Packing stadiums is their ticket

Panel forms to lure concerts, title games

December 09, 2005|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland Stadium Authority announced yesterday the creation of an informal committee of Baltimore business leaders that will try to bring large events such as concerts, college championships and religious gatherings to the city's stadiums.

The city has tried for years to attract such events to its football and baseball stadiums, which tend to lie dormant when the Ravens and Orioles aren't in season. M&T Bank Stadium has hosted Army-Navy football, the NCAA lacrosse championship and the HFStival rock concert, but authority chairman Carl A.J. Wright said the committee will bring new focus to luring big shows.

"I think having a group specifically focused on this will go a long way," Wright said. "It's important, because we have the assets here, and we want to leverage them more."

Possible targets mentioned by the new commission include concert acts U2 and Bruce Springsteen, soccer exhibitions, the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship and an appearance by the pope.

Competition also has grown stiffer for events such as Army-Navy and the lacrosse championships, Wright added, meaning the bids for those games require more attention.

Big events mean big profits for downtown businesses, according to the stadium authority. Officials estimate that an event like the ACC football championship could bring $25 million to $30 million to area businesses. On the concert side, this year's HFStival brought in $6.1 million, they said.

Wright said the commission might also seek to build smaller contests such as the ACC lacrosse championship into regular events at the stadiums.

The group of 18 business leaders - which includes comic book mogul Steve Geppi, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield CEO William Jews and WJZ-TV general manager Jay Newman - will advise the stadium authority but will have no official capacity to make policy decisions, Wright said. Gregory J. Smith of the stadium authority will handle administrative duties for the new panel, which will have $225,000 in the authority's $3.5 million budget to entertain and travel to events and conferences.

The group will meet a few times a year but will share ideas about new events, sponsorship and marketing through phone and e-mail networks.

"Once we have this and people know it's here, I don't think they'll be shy about suggesting events," Wright said.

Baltimoreans are used to seeing major concert acts go to Philadelphia or Washington. And beyond Navy's football contests against Army and Notre Dame and the lacrosse championships, the city hasn't attracted major sporting events in recent years. That despite the fact Baltimore offers new facilities, easy highway access and proximity to hotels, restaurants and shops at the Inner Harbor.

Committee members offered several reasons for past failures.

Camden Yards has traditionally made for a poor venue because the Orioles play throughout the summer concert season and don't want other events tearing up their natural grass field.

Without a standing committee in place - many other cities, including Philadelphia and Washington, have had them for years - Baltimore has had to scramble each time it bids for an event, said Nancy Roberts, president of NRCS Inc., a local public affairs company.

"Philadelphia has a sports commission and on a dime, they can put together money and community resources that just blow us away every time," she said

Roberts, who has worked to bring events such as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the baseball All-Star Game to town, said the new committee will reduce such disadvantages.

Dennis Mannion, senior vice president of business ventures for the Ravens, said the city has lost out on some concerts because of a 10 percent state amusement tax.

He also noted that events like the Army-Navy game are hardly slam-dunk profit makers. He said the Ravens will start $1.8 million in the hole on the 2007 game at M&T and hope to recoup the money through concessions and other complimentary ventures. He said the committee could help set up the sponsorships and ancillary events that make such events more lucrative.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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