New allure of Baysox baseball bringing revival to 33rd Street

April 04, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

The new kids in town are receiving a warm welcome.

Even without a genuine advertising push so far and with only two months to market the team, the Bowie Baysox, the Orioles' Double-A affiliate, is making serious headway in its efforts to bring customers back to Memorial Stadium.

The team's program has been enlarged to accommodate advertisers' demand. The billboards on the outfield walls are sold out. Group sales are booming.

Baltimore is getting excited about minor-league baseball and the professional debut of last year's No. 1 draftee, Jeffrey Hammonds, who bypassed a 1992 launching to play center field for the U.S. Olympic team.

"I don't think anybody will go to fewer games at Camden Yards, but the Orioles have been so successful, they just don't have the tickets for some people," Baysox ticket manager Kenny Payton said.

When the Baysox stage their home opener against the London Tigers on April 16, the old stadium on 33rd Street figures to be rocking again.

"People are really getting into this," Payton said. "I know how people are in Baltimore. They like nostalgia.

"They are calling in, and I'm trying to give them better seats, but they want their old seats back."

General manager Keith Lupton said the game program has been expanded eight pages to 66 and "has generated more revenue than any I've ever been associated with."

The outfield billboards, which will give Memorial Stadium a distinct minor-league appearance, will stretch from foul line to foul line, each 32 feet long and 8 feet high. Each billboard will cost $8,000 for the season.

They will be made of vinyl and stretched over the green padding that protects players who crash into the walls.

"Advertisers are now jumping at the back-lit signs that are left over from the Orioles," said sales manager Joe Cohen, referring to the mezzanine-level signs that go for $5,000 annually.

If there is one area that is lagging, it is season-ticket orders. Slightly more than 250 such plans have been purchased.

But with the help of aggressive telemarketing, 12-pack tickets are going extremely well. Approximately 1,500 have been sold, and Lupton expects that number to double as the season progresses.

Payton said they are particularly popular because any of the 12 tickets "can be used whenever the fan likes, and for a $2 upgrade per ticket, they can go to a box seat."

Estimating the opening-night crowd is difficult because numerous general admission tickets are undated. With 12 days to go, roughly 2,500 are accounted for.

"I think people are appreciative of affordable prices and the chance to get up close to the game," Payton said.

Except on special occasions, only the lower deck will be open for Baysox games. If the crowd is particularly large, upper-deck seating may be available.

If the weather is favorable and fans demand it, the bleachers will be opened on occasion for sun worshipers.

The Baysox have shifted 12 starting times when their home games are in direct conflict with Orioles games, mostly on weekends in April and May. For instance, when the Orioles play Saturday night, the Baysox will go in the afternoon.

And Lupton is seeking dates for additional promotions, a staple of the minors, to supplement the appearances of Morganna, The Chicken and Max Patkin.

"We're looking for days for ball night, bat night, fireworks, things like that," he said.

Those promotions will be tied in with Baltimore-area radio and television stations, whose logos will appear on giveaway items.

Also planned is an exhibition game Wednesday between the Baysox and Class A Frederick Keys. Lupton said jokingly that the public will not be charged admission "but it'll cost them to get out. We want them to buy some future tickets."

One of the most popular programs has been the link with fund-raising organizations.

According to Cohen, a charitable group "can make $3,800" if it sells 1,000 tickets. "We charge $750 for the tickets and 45 cents state tax per ticket, so these groups have a great opportunity."

A number of Little Leagues, the Boy Scouts and other fund-raising groups have taken advantage of the plan.

"Since the word has been out, everybody wants to get on the bandwagon," Cohen said. "Baltimore has taken to this team, and people in Prince George's County [the franchise moves to Bowie next season] are anxiously awaiting us. We're getting support from all over the place."

The Baysox will pay for nearly all the expenses of operating the team, including traffic control, ambulance service, security, ushers, lighting and concessions. The city will receive 10 percent of ticket sales under the one-year lease agreement with the team.

So unless attendance is high, the Baysox's losses will be major. The team averaged less than 2,000 fans a game as the Hagerstown Suns last summer, and a similar showing would be disastrous.

"If only we had had a good sales effort for five months instead of two. . . ." Lupton said.

Still, public response has been encouraging. With a good team, the spillover from turned-away Orioles fans and the nostalgia factor, the Baysox could do very well.

Eastern League affiliates

Bowie: Orioles

Albany-Colonie:Yankees

Binghamton: Mets

Canton-Akron: Indians

Harrisburg: Expos

London: Tigers

New Britain: Red Sox

Reading: Phillies

Baysox ticket prices

Box seats: $7

Adult general admission: $5

Military, students (5-14): $3

Over 60: $3

Children under 5: free

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