The end for Baltimore’s ESPN Zone

The closing of Baltimore’s ESPN Zone on Wednesday will not only leave 150 people unemployed, it will leave a huge hole in a premier, 170,000-square-foot downtown development in a still-recovering economy.

Owner Walt Disney Co. announced the shuttering of its five, standalone sports-themed restaurants on Wednesday. Roughly 1,000 employees nationwide at ESPN Zones in Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, New York and Las Vegas will be affected, according to Leigh Friedman, ESPN Zone’s regional marketing manager in Baltimore.

The Zone is a major tenant in the Inner Harbor’s Power Plant building, which was developed and reopened in 1997 by Baltimore-based The Cordish Cos. The restaurant was a founding tenant of the building, which had been closed for the 10 years prior, and in 1998, it was the first ESPN Zone to open in the country.

Zed Smith, a vice president of Cordish Co., said in a statement the Zone’s location makes it attractive to potential tenants.

“We will replace the ESPN Zone with an equally spectacular venue,” Smith said.

Teams announced for July’s international soccer match at M&T Stadium

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

For the second summer in a row, M&T Bank Stadium will host an international soccer match — this year featuring Manchester City Football Club against Football Club Internazionale Milano — a tradition that officials hope will cement reputation Baltimore as a world-renowned soccer destination.

Last year’s match, where England’s Chelsea Football Club defeated Italy’s AC Milan 2-1, sold out the stadium’s more than 70,000 seats 10 days in advance.

That event last July generated $20 million in spending, $1.5 million in state and local taxes and roughly 300 jobs, officials said.

Officials, who made the announcement Friday morning at the stadium, expect the same financial impact — if not better — for this year’s match on July 31.

Apparel lifts Under Armour’s quarter

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Baltimore-based Under Armour Inc. beat analysts’ estimates and nearly doubled its fourth-quarter profit in 2009 — an increase helped by gains in its apparel business during the holiday season, the company said Thursday.

The results prompted the athletic apparel maker to raise its 2010 projections by 10 to 12 percent to between $945 million and $960 million.

The company’s fourth-quarter net income increased by 83 percent to $15.2 million, or 30 cents per share, compared with $8.3 million, or 17 cents per share, a year earlier. Under Armour also reported a 22.5 percent rise in its profit for the year, netting $46.7 million compared with $36.2 million in 2008.

Crystal Palace is looking to baseball model

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

New Crystal Palace GM Keith LuptonWith a new league and — they hope — soon a new stadium, Baltimore’s minor league soccer team wants to model its business after minor league baseball in its goal to fill seats and become a regional destination and entertainment center for soccer fans.

To get there, Crystal Palace Baltimore is looking to new General Manager Keith Lupton to guide the team to the next level off the field. Lupton spent 28 years in the minor league baseball business and helped start and manage Baltimore Orioles affiliates in Frederick, Hagerstown, Bowie and Salisbury.

“I’m probably the least knowledgeable about soccer than everyone in this room, but that’s not my job,” he said at a Wednesday news conference at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore. “My job is to get a new stadium up and fill the seats through season tickets, advertising, media and entertainment.”

Indy racing proponent still expects green light in Baltimore

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The head of a group trying to bring a street race to downtown Baltimore believes the city is well on its way to being placed on the IndyCar Racing League circuit next summer.

“I’m pretty certain it’s going to happen,” said Jay Davidson, chief operating officer of Baltimore Racing Development LLC. “I’d say we’re at 90 percent.”

Despite turmoil in city leadership — Mayor Sheila Dixon steps down next month, and the incoming administration faces a budget deficit of approximately $127 million — plans to bring the first grand prix-style race to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are still revving up.

Md. courts lucrative youth soccer championship

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer 

Maryland is bidding to host a youth soccer championship in 2011 and 2012 that could bring more than $12 million in revenue to the state each year.

State officials have their eye on the U.S. Youth Soccer Championship, a national summer tournament played across five regions in the United States between 185,000 players on 10,000 teams from youth soccer state associations. Champions in the six age brackets (under-14 through under-19) from each regional event then meet to compete for a national title in July.

O’s returning FanFest to January

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium is dark, pitchers and catchers report in 29 days and Baltimore Orioles’ baseball season unofficially kicks off this weekend with the first wintertime FanFest in four years.

Saturday marks the event’s return to the Baltimore Convention Center, its home until 2007. That year, FanFest was moved to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and held just before Opening Day due to a conflict with a Ravens home playoff game.

Sports marketers say the move back to January is a better one for the team because FanFest will coincide with the launch of single-game ticket sales and gets fans into baseball season early.

Auction for Laurel, Pimlico is pushed back to Feb. 10

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The auction of Maryland’s thoroughbred race tracks has been delayed for the second time, and is now scheduled for three months before the state’s biggest racing day of the year — the Preakness Stakes.

The fate of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park is now scheduled to be decided Feb. 10, according to a motion to delay the auction filed by Magna Entertainment Corp., the company that owns the tracks.

Magna’s attorneys did not give a reason for the delay in the filing and did not return requests for comment.

Annual lacrosse convention brings 5,000 to Baltimore

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

It’s the fastest-growing sport in the country, and as thousands of key decision makers in the lacrosse world flock to Baltimore this weekend, companies new and old are hoping to make their mark.

Friday marks the start of the 12th annual U.S. Lacrosse National Convention, an event known around the industry as the place to woo potential clients.

“You’ve got all the top product manufacturers here … exhibiting their product — they’re here because the coaches are here,” said Bill Schoonmaker, COO of Baltimore-based U.S. Lacrosse. “It is an opportunity for them to put their best foot forward in a unique environment.”

Baltimore makes cut for World Cup bids for 2018, 2022

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Baltimore has made the cut to be one of the 18 host cities included in the U.S.A. Bid Committee’s quest to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup — a selection that could eventually mean $500 million in revenue for the city.

The announcement Tuesday afternoon by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati was met with cheers, whistles and applause from a small group of city and state sporting officials gathered at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore to watch the news conference on television.

“This is huge,” Terry Hasseltine, the state director of sports marketing, said as they gathered to toast each other after the announcement. “The World Cup is the largest event any city could ever host. …”

Cass works to maximize the Ravens

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

It’s been an unprecedented year for the National Football League.

Thanks to a national recession, the year for some teams has been marked by television blackouts, empty suites and undersold stadiums.

But not for the Baltimore Ravens. It was a tight squeeze, said Ravens President Dick Cass, but the team sold its last suite the day before it hosted its first game. And despite raising ticket prices this year when many other teams did not — Cass called that one a “painful” decision — M&T Bank Stadium quickly sold out for the season, as it has since it opened in 1998.

Edie Brown: A friend in the PR arena

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer 

Edie Brown began working for what was then called the Baltimore Civic Center in 1983, after more than three years at the Baltimore Convention Center.Edie Brown can’t go anywhere in Baltimore without seeing someone she knows.

When asked how many people she knows here, the longtime public and community relations director for the 1st Mariner Arena just laughs.

“[Baltimore] is very neighborhood-oriented, so you kind of always stick to people that you know and you grew up with or went to school with who are in the same social circle, so you don’t really expand out of that little circle,” she said. “This has given me the opportunity to meet terrific people I never would have met otherwise. It helps you stay young and alert.”

And while she may have framed photos of herself and Luciano Pavarotti, Michael Phelps and Sugar Ray Leonard in her office, the 76-year-old has made her career by treating everyone who crosses her path as a friend.

Despite recent dip, Ravens PSLs have been a good investment

September 10, 2009 8:22 PM
The Ravens have sold out every regular season game in Baltimore — this season included — since the franchise arrived from Cleveland in 1996.Between October 2007 and October 2008, the stock market lost more than 37 percent of its value. Investment funds were crushed and stock portfolios were shadows of their former selves.

Also in October 2008, a pair of Permanent Seat Licenses in a lower-level end zone section at M&T Bank Stadium sold for $3,550 each — about 8 percent more than the price for comparable seats sold the previous year.

“We don’t have a dollar invested in the stock market,” said Pat Smart, a contractor who has been buying and selling seat licenses for the last five years with his wife. “In a good year at any time we’ll have close to $150,000 invested in PSLs. We might have broken even a few years but we have never lost a dollar.”

Over the last year, however, the recession has taken its toll on the open market for permanent seat licenses at M&T Bank Stadium: The average price for a Baltimore Ravens PSL fell from $4,200 in 2008 to $3,400 this season, according to a Forbes team valuation.

Cities can lose during race cars’ fast visits

August 31, 2009 6:02 PM

A cautionary tale lies just 36 miles down the freeway from downtown Baltimore’s proposed Indy Car race along city streets. After fronting the $5.1 million to build a racetrack in the parking lot of RFK Baltimore Racing Development would reimburse Baltimore up to $500,000 for the city’s expenses in holding the proposed race on its streets, says COO Jay Davidson.Stadium, the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C., came in 2002 — and never returned.

But race promoters, including the ones trying to bring an Indy Car race to Baltimore in 2011, say Washington was an unusual case and most cities that host races on their streets have limited financial exposure today.

In Washington, setting up the American Le Mans Series race ran nearly $2 million over budget and the event drew complaints from the neighborhoods surrounding the track. Although the race promoter was to pay back half the city’s costs over 10 years, the political controversy made it a one-and-done event.

“It ended up costing a fair amount of money and the return was not what we hoped it would be,” said William Hall, an attorney who was a D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission board member at the time. That, “combined with the noise issue” not being resolved with nearby residents, quashed the event, he said.

But RFK’s track was essentially built from scratch and that drove up the cost. That would not be the case in Baltimore, according to the city Department of Transportation.

M&T Bank Stadium and FedEx Field remain in running for World Cup bid

Daily Record Business Writer
August 20, 2009 7:38 PM

Maryland’s two professional football stadiums have made the latest round of cuts and remain in consideration for the U.S. bid to host soccer’s World Cup in 2018 or 2022.

After eliminating 13 more stadiums, 32 remain, the U.S. bid committee announced Thursday. The list, which started with 70 stadiums in April, had been cut to 45 in June.

Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, and Landover’s FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, stand a good chance to both make the final cut of 18 stadiums, said Terry Hasseltine, the state’s sports marketing director.

“At end of day, if we get one [stadium] or we get two, Maryland wins because it happens on our soil,” said Hasseltine, whose office is with the Department of Business and Economic Development. “Our goal is still to have two when they’re down to 18, and I think we can do that.”

He said that M&T Bank Stadium and FedEx Field — separated by just 34 miles — provide a nice one-two punch. M&T’s smaller size and central location downtown is ideal for early round play where there’s more activity and attendance is more spread out, while FedEx’s 91,000-seat capacity is better for later rounds with larger crowds. M&T seats about 71,000.

“In all honesty, you could anchor one-quarter of field in this one area ... and I’ve pitched it that way,” said Hasseltine.

RFK Stadium in Washington also remains in the running.

The stadiums must now send to FIFA a more detailed list of specs including security capabilities, staff, parking and other event necessities and local amenities such as hotels and transportation.

Baltimore gained points with FIFA when M&T hosted a sold-out game between Chelsea and AC Milan in July, Hasseltine said.

Bids are due to FIFA by May, and the selections will be announced in December 2010.


Can Baltimore afford an Indy League race?

Daily Record Business Writer
August 17, 2009 2:34 PM

Baltimore is the Indy Racing League’s pick for its new race location in 2011 — but the question remains Two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. speaks at Monday's news conference.whether the city will be able to afford the expense to make the race along downtown streets a reality.

The event’s local organizers and city officials exercised cautious optimism at a Monday news conference officially introducing the Baltimore Racing Development team, which includes two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. The city council last week unanimously passed a resolution allowing the group to negotiate for and promote the event here.

“It’s not a done deal, we still want to deliver this to the city,” said BRD Chief Operating Officer Jay Davidson after the news conference at the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards. “We have to show them you can do the safety management and the traffic management in a feasible way. ... We hope they look at the cost and realize the benefits economically.”

A statement issued by Mayor Sheila Dixon was notably guarded.

“I am very interested in the prospect of Baltimore hosting an Indy Racing League event downtown,” the statement said. “As planning and negotiations continue with Baltimore Racing Development, the city must carefully consider the costs of this event ... against the compelling economic benefits.”

The race, run by the same type of cars as in the Indianapolis 500, would take place in a route along city streets between Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor. The promoters are negotiating for Labor Day weekend as the race date.

Birdie-watching at Senior Players will cost less this year

Daily Record Business Writer
August 10, 2009 5:54 PM

Golfing may be an expensive sport — but watching it doesn’t have to be.

Tournament director Steve Schoenfeld emphasized the tournament’s role in supporting local charities.That’s a message organizers for the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship hope to get across to fans in the midst of a national recession.

General admission tickets bought in advance will cost $2 less this year — $20 — than they did for the 2008 tournament. Steve Schoenfeld, executive director of the tournament, said Monday at the media day they thought a rounder number might settle better with fans.

“I’m not sure it was a conscious thought [to do that because of the economy], but it’s more like if that’ll help, why not?” he said.

Schoenfeld and others Monday also emphasized the tournament’s role in supporting local charities, which ticket sales can greatly affect. The PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour have raised a total of more than $1.4 billion for charity in the last 70 years — more than any other professional sports combined, according to the PGA.

The Constellation Energy Championship’s defending champion, D.A. Weibring, pointed to that fact during Monday’s question-and-answer session.

“I hope folks come out here and support the event,” he said. “I know times are challenging, but you do raise money for charity [in doing that].”

The Champions Tour stop in Baltimore has raised $400,000 each of the last two years for four local charities, organizers said. The tournament has also launched a new campaign, Tickets Fore Charity, in which local charities can sell tournament tickets for a cut of the proceeds. More than 50 charities in the Baltimore area have signed up for the fundraiser.


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Adding the kick to Chelsea-AC Milan

Daily Record Business Writer
July 23, 2009 5:20 PM

Chelsea Football Club and AC Milan aren’t the only ones with something to prove Friday.

In the highest-profile soccer match the city’s ever hosted, Baltimore has a chance to show to the world it can be a soccer town, and fans and businesses are uniting to get that message across.

“We want to make sure that when they go away from Baltimore, they’re going to remember this city for a long time,” said Steven Jones, the brew master at the Pratt Street Ale House, one of two designated Chelsea FC bars downtown.

“A game of this stature being in Baltimore is such a big thing,” added Jones, who moved here from Coventry, England, nearly 10 years ago. “We’re the ambassadors for the city.”

Jordan Bazant, a partner at New York-based The Agency Sports Management, said those “in the know” already consider Baltimore an elite sports town. But the event and broadcast on ESPN sends that message worldwide.

“It’s almost like its coming-out party in some ways, but it’s already been out,” Bazant said. “It’s proving what people are assuming — that it’s a phenomenal market for world-class soccer and just bringing it to people’s forefront.”

And that begins by going all-out to make the thousands of soccer fans traveling to Baltimore for the World Football Challenge exhibition game at M&T Bank Stadium feel like they’re at home.

In 2010, see TDs in HD at M&T

Daily Record Business Writer
July 17, 2009 7:42 PM

By next football season, Ravens fans will be able to enjoy instant replays and team videos in high definition at M&T Bank Stadium as the stadium’s landlord has started the search for a contractor to build Proposals to replace the SmartVision screens at M&T Bank Stadium are due to the Maryland Stadium Authority by the end of July.two new video boards.

This month, the Maryland Stadium Authority issued a Request for Proposals to replace the video boards at the stadium and hosted a meeting for applicant contractors last week. The proposals are due at the end of the month and the work would begin immediately following the 2009 season, according to Roy Sommerhof, vice president of stadium operations.

According to the RFP, the video board should be finished by May 2010 and testing the new board with the new control room will take place during that summer to be ready in time for the first regular season home game next year.

The stadium authority recently finished overseeing a $9.1 million high definition video board and control room project at its neighboring property, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Much work before a green flag drops in Baltimore

Daily Record Business Writer
July 7, 2009 8:15 PM

City and state officials are behind it. The economic impact study estimates $100 million could be in store for Baltimore.

With the office buildings as a backdrop, safety workers untangle cars during April’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, which features the same type of cars that organizers want to bring to Baltimore in 2011.But bringing an IndyCar Series street race to the Inner Harbor also represents a massive logistical responsibility and is far from a sure thing in 2011.

From repaving streets to rerouting traffic and public transportation routes to installing sound barriers to keep out noise pollution in surrounding neighborhoods, a lot of elements need to be assessed before bringing the race here is a done deal.

“It’s an enormous, enormous undertaking,” said Terry Hasseltine, director of sports marketing for the state.

But Hasseltine and other city and state officials seem poised to do what they can to bring the event, and its estimated spending impact of $70 million to $100 million, here in two years.