Organizers of Saturday's City-Poly football game at PSINet Stadium will be anxiously watching the box office, hoping strong ticket sales overcome the burden of a $10,000 stadium rental fee.
It's the most the public high schools have had to pay for the use of a stadium and will significantly diminish the profit they make on the game. The Ravens -- who operate the state-owned stadium -- say the fee is less than they charge anyone else and doesn't cover their costs.
The annual clash between Baltimore City College and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute is the nation's longest-running, public school sports rivalry, stretching back to 1889. Over many of the past 50 years, it was played at the city-owned Memorial Stadium for minimal rent.
Last year, the game moved with the Ravens to the new PSINet. Memorial is shuttered and likely to be demolished.
The agreement with the Ravens called for minimal rent last year. But this year the team mandated a $10,000 fee. The schools considered moving the event to Johns Hopkins University's renovated field but decided to stay with PSINet, because it attracts more fans and provides players the experience of appearing in an NFL venue.
"As long as we are in the black, it will be OK. The kids are excited at getting to play there. We want to keep doing it as long as we can afford it," said Mark Schlenoff, Poly's athletic director.
The higher rent will eat into the profit the two schools had expected. In the past, money made on the game was applied to the physical education program, classroom supplies or scholarships.
"We don't depend on it, but it gives us the opportunity to do things for the kids," Schlenoff said.
City principal Joseph Wilson said the schools decided they still stood a good chance of covering their costs and that the opportunity of playing in the downtown stadium was worth the expense.
"It would be lovely if they gave us the place for free, but I don't think that's in the cards," Wilson said.
"In general, they [the Ravens] have been quite accommodating. The number, as best as any of us can tell, is a losing proposition for them but consistent with the public dollars used to build the stadium," Wilson said.
The schools each made a profit of about $8,000 on last year's game -- twice what they expect to make this year, Wilson said.
"This year, we won't do as well ourselves, but we expect to make a minimal profit," he said. They considered, but rejected, raising ticket prices. Tickets cost $5 in advance and $8 on game day.
Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said the team is willing to lose money staging the game in deference to its history. The team also is helping to promote the game and is sponsoring the City-Poly radio broadcast on Saturday.
"We'd like to see it succeed, and if we can help we will," Byrne said.
City and Poly are enjoying a discount relative to the area's other epic high school game: the Calvert Hall-Loyola match at PSINet on Thanksgiving Day. Those schools pay a rent based on attendance that last year totaled about $20,000, said Calvert Hall athletic director Lou Eckerl. The game attracted 13,000 fans.
The rent, much higher than the schools used to pay for the use of Memorial Stadium, forced an increase in ticket prices. Nevertheless, the schools think the experience for the students is worth it, Eckerl said.
"It would be nice to have a break for all these schools, but I know it costs them money to open up the stadium," he said.
Under its lease with the state, the Ravens book events such as concerts and high school and college games at the stadium, take a 10 percent management fee out of the proceeds and then share 50-50 the remaining profit or loss with the state.
If an event appears destined to lose money, the Maryland Stadium Authority can opt out of participation. Stadium authority deputy executive director Edward C. Cline said yesterday the agency generally does decline to participate in the high school games, leaving the team to shoulder the losses.
"I think that's a community service that the Ravens have decided to do," Cline said.