Any 16-year-old who ever attended a rock concert knows the worst place to buy tickets is at the venue itself. But not all Orioles fans knew this, and their failure to land tickets for the final game at Memorial Stadium is now viewed as this great civic injustice.
Heaven knows the Orioles are guilty of a multitude of sins, but this is a case of crying wolf once too often. The facts show that the club did just about all it could to ensure the fairest possible ticket distribution. But with only 7,000 seats for sale, mass disappointment was inevitable.
Everyone would love to attend the last game. Unfortunately, it's just not possible. The outcry over what happened last Friday reflects none of this. Instead, it's the same old tired refrain about how the club mistreats its diehard fans without so much as a second thought.
A franchise that keeps increasing revenue while delivering an inferior product is begging for trouble, but it would be nice just once if cooler heads prevailed. The Colts' shameful legacy is that fans here often assume the hometown team is trying to cheat them. This time that wasn't the case.
When the Orioles announced the sale of tickets for the final series, their press release stated that only 7,000 tickets would be available for the last game. It also stated that tickets would be sold at all regular outlets and by telephone charge.
In plain English, this meant the stadium wasn't the only place to buy tickets. Including the three Orioles baseball stores and Ticketmaster outlets, they were available in more than 80 locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Virginia -- 14 in the greater Baltimore area alone.
Why all the misunderstanding? Partly because fans just figured the stadium was the place to be -- a flawed but reasonable assumption, judging by the sales breakdown. In addition, some newspaper accounts in the days leading to the sale weren't complete, probably adding to the confusion.
The club's own radio and television broadcasts were better, in part because team officials dictated the information that was related to the public. But the TV news coverage of the line growing outside the stadium didn't always point out there were other ways to obtain tickets.
The demand was the greatest for a single game in the club's 38-year history, making it absolutely critical for the media to be accurate and complete. The guess here is that chaos would have ensued anyway, but that's no excuse. If one person was misinformed, that was too many.
According to most estimates, the line grew to approximately 1,000 overnight. On the eve of the sale, when it was half that size, the Orioles distributed giveaway items, free coffee and doughnuts. Classy gesture or not, some claim it fostered the perception that everyone would receive their maximum of four tickets.
The complaint is not without merit, although club officials insist certain fans were indeed advised they might get shut out. Whatever, how were the Orioles to know the cutoff point? As it turned out, club records show the stadium box office sold 2,113 tickets. Assigning four per customer, at least 525 fans made out fine.
The Orioles actually cut off outlet sales after 30 minutes, one official said, trying to leave more tickets for the fans waiting at the stadium and the baseball stores. Only 700 or so tickets remained at that point, and many were single seats, but in the end over half the stadium line was served.
The game, of course, sold out in 55 minutes, with the outlets moving 4,977 tickets, the phone-charge operators 423. The smart consumer might have driven to a more remote location instead of spending the night at the stadium. Ask the concertgoers: These things require strategy.
Of course, no one considered this in the heated aftermath; better to blame someone else. But you know what? Even the Orioles' biggest sin -- granting full season-ticket holders the option of buying two extra tickets -- grew out of a seemingly good intention: Rewarding the fans who support you most.
That removed approximately 6,000 more tickets from the public sale, director of stadium services Roy Sommerhof said. The owners of full-season and mini-plans already held more than 25,000 tickets. Owners of other partial plans were given the option of buying two, accounting for another 10-12,000.
The sale amounted to a public relations disaster for an organization that usually displays the Midas touch. But it was a no-win situation even if everything was handled just right. Enough finger-pointing. Enough philosophizing. The Orioles weren't the only ones to screw up.