Editor’s note: Kevin Healey, president and general manager of the Baltimore Blast, and son Pat Healey, a defender on the team, visited the Watchdog newsroom to discuss the home opener at SECU Arena. The preview article and audio stories below are from Watchdog reporters.
By Muhammad Waheed
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Baltimore’s loss is about to become Towson’s gain.
After 37 years of playing home soccer games at Royal Farms Arena in the heart of downtown, the Baltimore Blast are set to make their home debut Friday at the cozier and much newer SECU Arena. The region’s beloved professional soccer team hosts the Cedar Rapids Rampage in a game that begins at 7:35 p.m.
“It’s going to be wild,” said Kevin Healey, president and general manager of the Blast. “The whole event is going to be wild. We’re going to bring that arena to life and show it off…We’re going to bring a lot of new people in who haven’t seen that arena, who haven’t seen the [Towson] sports complex.”
The Blast won eight championships while playing at Royal Farms Arena. But the specter of playing in a modern arena close to many fans who live in the Baltimore suburbs was enough to lure team officials away from the city. After just weeks of negations this summer, the three-year deal to play at SECU was announced in late August.
The move means a new experience for both fans and players. Royal Farms Arena holds more than 10,000 people, while SECU’s capacity is roughy 4,000 for soccer games. The Blast average well over 4,000 people for most home games, so to offset the drop in number of tickets sold the team has raised ticket prices from $16-$40 previously to $23-$50 in the new venue (a price that includes parking, unlike before). The Blast also will get an increased share of food concession sales at SECU.
Healey said many front office staff, coaches, players and fans were nostalgic about leaving their longtime home. But he said the benefits of coming to Towson — including being closer to the university and attracting new fans –outweighed the negatives.
The move to SECU Arena will also impact how the Blast play on the field.
“The field is smaller — a lot smaller,” said Pat Healey, a Baltimore Blast defender. “Every arena in the league has different dimensions. Being on a smaller field, there’s going to be more shots and there will be more goals. It’s just obvious. We are a defensive-minded team and this year people might look at us differently because we can put up goals with the best of them.”
Pat Healey said he will miss Royal Farms Arena, but he’s excited about the new home-field advantages.
“It will be louder without a doubt,” Pat Healey said. “In a bigger arena with 5,000 people with [10,500-person] capacity, it’s going to be quieter. Ours usually is a loud crowd, so if you put 4,000 into that smaller arena it will definitely be louder.
“It’s a home field advantage because of the difference [in seats],” Pat Healey said. “You don’t know how the game will affect you because it’s your first or second game. In game five, six or seven of our 11 home games we should feel comfortable with our home-field advantage.”
Kevin Healey said fans will also notice the difference — many more seats close the field will be unobstructed: “Our sightlines at the game are just going to be so good.”
The Blast have won championships while playing on smaller fields so the downsizing isn’t brand new territory for the team.
Pat Healey said the team’s goalkeeper might not be too thrilled as the smaller field means more shots on goal. “It will create a lot more action,” he said. “As a defender it might change my game a bit.”
For Pat Healey, Friday’s game is a homecoming. He played soccer from 2004-2008 at Towson University. He’s excited to return for the Blast’s debut on campus.
“It makes me feel really special,” he said. “I had great times here. I loved it here. It helped me become a professional soccer player. Doing it and saying this is where I was – that’s a great feeling.”