If the Orioles had raised ticket prices for next season, i probably would have meant three straight years of increases -- concluding with 1992, when they move into their new downtown stadium at Camden Yards.
The result would have been a public relations disaster, so no onshould have been surprised yesterday when the club announced that prices will remain unchanged for its final season at Memorial Stadium.
Good intentions or not, a price hike is almost certain in 1992even if club president Larry Lucchino said yesterday, "I just finished this year. I don't want to talk about next year."
The Orioles are not paying for the construction of the nestadium, which is being financed by state bonds and lottery proceeds. But fans probably should enjoy next year's ticket prices while they last.
Those prices again will be a bargain compared to most otheclubs. The average cost of an Orioles ticket this year was $7.59 -- 50 cents below the American League average.
The club's prices ranged from $1.50 for children and seniocitizens in general admission to $11 for lower box seats. Only five AL teams had lower averages (California, Seattle, Texas, Cleveland and Minnesota).
Still, the Orioles resisted an increase in the cost of attendintheir games for the fourth time in five years -- a logical course after drawing 2.4 million fans with the lowest payroll in baseball ($8 million).
The only inflation in this stretch came last year, the first undethe new ownership headed by Eli Jacobs. The $1.50 increase on 40,000 of the 54,000 seats reflected Jacobs' $70 million investment in the team.
The equation obviously will change again next year. If nothinelse, the Orioles probably could use the laws of supply-and-demand to justify a price hike, for a record attendance is likely at the new ballpark.
Even though the stadium will be publicly funded, the decision oticket prices rests solely with the club, according to Herb Belgrad, director of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
"The commissioner's office does not approve of any outsidauthority -- be it public or private -- imposing on the internal operations of a ballclub," Belgrad said. "And the establishment of ticket prices clearly is an internal operation."
On the other hand, Belgrad said the authority reserves the righto monitor concession prices, "to ensure the public is not being taken advantage of. If there's a substantial increase in refreshments, I think we'll have some say or right to some information to justify it."
In any case, Belgrad believes the Orioles will indeed raise tickeprices next year, despite "extraordinary sensitivity to public relations and the reactions of fans."
The reason: Increased costs.
The club hired its own team of consultants to work on stadiuissues, including vice president of planning and development Janet Marie Smith. That was just the start.
Other expenses will arise once the stadium is complete. Movinthe administrative offices downtown. Furnishing private areas, from the offices to clubhouses to suites.
The latter costs might seem minimal, but they add up. ManageFrank Robinson will have a bank of television monitors installed in his office. And Jacobs isn't likely to sit on folding chairs.
Put it all together, and a price hike not only is inevitable, buprobably reasonable too. For further proof, consider examples set by the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox.
The Blue Jays didn't increase prices from the $4-$15 range whethey moved from Exhibition Stadium to the SkyDome in the summer of 1989, but their $11.09 average last season was still the highest in the league.
They set a major-league attendance record anyway (3,885,284)and the Dome was the major reason. It cost more than $500 million in public and private financing. The Camden Yards budget is $105.4 million (Belgrad said the authority is "right on" target for meeting that figure).
Lucchino said there will be an announcement at a later datconcerning the sale of tickets for Opening Day and the final series. Demand is expected to be heavy for those dates, for which the Orioles are planning special promotions.
Is the price right?
*Average 1990 ticket prices for American League clubs from lowest to highest:
1. California $6.66
2. Seattle $6.99
3. Texas $7.03
4. Cleveland $7.16
5. Minnesota $7.50
6. ORIOLES $7.59
7. Detroit $7.72
8. Kansas City $7.76
9. Chicago $7.94
10. Milwaukee $8.65
11. Oakland $8.70
12. New York $9.90
13. Boston $10.42
14. Toronto $11.09
* Averages for each seating category:
General admission $4.68
Box $10.13 (third lowest)
Reserve $7.50 (fifth)
General admission $4.75 (ninth)
Source: Major League Baseball.