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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The London Rippers are new on the baseball scene and have entered amidst much controversy.
First off, the Frontier League team is playing in what is the oldest ballpark in the world, at least according to some. Labatt Memorial Park has had a bit of a rivalry with Fuller Field in Clinton, Massachusetts, with both parks at one point or another holding the Guinness Record for Oldest Ballpark. The current record is held by Fuller Field, according to the Guinness Records website.
Secondly, the Rippers met controversy before the first pitch was thrown. Having taken their name after the infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, with a logo to match, the Rippers were getting ripped in the media for having an insensitive logo and name. The mayor of London was not happy, but the team did get some significant attention, being defended by Rush Limbaugh, of all people.
Finally, the Rippers have tried to pick a fight with their Intercounty League, stadium-mates. The semi-professional London Majors play in Ontario's Intercounty Baseball League, and also at Labatt Park. According to officials, only one liquor licence can be granted for Labatt Park, and that is held by the Majors. The Rippers' owner David Martin has publicly challenged the Majors to a three-game series for the liquor licence, and the right to play at Labatt Park. As to be expected, the Majors have ignored the challenge.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concession menu at the Rippers game is very basic. There is only one stand open, with a BBQ, but that is not a huge issue (see fans). Your most basic ballpark fare can be found here at average prices, at best. Hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts and soda are all available here. Alcoholic beverages are not sold, as per the Rippers disputes with the city, the stadium, and the London Majors. I will admit, however, that the quality of the items at the BBQ is higher than I expected.
Although London claims that Labatt Park is the oldest ballpark in the world, you would never really know it. There is nothing that really jumps out at you as being old or classic. For the most part, Labatt Park seems to be an average ball diamond. Its location is decent, and the view of downtown London from the other side of the river is nice.
The PA announcer is enthusiastic and does a decent job, and the promo team tries its best (see fans), but there is a whole lot missing from the Rippers experience. There is a pitching machine and a bouncy castle for the kids behind home plate. Truth be told, we actually won the seat upgrade promotion at the game, even though the new seats were a mere 20 metres away from our old seats.
The seating area offers a variety of chair styles, including some that are covered from the sun. Some of the seats behind the plate are obstructed by large, upright beams, however, this is not an issue due to sections being general admission, and a lack of fan support.
There is a small stand that sells team merchandise. With this stand, the ticket kiosk, and the concessions, make sure you bring your cash. There are no places to use credit cards, and there is a private ATM on site.
Labatt Park is located in a fairly urban area. If you are willing to take a bit of a hike, across the bridge, you will find downtown London, and the John Labatt Centre, home of the OHL's London Knights. There are numerous options for places to eat and drink near the arena, but nothing in the immediate area of Labatt Park.
This is where the real problem is. Fans? There aren't any. Due to numerous problems, the Rippers are having some serious attendance issues. The controversial start the team has had in 2012 with the logo and bad press must be considered; as well as the lack of alcohol sales. However, it must be noted that London has struggled to support any professional baseball. London has previously been the home to the AA London Tigers, the Canadian Baseball League's London Monarchs and a previous Frontier League team, the London Werewolves. Both the Tigers and Werewolves each won their respective league championships as well.
The official attendance for the Rippers game in which this review was conducted was 600. However, there is no way that there were more than 100 people sitting in the stands. The average attendance for the inaugural season is over 800, which is by far the worst in the Frontier League. It would appear that the long-term future of the Rippers is in serious jeopardy if more fans don't turn out for games.
Parking is not great. The closest parking for Labatt Park is street parking in the surrounding neighbourhood. Getting into the neighbourhood is not too difficult, but it is a fair distance from any major highways. If you are more interested in ensuring that your car is in a parking lot, you are going to have to park before you cross the bridge.
The washroom facilities are really the only part of the ballpark that could be confused for the 1870's. They are extremely outdated and at that point where they never really seem to be clean.
A ticket for the Rippers is $10. As compared to the London Majors, it's only a $2 increase for a higher calibre of baseball. Concession prices are okay, and you probably won't have to pay for any parking. What is lacking at Labatt Park is the atmosphere and fan support that make going to a live game worth while.
An extra mark goes for the historic nature of Labatt Memorial Park.
An extra point for the ability to hear all of the sounds of the game, and to be up close and personal.
Going in, I had much higher expectations for the London Rippers. I thought that this may be the chance for baseball to build itself back up in Ontario. However, I was fairly disappointed in the experience overall. Some of the factors have been unfortunate for the Rippers, and some have been a result of poor planning. I hope that the Rippers can figure it out and find a way to get more people in the seats. Then they really could grip it, and rip it!
Follow all of Dave's journeys on Twitter @profan9
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