Cities are winners, even if clubs take a hit Boost often comes at team's expense

July 11, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

It's the ultimate event in baseball, an opportunity to showcase your fans and rake in money from autograph parties, a sold-out game and even sold-out team workouts, right?

Well, sort of.

jTC Playing host to the All-Star Game, while good for a community, is of only marginal value to a team's coffers. Season-ticket sales may get a boost -- some of those fans get preferential treatment for All-Star tickets -- and the publicity can't hurt.

But organizing the event costs more to most teams than they will get back from Major League Baseball, the game's official host. Proceeds from ticket sales and the telecast go to the league, which provides some help covering game-related costs, but not enough to meet expenses.

Small wonder, then, that many teams, such as the Orioles, wait until they have something to show off, such as a new stadium. Baltimore played host to the All-Star Game once before, in 1958, in a nearly new Memorial Stadium. The 35 intervening years marks the longest interlude any team has gone between playing host to the event.

Though they express public desire to get the game, some baseball executives admit privately that they are glad their turn comes around only every few decades. The home team's staff bears the brunt of the planning and has to answer to the inevitable angry season-ticket holders who don't get tickets. The league takes 10,000 tickets for players, executives and VIPs.

"There's an awful lot of work and logistics involved, but it's a great attraction for the community and the fans," said Tal Smith, an industry consultant and former Houston Astros general manager.

"As for direct benefits to the club, it's ancillary," he said.

At least for the past 10 years, the Orioles have been waiting for the opening of the new park before taking on the All-Star duty, said Bob Aylward, vice president of business affairs for the Orioles.

The game alternates between National and American league cities and frequently is detoured to a city with a new facility or a specific reason for holding it, such as the 50th anniversary game in 1983 at Chicago's Comiskey Park, home of the first All-Star Game, or the 1976 game in the bicentennial city of Philadelphia.

By the time Baltimore's natural place in line came up, there was talk of a new stadium, so the team told the league that it would like to wait until a new park was open, Aylward said.

If all teams took turns, the game would come to each park every 26 years -- now 28 with this year's expansion -- putting it in Baltimore about 1985.

"Most teams will pursue it aggressively from time to time, but no team tries to get it every year," he said.

Baltimore officials filed an application for the 1993 game in 1986. Four other teams expressed interest, including the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, but they then fell back as stadium plans were drawn up in those cities. A presentation was made to baseball owners, and the city was selected in December 1986.

"You benefit from your fans getting involved, and there's the civic side of being a good citizen," Aylward said.

Hank Peters, Orioles general manager from 1975 to 1987, said the team made informal overtures to baseball officials during the early part of his tenure, but never followed up aggressively.

"We didn't put forth as great an effort as we have in recent years, because we knew the circumstances would hold us back from serious consideration," he said.

For one thing, the number of hotel rooms downtown was limited before the Inner Harbor renaissance. And the team's attendance was anemic before 1979.

"You would hate to run the risk of holding an All-Star Game and have it not sell out," Peters said.

In 1980, there were 1,300 hotel rooms downtown -- compared with 5,000 today in walking distance of the stadium, said Wayne Chappell, executive director of the Baltimore-area Convention and Visitors Association.

The Texas Rangers are the only non-1993 expansion team that has not played host to the game, but they will do so in 1995 -- to showcase a new stadium opening in April 1994.

"In the past five or six years, the thinking has been, 'Why don't we wait until the new stadium is opened?' " said Rangers spokesman John Blake.

Next year, Pittsburgh will play host to the game for the first time since 1974.

"I wouldn't want to do it every year, but I would have an interest in doing it more than every 28 years. If you do it right, it has some benefits," said Doug Bureman, senior vice president of business operations with the Pirates.

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