Former Genworth CEO kicks off new Mechanicsville venture


A new indoor sports venture backed by the former CEO of a Richmond Fortune 500 is up and running off a rural section of Route 301 in Mechanicsville.

Michael Fraizer’s Sports Reality, a 50,000-square-foot athletic training facility, was formally unveiled on Saturday in a grand opening event.

Built on 5 acres at 8137 Pine Ridge Road, Sports Reality caters to serious athletes looking for sports performance training and serves as a practice facility for the Richmond Raiders, the professional indoor football team owned by Fraizer and his wife Elizabeth.

“Our purpose is to help athletes get better, no matter what level,” said Casey Cooley, Sports Reality’s general manager and a former University of Richmond football player.

Fraizer, a former CEO of locally based mortgage insurance giant Genworth Financial, said he had several sources of inspiration for Sports Reality.

Sports Reality

“The first was from owning a pro indoor football team and seeing how hard it was for players, especially those who also have to work (day jobs), to be able to perfect their skills, particularly those who desire to move up,” he said.

The bulk of Sports Reality’s floor space is taken up by two 50-yard turf fields. It also has a fully stocked 3,500-square-foot weight room.

The Raiders, which are a separate enterprise from Sports Reality, use the facility about three months out of the year. The team is one of seven in the Professional Indoor Football League, a tier below the Arena Football League.

Fraizer, who stepped down from his post at Genworth in 2012, led the committee that helped bring the Washington Redskins practice facility to Richmond a few years ago. It was while going through the Redskins process that he started thinking more broadly about what he calls the sports performance industry.

Sports Reality’s staff, which also includes director of strength and conditioning Josh Bush, is tasked with building a clientele of athletes from as young as the sixth grade up to the professional level who need advanced fitness training. The facility is built to offer field time, weight training and film rooms and can accommodate scouts and coaches.

Fraizer said the youth sports industry in the U.S. is a $7 billion market, and sports coaching is another $7 billion market.

“I’m sure there’s overlap, but it’s at least a $10 billion market, and if you combine all the different angles it, to me, looks closer to $20 billion,” he said.

Cooley (left) and Josh Bush

Fraizer said he sees trends in athletics that will allow Sports Reality to grab a piece of that market.

“You have all these dynamics from competitiveness to economics that come together,” he said. “Our thinking after the Redskins experience was: let’s think about this as a standalone business that happened to accommodate a team that we owned.”

Another spark for the business – and for its name – came from watching the demise of SportsQuest, a now infamous failed idea for an all-encompassing sports campus once planned in Chesterfield County.

Fraizer said he was approached to hear an investor presentation from SportsQuest mastermind Steve Burton. Fraizer said he immediately saw the writing on the wall.

“I sat through one of those presentations, as did many people in this community,” he said. “I walked out of the room, I called my lawyer and said, ‘See if the name Sports Reality is available.”

Fraizer ultimately settled on the Hanover County plot because of easier land availability and access from Interstate 295 and Route 301.

Michael Frazier

The Sports Reality facility was constructed over about a year, beginning in December 2013. The general contractor on the project was TAW Construction in Ashland. Perretz & Young was the architect. Fraizer’s daughter, who is also an architect, had a hand in the design.

Fraizer would not comment on specific costs of getting the venture up and running.

“It’s a substantial investment,” he said, adding that he paid for the venture with personal funds to allow it to be a debt-free enterprise. “You have the flexibility to do it the right way, even if that takes some time.”

Sports Reality officially launched in January but had been operating in a soft opening mode to get the kinks out until Saturday’s grand opening.

“We’re such a new brand,” Cooley said. “For a while, people realized this big building was out here but didn’t really know what it was.”

As it looks to build revenue, Sports Reality sees young athletes and coaches around Henrico and Hanover as its most natural targets, given the facility’s location. Its split field will allow for multiple activities at once. And UR recently held its pro day at the facility, with 16 professional football scouts on hand to observe Spider players.

“It’s like a blank slate, with really good potential,” Cooley said.

Written By Michael Schwartz for Richmond Biz Sense

May 18, 2015

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