- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority yesterday tried to quell its long conflict with the Baltimore Orioles. Instead, it chafed not only the Orioles but its District-based rivals also trying to return baseball to the Washington area.
The Stadium Authority yesterday released a comprehensive study on the projected effects of a Northern Virginia-based team on the Orioles, a first in the long baseball battle between the three areas. The Orioles and owner Peter Angelos have long claimed the Washington area generates as much as 33 percent of its revenues, and as a result, have firmly resisted years of local efforts to replace the twice-departed Washington Senators.
The $175,000 study, seeking to refute Angelos' claims with hard statistical data, concluded a Northern Virginia team would have only a nominal effect on Camden Yards and virtually no effect at all on luxury seat revenues, sponsorships or media contracts.
Among the study's key findings:
The Orioles draw just 4 percent of their fans from Northern Virginia, 1 percent from the District and 8 percent from Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Since nearly half of those fans are either active Orioles fans or attending games to entertain clients, the detriment to the Orioles from a Northern Virginia team is estimated at less than 3 percent of its total attendance.
None of the Orioles' luxury suite holders considers Northern Virginia as its key business territory. And because the team holds a healthy waiting list for suites, it should continue to be sold out. The team's sponsorship revenues, also deriving largely from Baltimore-focused or national companies, would be diminished annually by an estimated $488,195 less than one half of one percent of the more than $125 million it reaps yearly.
The Orioles' lucrative radio and TV contracts would not be harmed, as the area's nearly unrivaled demographics should attract additional carriers to the market.
The study was based on interviews last summer with fans attending games at Camden Yards, random telephone surveys, surveys filled out by more than half of the Orioles' large corporate sponsors and an analysis of television market data.
"The effect on the Orioles would be so infinitesimal that any sales organization should be able to replace the lost revenues before the next season," said Bill Collins, leader of the Northern Virginia investor group seeking to relocate a team. "The Orioles management can sleep well tonight."
The Orioles, predictably, could not have disagreed more. The team yesterday did not receive a copy of the study along with Commissioner Bud Selig and the other 29 clubs contrary to initial claims by the Stadium Authority. But upon being briefed of the study's primary points, Orioles officials vehemently objected.
"The only way to assume there wouldn't be an impact on [our luxury seat and media revenues] is to assume they wouldn't have any of their own," said Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka. "It's ludicrous to think there wouldn't be an effect on us."
The Orioles, one of the baseball's largest draws since Camden Yards opened in 1992, has seen attendance fall the past three years, and its average draw is down another 15 percent so far this season.
The Stadium Authority also cast its arrows in the District's direction. The study estimates that placing a team in the District could cannibalize 1,090 Orioles fans a game, 17 percent higher than the 932 people a game a Northern Virginia club is estimated to take from Baltimore.
While both numbers are small compared to the Orioles annual attendance of more than 3 million, the study also estimates a Northern Virginia-based team would generate 28 percent more new baseball fans than a club in the District.
The claims, however, are made without regard to where the Stadium Authority would place a stadium. Collins and the Authority have both long refused to disclose the sites under consideration, and no specific site was used a basis for measurement in the study. But casually discussed options near Crystal City and Rosslyn are both less than six miles from Mount Vernon Square, one of the key stadium sites being considered by a District-based investor group led by Fred Malek.
"Washington has simply not supported baseball," said Gabe Paul Jr., Stadium Authority executive director, referring to the two failed Senators franchises.
Malek disagreed, citing the negligent ownership of those franchises. Malek praised the Stadium Authority's efforts, but predictably continues to view the District as a better option for a team, given the fairly successful track record of ballparks recently built in downtown areas.
"Differences aside, I think it's a good study," Malek said. "Ultimately this does us both a favor. Even if we take a little from the Orioles, which I don't think we would, we would certainly top 30,000 in average attendance, and that's a lot more than what a lot of the current clubs are drawing."
The core basis of the study is the beleaguered financial shape of the Montreal Expos, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Florida Marlins and a handful of other franchises. The Expos, worst of all, are now drawing fewer than 9,000 fans per home game.
Last spring, Selig backed off long-held objections to moving clubs, and league officials have been actively studying the issue for nearly a year. The commissioner yesterday had still not read the study and declined to comment.

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