Harford County government considers the Aberdeen IronBirds a major tourist attraction and wants to "work closely" with the team's owner to ensure it remains in Aberdeen, spokesperson Cindy Mumby said.
"Ripken Stadium and the IronBirds are a key attraction for Harford County tourism," Mumby said Tuesday. "We [the county administration] want to work closely with Ripken Baseball to facilitate keeping the team in Aberdeen and Harford County."
Mumby said the county doesn't have a dollar figure for what the team means to the local economy, "but we really value them as a key component to attracting visitors to the city of Aberdeen and to Harford County."
The Class A minor league "short season" team, which is affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, is owned by former Orioles Hall of Fame player Cal Ripken Jr. and his brother, Billy, who also played for the Orioles and other Major League teams. The brothers, who are Aberdeen natives, acquired the team in 2002, with Cal Ripken Jr. holding the majority interest.
Late last week, a spokesperson for the Ripkens' baseball enterprises, which in addition to the IronBirds includes youth baseball complexes in Aberdeen, South Carolina and Tennessee, said the Ripkens are interested in selling a majority interest in the IronBirds in order to concentrate more on their youth baseball camps, tournaments and other events geared to helping young people enjoy the game of baseball.
Spokesperson John Maroon emphasized the Ripkens are committed to Aberdeen both in terms of the youth complex, The Ripken Experience Aberdeen – Presented by Under Armour, and the IronBirds. He said the Ripkens want to maintain "a minority interest" in the team and are open to offers for the majority stake.
The IronBirds play in 6,300-seat Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, which opened in 2002, the year the team came to Aberdeen. Playing in the New York-Penn League, the IronBirds attendance for 35 dates in 2016 was 141,070, according to www.milb.com, official website for minor league baseball, averaging 4,031 per game, despite a last place finish in the league's McNamara Division.
Both the team's total and average attendance rank in the top third of the 14-team league, whose top draw was the Brooklyn Cyclones with total attendance of 207,702 in 37 dates and an average of 5,614 per game.
Earlier this month, the IronBirds and Baltimore Orioles announced they had extended their player development agreement through the 2018 season. The Major League team provides and pays both the players and the coaching staff on the IronBirds.
Aberdeen city officials have long been concerned about the drain stadium finances have placed on the city budget. The city and the Ripken organization, which manages the stadium with the city paying for its upkeep and operation, are negotiating a new lease for the facility.
The county government's Mumby said that while the county is committed to working with the IronBirds management and the Ripken family to keep the team in Aberdeen, they have not considered any direct financial support, should either the team or the city or both request it.
"That's not in our current fiscal plan," she said.
She noted that Harford County Executive Barry Glassman initiated the county's 6 percent lodging tax, from which a significant portion goes to the city, which has one of the county's largest concentrations of hotels.
"In terms of financial support, as you know, County Executive Glassman initiated the hotel lodging fee, and a generous portion goes to the City of Aberdeen," Mumby said.
Through end of the most recent fiscal year on June 30, Aberdeen has received $843,000 since the county began collecting the lodging fee in March-April 2015, she said. The city can use the revenue as it sees fit, she added. Prior to implementation of the tax, several city officials, who have since left office, championed the revenue as a means to retire stadium debt and pay for its maintenance.
Although the Ripkens previously sold minor league teams they had owned in Augusta, Ga., and Port Charlotte, Fla., spokesman Maroon characterized the situation with the IronBirds as different because the team plays in the Ripkens' home town "and they have such a presence in the community."
"This is different from the other minor league team sales for sure," Maroon said.
"There's no for sale sign, it's not a public sale. They are looking for a strategic partner to bring into the team," he said. "The bottom line is they [the Ripkens] have to concentrate on their core business, which is the youth baseball business."