It was an era that had to end some time, but Baltimore indoor soccer’s 37-year association with Royal Farms Arena (née Baltimore Civic Center) ended abruptly Thursday when the team announced it had signed a three-year lease to play at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
The team has changed leagues multiple times and even changed names (from Baltimore Spirit to Blast in 1998), but none of those changes were as surprising as the Blast’s move, which was first reported by The Baltimore Sun Wednesday night.
SECU Arena, which was built in 2013, is vastly newer and sleeker than the 55-year old Royal Farms Arena, which is both revered and reviled. While Blast fans will cherish the memories of nine indoor championships, it’s hard to be too nostalgic about a building with terrible sight lines that was practically obsolete the minute it opened in 1962.
The downside is SECU Arena was built mainly for Towson Basketball, so many of the 5,200 seats will have to be retracted to make room for an arena soccer field, leaving the Blast with approximately 4,000 seats to use. To offset the loss of seats – they regularly announced crowds of 6,000-9,000 at Royal Farms Arena – the Blast have significantly raised ticket prices, which will now range from $28-$50 for individual seats, up from $16-$40. Parking will be free at the new arena and concessions will be cheaper and more plentiful.
In terms of capacity, the Blast will go from the second largest arena in the league, where they trailed only San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center, to the second smallest, still comfortably in front of Turlock Indoor Soccer, home of the Turlock Express.
The Blast’s ticket prices will be in the upper echelon of the MASL, but comparable to what the Milwaukee Wave charges.
Fan reaction ran the gamut. “My wife and I would follow the Blast if the tickets tripled in price and they played in a parking lot using one of our cars as part of the boards, so we are in all the way,” said long-time Blast fan Paul Kram, who has almost literally followed the Blast to the ends of the earth along with his wife Sheree. “The fans that will follow the team less or not at all because of the move are no less a fan than my wife and myself. Everyone is at a different place financially, ability to get to the games or having the extra time to invest if the new location is farther away. Everyone supports the team in the best manner that they can. We fall into the category of fans where everything is roses. SECU is much closer, convenient, no expensive, sliding-scale parking expense and in a much safer, cleaner area than Royal Farms Arena. For fans that are in sticker-shock about pricing, I understand, but I don’t think they are taking in consideration the total cost of going to a game at Royal Farms Arena and are not used to the bulk of the expense being up-front instead of pay-as-you-go, like parking.
“For the Blast, it is a good business move and hopefully a shot of adrenaline for a game day experience that provided comfort in its tradition, but had become predictable.”
As with any move, some people will be closer and some people will be farther away. The city of Towson is located dead center in the middle of the combined footprint of Baltimore County and Baltimore City.
Transportation, travel-time and ticket prices will definitely be an obstacle for some fans, but the announcement came as such a shock to most fans that they haven’t had time to really let it sink in yet.
With so many pros and cons and so much uncertainty bolstered by excitement, the Blast and Royal Farms Arena didn’t seem to want to address why they were separating after all this time.
“I consider Ed a good friend and I wish Ed and the Blast success in all their future endeavors,” said Royal Farms Arena General Manager Frank Ramesch.
“I’d like to mention Frank Remesch, the staff down at the arena, have been friends for decades and they have really done good work for us,” Blast owner Ed Hale said at the press conference. “We appreciate everything they’ve done and we wish them well at the arena.”
On Kick This! Saturday Hale indicated he was enjoined from commenting on their departure from Royal Farms Arena, which is managed by SMG.
For better or worse, the Blast are now committed to a bold new future and fans can look forward to an amped up product on the field. Since SECU Arena was designed for basketball, the floor area cannot accommodate a full 200’x85′ field, so the Blast will be playing on a field that is somewhere around 150′-175′ long similar to Soles de Sonora. That means fans can expect futbol rapido with emphasis on the rapido.
Blast games at Royal Farms Arena averaged a combined 9.1 goals per game last year. The highest scoring game was a Blast 11-3 win over Harrisburg on March 5. By contrast, Sonora home games averaged a combined 21.8 goals. The lowest scoring game was a 9-3 Sonora win over San Diego on February 25 and the highest scoring game was a dizzying 18-15 win over Turlock on November 12.
“I do believe there will be more goal scoring opportunities with the field being smaller,” said Blast Head Coach Danny Kelly. “A simple matter of the smaller space and the speed at which the ball can potentially be in your offensive/defensive third of the field. Our strategy in how we play may evolve a bit as we go, but we’ve been fairly successful playing how we do in the small confines in Sonora.”
In two game at Sonora’s Centro de Usos Multiples the Blast won 14-13 and 9-8, both in overtime, during the last two Newman Cup championship series.
“Playing on a smaller field will not really change my approach to signing players,” said Kelly as the team also announced the re-signing of seven players on Thursday. “We look for quality players who are quality people, who are versatile and have the technical skill-set to play pro indoor soccer. I think the effect of playing on a smaller field will be a more fast-paced game, and more excitement for fans who want that constant end-to-end action.”
Baltimore’s star goalkeeper William Vanzela is not sweating a potential spike his GAA. “We are a defensive team, but now we will have a hard time keeping teams away from our net,” said Vanzela. “In this league I don’t care at all about stats. I’ve had the best stats for the past two years and I wasn’t goalie of the year, why should I care?
“My games are intense if I make one or 22 saves, that won’t change,” Vanzela says. “Fun for me is winning games and championships. I’ll do what it takes to help my teammates accomplish that.”
One thing the Blast have shown the last two years is they can win with a smothering defense or in a Wild West shootout and their 37-year tradition and history in Baltimore is a legacy that lives in its fans, not in a building.