O's leave some longtime ticket-holders sitting pretty with improved locations

March 12, 1994|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

Having revamped the starting lineup and restructured his front office, Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos is putting the final touches on yet another renovation project: the Camden Yards seating chart.

At Mr. Angelos' behest, the Orioles are switching seats of about 1,000 season-ticket holders this year.

The owner said his intent is to rectify unfair assignments made to some longtime customers when the Orioles moved from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards two years ago.

Most who are losing out in the shuffle are fans who invested in Orioles season tickets for the first time after the move to Camden Yards.

In researching ticket records, club officials found a number of those recent buyers in prime seats, apparently having parlayed connections to former club officials, including then-owner Eli S. Jacobs.

Some prominent local corporations and business leaders who were among the biggest losers after the move to Camden Yards -- such as Bank of Baltimore chairman Ed Hale and former Orioles owner Jerold C. Hoffberger -- will be getting back to choice locations.

Bank of Baltimore was a season-ticket holder at Memorial Stadium from the day the major-league Orioles came to the city in 1954. The bank's location was prime: nestled next to the first-base dugout.

When the new ballpark opened in 1992, Mr. Hale discovered the seats had been shifted. He and a few clients of the bank spent Opening Day in the right-field corner.

Mr. Hale attributes the switch to the bank's decision a year earlier to reject a loan application from Mr. Jacobs. "It was a reprisal against me," Mr. Hale said.

With Mr. Angelos overseeing tickets this year, the bank's seats are beside the third-base dugout. "This whole thing has gone from having a stench to a decent aroma," Mr. Hale said.

Mr. Jacobs declined to comment yesterday.

Not every problem has been fixed, but Mr. Angelos said that will be the team's goal over the next few seasons.

"In a year, two or three, we will have most of the Memorial Stadium fans of long standing in their proper place, relocated to seats they will find satisfactory," the owner said last week.

Mr. Angelos' decision to take on the seating controversies hasn't been welcomed by all Orioles fans.

As the club improves the ticket assignments of veteran buyers -- some with accounts stretching back to the 1950s -- it is pushing back other fans to more distant rows or less desirable sections.

"It's not a pleasant undertaking to move someone from their seats, but for the benefit of those fans who have a long history with the Orioles, it had to be done," Mr. Angelos said.

"Those who have been moved have not been banished to the outer reaches of the ballpark. We have tried to adjust those situations as reasonably as possible."

If he didn't know it before, Mr. Angelos quickly has learned that emotions run high when the Orioles tinker with season tickets.

When the club announced last fall that it was reviewing locations of some seats, the team switchboard was flooded with phone calls from fans eager for upgrades and others concerned about being pushed back.

Most fans who lost out in the switch have accepted their fates calmly, club officials said.

But a few refused to give up their seats without a fight or the threat of one.

The team became entangled in a particularly sticky dispute with one customer, a Maryland developer, who spent about $45,000 for his 37 season tickets.

When the Orioles moved to reclaim the tickets, the customer threatened a lawsuit, eventually forcing the team to relent.

The Orioles say that situation was unusual, because they mistakenly accepted partial payment for the tickets. If no payment had been made, the customer would have had no legal recourse, club officials said.

For every fan who has resisted the changes, another has welcomed the chance to move to a better seat.

Mr. Hoffberger, owner of the Orioles from 1965 until 1979, sat in the first row at Memorial Stadium for decades before a dispute with Mr. Jacobs landed him in Row QQ at Camden Yards. This year, Mr. Hoffberger's seats will be in the second and third rows.

"I have a little difficulty with my aged eyes and my hearing," Mr. Hoffberger said with a laugh. "I think it will be better to be closer."

Though Mr. Angelos said he helped Mr. Hoffberger and others, he challenges any suggestion that the relocation mostly has had the effect of moving his friends into seats that were assigned to Mr. Jacobs' associates.

"I don't think there has been a scintilla of that balanced against everything that has been done," Mr. Angelos said.

"I try to maintain a hands-off posture when it comes to seating. My intrusions are limited."

Mr. Angelos acknowledged that the team has given priority to the group of about 20 investors who paid $173 million for the team last October.

Those requests total about 100 tickets, for which the investors are paying full price, he said.

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