- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority (VBSA) and the Virginia Baseball Club investor group have worked together closely over the past six years to return Major League Baseball (MLB) to the national capital area. The first challenge we faced was to convince baseball executives that our region was capable of supporting a big league team. Old stereotypes die hard, and the fact that Washington lost not just one, but two, Washington Senators teams to supposedly greener pastures between 1960 and 1971 created a lasting impression that the Washington area could not support baseball.
We knew better, of course, and by giving MLB the facts on how the region has grown and thrived over the past 30 years, we have succeeded in putting Northern Virginia at the top of virtually every analysts list of potential new baseball markets.
When Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Seligs Blue Ribbon Commission recommended last summer that baseball allow franchises to relocate after a 30-year moratorium, media speculation intensified that it wouldnt be long before one of several financially ailing franchises would be on its way to Northern Virginia. That enthusiasm has continued to build over the past year.
But along with baseballs enthusiasm for putting down roots in the fertile Northern Virginia region come renewed concerns about the possible effects a Virginia team would have on the Baltimore Orioles. In fact, opposition by the Orioles and a perception among MLB executives that a Northern Virginia team would take too large a bite out of their fan base and revenue now loom as the biggest hurdles in the way of returning baseball to the national capital area.
Anyone who lives here understands that Baltimore and Northern Virginia-Washington are two very separate areas. In addition to having very different cultures and economies, we live in two separate media markets with different TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and professional sports teams.
While there has been a lot of speculation over the years about the number of Washington-area residents who make the trip to Camden Yards, the true facts have been hard to come by. Estimates in the press and by some of the Orioles own executives have ranged between one fifth and one third. So to separate fact from myth, the VBSA commissioned a comprehensive study to determine the extent to which a new franchise in Northern Virginia would impact Baltimores attendance, corporate support and media revenue.
The results, compiled by a three-member research consortium including the renowned Penn, Schoen and Berland polling firm, provide the kind of reassurance that ought to allow the Orioles players and executives to sleep well. Among the good news for the Orioles are findings that only 13 percent of the Orioles crowd lives in the greater Northern Virginia-Washington area, and that few of these would stop going to Orioles games when a new team begins playing in Northern Virginia.
The study also shows that the Baltimore Orioles strong corporate support and media revenues would be virtually unaffected by a new team in the Northern Virginia-Washington market. Interviews with Orioles suite-holders indicate that any reduction in leases would be easily replaced by eager sponsors now holding places on the Orioles extensive waiting list. In fact, the Orioles own vice chairman has stated that demand at Camden Yards is so great that the Orioles plan to install up to 30 more of these revenue-producing enclosed suites.
But on the question of where the relocated team should play in our market, substantial differences do emerge. First, with twice as many Orioles fans coming from the Maryland suburbs (8 percent) as from Northern Virginia (4 percent) and only 1 percent from D.C. the Orioles would lose around 17 percent more current fans to a D.C.-based team than to one located in Virginia.
But at least as significant are the findings on where a new team would establish its fan base. The Penn, Schoen survey of residents who do not currently attend games in Baltimore reveals that only a Northern Virginia team would fully capitalize on the enormous potential for generating new baseball fans in the region without siphoning-off support from Baltimore.
A D.C. team would pull fans disproportionately from the Baltimore-Washington corridor, but would not draw to full advantage from the vast Northern Virginia market or the surrounding Virginia markets such as Hampton Roads, Richmond and Charlottesville, with over 5 million additional Virginia residents. Simply put, a permanent D.C. location would limit the market geographically while a Virginia location will expand baseball into profitable new territory and generate at least 28 percent more new fans than if the team were located in Washington.
Todays baseball economics dictate that a major league team must attract more than 3 million fans per season to succeed financially. That comes to an average of more than 37,000 fans per game over the 81-game home season. Wishful thinking and nostalgia for the old times will not generate these fans. In the national capital area, only a Northern Virginia location will provide that kind of support without hurting the Orioles.
We view the results of the study as being good news for all baseball fans in both markets; both the Baltimoreans who have built a great tradition of support for the Os, and their neighbors in Northern Virginia-Washington, who have waited far too long for the return of major league ball. The study shows that the future is bright for Major League Baseball in both markets. We are confident that baseball executives will soon agree.
We invite baseball fans throughout the region to participate with us in this historic effort to bring Americas national pastime to Northern Virginia by visiting our web site (www.BaseballinVA.org). It wont be long before the cry "Play Ball!" will ring out throughout Northern Virginia and the entire national capital area.

Michael R. Frey is chairman of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority and a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.


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