The Short Lived History of a Little Known Sports Museum in a Big City

The Sports Museum of America is a sad story of an institution. Though it was only open a short time, it was designed to give sports the honor that they deserved. However, it was simply opened at the wrong time, and suffered a terrible fate as a result.

The museum was located at 26 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, near the Statue of Liberty Ferry, Wall Street, and what is now Ground Zero. 

The idea was for the museum to represent all sports, and the Canyon of the Heroes, where New York City’s fame ticker-tape parades originated was an ideal location. It was also close to all public transit lines and in a tourist-traffic heavy area. The museum had all of its chances to succeed, but alas, things don’t always work out the way we expect.

The idea for the Sports Museum of America came to founder Philip Schwalb after he visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He felt that the museum was an inspiration to athletes all over the country and wanted to be a part of that particular movement.

The timing was excellent as well. The New York post-9/11 Liberty Bond financing program had just become available, making the museum a financial reality. The museum ultimately received support from the requisite City of Manhattan officials to partake in projects created to revitalize the southern portion of the city. But because the bonds were only available for for-profit businesses, the decision was made to make the project a commercial organization. This was an unorthodox choice, as most museums are non-profit enterprises.

Nonetheless, the construction of the museum began after a three year period. This time gave Schwalb and his co-founder Sameer Ahuja a chance to collect over $90 million to finance the museum. The Liberty Bonds helped a lot, providing $57 million in aid. $36 million were raised with private funds from over 200 Wall Street executives, getting them to agree to donate 2% of revenue to charity. 

The Short-Lived History of a Little Known Sports Museum in a Big City

The founders wanted to create as collaborative experience as possible, and so the founders stuck agreements with 60 non-profit partners include the Baseball Hall of Fame and USA Hockey. And so the museum finally opened on May 7th, 2008 in the former Standard Oil headquarters, to an enormous fanfare. Over 100 Hall of Fame athletes attended the event, and speakers included Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Upon its opening, the museum became the United States’ first museum to celebrate all sports. Featuring over 20 original films, 1,100 photographs, and 800 artifacts, the collection is very much worthy of American sports.

The Short-Lived History of a Little Known Sports Museum in a Big City

The Sports Museum of America also became the home of the Heisman Trophy for NCCA Football and its yearly presentation. But the museum is most famous for housing the first-ever Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, directed by Billie Jean King and Joe Frazier, among many others. Since then, the collection has been expanded to an East Meadow location and is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists yearly. 

However, in a tragic event, the museum had to close in February 2009, less than a year after it opened. Reasons behind the closure remain unknown, but many blame the economic recession that plagued the country for years after: the museum was predicted to have 800,000 visitors a year, but attendance lagged far behind. Other reasons include its uninteresting entrance in the building that was mostly due to landmark restrictions.

And why not, maybe the museum will re-open and this time around become as world-renowned as the Baseball Hall of Fame.