It’s a match made in the state of Maryland.
Maryland Sports, the state’s sports commission, and TEAM Maryland, a statewide initiative to market Maryland to the entire sports industry, have combined efforts to find and attract some of the largest sporting events, both regional and national, to the area.
“It’s an initiative to bring everybody together,” said Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports. “TEAM Maryland represents the eastern seaboard to our western border, all the way to the south and up to the Pennsylvania border, and that includes Baltimore. We have a unique perspective – north, south, east and west – and we are trying to create opportunities that are not currently being served in our regional marketplace.”
Because it borders four other states (and that count would be five if you consider how close it is to New Jersey) and the District of Columbia, Maryland considers the regional aspect of its appeal. Nothing in sports says “Eastern Seaboard” quite like the sport of lacrosse, and Maryland Sports has cemented itself with the decision by U.S. Lacrosse to be home to its new headquarters in Hunt Valley, Maryland.
The national governing body of the fastest-growing sport in America, U.S. Lacrosse just moved into the new National Lacrosse Center in Baltimore County, with the hard opening set in the fall. The new center will house a stadium and training center for the U.S. national teams and include the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum. U.S. Lacrosse’s new headquarters was funded entirely by a $15 million capital campaign.
“Lacrosse is our state team sport,” Hasseltine said. “All of our partners promote lacrosse. It is a perfect marriage of our interest and their interest.”
The collaboration between Maryland Sports and TEAM Maryland has created new sports opportunities and maintained and enhanced existing events. The list of events taking place within the state is long, but here are some of the most significant ones on the 2016 calendar:
- The Army-Navy football game: The storied gridiron battle between the two military branches will again be hosted at M&T Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Baltimore Ravens. This marks the fourth time the game has been played at the stadium.
“The impact of the game is very significant,” Hasseltine said. “Two years ago when we had it, it was the first time ESPN’s Game Day show came to the Army-Navy game, and the media impact was two to three times what we anticipated. It was estimated to bring in $28.5 million to $33.5 million to our local economy.
“Any time you can bring that kind of spending power, it is advantageous,” he said. “Also the prestige of the event, tied to the two military academies, it is really about giving back to our country, and it showcases why Baltimore is such a great city to host an event.”
- USSSA – The Eastern World Series for softball will be hosted at the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex and other locations in Wicomico County, which initiated a major softball event almost a decade ago. Back then, it was a 25-team tournament played over one weekend, and today it is a 425-team event that is hosted over three weeks where the winners of each division qualify for the national World Series.
“It’s like hosting the Super Bowl,” Hasseltine said. “There are three opening ceremonies, three closing ceremonies. The impact over the region is $10 million over that period of time.”
- The Governors Challenge – Initially designed to be a 20-team holiday basketball tournament pitting teams from Maryland and Delaware, the event has grown to include over 100 teams and this year will include a girls division.
“The Governor’s Challenge High School Basketball Tournament has become a very valued event for the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland when it comes to sports tourism,’’ said James Simmons, Assistant Tourism Manager for Wicomico County Recreation, Parks and Tourism. “The event has two major goals, first to bring in out-of-town visitors to spend the night in our community, and secondly to provide an opportunity and a platform for our local athletes to compete at the highest level and gain exposure.”
This year, The Governor’s Challenge received the Locally Created Event of the Year award from the National Association of Sports Commissions. “We generated tremendous economic impact for our area at a slow time of year, and great media coverage of the event, great attendance from college coaches and recruiters,’’ Simmons said.
“It’s the largest holiday tournament east of the Mississippi,” Hasseltine said.
- The Cal Ripken World Series – Aimed at boys who continue to play baseball beyond the Little League World Series, the Cal Ripken World Series promotes the nation’s pastime, proper sports etiquette and one of the game’s best-loved ambassadors. Ripken still makes his home in Aberdeen, Maryland, where the Cal Ripken series is played at its beautiful complex, and it has become an international event, with teams from outside our borders.
“It puts a spotlight on Maryland and Aberdeen during the month of August like no other event can,” Hasseltine said. “The fact that Cal dedicates his full time to being here, we couldn’t ask for a better event to brand the state of Maryland with.”
“All levels of the local government has been tremendously supportive and this is demonstrated through the economic impact the vent has on Harford County and the State of Maryland,’’ said Glenn Valis, the senior vice president of Ripken Baseball. “The support we receive from the entire community is both inspiring and very much needed.”
- The Elite SAC tournament – This huge soccer event, created and hosted by Elite Sports, is conducted over six counties in Maryland. Elite handles the logistics of the event, but this competition perfectly illustrates what Maryland Sports and TEAM Maryland can do to make an event succeed.
“If they run into issues with county parks, county leadership, our role is to ensure that we ease that burden on them,” Hasseltine said. “If they need more fields, we can make a phone call and access those fields.”
- The Military Bowl – This college post-season event pits teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and All-American Conference. In 2015, the game was special because Navy was ending one of its best seasons ever, and the Midshipmen defeated Pittsburgh 44-28. It is played at the Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.
“One of the unique things about it is it is a Maryland state event, but also has a (Washington) D.C. connection because one of the team hotels is in D.C. and the game is played in Maryland,” Hasseltine said.
- The Preakness – The middle of the three races in horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Preakness is special because it, more than the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont, most often creates buzz around a possible Triple Crown winner. After all, “you can’t win the Triple Crown if you don’t win the middle leg,” Hasseltine said.
“The attendance keeps growing,” Hasseltine said. “We are currently doing a study on the future of the Preakness and the future of Pimlico. We had the 141st running this year and we want to have a defined plan for what it is going to be like at the 175th running.”
- Growth – There are new facilities being built for inclusion on the calendar this year and beyond. In Cecil County this fall, Calvert Regional Park is hosting its first full summer of events, Cedar Lane Regional Park has a full schedule this summer as well, and Howard County has invested $29 million in a multi-field project known as Blandair Park for soccer, lacrosse, and baseball and softball competitions.
Hasseltine is adamant that the growth of sports in Maryland must adhere to a principle that communities must be prepared to host events before the event is pursued.
“There is the ‘if you build it, they will come’ model, but we don’t prescribe to that,” he said. “If you don’t have the right business model, or the things you need to provide to the event, in the right way, you are just defeating yourself. There are so many people building facilities thinking they will come, but they are finding they did not have the local homegrown needs in place to create the business model where the revenues were coming in to support the entire community. We are trying to avoid that glitch in the game.”
The plan is working. By accessing the resources of Maryland communities, determining what each town and county can offer and handle, Maryland Sports and TEAM Maryland have created an environment for success that also makes the state of Maryland a leader in team sports events management across all age ranges and sports interests.