- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

Even with fan favorite Sammy Sosa now on board, the Baltimore Orioles are still chafing about baseball in Washington.

Matt Dryer, Orioles senior director of advertising and promotions, said yesterday “we would be ecstatic if we could match [last seasons 2.74[ThSp]million home attendance]” and added the strong season ticket sales for the Washington Nationals present a serious threat to the turnstile counts at Camden Yards.

“They’ve sold more than 18,000 season tickets already. That’s a lot of tickets coming into this area,” Dryer said. “How many of those folks are going to stop coming to see us?”

That question lies at the heart of the tense baseball debate that has gripped the Mid-Atlantic region for years, and stands as the fulcrum in a festering dispute between Major League Baseball and Orioles owner Peter Angelos over a compensation package for his club.

Despite four months of on-and-off negotiations, Angelos and MLB have been unable to settle on the precise terms of a hefty benefits package that would provide the Orioles with guarantees to their annual local revenue and future resale value, and a majority stake in a new regional sports TV network.

Amid the Orioles’ apparent ticket unease, Dryer acknowledged the addition of Sosa “has been nothing but positive.” The Orioles sold more than 5,000 new season tickets last weekend after news of the trade with the Chicago Cubs first surfaced. And in the days since, renewing the accounts of wavering season ticket holders has become a much easier sell.

Also buttressing the sales efforts within the B&O; Warehouse is the unbalanced schedule that will bring the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to Baltimore for a combined 18 games this season.

“There’s no question bringing in Sammy is very exciting for us,” Dryer said. “We should see another spike in interest when we actually start playing games and people can see Sammy in action. I predict the center field bleachers are going to be a very hot ticket. It should be a fun summer.”

In an effort to brace against the arrival of the Nationals, the Orioles put single-game tickets on sale in early December, about two months earlier than usual, and did not raise prices for 2005.

Before the Sosa trade, several Orioles executives complained loudly the presence of the Nationals and the unresolved negotiations with MLB were hurting offseason efforts to enhance their roster.

But with the Nationals expecting a 2005 attendance of at least 2.5 million, and the Orioles never falling below a yearly draw of 2.45 million in their 13 seasons at Camden Yards, the two teams should combine to sell more than 5 million tickets in 2005 and could approach 6 million.

“The demand for tickets to see the Nationals continues to be very, very strong,” said Kevin Uhlich, the club’s chief operating officer.

The Nationals will begin sales of partial season tickets next week, and single-game tickets will become available in early March. Group sales also are expected to add significantly to the team’s final 2005 total.

Reaching 5.5 million in combined attendance would place Washington and Baltimore in the middle of the five MLB markets shared by two teams. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim combined last year for 6.86 million in attendance, the New York Yankees and Mets drew 6.09 million, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s combined for 5.47 million, and the Chicago Cubs and White Sox drew 5.10 million.

The Orioles’ 2004 draw of 2.74 million represents a 12 percent spike from 2003 and owes significantly to the arrival and stellar play of Miguel Tejada. The shortstop, however, is not nearly the fan draw Sosa is, although the slugger’s limelight has dimmed recently because of declining offensive production, a 2003 suspension for using a corked bat and suspicions of steroid use.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide