The city's arena soccer team, the Baltimore Blast, will return to the Major Arena Soccer League, ending a bid to create a separate league with a different structure.
As City Paper detailed in a cover story earlier this year on the team in the midst of its most recent championship run, owner Edwin F. Hale Sr. announced his intentions to pull out of the MASL to start a new arena soccer venture with a more centralized league office and sustainable business plan.
"That's just a fundamental business thing that I thought, and my attorneys think, has been wrong," Hale told City Paper in the winter. "That's a large part of the reason for me doing this."
In February, not long after the Blast sealed the eighth championship in team history, a web presence surfaced for the Indoor Pro League, the league started by Hale. In May, Hale announced the IPL had recruited the Harrisburg Heat and St. Louis Ambush to defect along with the Blast, as well as the start of a new expansion team, the Florida Tropics.
After that, updates were scarce, leading some fans to plead for news about the league on the Blast's Facebook page. Several inquiries regarding the IPL that City Paper sent during the summer were not answered.
Meanwhile, the MASL started implementing some of the changes Hale had called for, including naming a commissioner, Joshua Schaub, who worked as a scout for Major League Baseball's Milwaukee Brewers and has experience in sports law, owning minor league baseball teams, running a summer hockey league, and receiving tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(6), the same designation sports organizations such as the National Football League and National Hockey League have or once had.
On Aug. 30, it was announced they would all be rejoining.
In a phone interview after the announcement, Schaub detailed plans for a two-tier league system—with the lower league serving as something of a minor league for the top tier—beginning in the 2017-2018 season, an expansion that would get the indoor game in more cities.
He also pointed to a more centralized, collaborative marketing plan, like those used in the major sports leagues and various minor leagues.
Those changes helped start the conversation about bringing the IPL teams back into the fold—talks that, according to Blast team president Kevin Healey, started heating up in August.
"I think that was really the catalyst for it, putting the commissioner in place, making those changes, and then actually sitting at the table and talking about it," Schaub said.
Healey confirmed as much in a phone interview, adding that the Blast organization is "very high" on Schaub and his ability to market the MASL.
"He's a sharp businessman. I think he understands and is driven to try and grow this sport and to market it properly," he said.
The return of the East Coast teams in particular makes the MASL "a true international league," Schaub said. And all of the sides involved realized a single league would better serve the growth of the game, especially given arena soccer's history of fragmentation and league changes.
"They really wanted one cohesive plan for how the league moves forward," said Schaub. "I think the IPL was just another iteration of: How do we make this thing more cohesive?"
The shuffling has not put the Blast behind schedule for the upcoming season, said Healey, who indicated that "the Baltimore Blast were going to play, we were all set to play" in the IPL.
Four teams do not make much of a league, of course, but Healey said there were several other groups interested in starting expansion franchises. Those cities will wait a year to join once the two-tier system is implemented.
"I think you'll see some teams in future years that are people we had talked to," he said.
The 2016-2017 season will begin in October and stretch into March.
On Sept. 1, the team announced that defender and team co-captain Pat Healey—Kevin's son—would not be joining them, instead opting to retire from the pro game to take a teaching and coaching job at Perry Hall Christian School.
"While I am sad to be finished playing, I am grateful for the opportunities that I've had and look forward to the next chapter in my life," the younger Healey said as part of a released statement.
"As his father, I'm very proud of him," Kevin said. "Pat's always set one goal, which was to help his team win, and that's what he's been able to do at every level."
He predicted that his son would still be a regular presence at the Royal Farms Arena.
"He'll be sitting right next to me up in the seats, like he did when he was in college and in high school."