Baltimore harboring hopes of capturing United?

Today, the Baltimore Business Journal reported that Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to study the possibility of building a stadium for DC United in the city.

Up front, I’ll tell you that I don’t think such a plan has any chance of ever breaking ground. Baltimore’s officials are still beaming over the big attendance for the AC Milan vs. Chelsea friendly in late July, but this is an entirely different ball game. There are so many other major concerns for the city and its people right now that such a project wouldn’t seem prudent. And it’s not as if this hasn’t been tried in Maryland before.

But forget the city side of it for a second. For those reading this who are not familiar with this part of the country, you may think that Baltimore-Washington is one big metro area. And while they aren’t far apart, a good 30+ miles separates the cities. Remember how some were yelling about not going to United games had they moved to Prince Georges County, just outside the city, early this year. Not living here, you can’t even imagine the traveling hell fans would deal with trying to go from Northern Virginia to Baltimore on a gameday. It’s a long trip at best, and given the traffic issues that plague this area, getting there on a weeknight would be absolutely out of the question. There is commuter rail between the cities, but it’s night schedule is on the light side and there is no weekend service presently.


New home for United? Seems unlikely.

Then there’s another side of it. Baltimore isn’t simply just Washington’s shiny, happy neighbor. Sports-wise, they may as well be 1,000 miles apart. Baltimore has its own football team again, which people here take crazy pride in. The Orioles have long been a focus of the city in baseball, and bad as they’ve been this decade, it isn’t like they are going anywhere. They still play in a gem of a park and will for the next 30 years, at least.

Could Baltimore support an MLS team by taking DC’s team? Sure. The base of sports fans here is strong enough to make it happen, I think.

But that’s just it. They’ll support their team. Not necessarily DC’s team. A few of us do, but not as a massive group. DC United as we know it can’t continue to exist if it plays its matches in the city of Baltimore. Some sort of rebranding would be necessary, whether simply becoming Baltimore United, or changing the name entirely to more reflect the city’s history or what it’s best known for. Though Baltimore United sounds way better than Charm City FC, or the Baltimore HarborHawks.

As a United supporter who attends games, either one or two a year, or as a season-ticket holder … would you support Baltimore United? Or any other new version of the club playing in a sweet new home with 20,000 seats? If Baltimore ends up being the only option for a new stadium that the club needs, will you make the trip? It’s a moot point for me, I live near Baltimore and I’d still go. But then, I’d make the journey if they played in Northern Virginia, too.

In the end, it might be a discussion over nothing, because I’d be really surprised if such a project ever got off the ground. But it’s not as if there are many other glowing options right now, either.

Even if it came to pass and United continued on in a new home, even with that home being much closer to where I currently live … something about it would seem really strange.

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29 thoughts on “Baltimore harboring hopes of capturing United?

  1. I was thinking the same thing: Baltimore or Richmond. Or somewhere in between: BWI, Fredericksburgh, etc. I definitely agree re-branding will be needed if it’s too far from downtown DC. For example, Chesapeake United or Virginia United or Maryland United or whatever.

    I think DCU will sit in RFK for another 5 to 10 years until some nearby county decides they really love soccer and want a stadium there. Because the fan support and attendance are solid, and the rent’s probably cheap, they’re not losing so much money that it would make sense for MLS to abandon that market for, say, someplace like Saint Louis. If it were a smaller market like Kansas City, maybe MLS would pack up and move. But not DC.

  2. In addition to the problem you mention (they wouldn’t come out for ‘DC United’, so there’d have to be a rebrand), Baltimore might support an MLS team at break-even level, but they wouldn’t support it well. It would just be fighting for ‘mid-table’ in the attendance league I would think.

    Don’t mean to slag off Ballmer too much, because there are good sports fans there, but it isn’t a very big town, isn’t a very wealthy town, and it’s especially not big or wealthy for a town with two ML teams already.

  3. Very interesting article, but I wanted to ask something that may not have to do with it; you wrote “There is commuter rail between the cities, but it’s night schedule is on the light side”. Isn’t “it’s” supposed to be a contraction for “it is”? Shouldn’t it be “its”? I ask because I keep spotting mistakes (I think it’s a mistake) like this one everywhere, unless the mistake is mine, which could very well be, since english is not my first language.

  4. Chesapeake United sounds excellent. I think that even if the team doesn’t move from DC they should consider how broadening the name may entice more fans to make the trip.

  5. I guess it should be its, but I have no way to edit these posts. I’m just glad to see we are developing such a fine stable of copy editors.

  6. I don’t think any such name change would rally enough fans to make up for those who would be angered by the move.

    The name “DC” United is very important to a lot of people. There are reasons why people bring DC flags to games and have the DC flag on their clothing during games. Any move away from DC, even to a close suburb with public transportation access, is going to bother some people – and it’s not for me to judge whether that’s right or wrong.

    For me personally, I’ll try to go to games wherever they are in the region. I’ve never lived in DC, so that name isn’t quite as important to me. But to me, the club is DC United, and I understand why people take that so seriously.

    Now if the team moves to St. Louis, Montreal, Fort Lauderdale or Ottawa … all bets are off and MLS is dead to me.

  7. I would support a Baltimore team.

    I would also hate to see DC United die (which would definitely happen if they moved to B’more). For us DC fans living around or north of B’more that can’t stomach the trip to RFK more than a few times a year, a local team sounds like a great idea. It would probably do at least as well as Columbus or KC or Dallas.

  8. I only ever take the metro to United games. Quite a few DC United fans do as well, and many of them don’t have much choice in the matter (if you get my drift).

    I’d attend MD United games or NoVA United games, but Baltimore is a bit of a stretch.Not that I have a problem with B’more mind you, I catch a concert there every now and then, but it is definitely a sometimes thing.

  9. To invoke Johnny Slash, “Baltimore and D.C. – totally, different head, totally.”

    They might as well pull an AEG and move to St. Louis.

    I used to live in Bal’mer, so I think it would be cool to have a team there, but that is not a solution to “saving D.C. United.” It would be great if both cities had a team. With Philly and RBNJ, that would be a corridor to rival the Northwest Revival (SJ to Vancouver).

  10. Could Baltimore support an MLS team? Yes. If you add the average attendance for the Blast (indoor) and CPB (USL-2) you’re already getting pretty close to the bottom tier of MLS attendance.

    Will it happen? Nope, but I hope a credible threat from Baltimore will get things moving in DC.

    Would I like to see it? I’d love to see an MLS team in Baltimore and another in DC. I think with more than 8 million people the metroplex could easily support two teams (they certainly do for NFL). It would be a kick ass derby/clasico/ whatever you want to call it.

  11. It’s an interesting thought I raised on my Examiner site – say the stadium gets built and Opening Day 2013 (I don’t think it could happen any earlier than that), DC United becomes Baltimore United (for argument’s sake).

    Then, midway through the season, someone steps up with 1) money; 2) positive ties with local government; 3) the ability to successful build and run a pro sports franchise.

    Does MLS expand to Washington in say, 2016, with a new stadium in place?

    A Washington-Baltimore-Philadelphia trifecta of rivalries would be nuts.

    That said, that’s thinking way far out to the future almost to the point of imagining. But it’s just a thought.

  12. Obviously I would be thrilled to get a team in Baltimore, but for it to be at the expense of D.C. United would create the mother of all ambivalent brain-lock for me.

  13. I’m from the west coast so I really have no clue about the dynamics of the DC – Baltimore area, but I do remember hearing that many people did this. Wasn’t that part of the justification for the Nationals baseball team? They said tons of DC area fans would travel to Baltimore for O’s games.

    Would enough United fans be willing to do the same on a semi-usual basis to combine with local Baltimore fans to create a successful team?

  14. DC-Baltimore is much like San Francisco-Oakland, if Oakland was located where San Jose is (did that make sense?).

    And the MARC’s schedule is a way too light, but if they ever increased evening and weekend service, it could be a viable alternative and I would probably make the trip. However, I’d probably only make half as many games.

  15. As I live much closer to B-More, especially if they build near the two existing stadiums (stadia??? – don’t want to anger the grammar police), I would certainly go to more games there.

    The problem is that DC is as much about the ethnic mix of the crowd that lives much closer to DC and in NoVa. I wouldn’t expect lots of folks to drive from, say Fairfax, to Baltimore for the team. IMHO, the crowd dynamic in Baltimore would become far more MD suburban (Howard, AA, Baltimore, even Frederick Counties).

    The real problem is that DC United just doesn’t have enough clout to force a new stadium in DC. Sad!!!

  16. Just as a bit of perspective:

    RFK to Camden Yards (near where the proposed stadium would be built) is just about 35 miles.

    Buck Shaw Stadium to the Oakland Coliseum is about 36 miles. San Jose plays home games in both stadiums.

    FC Dallas play around 29 miles from downtown Dallas, and about 41 miles from the Cowboys’ stadium

    Fenway Park to Gillette Stadium is about 28 miles

    The Galaxy moved 27 miles or so from the Rose Bowl to the Home Depot Center

    Shea Stadium to the Meadowlands is about 24 miles

    The Philadelphia Union will be playing about 20 miles from center city Philadelphia

    I’m not saying fans wouldn’t refuse to make the trip; I’m just saying the problem is more psychological than anything else. People in San Jose support the Giants and the Niners, and people in San Francisco support the Sharks and the Quakes. And those two cities are farther apart and have worse traffic than Baltimore and D.C.

  17. But there may be ones and ones of United fans that live somewhat close to RFK.

    Many live in Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Alexandria, Arlington, or points west or south. It’s not just about going door to door at RFK. It’s about fighting the Capital Beltway – which can have traffic on it anytime, day or night, dealing with all the weekend travelers on 95, and then finding a place to park, etc.

    Baltimore is good city for driving. There’s parking (if you want to pay a bit), and unless it’s rush hour, there usually isn’t traffic. But combine a trip from outside DC, where for some it’s a 20- to 30-mile haul just to get to RFK now (if not more for some), and add the cost, mileage, hassle, etc., of getting to Baltimore, and you get the difference in fans showing up for say, 10 games a year, as opposed to 3 or 4.

    The MSA and state would have to work with the Maryland Transit Authority to get MARC up and running more often on game nights and to run at all on weekends for this idea to work. You can’t just rely on current fans to drive 80 miles each way in some cases to support the club.

  18. Given Maryland’s massive budget shortfall, I kind of doubt there’s the political will to even whisper about building a stadium. DCU’s not going anywhere for a long time.

  19. As a Philly fan I would love to have the team in Baltimore. It would make for great travel for rivalries. As a former NOVA and district resident I understand what people are saying about losing some of the fans down south. However, I think that they would pick up additional fans in the maryland area that might balance things out.

  20. Ha, ha,ha. Make Stan Stamenkovic the coach, Joey Fink the TD….

    Well, Reignking gets the idea, anyway.

    As Johnny Slash said before, totally different head, totally. The Barra Brava would be every bit as disenfranchised as the SJ Ultras were.

  21. Back in the day when the Colts were in Baltimore, the idea that a DC area resident would travel to Baltimore to see a sporting event was pretty far-fetched even though the cities aren’t that far apart.

    Regional marketing efforts by the Orioles made the whole concept of driving to Baltimore to see a sporting event plausible for DC area residents. A shiny, new stadium far more accessible than the one at 33rd Street didn’t hurt either.

    I share Ravens season tickets with a friend so I’ve grown very used to the drive from NoVa to Baltimore for games. Would I go see Baltimore United? Sure, for the weekend matches, but I I doubt I’d ever be able to make a weeknight match.

    However, even though I feel a certain amount of loyalty to Baltimore as a sports fan, I think something intangible, but important, would be lost by United moving to Baltimore. There is something to a name and Washington and Baltimore are entirely different cities. Baltimore United would somehow not mean the same thing to me. I expect I’m more open to the idea than most DC fans, but I have to think the loss of attendance caused by the alienation of the existing fan base would exceed any new attendance gains in Baltimore.

  22. I share the view of most posters that DC United should stay DC United. The fact is, however, it is a business and the more important question, from a business sense, is will the increase in revenue from having control of a stadium (events, concessions, parking, etc) make up for the net loss of fans resulting from the move?

    I certainly don’t know how these numbers work out, but you have to remember that the successful team, from the owners prospective, is the one that makes the most dollars, not the one with the most fans.

  23. There is a large and sophisticated soccer fanbase in and around Baltimore. I think United in Baltimore, run well, could do as well or better than they are now, and, financially, much, much better with a real stadium.

    I still would rather they stayed in the DC. And I live across the harbor from the proposed stadium site. But I would rather they played in Balto than in St. Louis or somewhere not within driving distance.

  24. I know this is not on topic but any idea why the itunes link has failed for the podcast as it coming up with the Gray i mark next to it.

    Also does anyone know why this also the case for the US soccer podcasts and has been for months?

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