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Government & Politics

Maryland Won’t Enter Bidding War to Keep the Commanders, Hogan Says

FedEx Field in Landover, home of Washington’s National Football League team since 1997. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. suggested on Tuesday that the Washington Commanders are playing Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia off one another in pursuit of a new stadium deal — and he declared that his state will not take part in a bidding war.

Speaking to reporters at the State House, the governor appeared irritated with the way the Commanders have angled for the most lucrative financing package.

“I think they’re using everybody back and forth, as they have been for eight years,” Hogan (R) said. “They’re negotiating, trying to pit everybody against each other, but we’re not going to get into a bidding war over them. And we’re not going to be proposing $1.2 billion to build them the stadium.”

“If Virginia wants to do that, and they [the Commanders] want to go to Virginia, I would say good luck,” he added.

The team has played at FedEx Field in Landover since 1997, but representatives for team owner Dan Snyder are in conversations with political leaders throughout the capital region about a new facility. His vision is for the club’s next stadium to be part of an arts, entertainment and sports mini-city that would draw customers year-round. Typically, National Football League stadiums sit empty most of the year.

Hogan’s comments come amid of flurry of private conversations in Annapolis and elsewhere about the team’s future. Officials stress that no incentive package to keep the team in Maryland is imminent, nor is it clear what it would take to keep the Commanders from leaving. The Virginia General Assembly adjourned on Saturday without approving an inducement package — or a state budget.

Shortly after the governor spoke, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) urged the House Appropriations Committee to include resources for her jurisdiction in two bills that would refurbish Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, the homes of Major League Baseball’s Orioles and the NFL’s Ravens, respectively.

House Bill 896 would increase the Maryland Stadium Authority’s bonding authority by $1.2 billion, to be divided evenly between the two venues. According to Ballpark Digest, The Orioles and MSA “share a vision of a renovation [of] Oriole Park featuring new social spaces, new smaller group seating areas and a sportsbook.” The Ravens are also eyeing renovations for their facility.

Both clubs would likely sign lease extensions if stadium upgrades are approved.

House Bill 897 would establish a Sports Entertainment Facilities Financing Fund to facilitate construction and renovation at the existing Baltimore stadiums and, potentially, at other sports, entertainment and cultural venues across the state.

“This sports complex is an important source of entertainment, jobs, tourism and revenue for our city and state, but also a deep sense of pride and unity for our city and state,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) told lawmakers. “Ensuring that the complex cannot only just be renovated but be reimagined for continued enjoyment of all of our residents and visitors is critically important.”

In her testimony, Alsobrooks stressed that she supports upgrades to Baltimore’s professional sports venues. But she said Prince George’s deserves “equity,” and suggested that the county was “left behind” when the Stadium Authority parceled out funding for stadiums in the 1990’s.

The county’s long-term relationship with the Commanders depends not only on a “continued physical presence” but also on the creation of “a mixed-use stadium district that provides sports and entertainment, recreation and amenities year-round,” she said.

Alsobrooks and her predecessor, Rushern L. Baker III (D), have sought to build a “downtown” in the Landover/Largo region centered around a new University of Maryland Medical System hospital, county government buildings and private development.

In an era where sports teams obsess over “fan experience,” the Commanders are eager not to replicate mistakes they made with the team’s current hard-to-reach stadium, which to many critics resembles a space ship perched on a hill. Fans have also complained that it was built on the cheap.

The team’s next stadium will likely be much smaller, in keeping with evolving trends, with roughly 62,000 seats as opposed to the 91,000 that FedEx had when it opened. Snyder’s desire is for a stadium with an open-air feel, places for fans to congregate, and high-quality WiFi to facilitate sports wagering.

WUSA-TV reported last month that research has been conducted on three potential stadium sites in Northern Virginia. The Commanders headquarters is in Ashburn, Va., and the team holds its pre-season training in Richmond.

Members of the Virginia General Assembly have discussed legislation to create a stadium authority and commit as much as $350 million toward a new stadium/entertainment district, but lawmakers adjourned on Saturday without taking action.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) told Maryland Matters on Monday that the state is “not going to do something that’s not in the taxpayer’s interest and our legislature has work to do here.”

“But I’d sure like to have ‘em here if we could do a good deal,” he added.

Hogan stressed that he wants to retain all three of Maryland’s top professional teams — the Commanders, Ravens and Orioles.

In 2018, the governor discussed a potential land swap with the U.S. Department of the Interior to secure a possible site for a stadium. The state hoped to acquire Oxon Cove, a wooded parcel near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, in exchange for land in Western Maryland. Oxon Hill residents and elected leaders expressed concerns about the proposal and the state’s talks with the federal government fizzled.