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Study says Suns need new name and new home

November 30, 1996

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

The Hagerstown Suns could triple attendance at their minor league baseball games if the team gets a new name and a new stadium by Interstate 81, according to a marketing study conducted for the Suns.

"We feel this feasibility study would clearly cure the ills of a franchise that needs help," said Suns owner Winston Blenckstone.

That's if the $8 million to $10 million needed to build a new stadium along Interstate 81 as well as an access road can be raised. The preferred location is on the northwest edge of Hagerstown between Marshall Street and Salem Avenue.

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According to the marketing study, the team's fan base could triple with a location and marketing focused on the region along I-81 from Winchester, Va., to Chambersburg, Pa.

Of the 202 people who were surveyed by Warner Productions Advertising Agency Inc. of Martinsburg, W.Va., 21 percent, or 42 people, attend Suns games.

However, 46 percent of those surveyed said they don't attend games but would if the team got a new home along Interstate 81 and changed its name.

That would raise the fan base to 67 percent of the people surveyed.

The study also states that 76 percent of the people surveyed who already attend Suns games would go to games more often at the proposed stadium.

Blenckstone has been pushing for a new stadium as a cure to the Suns' attendance problems at Municipal Stadium at the intersection of Eastern and Memorial boulevards.

Attendance dropped from 113,438 fans in 1995 to 102,765 in 1996, Suns officials said. Bad weather was a contributing factor this year, officials said. The Suns attendance peaked in 1991 with 193,753 fans when the team was a Baltimore Orioles affiliate.

Blenckstone said the study's results should help gain the support of Washington County's legislative delegation in winning roughly $4.5 million in state funding for a new stadium.

The study cost $4,500, Blenckstone said.

"I believe at this point that we can't be better prepared. We've pretty much presented our case through this study," Blenckstone said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said the delegation still needs to hear whether the mayor and City Council support a new stadium before deciding whether to support the project.

The delegation also is waiting for the sale of the land to be negotiated, Donoghue said. The land is being held in trust for brothers Vincent and Charles Groh.

Ideally, the state would pay half of the project's cost, while Hagerstown and Washington County paid the balance, Mayor Steven T. Sager said.

The Washington County Commissioners probably won't approve financing a new stadium out of principle, said President Gregory I. Snook. The commissioners would rather see funding go to projects such as schools, he said.

Other funding sources are the Suns and the stadium's name, which could be sold, Sager said. The Suns are willing to contribute up to $400,000 toward the construction of skyboxes.

If the Toronto Blue Jays Class A affiliate team moved, its name also would change because it would become more of a regional team than a Hagerstown team, Blenckstone said.

The new name would be left up to the community through a name-the-team contest, he said.

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