The Maryland Stadium Authority is set to release the results of a feasibility study sometime in September that will tell Crystal Palace Baltimore if a downtown Baltimore stadium is possible to build, and the Washington Freedom could be a part of the plan. The stadium would be to the left of M&T Bank Stadium and within seeing distance of Camden Yards and the facility would seat approximately 8,000 fans for soccer and expand to 15,000 for concerts.
Whether or not a larger stadium for Major League Soccer’s DC United would work in Baltimore is also part of the study, although Crystal Palace Baltimore President Pete Medd feels the smaller stadium for the USSF D-2 team is a more realistic option for the city and he expects the Maryland Stadium Authority to give the green light.
“Our feeling is that an 8,000 seat stadium in Baltimore that that’s a lot cheaper than a Major League Soccer stadium is appropriate and is what will work here, but you know, we’ll see,” Medd said. “But we do expect a positive report.”
The feasibility study takes a look at whether or not the 8,000 seat stadium could work in the downtown location for a price tag of about $25 million, although Medd feels the club could get it built for somewhere between $15 million and $25 million. The 8,000 seat Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium recently opened and cost about $17 million to give the Atlanta Beat a world-class home.
Funding for the stadium could potentially be split equally three ways between state money, local money and private money from investors. Another option is for the state to pay for half of the stadium while the other half of it gets covered privately, Medd said. He also added that the private capital raised to fund the stadium would come from Crystal Palace Baltimore and any other club that joins the cause.
One of those clubs could be the Washington Freedom, who have expressed interest in becoming stadium tenants if the project moves forward.
“First of all, Crystal Palace is playing a bunch of games this year at our stadium,” Freedom General Manager Mark Washo said. “They have told us that they are very interested in pursuing a new stadium deal. As we were talking about cross-marketing and promoting each other it led to discussions and if we were interested in playing in a new arena or new venue.”
Washo said Washington is in fact interested in the prospect of playing in a brand new soccer-specific stadium. The Freedom already play in the gorgeous soccer-specific Maryland SoccerPlex, but the club does face several challenges. There are limits where alcohol can be consumed (only in the beer garden behind one goal) as well branding issues with beer companies and the fact that the SoccerPlex is located in Boyds, Md., about 45 minutes northwest of D.C. proper.
“We’re content with where we are playing right now, but still there is a perception that Maryland SoccerPlex is far away,” Washo said. “On one end it’s a great venue; long term we have to question geographically if it is the best place to grow our fan base.”
Palace is playing four games at the Maryland SoccerPlex this year, the first of which came July 14 in a 0-0 draw with the Rochester Rhinos. Saturday will mark a day when both Palace and the Freedom play at the SoccerPlex on the same day. Crystal Palace Baltimore hosts AC Saint Louis at 3 p.m. and the Freedom host league-leading FC Gold Pride at 7 p.m.
Crystal Palace Baltimore and the Washington Freedom could also look into joining forces more if the stadium is approved. Both Washo and Medd sited the success of the the Washington Capitals (NHL), Washington Wizards (NBA) and Washington Mystics (WNBA) in joining sales forces. That is a particular point of interest after Washo said the Freedom is looking for investors to join owner John Hendricks, who is “committed to the Freedom through 2011 and beyond, but the timing is right to open it up more and bring in people,” Washo said. There is also the thought that joining forces might bring Hendricks to invest in Crystal Palace Baltimore, although Medd said that would be an overstatement.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far to say that John Hendricks is looking to get involved,” Medd said. “I would say that there is certainly discussions about the economies of scale. You notice that the Capitals and the Wizards have recently combined sales forces. So, you have less overhead. You have two revenue streams driven by one central office that has a set of expenses versus two separate groups going out and doing it. Now, does something along those lines make sense? Possibly.”
Both Medd and Washo acknowledged that WPS budgets and attendance line up closer to those of USSF D2, not MLS.
Should the Maryland Stadium Authority deem the downtown Baltimore stadium feasible and the project moves forward, the site would create a campus of professional stadiums next to Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. The prospect of the stadium could also appeal to the Freedom because it would be downtown in the 20th largest market in the country as opposed to the suburbs of Montgomery County. Washington is currently averaging 4,254 fans per game through seven home dates, although that includes a crowd of 8,261 fans May 1 in at RFK Stadium in a doubleheader with DC United. Not counting that date, average attendance at the SoccerPlex is just 3,586.
If DC United somehow made its way to Baltimore, Medd said Crystal Palace Baltimore would not be able to compete with the MLS team in Baltimore and wold seek other facility options. The feasibility study began early in 2010 and is due out sometime in September.
For more information, check out page 28 of this PDF: http://www.mdstad.com/pdf/budget2010.pdf