Dreary days for long-suffering Nats fans

At Nationals Park, the die-hards are few and far between, compared with the horde of casual observers and fans of the opposing team.-Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Gloomy skies and a cold drizzle ushered in the 2011 baseball season as the Washington Nationals played before the smallest Opening Day crowd since the squad's days in Montreal.

As with every new spring, most of the 39,055 fans were optimistic on Opening Day, even for a team that has yet to post a winning record since it moved here in 2005.

"I'm still thrilled, no matter how low the quality of the team, that Washington has a baseball team," said David Dreyer, a longtime D.C. resident.

Table games could save Rosecroft

Officials at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County say the closed harness racing track may still have a chance to be reincarnated as a table games destination.

When the track closed July 1, owner Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc. said it would convert from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and auction off the track. Potential buyer Mark Vogel also said the track was losing too much money for him to keep investing and that he could no longer afford the monthly mortgage payments.

But now the Greenbelt-based developer says he is still making the track’s mortgage payments and is in talks with a few interested gaming partners and “in advanced discussions” with one.

Judge: Rosecroft antitrust suit can proceed

An antitrust suit against the Maryland thoroughbred industry filed by the bankrupt owner of a Prince George’s County harness racing track is still alive.

A federal judge has ruled that Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., which shuttered Rosecroft Raceway last month, has put forth enough evidence to allow the case to go forward. But U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett noted several times in his opinion that his ruling was based on whether Cloverleaf had enough of a claim to proceed.

He noted it is rare to dismiss antitrust cases before the discovery stage.

“An antitrust complaint should not be dismissed … ‘merely because the court doubts the plaintiff will ultimately prevail,’” Bennett wrote, citing a 1976  Supreme Court case against a private hospital in Raleigh, N.C.

Bennett’s opinion, issued last week, was in response to a motion to dismiss filed by defendants Maryland Jockey Club, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and others.

Collectors say the value of truly rare items has increased


Rick Currence, owner of Sports Card Heroes in Laurel, will be exhibiting at the National Sports Collectors Convention beginning Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center.The 31st annual National Sports Collectors Convention begins in Baltimore on Wednesday, and the uncertain economic climate hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for a sometimes pricey industry — local collectors say this is still one of their busiest weeks of the year.

Exhibitors say the demand for sports memorabilia since the 2008 recession has gone two ways — while interest has dropped for the “manufactured” memorabilia, the value of the more rare items has increased.

“We didn’t see a change in interest in the older, true collectible stuff,” said Bill Huggins, co-owner of Huggins & Scott Auctions in Silver Spring. “The ‘true’ stuff is stuff usually [manufactured before] 1970 and it didn’t have a value before. Hence if you’re cleaning out your house, those are first things that get thrown away. Those have really held value through the economic recession.”

The items that have taken a bigger hit are collectibles like limited edition prints or autographed items that don’t have historical significance. (Think Nolan Reimold bobble-heads.)

Md. National Guard expands its Baltimore Ravens deal to include practice jerseys

After saying last season they could afford to be picky, the Baltimore Ravens have made their selection — the Maryland National Guard gets to be the first entity in Baltimore to take advantage of the NFL’s new rule allowing sponsorship patches on practice jerseys.

The Guard is paying a total of about $350,000 this year as part of an expansion of its sponsorship of the team, according to the Guard’s public affairs office. The cost is being split equally between the Maryland National Guard and the national organization.

The expansion in sponsorship includes the Maryland National Guard logo on Ravens practice jerseys, a tent at training camp and Ravens home games and more signage at M&T Bank Stadium.

New ESPN deal will help Terps, but how much?

The University of Maryland’s financial future just got a lot more stable, but how exactly that will help the school build up its athletic programs remains to be seen.

Thanks to a 12-year, estimated $1.86 billion television deal the Atlantic Coast Conference made with cable sports giant ESPN, the conference’s member schools stand to see nearly double their television revenue and get more exposure for their sports than ever before.

While the greater exposure will help Maryland’s lesser-televised sports, just how the Department of Athletics can benefit from extra money depends on the economic climate.

“A lot of it’s going to depend on where everything else is at that time,” said the university’s interim director of athletics, Randy Eaton. “If tickets and donations are still down, all it’s going to do is keep us whole.

Rosecroft’s supporters point fingers at Annapolis

In the wake of Rosecroft Raceway’s announcement that it will be closing July 1, supporters of the Fort Washington harness racing track are pointing fingers at Annapolis.

“They talk about ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ and when the Preakness and Pimlico were in trouble, the governor and others ran downstairs to save them,” Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, said Wednesday, referring to swift legislative action last year that protected the property and the state’s first right of refusal to the race.

“Here we have 200 jobs on the line and they have done absolutely nothing,” he said.

Kelley Rogers, president of Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., which owns the race track that declared bankruptcy a year ago, said it was no longer financially viable to keep Rosecroft open.

“It just makes me sick. It really does,” he said. “The Legislature sat on their butt and didn’t do anything to save these jobs.”

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.

Soccer means business and retailers, bars hope to cash in

When suddenly everybody wants a U.S. soccer jersey and bars and pubs are opening their doors at 7 a.m., it usually means one thing — it’s FIFA World Cup time.

Once every four years one of the most popular youth sports in the country gets a one-month stint as the country’s most watched pro sport and businesses in the soccer world enjoy the roughly 25 percent boost in business that comes with it.

“Every four years we have an extended Christmas,” Stephen G. Humburg, general manager of Soccer American, said of the tournament which starts Friday in South Africa. “It’s not just World Cup merchandise — everything that is offered goes up.”

Strasburg’s arrival translates into sellouts, TV ratings for Nats

How big is Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg?

 He’s big enough to sell out Nationals Park days in advance of his scheduled major league debut Tuesday night.

The 100-mph-fastball pitcher is big enough to catapult ad sales — and rates — on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network for his expected starts this month.

The 21-year-old phenom is even big enough to inspire 249-year-old Strasburg, Va. to rename itself (if only temporarily) Stephen Strasburg, Va.

Simply put, expectations have soared beyond Earth’s gravitational pull and the money is already flowing — all before Strasburg throws his first big league pitch.

No one knows if Strasburg’s on-the-field performance will live up to the hype, but the Nationals are already starting to reap the financial benefits after signing him to a $15.1 million contract — highest ever for a rookie — last August.

Cordish lawyers assail validity of petition signatures

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business

ANNAPOLIS—A Cordish Cos. subsidiary began its exhaustive closing argument Thursday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in an effort to show that the county elections board erroneously approved a petition to put the company’s planned slots casino to a vote this fall.

At issue are the 22,967 signatures validated by the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections out of 40,408 collected during the petition drive led by casino opponents, including the Maryland Jockey Club, this spring. The casino is to be located near the Arundel Mills mall and is planned by Baltimore developer David Cordish.

Cordish subsidiary PPE Casino Resorts Maryland LLC is suing the county elections board, challenging the process by which the petition signatures were verified.

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.

The business of being Mel Kiper

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

When NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. began working with ESPN back in 1984, neither one remotely resembled the powerhouses they are today.

Just a few years prior, in 1981, Kiper made his draft report public, punching it out on a typewriter and selling 550 copies. Meanwhile, ESPN was still a fledgling sports network, just five years old.

“The NFL wasn’t king of all sports back in those days,” said Kiper, 49. “They were doing the draft on a Tuesday morning. Now the draft has become a huge event with television coverage on every pick and it’s broadcast at night so people can watch.”

As much as the draft’s popularity has grown, so has Kiper’s Baldwin-based business, Mel Kiper Enterprises Inc. Over the last three decades, Kiper has become the face of a massive draft empire complete with radio shows, television appearances, Web sites and publications.

But with popularity comes competition.

Group wants to build $30M tennis complex in Howard County

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Art Tollick said his Howard County Tennis Patrons decided to ‘do something that really makes a mark on the county and region in terms of a regional sports destination.’A private group trying to build a $30 million tennis and sports complex in Elkridge says it’s one step closer to bringing a formidable economic engine to Howard County that could generate up to $69 million in spending in its first three years.

Howard County Tennis Patrons Inc. has agreed to terms with the Howard County Recreation and Parks Department for a 40-year lease of 14 acres in Troy Regional Park for the construction of the Troy Park Tennis and Sports Center.

What started off more than five years ago as a push to get more tennis courts built in the county turned into a coordinated effort for a privately funded sports complex, said HCTP President Art Tollick.

Rosecroft Raceway’s license extended through July 1

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The Maryland Racing Commission Monday voted 5-1 to approve Rosecroft Raceway’s racing license through July 1 after prospective buyer Mark Vogel offered to front money to keep the Fort Washington track operational,

“We live to fight another day,” said Sharon Roberts, executive director of Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, the track owner’s parent company.

In a lengthy hearing Tuesday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course, officials from Rosecroft’s owner, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., testified on the harness track’s financial viability.

Cloverleaf President Kelly Rogers said with Vogel’s $350,000 loan and a $150,000 loan from the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, the track could remain operational through July 1. Both loans are subject to approval by a bankruptcy court judge.

Rosecroft Raceway sale blocked

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

A bankruptcy judge has denied the proposed sale of Rosecroft Raceway to developer Mark Vogel, calling it a “sell out” that’s unfair to the track’s creditors and the harness racing industry. The track’s owners must instead sell Rosecroft through a traditional Chapter 11 reorganization plan.

Meanwhile, Rosecroft owner Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc. notified its employees and shareholders Monday that if the track does not succeed with its legislative initiatives this session, which ends April 12, Rosecroft will close on April 19.

Cloverleaf’s notice portrayed the sale to Vogel as an option for the track’s immediate survival that had been eliminated. While Vogel remains an interested buyer, the notice said legislation, which includes legalizing poker at the track, is the remaining course for keeping the track open.

Reserving Ravens tickets early, for a price

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Want a guaranteed seat to watch the Ravens take on the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints or division rival Pittsburgh Steelers this season at M&T Bank Stadium?

You can grab one today — as long as you’re willing to pay extra.

The Baltimore Ravens have agreed to a one-year sponsorship deal with OptionIt, a ticket broker that sells the rights (or options) to buy face value, single-game tickets. The cost of an option to reserve tickets for Ravens home games on OptionIt’s Web site ranged Friday from $17 per seat for Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets to $68 per seat for Steelers tickets.

The company’s promoters say what used to be the luxury of Baltimore Ravens season ticket holders — or those fast enough to snatch up the 6,000 face value tickets the Ravens sell before the season — is now available to anyone.

For the Orioles, selling hope is the key

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

With the chill of a particularly brutal winter finally replaced by warm sun and blue skies, it’s almost natural for most baseball fans to greet the start of baseball season with at least a glimmer of optimism and good spirits.

On the other hand, if you’re an Orioles fan who has endured a dozen straight losing seasons, that cupboard is pretty bare.

But there seems to be a buzz this spring in Baltimore that hasn’t been heard in years, and it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about the team and its future.

While many say it’ll still take time for the chatter to translate into bodies in the seats at Camden Yards, an average of 1,000 more fans per game are showing up at spring training games this year, an excitement that’s also fueled by the team’s new location in Sarasota. And some say the team, which opens its season on the road Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, and its fans are heading to better days.

It’s not that the Orioles are selling hope and optimism inspired by a fresh start and everybody’s just happy to buy it — they’re selling a plan for the franchise that at least some Baltimoreans say they can believe in.

Bill seeks ouster of racing panel chairman

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Racing commission chairman John Franzone says he continues to serve because “the governor hasn’t appointed anyone else.”

The sponsor of a bill that proposes reorganizing the Maryland Racing Commission is asking the governor to immediately remove the chairman of the state’s governing body for horse racing and launch an investigation into the commission’s conduct.

Sen. Anthony C. Muse, D-Prince George’s, said that commission Chairman John Franzone has violated his term limit as by nearly a year, according to the Maryland Business Code, which allows two, consecutive one-year terms as chairman. Franzone was appointed chairman in 2007.

Muse is also asking that Franzone be removed from the commission immediately.

Parent company reaches agreement to buy Laurel, Pimlico before auction

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

To obtain Pimlico Race Course and the rest of Magna’s Maryland assets, MI Developments will pay out about $114 million, including $89 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Magna’s unsecured creditors committee.Maryland’s race tracks have again been yanked off the auction block — this time because their owner has reached an agreement to sell them to its parent company.

Ontario-based Magna Entertainment Corp. on Tuesday notified the six parties who were to bid on the properties, which include Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, that Thursday’s auction was canceled.

Magna parent MI Developments will pay $89 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Magna’s unsecured creditors committee. That money will be used to pay general unsecured claims against Magna.

MID also will pay about $13 million to cover secured claims of PNC Bank, about $6 million for holders of unsecured claims against the Maryland Jockey Club and $5 million to the former owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico.