As we warned on several occasions would happen, Aberdeen city officials already have demonstrated their decision to bring in an outside, inexperienced outfit to manage Ripken Stadium is a disaster in the making.
Barely six weeks elapsed between the city’s signing a one-year agreement with Huntley Sports Group, which had no track record of managing a major sports facility, and a major problem arose, demonstrating that neither side was prepared for what should have been seen as the inevitable.
Athan Sunderland, who put the stadium deal together, was back before the mayor and city council on March 26 asking for help because, surprise, certain elements of the city’s 16-year-old master concession agreement with Ripken Baseball, Tufton LLC and the IronBirds ball team contains elements that supersede the management contract the city signed in mid-February with Sunderland’s firm.
Among the sticking points, as reported in The Aegis March 28, is who is responsible for insurance to cover non-baseball events. Sunderland and his folks think that probably should be Ripken/Tufton’s responsibility, but there’s nothing in writing. When Ripken/Tufton was managing/booking all activities, baseball and otherwise at the stadium, insurance wasn’t an issue. But now that an outsider is involved in the latter, and Ripken/Tufton no longer gets the revenue, why wouldn’t the outsider have to pay for the insurance?
It’s clear that neither Huntley Sports Group nor the city officials gave thought to this issue, nor did anyone apparently deal with the issue of the stadium liquor license, which is held by the Ripken organization and, most likely, non-transferable without some action by the county Liquor Control Board. Sunderland said there are other issues, such as dealing with scheduling conflicts between baseball and other events and maintenance downtime.
We’re already a week into April and no new events have been booked at the stadium, nor will they be until the insurance, liquor license and a host of other issues are resolved. Some council members have suggested arbitration, but that takes time, and the peak events season is already here.
We’re not reluctant to say that the city’s bad faith treatment of the Ripken organization has landed Aberdeen, the stadium and city taxpayers in a real barrel of pickles. Our best advice is for the city to arbitrate its way out of the Huntley Sports contract and ask Ripken/Tufton to come to the rescue, and hope they will.