After 37 years, the Baltimore Blast are leaving the Royal Farms Arena, the team's home since its inaugural season in 1980 and nearly every year since.
As was first reported by The Sun, the city's indoor soccer team will instead play the 2017-2018 season at the SECU Arena on Towson University's campus.
During a press conference this morning, team owner Ed Hale Sr. touted the "beautiful" facility and said he hopes the Blast will get more people on campus to see it. Both the seating capacity and field will be smaller. With the former, Hale said fans can expect better sight lines and proximity to the action, as well as cheaper concessions. And with the latter, he likened it to the small playing surface at the Soles de Sonora's arena in Hermosillo, Mexico, where the Blast have won their last two titles, and said he expects a similarly "frenetic" style of play.
"I'm gonna miss certain aspects of [playing at Royal Farms Arena], but we're looking forward to starting fresh here," Hale said.
An official with the Royal Farms Arena declined to answer specific questions but released the following statement from the general manager, Frank Remesch: "I consider Ed a good friend and I wish Ed and the Blast success in all their future endeavors."
Hale was similarly complimentary of Remesch and his team, saying they had done great work for the team over the years.
It's a curious move to say the least. Last year, the Blast averaged 6,299 fans in 10 home games; the SECU Arena tops out at 5,200 but will have a single-game attendance of about 4,000 for the Blast. While it may not sound like much to lose about 2,300 fans at each game, it's pretty considerable when you realize that's a decrease of 36.5 percent overall. Naturally, that also means 2,300 fewer people are spending money on food and drinks during the game.
The Blast led the league in attendance by a wide margin—the next closest team, the Soles, averaged 4,899 through the gates. Most teams were somewhere around 3,000. How could it possibly make sense to decrease ticket revenue by that much, especially when it is such a clear advantage?
There's also a question of access. A light rail stop sits just beyond the Royal Farms Arena's doors, making it easy to get to games from the central part of the city and parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. It's conceivable, though maybe not convenient, for fans to take the subway to either the Charles Center or Lexington Market stations and walk the rest of the way. Towson is accessible by MTA bus but is otherwise shut off from public transportation.
There will be plenty of parking, Hale said, which is built into the cost of a ticket. This was supposed to be an appeal, with people being able to get in and get out with ease, but come on, it's smack dab in the middle of the sprawl of Towson University instead of the urban fabric of downtown Baltimore. Google Maps says it's a 20-minute walk to Bill Batemen's, one of the nearest bars. Where's a guy supposed to get a beer before the game?
Of course Baltimore could use a new arena. The Royal Farms Arena doesn't hide any of its 55 years, and the talk of replacing it has been around for at least the last quarter of its life. Even so, it has managed to be a top-grossing venue for its size, showing that it still a viable building regardless of the wear and tear.
More than anything, seeing the Blast at the Royal Farms Arena, a shabby structure with an old-school feel that oozes history, is an inherent appeal to attending a game, and the no-frills aura of the place matched the team's hard-nosed work on the turf.
When I talked to the University of Maryland's Troy Ellis Wainwright two years ago about the men's basketball team returning to play a game here, he called Royal Farms Arena a "popcorn, spilled beer type of place," which is to say that it has a certain character that comes with its many years, and even some of its blemishes. In an era where every major team—including the University of Maryland's mens' basketball team, it's worth pointing out—gets a mega-deal for a new venue, the homespun, throwback vibe was the one thing they had that the Orioles and Ravens didn't. That is, until the Baltimore Brigade arena football team moved in.