This Friday Baltimore’s other major league franchise opens its season. You just said, wait a minute, the Orioles just ended their season. Now those in the know would tell you just who this franchise is. For the uninitiated it’s time for you to discover or rediscover Baltimore’s other major league franchise: The Baltimore Blast. Now I know the skeptics will jump all over this assertion that our indoor soccer franchise isn’t major league. Maybe you are one of those fans who has never been or hasn’t attended a game in years. Maybe you are just anti-soccer. Maybe it’s because you can’t see the team on ESPN every night or the fact that owner Ed Hale doesn’t own a TV station to promote the team like a certain Greek P.A. from Highlandtown. Whatever your reason, I challenge you to re-examine the Baltimore Blast and the current state of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
Since we last left the Blast, who missed the playoffs last year, there have been several changes in personel. Gone are two outstanding hustle type players. First, Lee Tschantret, currently coaching soccer at the varsity level for Loyola High school, and secondly Jonathan Steele, who was left unprotected in the expansion draft and was drafted by the expansion Orlando Sharks and subsequently traded to the Philadelphia Kixx. Most importantly, goal keeper Brian Rowland who was a valuable back up and fill in starter for the aging Sagu. Also departed is Gordon Chin, an occasional starter last year for the Blast. Returning are the usual suspects including Head Coach Danny Kelly, players Giuliano Celenza, PJ Wakefield, Billy Nelson, Carlos Garcia, Machel Millwood, Aduato Neto, Sagu, Denison Cabral, Michael Lookingland and new addition Scott Buete from Bowie.
Speaking of new, here is what’s new for the MISL and the Blast. Most importantly, and finally, a national TV network agreement to broadcast MISL games. The MISL and Fox Soccer Channel have agreed to a two year deal to broadcast games mostly between 8pm and 10pm on Friday Nights. Ironically that schedule starts mid-November with a Blast home game vs. Monterrey. Monterrey is one of three new expansion franchises including New Jersey and Orlando. Returning franchises to the MISL are: Baltimore, Chicago, California, Chicago, Milwaukee, and the 2007 MISL Champion Philadelphia Kixx. For the traditionalist, they are also playing a single table this year which is more traditional to outdoor soccer. So, the MISL now has more than a handful of teams and a national TV contract. With New Jersey’s entrance the MISL, now has a real presence in the tri-state area which can only help with exposure. In fact, New Jersey has as its starting goal keeper former USA Men’s National Team Goalie Tony Meola, giving the league some star power it most desperately needs. Another sign of a growth into a major league is the agreement with the Premier Arena League Soccer (PASL), which will be a developmental league for players, referees, and proposed rule changes for the MISL. All of these factors are turning the MISL into a recognizable Major League.
The future growth depends in my opinion on the ability to attract and keep a balance of international players and American players and for teams to be able to market to English-speaking as well as Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking fans. So many rosters contain players from Brazil, which is a hot spot for the official indoor game called Futsal, and is predominately a Portuguese-speaking nation. If teams can capture that demographic through specific marketing efforts, which are on-going with some teams, it will grow the fan base tremendously. Once the league establishes a fan base that can sustain crowds of 7,000-10,000 or more, I think they’ll have the opportunity to look into expansion again and hopefully into more major markets. Then the advertising revenue will follow and, maybe, a more expanded TV schedule for even more exposure. For the first time in years, I feel like the MISL is headed on the right track and I applaud the owners of the franchises and Commissioner Steve Ryan for getting the league moving forward. So the question is will you now be a part of Baltimore’s other Major League franchise or are we just a one-horse town?
Some additional things to consider as you consider supporting the other major league franchise would include the following. The majority of you don’t attend the Orioles games anymore and if it wasn’t for the Yankee and Red Sox fans coming in the attendance would be a half a million less I’m guessing so most of you have the discretionary income to attend the Blast games. You always support our local players who do as much if not more than any other franchise in this town when it comes to instructing kids in their particular sport. The Blast players live and work here in Baltimore like the old Baltimore Colts players use too I know you respect that because talk radio tells me so. The owner of the Blast Mr. Ed Hale is Baltimore through and through and unlike the owner of the local baseball franchise he operates a first class fan friendly front office along with: Kevin Healey, Mike Conway, Amy Keller, Marc Dombek, Jason Carrick, and Robin Eichelberger. I have never had a phone call, e-mail or reasonable request answered and in a timely fashion. Try that little trick at OPACY.
So let’s review… Great local ownership…check. A fan friendly front office and staff…check. Players who are local full time Maryland residents who work and live in the community they play in…check. A growing league with three new teams and a new TV contract…check. Playing a game which is recognized as the #1 sport throughout the world…check. Affordable family ticket prices and an event that parents and kids can attend together…check. Great fan promotions…check. Did I mention cheerleaders? Anyway the only thing missing Baltimore is you, the loyal fan, who is dying to support another Baltimore franchise that cares and values your support and indeed is worthy of the title “Major League”.