Baltimore Stadium Proposal Isn't Quite What it Seems
Brandon Scott wants to build a taxpayer-funded soccer stadium for a multibillion dollar Egyptian conglomerate. Why?
Squeegee kids are pulling guns and shooting people downtown. There’s a crime epidemic from one end of the city to the other. City schools are still woefully inadequate.
The future of soccer in Baltimore could include a 10,000-seat stadium and United Soccer League men’s and women’s professional teams.
Mayor Brandon Scott requested the Maryland Stadium Authority conduct a study to “determine the feasibility of a potential soccer facility,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement Thursday. The study, which was approved by the stadium authority’s board Tuesday, is just the first step in what would likely be a yearslong process to bring the venue and teams to Charm City. Port Covington is one potential site.
That’s right, all of Baltimore’s problems must have been magically solved so Brandon Scott can move on to a shiny new soccer pitch in the city. And have the State of Maryland pay for it, of course.
If you think this kind of cockamamie idea, building a taxpayer-funded soccer stadium in Baltimore City sounds familiar, you’re right. The City talked about building a stadium in Canton Crossing back in 2008. They tried to lure D.C. United north in 2010.
If you think this kind of cockamamie idea, building a taxpayer-funded sports facility in Port Covington sounds familiar, you’re right. People have been talking about doing it for twenty-five years.
If you think this kind of cockamamie idea, building a taxpayer-funded sports facility for a minor-league team sounds familiar, you’re right. Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon talked about building an arena for a WNBA team back in 2008.
The idea of building this at taxpayers’ expense is, of course, a terrible idea. If Brandon Scott wants a publicly-funded stadium, the city of Baltimore can pay for it. If the Right to Dream, the foundation who are the proposed tenants, want a stadium they can pay for it with private dollars as they plan on paying for anything else. Especially considering they expect to pay for the rest of the complex with private money:
The City of Baltimore and Right To Dream’s vision for a training academy would include privately funded residential and academic buildings for youth student-athletes and a publicly funded stadium owned and operated by the MSA, Tyler said.
But there are other warning signs that should stop this idea dead in its tracks.
First, D.C. United is looking at putting their minor-league affiliate in Baltimore as early as 2013. At a stadium that would be built by, you guessed it:
The Maryland Stadium Authority board approved on Tuesday a request from the state Department of Commerce to conduct a study analyzing potential sites for a proposed new multi-use soccer stadium in the Baltimore metro area that would be operated by D.C. United.
The idea of building one taxpayer-funded stadium is laughable. The idea of building two is absurd and yet something that is entirely probably were a Democrat to be elected this fall.
The second concern is the model that is being proposed for the owner and operator of the stadium:
Right to Dream, a soccer academy and nonprofit organization that is based in Ghana and develops young, talented soccer players, would be the primary tenant of a potential stadium in Baltimore and would operate the teams.
Right to Dream seems to be an upstanding organization according to a recent Forbes profile. But they are far from the first organization to come to the U.S. trying to set up shop as a soccer organization.
Here in Baltimore, Crystal Palace FC from England set up shop in 2006. After a few lackluster years though, the English club pull the plug on their involvement. The local club tried to reorganize without them. They never played again.
Down in Florida, an English-based non-profit showed up and set up shop with a familiar pitch:
In 2011, English soccer development academy VisionPro Sports Institute announced a venture to establish a soccer organization in the United Soccer Leagues in the United States. VSI partnered with the local Brandon, Florida area youth soccer organization, West Florida Flames, to build VSI Tampa Flames, "the perfect platform for vertical progression, giving talented youngsters the opportunity to progress from junior soccer all the way through to the professional game," according to VSI's CEO, Simon Crane.
They of course pulled the plug on that project after two years. But they also did not come in asking for a multi-million dollar publicly-financed stadium as the price of entry like this group in Baltimore wants to do.
This brings me to who is really running the show. Right to Dream isn’t exactly a Ghana-based non-profit anymore.
An Egyptian conglomerate worth billions of dollars has invested $120m to take control of the Right To Dream academy, which was founded in Ghana in 1999 by a former Manchester United scout.
Right To Dream started out with a handful of youngsters being trained by Tom Vernon, once Manchester United's head scout in Africa, on basic dust-filled pitches in Accra…..
…The Mansour Group, which reported revenues in excess of $7.5 billion in 2018, deals in a variety of interests, with automotive, energy, finance and food among them.
The group has created an entity called ManSports to oversee its first foray into the world of sports.
"ManSports … will now focus on establishing a Right To Dream academy in Egypt, and furthering the activities of the Right To Dream academy in Ghana, the FC Nordsjaelland club and academy in Denmark," a statement said.
ManSports is also keen to explore "UK opportunities at club and academy level".
It’s hard to call a group that was bought out by the privately-held, multi-billion Egyptian conglomerate that owns Egypt’s largest Egyptian-owned supermarket chain and the world’s largest GM Dealership a “non-profit.”
Brandon Scott doesn’t want to build a taxpayer-funded stadium for a non-profit. Brandon Scott wants to build a taxpayer-funded stadium for a multi-billion dollar privately held company.
Right to Dream has been successful. Baltimore would probably be a good market for minor-league soccer. But it is ridiculous for Brandon Scott to ask the state for a taxpayer-funded stadium in the middle of a recession. It is risky to ask for a second stadium when a more established competitor is getting one of their own across town. And it’s all pointless at a time when Baltimore feels ungovernable on Scott’s watch.
Let’s just give this a red card so we can move on to Baltimore’s real problems.