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Hockey was on thin ice in Baltimore
Question of the Day
The “political winds” just didn’t blow in the right direction for the Bandits, Caggiano said, as attempts to build a suburban arena were dismissed. Young blamed Caggiano and other owners, saying “it’s their fault” minor league hockey never succeeded in Baltimore.
“You should ask the owner of the minor league teams now because 95 percent of the seats [sold for the Baltimore Hockey Classic],” Young said. “There must be some fan base in Baltimore.”
And while Verizon Center revitalized the District’s Chinatown neighborhood because of a strong Caps brand and the NHL, Caggiano believed 1st Mariner Arena wouldn’t be the place to grow minor league hockey.
“I think that’s why it hasn’t worked in the past — you were trying to put a minor league product with a suburban following in an urban setting,” he said. “It’s like trying to take a hummer and drive an IndyCar race.”
Caggiano, who acquired significant debt when buying the team, eventually gave up the dream of making it work, and the Bandits became the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. According to reports, he and the team lost $2 million in two seasons.
No one has attempted a serious foray into a full-time hockey team in Baltimore since.
And it might take a long shot for that to happen anytime soon. Aging 1st Mariner Arena, which has a capacity of 11,111, has drawn rave reviews for concerts — Billboard last year named it the top arena of its size (10,001-15,000) in the U.S. — but a hockey team wouldn’t fit into the schedule, for the same reason the Bandits went west.
“It would probably be highly unlikely,” Remesch said. “We were voted No. 1 because of the amount of money we made — concerts and other events. A minor league hockey team with 40 dates, I don’t have weekends to give them. Without weekends, a minor league team won’t make it.”
The past seven years have been the most financially successful in 1st Mariner Arena’s history, Remesch noted, because of such acts as Bruce Springsteen, Cirque du Soleil and Hannah Montana. Those sellouts are evidence that the area around the arena has improved, officials insisted, but Remesch admitted that if a hockey team made the arena home, he would love to add a scoreboard, update the locker rooms and fix up some “bells and whistles” around the place.
Caggiano’s experiment with the Bandits didn’t work out, but the former owner of minor league baseball’s Potomac Cannons (now the Potomac Nationals) doesn’t think Baltimore is a minor league hockey wasteland. It might take a new facility or renovations, but there’s some hope it could work — even in a city with two major professional teams in the Orioles and Ravens.
“I believe Baltimore today is a different city,” Caggiano said. “With the right amount of money to create a fan base, I believe Baltimore could support a minor league hockey team.”
Philadelphia showed that minor league hockey could thrive in a major league town, thanks to a local connection, family atmosphere and cheap tickets to watch the Flyers of the future. Given that this game is a chance to expand and capitalize on large group of fans in Baltimore, Caggiano, Remesch and Young agreed that a team with a Caps connection could succeed.
One intriguing scenario would be if Caps owner Ted Leonsis wanted to bring a team to Baltimore — if only because he can pour tens of millions of dollars into a new arena or renovations and help build the kind of tradition started by the Clippers, Skipjacks and Bandits. But the Caps’ strong affiliation with the Hershey Bears was the reason Leonsis gave when saying he’s not considering trying to restart minor league hockey in Baltimore.
“We are ecstatic about our relationship with Hershey. I really can’t imagine a better affiliation between a parent club and an affiliate,” he said in an email to The Washington Times. “So from that perspective, I don’t see us altering our relationship. And I haven’t entertained the idea of purchasing a franchise in another league, such as the ECHL.”
In a hypothetical sense, Remesch said “I would listen — in a New York minute I would listen to anything that man has to say, because he’s been successful.”
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