According to Billboard magazine, 1st Mariner Arena is, once again, the highest grossing arena of its size (10,000 to 15,000 capacity) in the U.S. It’s also, once again, getting criticized for being outdated and ugly—it was built in 1962—and yet another plan has been proposed to give it a date with the wrecking ball and make room for a sparkling, state-of-the-art facility. But it chugs along, overperforming at every turn, thanks largely to the management skills of a Baltimore born, former electrician named Frank Remesch.
Remesch, who started at the Arena as the facility's in-house electrician, has been G.M. since 2004. “It's management like I've never seen,” Brian Snell, shop steward for Local 19 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, told me when I profiled Remesch last year. Snell would know—he’s worked at the Arena for 34 years. “I've never felt that vibe before,” he said, “where a guy's really trying to get people into this building. It feels like we're finally our own entity, like we're established as a separate market and not the stepchild to D.C. all the time.”
And that’s the crux of Remesch’s success—he aggressively courts all types of events that will bring people to 1st Mariner. When most observers comment on the Arena’s unlikely success, they inevitably point to high-profile shows like Bruce Springsteen, Kanye/Jay-Z, and Rihanna. But that misses the point, because it’s the smaller events that actually pay the bills. “My job is to put events in this building," Remesch said. “If I don't do that, I don't have any chance to make money and my people [35 full-time and 500 part-time employees] don't work. But if you'll cover my costs, you can basically rent this building from me tomorrow.
“You wanna get Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones? Great. It's an honor to have them here, but anybody can sell those shows. It's the kind of events that you need to take a little bit of a chance on that can reap some serious rewards, because they bring a whole new audience into the building.”
So Remesch books bull riding, monster trucks, Disney on Ice, the Radio City Christmas show, motocross, graduations, So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol, Star Wars in Concert, religious events, comedy shows, and Mixed Martial Arts. And the place thrives.
If 1st Mariner ever gives up naming rights, we should just change the name to acknowledge the guy—who’s an Overlea High grad, not a Harvard MBA—who’s actually provided the city with a viable venue, despite long odds and tough economic times. The Remesch Arena sounds about right.