Mixing business and pleasure Sky boxes give Orioles big money, put high rollers in lap of luxury

March 29, 1992|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

If it seems as if the fans in one of the sky boxes at the new stadium appear to be having a little more fun than the rest on Opening Day, they probably are.

Stuffed between corporate executives and their clients, salesmen and their customers, and bosses and their employees, will be Burton L. Bank and 10 of his golfing buddies.

The group is one of a handful of non-corporate groups that leased a luxury box.

The Orioles have nearly sold out their "private suites," which have become important money makers for teams and are among the reasons a new stadium was built.

The boxes could add 30 percent to a team's gate receipts. For a team like the Orioles, that could mean $5 million more on top of $17 million a year in ticket revenue, said Alan Friedman, editor of Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based newsletter of sports business.

"That pays for a couple of outfielders," he said.

Most of the 72 boxes went to the traditional corporate customers and VIPs who will schmooze over catered caviar and keep the stadium facsimile machine humming with business deals.

And there are groups like Bank's.

"We're Baltimore sports fans," said Bank. "It's kind of a 'Diner' group of guys that get together."

Well, almost. Their 14-seat box cost $95,000 a year, effectively shutting out all but the wealthiest of fans. The group's ownership is composed of doctors, lawyers and corporate executives who met at Pikesville's ritzy Woodholme Country Club.

Bank, 69, who is called the "commissioner" by members of the group, has some friends who arranged similar deals in other cities. He loved the idea and raised it with his friends, who were enthusiastic, he said.

Bank owns Chesapeake Interlink Ltd., an Owings Mills company that developed and sells a specialized computer software for lawyers called PINS. He set up a special computer program to allocate the baseball seats among the 11 "shareholders" of the group. Depending on the price the member paid -- an average of $8,600 -- he gets a two- or four-seat block of seats for 25 to 30 games and the opportunity to view each Orioles opponent at least once.

Each member also got a few one-night stands -- exclusive control of the box for that game. The box, which overlooks first base, comes with four courtesy passes a game, allowing up to 18 people to view each game.

Although they are looking mostly for fun, members will use the box for occasional business, Bank said. In that regard, they will find themselves in the mainstream along the Camden-green strip of boxes stretching from the right-field foul pole to left field.

The boxes were built with business in mind: Special meeting rooms are available, as is access to a facsimile machine, a concierge to make travel arrangements, and individual telephone hookups.

The mahogany-accented suites range in size from 12-by-31-footers that seat 10 to 16-by-31-footers that seat 14. Each has its own bathroom and a sliding glass window opening onto a private, carpeted balcony with padded chairs. Box holders and fans with club-level tickets also have exclusive access to a strip of climate-controlled bars and concession stands.

Prices range from $55,000 to $95,000 a year, and leases have terms of three to five years. A few boxes are reserved for single-game rentals and run from $800 for a box that will hold 14 to a $1,600 model holding up to 26 people.

Inside each suite are two televisions, a videocassette recorder, a stocked wet bar with mini-fridge and ice maker, dimmer switches, wall-to-wall carpeting, individual temperature control, and a sound system that can be set for radio and TV broadcasts of the game, or press box and public address announcements.

Deluxe parking and cleaning is included in the price, but everything else is extra, including food and beverages. Fans are not supposed to bring their own, using instead the Orioles' catering service. A variety of gourmet foods at gourmet prices are available, including American Sturgeon Caviar appetizers, $135 for a serving for six, and poached salmon entree at $90 for six. Even jumbo kosher hot dogs are listed at $27 for six, or $4.50 each.

Box holders can request visits from players and the Orioles bird, or special services for birthday parties.

Team owner Eli S. Jacobs has two boxes, merged together and connected by a spiral staircase to a labyrinth of meeting rooms a level below. President Larry Lucchino's box, has a similar staircase. Other VIP boxes include one each for general manager Roland Hemond, Gov. William Donald Schaefer,Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the Maryland Stadium Authority.

SUITE PRICES

* Annual rent: $55,000-$95,000, depending on location and size.

* Size: 10 seats, 12 seats and 14 seats.

* Amenities: two televisions, wet bar, mini-fridge, wall-to-wall carpeting, private restroom, climate control, buffet counter, four guest passes for each game, VIP parking, access to exclusive lounges, meeting rooms, private elevator access.

* Miscellaneous: boxes available for one-game rentals and parties. Prices begin at $800.

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