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Baltimore–My Thoughts May 29, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

This has no doubt been kicked around by much better scribes than yours truly, but here are my thoughts, for whatever they may be worth.

The buzz in Baltimore is that they might be getting a new arena not far from the Convention Center, one which might seat 18,500–which is an NHL-caliber crowd. With the Thrashers practically in the moving vans and plugging Manitoba into their GPS systems, and with Phoenix and the Islanders in well-documented trouble, Charm City might just be thisclose to grabbing its own NHL team, if they can get their building up fast enough.

Of course, the wild card in that game is the screwball nature of politics in both Baltimore itself, and the state of Maryland in general. As a Baltimore expat, I can tell you with certainty that if any city can totally muck up something as important as a new arena, it’s Baltimore.

Baltimore definitely could use a new arena. The disgrace of an arena they’ve got right now in Baltimore is such a dump, I’m surprised any business would want to pay money to put its name on it. As Washington generally can attest, a new arena in a good location can work wonders for the immediate area, and possibly for the city in general.

But the building is only part of the problem. The ticklish part is getting a good tenant. Put a bad product in that building, and fans won’t show up.

Just ask the Orioles: their last home opener, against the Tigers, was a full 46,593 for attendance. Game 2 of the series didn’t even draw 13,000 fans. 13,000 is a bad night for an NHL team, but for baseball?! For the Orioles?! For the team that’s practically the heart and soul of the city?! That’s not good for the team, and you can argue that it’s not that good for Baltimore, either.

Others have made this point, but it bears repeating. When fans don’t come to games, that’s money that doesn’t get spent downtown. A team that wins, is good for its city, not just its fans. When more fans come to games, that’s more money being spent in and around the venue. It’s good for the local economy, because fans are going to travel long distances to watch their team. When I was living in Harford County, our church would do bus trips down to Baltimore to see the O’s play. That’s a lot of money from way outside Baltimore that was being spent downtown.

Nowadays, I would imagine that buses from the ‘burbs are a lot less common at Camden Yards. So a team that, to be diplomatic, isn’t exactly a postseason lock, means fewer fans come downtown to spend their hard-earned money. And that’s not good for Baltimore. Not even mid-week games against the Saaaaaahx are drawing fans this season. Heck, the Orioles couldn’t sell out a Saturday game against the Yankees, for the love of Ripken. It has to be asked: how much business, and how much money, is Baltimore losing because the Orioles keep stinking up the joint, year after year after year? After year after year after year after year after…well, you get the idea.

So I think Baltimore could benefit handsomely, if a new arena were built, and if it secured the tenancy of a good team–basketball, hockey, doesn’t matter. Just get Charm City a team that plays a lot of games, get it successful–that’s important–and the city as a whole could be that much better for it.

Now, there are a couple of NHL teams that are in trouble, which might end up in Charm City, and could conceivably make for some extremely divided loyalties in the Maryland-DC area. I suspect that if Baltimore ended up with an NHL team, it would draw fans from Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties, for sure. Cecil County would still be Flyers territory, I’m thinking. Howard County could get interesting, but my suspicion is that most Caps fans in that area would continue to rock the red, instead of jumping on board with an upstart relocation squad. So the Capitals would still be drawing fans from Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, possibly Charles and Frederick, with all of DC and Northern Virginia still theirs.

Frankly, if there’s a market share problem with respect to Baltimore getting an NBA or NHL team, I think the problem would be at the other end of the B-W Parkway. With the Sixers on one side and the Wizards on the other, and with the Flyers on one side and the Capitals on the other, a Baltimore drop-in might be a bit of a tough sell for fans who’ve got established loyalties to any of those teams.

As a Washington Capitals fan, I frankly would LOVE to have an opponent in Baltimore. It would FINALLY add a geographic rival to the Caps in the Southeast division. If we’re going to be stuck playing two teams in Florida and another one in Raleigh, and if the Thrashers really do skip town, then it might be better for us to have a close-quarters rival as well. That sort of leaves the Hurricanes as the odd man out, but nothing’s perfect.

In truth, a half-dozen B-W Parkway faceoffs a year could add some welcome spice to the Southeast slate for fans in both Baltimore and DC. That would be good for both teams, for the entire Southeast Division, and possibly for the NHL as a whole.

And–to come back to an earlier thought–it might be good for Baltimore City, as well. 41 nights a year, plus preseason, and maybe even playoffs–that would give downtown Baltimore a new obsession in the winter months, as opposed to hot-stoving the Orioles to death.

Speaking of which, put yourself in Peter Angelos’s shoes for a second, and consider: a successful hockey or basketball team could still be playing in June…just as the Ravens would be starting to get ready for training camp. A successful arena team would mean the Orioles would have to actually, you know, work to keep their fans coming back, instead of just taking the fans for granted because there’s no competition once the Ravens are done. If anything, I’d worry more about resistance from Peter Angelos than Ted Leonsis.

That’s why I suspect there may be some shenanigans involved here before this new arena opens. Washington baseball fans know full well how fiercely provincial Peter Angelos can get when he’s faced with any semblance of a challenge to the loyalties of what few die-hard Orioles fans are left.

(As an aside: Baltimore, with all due respect, I love you dearly and miss you much, but if Camden Yards can’t sell out a Saturday game against the Yankees–even with Yankees fans invading the place–there can’t be many die-hard Orioles fans left. I hate to say that, but even more, I despise that it’s come to that.)

So any challenge to Peter Angelos’s stranglehold on Baltimore sports–a stranglehold which could long since have used a whole lot more feck, heed, tought, reck, list, gorm, and clue–would be most welcome. If the Orioles actually had to compete for fans, they might even have to start contending for a change. And if the Orioles actually did get better–an erstwhile fan can dream, right?–that would bring more fans to Camden Yards, which would be a good thing for both the Orioles and Baltimore as a whole.

So as a Capitals fan, I’d love a geographic rival; and as a Baltimore expat, I’d love to see some new life breathed into the adopted hometown that, in some ways, I still kind of miss. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Faidley’s for a crab cake, you know? 😦

So, bring on a new arena in Charm City! And if a big-league team ends up calling the place home, then welcome to the show, Baltimore, and best of luck!




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