'A natural pick'

The Baltimore Sun

The NCAA men's lacrosse final four will return to Baltimore in 2010 and 2011, tournament officials announced yesterday.

"Every year we've had it in Baltimore, we've set an attendance record," said Ravens president Dick Cass, who helped spearhead efforts to bring the tournament back to town. "So we have a real track record with this event."

NCAA officials cited that track record in explaining their selection.

"It's a very strong lacrosse area in terms of spectators and in terms of people participating in the sport," said Joni Comstock, NCAA senior vice president of championships. "It's always a very highly attended event, and the city of Baltimore and the stadium put together a very strong financial package for us."

Baltimore last hosted at M&T; Bank Stadium in 2007, drawing a then-record 123,215 announced fans to the three-day event, which includes the Division I final and semifinals and the Division II and III finals. Baltimore also hosted the event in 2003 and 2004.

Cass was thrilled to get the tournament, held Memorial Day weekend, for two straight years because it "really helps build momentum into the second year."

Baltimore competed with Boston, Denver and the Meadowlands in New Jersey for the 2010-2012 tournament bids. Though local leaders hoped to win the tournament for all three years, they never believed that was likely. The NCAA selection committee has opted to spread the event around in recent years, hoping to build a lacrosse audience up and down the East Coast, where most power programs play.

Though the tournament has drawn well in less-traditional lacrosse markets such as Philadelphia (which hosted in 2005 and 2006) and Boston (which hosted last year and will again this May and in 2012), city officials said it was time to bring the event back to Baltimore - in many ways the cradle of the sport.

"Baltimore is a natural pick for the national championships," Mayor Sheila Dixon said in a statement. "In addition to being the home of the best crab cakes in the world, Baltimore is the home of lacrosse in the United States."

With six perennial tournament contenders, dozens of elite high school and recreational programs and the sport's Hall of Fame all in close proximity, Baltimore boasts an unmatched connection with lacrosse. In their pitch to the NCAA, representatives of the Ravens and the Maryland Stadium Authority touted that rich lacrosse tradition and the plethora of hotels, restaurants and shops within walking distance of the stadium.

"Fans can literally park their cars for the weekend and walk around the city," Cass said.

City officials have estimated the 2007 event delivered $15 million in economic impact.

As the chief tenants of M&T; Bank Stadium, the Ravens put up a guaranteed fee to the NCAA to attract the event. The amount was undisclosed. Any revenue from ticket sales and concessions beyond that guaranteed sum would be split by the Ravens, Maryland Stadium Authority and NCAA.

But the Ravens do not view the event as a major revenue opportunity, Cass said. "We're a state-owned facility, and this is a great event for the city and state, so it's kind of a payback," he said.

The Ravens and the stadium authority hope to use their largest venue for more concerts and sporting events during the seven-month NFL offseason. Authority Chairman John Morton called the lacrosse tournament a first payoff for the state's greater push to market its facilities.

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