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Monday, July 03, 2023

How the Orioles Can Boost Attendance

We’re at the halfway point in the Baltimore Orioles 2023 season. With a dramatic turnaround in 2022, so much so that they competed for postseason playoffs following five one hundred plus loss seasons (exception pandemic-shortened 2020) and showcasing some of baseball’s brightest stars, Mike Elias, the team’s general manager declared the team’s rebuild is over. This season, the O’s are 15 games above .500 at this writing and in 2nd place in the grueling American League East Division. With all the excitement building around this team, you would think the fans would pack the Yard.

It hasn’t happened yet.

The Orioles have drawn 921,766 as they completed their final home stand before the all-star break. That averages to be 20,949 per game, and it ranks 22 out of the 30 MLB teams.

When you factor in the giveaway promotions when free hats and shirts are handed to the fans, the team draws well. Other than those special events, there were more crowds less than 20,000 than above. The recently completed series against the Minnesota Twins is illustrative. Friday’s game drew 35,000 when floppy hats were given out. Saturday’s game brought in 40,000 when Hawaiian shirts were the treat. Sunday’s game with nothing for free brought back the usual 16,000. Even the Washington Nationals with the 4th worst record in baseball is outdrawing the O’s with the 4th best record.

This shouldn’t be the case. People around the nation are noticing the surprising low attendance. For that Sunday game against an exciting Twins team with such stars as Buxton, Correa, Kepler and Gray, the game was carried nationally on Peacock. It had to be embarrassing to see such a sparse crowd with the home team sporting such a solid record with some of the young stars already contributing.

People have offered various explanations, not the least of which is Baltimore’s relatively small market size. It is true Baltimore has the 5th smallest market size of the MLB cities. But St. Louis, which is just two notches above Baltimore in size rankings, has the 2nd largest attendance this year.

Here are some ideas that could bring the fans in and party like it was 1992.

Lower the ticket prices.

Adley Rutschman should be signed to an extension
The Orioles have the 10th highest ticket prices out of 30 teams averaging $123 per ticket. This is
outrageous given the team has the next to lowest payroll at $60,722,300. The O’s have no $300 million contract on the books, so it is crazy that the ticket prices are so high. The cost of tickets exceeds such powerhouse franchises with high payrolls, as the Phillies, Braves, Jays and Mets.

Make a Splash.

I’m not referring to Section 86 in Oriole Park that is known as the “Bird Bath”—an exceptionally clever marketing idea where fans in that section can get hosed down following extra base hits and runs scored by the home team. I’m talking about doing something significant at the trade deadline or before to acquire some quality pitching and a slugging bat in the order. The O’s have the minor league resources to package deals together and help the club. I trust Mike Elias’ judgment on this.

Last year, despite the big-time turnaround and in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, the Orioles were sellers. They did little to improve the club’s chances down the stretch and unloaded a fan favorite Trey Mancini. The lack of a big addition allowed the team to slump in September and thus, failed to make the postseason.

Fans were rightfully angered by this lack of commitment, which carried through in the off-season. Other than pitcher Kyle Gibson who signed a one-year $10 million contract, the O’s didn’t land a free agent worth talking about. Gibson essentially replaced Jordan Lyles who the team did not sign.

Also, extend the contract one of the team’s players, Adley Rutschman or other players as well. Not only are you locking in a quality player for years to come but you are telling the fan base that you’re in it to win it. This commitment from ownership would go a long way in winning back the confidence of the fans and they will be more likely to attend games in person.

Get the offense going again.

Fans love offense. When those 40,000 attended the Saturday game against the Twins, the team lost 1-0. That is so disheartening spending all that money, getting psyched for the game and had nothing to cheer for. It’s like renting a limo to an exclusive restaurant and sitting at a table without being served. Runs make excitement and fans want to share in that.

The Orioles are not a poverty team.

This is tied to the above suggestion about making a splash. While the Angelos family as well as other team owners cry poverty, it is not the case. Yes, the O’s attendance has been dismal for several years, but that is understandable when you examine the on-field product. It’s different now. Despite the relatively low attendance in league rankings, it is still an improvement over last season.

When you consider national TV, local TV, and streaming revenues as well as other income, teams generally begin each year with about $100 million in the bank before a single ticket is sold. I’m not telling owners how to spend money, but I believe the Orioles are in much better financial shape than is conveyed. Earlier in the spring, CEO John Angelos promised to reveal the books to the media. It hasn’t happened. My guess and it is only a guess, is that the Orioles with its low payroll is flush with cash and Angelos doesn’t want that fact revealed.

There may be other factors for the attendance challenges and I’m sure there are a plethora of suggestions to fix it. I believe these would work to get the fan base back into the Yard without having to hand out articles of clothing each game.