Reports this summer have indicated that the status of the Wilmington Hammerheads is in doubt, and a recent story ties the team to Baltimore.
As was detailed here last month, questions have arisen to whether the Hammerheads can overcome their current financial and attendance problems. One site–Scratching the Pitch–went as far as to report that the Hammerheads would go dark for the 2017 season, but with nothing official announced by the USL, team officials downplayed such talk.
Now there are signs that the team could move to Baltimore. Under the reported plan, the Hammerheads would go dark next season and begin focusing their efforts on operations in Baltimore before playing in the city in 2018. The team’s home would be Johnny Unitas Field, a facility that primarily hosts Towson University football and other sports.
At this point nothing is official. However, the USL is believed to be eyeing higher-profile markets, and sees Baltimore as a potential fit. More from the Washington Post:
Wilmington’s owner, George Altirs, lives in New Jersey and holds a stake in two German clubs, second-division Wuerzburger Kickers and third-flight Duisburg. He founded the Cedar Stars, an elite youth club competing in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, as well as New York-based Capelli Sport, which outfits Wuerzburger, among other teams.
Altirs fits the profile of a well-off owner who could finance a team in a bigger market, such as Baltimore, and in a league where team budgets have tripled since 2013.
In recent years, the USL has expanded to Cincinnati, Louisville, Phoenix, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio and Tulsa. Nashville will join soon and Austin could return from hiatus.
In its inaugural season this year, FC Cincinnati is averaging about 17,000 fans, which is more than five teams in first-tier MLS. The public’s response has caught the attention of MLS for a future expansion candidate and strengthened the USL’s belief that it can succeed in larger markets. Sacramento led the league in attendance the previous two years, averaging about 11,300. Orlando was atop in 2011-13, which helped springboard the club into MLS last year.
Certainly the USL’s arrival into larger markets has produced some success, and the push to become a second-division league adds to the incentive to establish clubs in larger areas. In the case of Baltimore, the team would actually be setting up shop just a few miles north of the city, as Towson is located in Baltimore County.
Baltimore has a history of hosting soccer periodically. The Premier Development League’s Baltimore Bohemians currently play in suburban Bel Air, and Crystal Palace Baltimore lasted four seasons before ceasing operations in 2010.
Image courtesy of the Wilmington Hammerheads.