BALTIMORE—The crowd for Monday night’s game at Oriole Park was 15,436, and it wasn’t a surprise. The Orioles have the worst record in baseball, and their average attendance this year is 21,104. That projects to an annual figure of 1,667,216.
For the moment, the Orioles are on track for their lowest attendance since they drew 1,660,738 in 1988, four years before they moved into Camden Yards.
The year’s only sellout came on Opening Day with an announced crowd of 45,469.
Since then, the Orioles have drawn just five crowds of more than 30,000. Their second-highest figure came on June 30 when they drew 38,838.
On April 9, they drew the lowest-paid crowd in the 26-year history of Oriole Park, 7,915, and there were three more games in April that had fewer than 10,000 paid admissions.
Last season, the Orioles drew 2,028,424, their sixth consecutive season over 2 million, but their projected figure for 2018 shows a drop of nearly 18 percent.
As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan’s pointed out, the Orioles’ fall is hardly an isolated instance. Major League Baseball is poised for its first season of fewer than 70 million paid admissions since 2003.
Entering Monday’s game, the Orioles were 23rd in average attendance.
It’s obvious that the Orioles on-field performance is the major factor in their drop. But there are other factors, many of which are not in the ballclub’s control.
In 2005, the first season for the Washington Nationals, the Orioles drew 2.62 million. As more Washington-area fans began going to Nationals games, Oriole attendance dropped.
By 2010, the third season of Nationals Park and the 13th straight losing season for the Orioles, attendance dropped to 1.73 million, but as the team’s fortunes improved, so did attendance.
In 2014, when the Orioles won the American League East for the first time since 1997, attendance hit 2,464,473, and it’s fallen since.
Riots in April 2015 forced the Orioles to move a three-game series against Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg, Fla., and games against Chicago were made up as a single-admission doubleheader and most notably in the game without any fans at all.
Perception that the city is unsafe has hurt the Orioles as well as other downtown attractions. Since the riots, many restaurants in the Camden Yards area have closed, and despite the ballpark and area surrounding it being well-policed, the belief that the area is unsafe remains.
Another long-term factor hurting the Orioles, particularly during the week, is the traffic between Baltimore and Washington, which has increased travel times during the ballpark’s life.
On top of those are industry-wide concerns about the length of games, and fans’ complaints that the games are not as interesting because of more strikeouts.
The Orioles have tried to market aggressively during this difficult year. Most prominently was their “Kids Cheer Free” campaign, allowing children under 9 admittance without a charge if an adult buys an upper-deck ticket.
They’ve also added many promotions, including a postgame yoga session on the field, “Bark at Oriole Park,” where fans can bring their dogs to certain sections, an LGBT Pride night, and a Sept. 16 event in which fans can eat brunch at the Center Field Roof Deck.
Other events have included a Star Wars themed-night, many tie-ins with local and regional colleges and a Wrestlemania event set for September.
Although some of those events may be popular, there’s no substitute for competitive baseball, and with the Orioles heading for their worst record in team history, games alone aren’t going to attract new and casual fans.
Inclement weather also has been a factor, both in Baltimore and throughout the Northeast and Midwest. The Orioles have had six rainouts, five of them at home and 14 rain delays—12 at home—totaling more than 12 hours.
Even the Orioles’ longtime rivals, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, have failed to attract big home crowds. For years, Yankees’ games were often sellouts, and this year’s biggest crowd for them (32,823) came on June 2. Only one of the nine games against the Red Sox drew even 25,000.
The Orioles have no more home games against Boston and New York, and eight of their remaining 15 home dates are with the Blue Jays and White Sox, two of the American League’s bottom feeders. Oakland and Houston, two other teams that don’t historically draw well in Baltimore, play the other seven games.
Selling season tickets for 2019 will undoubtedly be difficult for the Orioles. With a poor record and few widely recognized players, it will be even harder.