While only nine cities missed the cut, Baltimore making the list of 32 semifinalists to host matches as part of the 2026 "United" North American FIFA World Cup bid was the most significant sports news in the city during the past month.
That probably sounds a bit hyperbolic, but Baltimore's standing as a major sports city is tenuous at best. This is a bid to host some matches, assuming North America lands the international event for 2026, and the city could badly use the boost that comes with being associated with a major event such as the World Cup.
Consider the sports landscape in Charm City during the past five-to-10 years:
1. The Grand Prix of Baltimore IndyCar race was expected to become sort of a "fall Preakness" for the city. Not only did the event never live up to that standard, it proved to be a complete boondoggle and will be remembered only as a punch line for years to come.
2. Speaking of which, it doesn't look like there's going to be a spring Preakness in Baltimore much longer either. The event has been destined for Laurel Park for some time, as organizers haven't hid their interest in the Washington, D.C., market. Making matters worse, the American classic appears as though it will depart Charm City without even that much of a fight.
3. While I actually thought the Colonial Athletic Association basketball tournament did about as well as could be expected during a brief run here, the league apparently disagreed. Less than overwhelming attendance figures led to the conference pulling the plug on Baltimore as a host after just two years.
4. Baltimore is no longer in the picture for hosting the NCAA men's lacrosse Final Four. The event will actually head to Hartford, Conn., twice before Baltimore could be an option again. Making matters worse, the immediate Baltimore area will not even host an NCAA lacrosse quarterfinal in that time frame (although there will be a pair of quarterfinal games in Annapolis, Md., in 2018).
5. You know what else won't be back in Baltimore for the foreseeable future? The Army-Navy Game. The series has announced dates through 2022, none of which are in Charm City. And while M&T Bank Stadium has hosted the Navy-Notre Dame game three times, that game isn't scheduled to return to town in the future either (locations are set through 2020). While Maryland played three times at M&T Bank Stadium from 2010-2015 (against Navy, West Virginia and Penn State), the Terps are not scheduled to return to the stadium at any point as of now.
6. While the Arena Football League finally arrived in Baltimore this year, interest was tepid. Baltimore's arena issue remains completely unchanged, with little hope to ever bring back major events such as the UFC or NCAA Tournament (it's been 22 years for the latter). Even the brief experiments of the arena hosting Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals preseason games ended with little fanfare.
7. Despite it being Baltimore's "turn" to host another MLB All-Star Game, the league has made it apparent the event will not return while the Orioles and Washington Nationals remain tangled in a dispute regarding MASN.
I could go on, but I'll choose to stop there. Some of these issues have been related to the city's economic troubles. Some of them have been related to government bureaucracy. Others still were directly impacted by the unrest the city experienced in the aftermath of Freddie Gray's death in police custody. Whatever the reason, Baltimore has been a non-factor in the sports landscape outside of the two major pro sports teams.
I'm well aware that this city has far more pressing immediate needs (crime, drugs, schools, infrastructure, etc.) than simply hosting major sporting events. While cynics will be doubtful, the presence of more sports tourism money could potentially go a long way toward improving some of those issues. Even if you don't believe there's a direct parallel, it's hard to argue that a city's reputation wouldn't get a boost from successfully hosting major events of any sort.
This potential World Cup bid wouldn't make up for all of the events the city has missed in recent years, but it would go a long way toward re-establishing the city as a major player for national and international events. The city will know if it is officially included in the bid by next June, according to Maryland sports executive director Terry Hasseltine.
Hasseltine said Baltimoreans can help in the process by showing their excitement for the possible bid on social media, proving to the committee that the city has World Cup fever. Given everything that's disappeared, it would be tremendous to see a World Cup bid embraced by the city.
Issue 238: October 2017