Camden Yards: Still gorgeous, still a Red Sox haven, still nearly half-empty -
Dan Connolly

Camden Yards: Still gorgeous, still a Red Sox haven, still nearly half-empty

Betts_Mookie_fan sign_08162016160
Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

When Mookie Betts touched home plate after his three-run homer in the fifth inning, he pointed to the cheering crowd and applauded back. Betts then jogged into the dugout to chants of ‘M-V-P.”

Pretty impressive outpouring of adoration, but there was something wrong here.

This is Camden Yards, home of the Orioles. Not Fenway Park in Boston. And it is 2016 – not 2011.

One part of this mystery is easily explained.

Betts said after the game that he wasn’t actually cheering the Red Sox faithful cheering him, so he wasn’t making a point about how his club’s fans had invaded enemy territory. Instead, he said, it was a shout-out to the 12 friends and family members he had at the game.

So that accounts for a dozen of the 10,000 or so Red Sox fans in the announced crowd of 26,014.

We should be used to this by now, Red Sox Nation invading Baltimore. But what shouldn’t be the case is that there were roughly 20,000 empty seats at Camden Yards Tuesday night – 20,000 empty seats for a first place team against a division rival in August, when most kids aren’t quite back in school.

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado made a plea before the game for more O’s fans to come to the park to cheer on his teammates.

“I mean, (attendance) has been a little down lately. Hopefully, with the pennant race coming up, and us in first place and getting closer to the playoffs I think that a little more fans should come and support us and come help us out,” Machado said. “Because we have the greatest fans in the world whenever they come out here, and we’ve got a sold-out crowd, we feed off that and that takes us to another level. So our fans are our biggest momentum and everything. Hopefully, we can get more out here. I know school has started now, so it’s going to be tough, but we’re just looking forward being back home and playing in front of them.”

When pressed about whether the drop in fans has been disappointing, Machado chose to focus on those who do attend Camden Yards.

“The fans that come, they give it to us. They give it their all. So that’s why we have one of the best home records of all time. So (attendance) has been down since, you know, (from) years’ past. But whoever comes every day, they support us, they give us what we need. And we give it to them,” he said. “We come out there and hit homers and drive in runs and win big games when we need to win big games, so it’s been awesome. Our fans are the greatest fans in the world, they give us everything we need to go out there and perform and give us that energy that sometimes we don’t have.”

That’s a veteran spin from a guy who has been on this club for five seasons now. It’s an admirable take. But it’s hard to have the greatest fans in the world, when they aren’t out in droves for games like these.

Frankly, we’ve all heard the excuses for much of this season. The weather hasn’t been great. The kids have been in school. There were only 12 home games from July 11 to Aug. 15. The top draws have played here on weekdays. Baltimore is a tough sell for tourists these days.

Surely, there is some truth to all of that.

And certainly economics is a part of it. The Orioles increased season tickets on average of $5 per game this year and single-game tickets were hiked an average of $4 to $5. To be fair, though, before this season the Orioles had one of the more affordable price lists in baseball and 2016 was just the third time in 12 years that the club had increased its prices.

Still, it’s not cheap. I get that.

But the bottom line is that the Orioles are a playoff contender. They are playing playoff contenders. They have only 24 home games remaining in this season. And the attendance has been pretty pathetic.

Consider that the Orioles are averaging 26,812 fans per game – that’s 20th of 30 teams in the majors this year. Of the 10 that are below the Orioles, only two, the Miami Marlins and the Cleveland Indians, are playing above .500 baseball.

So you can call it an economic issue, but 19 other teams are outdrawing the Orioles in 2016. Many of them are not as good. So it’s not widespread and it’s not performance-based.

If the current average holds, it would be Camden Yards’ lowest since 2012, when the Orioles averaged 26,611. That year, people didn’t believe in the club – which had had 14 straight losing seasons – until toward the end of that playoff year.

This club, however, has been in first place for 110 days in 2016. They are for real.

You wanted the club to spend money to put a competitor on the field, and they’ve done that. They spent serious cash in the offseason and have the largest payroll in their history.

And, yet, people are actually coming to Camden Yards at a more infrequent rate than they have in the past three seasons.

That’s a mystery not even the great Mookie Betts can help solve.



  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    August 17, 2016 at 9:51 am

    It all goes back to the birth/relocation of the Nats. It used to be the Baltimore/Washington metropolis’s Orioles. Now unfortunately, many/most of my neighbors in DC and Northern Virginia root for the Curly W’s. Not all of us mind you, just a lot. It saddens me how people can change allegiances so easily. I’ll see you all at OPCY tonight. O’s for life!

  2. lilz

    August 17, 2016 at 9:56 am

    I’ve been to 4 games this year and will be there for 2 this weekend and I live 400+ miles from Baltimore. I can watch them on my big tv and not drive 6 hours or more and deal with I95 traffic, but there is nothing like being there at OPACY for a game. On the other hand, I purposely avoid Red Sox games because it’s really not fun to be bullied all game long. Way too much bad behavior for my taste.
    I think the pricing at OPACY is a bargain compared to other sporting events and even other ballparks.

  3. Creatively_19

    August 17, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Dan I’ve been a partial-plan season ticket holder since 2009 and here’s my take (and sorry if it crosses into borderline rant) on a number of things that affect attendance or ways that it could be improved:

    Ticket prices
    When the O’s instituted variable ticket prices, they ended up hurting themselves with attendance so that they could make more revenue per ticket on games against the Red Sox, Yankees, and on other traditionally high attendance days like Mothers Day and Fathers Day, and most Saturday nights. This has led to fans being priced out of games they should otherwise come out for.
    Take the weekend series in early June for example. The O’s had “Prime” pricing on Friday and Sunday and “Elite” pricing on Saturday with a mediocre Yankees team visiting. The clear plan was that by raising the prices for the Yankees the team would make their revenue from Yankees fans who are used to the high pricing of New York and typically come down to Baltimore for a more affordable experience. Except what happened? The O’s only drew an average of 29,000 for the three game series or about 63% of capacity. I know this because I wanted to go but the ticket price was just not something I was going to pay.

    Another clear factor is that many O’s fans pay outrageous cable prices in order to access all O’s games on MASN. If it weren’t for the deal that MLB has in place that the only way to watch an in-market game is through your cable company I personally would have disconnected my cable service long ago. So if I don’t already have a ticket to the game but I have to pay $150 for my cable, I might just sit at home and watch the game I’ve already paid for the luxury of watching. Why do O’s pay so much for cable in the first place? Well MASN makes a TON of money for the Orioles through the cable deal. If fans are at home watching ads on cable during the O’s game and not at the park, the team is still making money. It doesn’t matter to the bottom line if the fans are at the park or at home as long as they’re watching. Either way, the team is getting paid.

    Boy do O’s fans love their giveaways. It really doesn’t seem to matter what team the O’s are playing, if there’s a floppy hat involved the fans show up. You can rest assured between fireworks night and all the giveaways this upcoming weekend the park will be full of fans for the Astros. What happens when there are no giveaways and its a weeknight? You get what happened last night, a bunch of Red Sox fans who are probably not tourists but who have come from the DC/NOVA area instead. O’s fans have little incentive to fight traffic to swelter when they can watch the game in the luxury of AC instead.

    Bargain Nights
    The O’s mysteriously did away with bargain nights this year or last where you could come down on any Tuesday night and get in for about $10. Why?

    Dollar Food
    Who doesn’t like hot dogs for a dollar? Have the O’s ever had a dollar hot dog night? Probably not since hot dogs cost a dollar every night in Memorial stadium. The Nationals right down the street manage to have dollar hot dogs or ice cream on Tuesday or Wednesday nights throughout the season, and I’ve heard that everything is a lot more expensive down there. What better way to get a family to come out to the park mid-week than to offer cheap dinner or desert? The Nationals also have let people bring their dogs to the ballpark once a month this season. Bottom line is that the O’s are not innovating when it comes to fan experience at the park, choosing stale Hot Dog races and Crab Shuffles versus actual fan interaction.

    Okay, this one comes out of left field, but its been on my mind for aw while. The O’s have had a number of Latino players on the team for years now. Maybe not as much this season as others, but it begs the question as to why the O’s have never marketed to Latinos in the area. There are probably several million between Baltimore and DC, but the Orioles don’t have a Spanish language broadcast nor have I ever seen any marketing aimed towards them. Its probably no coincidence that I’ve never seen too many come out to support the Orioles, but many of them are seem to be wearing Yankee caps. In my opinion this market has gone untapped for far too long.

    I could go on, but since this isn’t the tap room my glass is dry and I’ve got to get back to work. The Orioles Organization has only themselves to blame for not attracting more fans to the ball-park, and the play on the field will never be enough on its own to draw them back.

    • JDSax

      August 17, 2016 at 10:38 am

      I’m also a partial season ticket holder, and I agree with all of this. The marketing of this team is very poor and unimaginative. You can argue that a winning team shouldn’t need to be marketed, and in a perfect world I’d agree, but the casual fan needs more than that. And the casual fan certainly needs some cheaper options. The bargain night was a great idea. Or T-shirt Tuesdays. Those are gone, too. And why are people punished for deciding to buy tickets at the last minute? Why is there a walk-up fee? It’s outrageous. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why a team with attendance issues thinks it’s a good idea to penalize a fan for being spontaneous.

      • Creatively_19

        August 17, 2016 at 10:45 am

        Great point on that extra dollar walk up fee! Why on earth would you discourage people from impulsively coming to the game by making it more expensive?!?!?

    • Bancells Moustache

      August 17, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Hang on now, you take that back! The Hot Dog race is a glorious spectacle and I shall not allow you to besmirch its honor sir!

      Go Relish.

      • Creatively_19

        August 17, 2016 at 2:32 pm

        I respect the hot dog race, but why not have it between real condiment costumed people A LA the Presidents race at Nationals. Why not race crabs? Why not launch T-Shirts into the crowd, or ask real fans trivia questions between innings? The same mindless dribble has been on the Jumbo Tron for years. People don’t come to the stadium to watch the hot dog race, or else the stadium would be packed every night because you’re always assured of a close race.

  4. Steve Cockey

    August 17, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Yes, it had been a number of years since the O’s had raised ticket prices. But let’s face it: This was probably a terrible time to do so.

    You’re coming off of scary rioting and unrest in the city. The economy still isn’t great. MLB screwed ownership with scheduling; I’m sure do to the MASN squabble (2016 featured just two NY/BOS/WAS weekend home series while there were 4 in 2015). And while the team has certainly been competitive since 2012, they still have 9 years to go just to equal the 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1998-2011. You lost a ton of good will there, and it may not sit well when prices go up.

    And beyond a $4-$5/seat increase, we can’t forget the change in recent seasons to variable pricing. Put the two together, and the prices have gone up astronomically for premium/division opponents. Take my seat (and I buy 29 games, by the way). Just few years ago, it was $48 per game across the board. Last night, for a Tuesday night against a division opponent, that same seat cost me $62. To buy it online as a single, including the fees? $83.75.

    If a family of four wanted to go tonight and buy online to avoid the lines, they’d be looking at $77.00 including fees, or $19.25 per ticket. And that’s to sit in LF upper deck, the worst seats in the park. LF bleachers for that same family would run $144.60.

    TV ratings are way up, and between variable pricing and the across-the-board increase before this season, so are ticket prices for the games that fans really want to see. As much as I’d love to see more orange in the stands, I can’t blame folks for staying home.

    • Creatively_19

      August 17, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Exactly. O’s are ripping off local fans to try to make a buck off the fans from out of town. That only works when the stadium is sold out every night!

    • JDSax

      August 17, 2016 at 11:09 am

      Yep, ditto to all of that.

  5. Bancells Moustache

    August 17, 2016 at 11:28 am

    As annoying as it is to be surrounded by Red Sox fans in the stands, its a free market economy, and if they want to flood the otherwise empty seats at the Yard, good for them. However, excoriating the Orioles fans for not filling up OPACY on a Tuesday night is a mistake. If a company is having a difficult time selling a product, how is it the fault of the customer?

    • Steve Cockey

      August 17, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      I agree, Richie. The product on the field has been competitive. If people aren’t coming out, that’s on the business/marketing side of the operation. I’ve never been overly impressed with their promotional efforts and outreach. I’ve personally had multiple negative experiences with ushers over the years. And the increased, variable pricing is clearly aimed at capturing more dollars from out-of-towners in wealthier markets. Add it all up and the result is what we saw last night.

      • Bancells Moustache

        August 17, 2016 at 2:04 pm

        Indeed, and, believe it or not, this is nothing new. Read some of Frank DeFord’s old SI articles about the Orioles hey day. You will find him pointing out the Orioles difficulty selling out Memorial Stadium in the 1970 WORLD SERIES for God’s sake. The fact is that consumers in the Baltimore metropolitan area do not have the piles of throwaway income that other regions have. In this area of the country, the money is on the other side of the Potomac, and now its wearing a red “34” jersey and watching the Presidents Race. The Orioles need to accept the notion that they are pricing their fanbase right out of the ballpark, and they need to fix it.
        A few weeks ago, I was looking through some old boxes in my parents house and I found the Program to the last game at Memorial Stadium in 1991, which I attended with my Dad. There is a seating chart with prices listed on one of the pages. Did you know a ticket in the first row behind home plate cost 10 dollars? This isn’t in the Great Depression, mind you, this was 1991.

  6. claudecat

    August 17, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Kudos to you Dan, for having the cojones to say what I’ve been saying (click my name!) for months, years now. The sad fact is that we’re not drawing, and that’s a shame. I especially like how you addressed many of the excuses that get trotted out every time one brings this up, especially amongst hard core Baltimore people. BRR brought up the other, probably the main one when you get right down to it, which is the Nats.

    As for prices? Sure, they’re up from last season, and they quietly did away with the Ollie’s bargain nights (don’t get me started on how/why student night still exists), but it’s still very reasonable as compared to other teams. Plus, how many other parks allow you to bring in your own food and drink? A family can easily spend a quality day at the yard, in the upper deck anyway, for a hundred bucks or less! Try that at Fenway or the pretend house that Ruth built.

    Look, I’m at every home game (draw your own conclusions there), and I’m tired of being asked by out of towners “How come there isn’t a crowd?” It’s to the point now where all I can say (after going down the list of excuses) is that, “yeah… we’re pretty disappointed by it too.” I’m afraid that football has culturally usurped our once national pastime in the hearts and souls of cities like Baltimore. For me? That’s sad.

    • Creatively_19

      August 17, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      I’ll say that one thing I’ve observed is that the casual fan has no clue that you can bring in whatever you want to eat. One time I saw a couple bring in an entire bushel of crabs!

      I don’t think the food thing is what’s keeping people away. Its the ability to watch the game in HD from the comfort of one’s couch, and the fact that the Orioles are okay with that because they’re getting cable revenue too.

      • claudecat

        August 17, 2016 at 2:16 pm

        It’s certainly true that the O’s could do a much better job of advertising the fact that you can bring in food. I’m of the opinion that the promotional efforts as a whole leave a lot to be desired. Lots of celebrating the past, which they’re good at, but very little wacky fun (the Crush and Samson thing notwithstanding). One look at a team like the Giants’ promo schedule brings home the fact that we’re a little stodgy…

        And yes, the ubiquitousness of gigantic screens in air conditioned basements region-wide is yet another excuse. I get it. I get all the excuses. I’d still like to see more O’s fans at the yard. It’s embarrassing.

        • lilz

          August 17, 2016 at 2:33 pm

          Yes – I was thinking the same thing! At the last game I was at, I sat next to someone who attends 1 O’s game and 1 Nat’s game a month. He told me how awesome it is that the O’s let you bring in your own food and drink and that no way the Nats would allow that. That’s a big savings. Granted, I am from out of town, but I never knew that.

  7. marcshank

    August 18, 2016 at 6:56 am

    I’m tempted to say the fans don’t deserve this team. But I’ve read the comments and agree with all of them. I wonder what the fear factor plays in this, what with the worst police force in the country. I wonder if families fear coming downtown at all. I wonder. And the cable prices are outrageous, thank you, Peter. I live in Ft. Lauderdale, so I get MLB-TV. But I can’t imagine a better evening than one at Camden Yards watching our team. They have to figure out a way to fill the stadium up. When Boston comes to town, it’s depressing seeing so many empty seats.

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