The city and the arena's operator, Anschutz Entertainment Group, have made it clear that luring a pro team remains a top priority. Moag spoke of Kansas City as a negative example for Baltimore. "They built it and nobody's come," he said.

Analysts agree the relocation and expansion markets are limited in the NHL and NBA. The Sonics departed Seattle this year because the city wouldn't commit to building a new arena. But most of the lesser money-makers in both leagues are tied down by long-term leases.

Speculation has surrounded several NBA franchises, including the Memphis Grizzlies, because of a possible sale and attendance woes, and the Charlotte Bobcats, because of owner Bob Johnson's testy relationship with the city. The New Orleans Hornets have an opt-out clause in their lease after next season and have also battled attendance troubles, but Stern has said he would like to stay in the city as it fights to rebound from Katrina.

In the NHL, the Penguins and Predators were considered strong relocation candidates. But Pittsburgh secured its team by agreeing to build a new arena, and a group of local businessmen bought the Predators.

The league hasn't experienced any franchise movement since a flurry of relocations in the mid-1990s and a four-team expansion between 1998 and 2000.

"Teams moved much more easily 20 years ago," said Reichard, who can't see either league plopping a competitor within 40 miles of the Wizards and Capitals.

Moag agreed strongly.

"These buildings just have so much of a life, and you've got to wonder how long we're waiting around for the market to grow where we can absorb another professional team," Moag said. "Right now, we're tapped out."

The Wizards say Baltimore is part of the team's fan base and is included in its television market, which stretches into Pennsylvania. The Wizards' marketing strategy includes reaching out to Baltimore, where the franchise - then the Bullets - played until moving to the Washington area in 1973.

Asked whether Washington Sports & Entertainment, owned by Abe and Irene Pollin, would oppose an NBA team in Baltimore, executive vice president Matt Williams replied, "Certainly it would impact us, and we want the Baltimore fans to continue to support the Washington Wizards."

Williams said the company also wants to continue hosting NCAA men's basketball tournament games, which have been wildly popular. Baltimore last hosted an NCAA regional in 1995.

Reichard is based in Minneapolis and noted that his city and neighboring St. Paul have arenas anchored by major league teams. Both facilities have struggled, he said, because they're forced to compete for every major concert and event. That example could bode poorly for Baltimore, given that Washington's Verizon Center draws many big shows, he said.

A group representing Baltimore talked to several NBA teams about moving in the late 1990s. But after some optimistic talk, the idea faded.

City officials have mentioned minor league hockey and arena football as possible tenants, and Mayor Sheila Dixon recently said WNBA officials had come to town to discuss a possible Baltimore franchise.

An 18,500-seat arena would be a poor fit for such teams, Moag said.

"You want it to be intimate," he said. "You want to feel like you're on top of the action."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Stephen Kiehl and Jeff Barker contributed to this article.