Orioles’ Winning Season Paying Off At Box Office

The Baltimore Orioles celebrated the 20th anniversary of Camden Yards this year. A few more winning seasons and the Orioles just might get back to the sell-out crowds that filled Camden Yards in 1992 and for nearly a decade thereafter.

The high-water mark for attendance at Camden Yards was in 1997, when the the Orioles won the American League East with a record of 98-64. That year, 3,711,132 fans filled Camden Yards to the brim nearly every game. It’s been a steady decline ever since. Still, even as the team floundered after the 1997 season, more than 2,000,000 fans bought tickets year after year, putting the Orioles in the top half of American League teams in attendance.

Until 2008. That year, the Orioles’ yearly attendance fell below 2,000,000 for the first time since Camden Yards opened. The low-water mark came in 2010, when the Orioles reported only 1,733,019 tickets sold. Only the Blue Jays, Royals, A’s and Indians sold fewer tickets that year.

But things are looking up for the Orioles this season — on the field and at the box office. The Orioles have already clinched a winning season and, with a record of 89-67 heading into Friday’s action, lead the race for the American League Wild Card by one game over the A’s, and three over the Angels and Rays. Fans have responded by returning to Camden Yards in numbers not seen in years.

With three home games remaining this weekend, the Orioles are poised to pass the 2,000,000 mark in attendance for the first time since 2007. Through 78 home games, the Orioles have reported 1,981,154 tickets sold. Even if the Orioles average only 30,000 in attendance each game of the weekend series against the Red Sox, they’ll see the yearly total add up to more than 2,070,000. And 30,000 per game is a low estimate, considering that the team averaged 29,244 in their weekday games against the Blue Jays on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Nothing at the beginning of the season foretold this increased fan interest.

The O’s opened the season at home against the Twins. More than 45,000 fans packed Camden Yards on Opening Day, just as they did on Opening Day in 2011. But the excitement of the new season — and early success by Baltimore — didn’t motivate the fan base. The Orioles never fell below .500 this season. Yet after opening weekend, the Orioles waited until  Saturday, May 12 before seeing a crowd larger than 30,000 at the Yard. The next time attendance topped 40,000 was in early June when the Phillies were in town for an interleague series. But many of those fans drove the 100 miles from Philadelphia and wore red Phillies jerseys. Later that month, the O’s hosted the Nationals, again pushing the average attendance over 40,000.

But the crowds receded in July and August. It wasn’t until the Yankees came to town for a four-game series in early September that attendance swelled again. By then, the Orioles were 76-60 and fighting with the Yankees for a share of first place. Two of the games were at or near Camden Yards’ 45,971 capacity, and the other two were not far off the mark. By contrast, when O’s played the Yankees in a four-game series at Camden Yards in August, 2011, the per game attendance was less than 30,000.

With postseason games a very real possibility, fan interest has reached a new level. The Orioles announced that tickets for a possible Wild Card game on October 5 and possible American League Division Series games starting on October 7 have sold out. The team has not yet put on sale tickets for a possible American League Championship Series or World Series.

How does the increase in attendance translate into additional revenue?

Last season, the Orioles drew only 1,755,461 fans. In its annual Business of Baseball article, Forbes estimated that the Orioles had taken in $42,000,000 in revenue from ticket sales in 2011. That works out to an average ticket price just under $25. If the O’s bring in 30,000 fans to each game this weekend, as I expect they will, the total attendance for 2012 will be more than 2,070,000. Even using last season’s average ticket price of $25, the additional tickets sold in 2012 would lead to nearly $8 million in additional ticket revenue over last year’s figure. That’s close to a 20 percent increase in ticket revenue in just one season.

None of this should come as a surprise. Winning tends to lead to more fans attending games, especially for teams who are headed to — or appear headed to — the postseason. Like the Orioles, the Nationals have also sold a bit more than 300,000 additional tickets this season compared to last, with three more home games remaining. Even the A’s, who have sat at or near the bottom in attendance for the last five-plus years, have seen attendance rise this season as the team pursues its first postseason berth since 2006. The increase is more modest — just over 55,000 — but the A’s have six home games remaining.

For the Orioles, success on the field came earlier than expected this season. Perhaps that’s why fan interest was slow to build. But build it did. Eventually. To the tune of more than $8 million in additional revenue.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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Detroit Michael
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Detroit Michael
3 years 9 months ago

Given that the Orioles’ 2012 record is much better than their run differential would indicate and that there is more widespread recognition that that kind of overperformance is not very persistent from one year to the next than there probably was 15+ years ago, I wonder if the “year after” attendance boost based on the 2012 excitement might be smaller than if the same conditions had happened 15+ years ago.

Hopefully, that wasn’t too convoluted.

LGT
Guest
LGT
3 years 9 months ago

Just throwing it out there, run differential and pythag win expectancy have kind of fallen out of favor. Teams change over the year, so while te O’s may regress, it shouldn’t be to the extent that their run diff ‘suggests’.

Bill
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Bill
3 years 9 months ago

Yes, I agree. The fair weather fans will absolutely not buy tickets because the O’s win too many close games. Can’t agree more.

Tom
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Tom
3 years 9 months ago

I think there’s some truth there. The portion of the population (ever increasing) which recognizes this success as perhaps less sustainable might be more cautious in their hopes for next year, which might affect their expectations. And that could have a bearing on ticket sales, however slightly.

JimNYC
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JimNYC
3 years 9 months ago

@Tom — I think you missed the sarcasm in that post.

Detroit Michael
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Detroit Michael
3 years 9 months ago

I believe Tom was agreeing with my (Detroit Michael’s) original point, not Bill’s reply with the sarcasm.

futant462
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futant462
3 years 9 months ago

The fall from 2M+ annually coincided pretty well with the Nationals moving in down south doesn’t it? Pretty crazy that it resulted in a drop of ~300k tickets/yr it looks like. Maybe SFG are justified in their worries about oakland trying to move to San Jose or whatever the latest plan was.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
3 years 9 months ago

Just more evidence that the Rays should have been contracted, IMHO.

makeitRayn
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makeitRayn
3 years 9 months ago

More evidence of the declining quality of analytically provoking comments on Fangraphs.

brendan
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brendan
3 years 9 months ago

$25 per fan sounds kinda low. Besides tickets, fans buy food and beer, pay for parking etc. I think it would be reasonable to double that number.

Ralph
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Ralph
3 years 9 months ago

Considering that number is based on the actual ticket sales ($42 million in revenue divided by 1.75 million tickets) the number is correct. He wasn’t trying to compare the team’s total revenue, just provide an example of how winning has increased revenue. Speculating or obsessing over parking and hot dog sales (which don’t make all that much – a huge amount goes to the operating vendor) is beyond the scope of the article.

tbad
Member
tbad
3 years 9 months ago

For the record, it’s a she.

JimNYC
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JimNYC
3 years 9 months ago

I was thinking the same thing about $25 per ticket being low on average. Obviously prices at Yankee Stadium are higher, but I’ve been able to get tickets at Yankee Stadium for less than $25 exactly once — went to a Yankees / Orioles night game at the end of August and got $22 tickets which were literally two rows from the top of the stadium. Normally I spend $150-$200 per ticket, and there are of course tickets that cost thousands of dollars.

RJ
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RJ
3 years 9 months ago

Stubhub is your friend, I gave gotten $100 FV for ~$20 on M-Th games.

CA Tom
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CA Tom
3 years 9 months ago

Oakland is actually closer to the SFG than San Jose is. SFG wants them out of San Jose because there is a Class A SFG minor league team in San Jose.

A
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A
3 years 9 months ago

Are you sure it’s about the minor league team? Or about control of the TV market…

TerryMc
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TerryMc
3 years 9 months ago

Or about the corporate dollars from the tech corridor south of SF and which team they align with.

Candlestick
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Candlestick
3 years 9 months ago

The Bay Area is all one TV market, so media revenues won’t be affected by the A’s moving to San Jose.

Silicon Valley has the Bay Area’s largest and richest corporate base. The Giants currently dominate it, as they do almost all parts of Northern California. They don’t want the A’s to make inroads there by rebranding themselves “San Jose.”

DC and Baltimore are a very different situation – culturally and historically DC and Baltimore are separate markets. They are also separate media markets, even though MLB forcibly combined them via MASN. And of course the Nationals did not move into the Orioles’ official territory, and in fact the territories of those two teams don’t even touch each other.

ucanthandlethetruth
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ucanthandlethetruth
3 years 9 months ago

tickets for a potential wildcard game at tampa or oakland still a plenty!

Bill
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

The targeted promotion of discount tickets for weekday games in September has helped as well:

http://www.camdenchat.com/2012/9/28/3419260/orioles-attendance-promotions

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