When Mike Libber, president of the Baltimore-based Elite Tournaments, took his five-year old son to the Orioles-Red Sox game Saturday, the only hints of what was to come in Charm City this week were bad traffic and increased police presence. A few hours later, more than 36,000 fans were asked to stay inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards so law enforcement could ensure their safety. The city was about to boil over in the aftermath of African American Freddie Gray dying in police custody.
While the city was devastated by riots this week and famed Baltimore athletes like Ray Lewis called for calm, the sports events industry took a time out. Planned games between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox were cancelled Monday and Tuesday before the teams played in an empty stadium Wednesday night. The Baltimore Ravens cancelled their NFL Draft party, scheduled for Thursday.
In hindsight, Libber, who left Saturday’s game minutes before the brief lockdown, says he would not have stayed at home. “There was a lot of tension” at the game, he says.
Both he and his brother, Matt Libber, CSEE, who is vice president of the family’s sports operating business, agree it’s for the best Major League Baseball barred fans from Wednesday’s game.
“If fans were at the game, it would make a police presence necessary,” Matt says. “That would take away resources away from where they were needed.”
The brothers, in Milwaukee for this week’s National Association of Sports Commission Symposium, say it was jarring watching military Humvees drive down downtown Baltimore Tuesday night as officials enforced a 10 p.m. curfew put in place to prevent a repeat of Monday’s violence.
“I live downtown; the humvees were not far from my house,” says Matt. “That’s something you never want to see.”
It’s also something that may cause attendees to be concerned. The Libbers have already taken a few phone calls from participants signed up for an event in May. Elite has a contingency plan to move its events for a variety of reasons, including weather. However, the brothers don’t anticipate making any changes because the May tournament will take place in Baltimore’s suburbs and not near the violence. They don’t expect there will be a long-term impact on youth sports, either.
“People have short memories,” says Mike, adding that conventions planned inside city limits may think twice about heading to Baltimore.
The best that come from the situation is the city’s unrest this week leads to change within a police department that has haunted by corruption and scandals in recent years, the brothers agree.
“This is something that’s been brewing for a long time,” says Matt.