Baltimore needs a new arena, but the outlook isn't promising - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Baltimore needs a new arena, but the outlook isn’t promising

Royal Farms Arena
Photo credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Fifty years ago, Baltimore had championship-level teams in three sports. The Orioles were in three straight World Series. The Colts played in the Super Bowl twice, winning it in 1971, and the Bullets made it to the NBA Finals.

It’s hard for anyone under 60 to appreciate that Baltimore had three great teams at one time.

The Baltimore Bullets moved to Landover in 1973, and to Washington in 1997, changing their name to the Wizards along the way.

When the Bullets moved, they left the Baltimore Civic Center without a major tenant, and that building is still the city’s indoor sports home.

While other cities, large and medium-sized, have built new arenas in the past five decades, Baltimore has the oldest and most out-of-date indoor facility in the country.

The city inaugurated a new mayor this month, and Brandon Scott has not commented on the city’s need for a new arena.

For decades, proposals have been floated about a new arena. The size and location have been debated.

While building a new arena would be wonderful, there aren’t any teams to play there. The Wizards and the NHL’s Capitals own territorial rights to Baltimore, and they’re not going to waive them to allow a new team less than 40 miles away.

Baltimore is the 26th largest television market in the country, and no area smaller has more than two teams. Pittsburgh, ranked 24th, has the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.

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The other MLB markets smaller than Baltimore — San Diego, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee — have either one or two major league teams.

Kansas City, which had NBA and NHL teams, built the T-Mobile Center in 2007 and hoped to lure at least one major league to town.

While its location is ideal, in the middle of downtown Kansas City, it doesn’t seem likely that pro basketball or hockey will come to Kansas City. The arena has hosted the Big 12 basketball tournament and an array of concerts and minor sporting events.

The Royal Farms Arena has hosted big-name concerts. Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Garth Brooks, Prince and Stevie Wonder have played there in the past 15 years.

However, the Baltimore Blast, the indoor soccer team, moved to Towson University’s new SECU Arena, which seats just 5,200, in 2017. Royal Farms seats 11,286 for hockey and soccer, 12,289 for basketball and up to 14,000 for concerts.

There hasn’t been minor league hockey in Baltimore since the Baltimore Bandits played there in 1997, and the Wizards, who played a handful of games there in the late 1980s and 1990s, haven’t even played an exhibition game there since 2014.

The University of Maryland played a few games there in recent years, but didn’t draw well.

Besides debating a possible new arena’s location, the size has been long discussed. If a new arena that seats perhaps 13,000-to-14,000 for hockey and basketball is built, that eliminates any chance for a possible NBA or NHL team.

However, top-shelf concerts, ice and truck shows and occasional college basketball games could make that type of arena profitable.

According to Billboard magazine, Royal Farms was the top grossing concert venue that seats between 10,000 and 15,000 fans four times between 2011 and 2015.

A larger arena that holds between 18,000 and 20,000 would be ideal for the NBA and NHL, but it would look empty it there was an AHL or G-League team that drew a few thousand each game.

Building a 20,000-seat arena would be much more expensive than one that seats 13,000 or 14,000, and while it could lure major conference college basketball tournaments, and perhaps early-round NCAA games, those events are few and far between.

Baltimore is a major league town, and fans might be reluctant to attend minor league basketball or hockey, even in a new arena, if the NBA or NHL is just an hour away in Washington.

The location of Royal Farms Arena isn’t a bad one, just a few blocks from Oriole Park, but if a new building is built on the site of the old one, that takes Baltimore out of the concert business for several years.

The ideal spot for an arena was the one where the Horseshoe Casino was built, just south of M&T Stadium. That would have allowed Baltimore to do what Philadelphia did, build stadiums and an arena for each of their four major league teams in the same area.

There are so many other priorities for a new mayor that a new arena might not even be in the back of his mind. However, with each passing year, Baltimore’s inadequate sports arena gets worse and worse, and building a new one seems increasingly improbable.

The construction of a new arena would bring new jobs to the area, and help fill the three-month gap between the end of the Ravens’ season and the beginning of the Orioles’. It also would give Baltimore something to be proud of, and that’s sorely needed around here.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

 

44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. CalsPals

    December 22, 2020 at 7:18 am

    Let’s talk baseball, provide a winning product & that would give Baltimore something to be proud of…go O’s…

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 8:36 am

      Ray, you’re free to comment about the Orioles at any time. No shortage of Orioles content here.

  2. Birdman

    December 22, 2020 at 7:52 am

    Rich, just four years after it opened, the Civic Center was already considered too small and so poorly designed that it cost Baltimore an expected NHL expansion franchise in 1966 … as you note, at this point in time, a new arena is very, very far down on the list of priorities for Baltimore City.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 8:37 am

      Putting a stage behind where a goal is was great for concerts, not so great for hockey and basketball.

  3. In The Triangle

    December 22, 2020 at 8:05 am

    While I think it’s a great idea, I don’t think it will happen. There’s no way a major sport is coming to Baltimore. Even without coronavirus, the concert market is dwindling. There aren’t very many major acts around anymore. The number of touring acts gets smaller every year. I don’t know of a lot of young bands that actively tour and can fill a major league arena. Remember the countless stream of bands that came through the DMV from the 1970s thru the 1990s? There aren’t enough young bands that can fill 25,000 seat arenas often enough that they would be considered dependable income.Concerts are icing, not cake.

    Besides, you can’t play baseball in an arena.

    • CalsPals

      December 22, 2020 at 8:16 am

      Totally agree, this site is Baltimore Baseball, not Baltimore professional sports…go O’s…

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 8:51 am

      Triangle, appreciate the insight on concert scene. Very helpful.

  4. The Cartoon Bird

    December 22, 2020 at 8:20 am

    Great article Rich. I moved to Baltimore in my 20’s. Friends I made always reminisce fondly of the Baltimore AHL franchises and the hockey they watched. I envy them. If Baltimore had an NBA franchise, I would follow them closely. I know of so many friends who enjoy the NBA but could care less about the Wizards. Baltimore would be such a better NBA city. Baltimore made a mistake waiving its territorial rights in MLB.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 8:49 am

      The only time I went to a hockey game in Baltimore was when the Capitals played an exhibition game there nine or 10 years ago. I have covered and attended a number of Bullets/Wizards games there and enjoyed the intimacy and urban atmosphere. Since I don’t live very far away, it was cool being so close.

      I regret not going to at least one Skipjack game. The Clippers were gone by the time I arrived in 1980.

  5. Orial

    December 22, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Rich that was a GREAT change of pace article(maybe not if someone’s never lived in the area). Only so much O’s and MLB to talk about(the sport doesn’t seem to want to inspire us these days). I lived in Towson in the 60s to early 70s so have many memories of that locale. Baltimore was the nation’s 6th largest city in the early 60s. Times have changed. Is it lack of Corporate sponsorship,white collar moving to the suburbs,political corruption,demographics but what happened to Baltimore? Some say the city has been allowed to rot with “misdirected” funding. Who knows. One statement you made Rich which raises an eyebrow–” the Wizzards and Capitals have territorial rights”. Hmmm. Didn’t work in the Orioles case I guess. Doesn’t seem fair.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 9:10 am

      Thank you, Orial. Baltimore does not have a Fortune 500 company. Under Armour is just outside the 500. Without large corporations, it’s hard to sell the premium tickets needed for an arena. The city’s largest employer is Johns Hopkins, and they’re not going to buy tickets in bulk.
      Another city with similar issues, Detroit, for example, has a new arena, but there’s lots of corporate money there.

  6. Bancells Moustache

    December 22, 2020 at 9:17 am

    Sorry Rich, this ain’t no major league town. The football team is successful, but you can put an NFL franchise in rural Wisconsin and it’ll make money. Decades of mismanagement, corruption and surrender to its worst elements have reduced it to a shadow of its former self and it ain’t coming back. Any arena project would just turn into a boondoggle which would line many pockets, none of which need any more lining. I still remember Mayor Rawlings Blake’s commercial telling us if we didn’t vote for the Casino, which would in turn blow gold all over the school system and have local 8th graders curing cancer, she’d have Jonathan Ogden beat us up or something. Yeah, how’d that work out?
    Also, everyone saying Rich needs to stick to baseball, while I’m sure some of you are waiting with baited breath for another Chris Davis article or profile of (insert unheralded minor league pitching prospect), I am not one of you. It’s Rich’s site, so Rich can write about whatever the hell he wants.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 9:33 am

      Thank you for the encouragement. I’ve been surprised by the number of informed comments, both here and on our Facebook page about the issue.

      I think carefully about what I write about each day, Steve, and the number of times I don’t write about the Orioles is small. I know people should expect Orioles content, and people wander off topic all the time in comments.

      When I write about Alex Trebek or the arena, it’s because I feel strongly about the subject.

      It’s actually not my site. I don’t own it, and work for it, but I have editorial freedom.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        December 22, 2020 at 11:43 am

        I’m amazed that you come up with as much Orioles content as you do Rich. One of the reasons you’re a pro.

        And BTW …I consider this MY site! Bwahaaahahaahaa

        Seriously, if I don’t miss my guess, this site is Cockey’s and that other guy’s … I forget his name now that we have you!

    • Shamus

      December 22, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      Thank you Bancells for speaking the truth… Baltimore City is the reason there will be no new venues… we better hope they can hang on to the two franchises they currently have

  7. whiterose

    December 22, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Where did this suddenly come from?
    This article could have been written 50 years ago. The original designers and govt approvers should have been flogged. The arena was garbage from day one and another reason that Baltimore is not a first class city.

    • Delsym

      December 22, 2020 at 1:03 pm

      Baltimore was always and should remain, firstly a baseball ⚾️ town. We have the best venue in the game and a hope for the future. Play them…now! I will never endorse the Ravens (Browns)…we need to invest for success (Os). I’m a Bills fan, it CAN be done! When we were winners, we were a team, I recall World Series thanks and praise from a T-E-A-M…chemistry matters!!!

    • dlgruber1

      December 22, 2020 at 1:52 pm

      Delsym I gotta disagree that Baltimore was always a baseball town. The Colts ruled Baltimore for a long time. As great as the O’s were in the 60’s thru ‘83 they never had great attendance figures. The Colts in the other had ALWAYS had 60,213 every week. The road sign along 83 that used to read Memorial Stadium and Baltimore Zoo was always said to be a double entendre. I agree completely about the Ravens (Browns). I simply can’t like that team. I know it may sound stupid but if Baltimore had just been allowed to keep the name Colts and get a new franchise I’m sure I’d still be going to games as I, and my grandfather before me, did from 1954 thru 1983.

      • Delsym

        December 23, 2020 at 10:06 am

        I’ll give you all of that, I’ve only known Baltimore from the 70s as a grade schooler and certainly the Colts were great, I’m an ignorant New Yorker (though rural and central), will always remain a loyal Os fan, Brooks was the best!

    • CalsPals

      December 22, 2020 at 4:07 pm

      I’m shocked they didn’t do what Cleveland did & retain records & everything for the Browns, Indianapolis Racers would’ve made sense…go O’s…

    • dlgruber1

      December 22, 2020 at 6:05 pm

      CalsPals, they’ve should’ve been forced to name them the Indianapolis Pilgrims since they came in on the Mayflower moving company trucks.

      • WorldlyView

        December 22, 2020 at 6:17 pm

        DLG, Very clever wordplay, but even four decades later, I cannot smile at any reference to the exodus. We couldn’t even find lawyers to retain the name “Colts.”

  8. jonniebmore

    December 22, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Rich, I think a retractable roof on M&T would be the way to go. Then the city would get a new arena and more use out of a stadium that is used maybe 12 days a year. It would take some architectural and engineering creativity but it could be done.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 3:55 pm

      I wonder what the cost would be for a retractable roof on an existing stadium versus a new arena?

  9. jimcarter

    December 22, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    For the youngsters, Kansas City had 3 shots at pro basketball: the ABL Steers, the unnamed ABA entry that became the Denver Rockets/Nuggets and the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. It’s unlikely they’ll get a fourth bite at the apple.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks for the pre-KC Kings info, Jim. Kansas City also an NHL team, the Scouts, from 1974-76. So, a small market like Kansas City actually had all four professional sports at one time in the 1970’s.

  10. BirdsCaps

    December 22, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    I always liked the little arena. It’s been a while, but I saw quite a few concerts at what was then 1st mariner arena. Trans Siberian Orchestra was unforgettable, while Ozzy and Megadeth were also awesome.As a small child I saw the Ringling Bros.Barnum and Bailey Circus there. Also, My mom saw the Beatles on what I think was their first Us Tour at the civic center. So, long story short despite it being out of date for my entire life, it will always be kind of special.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 3:58 pm

      Stephen, I saw the Rolling Stones there in, 2006, I believe. That’s the only concert I saw there, and it was a fine venue for that show.

      • BirdsCaps

        December 22, 2020 at 6:56 pm

        Must have been a good concert. They weren’t fully over the hill at that point. The new(ish) Blue and Lonesome album was outstanding and the right pace for the Stones considering their age and energy level.

  11. WorldlyView

    December 22, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    I found this article and discussion to be quite interesting–a refreshing change from another debate about when to put Rutschman on the active roster or yet another recitation of the unimpressive baseball resume of the latest castoff signed from free agent purgatory. And here’s hoping that we all enjoy a far more happy and healthy new year!

    • dlgruber1

      December 22, 2020 at 6:14 pm

      I agree completely WordlyView. Maybe if the O’s were coming off a playoff season and we were all looking forward with anticipation to their ascendancy to the next level we’d have more O’s stuff to talk/argue about. Plus, I just like other sports and it’s a refreshing change of pace. I’m near Hershey and the Bears are a legendary AHL franchise that used to have a great rivalry with he Skipjacks. I used to secretly root for the Skipjacjs against the Bears simply because they were from Baltimore.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 23, 2020 at 10:55 am

      Thanks for your encouragement, Steve.

  12. chico salmon

    December 22, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    Thank you, Rich, for broadening the sports conversation and taking a look at the arena issue. Under Armour or T Rowe Price would have to step up but UA has struggled and is moving to Port Covington, and TRowe is relocating to Harbor East. Is the Maryland Stadium Authority an option? I am in favor of a new arena at
    the current site in the 12-15,000 range. Besides concerts, maybe the Wizards and Caps would play some games here and we could attract a G League team. Charlotte, San Diego, and Milwaukee support AHL teams – why not Baltimore? I totally agree that we all need winter sports here. Thank you, again, for raising the issue.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 22, 2020 at 8:58 pm

      I appreciate the support, Chico. It’s something I’ve written about before, but never on this site, and unfortunately nothing has changed for as long as I’ve been writing about it.

      It’s funny you bring up a G League team. Very few of them operate independently. Nearly all are affiliates of the parent teams. The Wizards is the Capital City Go-Go, and they own it. They play at the Wizards’ practice facility and have drawn poorly.

  13. millboy

    December 23, 2020 at 7:43 am

    Thanks for the article Rich, nice change of pace and very interesting
    Great job as usual

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 23, 2020 at 10:52 am

      Thank you, Millboy.

  14. Jameshra

    December 23, 2020 at 9:15 am

    When the Os put it back together the fans will return to Camden. As far as a new indoor arena? No one will invest money in this town until there is smart leadership and safety. In the 60s and into the 70s Baltimore was reeling from the loss of traditional industry, and the inner city from Fells Point, to where Harbor Place now stands and on to where M&T is was a disgrace. My parents would not allow me to go into that part of town and and I missed some great shows and games. Wm Donald Schaefer turned things around, bringing the inner harbor to life, rejuvenated the entire area and made it safe again. Keeping politics out of it, the city now vies for murder capital and most dangerous city in the US, culminating in the Freddie Grey tragedy. There are no signs on a new Don Schaefer and the city will continue to be a national embarrassment. Sad, just sad. Why?

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 23, 2020 at 10:54 am

      James, I was in Detroit with the Orioles in 2019, my first trip since 2014 playoffs, and I was astounded to see how much had changed for the positive. People were walking around downtown Detroit on a Friday night! It was great. I thought, Detroit had even worse problems than Baltimore, and they turned things around, so why not us? Obviously, I haven’t been back since the pandemic.

  15. cedar

    December 23, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    I always felt it was in Baltimore’s best interest to tie any new arena to the convention center. Besides minor league hockey (which I miss) and indoor soccer (now up the road) Pam Shriver hosted charity tennis tournaments, college basketball where I did get to see the first round of NCAA tournament and other fun events. I would enjoy a D-League team abs minor league hockey. As for what this has to do with baseball? Well, it’s my belief that sports help other sports to develop partnerships and grow in their community. So I think another team whether pro or minor would help the O’s and Ravens as well as the city.

  16. Chewy

    December 24, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    There needs to be a real economic plan to build a new arena. With 3 teams likely to expand in the NHL (1) and NBA (2) and the always real possibilities of relocations, now is the time to start planning an expansion bid. Although I am more of a hockey fan myself, an NBA team would be a lot more successful for Baltimore. Need to start planning now if there is any shot of getting an expansion team.

    I had a new thought on a location for an arena: Woodlawn. With malls dying, put the arena where Security Square Mall is and build around the arena a shopping and entertainment center. Maybe include a hotel with a sportsbook. This could be a huge economic boost to the west-side Randalstown/Woodlawn/Catonsville corridor. The arena would be easily accessible via I-70 (with a few added ramps) for Howard and Frederick counties and I-695/I-795 for Baltimore and Carrol counties and a future Red Line for Baltimore City residents. The location might also be more palpable to Ted Leonsis in that it is less accessible/desirable to most of the DC area.

    As for tenants, besides luring an NBA team, the arena could be the home to UMBC basketball, which is only 3+ miles from campus. That’s 15 home dates. Add the Baltimore Blast for 12-15 more dates. Add a couple NCAA tournaments per year which could include a Baltimore school-based tournament, a higher-major preseason tournament, a conference tournament (about 6 good candidates that could be rotated), and an NCAA tournament weekend location (get either the men’s or women’s side once every 2 years). A couple high-level high school regular season games, high school playoffs in a variety of winter sports, and recruiting tournament basketball games can be added. Throw in concerts/shows and this arena could be in use as much as any other big city arena.

    This won’t be easy and will take a lot of planning and effort. But if done properly, a solid arena plan could be a great economic driver. People will be flocking out to live entertainment a lot more after the pandemic. Take advantage now.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 24, 2020 at 4:55 pm

      Very interesting idea, Chewy.

      • wittybaltimoron

        January 17, 2021 at 2:55 pm

        Funny thing, Rich. Back around Thanksgiving, the Baltimore Development Corporation announced they were taking proposals for making the arena state-of-the art facility, either through renovation or building a brand new arena. The one condition: it must be on the current site.

        Personally, I’d like a 15,000 to 16,000 seat arena. Bigger than the current one, but still keep that intimate feel. We could have the return of minor league hockey, hosts some NCAA regionals, Frozen Four, more concerts, the return of the Blast. That would be cool, I think.

        Keep in mind, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland etc., have at least two major league sports teams and still have minor-league hockey.

  17. johninbethany

    December 24, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    There is too much need in the metro area for other things (infrastructure, blocks of abandoned buildings, crime, etc…). Money should be spent to improve the city instead of trying to lure another franchise here.

    Instead let’s embrace what we have and make the O’s and Raven’s the envy of cities.

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