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Editorial: Nonprofit sports marketing

We applaud plans to convert the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing into a nonprofit. A public-private partnership seems to make a lot of sense in this area.

The state Department of Business and Economic Development and the Maryland Stadium Authority hired sports marketing director Terry Hasseltine in 2008 with an eye toward taking the operation to nonprofit status in the future.

As the state’s budget woes continue and pressure mounts to generate more revenue, it would seem that the future is now.

The new entity, to be called the Maryland Sports Council, will be unique here and one of a few statewide commissions in the country.

Mr. Hasseltine said he examined several sports commissions throughout the country, particularly nonprofit commissions in Louisville, Ky., Utah and Indianapolis as models for what he hopes to achieve here.

The Internal Revenue Service approved Maryland’s application to create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization at the end of 2010, and Mr. Hasseltine said recently that he is asking members of the businesses community to join a committee representing all parts of the state to help steer the organization.

Mr. Hasseltine hopes to increase his office’s $250,000 budget to as much as $750,000 by 2014, with most of the money coming from business partnerships.

Strong sports marketing can be a very effective economic development tool from which many businesses benefit, so it seems logical that many businesses would be willing to help prime the pump. That would also be a good way to leverage taxpayers’ dollars.

As promising as this approach seems, however, we would offer some cautionary observations from the standpoint of transparency and accountability.

Creation of a nonprofit by government can leave the new entity’s operations largely invisible to the public and leave the nonprofit itself largely unaccountable to the public, as we have seen in the case of East Baltimore Development Inc. and its stewardship of the $1.5 billion redevelopment now stalled near Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Also, it would seem that a nonprofit overseen by a committee of business representatives that is seeking deals and partnerships with businesses could be a spawning ground for conflicts of interest.

With this in mind, we urge that the Maryland Sports Council proceed with commitment not only to more effective sports marketing but also to the highest standards of ethics and transparency.