In addition to the indignity of seeing a one-run deficit balloon to six in the top of the 9th inning, the Baltimore Orioles had the rather dubious honor of playing in front of one of the smallest crowds in Oriole Park at Camden Yards history.
If you take away the 2015 zero-fan game following the unrest during the Baltimore Uprising, it’s the smallest.
Clearly, the frigid first-pitch temperature of 44 degrees and the steady drizzle that started during the middle of the game had an impact. Only 7,915 souls paid to attend the game at Oriole Park, which the O’s lost 7-1.
Greg Bader, the team’s executive vice president of communications and marketing, said in an email: “The Orioles’ generous ticket exchange policy, which is the most fan-friendly in all of MLB, allows Season Plan Members to exchange their tickets for any other game on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Some fans elect to trade in games in the early part of the season when the weather is less than desirable for baseball and utilize those tickets at games later in the year.”
Even as the team rebounded from years of losing to become a contender, attendance has never surged in the way some expected. Hand-wringing over the small crowds at the stadium has almost become an annual tradition at this point. But last night’s game was both a weather-related aberration and part of a trend that’s impacting teams other than the Orioles. Here are a few observations about the lag at the turnstiles.
The weather hurt other teams too: According to this roundup in The Sun, there were low turnouts across Major League Baseball last night. Attendance at other games where the temperature dipped into the low 40’s or was close to freezing ranged from 9,843 in Cleveland to 19,528 in Washington D.C.
Lower attendance is part of a larger trend in baseball: Even in warmer climes, such as Arlington, Texas, where the game between the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim started in a comparatively balmy 69-degree heat, the crowd was 16,718.
Overall, attendance is down across baseball. According to Forbes, league-wide attendance last year dipped below 73 million for the first time since 2002.
Historically, Orioles Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992 with sellout after sellout, ushering in a new era of stadium construction. But attendance began to drop in the early 2000s, after the retirement of local legend Cal Ripken Jr. and as the team plodded along in the early stages of a 14-year streak of losing seasons.
During the club’s recent renaissance, average attendance peaked in 2014, when the O’s won the A.L. East, at 30,805 fans, or about 67.8 percent capacity.
Baseball and the Orioles are still doing well financially: Despite the slowdown at the turnstiles, professional baseball’s revenues are still increasing, Forbes says, buoyed by television rights and the recent sale of a majority stake in its digital arm, MLB Advanced Media, to Disney for $2.58 billion.
In other words, more people are choosing to tune in on TV rather than go to the ballpark. And that still works out for the Orioles, who have a controlling stake in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, the channel that broadcasts both the Orioles and Washington Nationals.
As the Baltimore Business Journal reported last year, the Orioles have some of the highest television ratings in baseball.
The Orioles make an estimated $237,000 per game between tickets, concessions and parking, according to a 2015 analysis, again from Forbes. That works out to $19 million a year. MASN, according to a 2012 filing, pulled in $163 million, the bulk of which is given to the Orioles.
The empty seats are not for lack of trying: The Orioles remain one of the most affordable options in all of sports. The Baltimore Business Journal cited a report last year that found the Orioles are the sixth-most affordable option for a family of four to take in a ballgame.
Since Camden Yards’ opening, fans have been able to bring in their own food and drink from outside the stadium.
The Orioles’ accommodations for the cost-conscious were only bolstered this season with the introduction of small food items at cheaper prices, and a new program that allows an adult to bring up to two children ages 9 and younger in for free.
No doubt there are many fans holding 13- and 29-game plans who chose to skip Monday night’s game due to the inclement weather. But it’s still surprising there are not more companies, law firms and even individuals holding 81-game plans that would elevate attendance figures. The team does not release season ticket sales figures.