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.

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.)

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.

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.

Loyola University Maryland raises the bar

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

After more than a decade of planning, fundraising and construction, Loyola University Maryland is counting on its new $62 million Ridley Athletic Complex to impress recruits and boost the school’s image.

“It engenders pride,” said The Rev. Brian F. Linnane, Loyola’s president. “We feel that … done in the right way, it will give us great momentum internally with our students and faculty, and externally it will attract more students and alumni.”

And in going from one 4-acre field on campus to a 71-acre sports complex that eventually will have two fields and a running track, Loyola’s athletics facilities have definitely been supersized.

J. Richard Awalt Field will host soccer and lacrosse games and the adjacent Sean Lugano Memorial Field will be used for practices and rugby games. Both of those facilities are completed. Construction on the 400-meter track is scheduled to begin soon at the complex, which is about three miles from Loyola’s Evergreen Street campus.

WMAR outsourcing its 11 p.m. sportscast to PressBox

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer 

After months without a sportscaster of its own, Baltimore’s WMAR has turned to a local sports media company to produce sports segments on its nightly television newscasts — a move some say is a financial win for both companies but a potential loss for viewers.

PressBox, a Baltimore company with a monthly newspaper, a Web site, and weekly television and radio shows, started producing the script and voiceover for WMAR’s sportscasts more than a week ago and plans to officially announce the new relationship Monday.

A handful of PressBox writers — including company founder Stan “The Fan” Charles and managing editor Kevin Heitz — serve as the nightly voice of the sportscast. A 90-second voiceover of highlights and news is recorded and sent to WMAR, where the video is later edited in and aired during the 11 p.m. newscast.

Sports Legends Museum sales up

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Thanks to a little help from its friends, Baltimore’s Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards posted a nearly 30 percent increase in its combined store sales and admissions revenue in 2009.
The museum, home of the Ravens and Orioles team store, increased its store and admissions revenue by more than $200,000 to $920,000 for the 2009 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
It’s the biggest year-over-year increase for the Baltimore sports history and memorabilia museum since it opened in 2005.
Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation Inc., which operates the museum, said most of the revenue boost came from increased store sales in 2009, while the attendance total inched up about 1.5 percent.

Friendly forecast has Wisp hoping for a big season

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Coming off a season in which visitor numbers grew over the prior year, Maryland’s only ski resort expects a steady season and another visitation increase, thanks to predictions of a snowy winter.

Wisp Resort in Garrett County does not release its specific visitor totals, but Director of Marketing Lori Epp said the Appalachian Mountain resort saw a 7.9 percent increase in skier and snowboarder visits during the 2008-09 season over the prior year.

And Wisp isn’t alone — despite a lagging economy that’s taking a toll on luxury purchases and discretionary spending, many resorts across the mid-Atlantic and Southeast saw an uptick in visitation numbers last year, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

A big goal for Towson retailer Lax World

By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

After opening seven stores over 20 years, Towson-based retailer Lax World is in the middle of an aggressive, three-store expansion to capitalize on the growing popularity of lacrosse while there are still deals to be had in the depressed commercial real estate market.

Lax World, which specializes in lacrosse equipment, clothing and accessories, opened a store in York Galleria Mall in York, Pa., in October and three weeks ago opened a store in the new Maple Lawn development in Howard County. The company is now scouting out a location in Bethesda, and executives say they hope to open a store there within a few months in time for the 2010 season.

Two of Lax World’s stores have also gotten bigger this year — its flagship store in The Shops at Kenilworth expanded into the open space next door in the mall, while its Bel Air location moved to the Harford Mall in a space 50 percent larger than its former South Main Street location.

Jerry Scott, the company’s director of operations, would not specify what kind of leasing deals Lax World was able to get but said they were “just too good to pass up.”

Stadium Authority cuts budget

Daily Record Business Writer
September 2, 2009 12:11 AM

The Maryland Stadium Authority voted to cut its 2011 budget by $10 million Tuesday in an effort to curb spending and minimize the state’s funding of the agency.

“We took our expenses back to 2009 levels and what we actually spent this [fiscal] year,” said Chairman John Morton III after the meeting at the Camden Yards warehouse. “We felt it was important that we ran with the same expense load and even more important that we don’t ask the state for any additional funding than we needed.”

To afford the cut to $75.4 million, an 11.2 percent decrease from the stadium authority’s projected budget this year of $85.4 million, the board approved cutting the position of general counsel from the payroll, limiting staff expenses and will likely have to limit the number of feasibility studies it approves during the 2011 fiscal year.

The fiscal year for stadium authority, the governing body for the state’s sports and entertainment facilities, runs from July 1 to June 30.

The position of general counsel was last filled by Alison Asti, who also served as the executive director for her last two years before being asked to leave both positions in September of 2007.

Although David Raith, the chief financial officer for the stadium authority, would not say how much the position cut would save the agency, The Daily Record reported in 2007 that Asti earned more than $225,000 a year for her roles. Had she stayed on as general counsel and director of development after being fired as executive director, her contract would have guaranteed her $200,000 a year.

Guarding athletes’ assets

Daily Record Business Writer
August 24, 2009 8:06 PM

To the average retiree, $50,000 a year in investment income when you’re 65 years old isn’t a bad deal.

But to a 45-year-old former baseball player who was making twice that amount before the recession — and needs his money to last him the rest of his life — it’s a big reality check that can be difficult to take.

Joseph Geier manages the investments for about 60 retired and current athletes.Last year’s stock market plunge, which saw many investment portfolios lose nearly half their value, has caused some retired athletes to make living adjustments and is proving a cautionary tale to those still in the game, advisors to professional and retired athletes say.

Joseph Geier, president of Geier Financial Group in Marriottsville, said the last 12 months have been stressful as head of a company that manages approximately $150 million in assets for about 70 high-net worth clients and 60 retired and current athletes including Cal Ripken Jr., Mark Teixeira and Melvin Mora.

Geier said his company takes a very conservative management style to investments, and the average portfolio under his purview lost 10 to 20 percent of its value while the market lost 40 percent of its value. But when you’re talking about this kind of money, a 20 percent portfolio loss is still in the millions.

Of the athletes, mostly baseball players, he said the retirees are affected most by the downturn.

“They don’t have ability to replace that money that was lost as quickly as someone who’s sill working,” Geier said. “A guy loses 10 percent of his portfolio and he’s only 45 and he’s not working anymore.”

Keeping O.C.’s White Marlin Open fresh

Daily Record Business Writer
July 30, 2009 6:49 PM

OCEAN CITY — Jim Motsko had no idea 36 years ago that his scheme to earn money while fishing would ever amount to anything.

But his tournament idea quickly took off, and the White Marlin Open, which begins Monday, has become The crew of the Cerveza, out of Pirates Cove, N.C., fights a white marlin on the first day of the 2008 tournament.the largest billfish tournament in the world, bringing thousands of people to Ocean City each August. Anglers come from up and down the East Coast to compete for their shot at hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes — and to spend money hand over fist while they’re here.

But with the cost of fuel last summer causing the biggest drop in entrants in the tournament’s history, and the recession this summer still scaring away boat owners who can’t afford the costs, the economic boost the White Marlin Open usually delivers to local retailers has been softer in recent years.

“You reach a point where there’s no boat docks left,” Motsko, 62, said. “We were at that point a couple years ago. Now I can tell you of 20 docks with space left off the top of my head.”

The city estimates more than 300,000 people come here during tournament week, comparable to a Fourth of July weekend. But those who come for the White Marlin Open are no ordinary tourists, said Memo Diricker, director of the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network at Salisbury University.

“Per day spending of these kinds of high-end events tends to be much higher-focused than when a regular tourist comes to the beach,” he said. “In some cases, spending is almost 1½ to two times the average per-day expenditure.”

The White Marlin Open reached its height in 2005, when 446 boats were entered. According to estimates, depending on the size of the boat, it can cost between $3,000 and $5,000 per day to enter the five-day tournament in which entrants choose three days (usually Monday, Tuesday and Friday) to fish. That includes the tournament fee, which can range from $1,000 for the base fee to more than $15,000 to enter all prize categories, fuel, bait, tackle and other supplies.

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.

Maryland launches online sports venue directory

Daily Record Business Writer
May 8, 2009 9:04 PM

With the launch of a new online directory detailing the state’s more than 600 sports facilities, officials Left to right, Cal Ripken, Jr., President and CEO of Ripken Baseball; Christian Johansson, Secretary of DBED; Terrance Hasseltine, Director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing and John Morton III, Chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, announce new state online sports venue directory.say Maryland is finally “ready to play” as a destination for world-class sporting events.

“This is a $182 billion industry and is growing annually,” Terrance Hasseltine, the state’s sports marketing director, said at a press conference Friday at Camden Yards. “It’s time we go out for a bigger piece of that proverbial pie.”

Hasseltine was joined in the announcement by Cal Ripken Jr., whose Ripken Baseball operates the largest youth baseball complex in the state, and representatives from the Department of Business and Economic Development and the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Pimlico owner Magna's stock delisted

Daily Record Business Writer
March 4, 2009 7:32 PM

On the day before many believe it will declare bankruptcy, the Canadian-based company that owns Laurel and Pimlico racetracks has notified the federal government its stock will be delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Magna owns racetracks in Maryland including Pimilico.Magna Entertainment Corp.’s stock, which opened at 30 cents a share on Wednesday, will be delisted on April 1. Following the news, shares fell more than 31 percent for the day, closing at 20 cents. Two years ago, the stock was worth $76 a share.

Magna received the delisting notice from the Toronto Stock Exchange Tuesday, two days before its payment on a $40 million loan to a Canadian bank is due — the first of three loans totaling $226 million due this month for the financially distressed company. After watching Magna accumulate more than $600 million in losses over the last six years, racing industry analysts and officials have said they expect the company to declare bankruptcy as early as Thursday.

Dew Tour not returning to Baltimore

Daily Record Business Writer
March 2, 2009 11:08 AM

After kicking off its season in Baltimore for the last two years, the 2009 AST Dew Tour will bypass Baltimore, state officials announced Monday.

Last June’s stop drew more than 52,500 fans to the parking lots surrounding M&T Bank Stadium over four days and generated about $10 million in economic impact, according to city tourism officials. Michael Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said they were disappointed in the decision but he hoped the loss would be buffered by other sporting events coming to Baltimore this year.

“The economic impact is not so great for us to say all is lost,” he said, noting that the state Office of Sports Marketing’s director, Terry Hasseltine, is continuing to work on bringing new and return events to Maryland such as the NCAA men’s lacrosse final four, which Baltimore will host again in 2010 and 2011.

The stadium authority said a conflict with the Orioles’ schedule in June and a change in the tour’s format contributed to the decision.

“We’re disappointed they are not coming this summer and we welcome them back in the future,” said Frenz.

Stadium authority says it’s poised to bring more events to Md.

Daily Record Business Writer
February 11, 2009 6:47 PM

ANNAPOLIS — Fresh off of winning the bid to host the 2010 and 2011 NCAA lacrosse Final Four in Baltimore, Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John Morton III told legislators Wednesday that while the agency expected a decrease in revenue this year, it was poised to be a revenue generator for the state’s future.

“When I worked on the [2012] Olympic bid, one of the things we took away from that is that there were hundreds of events taking place every year that our state was just missing,” Morton told the House Appropriations Committee’s Education and Economic Development Subcommittee. “We had the transportation and infrastructure in place ... but no consolidated effort or logistic approach to how we were going to loop in on this.”

With a new sports marketing director in place who last month submitted a report stating that Maryland had at least 380 venues that could be marketed to the national and international sporting world, Morton said progress had been made but was far from complete.