The pandemic has presented unique challenges for the Orioles. A season without fans and the uncertainty of 2021 won’t help declining attendance, which has dropped about 47 percent since 2014.
As reported by The Baltimore Sun, the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority are discussing a new lease, a deal that could fundamentally change Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The 30-year lease expires at the end of the 2021 season, and while the ballpark is still one of the jewels in major league baseball, it could use upgrades—large and small.
Declining attendance can be attributed to the Orioles’ play on the field, but another factor, which the club can’t control, is the incorrect perception that downtown Baltimore is an unsafe place to visit.
The Ravens, who play in adjacent M&T Bank Stadium, regularly sell out and experienced a renaissance with the play of Lamar Jackson. Fans don’t seem to feel unsafe there.
In 2014, the year the Orioles won their first American League East title since 1997, 2,464,473 fans came to games. In 2015, the year of the disturbances in the city, attendance fell by 183,271. In 2016, when the Orioles reached the AL wild-card game, it fell again by 108,858.
From 2017-2019, attendance fell markedly each season, and last year’s 1,307,807 was the lowest full-season mark in the history of Oriole Park, and the smallest since 1,051,724 at Memorial Stadium in 1978.
While the Orioles can’t control the perception that downtown isn’t safe, they are apparently trying to make the ballpark a more modern and attractive one.
There are small things that need to be done to Camden Yards. The scoreboard is tiny when compared with nearly all ballparks around the majors. The concessions, other than Boog’s Barbecue, aren’t tempting.
But the essence of the ballpark remains. It’s still charming and a lovely place to watch a game.
How fans watch games has changed since 1992 when Oriole Park opened.
Including Tropicana Field, which opened in 1990 but didn’t host the Rays until 1998, 21 of MLB stadiums are newer than Camden Yards.
Two teams, the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, have cycled through stadiums that were built before Oriole Park and opened new homes. (Texas’ Globe Life Field’s opening has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.)
When Camden Yards opened, the Orioles regularly played before sellout crowds. In 2019, the Orioles only sold out Opening Day.
The capacity of 45,971 is now the eighth largest in baseball, and the four newest parks — Minnesota’s Target Field, Miami’s Marlins Park, Atlanta’s Truist Park and Globe Life Field — have seating capacities of around 40,000.
Another factor the Orioles can’t control is the lack of large companies in Baltimore. Not a single Fortune 500 company is located in the Baltimore region, and as a result, it’s difficult to sell many of the suites on the club level.
Perhaps fewer unsold seats, and wider, more open concourses would make the stadium more attractive. The Sun story mentioned the possibility of a restaurant or bar to make the stadium more of an attraction when there’s not baseball being played.
Although there are some appealing sports bars just across the street from the ballpark, there aren’t many top-rated restaurants nearby.
Unfortunately, Harborplace, which was a hot attraction when Oriole Park opened, is no longer a tourist magnet. The most appealing areas to eat and drink, Federal Hill and Harbor East, aren’t in the immediate neighborhood.
If the Orioles had an attractive bar or restaurant, that could help spur downtown tourism. Another idea is having more events at the park.
The only two non-baseball events in Oriole Park’s history were Pope John Paul II’s Mass in 1995 and last year’s Billy Joel concert.
Perhaps after pandemic fears lift, additional concerts can be booked.
The idea of a long-term lease would end the chatter of the team moving elsewhere.
The best endorsement of Camden Yards is that while the Braves and Rangers felt they needed entirely new stadiums, the Orioles’ home, with some remodeling, could be a showplace for decades to come.
Servideo has an Orioles connection: Anthony Servideo, the Orioles’ third-round selection in last week’s draft, has a connection with the team. Servideo, a shortstop who played for the University of Mississippi, is the grandson of Curt Blefary, who was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1965 and played for the 1966 World Series winners.
Blefary played four seasons with the Orioles and was traded after the 1968 season to Houston in a deal that brought pitcher Mike Cuellar to Baltimore.
Servideo wasn’t even 2 when his grandfather died. His relatives have passed along their remembrances.
“My mom and my uncle and my grandma all told me stories,” Servideo said. “I would ask about him almost every time I saw them, and it’s cool. We have a lot of pictures of him and memorabilia.
“Growing up, he’s been my idol, and I want to follow in his footsteps. Hopefully, be a better player than he was.”
Orioles offer ticketholders credit: In an email sent to season ticketholders, the Orioles announced that tickets through July 1 can be exchanged for 125 percent of their current value. Previously, they had announced that policy for games of March, April and May.
Tickets can be exchanged for 2020, 2021 or 2022 home games. Refunds are also available.
This is in addition to last week’s announcement that Orioles’ minor leaguers would continue to receive their $400 weekly stipend through the end of the regular minor league season.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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