By Amanda Yeager | Baltimore Business Journal
Change is rarely simple, and Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale knew there would be some hurdles when he decided to move his Major Arena Soccer League team from its home of 37 years, Royal Farms Arena, to a new facility eight miles to the north.
But as the Blast kicked off the second season on its new home turf at Towson University's SECU Arena, Hale doesn't have any regrets about the switch.
"It really worked out for us," said Hale, the former CEO of First Mariner Bancorp and developer of properties including the Canton Crossing office tower.
The first game of the 2018-19 season against the Mississauga MetroStars drew an announced sellout crowd of more than 3,800 at SECU Arena Dec. 1.
The change in venues was prompted by a legal dispute between Hale and Baltimore City regarding ownership of the billboards at Royal Farms Arena. A lawsuit is still working its way through the court system.
SECU Arena is a smaller venue, but it has other advantages, like newer technology and free parking, Hale said. It's also closer to many of the team's fans.
A preponderance of the Blast's audience lives in eastern Baltimore County, Cecil County, Westminster and surrounding areas. SECU Arena is near an abundance of office buildings, as well, which has helped the team secure corporate sponsorships from companies such as CareFirst, Chesapeake Employers Insurance and MedStar.
"People used to ask me, 'Why did you move?'" Hale said. "Now, they just point to the fact that it's safer, cleaner, more brightly lit and the sight lines are great. It's taken about a year to get our people used to going here, but now they're used to it."
As fans settle into the new venue, he said he's seen gross revenue increase 20 percent and concession sales rise 150 percent. He declined to share dollar figures.
The Blast is riding into the new season with three championships in a row under its belt. Hale said that success helps to fill seats.
"One of the big things in sports, as the Orioles and the Ravens can attest, is you've got to win," he said. "We've got a target on our back -- we are the team to beat. People hate us, and I personally love it."
The 24-game regular season runs through April 6.