At Oriole Park, a very good year Success of ballpark meets all expectations during inaugural season

October 04, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Fans filled the ballpark game after game, racking up 5 straight sellouts and a stunning season's attendance of 3,567,819.

Downtown bustled with activity as visitors to the ballpark detoured past the Inner Harbor on the way to their extra-roomy, Camden green seats.

Even the Orioles did their part, staying in the divisional race about six months longer than even the most optimistic rooter might have predicted.

Was it a good year for baseball in Baltimore?

Maybe the best.

On the season's final day, it's time to take a look back at the inaugural year at Camden Yards, analyzing every ticket stub, parking space and Italian sausage.

Food

ARA Leisure Services, the ballpark caterers, kept close track of what people were eating this year at Camden Yards. Their conclusion: Everything.

"It was a terrific year," said ARA general manager Jay Boyle. "It exceeded our expectations, and ours were pretty high."

What food items were the biggest sellers in the ballpark's first year? As ARA officials recover from the culinary onslaught, they are putting together a partial list of what they sold. So far, they say that ballpark patrons consumed, among other things, 250,000 bags of peanuts, 400,000 pretzels, 500,000 orders of french fries and 1.5 million hot dogs.

To wash down this mountain of food, fans at Camden Yards also ordered 2.5 million sodas, cooled by 5 million pounds of ice chips.

Not surprisingly, Opening Day was the best day of the season for ARA -- sales were about three times higher than the company's most lucrative Opening Day at Memorial Stadium. That day, fans who streamed into the ballpark spent more than $20 per person on everything from leisure wear featuring the "Baltimore Baseball" logo to limited edition Opening Day pennants.

As the season wore on, that number slipped. (ARA does not reveal its exact sales figures). But some stands remained extremely popular, exceeding even what company officials had expected.

Tops on that list was Boog's, the barbecue beef and pork palace where, for the price of a sandwich, you could pose for a photograph with a Baltimore baseball luminary -- the famous first baseman turned entrepreneur.

ARA expected the stand would draw steady, if unspectacular, business to a large tent stationed on Eutaw Street, beyond the right-field flag court. Instead, fans often waited up to 20 minutes for their barbecue sandwiches, the line sometimes weaving back to Gate H, the ballpark's Camden Street entrance.

"Boog's has been a phenomenon," said Boyle, who noted that the sandwich stand took in more dollars than any other single location, including Pastimes, the ballpark's indoor, much larger cafeteria.

Standing in front of his stand one night during the last week of home games, Boog Powell, looking more like a customer than the proprietor, tried to figure out the success of his business. He quickly turned the questions on the customers.

"Are you people here for my autograph or for the food?" Powell shouted to the throng.

Playfully, a customer yelled back, "You can get lost. We're all here to eat."

"I like that," said Powell, who expects to be back at the ballpark with his sandwiches next season. "That means when I'm not here, you'll be here. . . . I can count on you."

Rent

Last week, the Maryland Stadium Authority approved its budget for next season and also offered its best guess of what the Orioles will pay in rent for 1992. Measured against anything but Cal Ripken Jr.'s new contract, the number is huge: $4.65 million.

That wouldn't be the top rent ever paid by the Orioles -- the team paid a record $5.2 million in 1989 at Memorial Stadium, due mostly to accounting issues related to the sale of the team that year. But this year's number could creep considerably higher, according to stadium authority executive director Bruce Hoffman, who said the state's rent predictions are "very conservative."

The rent won't be paid until next year, when the Orioles and the authority get together to crunch the numbers generated by the stadium's remarkably successful inaugural season. And when they do start figuring, they'll be using a formula detailed in the revised, 30-year lease signed by the parties last month.

Under those terms, the state gets a percentage of the money the Orioles earn from tickets, concessions, parking, stadium advertisements and luxury suites.

Rent from the Orioles is the biggest source of dollars for the stadium authority, but it isn't the only one. The authority also expects to collect roughly $2.5 million from the admission tax tacked onto the price of each game ticket.

Seats

Even before the gates opened, there was a lot to like about Camden Yards' new seats.

They were wider -- by as much as two inches -- than those at Memorial Stadium. Up to eight inches had been added between rows. Even the upper deck had been flattened to increase the comfort level for fans susceptible to vertigo.

For the most part, it worked.

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