New Lease on Baseball Life

September 16, 1992

Things keep falling into place at Camden Yards. There is a bit of symmetry to it all. The unexpected signing of a 30-year lease on the new ballpark by the Orioles followed on the heels of the anticipated but still suddenly concluded signing of Cal Ripken Jr. to a five-year contract that in effect keeps him an Oriole for the duration of his career. There are also auguries of change at the top of the Orioles organization.

The final version of the Orioles' lease is welcome news. This lease locks the team here for as far ahead as most people can reasonably plan -- and for longer than most baseball leases. The term coincides with the payoff period on the bonds floated by the Maryland Stadium Authority to construct the ballpark.

Two elements of the new lease are of particular interest, and both of them are welcome. The profit-sharing option for payment of rent obtained by the late owner Edward Bennett Williams has been dropped, leaving the conventional formula for divvying up fixed percentages of various sources of income at the ballpark. This will give the state a more predictable income from the rent, in contrast to the large swings in revenue that marked the Orioles' last years at Memorial Stadium. And it will eliminate the unseemly squabbling over what is a proper business expense to deducted before profits are calculated. Now expenses will be solely the Orioles' business, as they should be, and revenue will be the only factor of interest to the state and the public.

The lease also describes the relationship between the Orioles and a National Football League team -- if Baltimore gets a franchise. If Memorial Stadium is not available while the new stadium is being built at Camden Yards, the football team would be able to play at Oriole Park. The Orioles would share the dates equitably but would retain first choice on them. And the Orioles have made some concessions on parking that will give the stadium authority more flexibility if a football stadium takes over the south parking lot.

No document written by lawyers -- it takes 12 pages just to define the terms being used -- sheds light on all the ramifications immediately. But the new lease on the ballpark seems to be a good deal for the fans, the Orioles and the community.

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