PBS ‘NewsHour’ an­chor was broad­cast­ing pi­o­neer

Former Evening Sun re­porter was proud to break gen­der and color bar­ri­ers

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By David Zu­rawik

Baltimore will wel­come a new team — an Arena Foot­ball League fran­chise — with a deep-pock­eted Wash­ing­ton own­er­ship group hop­ing to lure fans to Royal Farms Arena be­gin­ning in the spring with the prom­ise of ri­valry games against teams from Wash­ing­ton and Philadel­phia.

The new fran­chise, which does not Gwen Ifill, a pi­o­neer­ing fig­ure as the first yet have a name or head coach, amounts African-Amer­i­can woman to co-an­chor a to an ex­per­i­ment by en­tre­pre­neur and national news­cast and serve as solo an­chor sports team owner Ted Leon­sis with a of a weekly national public af­fairs show, league that has been around since 1987 died of can­cer Mon­day at a hospice in but has just five teams — Baltimore, Wash­ing­ton. Wash­ing­ton, Philadel­phia, Cleve­land She was 61. and Tampa Bay — after five oth­ers ei­ther Ms. Ifill, a former Baltimore Evening Sun ceased oper­a­tions or joined a ri­val re­porter, was co-an­chor and co-manag­ing in­door league after last sea­son. edi­tor of PBS’ “NewsHour.” She was also

Leon­sis, whose Mon­u­men­tal Sports & mod­er­a­tor and manag­ing edi­tor of the En­ter­tain­ment owns the NBA’s Wash­net­work’s Fri­day night po­lit­i­cal round­table, in­g­ton Wiz­ards, the NHL’s Wash­ing­ton “Wash­ing­ton Week.” Capitals, Wash­ing­ton’s Ver­i­zon Cen­ter Her death was con­firmed Mon­day by and a new Arena Foot­bal­lPBS.League fran­chise in Wash­ing­ton, said he is Ms. Ifill joined PBS in 1999, tak­ing over as bank­ing on re­gional ri­val­ries and a mod­er­a­tor and manag­ing edi­tor at “Wash

in­g­ton Week.” In 2013, she and co-an­chor MOSTLY CLOUDY Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings called jour­nal­ist Gwen Ifill “a trail­blazer and a gift to our na­tion who will be sorely missed.” Judy Woodruff be­came TV’s first national fe­male an­chor team when they as­sumed the du­ties that had long been held by Jim Lehrer.

“When I was a lit­tle girl watch­ing pro­grams like this — be­cause that’s the kind of nerdy fam­ily we were — I would look up

live-stream­ing sports net­work launched last month to gen­er­ate in­ter­est.

“This might be a crazy idea, but if you’re an en­tre­pre­neur you are not afraid of risk,” Leon­sis said. “I’m not afraid of fail­ure, if you will. We’re go­ing to go for it.”

Baltimore, he said, “is a great, great sports town. I be­lieve in the city.’

City of­fi­cials said the team will pro­duce an in­crease in down­town pedes­trian traf­fic and a wel­come new ten­ant for Royal Farms Arena, where it will join the Baltimore Blast in­door soc­cer team.

“We look for­ward to hav­ing yet an­other pro­fes­sional team com­ing to Baltimore,” said An­thony Mc­Carthy, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake.

“The more, the mer­rier,” said Kirby Fowler, pres­i­dent of the Down­town Part­ner­ship. “Ev­ery event has so much spinoff to area restau­rants and even ho­tels.”

The eco­nomic im­pact of the team is un­cer­tain. It’s not known how many home games will be sched­uled, or how many fans might at­tend. Arena League teams played16 games from April into Au­gust this year. Most of the games were at night.

The Blast sea­son runs from Novem­ber to March. Royal Farms Arena also hosts con­certs, mon­ster truck events, mixed mar­tial arts and oc­ca­sion­ally basketball.

“This will just add to the won­der­ful mix that is al­ready in place,” Fowler said.

But the arena is 55 years old, and city of­fi­cials have long talked about ren­o­vat­ing or re­plac­ing it. The venue seats about 11,500 for sport­ing events.

“Gen­er­ally, I think the [Arena Foot­ball League] con­cept is a tough sell in a city that has a rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful base­ball team and loyal fan fol­low­ing,” said Auburn Bell, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Loy­ola Univer­sity Mary­land. “You also have the is­sue of the Royal Farms Arena be­ing a dated and less-than-friendly space for fans. Not sure a state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity would guar­an­tee suc­cess, but cer­tainly play­ing in a place like [that] will not help the over­all ef­fort.”

Leon­sis said his ex­ten­sive hold­ings will give him an ad­van­tage over own­ers whose Royal Farms Arena, which now hosts the Baltimore Blast and oc­ca­sional basketball games, will be the home of Baltimore’s yet-un­named Arena Foot­ball League team. teams dis­banded or fled the league. The league lost teams this year from Los An­ge­les, Ari­zona, Or­lando and Jacksonville, Fla., and Port­land, Ore.

“None of the own­ers who left owned a build­ing or owned other sports teams in which they could lever­age that in­fra­struc­ture” that in­cludes ticket sales, mar­ket­ing and game day oper­a­tions, Leon­sis said.

His new Arena League team, the Wash­ing­ton Valor, will play at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter.

Royal Farms Arena is owned by the city and over­seen by SMG, a Penn­syl­va­ni­abased venue man­age­ment com­pany.

Leon­sis said the Baltimore and Wash­ing­ton teams could share some fa­cil­i­ties — per­haps even a prac­tice fa­cil­ity: “Why pay two rents if you can do it in the same place?”

But on the field, Leon­sis hopes the teams will tap into fans’ af­fec­tion for ge­o­graphic ri­val­ries. The Baltimore team’s “coaches, the gen­eral man­agers, the play­ers — they will want to beat Philadel­phia like a drum and beat Wash­ing­ton like a drum,” Leon­sis said.

Ac­cord­ing to Leon­sis, Ron Ja­worski, the former Philadel­phia Ea­gles quar­ter­back who is ma­jor­ity owner of the Arena League’s Philadel­phia Soul, “said he could hardly wait to play next year and we’d be a nat­u­ral ri­val with Philadel­phia.”

Baltimore and Wash­ing­ton games are to be broad­cast on­line on the sub­scrip­tion­based Mon­u­men­tal Sports Net­work, which also shows games of the WNBA’s Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics, the Amer­i­can Hockey League’s Her­shey Bears and other teams. CBS Sports Net­work broad­casts Arena Foot­ball League games weekly.

The in­ten­sity of the long-sim­mer­ing sports ri­valry be­tween Baltimore and Wash­ing­ton has been re­strained by the lim­ited num­ber of games be­tween them. The Ori­oles and Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als base­ball teams are in dif­fer­ent leagues, and the Ravens and Wash­ing­ton Redskins foot­ball teams are in op­pos­ing con­fer­ences.

Pro­mot­ing Arena Foot­ball League ri­val­ries could prove a win­ning strat­egy, said Matt Saler, vice pres­i­dent of sports mar­ket­ing for Baltimore ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing firm IMRE.

“I think that’s an av­enue to ex­plore be­cause cer­tainly there are ri­val­ries in the re­gion,” Saler said. “There is that his­tory there in this town that you could tap into.”

Terry Has­sel­tine, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the state sports com­mis­sion, said the league could help it­self by adding teams.

“I think it needs to ex­pand,” he said. With five teams, he said, “once you’ve played a team so many times, can you see them play again?”

Calls about pos­si­ble league ex­pan­sion were re­ferred to com­mis­sioner Scott C. Butera, who could not be reached for com­ment.

This is hardly the city’s first dal­liance with non-NFL foot­ball, as fans of the USFL’s Baltimore Stars and the Cana­dian Foot­ball League’s Baltimore Stal­lions will re­call. Baltimore also had an en­try in the Amer­i­can In­door Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion.

The Arena Foot­ball League, es­tab­lished in 1987, is known for its high-scor­ing, pass-happy games. The field is shorter and nar­rower than in the National Foot­ball League and the rules — which for­bid punts and al­low just eight play­ers on the field in­stead of 11 — max­i­mize scor­ing.

The league’s most fa­mous alum­nus is former St. Louis Rams and Ari­zona Car­di­nals quar­ter­back Kurt Warner. But the league has strug­gled to keep teams in busi­ness in re­cent years, and Leon­sis’ in­vest­ment could help pro­vide a life­line.

Mon­u­men­tal Sports said Baltimore fans can se­cure tick­ets for the com­ing sea­son — which Leon­sis said would be­gin in March — with a $50 de­posit. He said he ex­pected the team to get a name within about the next 30 days.

Leon­sis said the prox­im­ity of Baltimore, Wash­ing­ton and Philadel­phia will en­able the league to try some new ap­proaches to sell­ing tick­ets.

“You could have a sea­son ticket for both teams [Baltimore and Wash­ing­ton] or one pass for all three venues,” Leon­sis said. “I’m not afraid of in­no­vat­ing.”

BALTIMORE SUN 2012

LLOYD FOX/BALTIMORE SUN 2014

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