the right leadership, maybe we can start dreaming of MLS once again. I plan on attending my fair share of Rhino games, hopefully I'll see you there.