Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Maybe We Can Save The Orioles?

By Marc Korman.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been meeting with the Governor and other Maryland officials about the Preakness. Angelos’ meeting is the latest twist in the Maryland government’s renewed desire to get more involved in sports. But perhaps the latest chapter could at least save the Baltimore Orioles from Angelos’ disastrous leadership.

During the past few weeks, skepticism has grown regarding DC United’s plan to have the state build it a new stadium in Prince George’s County. After finding some resistance in Annapolis, DC United and their co-conspirators at the Maryland Stadium Authority began reworking their proposal for the state to float almost $200 million in bonds to include bond financing from Prince George’s County as well. The latest iteration of the plan I have seen calls for the state to float $90 million in bonds and the county to put forward $51 million. How the remaining funds, originally slated to be fronted by the state but paid back by DC United in the form of rent, would be covered is not clear. Happily, skepticism abounds at the county and state level for such a proposal.

But just as the soccer stadium plan began losing steam, Senate President Mike Miller announced the possibility of the state purchasing the Preakness and building a new race track. He has even floated the possibility of a special session to move legislation through. Mind you, Miller has not asked for a special session to deal with Maryland’s 800,000 to 900,000 uninsured, transportation funding crisis, or projected energy shortage problems. But, he is revved up for a special session so Maryland can buy a horse race. Miller is on firm legal ground. As the Washington Post recently discussed, Maryland has a law giving it the right of first refusal if the race is put up for sale. If the current owner, Magna Entertainment, moves Preakness out of the state, they will also face a heavy tax penalty (though I’m not sure how much you can tax a bankrupt company).

In fairness, I actually see some limited value of state involvement in the Preakness over DC United. The Preakness has a long history in Maryland. Named after one of the winners of Maryland’s previous flagship horserace, it kicked off in 1873 and ran until 1889. For the next nineteen years it ran on and off in New York. Since 1909, Preakness has been back in Maryland and run each year. I understand why many Marylanders do not want to see its 100th consecutive race be its last. Horseracing, and the Preakness, unlike soccer, are a part of Maryland history and lore. We also know the Maryland horseracing lobby is a lot stronger than its soccer lobby.

Am I the only one that believes that Maryland’s future is biotechnology, clean energy, a better transportation system, universal healthcare, and world class education? How much money do we need to spend on sporting events, especially during tough budget times?

Luckily, the Preakness may have a savior in Peter Angelos. If you live in Montgomery County, you may have forgotten who Angelos is since the Washington Post discontinued its coverage of the Orioles. Angelos is the team’s owner, a major Democratic donor (though a foe of Martin O’Malley), and is now interested in purchasing the Preakness. Unfortunately, I am certain he is expecting massive state support for his purchase, probably through some combination of direct subsidies, bond financing for a new track, and tax benefits.

The devil is in the details, but perhaps we can make one of our conditions for state support that Angelos cede the Orioles to the state of Maryland. I don’t know if Maryland needs a soccer stadium, we may not deserve a leg of the Triple Crown, but we sure deserve a winning Major League Baseball team. Since Angelos purchased the team in 1993, they have only been to the playoffs twice and have not had a winning season since 1997. There has also been general dissatisfaction with Angelos’ stewardship, with some players even reportedly taking less money to play elsewhere. Maybe O’Malley can do better as a team owner.