Even though the Baltimore Blast will be playing in a smaller facility this season and beyond, team officials believe the move from Royal Farms Arena to the suburbs will benefit the Blast financially and bring the team closer to its fan base.
After 37 seasons playing at the arena in downtown Baltimore, the Blast -- which began its quest for a third consecutive Major Arena Soccer League championship Nov. 10 -- signed a three-year deal in late August to make its new home the SECU Arena, located on the campus of Towson University. In an Aug. 31 statement, the Blast said it likes the more convenient parking, better concession stand values and sight lines at SECU Arena.
But the move still represents a significant change. For a soccer game, Royal Farms Arena has a seating capacity of 10,800. The Blast's new home will seat about 4,000.
Last season, the Blast averaged a league-best 6,299 fans per game, according to the Major Arena Soccer League's website. Blast team president and general manager Kevin Healey and team officials are hoping they will sell out at home on a regular basis.
Healey said the Blast's attendance is often driven by group sales, and assistant general manager Mike Conway said they'll need to spread out the groups a bit more due to playing in a smaller site, something they have been working on.
"[This is] going to be a bit of a challenge," Healey said. "It's a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. [We need] to get that puzzle together."
Conway said the move just made sense given the large number of Blast fans in the suburbs.
"We are kind of implanted where the strongest parts of our fan base are," Conway said. "Our strongest part is Baltimore County and Harford County; that's a proven fact, and hopefully this move will benefit not only us but our fan base."
Healey and Conway hope to increase supply and demand while pushing season-ticket sales, advance walk-up and the purchase of mini-plans.
"We were looking at where we do attract our people from, and we attract a lot from the suburbs -- so we moved to the suburbs," Healey said. "We've got to maximize revenue. It's full steam ahead now."
Blast owner Ed Hale praised Towson University officials for their part in helping make the move possible.
"It has been a pleasure to work with Towson University's leadership group to bring our team closer to our core audience," Hale said in the statement. "The University's leadership team has opened their arms and welcomed us into their state-of-the-art-venue."
Fans will be paying a bit more for tickets this season, but the higher prices include parking. Individual tickets range from $23 to $50, but there are discounts for multiple-game packages. Healey said the Blast was not receiving parking revenue from the city while playing at Royal Farms Arena, even if the fans parked in the local garages.
As for concession sales, the Blast did receive money from the Royal Farms Arena, but the team will get a bigger cut at SECU Arena, even though prices are lower.
The move will make it more difficult to buy walk-up tickets, however. Healey said fans shouldn't assume every game will be a sellout, but they should call the ticket office to check.
"They're going to have to kind of get on the stick early and get their tickets ahead of time," Conway said.
Blast officials are still waiting to gauge fan reaction to the move.
Conway said he recently spoke with a season-ticket holder who had been with the team since the 1980s and was unsure about the move. She then came to the fan day the Blast held at SECU Arena in early October and got a good look at the building.
After that, Conway said, the season-ticket holder told him she felt much better about everything.
"It's just different," he said. "Some people are on a wait-and-see thing. The majority understand it and they get it, but not everybody likes change. I am hearing a lot of positives from the local soccer communities, and I think it's going to be a good thing in the long run."
For Blast ticket information fans can visit, baltimoreblast.com/tickets/ or call 410-732-5278
Issue 239: November 2017