Md. creating office to lure sports events

Youth tournaments, collegiate games among the targets

July 26, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun reporter

The state will soon announce the creation of a sports marketing office to try to lure more athletic events - everything from the Army-Navy football game to youth sports tournaments - to Maryland.

The idea is to ensure that the state identifies events it can host and doesn't miss opportunities to bring in tourism dollars.

The push could mean more events at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and other venues. "People think first about Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, but there's also the Comcast Center [in College Park] and the Ripken baseball stadium [in Aberdeen] and the Blue Crabs stadium in Southern Maryland and others," said Frederick W. Puddester, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The state has hired an official for the new post, which is being funded at a start-up level of $150,000 by the stadium authority, Puddester said. The official, who is to be publicly introduced in the next few weeks, will consult with the stadium authority and report to Hannah Byron, who heads the state Department of Business and Economic Development's division of tourism, film and the arts.

The idea was proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley and his transition team as he took office in 2007. Many places have sports commissions or offices - including Philadelphia, St. Louis and Seattle - but they are less common at the state level.

"My sense is that it's mostly cities. I know some are ahead of us - and Utah has one," Puddester said.

Maryland has often hosted the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse final four, but the event was held last season in Foxborough, Mass. Philadelphia has hosted most of the Army-Navy games, although Baltimore had the 2007 game.

"We know we have a number of major sporting events we will go after, and those include the Army-Navy football game and the NCAA lacrosse," Byron said. "We know those two [the director] will be working on immediately. When we start seeing the numbers on youth and amateur events, I suspect we'll be going after those in a more aggressive way."

Like any other tourists, those coming to watch or participate in sports are "filling up our hotels and eating in our restaurants," Byron said.

She said it was coincidental that the director was hired just as plans were made public to raze 1st Mariner Arena and replace it with a new, larger venue.

The director begins work Aug. 11. One of the new official's first tasks will be to take inventory and assess whether some state venues are being underused, Puddester said. The office is likely to expand into a public-private sports commission, officials said.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County sports economist Dennis Coates said yesterday that a sports commission is "worth exploring." But he said Baltimore might be limited in its sports options by competition from Washington and by venues such as Camden Yards that were built for "specific purposes."

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