Dialing 'O' to get seats is about to get easier Orioles make pledge for faster ticket sales

April 19, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

The line started at the window, flowed along a freshly scrubbed brick wall of Camden Station, turned onto Camden Street, doubled back along the outfield gate and ended, mercifully, in the shadow of JumboTron.

At 10 minutes to noon Friday, the unofficial count of senior citizens, yuppies, button-down types and tourists lined up at the Orioles advance ticket windows had hit 140.

And the lunch-hour rush hadn't even started.

Welcome to Orioles baseball, 1992. And if you don't mind, please step to the end of the line.

Remember the days of dialing the Orioles at Memorial Stadium to ask a quick question? Or whizzing by the stadium to pick up a couple of tickets for a game next month? Hold on tight to those memories because that is all they are now.

Last year, Orioles individual game ticket sales amounted to about 25,000 per week. This year, driven by the novelty of the new Camden Yards ballpark, fans are buying at a frenzied pace of 70,000 per week.

Small wonder the Orioles can't keep up. But after weeks of frustration for fans who've endured long lines and put up with a team switchboard that has been all but overwhelmed with fan phone calls, club officials say they hope to put a dent in those annoyances starting tomorrow.

When the club offices open this week, the Orioles will have between 30 and 35 new employees selling tickets, answering telephones and responding to requests for everything from game schedules to directions to the new ballpark, according to spokesman Rick Vaughn.

TicketMaster, the service that sells Orioles tickets by telephone and at 15 box offices in the Baltimore area, also has added operators to keep up with demand for baseball tickets. The ticket agency has added 16 telephone agents, increasing its staff during most shifts from 30 to about 40 operators, according to Ralph Beyer, a TicketMaster senior vice president. At outlets, where an average line had been two to three customers, backups of eight to 12 people are now common, Beyer said.

Specifically, the Orioles say they are beefing up their service in the following areas:

* Telephone relief. To help fans reach the switchboard, the club added four incoming phone lines last week. Vaughn said an extra eight should be operating tomorrow, raising the number of calls that can be answered at any given time from 23 to 35.

* Ticket window expansion. When they opened for business last month at their new offices in the B&O warehouse, the Orioles had five working ticket windows. They soon opened eight. Starting tomorrow, fans can purchase tickets at 13 windows in the warehouse, Vaughn said. If demand continues to be high, the Orioles could expand further because the warehouse has 17 ticket locations.

* Orioles information center. Starting tomorrow, fans who are calling the team's main switchboard at (410) 685-9800 might be directed to a new information center staffed by employees armed with information on various aspects of life at the ballpark, from how to buy tickets to where fans who favor the shade might want to sit.

Vaughn said club officials have been concerned for several weeks about clogged telephones and long ticket lines, but couldn't respond sooner for several reasons, including the internal confusion caused by the Orioles' move of their offices and the time needed to train new fan helpers.

He did acknowledge the club was not fully prepared for the fan onslaught.

"Obviously, we're proud of the ballpark and the excitement of Opening Day, but we're not satisfied with the service we've produced," Vaughn said. "Now, we're going to do something about it. The goal is to make sure everyone is satisfied. We'll do whatever we have to do to get that done."

The Orioles appear to have a lot of ground to make up, particularly on the telephone front. For weeks, fans have been dialing the switchboard only to get what many considered to be the most annoying busy signal in major-league history.

"I think it's fair to say we underestimated the number of calls we'd get," Vaughn said.

Charles Hall, an Orioles fan and a University of Baltimore law student, hoped to get a ticket for the Orioles' third home game, the last game of the team's season-opening series with the Cleveland Indians. The afternoon before the game, Hall set his phone on redial for a half-hour and waited patiently for an Orioles operator. He never reached one, nor got his tickets.

Friday, Hall made sure he'd get the tickets he wanted, going to the ballpark and waiting in line about 45 minutes before he reached the window.

"If the Orioles never won a game, people still would be interested in seeing the stadium. It's just a fact of life," said Hall, who said he'd already altered his Orioles ticket buying habits based on the mad rush for seats this season.

"I realize if you want to get tickets, you have to plan well in advance," he said.

Few of the more than 100 fans waiting at the ticket window Friday expressed anything more than mild irritation with the club for not working harder to reduce the lines or to correct the phone overload.

That even held for William Hackley and his 24-year-old son Kevin, who, for a short time, were dead last in a line that would have reached from about home plate to the ballpark's outfield warning track.

The Hackleys were hoping for tickets to this afternoon's Orioles-Detroit Tigers game and planned to stand in line as long as necessary. They seemed to mean business.

"People stand in line at the [National] Aquarium for four hours, and that's to see fish," the elder Hackley said. "So I don't mind standing in line for a baseball game."

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