A Baltimore banker hopes to revive the city's professional soccer franchise with a little help from his bank.
Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of First Mariner Bancorp, is the new owner of the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team. He plans to use the $260 million-asset bank's personnel, facilities, and marketing muscle to return soccer to its glory days in Charm City.
"I believe the two can work together for the benefit of both," Mr. Hale said. "There is no question the Blast will be promoted through the bank, and we think the bank will get a boost from the team, too."
The bank and the team have strong ties. Kevin Healey, the bank's comptroller, is also the Blast's general manager and head coach. And branch manager Jason Dieter is taking some time off this winter to play defense for the team.
"It is going to be a busy winter," said Mr. Healey, who played on a national championship collegiate soccer team in the 1970s.
At least his commute will not get any worse. The team offices are in the bank's headquarters building, where employees for both organizations are encouraged to wear golf shirts with the First Mariner logo on one side and the Blast logo on the other.
There are other tie-ins as well. All 22 bank branches will sell game tickets and team merchandise, and bank customers are entitled to discounts to all home games.
At First Mariner's two branch openings scheduled for this month, Blast players will be on hand signing autographs, drawing attention not only to the new branch but to the team as well. The bank will also be featured prominently in television and print ads for the team.
"We intend to be all over the local television stations the closer we get to the season," Mr. Hale said.
His challenge is to win over a city that in recent years has shown little interest in indoor soccer. After playing before sellout crowds in the mid-1980s, a previous version of the Blast lost momentum toward the end of the decade. Mr. Hale owned that team from 1989 until the league folded in 1992. At the time, he said, he was losing $30,000 a game.
Soon after, a new league and a new team-the Spirit-took over. But that franchise played before some of the smallest crowds in its league. Mr. Hale bought that team this year and renamed it the Blast.
He said he believes his new franchise can be a success. The Blast already has four times as many sponsors as it did in 1992, and it is predicting a near sellout for its October opener.
The difference this time, he said, is the bank. "It's a promotional vehicle I just didn't have back then," he said.
Brian Murphy, editor of Sports Marketing Letter, Southport, Conn., agreed that the bank will give the team a boost.
For a small franchise trying to get its name out, "the bank provides a direct link to the public," Mr. Murphy said. "That should give the team an advantage, compared to if it was owned by someone in a business-to-business field."