For those of you who actively follow the MLS, this is old news. The powers-that-be of MLS and D.C. United have long been complaining about the high cost of RFK Stadium, especially considering the poor condition of the stadium. As flashy new soccer-specific stadiums pop up all over the U.S. for most of MLS’ franchises, United have been stuck in what could very well be considered the armpit of Washington, D.C. sports.
While browsing ESPN Soccernet on Friday night, I came across this MLS news rundown, which mostly discusses the United situation, and suggests that a move to Baltimore could come as soon as next season. D.C. United don’t want to play in RFK any longer, and it seems that MLS are fairly discontent with the situation as well. The article discusses the construction of a soccer-specific venue in the Camden Yards area, but it seems that M&T Bank Stadium would be the most likely candidate for United if they decide to relocate.
The bigger question than the stadium one, however, is the one of whether an MLS franchise in Baltimore is a smart decision. If the team did move to Baltimore, would it be a logical move for the club and its fan base?
Obviously, Baltimore is a city that has a strong soccer community. The Blast have generated more buzz and a bigger fan base than any other indoor soccer franchise over the past two decades. Additionally, youth soccer is huge in the metro area, and Baltimore is home to several of the top youth club organizations in the country. The top-level European teams that have hosted friendlies at M&T Bank Stadium (Inter Milan, Manchester City, AC Milan, Chelsea) have played in front massive, passionate crowds of more than 70,000 people.
While it wouldn’t be one of the fancy “soccer-specific stadiums” that seem to be all the rage these days, M&T would be a solid home for a franchise, especially as a short-term solution while a long-term solution would be built. It’s versatile, as shown by the multitude of events constantly occurring at the stadium; the NCAA Lacrosse Championships, a U2 concert, the international soccer friendlies in 2009 and 2010, and football championships at the high school and youth levels. Yes, it might be considered a hassle during the short period that the NFL and MLS schedules overlap, but the multi-use capability of the stadium is one of its most valuable strengths.
Now, we look at the other side of the argument. D.C. United is one of the original MLS franchises, and has done well in the nation’s capital, both on and off the playing field. Additionally, Baltimore has a metro population that is almost exactly one half of Washington’s, which is always a very important component to consider when thinking about attendance and economic potential of a franchise. Not to mention, Baltimore’s public transportation system lags far behind Washington’s in terms of convenience and overall scope.
The killer might be the fact that Baltimore is a football-crazy city. We all notice it each Sunday, and it’s evidenced by the fact that every post before this one today here on BSR has been about the Ravens. Once the NFL season starts, about 70% of the soccer franchise’s fan base would become disinterested, regardless of the team’s record. While it may seem like a moot point now, considering how poorly their games are attended, the Orioles pose a serious problem as well. They’ve been a Baltimore fixture the last 60 years, and the emergence of an MLS franchise which plays their games from March to October would cause obvious butting of heads. Some fans may end up choosing one team or the other to support, and both franchises would suffer if that were the case. It would surprise me if Peter Angelos does not make a comment on this situation in the coming months.
As evidenced, there are some definite pros and cons of an MLS franchise being relocated to Baltimore. Personally, I’d love it. I am never one to shy away from more sports, and I think it would be fun to be able to have what is a fast-growing league represented in my home city. I’m positive however, that other people feel differently, possibly even due to the fact that they simply don’t like soccer. As we say with most of these matters, it will turn into a wait-and-see kind of deal, and we’ll try to keep you informed over the coming months.
Edgar Walker is a staff writer for BSR, mostly covering the Ravens and high school sports. Watch out for his upcoming weekly column, “The Saturday Special.” Edgar also contributes to Varsity Sports Network and Essex-Middle River Patch. Follow him on Twitter, as he tries to eclipse Ashton Kutcher in total followers.