RadioOnFire.com - The Baltimore Blast have a new home field, and it isn't in Baltimore.
Starting next season, the indoor soccer team will move home games from Royal Farms Arena to SECU Arena, on the campus of Towson University as part of a three-year deal. Their season kicks off in Towson on Nov. 10.
"We think this place is very beautiful and it's not seen very much because it's off the road a little bit," owner Ed Hale said.
Blast games at the arena will seat 4,000, far fewer than the capacity of their old home, but that's by design, Hale said. The inspiration for the more intimate venue with a smaller field struck Hale during this year's run for the league championship. They played Soles de Sonora for the Major Arena Soccer League championship. Hale came back with the trophy, but also inspiration from Centro de Usos Multiples, Sonora's 8,600-seat arena. Royal Farms Arena, which seats 14,000, is cavernous by comparison. The fans in Sonora, Hale said, made for an intimate, wild experience.
"It was loud, it was crazy, it was fun," Hale said. "That's what we hope to replicate here."
When team officials ran the move by fans, Hale said, they were all for it. Towson, Hale said, will offer "access and affordability," with cheaper concessions and parking included. In addition to partnerships with other Towson sports, they'll also reach out to community groups and nonprofits to provide family-friendly experiences.
Towson officials see the Blast as part of their own larger engagement strategy.
"We talk a lot about this campus about trying to foster and being great community partners," Towson athletic director Tim Leonard said. "In order to do that, we have to reach out and partner with folks in greater Baltimore."
Hale said the move wasn't made because of anything done wrong by Royal Farms Arena staff, and praised arena general manager Frank Remesch for all he's done for the team's home of 37 years. That said, the relationship between Hale and the city-owned arena has been contentious in recent years. In 2015, he won a lawsuit against arena operator SMG and advertising firm Legends Sales and Marketing for using advertising billboards that belong to him, The Baltimore Sun reported in the time. Hale's firm won millions in damages, according to online court records.
The Blast has been a perennial attendance leader in the league, but the average Blast attendance in recent years is a couple thousand more than they'll be able to fit in Towson.
Several players last season, including star defender Pat Healey and goalkeeper Chris Fenner, are alumni of Towson's now-defunct men's soccer team. Neither has yet struck a new deal with the Blast, but 10 players from the championship squad have, general manager Kevin Healey (Pat Healey's father) said.
Coach Danny Kelly said he's excited about the team's new home.
"It's going to be quite an intimate setting," Kelly said. "Our fan support has been unbelievable, we expect the same here."