Washington and Baltimore sports fans will spend the winter replaying Missouri's I-70 World Series. We should also be getting ready for our own I-95 World Series. Don't laugh. It could happen.
Baseball is already in Baltimore, and it may come back to Washington. All we have to do is get smart about the pro sports business -- something we haven't done yet.
While folks in Washington and Baltimore were rooting for their "home" teams and watching them disappear at an alarming rate, something else was happening. The two cities were growing together. Today 5.6 million of us live together in the nation's fourth largest metropolitan region. It is also the wealthiest and fastest growing, linked by two beltways 19 miles apart, connected by 23 lanes of highways.
Businesses were the first to notice. Banks, department stores, law firms and advertising agencies, once located exclusively in either Washington or Baltimore, now serve both. The new Baltimore- Washington Regional Association is an alliance of business groups from both cities promoting their "common market." It boasts a recession-resistent economy, five of the nation's 20 wealthiest counties, its fifth richest retail market and world headquarters for 22 Fortune 500 corporations.
Even the universities are getting into the act. Johns Hopkins is expanding to Montgomery County. The University of Maryland is planning a new biotechnology center in Baltimore City.
But a professional sports industry that meant $1.2 billion to Maryland's economy last year still hasn't gotten the message, even though evidence abounds that we are one vast "sports market."
Take baseball. Everyone loves the Orioles. An entire generation of young Washingtonians has never heard of Griffith Stadium or the Senators. In Prince George's, Montgomery and Fairfax, baseball means the "Os." Almost 25 percent of last year's Orioles attendance came from the D.C. area. Even the owner drives to Baltimore!
Golf's Kemper Open and racing's Preakness draw fans from throughout the region and beyond. And Colt-less Baltimoreans are rooting for the Redskins (although some won't admit it).
Still, we're in an odd situation. We've grown into a vast sports market without increasing our sports services. Instead of gaining pro sports franchises, we've lost them. Instead of making the most of our potential as a sports market, we're wasting it. I believe the Baltimore-Washington sports market can support two major- league baseball teams and two NFL football franchises. It could be a multiteam sports market, such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.
The key is to see the sports market as a whole, to position teams strategically within that sports market, to understand that a team's market determines its survival. And that's what the fight in Baltimore over a new stadium is all about.
When D.C. gets National League baseball, the Orioles will lose some Washington-area fans. They won't drive to 33rd Street in uptown Baltimore when baseball at RFK is only a subway ride away. To stop the deserters, the Orioles will need a new stadium more accessible to D.C. with acres of parking. A state commission has recommended just that. I support it. Baseball in Baltimore cannot survive without it.
The Orioles must reposition themselves in the regional sports market, close, but not too close, to D.C. An I-95, Baltimore Beltway stadium will keep the Birds alive without hurting baseball in Washington.
It also makes possible:
*Baltimore's chances of regaining an NFL franchise;
*Retention of jobs and tourism for the Baltimore area;
*A "Meadowlands-like" sports complex that could someday include horse racing, soccer, auto racing and other sports attractions.
By coordinating home/away appearances and broadcasts, the two teams could complement each other in the same market. For the first time, fans could choose between games and leagues. Some would stick with the Orioles, others would support the new team, many would follow both. But all fans would have new options and access never before possible. Fans at both ends of I-95 would benefit.
Recently, Fantus Corp., a leading industrial site location firm, studied the nation's top investment growth areas. Baltimore ranked 25th, Washington ranked 5th. But when Fantus applied a regional approach, the combined Baltimore-Washington regional ranking increased to second, led only by Dallas-Forth Worth.
The lesson is clear. Baltimore and Washington together, as a regional market, exceed the sum of their parts. So, too, with the Baltimore-Washington sports market.
See you at the I-95 World Series!